Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
As I am allergic to the smell of paint - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! - whilst Himself was repainting our bedroom I got crafty. The bedroom, just in case you're interested, was previously a pale green, lovely and calming, up to the picture rail, then a creamy colour above. However, of late I have begun to feel it a bit cold looking, not a snuggly down under the eiderdown sort of colour, so the hunt was on for a new one. Well, the walls became a patchwork of matchpots as I went from yellow, which I thought I wanted but realised it would be like sleeping in a bowl of custard, to a pinky shade which I thought too girly for a shared room, with a variety of other colours thrown in. Maybe that's what I should have done, got all the matchpots, added them to a basic magnolia and used the results? No, you're right, perhaps not. In the end, we settled on Farrow and Ball's SMOKED TROUT, which sounds a bit uninspiring but in the end turned out like the lovely chocolate and hazelnut mousse from Oenken. The result is that the room is warmer, cosier, the contrast between walls and dark furniture more marked and therefore more pleasing to my eye, and since the colour has been extended above the picture rail, the room looks taller. I joined in for the best bit, the finishing touches, choosing pictures, stitched ones, photographs and watercolours, all in dark brown frames. Husband sighs with relief at another decorating job completed to Madam's satisfaction!! And he needn't hold his breath waiting for the next 'brilliant idea' as I am happy with all the rooms now. Or should that be 'for now'???
Back to my weekend. As you can see, I have been cutting hexagons for a flower patchwork quilt, in primary colours, these red and green fabrics being the first ones I am using. I thought I would also include a mini version... now I should tell you that each of the little flowers on the mini quilt, and it is quilted as well, is made up of seven individual hexagons, each the size of a tiny little finger nail. My hexagons are about an inch and a half in diameter, so you can see how tiny the others are, and it's a one in twelve scale quilt. A dear, dear friend made two for me.. this one is in the male-inhabited dolls house, I am yet to find a feminine dolls house that really appeals to me, but when I do, I have a quilt for the lady inhabitant's bed all ready.
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
But, I am not here to moan, though that was one of the reasons behind having somewhere to rant and rave and ramble, but I did think it would be good to remind myself of some of the pleasures in my life (and you know who you are!) plus some others, little things that give me pleasure, simple pleasures in fact.
The garden is obviously one, even though I can only potter in it these days, it is such a lovely thing to look at, to sit in the conservatory on a day like today, with the sun making the water in the fountain sparkly as it splish-splashes into the pond where the fish like to dart about, trying to catch a splash as it lands (I wonder do they make a competition out of it?). To watch a family of four long-tailed tits chase each other down from the very top of the large silver birch, right down to the lower branches, flitting from one to the other, hanging upside down for a moment, then taking off. To see the goldfinches at the thistle seed feeder, we have four of these delightfully pretty little birds as well. The bluetits on the peanuts, the starlings on the fat balls, the two jackdaws occasionally swooping down whilst being watched by the pair of ring collar doves, who like to sit in the lower branches of one of the holly trees, out of sight almost, watching what's going on. The crocuses in the lawn at the bottom of the garden are almost over, lying on their side as if the effort of being in flower, battling against heavy winds and rain have finally defeated them and they need to rest. But, there are lots of daffodils, of all sizes and varieties, beginning to brighten up the garden, from the bog standard Wordsworth-type of bright yellow to the tiny mini ones. All seem to have a lovely scent, which is accentuated when I bring a few indoors and leave them in the warm conservatory. (I have a special spot where ordinary daffs grow, but which can't be seen from the house, and these are the ones I pick). The fancy tulips are coming out... I love the stripey leaves of this dwarf variety, but the colour of the flowers, a vivid orangey-red is a bit too strident for me. However, they certainly brighten up what would otherwise be a rather dull spot. The bluebells are in leaf, the snowdrops over, a carpet of tiny deep purple violets covers the ground under the laburnum, and the outdoor hyacinth will appear soon. There is the smell of wallflowers as you walk down the path to the bottom of the garden, and the sight of frogspawn in the pond. So easy to pretend that Spring really is here, but no counting of chickens, for it has snowed at Easter a couple of times since we came here twenty years ago almost.
Crafts are another of my life's pleasures and at the moment I seem to have lots of different things on the go. There is a tapestry cushion on a frame, a designer needlepoint I found on the internet, and which is full of rich browns, pinks, red, some jade green and rusty shades too. I find working with a frame easier, used to use a floor-standing frame but since we changed the furniture, I can't sit comfortably to use it, so now use a hand held frame, balanced on a cushion in front of me. I always have lots of knitting on the go, sometimes crochet too, and right now I have a silky blue shawl being crocheted for a friend, and I'm also knitting a tweedy brown cushion cover for another friend, and am about to start on a small knitted and lined bag, complete with knitted corsage, for myself. I found a website a couple of weeks ago that sells really fancy wools at a fraction of the price, like a fifth! I like to have the odd ball of fancy wool, it can add interest to a bag, a hat, a cushion cover, or be used with other wools, plain and fancy in a throw or cushion, but usually these wools cost about £2.50 a ball, so are a treaty sort of buy. However, having found them for 59p I was in heaven, and bought five different ones, an eyelash wool, a couple of nubbly wools, a ribbony type wool, in rich plummy shades, deep pinks and reds, purples and blues, and lemony. I also have plans to do a patchwork quilt, one of flower shapes, with hexagonal patches, in bright primary colours, reds, greens and white mainly, stripes, spots, plains and small flowers possibly. And somewhere along the line I will make a larger one of small squares, though will do this on the machine, and in older, floral fabrics.
And it goes without saying I include books as one of life's pleasures. The swimmy head caused me not to take a very steady photo of the book pile, apologies for the blurry photo, but you'll be pleased to know it's not your eyesight at fault. These are some of the books have read recently.... the latest offerings by PRUE LEITH, ERICA JAMES, and ELIZABETH NOBLE.
Prue's book is CHORAL SOCIETY, about three women in their fifties who become friends through a shared love of singing. Three very different women, but all strong characters, all memorable for one reason or another... one is a widow of one year, another is a highly successful businesswoman, and the third a food critic.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS is the latest offering by Erica James, another of my favourite writers who never fails to please. This is about a group of friends who survived the Boxing Day tsunami, and how it affected their lives, their outlook on life, how their lives were changed.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is by Elizabeth Noble who wrote, amongst other titles, the wonderful, THINGS I WANT MY DAUGHTER TO KNOW. This latest is set in an apartment building in New York and tells of the lives of several of the inhabitants, from Eve and her husband who move there from England with his job, to Violet an elderly English lady, and includes the Kramers and the Schulmans, the latter seeming to have everything the former wants. A tale of love, unrequited and unbidden as well as real, lasting, true love between a man and a wife.
Also read Joan Bakewell's autobiography, PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld who wrote AMERICAN WIFE, mentioned in a previous blog (this book is one of her earlier novels and set in an American college, a tale of growing up), and A BOOK ADDICTS TREASURY, full of quotes about books and reading.
I was going to take a photograph of a Cadbury's mini roll, another of life's little pleasures for me... but I ate it!
Thursday, 5 March 2009
I don't have many memories connected with food much before the age of ten or so, the main one is of being five or six years old, going into Hull with my Welsh Nanna, and to a shop called JACKSONS, where they sold the most marvellous blackcurrant slices.. a slice of rich shortcrust topped with blackcurrant jam and then fartyhishal cream as I used to call it, embarrasingly for those around me at the time!
But I then jump to ten or eleven, and you find me across the Pennines and living in a small fishing town on the Lancashire coast. Every Saturday Mum and I used to walk into town, to go to the library, do some shopping, and we always had lunch in THE MOROCCAN, a cafe near the Pharos Lighthouse. I vaguely remember murals of palm trees, and that's about it, other than the beans and chips, or the Kunzle Cakes they served, with glass cups of tea or coffee.
When I was 13, my mother returned to work and I was left on my own during the long school holidays, but I had lots of friends I used to spend my time with, though even then, preferred my own company as a rule. One, Stephen, lived next door and his mother used to make us bowls of Heinz Oxtail soup for lunch... with chips in! Sounds awful, wasn't something I had ever had before, but I loved it. As I did the real 'scouse', made by another friend, a lady who was about ten years older than me, with a husband away with the fishing fleet a lot of the time. I remember her beehive hairdo, her strong accent, her passion for PJ Proby.. and please, don't tell me I am the only one who remembers him and his trouser-splitting antics!
At 15 I went to work in a carpet showroom, one of a national chain of such shops, as a clerk.. though I ended up doing lots of other things and very little clerking. One of my first jobs of the day, before walking my boss's dog Nelson, was to go round the corner to the bakers and collect two freshly baked, still warm, almond slices, while said boss made coffee. Again in glass cups, this must have been the 'in thing' to drink tea and coffee out of in those days, though we didn't have them at home, where best china was considered the only suitable container for hot beverages!
By the time I was 17 I had left this job, and one other, and was working in Blackpool, for a firm of stockbrokers. Before meeting my first real, serious, love of my life at the time, boyfriend, one of the other junior secretaries and I used to go to the local bakers, PRICE'S, where they did cream of asparagus soup in styrofoam containers, gorgeous meat and potato pies, lovely salmon sandwiches, and a little tart which consisted of a pastry case, filled with apple puree, topped with hard icing. You had to walk past the McFisheries to get there, and the smell of smoked haddock always reminds me of this shop. And it was on one such day we bumped, literally, into DON PARTRIDGE, who I think had one hit only, called ROSIE. (Anyone remember him, a bit Donovan-esque in looks). Then I met HIM, and our lunchtimes were shared as a rule... we sometimes frequented an American-style coffee bar, long counters with stools either side and a space in the middle for the waitress to come and take your order. (HE will be raising his eyebrows at the ability to remember this no doubt!) This was the first time I had ever heard of toasted sandwiches, and whenever I make one for my lunch, I am momentarily taken back to this place, and remember it most often as it was on windy and wet days, with few visitors braving the promenade outside, the windows steaming up from hot drinks and wet coats, the North Pier looking enticing all lit up on a grey day.
A couple of years later, working as a PA in a fabulous job (until it all went horribly wrong for everyone concerned), and the only downside was that my office window overlooked the building next door, where they used to start roasting chickens at some ridiculous hour of the morning.. or so it seemed to me. I would walk past and the smell wouldn't be too bad, but open the office window and in it would come, and now with these rotisserie ovens in most of the large supermarkets, spit-roasting chickens, it brings back memories of those days.
Chips and curry sauce.. now there's a delicacy for you, fine dining at it's best!! This was the treat my girlfriend and I used to have after a night out at our local.. no wonder we were on our own!!! Crisp packets with proper little twists of blue paper containing salt, not a small packet like nowadays. Parched Peas.. now is this a Lancashire delicacy I wonder, because nobody I know has ever heard of them. They were some sort of dried pea, soaked overnight and then cooked, a darkish brown colour skin, slightly lighter colour inside, and they were made by an old lady where I lived in my early teens, and every Sunday morning she cooked up a batch, and sold them hot, salted, in small paper cones. They were delicious, and try as I might, I have never been able to replicate them.
School dinners.. well, you can't have memories of food without mentioning them can you, but unlike most people I know, my memories are all good. I went to a small private school, and the food was made in the convent kitchen since there were only about fifteen or twenty of us who stayed for dinner. Mondays was always leftovers from the Sunday roast the nuns had shared, and we had it with mashed potatoes, salad, and salad cream. It was always fish and chips on Friday, meatballs featured sometime during the week as well, and puddings like jam sponge with coconut on the top and real custard. I didn't much care for tapioca, but just about everything else went down a treat!