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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Teas in the garden

The rain fell softly and steadily all day on Bank Holiday Monday, but still the visitors flocked to Foxtail Lilly's NGS open day. Mum and I were tucked away in the newly converted barn, where we set out our stall of home made goodies. Gardeners are a hardy bunch, and they seemed so glad to see the rain falling on their parched plots that they didn't let it spoil their day out. Let's take a look inside:

We have catered for Tracey's open days a few times, so we know what our customers like: no girly cupcakes here, they prefer tea loaves, Victoria, coffee, lemon and chocolate sponge cakes, gingerbread, date slices, raspberry and white chocolate muffins, brownies, home made sausage rolls and eccles cakes.   I must admit the spread did look pretty tempting. I spent the previous day in the kitchen, while the other family members went to a football match. I love doing a big bake, just once in a while, and have total respect for anyone who caters for a living.  

On the day, it was a family affair, with younger son on clearing tables and drying up duty, my Dad at the sink doing a sterling job of washing up, Mum sorting out the cakes and the money, and I made 130 cups of tea and coffee. The nicest thing about the day was meeting so many great people, some of whom had travelled for miles to see the garden. I think we see the best of everyone: cake makes people happy....

The shop was beautifully stocked with lots of gorgeous plants, and the garden looked delightful, as always. Tracey had worked very hard. Today it's sunnny and breezy, and it's a shame that we couldn't have had a break in the clouds yesterday, but all in all, I think it was a real success.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Elderflower cordial

I have been intending to make elderflower cordial for years now. But I've always managed to miss the brief window when the blossoms are at their frothy peak. However, a large elder is now blooming magnificently in the messy part of our garden by the compost heap, so there was absolutely no excuse to let another spring go by without giving it a try. I felt a bit like a white witch as I brewed it in my largest pan, using the recipe from Elspeth Thompson's lovely book, Home Made. It is now steeping for 48 hours, and I hope I can serve some to the customers at the Open Gardens day on Monday.

The garden is looking so much better for a drop of rain. It was starting to feel a bit post-apocalyptic with cracks in the ground and dusty, flyaway soil. But everything is back to its jumbly wilderness again now.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A pleasant interlude

I had to go to a work meeting in Covent Garden yesterday. Afterwards, I had a couple of hours to spare before I could travel home on my cheap ticket, so I decided to hang around in the sunshine. First stop was the London Transport Museum shop. I'd spied these retro prints in a magazine a few months ago, and was keen to buy a set. They're a bargain at £4.99 for four.

Next stop was the Cath Kidston shop. It was teeming with people, but I always like to look in. This time, I was clutching a 15 per cent discount voucher from Easy Living magazine, so I treated myself to a new bikini.

Sadly, this is not me, and I won't inflict a photo of myself modelling said item, but although the Daily Mail recently decreed that women over 47 shouldn't wear bikinis, I would like them to know that I will be proudly sporting this vintage-y number on the beach this year, crinkly or not.

Covent Garden has changed a lot since I worked here in the early 1990s. It is so corporate now, with the Apple Store, and most major high street names. But there are still some little corners that are virtually untouched. Neal's Yard (above) is one such enclave. And I am so glad to see that this little shop is still going:

It's a splendid emporium of traditional toys and cardboard theatres which you can make yourself. The manager is a true enthusiast: we had a long chat about the tiny carved wooden jointed dolls that are made in England by one craftsman.
Some of the new shops are very pretty. Here is Laduree, purveyors of pastel coloured macaroons.

They look gorgeous, but I bet they don't taste as fine as my Coffee Kisses.....

I did lots of people-watching, and sipped my coffee in the gardens of the actor's church, surrounded by roses in full bloom. It was almost like being abroad for a few hours. I was rather sorry to board the train back to reality.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Retro baking

It's almost time for my annual baking fest. For the last couple of years, my mum and I have provided the teas at my friend Tracey's National Gardens Scheme open day. This involves baking on a large scale, and I am always looking for new cakes to serve. I've been trawling through my old Seventies notebooks, and came up with these Coffee Kisses. They are delicious, and very economical. It was a strange decade, thinking back. I've been recalling some of the things we ate and drank such as dried orange juice - literally a powder that you rehydrated. Dream topping. And a dessert called Orange Chiffon Pie. Maybe I'll pass on those. But Coffee Kisses will definitely be on the menu next Bank Holiday Monday.

The venue is Foxtail Lilly, 41, South Road, Oundle, if you happen to be in the area. I am sure I will be taking some photos, although once the rush starts, it is fairly relentless.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A spot of streetcombing....

Two deadlines finished at last, so a day off was in order. Nothing major planned, but it was definitely time to check out my local charity shops and drop in on the market. Among the fruit and veg, I spotted these like a mirage on the horizon:

Rather similar to a certain famous name, but a fraction of the price...the stall was overrun with buyers. On to the charity shop, and I found this jolly cardigan for a few pounds:

I never say no to buttons, particularly red ones:

I couldn't decide about the rosey barkcloth curtains, but I thought I should bring them home. I just need a 1950s caravan to hang them in now.
Then it was time to do some baking, something that gets neglected when I'm flat out. My elder son has just got through the first week of his GCSEs and some tlc will definitely be required this evening.  

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Travels with the Duchess

It was a beautiful evening for a cycle ride: time to saddle up the Duchess and set off on a circuit of the villages. I love this bike. It makes cycling so easy....

LLLots of hills, lots of photo breaks, and time to drink in the setting sun. I have some very good friends who do endurance-type sports. They run or cycle for miles and miles at high speeds. I am full of admiration, but I've never been able to do anything like that. I'm one of life's amblers. Hence my choice of cycle....definitely an ambler's ride.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A short road trip

Yesterday, we took a trip to Ikea. It was part of my younger son's birthday present. He'd initially requested another games console, but it was decided that there are already more than enough in the house. He then politely asked if he could have a flat screen TV in his room, but as he's only 13, and we would quite like to see him occasionally, that wasn't an option, either. Finally, it was agreed that we would go to Ikea and he could choose some things for his new bedroom (and I promised that I would not try to influence his decisions!). So, my mum, C and I headed off bright and early on Sunday morning.
C quickly found what he was looking for: a desk, a lamp to go on top, and a new duvet cover.
We all enjoyed browsing, and I spotted this pea green stool (above) in the garden section. Also in my trolley were two metres of natural linen, excellent value at £7 a metre, and a Rosali cotton duvet cover in blue.
I wish they would bring back the Rosali paisley range, which I preferred, but I don't think it is going to happen.
Ikea is a frustrating shop in many ways, and it must win the award for the most screaming children per square metre of any retail outlet (my own were no different on the few occasions we took them there when they were tiny), but there are some good finds to be had. Talking of which:

I have enjoyed this newly launched magazine, Molly Makes. I love the photography, the layout and the book reviews. It is nice to see so many inventive houses from different countries, all put together on small budgets. So inspiring. Apples in woolly jackets are something I won't be making, but it's a very sweet cover shot all the same.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Meet the Duchess (of Dawes)

There was only ever one thing that I wanted for my birthday and that was this bicycle: a pistachio green Dawes Duchess. I spotted her just after Christmas in a cycle shop nearby, and whenever I was passing, I'd pop in to have another look. My various family members all agreed that they would chip in to raise the necessary funds when the time came. Then, a couple of weeks before my birthday, my husband rang the shop to place his order, only to be told that the Duchess had been discontinued.
We were sure we'd probably be able to find one via the internet, even though we prefer to shop local, but after six or seven tries, we'd got nowhere. I'd resigned myself to the fact that there would be no Duchess for me. I couldn't find another model that was so lightweight, yet with a vintage look. There are some beautiful cycles out there, but they are very pricey....
Anyway, a few days later, a large package was delivered to the house and my husband was looking very pleased with himself. He had managed to track down a green Duchess, from a small shop in Newcastle -  and here she is. I love this bike. It's such a comfortable ride, with a very low cross bar, and high handle bars. I plan to try and replace some of my regular car journeys with cycle rides instead, as petrol prices continue to soar, and our village has just had its skeleton bus service removed (a victim of the cuts).
You'll be seeing more pictures of the Duchess in due course.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Thank you, Seth Lakeman

Our nearest large town is Peterborough. Despite the fact that it's only about 30 miles from Cambridge, the two towns could not be more different. While Cambridge is packed with culture, music and museums, Peterborough struggles with no proper permanent art galleries or concert venues, just two small theatres and a museum (currently closed for refurbishment).
But, just occasionally, we are thrown a crumb. Actually, last night it was a whole loaf, because Seth Lakeman, the folk rock singer, came to play in the Cathedral.
Peterborough Cathedral is magnificent, truly a hidden jewel, and with Seth installed, it was pretty much perfect. The event was quite an unusual concept: I always think of folk music as being overwhelmingly pagan, so the ecclesiastical setting did take some getting used to. Good for the Cathedral for allowing it to happen (this iPhone snap doesn't do it justice and we weren't allowed to take shots inside once the music began).

When you see a consummate performer, it's like being gathered up and transported to another place, and Seth and his band were sensational. I particularly love his songs with a driving beat (try listening to Kitty Jay) and seeing Seth working away on his violin like a man possessed. This is the second time that he has played in Peterborough.  I just hope he'll come and visit us again soon.

Monday, 9 May 2011


An early morning walk in the woods

Cream in my coffee


Cute presents from my boys

Good things to read

And a coffee cake......

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A new addition

It's been a busy weekend of football awards ceremonies, a bit of gardening, cooking and of course, moving the furniture. My new purchase is very pretty (well, I think so anyway!):

A traditional English meat safe with three shelves inside. A household essential before the fridge came into use, and there is just something about them that I really, really like. I've been trying to find one for a couple of years now, and although I have seen many, in different shapes and sizes, there was always something just not quite right. In fact, I'm sure I've driven my antique-ing friend Tracey quite mad with my quest....well, I think it is over now (even if I do wish the pine was slightly darker....enough already)

I bought this from a lovely shop called Old Bakery Antiques, Wymondham, Leicestershire. It's in a very pretty village, and it's one of those shops that you didn't think existed any more. Tina, the owner, specialises in country antiques and gardenalia. Here is her backyard:

There is no junk here, it's all immaculately restored. Tina and her partner don't really do the internet either, so there's a real sense of stumbling across something special when you find the shop. The surrounding countryside, Leicestershire, is very picturesque in a non-showy kind of way. This was just down the road from Tina's shop:

There's a tea shop here, and a florist. I was in too much of a rush to stop for tea and scones, but I'll come back another day. I love driving through country lanes at this time of year, when the grass and flowers are spilling into the road and everything is so lush. It was a really great little interlude.... 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Living in miniature

My mini dresser was a £2 purchase from a car boot sale last summer, but I'd put it in a box and forgotten all about it. As I have a massive urge to renovate, but little time to do it, I decided this was the 10 minute project that I needed. Once brown, dusty and unloved, the dresser now sports a coat of Farrow and Ball and some fitting accessories. I love tiny things and always have an eye out for them. One of the little white jugs was something my Dad dug up in the garden of the cottage where I grew up. The garden had once been the village tip, and we've unearthed all kinds of treasures while digging the vegetables, including some tiny china dolls and some lead soldiers.
Anyway, this isn't really what I was going to write about today. I did make a quick trip here to pick up my new piece of furniture, :

 But, there is a slight problem in that I miscalculated my measurements and it doesn't quite fit in the spot that I'd earmarked. My heart rules my head as usual....hopeless! I am going to have to reorganise tomorrow and find a new slot. The house is currently upside down as husband and younger son are swapping their study and bedroom respectively. When the dust has settled, I'll take some pictures.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Little beauties

It has been sooo hard to stay inside at the computer today. The garden was calling me: it is warm and fragrant out there, I cannot ever remember such a sweet smelling spring. Since my sale success, I feel a turbo charged interest in all things vintage, and all I really want to do is to wile away the hours painting, recovering and fixing things up. But it's deadline week, so that's not possible just now. Anyway, with the excuse that I was spring cleaning, I popped out to air a couple of my quilts at lunch time and I couldn't resist a few quick photos....

The colours are so amazing on these old textiles. One day, I shall have a little attic bedroom in which to display them properly.
Someone else heard me pottering about and came out to join in....our guinea pigs are in heaven, grazing the long grass in their run.

Tomorrow I am going on a mission to collect something special. I never buy from proper antiques shops as they are usually too expensive for my budget, but today I got a phone call from a lady I met through work, and she told me that she had come across an item that I had once mentioned. Was I interested? With my sale proceeds carefully stashed away, it sounds as if I might be able to afford it...and I am going to find out if it fits the bill tomorrow afternoon. Watch this space!