Friday, 30 December 2011

Country mice visit London

As part of mid winter celebrations and birthday ones too, we took ourselves off on a break to the Capital.

We started off by exploring around Covent Garden.  There were wonderful decorations, and a huge Christmas Tree. 

It was really much colder than it had been for some time, so having an excellent lunch, with starters and  wine, in a Moroccan Restaurant, with a warm and fragrant lamb tagine as the main dish, we were set up for the afternoon.

Before we arrived at our hotel we had a coach tour of the Capital, and saw many of the streets lit up with fancy lights.  After we settled ourselves and unpacked we set off for the Old Vic to see Noises Off.  We ended up walking there and back as there was some trouble with the underground!

The weather was cool and crisp, and I could not resist taking pictures of the river from our room.  The sunrise was beautiful, and for a short time I thought there was a fire starting in the building opposite, but when there was no smoke, it soon dawned on me that it was the reflection of the sun off the river onto the windows! 

After breakfast with super views, we set out for Borough Market just across the river, taking in the

modern architecture south of the river and the classic buildings across to the north. 

The market was wonderful, with smells and wonderful things to temp both cooks, and those who wanted their goodies ready made.  We bought two pies to eat later on.  This got me into thinking of pie making, so this is a new area to be explored next year...small pies, pies to be taken on journeys or to work, pies filled with fragrant meats, sauces and vegetables.

By this time we were getting to know the area pretty well, so cut across the river and caught the underground to the V &A.   After touring some of the exhibits in the British Section, we went to find the famous restaurant, .  At first I thought there must be another one, as we walked into a high ceilinged white modern affair, but  on enquiry we were told about the side rooms, which were tiled and wonderfully decorated.  Lunch is a self service meal where we could choose lots of different styles, but we plumped for the Roast Turkey, vegetables etc., and it was quite the best even when compared with a traditional restaurant.  We lunched in the Morris Room.  With a pianist on the grand piano in the adjacent room lunch sustained us on many levels...

We then went further into areas we had never been to, and we marvelled at the wide array of jewels and jewelry, then we went round some of the theatrical exhibits.  Each time we go to a museum there are one or two items which really hold our interest.  On this occasion it was a large oil painting which we could get up close enough to to see all the details: It was The Triumph of the Archduchess Isabella, painted in 1615 by Denys van Alsloot.  It is a long painting and the Museum site states that it is 381cm long and 117cm high.  We spent quite a long time looking at all the details, and remarked on the upside down Christmas trees set at first story level along the main houses overlooking the Grand Place. Strangely we had noticed a couple of very grand companies and hotels in the city decorated in this manner.  I wish I had taken pictures of these too!

On our last day we spent most of our time at the Tower of London.  Again it was cold and crisp and clear.  The jewels were magnificent, and as there were so few people first thing, we were able to walk slowly past along the viewing platform, after having gone much too fast on the moving floor. 

Our day at the tower was also spent climbing  up towers,  looking at old carvings in the stone walls made centuries ago by enemies of the crown incarcerated here, at armour and weapons, and chatting to very knowledgeable period costumed historians  The audio guides took us all around the site. 

We spent quite some time watching the ravens.  They have cages, where they spend the night, and their wings were severely clipped, so there is no chance of them flying off!  In times past wild animals were also kept at the Tower, now there are very striking sculptures made from chicken wire dotted around the site, sometimes up on roofs on stood on walls.

I find London fascinating, so much to see, and it seems that the whole world has come there: faces of people tell this story, as well as shop contents, fine buildings and museum artifacts.  On our coach trip round the capital, we halted in the traffic momentarily, and my eyes locked with those of a protester outside the Chinese Embassy, he was in the static pose which I learnt in my thai chi lessons years ago.... The internet gave the following on this protest:
Falun Gong  also known as Falu Dafa is a series of traditional Chinese meditation exercises from the diciplines known as QiGong.

On the 5th November 2011 opposite the Chinese embassy in London, followers of this form of mediation staged a peaceful protest against the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
Literature handed out at the event claimed that people practicing Falun Gong in China are imprisoned, tortured and killed.

 I guess along with feeling pride in our Capital, I feel pleased to live in a society where at least people can protest peacefully without fear for their personal safety.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas Baking

Given that red is the top Christmas colour, the sight of red peppers at the market inspired my choice of dish to take to a meeting of library volunteers. 

With goats cheese and olives, and a pizza base chosen from one of my many books on bread, this festive bread went down really well.

At that same party I sampled a delicious stollen, and even the first mouthful sent me into was home made, phew!    I called my bread guru Vicki and received her guidance on how far ahead to make the loaf and her experience of making them.  After consulting my books, I decided to follow the recipe set out in Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters exactly, and using his method of rolling the sheet of marzipan up with the dough.My timings for the different sections was longer, maybe it is cooler in my kitchen.  The loaf is light and delicious and it is hard to tell that half of the flour is stoneground wholemeal.   I made this stollen five days before Christmas and it is wonderfully moist and still fresh five days afterwards.....just the smallest of pieces left now!

 He gives such exact measurements, including those for the marzipan, that all is used up!

This year I did not make my own traditional cake, but bought one which a friend made.  Mr S is busy eating that, but I must admit my own home made is much better, but I also prefer Stollen. 

As soon as the Stollen was cool enough a thick layer of icing sugar was sifted over it, to give that traditional look.  That day I also baked some treacle and date loaves, which just have a slight sweetness and are excellent with cheeses, chutneys and celery.

On Christmas Eve, just before the light failed I climbed a ladder to pick red roses from the pergola and other greenery to decorate the table.  The roses have lasted over five days.  We had Jean over for dinner on Christmas Eve, but sadly Jenny was not able to make it.

For Christmas morning breakfast I made my pumpkin bread the day before, which again was a great success.  The best preserve for this was the Quince butter, although Mr S just prefers it plain.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Autumn Break up North

If its going to be 'darkish and coldish', then why not go for a break that includes lights?  Our weekend break with Johnsons up to visit the Lumiere Festival in Durham hit top marks in every way.
An afternoon spent walking around York on a sunny day meant lovely views from the city walls. 

The windows were dressed beautifully and this one caught my attention.

To 'cap' it all there were long queues of happy graduates and their friends and families waiting to get into the Cathedral.  The City was in a happy mood.

We arrived at our hotel after dark, our room comfortable and warm, and the lounges had real roaring fires.  We explored a little before dinner  which was really good too!  We had the next morning free so we walked down to the nearest village, which was old and interesting.

We set off for Durham after an excellent lunch, and arrived in plenty of time to walk and around the town, before darkness.  I loved this stylish door.

We explored the Cathedral too and had our supper in the refectory...everywhere around the town people who arrived early for the show were settling down to recharge their batteries.  More people had turned up that the organisers had envisaged and a strict one way system with areas where people could be held back was in force.  We must have waited in the market place for over half an hour...but the crowd was in a good mood, and we had a giant snow dome covering the Marquess of Londonderry galloping on his charger.

I can well believe those we spoke to who said that they had been the previous night, but had come back because it was so good.  This show is on for four nights only!

The show against the Cathedral, the interior, the fire show in the cloister and College Gardens was astounding. 

In other areas of the City, artists had completely different approaches:  I loved the one in neon lights proclaiming ' the future will be confusing',  and another one 'everything will be alright'.  Viaducts and bridges were used with great effect, with water too...I can only feel that if we had the chance we would be back on other nights too.

The following day, we had a little detour to visit the Angel of the North, then spent a few hours at the Bowes Museum, where we saw the swan come to life.  When Mr S entered the costume gallery, he knew that I would there some time....the lace was excellent.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Lace Exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

A quick train ride this morning, took us to Birmingham.  I had heard about this exhibition from a knitting friend, and thought that this would be the outing for this weekend.  The collection of antique lace was beautifully set out in cabinets with glass tops, so it was possible to look down onto the pieces.  This handkerchief with hand made lace border was on the wall.

The detail was wonderful, and the work so fine, that I cannot imagine the hours of work that it would have taken to make them. 

The type of flax plant, which made the very fine fiber  is 'extinct'...well if this is not a challenge to plant hunters to find it again, perhaps growing wild along some grass verge. I wonder if there would be some commercial use for so fine a linen thread, as silk and artificial threads are used.

A short walk to another gallery took us to the modern part of the exhibition....this was art which purported to take its inspiration from lace....fairly interesting, and a clever use of new materials, defunct computer punch cards, drilling holes in mdf etc...

The lack of expertise or hours spent on the work compared to that of the lace designers and makers was glaringly obvious.  Of course there would have been no eye strain, no years of training from the age of six, no back ache, and pay beyond the wildest dreams of (mainly) those women who would get less than the value of a meagre meal for a whole day's work!  No one now would want to commission intricate lace, and there are grants to pay for artists to come from all over the world, to fill space.  However I doubt any of the modern pieces will be on show in 300 years time.

Autumn Sunshine

Unlike this time last year, it is usually warm and most days sunny.  Getting out and about at weekends for Mr S is a must, as he mostly indoors during the week, and it quite dark when he gets home.  Last weekend we drove out to Compton Verney.

There was a Display of Fireworks, with posters and packaging, and Mr S pointed out those he used to buy and let off in his childhood....I am getting more to the place where for me fireworks now mean frightening all the poor birds and animals and letting lots of pollution into the air...We seem to spend so much time and effort trying to protect the environment, then it seems quite OK to spoil it all just for fun.

Another special exhibition which was really very charming and unexpected was one containing numerous sketches by Quentin Blake.  I recognised the style, and was charmed by those which he had drawn for hospitals.  Sadly no photography is allowed, but I caught a lovely view from one of the windows.....

On the way home, we stopped by a farm close to Barford, and bought a couple of culinary pumpkins to add to the couple I already had at home. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Gothic Shawl by Jane Sowerby

This is name of the shawl designed by Jane Sowerby, featured on the front cover of The Knitter Issue 37.  Coming back home with my pancheon, I had in my mind my offer to knit my aunt a shawl.  I am ready to tackle some complex lace knitting again, and when my latest magazine offered this beautiful design, I felt driven to accept the challenge.

One of the substitute yarns suggested was one by Old Maiden Aunt.  After looking at her site, I emailed my aunt, and she was able to view the yarn I had in mind.  On Thursday I ordered it and it arrived Friday morning. 

Hand painted in shades of brown and chestnut, with the wonderful feel of baby suri alpaca, fine merino and silk, this will knit up into a beautiful lightweight and warm shawl.

  It took me just over half an hour to wind the yarn, using my wooden swift.

I found a size of needle suggested and knitted up a trial swatch.  I need to buy more needles: two 100 cm needles, and for hours I was wondering whether I should get the addi turbo or lace needles.  I tried the knitting shop in Warwick, but no luck there.  As I knitted the swatch on bamboo, and I know that with my hands as they are, wooden or bamboo needles are much kinder, I decided to stick with my hunch.  It was like looking for needles in a haystack, finding the right top quality ones, right length etc...and now two Addi Bamboo Circular needles  are on order from English Yarns.  Next week when they arrive, I shall start in earnest.

The Pancheon

A couple of weeks ago, my Uncle Noel and I ventured north to the land of our forefathers and mothers!  We stopped en route at his son and his wife, my cousins. 

Before we got there he and I had a great lunch and a visit to Hardwick Hall....what no photos!  I had left my camera behind...but perhaps this meant I took more in....

At my cousins, where we were made most welcome, I got to taste some wonderful jellies, chutneys and preserves.  We visited sisters/aunts and brothers/uncles with uncle Noel sharing some wonderful vintage family photographs.

On this visit I was given my Grand Mother's pancheon.  I found out later that my grand-mother had this handed down from her mother.  Therefore to my knowledge this was my great-grandmother's.  Who knows it is was new then or if came down from even earlier in the family. I feel honoured to be the current user, and so very grateful to receive it.  It is on account of this blog, and the fact that my aunt reads this, and her generosity, that it is now here. 

When he saw first saw it, Uncle Noel said he could remember it standing besides the hearth when he was young, covered with two tea towels.  My aunt has a very roomy and superb kitchen, so it was not until I got it home that I realised how big it was and why it would have needed two tea towels to cover it! 

Mr S approves of the place on the work surface where it is on display.  It is just above the under the counter freezer, where I used to keep the fruit basket.  I only realised this year the reason that our fruit ripened so quickly was that it was a warm corner.  Dough using 1.5Kg of flour looks really small but there is plenty of room to rise.  I guess with a very large family, a big pancheon would be needed.  Today Mr S and I went into Warwick, and I found a lovely hardly used vintage Huckaback towel with pretty pansies, at Oops-a-daisy at the antiques galleries.  It is large enough to cover the pancheon nicely.

With this dough, I made two walnut free form, two small and one large tin loaves.  Two loaves went to friends.


As I left my aunt, I thought it would be nice to ask her if she would like something, and she said that next time I went up, she would like some bread.  I also felt a nice knitting project coming on, and she was delighted when I suggested that I knit her a shawl.  More about this later!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Warm blanket for cooler evenings

Its a few weeks now since a blanket left here.....I think it was started over a year ago. 
A gentleman arrived at our Knit and Natter group, with a huge amount of knitting yarn.  His mother had recently passed away, and she had been a stasher too.  The main part was distributed, but amongst the bags, I spied a couple of packets of Irish tweed knitting yarn, each had the same dark tones, one with orange and the other green.  With these, I thought a nice blanket could be made for someone.  I had only just learnt to crochet squares, and asked if anyone would like to join with me.  Janice, Nicki, and Jacki volunteered, and over the months we croched our way through most of the two packets.

As a result of all of this, and several get togethers here with tea, coffee and cakes, and much nattering,  with several others turning up to encourage and cheer us on, we completed the 'lap rug'. Thanks so much to each and every one of you.

The pattern I thought was inspired  by a simple mosaic in the bottom of a water pool in Pompeii.  I've looked through all my photos, but cannot find it....maybe in my dreams, squares of dark green and red marble with a simple geometric pattern shining through water....

It took me a couple of weeks to come up with the best pattern and to sew up all the 99 squares...then I hand washed and also machine washed, the piece of sleeve which this lady had knitted up, and knew that it would be safe to machine wash the blanket on the wool wash.  After it was blocked...well not tightly but spread over towels in the conservatory, it was time to think of whom we would give the blanket to.

Here Janice and Nicki pose with the completed blanket.  It is now its new owner.  May they feel the warmth, laughter and companionship which went into making this.

Just before the final squares were sewn on, my little Izabelle visited, and grabbed the blanket to put over our laps at story time...I think she also enjoyed playing peek a boo, and being able to see out through the now I am using up some ends of sock yarn balls, and making a small lap rug for her.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Apple Cake

Mr S was wondering if he was going to get cake this week, and just when I was doing something completely different, the idea of apple cake came into my mind.  I searched for a recipe, weighing up in my mind which I would use, when I remembered a recipe that I wrote down years ago.  I looked through my well worn book, and found the recipe dated 1993! 

I adapted it a little as I was using desert apples, and felt there was too much sugar.  As I was using a larger 23 cm spring cake tin, I got into a little bit of a dilemma after putting in the sliced apples and felt I did not have enough mixture, so mixed up a further 1 eggs worth to cover the fruit properly.  I really like this size of cake as it gives more and better sized slices.  This is a really easy cake to make.  Since a couple of friends who received slices have left messages on the answer machine saying how much they enjoyed it, I am posting the recipe for them to have a try....

1 lb or so prepared eating apples
1 lb self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
10 oz caster sugar
5 eggs
1.5 tsp almond essence
10 oz (goats butter) or ordinary butter melted
Flaked almonds
Caster Sugar

I decided to leave on the peel on the apples, but sliced the apples neatly.  To prevent them browning, some lemon juice was squeezed over them

Sift the flour, baking powder into a large bowl, and then add the sugar.
Melt the butter gently.
Whisk the eggs to blend, together with the almond essence.
Add the eggs and butter to the flour and sugar, and mix.
Cover the bottom of the cake tin with half the mixture.  Layer the apples.


Then top with the remainder of the cake mixture, and sprinkle on a liberal layer of flaked almonds.

Bake at Gas Mark 4 for about 1.5 Hours.  Remove from oven, after about 10 minutes, remove from tin, and allow to cool slowly on a cake rack.  When cold, dust with icing sugar.  Three days later the cake is still fresh and there are two slices left for Sunday too!

Doyenne du Comice Harvest

In preparation for 'the harvest', I went to the market early and picked up some empty boxes. As soon as we had dinner on Thursday, I went out and started to pick the pears from our tree, which I planted just three years ago.
The tree had a total of 46 fruits, total yield 13 Kg, the largest fruit being 409 grams, which was just over twice the weight of the smallest 195g. I been trying to find out what weights the fruit grow to.
Earlier in the year Julian came over to look at my fruit trees and it seemed then that I had been doing all the right things regarding pruning, mulching and feeding. Even though we have a small garden its great to have a few trees both for the flowers and the fruit.
In a couple of weeks, the espalier Concorde Pear will be ready to harvest, but with not quite the same quantity or size. I shall be bottling some fruit for Mr S to enjoy, rather than his usual tinned pears! Also I shall be looking out for some pear chutney recipes.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Opening of Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge in Kenilworth

A note was pushed through my door, which I was very pleased with, as it reminded me that the new foot and cycle bridge was being opened on Thursday.

I arranged things such that I arrived in time. I used the cycle path through the common, but I came to a part which was still being worked on. There was a very good asphalt smooth base, but for a reason I just cannot fathom, this was being topped with bitumen and fine golden gravel. I had to squeeze past the lorry and workmen....and it was only when I got home that I found that I had got tar on the bottom of my sandals and on my new white trousers!!!! I have cleaned off the sandals but I am still working on the trousers.

What a hot day, and what long speeches....I had to retreat to the back to the shadier part of the path, but by climbing the mounting block, got a good view and picture. I had a nice chat with a couple of handsome officers, who obligingly posed for their photos. Our officer in the high vis jacket had come on his bike too. I was pleased to hear that soon they will be back in Kenilworth, albeit with a smaller office in the same building which is being refurbished.

There was a good turn out of walkers and cyclists, including children cycling from a nearby school, and here is the first tandem to cross the bridge peddled by my neighbours Mark and Bethany.

Day out to Kelmscott

Last week, I joined ladies from around Warwickshire on a trip to Kelmscott Manor. It was a glorious day, and enjoyed myself. From high up in the coach, we had a wonderful view of the rolling Cotswold landscape on the way there. I was really familiar with the area, as it is not far from where we used to live, but I had only been to Kelmscott once and many years ago.
There were two coaches, and I was in the party to enjoy a walk to the Village Hall and Church first. The church is a gem, and thanks to William Morris insisting on minimal intervention, there are wonderful original features to enjoy...More recent were the kneelers, and this is one of Morris's designs.

After a relaxing and delicious lunch, we toured the house and gardens. No photographs are allowed in the house....but there was so much to see, and we were able to get up really close to furniture, hangings, embroideries etc.

The gardens were relaxing, and quinces hung huge and golden from the many trees. The willows which so much inspired Morris were still in the summer garb.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Holiday in Wales

A few days since our return, and at last I get to look through some of the images. There are so many and it hard to choose from them. We arrived early at our 'home' for the week, to take advantage of the steam gala train rides, which we were able to enjoy all week courtesy of the passes which came with renting Berwyn Station Master's House.

From the lovely window seat in the bay window of the first floor living room, we could keep an eye on the river, bridge and also the trains coming up and down the line. Here Izabelle spies Grampy getting off the engine

and Grampy looks up at Izzie.

Crossing the bridge across the River Dee we walked across Velvet Hill, and down to Valle Crucis Abbey and Eliseg's Pillar. The carvings and remains of the Abbey were inspiring.

Up from the pillar we came across a pub to which was attached a micro brewery, so before our walk home we had a pint sat outside enjoying the view down the Valley.

On a little tour up the Horse Shoe Pass, we went on to Ruthin where we spent the morning exploring the delightul town, then we just happened to find an excellent place for lunch: On the Hill

On our way back from Ruthin we called on Rug Chapel, which had the most wonderful internal decorations.

Hanging down was the most delightly wooden chandelier, with angels all around.

We all went up to Pistyll Rhaeadr, the tallest waterfall in Wales. It was a very windy Monday, and walking down from the falls Izzie did one of her longest runs, into the wind and down the hill, laughing all the way...

Another outing was to the interesting Chirk Castle where with a large group of visitors we were highly entertained by a knowledgebale guide. After a lunch picnic in Chirk Church yard, we went on to walk along the Chirk Aqueduct which runs alongside the Viaduct.

Early in the week, we walked up from the town to visit Plas Newydd, but arrived a little late in the day. However at the end of the week, we visited on the Saturday again, when we had an excellent introduction to the house and the Ladies courtesy of the Historical Open Day.

We had such a great time, and saw much more than just these, such as walks along the canal, exploring villages, enjoying playing with Izzie etc., and visiting Dibley's which I could not leave without a few Streptocarpus plants.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in this area of Wales, and only two hours drive away.....