Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Summer Slowly Fading

The weather is in that perfect seasonal crossover at the moment, with warm, sunny days and cool, crisp mornings. Usually at this time of year I am in a big hurry for autumn - always my favourite season - to arrive but, this time, I find I am happy for the summery feel to continue for as long as it wants. I'm still wearing summer clothes and sandals, walking around the house barefoot, and there are no signs of any blankets on the beds yet. 

This all bodes well for the cotton blanket I have been making over the last few months, as I am now working on the border and hope to have it finished by this weekend. It's been a joy, this project, keeping my hands occupied on many an evening, and I am hoping it will be the perfect lightweight early-autumn blanket for our bed.

Angus looked at my round shelf in the kitchen-diner the other day and said it was "too summery". He suggested I lose the shells and pebbles for some conkers and acorns and other "autumny" pieces.  I found this at once hilarious and frustrating: I agree with him, but if he could just open his curtains, make his bed or put his dirty clothes in the washing basket now and then, well, then I might be more inclined to take his styling advice. 

I've told him that next time we go to the woods, he can look for some things to display on the shelf and arrange it all himself. 

Despite the warm weather, porridge has been sneaking back into my breakfast routine, and I've been eating a lot of blackberry porridge.

I made a huge kilner jar of much too runny blackberry compote, so I'm using it to cook the oats. It turns them the most delicious shade of purple and tastes amazing, especially when you add some fresh blackberries or a dollop of bramble jelly on top.

We took delivery of a new sofa at the weekend and are loving having enough seats for everyone to sit on at the same time. The dark grey three-seater sofa we had before was fine when the children were little and we could all squash on, but not now they are bigger (and the dog!!), so we wanted something more comfortable.

I love the way it creates a cosy corner around the rug and fireplace, but I have warned John that we are going to need more cushions. Fluffy, woolly ones, ready for autumn and winter. I'll get my crochet hook out.

Bella made pancakes on Sunday morning with the new crepe pan my mum and dad brought me back from France. They look more uniform than anything I could make and there were lots leftover for breakfast yesterday and today.

I have recently acquired a couple of new-to-me books from my friend Victoria who was going to give them to the charity shop. I was over the moon because they were just my sort of thing and full of such inspiring homes. I gave her our old tent and some camping equipment in exchange. We were both happy with the arrangement.

Our new fig trees in pots on the decking, moved from my parents' garden over the winter, amazingly produced fruit. Most of it was tiny and green but two figs grew, ripened and were ready to be picked. They tasted almost jammy, so strong was their flavour. I now have very high hopes for next year's crop!

Our sunflowers were small and late but still sunny.

We've been working really hard in the garden over the last two weekends, tackling a large, overgrown border at the front of the house, and cutting back a huge New Zealand flax at the back. Five trips to the garden waste section on the tip in total, plus a lot of scratched arms and sore muscles. The garden is slowing down now and and I'm starting to think about planting bulbs.

My holiday embroidery grows little by little. Before the summer holiday finished I managed to sew a brownstone building...

...subway sign...


...and, last weekend, a theatre symbol topped with a green witch's hat (for the show Wicked) and a hot dog.

I just have one more image to sew and then it is finished. I really want it to be completed soon, before the holiday memories and daylight hours fade too much. It's a summer project, this one, and when it's finished I have a pair of socks, a weaving and a jumper pattern waiting for me.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

August's Cookery Book

Every year I make the same preserves. Marmalade in January, when Seville oranges are in the shops, bramble jelly in August and sometimes, in the autumn, chutney for Christmas. I love making these preserves as we always eat and enjoy them, and for the way that they seasonally punctuate the year, but I felt the need to try something different. When I first discovered making jam and preserves I wanted to try all the flavours, and had so much fun experimenting with different ideas, but I've lost that a bit. My free time is significantly less and my approach is more pragmatic now: if the fruit is expensive (cherries) or not grown easily in the UK (peaches and plums) it makes more sense to me to just buy a jar of the jam I want, rather than spend a fortune on imported fruit and then spend precious hours turning it into jam. (Seville oranges are the exception here - I am so happy to see them in the dark month of Janaury, and equally happy to fill my cold kitchen with warmth, steam, and the smell of something sweet and citrussy bubbling on the stove.)

Some of my most used preserving recipes come from a little gem of a book called Notes from the Jam Cupboard which was given to me some years ago by my dear friend Abigail. I always turn to this book to make bramble jelly and marmalade, but never try any other recipes and that is a shame because the author, Mary Tregellas, knows her preserves and the recipes are both comforting and inspiring. The chapters are arranged by a theme of flavour or texture, such as Juicy, Tangy, Tropical, Wholesome and Aromatic, and don't just contain recipes for jam and chutney - there are suggestions for cakes, tarts, bread, main meals, sauces and drinks too.  It's a few years old now and possibly out of print, but I found cheap second hand versions available on Amazon and eBay.

I do think of preserving as something of a late summer/early autumn activity, and it was just what I wanted to do on a few of the wet afternoons we had at home throughout August. I wanted to put the radio on and slowly weigh fruit and boil jam, chop vegetables and simmer chutney.

I tried Fruits of the Forest jam, which appealed because it used those bags of ready prepared frozen fruit and I happened to have one, bought for smoothies but never used, in the freezer.  Along with some blackberries from the garden, raspberries that I found at the back of the freezer and some borderline-edible strawberries that badly needed using up, I had a reasonable amount of mixed fruit, so I weighed the whole lot and made a delicious sort of use "up all the random bags of fruit" jam, which you'll be happy to know I called Summer Fruit Jam instead. The recipe itself is just your usual jam recipe - equal parts fruit to sugar, with some lemon juice for the pectin. It was just fun making a kind of jumble-berry jam with lots of leftover fruit, really. 

 Rhubarb Chutney was next, because I had kilos of the stuff in the freezer, all ready for crumbles, but it turns out Bella and Angus don't really like rhubarb. 

It looked so pretty as the ingredients tumbled into the pan, with the pink and green rhubarb, purple red onion and flecks of orange zest. 

The flavours are punchy, with fresh ginger and orange combined with aromatic cardamom and cinnamon. It's really good, although so far I've only eaten it with cheddar cheese in a sandwich. 

More chutney (because you can't have too much of the stuff stashed away in the cupboard, can you?) came in the form of Autumn Chutney, which I had to make as soon as I read the ingredients list: plums, apples, blackberries, onions and raisins, with allspice, cinnamon, ginger and coriander. Autumnal heaven right there, plus I'd just been blackberry picking and had kilos of the stuff. 

The high water content of the fruit meant it took a couple of hours of simmering to thicken, which then meant that the house stank of vinegar, but a small price to pay I think. 

Continuing the plum theme, I tried plum crumble cake. I love plums and have had a bowl of them on the kitchen windowsill for the last month, waiting until they are super soft and almost overripe before eating them. I usually make Nigel Slater's plum cake from Kitchen Diaries, and love it, but the addition of the crumble topping here was good. 

It looks nothing like the photo in the book - the sponger layer under the fruit bubbled up during cooking and burst all over the fruit and crumble topping, and it caught a little around the edges too. But no matter, it was still delicious, the muscovado sugar in the crumble topping going so well with the juicy plums, and the fruit keeping the whole cake moist.

We are inching towards my favourite season for cooking now: soups and stews, pumpkins and apples, and getting out the slow cooker for the first time in months. I see many weekends of gentle kitchen pottering ahead of me. 

Friday, 6 September 2019

Room Tour: The Spare Room

Wow, thank you for all the love you gave my unfinished holiday embroidery! I have just four images left to sew and I'm really hoping I can find time to work on it a little this weekend. 

I mentioned that over the summer we finished our spare room and thought you might like to see some photos. The room was Angus's bedroom before (you can see what it looked like here), while our spare room and office/toy storage were downstairs in what it now Bella's bedroom. This room is an awkward shape; it has a partially sloping ceiling, two large storage cupboards on one wall which go into the eaves, a window and radiator on another, and is all angles and alcoves. It is both cosy, thanks to the airing cupboard, and light, thanks to the large window, so it's also a really nice room. The plan was to turn it into a room in which guests could stay, but which we could also use as an office, and as an overflow sitting/play room for Bella and Angus.

We ordered a sofa bed (this one). The size of the wall the sofa would stand against meant that we had to choose one without arms but that is fine.

To the left of the sofa is a little alcove, the perfect size for a small table.

John built us a simple desk using an off-cut of ply and four hair pin legs. Above the desk, just under the wall light, was enough space for a small shelf, again made from ply and a couple of cheap brackets.

I like that it's a good use of a small, tricky area where no space is wasted. I have put a few favourite bits on the shelf for now; a vase of feathers, an old printer's block I bought in about 2001, a stone, a postcard from IKEA and a glass candle holder which used to belong to my Grandpa.

These drawers hold all our craft supplies and stationery, while the cupboard stores the filing cabinet and printer, as well as all the toys. It's a really deep cupboard and provides fantastic storage.

On the opposite wall is an old bookcase which used to live in my Grandpa's house and until recently held all Angus's books, but now groans under the weight of all John's CDs (Ok, maybe a quarter of them are mine.)

The vintage travels prints I bought in York years ago and the skull canvas was from Graham and Green - funny, I am not mad about any of them individually, but I really like how they work together.

Other cheap and cheerful decoration comes in the form of houseplants and sheets of fancy gift wrap hung on poster hangers, while broken Emma Bridgewater mugs hold pens and pencils. 

We tried to keep spending in this room to an absolute minimum since we had to buy the sofa bed. The carpet, blind and light fittings are the same as before, and I repainted one wall in white paint as it was badly marked but left the others. All the furniture, pictures, cushions, blanket and other bits and bobs came from other rooms in the house - other than the sofa bed, we only bought the table legs, a small amount of ply and some cheap shelf brackets from B&Q. 

It's a really nice room. The carpet makes it cosy and quiet while the airing cupboard means it's warm in the winter. We haven't had any guests stay in it yet but I hope they are comfortable there.


Hasn't the weather turned cold quickly? I have been wearing my coat to and from work and there is a definite edge to the wind at the moment. I'm not ready to say goodbye to my sandals and summer clothes just yet, so I really hope it warms up a bit again before autumn arrives properly. I hope you all have something nice planned for the weekend. John is working so it's just the kids and I. Apart from swimming lessons and a library visit tomorrow morning there is nothing particular I need to do other than then usual weekend washing/ironing pile, then some gardening and baking, a couple of dog walks, and hopefully there will be time to sit down and sew.