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Saturday, 25 June 2011

Midsummer bounty

Our gooseberry bush is groaning with fruit. I can claim no credit for this. It was here when we moved in some 15 years ago, in an awkward spot under a large, untamed walnut tree. It fights for space with nettles and long grass, and all it has received in the way of attention is one dose of compost early on in the year. My more pampered fruit bushes have not fared well, my raspberries are disastrous and the birds ate all the redcurrants. But the gooseberries are looking very fine indeed.

Today's mission was to harvest some, and put them to good use. I never really liked gooseberries until last year, when I visited Riverford Organics' Travelling Field Kitchen and tasted the most incredible gooseberry fool, made with real custard and fresh cream. It got me thinking that I should try harder with my own crop.
So, today's task was some strawberry and gooseberry jam.

Half a kilo of each into the pan to simmer for ten minutes. Then, sugar, around a kilo, or according to taste.

Dissolve the sugar, then bring the pan to a rolling boil. Gooseberries contain loads of pectin, so there are no problems getting this jam to set. It was cooked in under ten minutes. I let it cool for about half an hour, and then ladled into the jars which I've been storing since last year's jam season.

Jam for tea! My sister in law is coming to stay for the night, so I made a cake at the same time. I found a great new recipe in this book:

Honey and ginger cake with a fresh raspberry sauce. More summer fruits to relish....

Friday, 24 June 2011

Thrifting part II

I was technically food-shopping, but what can you do when this lies in your direct path?

Resistence is futile! This is a small antiques fair which takes place on Stamford Meadows each June. It is a wonderful setting, next to a river, with the Georgian town of Stamford as the backdrop. You cannot beat it if the sun is shining, which it often does. There are about 70 - 100 stalls.

I have two particular favourites. One of them is a one man band house clearance service, and he always has a great spread of lovely things (and he is kind enough to allow photos!):

Pottering about in warm sunshine, sifting through boxes of linen, buttons, vintage clothes and china, it doesn't really get much better than that for me. And, what made it possible, was a late birthday cheque from my in-laws, which came at the weekend. This is what I bought:

I love the colours of the crochet blanket, and it was love at first sight with the little red shoes. My tin of buttons and trimmings will keep me happy for ages.
The food shopping didn't seem nearly so boring after that little break. As for Stamford, that really merits a post all to itself. Another time.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


It has felt like a l-o-n-g week, as my son just had one GCSE exam left and I was desperately trying to keep him motivated. Most of his friends had finished their exams and were out having a great time, so it was hard going for everyone. But now he has finished, and there was a 100 watt smile of relief and happiness from him as he came in through the door tonight. The end of an era for him, too, as he will go to a different school for sixth form, all being well.
I have just finished a set of deadlines, so it felt like a day to kick back which meant, of course, a little trip to my favourite charity shop. It's not on my normal route, so I need a couple of spare hours to get there and have a really good browse. As soon as I walked in I spotted this gorgeous cloth, and it was a bargainous £1.29.

Next stop was a funny little crafts centre, which is actually a mixture of antiques and card and craft supplies. I always worry that it will be closed down when I visit, as it's rather a mish mash and everything is a bit run down. In fact, it's like a proper old fashioned junk shop, of the sort that I remember from my childhood.
I found this beautiful little fabric covered sewing box with pins, buttons and a wooden darning mushroom inside.

It was only a fiver, so I had to bring it home. I found a second sewing box, too, a wooden one, which needs a thorough clean and some tlc. I shall enjoy doing that one up. And finally, the panels that I bought at auction a few weeks ago are on the wall at last. I am pleased with them.

Lots and lots of colour going on in the house at the moment. I think it all fits together.....

Monday, 20 June 2011

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Gorgeous gardens

Off to the Midsummer Open Gardens in a little village called West Deeping, about 15 miles away. We were dodging showers, but it was worth it. There are some very grand houses in this stone village...

This is the Manor House, which dates from the 1600s.

An amazing garden, with little bridges, a rose garden, old stone walls with peaches growing across them, lavender paths, secret places...

I loved this cottage garden (below)..the bridge at the back was a new addition, and a bit of a work in progress....

We were really inspired by seeing so many amazing vegetable and produce patches. Lush lettuces, deep green cabbages, fat blackcurrants and red cherries, onions, beetroot and peas. We came home feeling really inspired to make a greater effort in our garden. This strawberry tub was brilliant.

Perhaps my favourite garden of all was the final one we saw. It's an old mill, with a typical Georgian house. I think I once came to a party here when I was a teenager, so perhaps I had my nostalgia-goggles on, but it is just stunning. Not too tidy, just lots of old roses, mellow stone, plenty of dogs, cats and horses, and of course, a river running through it.

The sun was out by now, even better!

What a great way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Linen rescue

I don't know what it is, but I cannot walk past a piece of embroidered linen in a charity shop without feeling the urge to grab it and take it home. Although there is loads of it around, I just feel that it won't be here for ever, and it needs to be treasured. I get even more excited if it has an Economy mark (see above, right), which means that it is from the wartime era. Today, I found these two tablecloths and an Irish linen towel. They are not the prettiest or most amazing pieces I've ever seen, but each one has so much intricate stitching and detailed hand work that I couldn't bear to leave them to their £2 fate. They had to join my collection.

Thanks to this month's BBC Homes and Antiques magazine, I've made a great discovery. If the linen is marked, which it quite often is, a long soak in a bowl of water and a few capfuls of Napisan really does the trick. I searched high and low for Napisan, which is a kind of stain remover made for soaking cloth nappies, and I finally tracked some down in Morrisons supermarket last week. If you have linen which needs help, this is the stuff to buy.
There were rich pickings in my local charity shops today. I had to resist a lot, but I did take the linen and a very pretty pink cashmere sweater.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Down to the river....

I've been working from home for over 20 years now, and I usually find it easy to get down to work in my study, zoning out all the domestic distractions around me. But there are days when it just doesn't come together, and today was one of them. With a son on study leave and a husband whose business has gone very quiet, the house is busier than usual. So, come lunchtime, I took myself off on my favourite local walk. The landscape around here is pretty flat, but there is something very peaceful and pastoral about it.

It's a warm day, and the cows were drowsing under the trees. There was even a bit of heat shimmer hanging on the horizon. Weeping willows, reed beds and water lillies.
One of my favourite books is LP Hartley's The Go Between, and I must say that this particular route always reminds me of the film version, with Julie Christie and Alan Bates as the ill-fated lovers from different social classes. LP Hartley had roots in Peterborough, so he must have known the River Nene. There was someone swimming in the river today, but sadly, it wasn't Alan Bates in all his 1960s glory.

I saw no one other than the swimmer, some swans and their two youngsters, and a large dog fox running along the perimeter of the meadow. It felt timeless. A great way to recharge the batteries.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Rainy Sunday

It's Sunday and it's raining, so plans for a cream tea on a local village green were abandoned. We've been doing some indoor chores instead, such as moving this cupboard to a new location, just here:

Younger son and I did beat the showers earlier on, when we popped out to our local car boot sale at the crack of dawn for some plants. These dark velvety red geraniums were four for £5.

A press trip to Norway last year gave me loads of ideas for our garden room. Norway is the most beautiful country and every interior that I saw was amazing. Here is a little taste, inside and outdoors:

I'd love to go back with the family, but it was so eye-wateringly expensive that I don't think we could ever afford it. Better go back to recreating my own Scandi interior here instead.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Essential Living 2011

As well as editing Nene Valley Living, a local magazine, I recently wrote the interiors section of this annual directory, published by the same company. This year, they chose to use a cover shot which I worked on with photographer Lesley Anne Churchill. We set up the table in my house, using lots of junk shop finds. The napkins came from Newark Antiques Fair and the flowers are by Foxtail Lilly in nearby Oundle, but all the silvery things came from Age UK shops or car boot sales. I like the way it turned out: Lesley Anne did a lovely job, as usual. You can see an e-version of this magazine online at

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Tea break

Back to work with a vengeance now, but there's always time to stop for a cup of tea and a new magazine...

Mollie Makes, issue 2, was just as sweet as the first one. Just after I bought it in Peterborough city centre yesterday, I came across a group of crafty people in a Pop Up Shop. They'd taken over an empty premises for a week, during the town's green festival, to make an Art Cafe. I was camera-less, but very impressed with their idea. Each day, they ran free workshops in knitting, crochet, screen printing, sewing...all sorts of skills. They'd had over 3,000 people through the doors. The shop was decorated - madly but brilliantly - with contributions from the local Sue Ryder charity shop, plants from Van Hage, and contributions from all sorts of sources.  I loved it.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Antiques hunting

For various reasons, I couldn't go to Lincoln Antiques and Homes Show for the last few months, so I was very excited to have a free pass to this vast event, and half a day off to use it. I've been going to these large shows for about 10 years now, and sometimes they are amazing and you see hundreds of things you'd love to buy, and other days, everything you like is either sold or in someone else's trolley. Well, yesterday was brilliant:

I saw some beautiful, beautiful things. Some, like this enormous cheese board, was well out of my price range (and what would I do with it??) but photographs are free....I was here to buy fabric, not furniture, as I've just managed to clear my sheds to a manageable state. Thankfully, it was a good fabric day....

My budget was very small, so there wasn't any room for daft impulse buys. That's tricky when you are surrounded by wonderful stuff, and hundreds of other buyers who might want the same thing. You can't go away and think about it. Snap decisions are needed.

Once my money was gone, I was free to wander, take some photos and soak up the sights. You can buy everything here, from watering cans to wool. It really is an experience.