Thursday 29 June 2017

Sixty... Really?

It is still one week to go before I celebrate my sixtieth birthday. When I was twenty the thought of being sixty felt so very, very old. Of course, now that I am almost sixty I feel just the same as I did when I was twenty apart from being totally incredulous that I could possibly be sixty... but try telling that to any twenty year old! Actually I lie, I'm sure I didn't have quite so many aches and pains at twenty but mostly I feel the same... and I've still got all my own teeth!

My sixty by sixty list has definitely slowed down and it looks as though I might be stuck on thirty things by the time my birthday arrives. But it's my list, I make the rules and so I shall keep it going throughout my sixty first year! The main problem is budget and trying to find things that don't cost the earth (if anything at all) is proving to be an additional challenge. I think "See the Northern Lights" might be one of those things that end up on a seventy x seventy list. But there have been a couple of recent additions to the list. We went to a formal dinner at a Cambridge college last month which was something I'd never done before and it was absolutely lovely. We were guests of my son Sam and his beautiful girlfriend Elle, who is completing her Masters at Clare Hall... except a week ago we got some fabulous news and I should now say Sam and his fiancee Elle! Which is just the best news ever!

Another thing I've added to the list but can't say much about is that I have nominated someone to receive a UK honours award. But the potential recipient mustn't know they have been nominated to prevent disappointment should they not receive it, and I won't know if the nomination is successful until they actually get the award... if they get it. So it's all a bit cloak and dagger I'm afraid as there people who read my blog who might put two and two together if I were to give any hints.  But it was something I'd thought about and wanted to do for a long time so it has gone on the list and been ticked off.

Something else on my list of possible ideas is to host an afternoon tea party... and I will be doing that for my birthday. At the last count I had over sixty people going... female friends from all walks of life over the past sixty years going back to school days, early working years, ante natal classes etc. My only regret was not to be able to invite more people but I had to put a limit on numbers... especially as I'm doing my own catering. Over eighty scones have gone into the freezer this week... not to mention brownies, sponge cakes and macarons!

And today I designed a menu for the tables. I designed the layout for the cover but confess I copied the design for the cup and the tea pot and must credit the original artist Rebecca Jones. As it is for my own personal use I hope she won't mind... especially as mine is a very poor copy of the original work. 

So that's where my sixty x sixty stands right now. But if any of you lovely readers have any great ideas for other things I might do, I'm all ears! Actually, I'm all one ear because that has just reminded me - I was bitten by a mosquito on my right ear last week and it turned bright red and stuck out like Dumbo's ear... just thought you might like to know!

Saturday 24 June 2017

Summer Breakfasts

Let's talk breakfast... unless I have seriously over indulged the evening before I cannot skip breakfast. In fact I think it is the meal I most often look forward to. I eat porridge throughout the colder months but in the summer I love Bircher muesli in all its variations, full of healthy ingredients which is just as well given the vast amounts of gin and tonic cheesecake consumed this week!

I'm sure I'm teaching my garndmother to suck eggs here but if you have never tried this before... you must! It was devised by Swiss physician Maximillian Bircher-Brenner in 1900, for patients at his sanatorium as a way to get them to eat more fresh fruit, most specifically apples. It consisted of soaked oats, with natural yoghurt or milk and loads of grated apple.

For each portion I use about 25 - 30 g of rolled oats and add a tablespoon of either mixed seeds or linseeds and soak this overnight with 100 ml water, although you can also use apple juice. I confess that I usually forget to soak them overnight but find if I put it together with some boiling water before I walk the dog in the morning, by the time I've got back, showered and dressed it has cooled down and is perfect. If I'm using apple I'll also add a handful of raisins and some cinnamon to the mix before soaking. I then grate in an apple per person, stir in a couple of spoonfuls of natural bio yoghurt (always full fat) and then top it off with a sliced banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon and anything else I have to hand. Some chopped almonds or pecans work well too.

But the beauty of this is that it can work with any combination of fruit you happen to have at the time. One of my favourite ways is instead of apple I mash a banana with some raspberries and stir this into the soaked oats with the yoghurt. This then gets served with an extra dollop of yohurt and some more fresh berries. What more could you want...

...except pancakes now and then! I learned to love American style pancakes from my years living in the US and they make the occasional treat topped with yoghurt and fresh fruit. I use the same recipe I've used since my boys were small which mixes up in no time - 225g of self raising flour plus a teaspoon of baking powder and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar whisked up with two eggs and 285 ml of milk. Stir in approx 25g melted butter and then cook in dollops (approx 60 ml) on a hot griddle or fryng pan. This makes about 14 pancakes which don't last long in our house!

But tomorrow morning, as a Sunday treat, we'll be having poached egg on mashed avocado on toast with grilled tomatoes. I might even fry up some mushrooms too. I'm already looking forward to it!

What do you like to eat for breakfast?

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Melting in the Heat

How does that happen? Blink your eye and two weeks go by. I certainly never intended to stay away so long but somehow writing seems to be elusive. Occasional thoughts of blog posts have drifted by, come and gone again so that I forgot what I was ever going to write about and I wonder if my blogging days are coming to an end. Meanwhile life goes on, busy as ever. I have taken on another little income stream... at least I'm hoping it will be an income stream as other sorces of income seem to be dripping rather than streaming at the moment.

I have become an ambassador for Tropic skincare. Selling doesn't sit easily on my shoulders but I really do love these products - totally natural skin care - so I'm hoping my enthusiasm sell will rub off and I can make a success of it. I don't for one minute believe I will sell much on line but should you be interested I do have an online shop here.

My daily 15 minute drawings seem to have turned into weekly efforts as I still struggle with motivation. I was encouraged last week when I did a quick copy of a Japanese plate design featuring three pots. I was inspired to interpret it into a little collage using some previously printed papers and I tentitively hoped it might be a spark of something. But I haven't opened the sketchbook since... so much for that!

I'm finding time to read, mostly slowly and have finished these three books over the past couple of months. I quite enjoyed His Bloody Project despite its guesome triple murder, enjoying how well it conjured up life in a rural Scottish community in the 19th century. Bill Bryson's Little Dribbling was a light but entertaining read that made me laugh out loud and I have thoroughly enjoyed Olive Kitterage which is a collection of inter related short stories that all somehow involve the afore mentioned Olive, a somewhat prickly retired school teacher from Maine.

Tomorrow we have our monthly bookclub meeting and the choice this month is Vermeer's Hat, a collection of essays that examine the objects in six of Vermeer's paintings and relate them to trade at the time. I received it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and never got past page 14. I did try again this month and actually completed the first chapter before I decided life is too short. I love the paintings and think I'm quite intetrested in history but I realise I have absolutely no interest in 17th century trade whatsoever.

Instead I picked up this Jo Nesbo from the charity bookshelf in our post office after clocking the name here and read it in three days. I don't often read crime drama but when I do I can't put them down. It felt like being on holiday, sitting outside in the evening heat reading for hours. I have a hunger for more Harry Hole especially having started with the seventh book in the series, but no doubt the current heatwave will end and I'll put down my books and pick up my knitting in front of the TV instead.

Of course there have been cakes too and I've managed to turn out all these in the past couple of weeks. I seem to know lots of people with birthdays  in June! The chocolate one in the middle melted in the heat yesterday and slipped off its board onto the kitchen counter but fortunately that one was for us not a customer! It was scooped up and rescued and put in the fridge.

This was yesterday's haul... a week's supply for the coffee shop carefully avoiding anything chocolate that might melt.

And this was today's... ten Victoria sponges! That's it for this week which is a relief as it really is too hot for baking. At this rate I'm likely to melt onto the kitchen counter

Too hot for very much at all really... except perhaps for a slice of this gin and tonic cheesecake which is utterly divine, even if I do say so myself. Healthy eating habits have gone clean out the window and frankly my dear I don't give a damn!

And so that's it ... pretty much everything I've been up to over the past couple of weeks. I hope to be back again before too long but I'm making no promises!

Wednesday 7 June 2017

A Creative Challenge

Back in September 2014 I started a creative challenge to do a drawing everyday. For two weeks I made daily observations of things around me and it became a sort of visual diary. Among others, there was a pencil drawing of ivy seed heads...

A quick sketch of my lunch...

 And a drawing of a Goldfinch, because I happened to be reading "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt. Some were quick sketches and others were more carefully drawn observations.

Then on the 12th - 13th September I spent a weekend away with The Textile Study Group, a weekend spent drawing, with a view to joining them. My entry in my little visual diary that weekend was as follows: "... the weekend ended with me not being accepted by the group. My work lacks variety and depth apparently. It's a huge knockback and I'm struggling to see the point of carrying on with any sort of art".

It was a huge blow and I wrote about it here and here, but always one to bounce back it wasn't long before I was immersed in whatever was happening in my life at the time... my Mum's 80th birthday party I believe! But three years on I realise that my art practice has virtually stopped. Teaching has gradually been cut back (not always my choice) and I am no longer a member of an exhibiting group - I couldn't afford the membership and hanging fees to stay with Prism. When I wrote and explained why I wouldn't be renewing my membership I didn't even get an acknowledgement which made me feel undervalued once again. And I realise that I've stopped making art. So when someone posted about a 30 day instagram project to make a 15 minute drawing every day in June I decided to join in.

For the first couple of days I managed a few quick doodles... no judgements, no worries about being good enough, just the act of creating a daily drawing.

I've not managed every day bacause I'm still srtugging with the motivation. But then that is the point of just a 15 minute sketch... it is simply exercising that creative muscle until it becomes second nature to pick up a pencil or paintbrush. For the first time today I actually started to lose myself in the process and liked the outcome so maybe it is working.

You can follow my progress on Instagram... along with lots of photos of cakes of course!