Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day at Home

Happy Christmas to all our family and friends.

Monday, 22 December 2008

National Insurance and Ladies of a certain age

National Insurance is not what most people are thinking about at this time of the year. However, at the time when one is thinking about things to do in the New Year, this may be of interest and may propel someone into checking their situation and making appropriate arrangements for their future state pension. Do mention this to anyone who you think may benefit.

I had raised the topic at one of our knitting group's evenings some time ago, and was delighted to hear last Tuesday, that another member had had a great result when she decided that she would check her situation. She found out that she already had over 30 qualifying years and could stop her voluntary contributions.....£30 per month is a lot of yarn which can now be stashed away, or of course there are other treats or savings which this can be put to.

Recently the government has changed the number of qualifying years for full state pension to 30. Years not at work but looking after children, I think after 1978, when the woman's name was on the 'child allowance book' do count but you need to claim these. So if you are paying voluntary contributions or know someone who is, it is worth checking your individual records. You will be sent a pension forecast, so do ring up 0845 300168. You will need your National Insurance Number. You can also go on line for a forecast. Unless you check and know exactly where you stand you could continue to pay when there is no need to. You can also find out whether it is worth paying for any incomplete years to make up to full pension. The rates will be going up after April 2009, so it is probably best to get things sorted out sooner rather than later.

There may be of course some chaps, who may have thought they would not have a full pension due to missing years. No credits are given for years at University and with early retirement, and no work some men will also benefit from this change, so they may also be pleasantly surprised by the results of a current check on their future state pension benefits.

Putting up the Christmas Decorations

Yesterday Mr S brought down the tree and decorations from the loft, and set to and has made a jolly display. I tried not to get involved when all the lights were strewn across the carpet, and repairs were made. How do lights which are working perfectly and then packed very carefully end up causing problems when they are unpacked?

I am going through my less is more stage, and not all the baubles have been hung on the tree. I have made sure to hang those ones with special memories, ones given by friends over the years, such as the glass ballerina from Barbara a colleague from Wace Corporate Print Days, a lovely china ornament from Jayne, and a silver snow-flake from Gillian Brown a neighbour from Retingham Way days, who is no longer with us.

Decorating the tree is the ideal time to open the special VERY BIG box of Maltesers, which Mr S brought home on Friday evening. I love them, and it is very difficult to have only one, isn't it? There are still some left for the remaining days before Christmas!

Carols at the Castle

I needed something to get me in to the Christmas mood, so wondered whether Mr S would like to come and sing some carols with me at the Castle. Its an unusual request from me as those who know me very well indeed, know that I am not a singer. Although I definitely need singing lessons, I really do like to sing, though I can get a big lump in my throat and even a small tear when singing carols.
Even though the boy was a little poorly with a cold, as the evening was warm, dry and with no wind, we walked out armed with torch and camera. As we turned the corner by the car park we were wowed by the Castle all lit up, and by the gates we were greeted by the Kenilworth Lions, with song sheet. There were treats too, and the mulled wine and mince pies were lovely. The children's choir from St Augutine's School was so touching, and there was the Steel Band and a brass band to accompany the Carols. We had a good sing at the top of our voices.

There were groups of people and some with at least three generations, some had lanterns and wonderful hats. A group of younger boys were rushing round and jumping off ruined walls, and cute little girls were parading around in fancy hats and gloves etc. I looked around to see whether my friend Mandy was there with her family. Mandy had knitted some fabulous hats last year, and what a place to parade in them. However little did I know then that was the last place she would be as she was undergoing a medical emergency, but thankfully she is now on the mend.

Next year, I would love to take some friends there and have supper here afterwards, or tea before, which will be a lovely start to the Christmas festivities.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Woven silk pictures from J and J Cash Ltd

A few weeks ago whilst in Coventry, I happened to drop in on The Herbert Museum. The large ground floor exhibition area had just been refurbished and it was the first day of its relaunch.
Here I spent a couple of hours marvelling at the collection of ribbons and woven artifacts dating from the 18Th Century, and was intrigued to find out that Coventry was the centre of woven silk ribbons for over a century. My interest in woven items has been growing over the last couple of years, and in Venice this year I was amazed at the woven silks and ribbons which they used in period dresses.

I mentioned the Ribbon Exhibition at the WI craft group, and several of my friends there were able to tell me more about the items that Cash produced.
I was disappointed that the shop at the Herbert did not have any of Cash's items for sale. It is very strange that where they have a wonderful exhibition, there are not items for sale. Where there is a local item of such excellent quality, I feel it ought to be really showcased and that people around must be really proud. I think we must support British Made items of such quality, and enjoy them and ensure that such companies continue to prosper.

This is the start of my collection of woven silk pictures. The first in middle is that of a Peregrine Falcon. I picked this up at a bring and buy coffee morning. The next two, I bought as second hand items from a Furniture Shop in Kenilworth. The detail is superb: the fluffy white feather on the robin's breast look as if the wind is blowing them about, and the designer has managed to capture the stillness of the moment on the Kingfisher woven picture. I'm hoping to receive Cash's book marks as birthday presents in the future, well I dropped a big hint to Mr S, hope he was listening.

Cash is still in business and produces name tapes and items such as bookmarks and greeting cards. This past weekend I was delighted to find some at the Coventry Transport Museum. Veronica and I marvelled at the current collection. The design, details and the colours are really beautiful. I picked up two booklets: Silken Weave, A History of Ribbon Making in Coventry from 1770 to 1860, and Still Weaving - J and J Cash Ltd of Coventry. These two booklets are excellent sources on the history of a craft and the effect that the industry has had on the character and development of a City.

Sweet Honey Beret

Hurrah for Interweave Knits. The Winter 2008 copy dropped on my mat a couple of weeks ago, and being a hat person, my eye was drawn to the Sweet Honey Beret. I had a couple of mohair balls of yarn, saved from a stash given to be by a friend which I have passed to a knitting group in Kenilworth. I thought the pattern was worth a try. TRYING it was for me. I have tried to think of the reasons:

Firstly - I had not bonded with the yarn. I did not truly love it. It was a 'mock' mohair, only 20% natural yarn. It was a lovely colour though, deep purple, a rich tone which sadly my camera was not able to capture. Had it been 100% luxurious natural yarn, I may have felt differently.
Secondly - the dark colour meant it was difficult for me to see the stitches, and if one was dropped it was pretty hard, given the lace pattern to make corrections. I very nearly pulled it out two or three times.

Thirdly - I found jumping from the stitch guide to the pattern hard on the eyes, and after some hard talking to myself, devised a chart of sorts, which was much easier to follow. Drawing this out helped me to understand the brioche stitches and the relationship of the stitches from one row to the next.
Finally - I swung from using double pointed needles to circular needles. The circular needles were probably the best, as there was less opportunity to drop a stitch! However towards the crown I had to change to the double pointed needles. With all the yarn overs, it was a tricky job to keep the stitches in the right order.

Gradually as I knitted, more positive feelings began to grow. I started to think about who I would give the hat to. I tried it on, and it would definitely look better on a blonde. When it was finished it looked lovely, and worth the effort, and I shall knit another one. Well I've done all the hard work of figuring out the pattern now. The texture which the Honeycomb stich is certainly worth the effort. I also mastered the art of using the magic loop with the circular needle.

I thought it would look nice on Veronica, but having tried it on, she decided that it would not fit in with other items. Again another eureka moment during the middle of the night: I thought of a friend at Pilates who had been admiring my own beret, which I knitted a few years ago. She really loved the beret and now it has a head to keep warm. The Beret is a top fashion item this Winter, yes I heard it on the radio, so it must be true!!

Whilst typing this out, I have now thought of another friend who would like a new hat, so I shall call her and see what she would like.

Mini Christmas Puddings easy cooked in the Prestige Pressure Cooker

This Christmas, I sway between a buy the whole thing ready made to I could make that myself. I was going to get the Christmas pud from Miles at the Kenilworth Market thinking I was too late to make them, but then I read on Mandy's blog that she had only just made hers.

I went through my stash of ingredients, and I had all the makings ready to hand....but then, what to to steam the pudding in? I had a pudding basin but the recipe quantity meant that I would have to get another basin, and make two.
Having consulted various well know authors, I make up my own reducing sugar but adding grated apple and sherry and brandy, rather than barley wine etc., which I did not have to hand. I then calculated the total weight and decided to half the ingredients. Having followed the instructions, which said mix one day and leave to mature then cook the next, led to a 3 a.m. eureka moment: there were the small dariole or similar moulds, which would make individual puddings. The other bonus was that the smaller puddings would take a lot less time steaming, and reheating!

When I was up in the London with Vickie, the subject of pressure cookers came up. I wonder whether Vickie will be getting one this Christmas? I love mine and use it frequently. I have a Prestige Cooker which was a wedding present, which I have used ever since for things like stock, soups, steamed puddings, cooking fruit under pressure then boiling up jams and marmalade's but the later without the weights and using the large pan as preserving pan. I prefer to steam veggies and use the oven for meat.

I experimented with various ways of tying down the baking parchment, and I'm pleased to say all worked. The pudding are now maturing in a dark, cool place, and will only take 10 mins to reheat in the pressure cooker.

For my benefit, here is the recipe ready for next year:

2 oz each of sultanas, raisins, dark brown sugar,suet and breadcrumbs

4oz currants

1oz self raising flour

1tsp mixed nutmeg and cinnamon

grated peel from 1 lemon

1/2 oz mixed candied peel finely chopped

1tbsp black tracle

1 egg

1tbps each brandy and rum

1oz whole almonds soaked for 1 day then peeled and chopped

1 small cooking apple grated, skin included

Mix all items, and leave covered. Mix several times before cooking the next day.
This quantity makes up four individual puddings 6oz each.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pumpkin Festival

Well, chez nous, it is! A large pumpkin which I bought from the gardening club bring and buy, which had been sitting resplendent in the conservatory, had its first segment cooked and baked on Friday. Along with garlic, onions and olive oil, I nurtured it to roasted perfection.

The pumpkin continued to look beautiful in its cut form on the kitchen window sill, till Monday. All morning I stood there chopping and preparing apples and pumpkin for my chutney, and despite the cold had the window open and doors to the rest of the house closed in an effort to try to keep the smell of vinegar away from the rest of the house.
Today the rest of the pumpkin is being processed into pumpkin cake and roasted pumpkin ready to be used in a variety of dishes.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Christmas Marmalade

With the magic of freezing you can stash away Seville oranges and bring them out hopefully before the next season! Its only a couple of months away from when the new season oranges arrive. Here are a few jars of Seville marmalade made today, ready for selling next week at a bring and buy coffee morning at a friend's house in Kenilworth.

Using Tate & Lyle sugar does seem to lead to a better set, perhaps cane sugar is better than beet sugar, but I did add an extra lemon just to help the set, so it wasn't exactly a very scientific test.

Christmas inspired sewing

Having fallen by accident into a WI craft group earlier this year, with the help of very skilled friends there, I am exploring and starting to develop sewing skills. In my way I try to personalise each project and push the design a little further and incorporate small extras.

Many years ago in the Payroll Department of the NERC we had a part-timer, who was a member of the WI and would each year bring us goodies of handmade niceties to raise funds for various charities. These gave me the idea of making heart shaped decorations to give to my friends this year. I have continued to use the hearts I bought over 15 years ago using them on the doorhandles. Kaye who leads our craft group has a wonderful stash of materials and I've added a few extras to these, and taking about three hours each, I stitch thinking about each friend I am making these for.

This is the one, with different fabric each side, which I made for Vicki, my bread guru, who lives partly in London and partly in Southwold. I left this with her on my visit, but further ones will have to remain secret for now!

Here is one that I've made specially for myself, not a heart, but one with the year embroidered. I hope to make one each year, and hence trace the standard of my work. It started with two small squares of absolutely gorgeous turquoise silk. I sewed with 'silver' thread for the first time, there was a mirror, an embellishment, beads, padding and embroidery etc.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Out to town with my new shopping trolley

Still in my dressing gown, I answered the door bell. There on the doorstep was a Parcel Force lady with my box. It was so light I thought it was empty. But no, there inside was my new shopping trolley, only ordered last Thursday. Made in Spain, the Rolser trolley comes in many colours and I had decided for a darker colour but with a nice green trim.
As the day was sunny I decided to step out and had a number of shops to visit. Waitrose first and Sainsbury's on the way home meant I tested my trolley to capacity, and yes it fully meets expectations.
Up in Kenilworth I took a picture of the new Almanack Restaurant. Its also a coffee shop and has a light and airy feel to it. On Friday David and I went there for dinner and had some really excellent lamb which was the roast of the day, I would have loved more vegetables than the potato moussaka it was served with. The North side of the square is nearly completed. The development has been really slow having started before we moved to Kenilworth.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cold weather and warm woollens

Yesterday we seemed to spend the best part of the day in Ikeas, yes, more than one of them! That is almost beyond the call the duty, but the boy now has his big bookshelf/cupboard with doors on. I am from the open shelf brigade and David is from the behind closed doors brigade. I would even like to have all my ingredients on open shelves and can remember my grand-mothers larder in New Holland in Lincolnshire. It was down a couple of steps from the kitchen, and being half underground was lovely and cool. It had a stone floor and marble shelves. I would happily swap this for cupboards and my fridge!

Mr S has taken himself off to the NEC to spend a day amongst model trains so today I have a day all on my own at home, and after the gloomy morning will probably go outside to check on the garden and clear up the leaves etc. I've sat and done some knitting and phoning around. Sadly Aunty Nora is very poorly and is now in Hospital, and a phone call to Aunty Prue put me back in good spirits. We compared notes and I found out that her sweetpeas are already up, so I shall start mine off soon. My tee pee with only a few plants yielded so many bunches last year, and I hope that do as well this coming year.

Although we had a sprinkling of snow in the night, it had melted away by the morning, and thanks to my recent knitted items I am pretty snug. Both the legwarmers and the gloves are knitted in Manos Silk Blend. I'm pleased to have knitted some gloves, but feel that I am rather a nice leather gloves type of person. I do however now wear some rather unflattering performance biking gloves when cycling around, as I ruined a pair of fine leather gloves when they got wet through whilst cycling during the blizzard a few weeks ago.

Anna from Web of Wool suggested I put a couple of drops of hair conditioner in the rinsing water when preparing my new Lace Triangle/Tucker ready for its stretch on my wires. Here it is drying in the conservatory. The design is one based on the techniques explained by Evelyn Clark her booked called Knitting Lace Triangles. I've had the yarn for a couple of years now and was the first of consignments from the shawl club from Poshyarn. It is a lovely shade of Lavender and is warm and soft.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Couple of days in London

  • First time down to London from Kenilworth on my own. Jolly pleased with myself as I managed to get some very cheap train tickets on line. I even managed to update some software called Adobe so that I could print off the tickets.
  • Fine weather meant Vickie and I had a lovely walk around her locality, it is almost like a village and even has a wonderful church.

  • Got to taste some delicious home cooking and excellent bread, succulent partridge , and a 'surprise soup' at lunch time which I have already cooked at home, and has Mr S's approval.

  • Visited Poilane with Vickie, and was shown round the bakery including their wood burning oven. Due to a hopefully temporary downturn in restaurant bookings, the morning bake on Thursday was suspended and all we could see was the mother in the mixer, and no actual bread being baked. Annie, the bakery manager was very informative. Bought some goodies back which were enjoyed although, bless him, Mr S said my bread was more to his liking.

  • Visited the Wallace Collection and had lunch there with Vickie in their restaurant which is light and bright and in the inner court yard which has been glassed over. Looked at some wonderful rooms with their silks and stunning chandeliers and found the Oval Drawing Room and the picture of the Swing by Fragonard.

  • Vickie knows the area well as she used to live just off Marylebone High Street, and it was a treat to see the wonderful food and cloth shops. We walked and talked and admired the wonderful architecture during a walk from there to the Railway station.

Onion tart supper

If you are making bread and still haven't thought what's for dinner....what do you do? Quickly rattle through the fridge, think about what there is lying around...well it is Monday and not much onions, red peppers roasted on Saturday, cheese, olives etc. Supper turned out a cross between a pizza and an onion tart. The red onions which I had cooked gently worked beautifully.
To whom do I owe this recipe? Not sure but I do owe so much to my friend Vickie who is a craft baker, and who has introduced me to writers like Linda Collister, Andrew Whitley, Paul Hollywood, and Richard Bertinet.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Kenilworth in Bloom - Daffodil Project

As I have not yet claimed my birthday present from last year, and the next one is looming close, I woke up one morning a few weeks ago with a yearning after daffodils in the Spring. Not just a few daffodils but loads and loads. Not having a big garden, I thought wider: grass verge outside the house and the green opposite. Things I miss about Swindon are my neighbours and friends and the swathes of daffodils each spring dotted all around the town.

Here are the wild daffodil and the Tenby Daffodil side by side, with my wedding ring to give some scale. It is a little late for planting the bulbs, but I wanted to get some in the ground. , and the wild ones I've planted in the back garden and in pots. The supply of the wild ones is very restricted and a little too costly, and it seems that the Tenby Daffodil which naturalises easily and also seeds, is the optimum for growing in grass. Just because I really wanted these and the growers were out of stock, I did manage to find a good wild flower supplier, but at a price!

I've contacted the growers in Wales and hope to be able to distribute the bulbs at cost to any groups in Kenilworth who wish to plant out verges, green areas, school grounds etc. I need to get my order in early, so will be contacting people early next year to gauge the amounts required.

I've done my research and contacted various bodies with more to do on that front. Having spoken with a Kenilworth worthy, he suggested that I do this in conjunction with Kenilworth in Bloom, and open this to the whole town. I'm looking forward to the next Committee meeting where I shall put forward my case. To promote my new pet project, I am planting some clumps of daffodils, which I hope will be flowering next spring when I want to launch the Kenilworth Daffodil Project.
I hope that people all around Kenilworth will be mobilised to plant the Tenby daffodil widely next year and enjoy the spring show for many years to come.

Patchwork bag project completed

Completed hand made and designed by your truly. All the following are firsts for me: cathedral window patchwork, quilting, herringbone stitch to apply patchwork square to an orange lining. and the use of binding to finish all the edges.

Bang and Splash

It was the second time we attended the Fireworks at the Castle. I'd bought the tickets in advance from Coventry Building Society, and had been watching the forecast and thought it would be a washout.

The rain held off, so off we trotted early this time, as last time we were one of the late ones who held up the show! This time there were loads of people with tickets and the queues for cash were much shorter, the reverse of last year, and chatting to the next people, found out that for the first time one could download tickets from the Internet and it seemed to them that there were many more people this year.

We found a nice vantage point, and enjoyed the start of the show. There were loads of bangs and ows of admiration, but about ten minutes from the end, the drops got larger and larger, and I could feel the trickles down my neck. The consensus was that we head home. David walked as fast as he could, as he did not feel like running. The pace was such that every few steps, I had to jog a little, and we both splashed our way home. Anyone who knows how much taller David is, can picture the image of my trotting along to keep up!

Lessons learnt:

Remember to take the camera
Take a torch
Take a large umbrella

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Halloween Treats

I look forward to seeing the kids dressed up in their finery. I love dressing up myself and am seriously thinking of getting dressed up next year to give the T & T a laugh when I answer the knock to the door. I had my first taste of Kenilworth Trick or Treat evening last year, and this year I decided to dish out Twix Bars. Why did I choose these? Well they are my favourite snack bar as I try to kid myself that they are like Millionaire's shortbread which is really my favourite sweet pleasure. If they did not all go, I could add them to my 'no longer secret' stash. Mr S has discovered them at the back of the ingredients cupboard. Why was he looking there I wonder?

On Friday I stayed home after a hectic day on Thursday looking around Coventry and coming home with new curtains. I looked through all my recipe books for ginger biscuits, but somehow I did not have all the ingredients required so improvised and this recipe has now been written up as otherwise, I can't be convinced that I will remember it quite the same next time.

I would have been happy to give the Twixes away and have the biscuits. We had so many callers, all really well dressed and very well behaved, and nice to see that younger ones were accompanied by parents, that almost all the biscuits and Twixes went. I'll be making a second batch of my biscuits very soon.

Here is the recipe, and if you make them up, do let me know whether you like them. Next time I make them, I'll take a picture to post.

Noelle's Trick & Treat Biscuits.

170 g Plain Flour, sieved with 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/2 tsp salt, together with the following spices: 1 tsp ground ginger, 1tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Melt 110g butter and add 110 g caster sugar and 85g dark muscavado sugar.

When it is cooler, add 1 beaten egg, and 5 pieces of crystallised ginger finely chopped.

Combine the dry and liquid ingredients, and allow to cool a little and roll into approx 35 small balls, place on baking parchment and flatten with a fork. Bake in a preheated oven No 2/3 for twenty minutes. They cook very evenly, and when cool if they do not seem that they are crisp enough, they can go back in the oven for a little longer. When baked at this lower temperature there is less risk of them catching.

My trick in these biscuits were the pieces of ginger. Most of the children nibbled on them straight away and all of them thought they were lovely, and appreciated a home made effort.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Hail, snow and ice

After visitors there is always extra washing, so having checked up on the weather, I pegged up two loads early yesterday.

Tuesday is my fun day but nothing seemed to go well: I missed my pilates class as I was on the PC upstairs and was checking a clock with the wrong time, then I burnt my toast for my lunch, and finally just as I was ready to go out, it started to hail very slightly. There was a note left to say the postman had tried to deliver a parcel put through the door when I was rescuing my laundry.

To save my washing I rushed out and brought it in to hang on airers with the dehumidifier on. By the time that was done, the hailstones got heavier. I took a picture, but was till determined to go out. My bike was ready to go but I wondered whether I could cycle through the slush and would have turned round if it was unsafe.

By the time I had got to my destination, I was pretty cold and fairly wet, but the afternoon spent crafting amongst friends was just what I needed. My jeans sat drying on the radiator, and despite offers to ferry me back home by a kind hearted friend I braved the driving snow, and cycled home. It was straight into a hot bath, and then a nice snuggle down for me. David did not get home till 7 just a few miles took over an hour due to the gridlock out of the University.

I didn't have time to stow the washing line away during the snow storm, and by mid morning, the icicles were dripping.

This morning the snow was still lying around, and the second lot of washing would not really dry over the icicles so that went onto the airers too. It was amazing to see snow in October with leaves still on the shrubs and flowers such as geraniums peeping through. Of course they will be all frosted now and ready to be dispatched to the compost heap.

First Visitors after refit all the way from Australia and Korea

It was Friday evening, and we had yet to move bookcases, books and other items back to rooms, when David's nephew called. Nathan and his fiancee: Yura were over from Australia and could they pop in to see us as they were travelling down from Leeds to Swindon?

Well we rushed and rushed and yes when we opened the door to them on Saturday afternoon, we were ready for them. After a quick pot of tea and cupcakes bought earlier in the day from a charity bazaar in Kenilworth, we took them on a walking tour of Stratford. They stayed over Saturday and Sunday nights. I even managed to find that 2 for 1 ticket to Warwick Castle which I had stashed away.

Nathan had recently spent two years teaching English as a foreign language in Korea, where he met Yura. They both appreciated my home cooking and we enjoyed getting to know them a little better.

Carpeting complete

When Mr Stasher said he wanted to take all the carpets up, I knew he meant business. All boards which could move were screwed down, and everything was carefully cleaned: vacuumed and washed! The smell of Pongo was definitely dispatched. I spent two days on the banisters
with the brushing wax and much polishing.

What with a new under stairs cupboard door, lovely new paintwork and new carpet, I just keep padding around in my hand knit socks, and breath a huge sight of relief now the carpets are complete, and the doors are now trimmed so that they fit.

Mercia Carpets from Kenilworth supplied and fitted the carpets. We had the same throughout the house, including the conservatory. There was one piece for the living and dinning room, and although there is a wall and door between them, they used one piece so as to have no strip. This was David's idea to help the flow between the rooms. We had the carpets fitted on three days, with time in between for us to move furniture around.

Pumpkin feast

This little pumpkin grew from the plant which I bought from the Kenilworth Lions Summer Fete in Abbey Fields. During the summer I willed it to grow and it produced one fruit which riped on the pebbles of the garden.

The outer skin was grey, but when cut through the wonderful green and orange colours were wonderful. Slow roasted with onions, garlic and olive oil, it yielded soft and tasty flesh which we had in various ways: as a hot vegetable on day 1, mixed with roasted red pepper etc with olives on roasted bread, then in a pilaf, and finally whizzed up into a soup.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Another Good Read

I'm pleased to have found an area of Kenilworth Library with a range of interesting books. Having enjoyed my Venetian Blues fix book, I read the follow on where Marlena moves to Tuscany. As well as the wonderful descriptions of the areas and her recipes, the author seems to capture and thoughtfully share with her readers the more sensitive and emotional sides of life.

Following on from that I've picked up another book, set in the area of France just across the Pyrenees from my sister Jenny. I am just getting into 'Happy Hour' by Patrice Chaplin. I am now getting to grips with the balustrade in the hallway, and am going to try using a brush on wax. I need to do a small test piece.

Last Thursday & Friday, I used several pints of elbow grease/wax and boiled linseed oil to revive my chests of drawers which were covered with rain spots. We had a severe thunder storm I think it was some time early last year, anyway it was in Swindon, we were out in the garden with Matthew and Veronica, and did not have time to rush inside to close the windows. I had really thought we would have to have them sent off to be reconditioned but at what cost....I had found out of course, and it was almost as much as getting some more from an antique shop!

Friday seemed to be one of those days, which just went so well. Work on the house, shopping etc went well, and then our evening out in Leamington was well above expectation. We went out to dinner to the Basement Restaurant and there was a good jazz ensemble: guitar, keyboard and vocalist. David had Fresh Sardines with sauce on toast, followed by gigot of lamb and veg, and orange crepes with chocolate and pecan nut sauce, I had red onion and blue cheese tartelette on a bed of mixed leaves to start with, main of freshest pan fried fillet of sea trout on the best pumpkin and Parmesan risotto I'd ever had, followed by a smooth creme brulee flavoured with Baileys. We'll definitely be going there again. The restaurant was full and the service and whole evening a delight.

Autumn Sunshine

The shadows are lengthening and without early sunshine, I seem to be able to sleep in a little later at the weekends. Maybe it is because I am waking up in the middle of the night worried about the global economic situation. The night frights are soon dispelled when I draw the curtains and look out onto the lovely trees just a few feet from my bed.
We have been blessed with a superb weekend of warm and sunny weather. The blessings are warmth, whilst our heating is still disconnected, and the ability to sit outside on the patio for breakfast, lunch and tea, rather than our picnic table in the kitchen, the ability to dry washing outside, whilst there is nowhere to hang anything inside.
Saturday evening, after a session undercoating the loft hatch and radiator in the hall, David humoured me by escorting me on a nighttime walk to the Castle to see if we could spy owls or bats. We hardly needed to use the torch as the moonlight was so bright. I had hoped to walk well beyond the castle but my hips started to hurt, and knowing that I had glossing to do Sunday we turned back after a nice sit down.
I have gloss painting down to a fine art, and the radiator in the hall is looking very good. We had enough time to have another treat, we went to the cinema for the first time in maybe two years, after a very good but late lunch: "I've loved you so long", a thoughtful French film. Afterwards David took me on a walking tour around the campus, looking at one his current project: the new nursery. It is close by a lake, and whilst we were enjoying the lovely evening, we had several flybys by groups of Canadian Geese.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Watching Paint Dry

This was the situation earlier this week. Paul the builder was at the painting stage. We now have the walls crossed lined and papered with the final paper. What a job and well done especially as the old layers of paper were very hard to get off. The ceiling was specially hard to get cleared, unlike the bedroom paper which almost fell off leaving me to wash the ceiling down several times to remove the distemper.
There is now a new door between the dining and living room to match all the others in the house, and it now opens into the dining room. Previously there was only one position our armchair could stand in, just one inch one way or the other, meant the door would not open. That meant I did not often move the chair when vacuuming!
I've not been idle today! Well I have to have some fun and it has been such a lovely sunny day that I decided to go to see Rita, and I rigged up a tape player and also found her a lead to play her radio without using batteries, and had a laugh as I danced my sega. I had brought the tape during one of our holidays several years ago and this was the first time I had played it. Let me explain to non Mauritians what this sega is: it is a dance that the slaves started and now their descendants and all Mauritians love to dance to tunes played on home made instruments and guitars. The ballads are very topical and current ones describe the ups and downs of daily life.
Thursday is of course Market Day in Kenilworth, and I bought home eggs, pie, bacon, figs, mango, ginger, potatoes, and leeks.
I did paint all afternoon, and have completed all the gloss in the hallway except for the radiator and hatch....tomorrow is another day.

Monday, 6 October 2008

First Quilting

In between all this painting, and I haven't yet taken a close up of Jasmine emulsion and gloss, I sit on the bed doing a little bit of quilting. I wanted to have some circles and with a number of plain pastry cutters found one just the right size. At first I used the small stabbing stitches the books advise, but I soon found a small running stitch gave a much neater effect on the back. By pulling a little on the thread when I finish each circle the gathering up accentuates the quilting effect. This bit is to go on the back of the bag I am making up using up the dragon fly Cathedral Patchwork technique.

Pear Harvest

We love trees, and in a small garden I thought it would be lovely to plant a couple of fruit trees. Earlier this year I had the big excuse of exploring local nurseries, and found a Concorde Espalier tree and a Doyenne de Comice. Knowing that one ought not to let the trees bear too many fruit, I picked so many small pears off. I thought there would be a further drop so left two on the Concorde and obviously more on the Comice tree. There was no June drop, and we are now starting to enjoy our harvest.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Kenilworth Market, more stalls

The weekly market on a Thursday also has a number of excellent stalls in addition to that of the Cotswold Pudding and Pie Co.

An excellent greengrocer, whose artistry adds to the visual pleasure is Stodds of Leicester. The produce is fresh and seasonal veg abounds. I like the way he uses savoy cabbage leaves to edge his display. Last week the display was fabulous and it inspired me to take my camera this week. However the display was not as its best as I did not get there till after 1 p.m. I often have a peep at the boxes to see where and how far they have travelled. After Venice I pined for figs, and having seen the miserly specimens in Sainsbury's was delighted to buy some a few weeks ago at the stall. Last week there were none, but it paid to have asked, as this week they had pride of place.

This is what I bought and as I cycled home I was already planning what I would have for lunch and dinner.

There is a nice flower stall and a couple of plant stalls. I'll have to think of a way of bringing back some trays of flowers to plant out for winter colour.

I am already eyeing up the olives for when my stash in the fridge is consumed. The stallholder, whom I have nick named Mr Gastromie has a fantastic array of olives, tomatoes etc preserved, as well as excellent bread and patisserie from a real french baker. I think the baker is baking and does not come to Kenwilworth, but I did catch a glimpse of him at the Saturday market in Warwick.

Cotswold Pudding and Pie Company at Kenilworth Market

Its over a year since I moved to this lovely small town. One of the regular things which adds to my contentment here is the weekly market. Contentment is an understatement, glee is more like it. Most weeks I manage to cycle up in rain or shine. One thing I must remember is to lock up my bike by the library thus avoiding having to hold my breath when I lock up my bike right by the temporary generator which emits fumes behind the fish stall.

This is part of my shopping today. Last week I had an egg weighing 103g, which turned out to be a double yoker. No joke for the hen I am sure.

One of the first stall holders to get my five star award at the Kenilworth weekly market was that of the Cotswold Pudding and Pie Co. It was my search for a good egg which led me to Mr Salmon. Well I had tried everywhere, and having had bantams in my garden in Swindon for several years, it had not been possible to match their eggs for taste and freshness - until I tried Mr Salmon's eggs. They come in all sizes and colours, and each week I seek a peep down all the trays to try and find a green one! I take them as they come, politeness demands this of course, but if there is a particularly beautiful one, then this is handed to me, with very good grace.

I have tasted most of Mr Salmon's produce: EXCELLENT Pork pies, meat pies, sausages, boiled ham, bacon and more. The pastry is perfection and all the pork is reared by a member of his family, with Mr Miles's brother curing the pork and making the produce. The Steak and Kidney Pie is a firm favourite and what with builders all around, makes an excellent easy evening meal with fresh veg from the market. Recently when I had missed the market and got a Pork Pie from Waitrose, it failed to please.

I was chatting to Miles today and was delighted to hear that he attends Cirencester Market. That is where my love of good local food markets developed. One thing I used to look forward to when working there was getting out to the market at lunch times. The hot news is that their pies are being hunted down and they are going to supply a deli in Malmesbury. That's another small town where I used to go to the market having left work in Cirencester.

Here is my market day lunch: lovely small slices of pork pie, well they are so tasty these are sufficient to tingle the taste buds, with my home made beetroot chutney and windowsill sprouted alfalfa.

Builders and choosing finishes

These were just some of the carpet samples which I brought home. I had gone through dozens at the local carpet shop. David and I had tried some 'National Names', but trying to use locals suppliers generally, we also popped into some local ones and found one which we liked. I visited a number of times and asked all sorts of questions are to advantages of one type against another etc. Ever patient they were, and the house has been measured up, and the carpet ordered. I have to keep in mind the wonderful feeling of carpets new and clean, warm and cushy under my feet. This picture of underfoot comfort is sustaining me through the four weeks that Paul our builder is here. We now have only a small piece of capet left in the hall way and the landing and that is coming up this weekend when I do the glosswork in the hall.

I can almost hear you gasp, what four weeks! So did Matthew, my son, but when I explained to what was being done, he emailed back that he understands that was necessary what with David's exacting standards. Cables are being sunk, skirting boards replaced, new fire surround, putting air vents in chimneys, small cupboard being upgraded, papering, painting etc etc.

The first room to be carpeted will be the living and dining rooms, as they will be empty. We shall have a couple of days to shift some things around. Then the fitters will return to do a couple more rooms, and the same again. That's the beauty of having a local Company, at least they also most live in Kenilworth, so that reduces the fitters carbon footprint as compared to having a company from Stratford or whatever.

Cathedral Patchwork

How's that for a link! My previous post mentioned light and Coventry Cathedral and now the little project I've just started is based on Cathedral Patchwork.

The Kenilworth WI had an evening where an expert came and showed off and talked about her Cathedral Patchwork. I missed it, plain forgot about it, but had a strange sensation all evening that I ought to have been somewhere else. After that the WI craft group was inspired to try some out. Not a large piece, mind you but a project which would give us an idea of the techniques. I'm enjoying this craft thing: it gave me an aim when I visited the Knitting and Stitching Show recently at Birmingham. I found some lovely fabric with dragonflies, which I would try to frame within the calico backing. Here is the small sample completed. I worked on this in Hereford sitting a window with a lovely view of the Cathedral, and also during times when I just had to escape from the builders. We do a lot together on Tuesday afternoon, but I had to unpick this as I had folded my squares wrongly. It takes a lot of fabric but the backing is completely finished off neatly without any work. This sample is being made into a bag, and the other side will be quilted.....another first try for me at this craft. Now I am really making up for the fact that academic girls at the schools I went to never did needlework. Its really fun.

The very small scissors were also a little treat from the Show in Birmingham, and fit in my little sewing box which I also made at the group.

All things bright and beautiful

Its Harvest Festival time. A period to be thankful that despite the weather people all over do have things to be grateful for. Here is the glorious effect of light, my little bit of the theatrics reminding me of Coventry Cathedral. A friend from knitting group: Mandy and her Husband are on a stained glass course, and I am sure that they will come up with something lovely to adorn their abode. I had a moment of light through nasturtiums.

The produce of what Marie-Claire thought were courgettes and edible turned out to be a variety of gourds. They are a little on the large side, growing next to the pumpkin, perhaps they did not want to be outshone. These climbed and even went next door, where Dawn coaxed some on, and now the stash of gourds from my side have gone to join hers. I think she is going to make an arrangement with them for Harvest Festival.
The pumpkin grew on a plant which I bought from the Lion's Fair early this summer on the Abbey Fields in the centre of Kenilworth. No doubt this will be baked and coaxed in a number of delicious suppers.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Train Trip to Carlisle

The trip was a special treat. Starting from Hereford and all the way to Carlisle and back in the same comfortable carriage, with great catering all the way, it was as I imagine a cruise would be. We had superb weather and great views all along the way. A vintage diesel drew the carriages for some of the journey and for the bit 'up north' we had steam. We had views across the valleys and could see the shadow of the train and the viaducts. Crowds of the lookers on, and there were hundreds, stood along the track with their cameras and tripods, so train spotters and twitchers, watched us go past over the Settle to Carlisle viaducts.

I managed to get some knitting in too! I busied myself with the second of the legwarmers, but just as I had finished and was knitting the cord, I found that I had forgotten to knit in the holes right by the least I shall have time when hiding upstairs and trying to get away from the building mess!

Each side of our trip we stayed in a delightful B & B in Hereford, and enjoyed exploring the town both Friday evening and Sunday morning. Friday afternoon we spent in the Cathedral and went to look at the Mappa Mundi and the chained library. Having started the routine of lighting candles in Venice, I was just drawn to doing the same in Hereford. Had a wonderful sit down in the garden of the Cathedral enjoying their mixed herbaceous garden and cake and tea....very English!

Just to finish off our holiday nicely we dropped in on the Gala Day at the Kidderminster end of the Severn Valley Railway. Its a preserved railway and there we saw at least four engines in steam and many well restored vintage carriages, and were able to have free access to the platforms to look at them. We just had a sandwich and tea in the tearooms then continued our journey home.

With just a few days to go till the big spurt forward with the refurbishment, the days leading up to our trip have been filled with the task of emptying the living and dining rooms of everything! The only room left without too much stuff is now the kitchen and the bathroom.

How we can cram so much in, not so much cram as plan.....The train trip was booked early in the year, then the trip to Venice and then the builder. Now I have to think about such things as carpets and calculate the earliest day the fitters can to do their work without bruising the new paintwork, and book that. Allowing for the fact that the paint will be done before the papering, can I manage to get the carpet fitters in the day after the builder has gone, and thereby needing to move the furniture back only once after the carpets are down?

Keeping that perfect picture in my mind I shall be able to deal to all that may come my way over the next three or four weeks!!!! David will not have any TV for that we shall get the hall done too.