Monday, 15 July 2019

A Literary Festival

One of the best things about village life is the wonderful range of entertainment and activities that are on offer. There is everything from sport, live theatre and music to quizzes, films and social suppers. Last weekend saw the very first Literary Festival to be held in my now ex but neighbouring village which gave me the ideal excuse to escape the unpacking of boxes.

There was a fabulous programme of speakers and interviews, each with a local connection plus we were treated to a generous ploughman's lunch with wine.

The first speaker was Christine Adams who told the extraordinary story of her ex-husband's aunt, May Savidge, who following a demolition order, single handedly moved her medieval home, literally beam by beam, brick by brick and nail by nail, 100 miles from Ware in Hertfordshire , to rebuild it in Wells next to Sea in Norfolk. She worked on it for twenty three years but never completed the task. However she left the house to the family and Christine took on the task of finishing it. Christine's story is just as remarkable as May's and she is a natural story teller. I had been fortunate enough to meet Christine a few years ago and found her story so engaging I immediately bought her book "A Lifetime in the Building" (now renamed Miss Savidge Moves Her House) which I can thoroughly recommend.

After our excellent lunch we were treated to a recital of poetry by award winning poet Tom Weir who grew up in the village. (I remember him when he was a small boy.) In all honesty I don't really understand most poetry, it goes right over my head and especially I find it impossible to read. But listening to Tom explain the reasons for writing some of his verses, with his wry observation and gentle humour and then hearing his recitals from two of his collections, I feel I could be converted. It was powerful and at times emotional but made us laugh too.

Next followed a lively conversation between Sarah Harrison, Jenny Chapman and Jim Prothero. The festival was the brain child of Sarah Harrison, a successful local author. Jenny is an author and journalist and Jim has recently self published his first novel although he also has a children's book and several screenplays under his belt. He describes himself as an author in a bricklayer's body! They spoke about the trials and tribulations of getting published as well as the importance of setting aside regular and achievable chunks of time to write.

The day concluded with Sarah interviewing Sarah Shaw about her book. The Secret Diary of a 1970s Secretary. I have known Sarah a long time, as our sons were friends back in primary school and we were in the local Am Dram group together. When Sarah was packing up her house to move to Dorset she discovered a diary in her loft dating back to 1971 when she had started work for the BBC. She typed upthe diary and self published it as an ebook and although I had downloaded it to my Kindle I couldn't bring myself to read it immediately. What if I didn't like it... what would I say to Sarah? But after a lunch date Sarah asked me what I thought and  I decided that I really did need to bite the bullet and read it. I started that afternoon and two days later I'd finished it. I loved this book and by the time I got to the second half I couldn't put it down. Not only does it tell the story of 19 year old Sarah's time working as secretary for the BBC and living in a run down hostel in London, it also conveys the era perfectly giving a wonderful picture of the food we ate, the clothes we wore and the music we listened to at the time. But the book's success is largely down to the story woven against this backdrop, that of  the blossoming but unlikely romance between Sarah and the lift operator at the BBC's old Langham building. It is written with great humour and honesty, with a brilliant eye for detail that took me right back to 1971. And it is not only now available in hardback and paperback but there is due to be a dramatised TV programme too.

It really was a brilliant day and I love that it was called the first Steeple Morden Literary Festival with promise of more to come in future. Of course that remains to be seen as village events such as these rely so much on the hard work and good will of many volunteers and without support they cannot go ahead. And if there is a single negative comment to be made it was the lack of local support for this amazing Litfest. I didn't count the numbers in the audience but sadly it felt sparse, with several of those attending coming from afar. I'm not sure why more local people didn't turn up and give their support, maybe they thought it wasn't for them but all I can say is they missed a treat because it was a wonderful programme of speakers and conversations that was entertaining, uplifting and inspiring.

At the end, a friend asked if I ever think I would like to write, which I dismissed with a the comment that I don't think I have any stories in me. But when she suggested that my Instagram feed makes interesting reading it occurred to me that I have actually been writing for twelve years in this blog! Mostly stories with pictures, sometimes diary, sometimes general observations about life with a large dose of cake thrown in for good measure, but writing nonetheless. And that prompted me to write this post!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

We've Moved

Have you missed me? I've missed you! Blog reading has been pretty low on my list of priorities the past few weeks (plus I broke my iPad on which I usually do blogging stuff, but that's a whole other story), however we have now actually moved and have already been in our new home a whole week. I may write a blog post about the experience... I may not. But just to say we love our new home and all the stresses of the past few weeks have disappeared. The night we moved in the lights were put on at the church to welcome us to the village which was lovely. This is literally the view from our front bedroom window... before I dropped the said iPad out the window smashing the screen to smithereens.Oh well, it's only stuff... and despite months of clearing out we still have far too much stuff!

Hector went into kennels for a few days while we packed and moved but he has now arrived at his new home and together we are exploring new footpaths (despite only being a mile and a half from where we were before!)

The previous occupiers had a black lab too and he has spent much of his time here sniffing out every nook and cranny, plus every square inch of the garden, quite determined to find the puppy we are obviously hiding from him. Silly dog!

Anyway, that's it for now but I just wanted to check in briefly to let you know I'm still here, still blogging. Will be back soon but there are a few boxes to unpack.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

A Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Cake...

And some good news!
Shall we get the news out of the way first?
We have finally exchanged contracts and in a little over weeks time we will be in our new home. I had got to a stage where I never believed it was going to happen so I’m definitely wearing my happy pants this week. Smiles all round are the order of the day! And maybe even a cake to celebrate.

So now for that cake.
It's time again to join in with the Cake Slice Bakers (all the details are below). With the house taking up so much time I didn't manage to join in last month and almost didn't this month - this post is already three days late. I remember why I took a break from joining in with the Cake Slice Bakers last year... much as I love baking I often find the choices too complicated for my busy life, with too much frosting and frequently too sweet. And then I'm never that good at writing a post in time and doing all the links etc. But there was one cake this month that sounded too good to miss. Simple to put together, no fancy assembly required, no elaborate decorating. It's an everyday cake, good to eat at anytime of day and far too good not to share the recipe. The only downside is you are likely to eat too much of it in one sitting... a second slice is so tempting!  It is packed full of luscious jammy blueberries, flavoured with a subtle hint of lemon and the ricotta makes it unbelievably light. I don't think I have ever used ricotta in a cake before... who knew!

Blueberry  Lemon Ricotta Tea Cake

300g fresh blueberries
2 tbsp cornflour
227g softened butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
zest of 2 lemons
4 large eggs
250g tub ricotta cheese
250g plain flour, sieved
48g ground almonds
4 tsp baking powder
icing sugar for dusting.

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 deg C (150 fan) and grease and line a 23 cm springform pan
  2. Wash and dry the blueberries and toss them in the cornflour. Set aside
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour and beat until well mixed. Finally whisk in the ricotta to give a creamy batter.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients together and fold into the batter. Finally add 250g of the blueberries, folding them in
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin, levelling the top and scatter the remaining blueberries over the surface
  6. Bake the cake in a preheated oven for about an hour - this is how long it took in my oven but the book says bake for 80 - 90 minutes so do check to see if it is done by inserting a skewer and checking it comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar.
This is best eaten warm, although still very good cold the following day (ask me how I know) and a dollop of creme fraiche on the side doesn't go amiss either! It is definitely one I will bake again.

Each month The Cake Slice Bakers are offered a selection of cakes from the current book we are baking through.  This year it is The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk.  We each choose one cake to bake, and then on the 20th - never before - we all post about our cake on our blogs. There are a few rules that we follow, but the most important ones are to have fun and enjoy baking & eating cakes!
Follow our Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages where you can find all of our cakes, as well as inspiration for many other cakes. You can also click on the thumbnail pictures below to take you to each of our cakes. If you have a blog and are interested in joining The Cake Slice Bakers and baking along with us, please send an email to thecakeslicebakers at gmail dot com for more details.
The Cake Slice Bakers also have a new Facebook group called The Cake Slice Bakers and Friends. This group is perfect for those who do not have a blog but want to join in the fun and bake through this book.

Our choices for June 2019 were ~

  1. Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Tea Cake

  2. Raspberry Cremeschnitte

  3. White Chocolate Raspberry Pistachio Mousse Cake

  4. Tiramisu Cake
  5. Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Tea Cake

      Raspberry Cremeschnitte

        Tiramisu Cake

          White Chocolate Raspberry Pistachio Mousse Cake

          • Note - this cake was not chosen by any group members

          • Tuesday, 18 June 2019

            The Elephant in the Room

            I'm  not going to talk about that elephant in the room... the thing that everyone wants to ask... any news, have we got a date? No I'm going to talk about everything else that has been going on instead.

            I finished another blanket.
            I know... I finished a blanket just a week or so ago but this one has been on the go for many years. At least six years as I first mentioned it here. I would go through phases of  making squares and then leave it for months before picking it up again to add a few more. Even when I had finished the 168 squares, each one subtly different from the last, it took me almost as long to sew it all up... all those loose ends! Was it worth it? Yes I think so, although what I will do with it now I don't know. I do know I might take a break from blanket making!

            This is going to be in the order that the photos have loaded rather than the order that I have been reading, although to be fair I seem to have read a lot in the past month  and I can't really remember the order in which these book were read!

            I had high expectations for The Lost Letters of William Woolf. It seemed such a great idea, such a wonderful premise... a lost letter department of the Royal Mail where letters were reunited with their recipients. The romance of hand written letters gone astray, finally arriving at their destination seemed to offer such great potential for a story. But I was disappointed, finding it far fetched and over romanticised and mostly about the failing marriage of William Woolf.

            In the need for a quick satisfying read I have turned to thrillers. The Dark Room was okay but felt very dated, and The Taxidermist's Daughter was okay but wasn't really engaging me... probably more to do with that elephant in the room effecting my concentration rather than the quality of the writing. However I did read The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham in just two days... I do rather like DI Tom Thorne!

            I also enjoyed The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, Normal People by Sally Rooney and I am now part way through An American Marriage which I am thoroughly enjoying. Maybe my powers of concentration are returning!

            I have been picking up my knitting on and off since the start of the year and it has taken me this long to finish this Hitchhiker scarf. At the beginning of the year I made a pledge to finish nine projects in 2019. This is the third project that I have finished which  doesn't bode well for getting them all done by the end of the year does it.

            Looking at that photo I am slightly alarmed that my neck looks like a turkey's... oh dear one day you look in the mirror and all is well with the world then suddenly before you notice you have turned into your grandmother. Not that I have a problem turning into my grandmother as she was a wonderful woman... but you know what I mean! At least the scarf looks good!

            I bought the dog a new bed because I felt sorry for him.He chooses to sleep on the floor as he only has a hard plastic bed... his own fault as he eats his beds. But do not be fooled by him curled up looking cosy... he loved it for one night before he dragged it out and chewed it, pulling out half the stuffing. Which of course is why he didn't have a comfy bed to begin with. You think I would learn wouldn't you.

            I have made two chocolate cakes this week. The first was for Free Cakes for Kids, although this time it was not for a child's birthday. The Cambridge branch of the charity also supports a couple of homeless charities and so this chocolate cake was delivered to Wintercomfort. Everyone with a June birthday was entered into a draw to win the cake.

            Donna won the cake and then shared it with all the clients using the services that day. I was privileged to be asked to stay for a cuppa and a chat. It always leaves me humbled that just a cake can mean so much.


             The second chocolate cake was for this gorgeous baby... except he's not a baby anymore (although still pretty gorgeous but I am biased). Son no. 3 Joe celebrated his 30th birthday this weekend! Where did those years go?

            We had a family barbecue to celebrate. At Easter we thought it would be the the last family gathering in this house. Little did we know...

            Each week I take my Mum to her painting class. Mostly I just sit and draw in my  sketchbook  but the for the past couple of weeks I have been joining in with the class. Last week I painted that proverbial elephant!

            Talking of which... today we had a bit of a break through. I don't want to tempt fate by saying too much but I might actually be shooing that elephant out of the room by the end of this week!

            Saturday, 8 June 2019

            Slowly going crazy

            Everywhere I go the first question on everyone's lips is "Have you moved yet... any news... have you got a date?" I see my Mum twice a week and she asks me every time I see her. It's natural that people are curious and they care but it is driving me crazy. And believe me when it happens I will shout it from the rooftops I will be so relieved. Everyone will know!

            We have packed all unnecessary items, got rid of unwanted or excess furniture, I have sorted and emptied virtually every cupboard, cleaned every nook and cranny (so long ago it will all need doing again). The loft is empty, the shed and garage are tidy... and so we wait surrounded by empty rooms and boxes. We wait for solicitors and the local council to resolve an issue over a small piece of land. So your guess is as good as mine! The upshot of all this is that it has left me with a lot of extra time on my hands... it's a bit like being in a waiting room for weeks on end!

            And so I have been filling my time with making art amongst other things. I mentioned several weeks ago that I was following along with a free online sketchbook class. It was two weeks of intense classes covering a wide range of techniques. All the images here are pages from my sketchbook as a result of just a handful of these classes. The one above involved tracing around the face with the non dominant index finger whilst simultaneously making an outline drawing of the face in pen... with your eyes shut! Yes... those four faces are me! Told you I was going crazy... that's what I look like!

            I did some colour mixing and observational drawing with water colours and invented whimsical towns in pen and ink.

            I tried intuitive water colour painting, collage, painting with acrylics, doodling...

            Experimenting with different media, sometimes drawing the same thing over and over.

            Some of the techniques and ideas I will never try again but I learned so much and worked in so many different styles. Best of all it has got me back into the habit of working in my sketchbook regularly. I have also been taking my Mum to her art class once a week as she isn't really driving at the moment so that gives me another chance to draw uninterrupted.

            I think one of my favourite exercises was taking a photograph of cracks in the pavement and finding creatures hidden in the cracks, which is an actual thing... Pareidolia, the tendency to see faces in inanimate objects.

            Like these mice or this crazy bird lurking in the sidewalk!

             I've also been doing lots of crochet in the evenings and although it is not really the time of year to have blankets draped over your knees I finished this blanket in the sweetpea trellis pattern from Attic24 but in a coastal colourway and I have another blanket just waiting for its border. I'm slowing running out of things to do but I guess I can always start the cleaning again if I get really desperate!


             Apologies that I still don't seem able to comment on blogs or reply to your comments here (unless I have your email address)... I cleared my cookies and managed to leave a single comment on Christina's blog and then it stopped working again, but I am reading. I promise!

            Thursday, 23 May 2019

            I’m Still Here

            Yes, I am still here... both virtually in this little online space and physically in our house still waiting to move. 

            I enjoy writing this blog and if there are a few of you out there enjoying it too then it makes it worthwhile. Especially if I can read and comment on your blogs too, should you happen to write one. The interaction with others makes it feel like a conversation. But it has become increasingly more difficult to leave comments on some of my favourite blogs. There have been times when I have typed out a comment three or four times but each time I hit the publish button, the comment disappears... which is so frustrating! And I know others are having the same problem so it does feel like being in an isolated bubble. So just saying I am reading, I'm still here ... and I would comment if I could!

            We're still here waiting to move too. It was meant to be this Friday but contracts haven't been exchanged and so it looks like completion date will be pushed back once again to next week... or later possibly... possibly not. After what feels like months of clearing out we have got rid of furniture and possessions so we are now living with empty rooms and boxes, which is very unsettling.

            But we are trying to carry on as normal as best as we can. I'm doing lots of reading but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate and stay focused when I read, although to be fair those late night ten minutes before nodding off are probably not the ideal time for retaining information. I frequently have to reread what I've already read!

            The were a couple of books for our reading group lately that I didn't really enjoy. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen is a spy story set in 1972. The female voice of the narrator, Serena just never rang true for me, which actually made sense by the end of the book so may have been a very cleverly written ploy. (Trying not to give a spoiler here) But there seemed little point revealing something clever at the end if it didn't resonate all the way through. Our latest Reading group book was Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, a retelling of the Oedipus story which I just found too weird and complicated. I didn't even get the Oedipus connection! It did lead to a really good discussion though  and the group were strongly divided in our opinions.

            I picked up The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul in our phone box lending library. I thought it would be a light easy read, which I suppose it was but it felt like it had pretensions to be something more. It tackled heavy subjects such as the Taliban and the role of women in Afghanistan but I felt the story was too lightweight to carry them off. And then I picked up the first Rebus story by Ian Rankin... surely Ian Rankin could take me away from my busy head but I didn't particularly enjoy that either. Rebus is a bit too morose and dour for me, although I'm willing to give him another chance, which is just as well as I think I may have packed another half dozen or so Rebus novels.  I was despairing of picking up a book that I would enjoy, ever again... until I found this. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found the writing intelligent and concise as it builds the story of Frances and Bobbi, students who have been friends since school. It's about flawed characters and complicated relationships and I found it refreshingly different to what I had been reading.

            I actually bought this in a bookshop, rather than on-line or picking it up in the phone box and had a pleasant surprise. Inside someone had tucked a little folded homemade book. With a bit of research I found it was the work of some Anglia Ruskin students who claim to be "celebrating the ordinary" by posting these little newspapers around Cambridge.

            A fun thing to do that brought a smile to my face!

            There are more books piled up at the side of my bed. I'd like to think we will have moved before I get through these but at the rate we're going it seems unlikely.

            Meanwhile we are trying to carry on as normally as possible and on the plus side every nook and cranny of this house is getting sorted out and cleared... nothing is safe! That includes the food cupboards too. Baking has involved using up store cupboard ingredients... goodness knows how long the tin of pineapple had been there but as it was just about in date it got put into these tropical fruit muffins along with a packet of coconut.

            The six egg whites I found in the freezer were used to make blueberry friands. I have no idea what the yolks were used for but the freezer is now empty and the cupboards are bare so I hope we move soon!

            Wishing you a happy bank holiday weekend here in the UK. I hope by the next time I write something it won't be from here but will be from somewhere else... but I'm not holding my breath! I'm now going to read some blogs... and apologise now for not leaving a comment!

            Tuesday, 30 April 2019

            Welcome to my World

            I was going to ask did you have a good Easter weekend... ask what you got up to. But that was this time last week and there appears to have been a time warp. But that's what my life is like at the moment and the weeks are flying by. Of course if I stop and think I know exactly what I have been up to... there's been a printing workshop to teach in Hertfordshire and then a rag rugging workshop in Leicester. I took my Mum to her painting class as driving any distance has started to be problematic for her, and I had a stall at a craft fair, so that's four days gone already.

            But for the purposes of this little space I'm still back there in the Easter weekend before all those things happened!

            Our Easter break was quiet... a chance to get on with more clearing out and packing, although that didn't really happen. The week before I had spent a day doing mosaic with my friend Terry, making this dish. So I finished it and grouted it and it became the perfect dish for holding chocolate. No Easter Bunny in this house... we have an Easter dragonfly!

            I also finished off my furniture restoration projects. An old yellowing pine chest had been given a first coat of paint several weeks earlier and had been sitting there reminding me it was unfinished every time I walked past. It got its second coat, a wax and rub down and then on a whim I added some stencilling as we had been given the stencil as a Christmas gift.

            It is destined to hold all my spare knitting yarn but that's a joke... I have given away at least ten carrier bags of yarn and I still have three boxes full. So let's rephrase.... this will hold some of my knitting yarn stash.

            While I was about it I also finished off another kitchen chair.

            So now I have a pair. I think it might be some time before they become a full set but that's the plan. Except when guests arrived on Monday no-one wanted to sit on them in fear of spoiling them. But no point having nice things if they are not used... I ordered that bums were put on seats!

            On the last day of the holiday the family descended... in dribs and drabs all day... popping in, popping out, some staying hours, others making only a brief visit. Of course it was lovely to see them all and there was plenty of food on the go, including chocolate baking too! Who doesn't like a mini egg brownie?

            So that was our weekend, busy in a nice way. Since then there has been some progress with the house situation and it looks as though we won't have to rent after all. That's all I'm saying for now, but the clearing and packing continues. I have also joined a little singing group. Believe me, I am no singer but this is an informal group of friends meeting to sing together once a month... because I need another hobby/interest in my life! Jesting aside, it's a great stress relief to sing for an hour or so and I thoroughly enjoyed our first meeting. I'm also taking  part in a free online sketchbook course called Sketchbook Revival, over two weeks. It's pretty intense with two videos a day from a variety of different artists but I'm picking and choosing what I want to do and somehow fitting it in by neglecting the housework. The dust will still be there in two weeks time. If I find another spare half hour or so I might even write about it here!

            So how was your Easter weekend? Good I hope.