Monday, 14 November 2011

Making on a Monday

The sky was strange, this morning. It was the first morning in days and days that has not been damp and misty. Yet the sky was a curious heavy grey, and if it had been colder, it looked just like it was full of snow.

What better to do on a chilly November Monday morning than make another batch of Pear and Vanilla jam?! This batch came out ever so slightly pinker, which was pretty. I now have twelve jars ready to be decorated and wrapped ready for Christmas gifts. I am thinking of calling it Partridge In A Pear Tree Jam, although of course, it is partridge free!

After that, I decided that although the sky was still leaden and grey, it was time to get out in the fresh air. So we set off an a walk around the park. We are so lucky to live so close to such a large park. I have loved to notice the subtle changes from walk to walk. There are now more leaves on the ground than there are on the trees, and it was beautiful to see each tree seeming to float in a pool of their own leaves.

Back home, and after lunch, I knitted another row or two on the motoring hood, and then decided it was time to press on with my Christmas card making. I am so close to being finished! I need another sheet of silver card, and then I am done. Although I keep thinking of extra things I could do to embellish them, it is nice to know that I am nearly finished if I choose to be....although I know I probably will go the extra mile with the finishing touches!

I have also made a bottle of spiced rum which we will be giving to my father in law as part of his gift. I was really amazed at the instant effect the spices had on the flavour, and I can't wait to see what it turns out like after it has steeped for a month. To make Spiced Rum take a 750ml bottle of dark rum and add to it 2tbsp sugar (I used vanilla caster sugar), a cinnamon stick, a vanilla pod slit in half lengthways, half a nutmeg (not grated, just bashed a bit to break off half) and three cloves. It should all just about fit in there, where they don't fill the bottle quite to the top. Screw the lid on nice and tight and gently shake it to help the sugar dissolve.

I feel like I have got a lot done today, but perhaps it is because the light fades so early, it feels like the day has slipped away very quickly. I am going to cook dinner soon, as we have a friend joining us this evening. It is for her that I am making the motoring hood, so I must make sure it is hidden away at the bottom of my work basket before she arrives!

Right, off to tidy up and then get in the kitchen! I hope that wherever you are, you are having a lovely Monday.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thoughts Upon Advent

The cosy relaxed Sunday I have been enjoying today has made me think about the sometimes frantic fraught feelings that can accompany the run up to Christmas. I know that we are all really busy and can have too much to do and not enough to do it in, so I understand why we do feel like that sometimes....but I really hate that feeling! I hate when you have to rush round the shops in a lunch hour, getting pushed about by other shoppers, you get hot, you can't find what you want, you have to carry heavy bags, and then you have to rush back to work. Ugh!

This song is one of the best antidotes to those feelings. I really love how peaceful and simple it is. Actually, I have been thinking a lot about simplicity and Christmas and advent the last few days. I am sure I must have mentioned that I have been reading the Miss Read novels, many of which are set in the countryside in 1950s England. I have just finished A Village Christmas which is a selection of short stories, and I was struck by how every day life was simple, so the preparations for Christmas were special by contrast. In particular, the food that was eaten every day was so very different to today. On one hand it is wonderful to be able to get harissa paste and couscous and chorizo and arborio rice in a normal supermarket shop, but sometimes so much variety can be a little dizzying. There is a lovely little paragraph in which Miss Read feels she needs a drink of brandy to mitigate the rising price of butter when she receives her groceries and bill. A lot of the meals are meat or fish served with seasonal vegetables and potatoes. Good coffee follows cheese or fruit for dessert. By contrast, when you read about them making their mincemeat and puddings and cakes in readiness for Christmas, you understand more why they were special.

So, whilst I am not resolving to eat nothing but bread and butter for the next few weeks, it does strike me that it might be nice to try and simplify things during the season of advent this year. Not to go into denial, but just to pare things back a bit. I don't want to never have a coffee out, but for it to be a treat instead of routine. Lots of seasonal vegetables and satsumas, lovely and treats in themselves, and a little less rich food. I like the idea of there being more of a contrast between my daily round and Christmas. I will let you know how it goes!


Today I Am Reading, Making, Watching...

There is something really special about Sundays in November. We are close enough to Christmas to be working on festive projects such as cards and gifts, and to feel that is not too early to indulge in the seasonal drinks on offer at Starbucks and Costa and the like, but also it is far enough away that there is no worry or panic about there being not enough time left.

The weather continues to be hazy with just a suggestion of mist. The afternoon light starts to dim at about half past three, so there is suddenly a beautifully long afternoon at home just beckoning to be lit with candles and enjoyed. It is a quiet, reflective time of year, and I love it.

Today was more special than usual because it was Armistice Day. I observed the 2 minutes silence on the actual day, 11.11.11. all alone in my little library on top of the hill, and again today. I know there will always be some people who do not join in, but it is an amazing thing, to me, to just comprehend the whole nation falling silent at the same time, and just thinking. My older brother served in Afghanistan not so long ago, and it was shockingly scary how quickly he went from playing soldiers to being sent away to fight. Having got him back, it is almost too easy to forget that he may not have come back at all. I take myself back in time, to imagine what it must have been like to be a wife in the second world war. Aside from all the practical considerations of trying to feed your family, I just can't imagine what it would have been like to not ever know from one day to the next if my husband were alive or dead. To go back further, to the war before, to think about the mother of Wilfred Owen receiving the news that her son was dead as the bells rang out to celebrate the Armistice. We have so much to remember and be sorrowful about, but also so much to be thankful for.

These thoughts have left me gently reflective, and to be in a world wrapped in mist, bare branches, scattered leaves and chilly breezes is the idea time to feel thus. I have spent my hours gently today, somehow, it seems fitting.

When I woke, I read most of As The Pig Turns, the latest Agatha Raisin novel. I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I usually do the novels in this series. In places it felt a little contrived, and for a series that belongs firmly in the cosy genre, the murder really was a little grusome this time. However, I have plenty more to be reading, so I shall soon put it out of my thoughts. I hope that the next in the Hamish Macbeth series, by the same author does not follow the same lines!

I have made Pear and Vanilla Jam today, to give as Christmas gifts. I love making jams as gifts, as I like giving something that is consumable and useful, that doesn't have to be found a home for, that isn't more stuff. I like that it is simple, and yet not many people find the time to make their own any more, so the simple becomes special. I chose some dear little pots in Lakeland..actually, I couldn't decide between the hexagonal and a shape called 'orcio' ( so I chose a box of each. I have used this recipe and am really pleased with the results. The jam is softly set, quite sweet but really delicious, and when held up to the light, is a delightful pale pink colour, like sunrise bleeding into the edges of the clouds.

I have the new issue of Country Living Magazine ready to read later, after a long hot bath. I am never disappointed by this magazine, and if I had to choose only one Christmas magazine, this would be it!

We watched an episode of Miss Marple this afternoon, and once again I found myself sighing over the clothes and makeup. Oh, how I would love to be able to slip back in time just now and again! Rather fittingly, I accompanied the episode with some knitting. Last week I cast on a Christmas gift for a friend, but it is in 4ply yarn on 3.75mm needles, so is taking forever. This is what I am making: although mine is in holly berry red.

I have a few Christmas gifts on the needles at the moment, actually. There are gloves from The Gentle Art of Knitting for Mum, and a crochet ripple stitch cushion in blues for Dad. I am making this for my little brother, only in a dark charcoal yarn. I need more yarn for the cushion and the cowl, so at the moment car journeys and tv programmes are accompanied by the click-click of my needles as I add another row or so to the hood and scarf set.

There is a candle flickering in the corner right now, casting dancing shadows against a beautiful vase of white chrysanthemums, which smell almost spicy. They were an unexpected but very welcome gift from my Mum. She dropped them into work for me on Thursday. When I thanked her and asked her why she had bought them for me, she replied 'because they are beautiful and I knew you would like them'. Isn't that a lovely reason to buy anyone a gift...I must remember that sweet thing to say if ever similarly asked about an impulse gift.

So here is another Sunday in November. It is any wonder that Sunday is my favourite day of the week?

Friday, 11 November 2011


For the second day running, it has been cool and damp at home, the morning light smudged somehow. As the bus climbs the hill to my little library at the top of the hill, it has got mistier and mistier. I can see it hanging over the fields, and wrapped around everything. When the light dims as the afternoon nears 3, the street lights start to flicker on, and illuminate a haze that could be misty rain or just mist. It has a surreal other-worldly quality to it that is really beautiful. It makes me think of wrapping the autumn in cotton wool, putting it away safely ready for next year, making way for winter.

Just the weather for candlelight, hot ribena, knitting, reading, dreaming.

Happy November, everyone!


Monday, 7 November 2011

November Days

The fireworks were really pretty, which was just as well, as there was no bonfire! It was lovely to be able to walk to the fireworks, and walk home again clutching cups of tea, but I think next year we will drive to a display that has a bonfire! There is something about the heat and scent and aliveness of a fire that serves as such a good focal point until the fireworks begin. While I browsing about on the internet, I discovered this scrap from a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra:

We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)

My favourite were some that Carl described as 'like champagne bubbles'...they were golden, fairly quiet and very sparkly and pretty. When we got home, I made another caramel pumpkin cake to take with us on Sunday, as we were going to visit first my Godson and his brother, and then their grandparents, my Aunt and Uncle. Mum was meant to be coming with us, but had a cold so sadly had to stay at home. 
I love visiting with family. There is always a gentle friendly rivalry  between Carl and my sister's husband as to who will arrive first. We knew we had no chance this time, as we stopped for a cup of coffee on the way down. 
After lunch at my Godson's home, we took the short drive across town to my Aunt and Uncle's house, and it wasn't long before we were embarking on a walk through the woods. It is really breathtakingly beautiful at the moment, and it makes me feel very earthed and grounded to be surrounded by so much nature and such evidence of the seasons in full bloom. The sky started to dim and darken in mid-afternoon, and by half past four it was almost dark. More cups of tea and chatter ensued. There really is nothing like visiting with family. 
This morning we decided to take a walk in the park. I have taken lots of photographs, I must ask Carl to help me get them onto the computer so I can share them with you. There were plenty of leaves on the ground to scuffle through, but equally there were many trees still with a good covering of leaves. They really are the most astonishing colours at the moment. Being a work day, the park was quieter than usual which was rather nice, and we spotted so much wildlife. My favourite was a squirrel, busily burying nuts for winter. 
Now we settled at home again, and although it is not yet three in the afternoon, the light is not strong enough on its own and you really need a lamp or a candle. We are thinking of designating one evening a week as candles-only-after-dark just for the fun and atmosphere of it all. 
Wherever you are, I hope you are having a lovely November day,

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Art of Feminine Beauty

I love to read vintage magazines from the 40s and 50s, but even more, I do love a good vintage diet or beauty book from the same period. Imagine how pleased I was when my library procured for me 'The Art of Feminine Beauty' by Helena Rubinstein....and how delighted I was to realise that the copy they got for me was from 1930!

As I have been reading Helena's words of wisdom, I can't help but wonder about the ladies who have read it before me...were they young ladies, impatient to start putting their hair up and wearing gloves? Engaged ladies tending to their loveliness in preparation for their wedding day? Ladies who felt the bloom of youth starting to fade? Perfect beauties who wished to make themselves even more beautiful? Or girls pretty to everyone else, but desperate to cure some imagined ill? It feels special to hold a book like that in my hands, and think about the others who have read it before me, to imagine their lives. To think about which handbags it may have been carried in, which dressing tables it has sat on while the reader has diligently followed the advice within.

I have also been reading a volume of Agatha Christie short stories, many from the 30s and 40s, and a lot of the women featured in them I can imagine sitting and reading this beauty book. It takes me back in my mind to a world of chaps who smoked pipes and said 'dash it all!' and ladies who wore clothes I can only dream about.

This is a post I have discovered in my drafts folder, written some time ago, but shared with you now!

A lot of the advice is definitely dated (passing electric currents through the face to clear pores, anyone?) but equally much of it could still be used today, and indeed I shall be trying some of her tips out. More than that though, her general attitude to health and beauty is inspirational. It is such a contrast to so many of our magazines and adverts today. I have commented on this before, but now it seems we must be terrified into buying a product (crows feet? wrinkles? buy this cream!) whereas then you were romanced into it (for lovely skin that he will adore, buy this cream!). I know which I prefer!

Here are a few passages that I have enjoyed so far:, how to attain it, how to enhance and preserve it, has been from time immemorial one of the permanent preoccupations of womankind.

...Beauty is neither wholly the gift of God nor the gift of the cosmetician. An important part is always played by the desire to be lovely and the willingness to make small daily sacrifices to achieve it. If you follow the rules for your particular type or age you will keep your loveliness to the end of your days.

...There are women not considered beautiful in their younger days who have in later life developed into recognised beauties. Such women, by intelligent cultivation of their persons, make for themselves a second and even a third youth more lovely and impressive than that of the springtime of life.

...A woman's beauty will be a gracious curve from early youth to, shall we say, later youth; for the weight of years seems to be resting ever more lightly on women's shoulders.

...every intelligent woman who really cares can become at least good-looking. How much farther she goes will depend upon herself.

Although her writing style is perhaps a little dated, she does make the clever point that if you see your body only as a machine, then it makes sense to keep it in top working order, and if you see it as more, then the extra work you put in will just add zest to life. I have been following a vintage inspired skin routine for a few weeks now (for details, click on the title of this post!) and it does make me feel lovely, to take the time, to think about all the other women who have used cold cream and witch hazel. To be using simple ingredients and have a routine that has been repeated over the years, it makes me feel connected to the bright young things of the yesterday, reading my vintage magazines and books when they were first published, and who are now perhaps in their 70s and 80s.

I think that perhaps this weekend, I will spend a few hours writing down some new tips from Helena Rubinstein to try out, and look for a new red lipstick to celebrate the Indian summer that has accompanied the start of September. I hope that you are having a lovely week!

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November...

Just as I love it when a new month starts on a Monday (and even better when it is the first day of a new year on a Monday!) I also love it when November 5th falls on a Friday, Saturday, or at a pinch Sunday, so that bonfires and fireworks can be had on the night itself. Most public firework displays and bonfires seem to be arranged for the Saturday nearest the 5th, but it never feels quite the same if it is actually the 3rd, 4th, or even 6th or 7th!

For those of you across the pond, in the UK November 5th is commonly known as Bonfire Night, but it is more correctly Guy Fawke's Night. Guy Fawke's is the reason for the bonfire and fireworks, but as they are the event, they seem to be what stay in peoples minds more!

In 1605, Guy Fawkes and a band of conspirators plotted to murder King James I by blowing up the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the barrels of gunpowder, and was arrested and then tortured until he gave up the names of his co-conspirators and details of the plot, eventually being executed in January the following year. An Act of Parliament was passed decreeing the date of the failed plot a public holiday, and bonfires were lit in celebration of the King surviving the attempt on his life.

In the first half of this century, it was common for effigies (called Guys) to be burnt on top of the bonfire, and children used to have great fun stuffing old clothes with newspapers and straw, and then taking their Guy around the streets asking for 'a penny for the guy'. Nowadays this doesn't really happen, and although I knew what a Guy was when I was a little girl, I don't ever remember making one or seeing one.

Further back in time, around the last full moon in October, bonfires would be lit to celebrate what was in the Celtic tradition the New Year. With the curious half-light of November, and the long nights, I can imagine that a lot of comfort was found in the lighting of bonfires, and I imagine that this much older tradition has been somehow absorbed into Guy Fawke's Night in modern times.

So now you know a bit about this centuries old tradition, I will tell you some of my memories of this day. When I was little, the 'special' days in the year were birthdays, of course, Mother's Day and Easter. At Easter there would be chocolate eggs, and roast lamb for lunch, and family. I remember my gran used to knit us little chicks with ribbon bonnets, which held a Cadbury Creme Egg. For Mother's Day, we would bring home from sunday school little Polyanthus plants, and today their scent takes me right back to choosing the prettiest colour. One year, it was my birthday, my sisters birthday, my Granddad's  birthday, Easter, Mother's Day, and mine and my baby brother's Christening all in the same fortnight...and Mum made a cake for each of them! Then came Halloween, for which we dressed up (but never went out trick or treating, it just wasn't really done back then) Bonfire Night, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day. I seem to remember wanting to stay up till midnight on New Year's Eve but always falling asleep! And a pleasant sort of first-day-of-the-new-year feeling too.

But back to Bonfire Night. We lived a ten minute walk away from school, and the school would organize a bonfire evening each year. I remember how quickly it seemed to get dark in the evenings, eating  baked potatoes and sausages for tea, and having to bundle up really warm in hat and scarf and gloves. Walking to school in the dark and cold, feeling so very late (although it probably wasn't more than 7:00!) and holding tightly onto Mum's hand. When we got there, the heat of the fire on our cold faces and the crackle and snap of the fire. I have always had trouble with my ears, and I remember my poor Mum having to clamp her gloved hands over my ears for me so I could enjoy the fireworks without the bangs hurting. I never liked the big bang fireworks, but much preferred the pretty ones. I didn't mind the rockets that went bang too much as   they would shower out beautiful sparkles everywhere. When we got home and took off our coats and warm woolies, everything smelt slightly of fireworks night...more than just smoke, a special smell all of its own.

At school, in the days running up to Bonfire Night, we would make firework safety posters, and giant models of fireworks. We used to make pictures by crayoning different coloured stripes across card, then crayoning black over the top of the entire thing. Then when you carefully scratched away the top layer, you could see all the pretty colours from underneath showing through. We used to do that to make firework pictures.

Carl and I have always made an effort to keep traditions going, and to celebrate high days and holidays, so we usually go to the firework display in either our town or the village with my library-on-top-of-a-hill. Their fireworks do tend to be better, and set to music, but now we live so close to town it is nice to be able to walk to the bonfire rather than drive. We have bought our tickets and will be wrapping up warm, although somehow, it never seems to get cold enough any more. I am not sure if I remember it being colder and darker than it was, or if it is just that it has got a bit warmer at this time of year. I remember our breath coming out in clouds, and us calling it Dragon's Breath, and it entertaining us all the way to the bonfire!

So we will be off in a little while to stand by the bonfire, eat toffee, and drink tea, although I may be tempted by hot chocolate! There is something about  being in the deep dark and the cold, the brightness of the flames, and the explosions of sparkles. Later we will get home and I will have a hot bath, then we will listen to Harry Potter on cd, and I will be crocheting on a cushion cover for a Christmas gift. While I am in the bath, I will be reading the first chapters of The Lord of The Rings, as there is a wonderful description of fireworks in there.

Wherever you are, happy Bonfire Night!

Love, Mimi xxx

Drumroll Please....Blog Milestone Giveaway Winner!

Good afternoon! Firstly a big thank you to all of you who kindly left a comment in my 'Blog Milestone' post. I used a random number generator website to choose a number between 1 and 9, assigning 1 to the first comment and 9 to the most recent comment. The number generator chose 1 so Moey you are the winner! If you will email me an address that I can post a package to you at, I will pop down to the post office next week.

And as for everybody else...I have some little consolation prizes to post out! So do be in touch, and I will pop yours in the post too. Thank you to everybody to reading and sharing my little sips of tea with me!


ps Thank you to everybody who emailed me following me putting my contact details up! Replies to all in the works!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Pumpkin is For Life, Not Just For Halloween....and Happy November!

Reading over my last few posts, you really cannot miss my fondness for the culinary uses for pumpkins! Yesterday being Halloween itself, I had a small gathering of friends round for dinner, and of course, the theme was Pumpkins!

I made a Thai Green Pumpkin Soup which I served in teacups with crispy croutons as a starter. It was simplicity itself, just roasted pumpkin blended with a tin of coconut milk, some thai green curry paste and a pinch of dried chillies, then heated through to serve.

Next I trotted out my old faithful Pumpkin and Sage Risotto recipe. My secret to a great risotto is to take some of whatever vegetable risotto you are making, blend it with a little cream cheese, stock, cheddar and seasoning, then beat into the risotto at the end. It makes it really creamy and flavourful.

For dessert I was going to make Chocolate Pumpkin Creme Brulees with Salted Caramel, but I watched a snippet of This Morning, and Phil Vickery demonstrated a really easy but heavenly looking pumpkin loaf cake, so I made that instead, and I am really glad I did. As long as you have pumpkin, everything else is store cupboard, and the results are really stunning. I served mine with cream whipped with vanilla and a little sugar, and a pinch of edible glitter!

I still have lots of pumpkin recipes I want to try though! In particular, Hugh has a recipe for Pumpkin Fold Overs in his new River Cottage Veg Everyday book....they look like an easy but delicious lunch. Then I found this post which has given me more food for thought! Although there is something extra nice about cooking with Pumpkins at Halloween, they really are too good and too versatile not to use throughout the autumn months. While I don't like to think of carving pumpkins going to waste, I do think it is worth buying culinary pumpkins where you can. They are smaller and more flavourful, and also they are really quite cheap. One medium pumpkin made all the dishes for my Halloween Dinner, which served 5 with leftovers of everything except the soup!

When I left home for a training course this morning, it was very lightly drizzly and grey. I had my big white shawl with me to wrap up and snuggle in, which was nice, but what was really lovely was spotting here and there the carved pumpkins smiling (or frowning, in some cases!) out from windowsills, doorsteps and gardens. I know that a lot of people don't like trick-or-treating or Halloween in general, but I think that if the former is well supervised it can be really nice, and the latter is what you choose to make it. Sadly we don't get trick or treaters, but I really wish we did. Mum gets quite a lot, and really enjoys planning her treats. She buys a big tin of Quality Street or similar when they are on offer, perhaps a big bag of marshmallows or other Halloween sweets too, and makes up little crepe or tissue paper bundles to hand out. She gets lovely little children knock on the door, and I think she gets as much pleasure out of it as they do.

I still have not got round to one Halloween craft that I have always wanted to do...somehow, every year, time slips away! I want to take a small pumpkin, remove the seeds and put in a vase filled with bronze and orange and red chrysanthemums, so it looks like the pumpkin is the vase. Maybe next year will finally be the year!

One thing I did do this year which I have not done before is to buy a small selection of Halloween chocolates (including the Cadbury 'Screme' Egg which has green goo instead of a yolk in it!) and hide them about the flat for Carl to find, Easter Egg hunt style. That was lots of fun for both of us, so I will be doing that again next year.

So, Halloween is over, but happily Pumpkin season is not. I cannot believe that today is November. Suddenly the year seems nearly over, and Christmas is just around the corner (I do believe I read that it is 54 days!). Autumn is suddenly glorious, the trees are blazing with colour, and the air has that brittle hazy November quality to it.

Wherever you are, I hope you had a spookily perfect Halloween, and enjoy the many delights that November has to bring.