Friday, 11 January 2019

January Rituals

I'm struggling here. I've updated my iPad and it no longer supports the blogger app which I always use to upload my photos for blogposts. I still write posts on my laptop and I do that because if I try to write on my iPad it randomly deletes the posts half way through. I suppose I could go back to using my camera and uploading all the photos on my laptop via a cable but it seems so long winded that I might just give up blogging altogether. With a bit of fiddling about I've got the photos from my iPad onto a draft post but now I can't space them out and put them where I want them. I'm silently screaming with frustration. Anyway, I'm here, I'm writing and I'm trying to ignore the fact my photos are all over the place (but I don't like it!)

I finished the first of my nine projects for the year although before I'm accused of being overly keen it did only take a couple of hours. It turns out that I had already started the apron dress kit - which was printed out onto the fabric a little like the old Clothkits patterns - and I had already cut it out. Slight problem in that I've had it so long that I had cut it out a size smaller than I actually am now, but I went ahead anyway.

Despite the pattern pieces not fitting too well together and the 'optional' darts not being marked on the pattern it went together relatively easily and quickly. And despite being a size too small it does fit... well sort of, if I breath in and ignore the fact it is a little snug around the bust. I might possibly wear it one day and at least it is one thing finished.

The other thing I have been making this week is marmalade. We don't really eat that much of it but there is something about the lure of Seville oranges when they appear in the shops in January that I can't resist and so it has become something of a ritual that I make marmalade.

I enjoy the slow process of juicing the oranges, scooping out the white pith and pips and slicing the peel into fine shreds. I love the fresh citrus aroma that fills the kitchen as it bubbles away in its pot.

And then when it reaches setting point I like to add a large slug of bourbon before filling up the jars. It really does lift the flavour to another level.

Lots of lovely jars of sunshine in the middle of winter, softly set and glistening, bittersweet and fresh tasting. Some will be given away and some will be kept for spreading on hot buttered toast.

It has also become something of a ritual that I make a marmalade cake in January too. Recipe from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries.

Soft and fragrant, it is too good for only one slice.... which means that apron dress is not going to fit better any time soon!

Thursday, 3 January 2019


I'm sure I am not the only one who finds the prospect of the new year an exciting one full of new possibilities, which is ridiculous when you think about it as every new day holds the prospect of new adventures and a fresh start. A chance to leave old habits and bad things behind, moving forward with a sense of discovery. Yes, we all know that but somehow 1st January seems endowed with significance, a chance to do things differently, a time for re-invention.

The first day of the year was a good one. The morning was spent taking down the Christmas decorations. I don't like them lingering into the new year and the tree was definitely past its best. Harnessing my inner Nigella, I do however leave fairy lights up in my kitchen. I think we could all do with some fairy lights during the first few months of the year. Once the house was clear we had some brunch, having skipped breakfast due to the vast amounts of food consumed on New Year's Eve, and then ventured out for a long walk to blow the cobwebs away. On our return I made large mugs of hot chocolate with some lovely raw cacao that Joe had brought us back from Costa Rica.

Then to round off the day we went to the cinema to see "Mary Poppins Returns", which I thoroughly enjoyed. Stewart's reaction was "What a lot of nonsense" but really what did he expect? Mary Poppins flew in on a kite to take care of a new generation of Banks children. There were lamp lighters instead of chimney sweeps but other than that there was singing and dancing, a cartoon sequence and pretty much all the elements of the original film. It was slick and well produced, with fabulous costumes so all in all an hour and a half of pure escapism. I think he enjoyed it really!

It did bring to mind a Brownies production of Mary Poppins that took place in 1966 where yours truly took the title role. A role secured largely by the fact I had the loudest voice rather than any other talents. My Dad kept this newspaper clipping and I'm the one on the right.... don't laugh!

Despite liking the idea of a new year with new possibilities I don't really go in for resolutions etc. I tried the trend for adopting a word for the year once... "Balance" if I remember rightly. That didn't last long so I only ever did it the once. However when I spotted an initiative on Instagram called the "Make Nine Challenge" it really appealed to me. It is supposed to be a slow fashion intitative where participants pledge to make nine projects throughout the year. Last year I tried to finish off things that I had started but I lost track once I started to make things for the weddings, but knowing I still have a huge stash of fabrics, yarns and half finished kits this seemed like a good opportunity to do a bit of stash busting before we move. So the following are my nine projects, which I will document here as well as on Instagram. You can ask me at the end of the year how I have done! In no particular order...

1. I will make a Hitchhiker scarf/shawl  by Martina Behm in either the green or the grey yarn... or possibly both should the fancy take me!

2. I will make this apron dress, bought as a kit several years ago after seeing someone else had made one on a blog I was following. I no longer remember the blog and the kit remains in its bag untouched, so I either need to make it or give it away.

3. Another kit I bought many years ago was this wall hanging kit that required machine embroidery skills before I even knew what machine embroidery involved. Yes, that long ago! It doesn't really qualify as a fashion item but it's textiles so I'm going with it.

4. I will use these fabrics to make something to wear. These were another purchase after seeing them featured on a blog. I fell in love with the colours and then when it arrived I wasn't sure I was brave enough to wear them. I'm now older and don't care so I'm thinking I will make a pinafore dress... or two! I sent for the pattern today.

5. Blogs really do have a lot to answer  for don't they.... An Attic 24 kit to crochet a blanket, bought on a whim and never started. Having resisted the urge (only just) to buy the latest Attic 24 crochet along Sweet Pea blanket, I might just crochet this one along instead.

6. A Camber dress by Merchant and Mills. I have the pattern and the fabric was bought and pre-washed two years ago. I have no idea why I've not made it yet. I just need to get it done!

7. This Kaffe Fassett sweater was featured in Living magazine in 1988. The photo is of the original page. I bought the yarn as a kit and it has remained in a drawer for thirty years. It has been so long ago I'm hoping it will be back in fashion if I finish it this year.

8. I'm pleased to say I only found this pattern last year rather than thirty years ago. It's a free pattern on Purl Soho but I fell in love with that yoke. It may require a yarn purchase though which feels slightly against my rules. Perhaps if I finish the other eight projects this can be a little treat to myself!

9. And last of all an Ehrman tapestry kit for a cushion... about a third completed so it really does need to be finished... although I'm not really sure I like it enough. Maybe it should just go?

So there we are, nine projects I aim to finish this year. I'd like to tell you these are the only projects I have to finish but despite there being others, these will do for now. What possibilities are you hoping to achieve this year? Whatever you do, in the words of Neil Gaiman I wish you "A year filled with magic and dreams and good madness"

Monday, 31 December 2018

Food, Glorious Food

So here we are once again on the other side of another Christmas. Despite my lingering cough and cold, it has been a fun few days spent with various family members. There has been laughter, some games, a few drinks and plenty of food. Which seems fitting, because food is so much more than just eating. For me it's about sharing, togetherness and good times, which is what Christmas should be about too.

Although having seen the size of the portion a certain someone had for his Christmas dinner it is probably a lot about the eating too! It is only one of a handful of occasions when I cook him a roast dinner with meat so he was forgiven... although my parsnip roulade and vegetables don't really come close do they! Suffice to say, no-one went hungry though.

We don't do lots of big gifts in our family but food featured heavily this year. We received this huge can of extra virgin olive oil that came directly from our daughter in law's family in Kalamata, which made me very happy. Another son and daughter-in-law filled a bag full of fabulous homemade baking and preserves, including these preserved lemons and harissa paste. I feel a Moroccan feast coming on! And a third son and daughter-in-law baked us mince pies and cookies. We have been very spoiled indeed.

In an effort to not buy our grandson more plastic toys, I made him a set of felt food for his new toy kitchen (remember that last minute idea... this was it. The knitted hat however never did make it on the needles!).

I think they gave me a whole lot more pleasure than they gave him. After lots of fun opening the parcel the entire contents were tossed aside along with the little personalised shopping bag, in favour of the football (plastic) that my Mum had given him!

As the week has gone on we have been creative with leftovers, finished off the mince pies as well as the last of the turkey and I am now longing for fresh flavours and lots more fruit and veg (real rather than felt!). The Christmas cake however remains untouched waiting for someone to cut into it in the New Year. 

And so we come to the end of another year which we will be celebrating with friends... and more food of course. Looking back it has been a wonderful year of weddings and celebrations, although not without its challenges too. But we enter 2019 looking forward to a fresh start in a new home before too long.

Wishing you and your families a very healthy and happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Happy Christmas

I have spent today flicking a duster around and giving the vacuum cleaner a cursory run up and down the hall, I've pretty much wrapped most of the presents which have now taken up residence under the tree and I have bought all the food I intend to buy... if we haven't got it in now then we won't be having it! So I feel as ready as I'm ever likely to be... it all happens one way or another. Mostly I enjoy all the preparations, except for the food shopping which is stressful in the extreme, but like I say it's all done now and all that is left to do is to cook. Well, that would be the case if I didn't have a last minute brainwave to make some felt fruit and vegetables and knit a hat. I'll let you know how that plan went once Christmas is over but given that I haven't actually cast on the hat I think I might be being unrealistically optimistic. Plus I have gone down with a cold which is waking me up at 4am every morning this week. I really could do without that but realised as I lay awake at some silly hour this morning trying to ignore my thumping head that I only ever get colds at this time of year so it feels as much like Christmas as the smell of pine cones and the continual backdrop of carols. Looking on the bright side if I'm awake at 4 am I might get that hat knitted!

I leave you with some of the images of a recent outing with my Mum to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens. It was a spectacular show of light and sound and my pictures don't begin to do it justice.

There were trees covered in  twinkling fairy lights and curtains of light that changed colour as we walked through them.

A whole cathedral of light with accompanying choral music

as well as giant flowers that changed colour.

It was all quite breathtaking. Plus I had churros and hot chocolate for my dinner which was also rather amazing. Do not judge me until you have tried it!

The finale was a projected light and sound show onto the Palm court and the fountain. It was a wonderful evening that was rounded off by driving home through the West End of London to see the lights there too. They didn't disappoint either - I just loved the host of angels down Regent Street. It was such a fabulous evening that I have declared it my final 60 x 60, more in an attempt to draw a line under this particular project before I launch into something else.

I hope all your plans and preparations are going smoothly and all that remains is for me to wish you and your families a very Happy and Healthy Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

My December so far

I never intended to go AWOL for quite so long, but you don't need me to tell you how life sort takes over at this time of year.

The decorations went up earlier than usual as I was hosting our book club party. It was only as I was putting out all the usual bits and pieces that I started to feel  quite sad that this is probably the last time I will decorate this house for Christmas.

And it does lend itself to bit of decorating!

It's a great house for parties too... and boy have there been parties over the years! There have been birthday parties and barbecues, fancy dress parties, post production parties and of course lots of Christmas parties. But it is ridiculous for two of us to be rattling around in all this space just so we can throw a good party or two so I'm trying not to feel sad.

As well as parties there has been shopping and except for food I have mostly finished Christmas shopping, even managing to treat myself. This little cactus makes me smile every day with its cheery blooms. It's the best £3 I've spent this month.

This month there have been some lovely walks too with some beautiful sunsets... although I got rather wet and muddy this morning. The downside of having a dog is you can't really choose when to walk, although I often think that is the good part too, as it makes me go out and walk everyday whatever the weather.

And of course there has been plenty of baking... all the usual mince pies and Christmas cakes, as well as Rocky Road and chocolate orange brownies for the afore mentioned party. I think they might just be my favourite ever brownies

Youngest son is still finding life a challenge at the moment and I had to bring him back home again at the weekend. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if I hadn't managed to get a parking ticket in the process. My own fault... I was collecting him from his brother's  where it is resident only parking. I took a chance as I knew I was only going to be ten minutes (plus it was pouring with rain) but as bad luck would have it I chose the same ten minutes that the warden decided to wander up the street. It didn't seem fair under the circumstances but there was no point arguing so I've paid up!

But I guess  the biggest news of all since I was last here is that we've sold our house this week, so it definitely will be our last Christmas here. There are an awful lot of memories here aside from parties... twenty nine years of memories. My children all grew up in this house and Stewart and I held our wedding reception in the garden, but I'm being positive and thinking of the exciting times and adventures that lie ahead in 2019. 

And I'm trying not to think about all the clearing out involved in moving from a large five bedroom family house to a three bedroomed cottage... we can worry about that after Christmas! Anyone want a piano?

Sunday, 2 December 2018

It's Starting to Feel a Lot Like...

Yes, Christmas. So now we are here in December I cannot help myself feeling a lit bit excited. Already I imagine I can make all the presents, cook everything from scratch, decorate the house with homemade garlands etc. etc. but it's not going to happen because the truth is I'm already exhausted! This week began with a long overdue trip into London to catch up with a friend. I went in early not wanting to waste the opportunity of being in town and I saw the Anni Albers exhibition at the Tate Modern. It was good, but if I'm honest weaving is not really my thing and so after the first few exhibits they all started to look the same. Coming out it was lovely to see the city lit up on a cold but sparkling evening, already looking very festive.

Jude and I met at Comptoir Libanais, London Bridge which was a feast for the senses, a riot of colour and decorative detail. The fabulous Lebanese food was also a treat for the taste buds full of wonderful flavours. I had an Aubergine Fattet ( a sort of Moussaka) followed by an Orange blossom Mouhalabia ( a traditional milk pudding with a dried fruit compote). My Insta worthy photos of my half eaten food weren't really that good so I won't share them with you. Trust me... it was excellent!

Back at home there has been baking as I have made a start on the Christmas cakes... yes, that is cakes not cake as I have six to make this year. I'm not complaining as they are all orders and I enjoy making them. If we are lucky we might get to keep one of them too but I'm not that bothered. I can take it or leave it as I find I'm too full of everything else to want cake at this time of year.

There were also a batch of mini Christmas cakes too, made for the church market on Saturday. They usually sell like... well, hot cakes... but not this year. So if I don't get to keep a large cake for us there could well be several small ones instead.

The reindeer cookie pops however were a big hit and I sold out of those.

There was also a day this week looking after this little chap... it's hard to believe that he is almost two. He is on the move constantly and so busy and interested in everything. I think I must be getting old as I'm sure I never used to get this tired when my four were small! He's an absolute delight though. Maybe I wouldn't get so tired if I wasn't crawling around on all fours pretending to be a lion!

Stewart got a treat this week as I made him an advent calendar filled with twenty four different beers. Well I think they are all different but I did start to lose count of what I had already bought. It's a bit rickety and the doors don't quite fit but he was happy

This was me at the market yesterday, held in the local church. I have been doing this market for several years now and it feels like the start of Christmas for me. It's always a lovely morning catching up with lots of friends

Today I have been at work in the cafe, mostly in the kitchen where it has been non-stop all day. Back home I made another couple of Christmas cakes this evening, plus a pan of soup from all the veg lurking at the bottom of the fridge (it tastes much better than it sounds), a batch of granola for some quick breakfasts as well as tonight's dinner. Should keep us going for a few days I hope as I'm back in the cafe again at 8.45 tomorrow morning.

So bit of a boring post really as I catch up on this week. Plans of shorter more regular (and more entertaining) posts just don't seem to happen. Well they do in my head but as you can see there is too much else going on. At least I wasn't silly enough to attempt a daily post in December as in previous years! How are your Christmas plans going?