Tuesday, 16 January 2018

In praise of grandparents

My Grandpa passed away at the weekend. It was both a shock and entirely expected at the same time, and it hasn't fully sunk in yet. He had been increasingly unwell since August and moved into a care home during the autumn. He would fade then rally, worry us then perk up and make us laugh and so it seemed that, despite his frailty and age, he would just go on and on. I was able to say goodbye to him on Friday morning and he knew I was there, and I will forever be thankful for that moment. His care home faces the sea and, afterwards, I walked along the beach on my own for a little while and gathered my thoughts before heading off to work. He died peacefully, at the age of eighty nine, which is a good innings, as he would have said. 

He was a very large part of my childhood. My sisters and I were blessed with grandparents who lived locally and were very involved in our lives; we'd see them most weekends, stay at their houses, go on holiday with them. We grew up surrounded by the slightly indulgent love that only grandparents can get away with. He was mad about boats and sailing, and local history too. He was well read and well travelled, and his house is absolutely crammed to the rafters with books and paintings, mostly of boats. We have so many good memories of him, and Bella and Angus were very fond of him (largely because he'd let them eat all the chocolate biscuits they wanted before riding up and down in his stair lift) and we talk about him often.

It reminded me how very special the relationship is between grandparent and grandchild, and I see that now between my children and my and John's parents. Do you have a particular memory of a cherished grandparent? I'd love it if you shared it here. Mine would be spending time on my Grandpa's boat, Spray, and eating Lardy Cake, a local type of bread/cake which we always took sailing for some reason. It always felt cosy.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge

Thank you all so much for your nice comments on my 2017 Creative Review. I was surprised at how much I'd managed to make, considering there are quite a few half finished projects in my basket at the moment, including a cross stitch I haven't touched in over a year. 

This is my final Cookery Calendar Challenge post, which was started by Penny of The Homemade Heart. The aim, this time last year, was to dust off some of my least used cookery books and cook at least two meals each month from a chosen title. Some months it was a bit of a struggle, finding time to fit it in, but overall I have enjoyed it hugely and found it really useful. We've planned meals more efficiently, tried new ideas, tried new flavours (the kids, anyway) and it has cemented the importance of our Sunday night family meal together in the week. 

My chosen title for December was At My Table by Nigella Lawson, which I received for Christmas. I didn't struggle to find anything I wanted to cook and eat, but I did find the layout of the book challenging; there are no chapters, just a long, continuous and loosely arranged series of recipes. There was a fair amount of flicking back and forth, loosing my page and muttering under my breath. But, is almost always the case with her books, the recipes are clear, well written, carefully explained and work, which is why I continue to buy and enjoy cooking from her books. 

My first choice was Meatballs with Orzo because I wanted to try cooking with orzo, and I knew there was a good chance everyone would like it. Orzo are tiny pasta shapes about the size of a grain of rice uncooked, and I thought it might cause less tomato sauce down Angus's t-shirt than the usual spaghetti. 

You begin by making a tomato sauce which you cook a little before dropping in your meatballs (I just bought them ready made), then cooking a little more until adding the orzo pasta. It's the easiest kind of one pot cooking. 

The tiny pasta shapes took about fifteen minutes to cook in the tomato sauce before adding a little chopped parsley at the end. 

It was a resounding success. Bella did comment that the meatballs were a little bland (clearly I should've made my own!) but both she and Angus loved the orzo and asked for second helpings. 

Our second recipe, following a theme of meat and carb heartiness befitting January, was Cumberland Sausages with Apples and Onions. I couldn't find the attractive ring sausages, so just made do with the ones I found in the supermarket. Again, very easy - just toss the sausages, apples and onions in a little oil and mustard seeds before cooking for an hour or so.

While I will admit that the result looks unattractive, it tasted delicious, and I don't know why I've never cooked apples with sausages this way, when you think that pork and apple sauce is such a well established combination. The onions caramelise and the apples soften to the point of almost being mush, and the whole thing with the sausages and mustard seeds is so good.

I served it with Cumberland Gravy and Garlic and Parmesan Mash, both of which were lovely and not much effort at all. It was essentially a really good bangers and mash dinner, and I will definitely cook sausages this way again.

I'm in two minds about whether to do it again this year. Not because I don't have twelve more cookery books to use - I do! - but I find the time constraints challenging at times, which is only down to my own organisational skills, or lack of. But it has certainly made me revisit cookery books I'd previously forgotten about and, for me, there is always such comfort and joy in reading a cookery book, notepad and pen in hand, and talking to John about what to cook and eat, bouncing ideas off each other, writing lists and planning meals. I think one of our favourite things to do together on a Saturday morning is to plan all the meals we are going to eat over the weekend. 

Cooking makes me happy. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

2017: A Year of Making

Every January, for as long as I have been blogging, I like to take a look back at the previous year's crafting and making. I find it really interesting; which months were more productive than others, what I was doing at different times of the year, and the sorts of colours and projects I choose depending on the seasons. 

Crafting in the first half of 2017 was dominated by the redecoration of all our bedrooms, as I stamped blinds and bedding, made wall hangings and garlands, and painted furniture. There were also a couple of larger crochet projects there too, like a cardigan and blanket. Then there were my crocheted fruit and vegetables over the summer, plus lots of yarny animals and birds. As autumn arrived it was a mixture of cosy home projects and gifts for family and friends.

{January, February, March}




{April, May, June}




{July, August, September}




{ October, November, December}




I think that, if I had to choose one favourite make, then it would be my embroidered holiday diary from our trip to France in August. Not only was it a complete joy to sew, but it holds so many happy memories for me. Crochet continues to be one of the most rewarding hobbies I have ever taken up, although I didn't intend to make quite so many animals and birds.

Looking back over last year's post, I see that I failed to master colour work or tapestry crochet, or make that patchwork quilt I've been talking about for the last few years, or sew any clothes. Never mind, maybe this year will feel like the right time. But I do have an idea for a blanket simmering away in my head, and I am about to pick up my knitting needles again, so I'm sure I'll have lots to share with you soon.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

New Year

Weather permitting, we've walked every day over the last few days. It feels like it's rained a lot and the woods are spectacularly muddy - you notice this more when you have a mostly white dog - and Ziggy even seemed to have mud on him after a beach walk yesterday. I'm not really sure how that happened.

It's been a lovely long weekend though. Old friends from Leeds, who've since moved to Australia, came to visit us and it was really was wonderful to watch the children pick up such old friendships, and for John and I to spend time with our friends too. We went for a walk, stopped off in the pub for a pint on the way back, then came home to make a huge chilli. We extended the table and all sat around eating and drinking and catching up. It was a really happy moment.

New Year's Eve was quiet. John has been unwell with laryngitis and was feeling quite out of sorts by Sunday night, so we watched tv (The Punisher on Netflix - excellent) and ate Chinese takeaway and I crocheted. It was a very sober affair. New Years Day was nice, with a slow, lazy morning at home followed by a bracing walk on the beach with all the family after lunch. 

The gifts which I was supposed to crochet the children for Christmas and which never got made in time, were completed in time for New Year. I wrapped them up and presented them on New Year's Day, after breakfast. The kids were delighted and I am now convinced that New Year's gifts should become a regular thing, if only to buy a little more time at one of the busiest time of year. 

I made an orangutan for Bella, who has been named Olivia. The pattern is from Edward's Menagerie and was my first time working in fur stitch, where you create lots of loops yarn in the crochet fabric as you work and then, at the end, snip them all in half to create the impression of fur. It was very tedious, the crocheting and the cutting, but I can't deny the effect is good.

Angus's duck, by comparison, was a doddle. Technically he's a mallard and the pattern is from Edward's Menagerie: Birds. Knowing how much I love these two books I was delighted to discover recently that Edward's Menagerie: Dogs will be released later in the year and...there's a pattern for a whippet! I am already very excited.

Another finished make I forgot to show you was this beautiful cowl from here, which I made for my friend Charlotte.

Everything about the weight, fit and size is perfect. It was really hard to give it away, and I have plans to make myself one in white, grey and pink.

I took the Christmas tree and decorations down today. The house feels cold and bare, becuase I haven't had time to potter around with greenery and make it all look lovely again. But I did blitz the bedrooms today, stripping beds,vacuuming and dusting, putting away presents, taking down the hundreds of Christmas cards the kids had in their rooms. That felt really good. This afternoon we went to the cinema with my parents to see Paddington 2. It was completely and utterly lovely and I came out of the cinema beaming. I'm enjoying the slower pace though, and I've ignored emails and any thoughts of work in favour of reading and jigsaws and lots of family time. I haven't given any thought to December's Cookery Calendar Challenge - we're still working through the leftovers. I will go back to reality soon though, probably starting with tomorrow's trip to IKEA. 

Happy new year you lovely lot. Thanks for being here, for reading and commenting. I hope 2018 brings you much happiness. 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Midwinter Pause

Hello! Everyone OK? Did you survive Christmas? Ours was lovely but I notice that I am relaxing more and more with each day that goes by. Christmas is wonderful but it's also exhausting, and I didn't even have to cook the big lunch.

My mother and father in law travelled down from Durham to spend some time with us and it was so nice to see them, and especially to watch the children bask in the glow of grandparent attention. We spent Christmas Eve pottering around the house, with myself mainly in the kitchen; boiling and roasting a ham, cooking a turkey crown and attempting a gingerbread house. It didn't get off to the most auspicious start, since the ready made kit I bought was broken in places. I repaired it with icing but the biscuit was starting to soften quite badly. Once Bella and Angus had decorated it, I left it for a day or two and hoped it would harden before I assembled it. But it didn't really, and the whole thing collapsed under it's own weight before I could even get a photo of it.

Christmas day was a blur of unwrapping gifts, eating, and trying to stop Ziggy stealing the turkey. My mum hosted lunch and excelled herself as usual. She does a mean Christmas lunch, and never even looks that hot or stressed, and everything is always delicious. Boxing Day, always a day I prefer, was calmer, with a walk on the beach then home for turkey and ham pie followed by cappuccino pavlova, before watching a film in front of the fire. I got out my embroidered napkins and it was so nice to use them, if only for one meal.

Yesterday, we woke to a dusting of snow. Nothing dramatic, but the first snow fall we've had since we moved here three years ago. Angus was so excited. He was out of bed, dressed and downstairs pulling on his wellies in about thirty seconds, before going outside to walk footprints all over the back garden. His delight was infectious, and I got a kick out of seeing our usual views transformed by the snow. But it also made me sad that he doesn't really remember any of the heavy snowfalls we experienced when we lived in Leeds. I hope we get at least one good snow this winter. I bet we don't though. Sadly, the unexpected snow, even though it was all melted by lunchtime, meant my in-laws left a day early as they were worried about the long drive home. 

Today was cold, frosty and sunny, and tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of the year. I spent most of today at home, sorting out presents, putting things away, doing washing, vacuuming, clearing out the fridge. We have more guests arriving on Saturday so tomorrow I need to start thinking about that -  planning meals, shopping, getting the spare bedroom ready again, making the house presentable. 

Father Christmas was kind this year. New nightwear, jewellery, cookery books, clothes - including one of those fantastic blanket scarves that are so toasty - and a lot of chocolate were all wonderful but my favourite gift is this pair of slippers, from John. Ziggy destroyed my other ones, and I badly needed a new pair. I adore these. They are so warm and comfortable. I did drop very heavy hints - they are from here

He also gave me some scented soy candles and matches pretty enough to earn their place on the mantel from the excellent The Botanical Candle Co.

I thought you would all like this beautiful print, a gift from my parents. from local shop Winter's Moon. The black background sets of those plant shapes and colours so well.

And this necklace from my friend Charlotte is from a etsy seller I'd never come across before, but I think I'll be looking there in future. Mustard, grey and navy, my favourite colours.

Oh, and Ziggy has a smart new Harris tweed collar, isn't he looking handsome in it?

And now we are entering one of my favourite times of the year. Apart from friends coming to stay this weekend, I don't have a whole lot planned over the next week. There will certainly be walking, reading and sitting in front of the fire. I am almost finished with Bella and Angus's Christmas New Year's gifts, and we might go to the cinema at some point. (I really want to see Paddington 2 before it stops showing.) I will certainly get out a jigsaw or two and eat up some Christmas cake. But that's about it. A midwinter pause.