Books I’ve enjoyed 006

Now is definitely the season to snuggle down with a good book, here are some more that I’ve enjoyed this year.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

‘1957, south-east suburbs of London.
Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and — on the brink of forty — living a limited existence with her truculent mother: a small life from which there is no likelihood of escape.

When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys’ GoodReads

I listened to the audiobook of this novel and enjoyed it a lot. Although like so many other readers I was really taken aback by the ending.

I love the household hints and the character Jean. I’m planning to make the spiced apple cake and passed the recipe on to one of my mother‘s neighbours, who has already made it, so maybe some good things come out of novels with abrupt and unsatisfying endings!

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

Free Love is set in an interesting time period; it’s London in the late sixties. There is political unrest, societal upheaval and attempt at change as new ideologies are being protested by the young, who are distancing themselves from the previous generation. The older generation are worldly wise and have seen too much. They only seek to make more peaceful lives for themselves after living through World War II.


The people and places are described so carefully and realistically that you are there: in a suburban villa’s kitchen with its formica topped table and chipped lino floor, in a squat in the middle of Ladbroke Grove with dirty mattresses on the floor and cigarette smoke mixing with the stale smell of curry in the air, in a boutique trying on fancy dresses while an older lover slowly nods his head and brings out a thick wad of notes with which to pay.


I love the way the author describes little things such as dun-brown paint on a stairwell and the features of a wooden lift that may, or may not get stuck between floors in a rambling old building, which has very much gone to seed and is awaiting demolition. The old ladies who once lived there in safety, in genteel surroundings amongst respectable neighbours but whom are now stranded, impoverished with no other options, tore at my heartstrings.


The story centres upon one family and the repercussions of one night when a sandal is retrieved from a pond, or perhaps it is all from a time twenty years earlier….There are secrets and people not being or communicating authentically, it’s messy and restrained all at once. Free Love is about wanting to shed an old skin amidst the tantalising possibilities of changing everything.
I loved it.

I will definitely be reading more by Tessa Hadley.

The Toll House by Carly Reagon

I found The Toll House a genuinely spooky and, at times, very creepy book. I really liked the dual timeline and thought this worked well to gradually reveal the backstory.

This would have been a five star read for me, but there was a chapter near the end that felt unbelievable and far too over the top. Until that point you could choose to believe what you believed; whether there had been simple accidents on a steep and narrow staircase and overactive imaginations at play, or if there was more to it …. I think leaving the story with a lingering sense of malice and an “Is there, or isn’t there?” question about the house would perhaps have been a more subtle ending.

However, overall I really enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down. I would recommend The Toll House to anyone who wants an atmospheric read.

Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North by Rachel Joyce

The third in the trilogy following on from Harold Fry’s Pilgrimage and Queenie’s Love Song. Maureen is Harold’s wife and it is her turn to go on a pilgrimage of her own. I initially assumed she is now a widow, but I think it’s okay to reassure others that dear old Harold is still very much alive, probably playing draughts and eating sandwiches with Rex, their next door neighbour!

Life has changed, this shortish story is set ten years after Harold’s epic walk. It is during the pandemic and highlights some of the changes we have all experienced in the last decade. Some of these really took me aback, because it’s been a gradual process towards everything being streamed, paid for by contactless or mobile ‘phone, so many products being offered and labelled as vegan. We have all become used to discarded masks dangling from trees, or bowling along pavements in the wind.

So, Maureen is doing something that really challenges her, in a time that is quite difficult. She is undertaking a journey with great reluctance, but it is one that she (and Harold) knows she needs to take.

Maureen is not at all like Harold, she is not a likable and sympathetic character. But during this book she becomes more understanding of how she has become who she is, as she is forced to receive care and kindness from strangers. She begins to accept what she cannot change, this is transformative. The writing is truly beautiful in the last chapters.

Until I had read nearly three quarters of this 200 page book I was thinking it is not a patch on Harold’s story. I was definitely wondering why the book could be so far removed from the other two in the trilogy. And then I found myself sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting for the consultant, and found myself wiping tears from my eyes. The author has really got to the heart of Maureen Fry and writes with insight:

‘Surely it wasn’t too much to ask that you get to the end, and looking back, you don’t fill with horror and bitterness at all the things you got wrong. The mistakes you made, over and over, like falling repeatedly down the same old hole.’

The line drawings by Andrew Davidson at the beginning of every chapter and on the front cover are truly excellent. I wish I could draw!

We all Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman

The heart rendering story of Ash, who is caring for and supporting her dying friend Ali. Ash and Ali have been best friends for over 40 years.
However it’s not all tears and doom and gloom; the Nora Ephron comparison drew me to request a proof of this book, there is definitely plenty of quippy, dry and clever humour. It’s a sad book, but is also full of life, light and energy.

I enjoyed the slow-burn, rather touching and unexpected, love story too. There is a good supporting cast of spouses, friends and family. Belle, Ash’s daughter, is my absolute favourite. She has some of the best lines! You know when you come across a character in a book, and would really like a another written all about them? Belle is that for me.

The hospice and progression of the story rang so true I began to suspect that the author may have experienced something similar; and indeed by the afterword we learn that her best friend died.

**This novel will not be for everyone, particularly those who have someone with a cancer diagnosis within their circle, it’s a tough read at times.**

The Night she Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

‘2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits. The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah’s friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.

She never returns.

2019: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.

‘DIG HERE’ . . .

A cold case, an abandoned mansion, family trauma and dark secrets lie at the heart of Lisa Jewell’s remarkable new novel.’ GoodReads

When I read this I found it my fastest read in quite a while. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a fantastic twisty, turny read and is really well written. I’ve been reading Lisa Jewell’s writing since the earliest books in the 1990s, so am definitely a fan.

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This week I’ve been reading another good advance reader copy of a book which should be out on the 8th of December. It’s so good that I found myself awake and reading at five thirty yesterday morning! I look forward to telling you about that one too.

What about you, anything you’ve read which you want to recommend to the rest of us?

Crochet! Crochet! Crochet!

Here’s the eye catching postbox topper that my friend’s WI (Women’s Institute) put together for Remembrance Sunday.

Can you spot any of the crochet poppies that I sent her?

Offering to make some poppies was the best thing for me really. We had such a hot summer. I don’t usually do much crochet when it’s warm and even less so this year, as England had some of the highest temperatures since records began. But since I made some poppies I’ve got my crojo back again, with a vengeance. It’s probably the darker evenings and the cooler weather too.

I’ve been buzzing. I’ve looked through my crochet books, read the latest issues of Simply Crochet mag on the e-library site PressReader (it’s free! Great app. Really, really good) and dived into my storage cube to see what was in my yarn stash.

Making a resolution not to start anything new, but to finish off projects I’m already halfway through this year has not been that exciting. I’ve made some headway, but felt bored, so then ended up doing little.

I checked to see what yarn I already have, but of course I didn’t actually use any of it! I mean we don’t, do we?! That’s why we build up stashes in the first place. Mine’s modest because I’ve sent a friend some and donated other bits to a charity shop, so I reckoned I could buy a little something. I chose some brand-new Hayfield Spirit DK. I really like it. When there’s even 20% wool content it’s much nicer to work with than pure acrylic, and looks better as well. It should be warmer too. I never usually make wearables with 100% acrylic, but of course it’s far more affordable for big projects, such as blankets.

I started a virus shawl. Here’s a quick snap that I sent to a friend when we were sharing what we were making one night. It’s not a great photo, but it was enough for her to see what I was doing.

This is the autumn colour way, the people at Hayfield (Sirdar) must have been thinking of autumn flowers, such as dahlias and asters, because the colours don’t say autumn leaves to me.

Then although I was happy with how it looked, I realised I would probably never wear it. I’m more a scarf or cowl wearer. I unravelled it and started a virus blanket. I bought the pattern from Jonna Martinez. Here. There are lots of You Tubers whom you can crochet along with (fun thing to do) as you start your own Virus shawl or blanket. I did that to begin.

Jonna brought the Virus pattern back to the fore and made it famous – go viral. I have read that the Virus design is actually based on an old pattern from Rumania or Russia. This wouldn’t be a surprise; I don’t think there’s really much that’s original in crochet, we’re all replicating stitches and patterns that have been done over decades, maybe centuries.

Pretty colours, aren’t they? But you see the problem? You see what’s really, really, REALLY annoying me, that means I’m going to have to unravel it?

All I will say is that I am looking into the standing stitch and checking out various ways to do it. One crocheter made a video to demonstrate one and it really made me laugh, because she can hardly get her hook through the loop. I’m not sure about doing that version. Might give it a swerve and find another!

Simply Crochet issue 128

And then when I was reading Simply Crochet, issue 128, I found a Bobble Cowl design by Sue Pearson, that I really fancied making. Pattern available here too.

I remember how much I like crocheting bobbles. I started the cowl without really checking what size I would prefer, but happily it’s exactly the height of my favourite knitted Edenvale cowl. Here it is, I wear it all the time in the winter.

And that is what I’ve been making, making and unravelling, making and measuring, then sighing with relief when it’s right.

What about you? What are you making? Any unravelling going on? Any new yarn purchases?

I’ll be back soon with a new books post.

October

Making: It’s soup season again. I’ve made lentil vertes & vegetable, Nigella’s split pea with lime chilli and ginger (really tasty, but needs more vegetables, it’s very split pea heavy. I would recommend an adaption…) Chicken & vegetable soups, Fish chowder and this week a Beef & Vegetable. Dinner in a bowl

Am planning to make Rachel Roddy’s lentil & tomato. If that sounds good to you check out the Guardian, it was featured recently

Experimenting: I’ve harnessed the slow cooker once again and tried it out in the garage (!!!!) It worked really well, no smell wafting around the house for hours and hours

Cooking: Birthday cakes

The Roman Baths, Bath
Museum of Bath at Work – fascinating and quirky place to visit

Surprising: someone with a birthday trip away for a couple of days, it was lovely. Thank you Bath

Sipping: Nespresso cappuccino in the mornings, it became a habit this month, after having the machine years and using it only sporadically for a treat. I bought some lemon and ginger herbal teabags in Louth Aldi and I’m cutting down on caffeine again

Reading: back on to another Ann Cleeves after reading a few proof copies of forthcoming books. I’ve just started The Seagull, which is another in the Vera series

Waiting: for Sunday lunch today

Looking: forward to his roast chicken, gooseberry crumble (which I’m making with homegrown goosegogs, which have been frozen) with good company later on

Listening: to Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, an audiobook I’ve had for awhile.

I really enjoyed this, but oh the ending! So unnecessary and abrupt. You almost feel betrayed after for listening for so long and then feel let down at the end. Have you read this book?

Wishing: in August I wished for a dibber, a friend read the post and sent me one of her mother’s. In September I wished for rain. After I published the post it began to drizzle. So…. I need to think about this one carefully! **

Buckets & spades and donkey rides on a sunny start to half term

Enjoying: remembering walking on the beach in the sunshine last Saturday in Mablethorpe, with a good friend

Sipping: Mulled Cider a couple of times this October. Check out Nigella‘s recipe from her Christmas book. I sub the rum with whatever we’ve got, sometimes Armagnac or Calvados

Missing: these cheeky little girls! I went up to Lincolnshire to cat sit and I’ve missed them all week

Appreciating: all the warm sunny days we’ve had this month. I know that on 29th of October we should not really be sitting outdoors in England, coats off, drinking coffee and eating cake in a museum garden. But it is really nice, I really like it, although I know it’s global warming

Deciding: To start crocheting a new blanket, I know I’ve got to finish my Coast blanket and my knitted Stripey blanket, plus a few smaller items. I’m seeing such a lovely mix of autumn crochet on Instagram that I want to buy some different colours and start something new

Contributing: crochet poppies for a friend’s WI forthcoming yarn-bomb for a postbox topper for Remembrance Sunday (I’ll maybe try to take a decent photo of mine before I pass them on.) Here’s her knitted ones, they look so good

Munching: apples from Apple Weekend at Waterperry Gardens

Eating: Licorice torpedoes I’d bought at the sweet shop on the seafront at Mablethorpe, and catching up on Taskmaster last night. Actually, I caught up with half of Taskmaster as I fell asleep for half an hour, and kept waking up periodically to say can you stop laughing so loudly, it’s waking me up? Unreasonable half asleep & tipsy behaviour? I reckon so!

Liking: Stuck which is on BBC iplayer. Only 15 minute episodes. Dylan Moran! You know? Black Books Dylan Moran. Yay

Loving: sharing links and “What’s for dinner?” messages in the first few weeks of the month, with a very likeminded foodie friend. We were all about lentils, pulses and soups

Buying: A pink leather friendship bracelet from the pop-up artisan’s shop in Witney yesterday

Watching: the leaves change colour. It’s one of my favourite things about autumn

Hoping: for a sunny few days this week to catch up on some more laundry and to wash the kitchen floor. It’s really magic when you wash it and it starts drying instantly, I know, I’m so, so boring

Wearing: pjs

Noticing: The luxury of an extra hour in bed this morning but I’m not looking forward to the darker evenings

Recommending: The Guard film on Netflix. Very funny

Also recommending: The Jazz man’s Blues on Netflix, watched on Friday night. Liked the realistic ending. Although I did feel there was one iffy plot thing, but no worries because it didn’t overly affect the story. I really enjoyed the music and played some of the soundtrack afterwards on Spotify, through the TV. I streamed Netflix to my friend’s TV when I was cat sitting, via Chromecast. The magic of technology!

A walk at dusk

Following: Ancestors’ journeys and careers, using censuses and local information, talking to local historians

Sorting: summer clothes into a bag and to the top of the wardrobe. Then the weather became very warm again and I regretted my tidied away T-shirts and cropped trousers

Coveting: one of those all in one instant pots, they seem to do everything from yoghurt making, slow cooking, pressure cooking and rice steaming, plus more

Visiting: Witney Blanket Hall

To be in the building alone is a treat, but there’s also a superb shop with scarves, socks and blankets all made in this country, plus a selection of nice gifts to purchase, The Pie Shop (a cafe), a garden with the river Windrush flowing at the end, a museum and a really nice woman called Angela

I had no idea that thousands and thousands of Witney blankets were sold by the Hudsons Bay Company in Canada
Made into a cosy coat
A Banbury Cake for me

Feeling: lazy, but I need to Hoover, do a little bit of spot cleaning and make some crumble mixture with some brown sugar. flaked almonds, porridge oats, spices, butter and flour

Hearing: bird song

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What about your October? Has it been a challenge or a pleasure? A mix of both? Please share a few things…

** I know, I wish for one of those Ninja Foodi Multi-cookers

Flatbreads for lunch

Earlier today I’d put the grocery delivery away, cooked some sliced spring onions, prairie fire chilies and garlic to make a soup (from Nigella’s Kitchen book) for dinner and popped it all into the slow cooker along with yellow split peas and some vegetable stock. I made myself a cappuccino and realised it was after twelve and apart from a clementine and a carrot I hadn’t eaten anything else, so I was hungry. A clip of recipes, which I had cut from a magazine, fluttering on the fridge door caught my eye, so I decided to make flatbreads for lunch…

No kneading or heavy handling required for these unleavened flatbreads
The first one in the pan
Ooh looking good after turning, it’s only been a minute or so in the pan
Definitely puffing up
Completely puffed up – so exciting!
And on to the second, which looks strangely like an oven glove
Soft, fluffy and warm
Delicious!

Recipe adapted from September’s Good Housekeeping magazine.

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Flatbread recipe

250g self- raising flour, plus extra for rolling out

1/2 tsp cumin or nigella (aka black onion) seeds

1/8 tsp fine salt

150g natural yogurt

60ml water

Mix the seeds and a pinch of salt into the flour, gently stir in the yoghurt and the water to make a soft and sticky dough.

Tip dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide into four. I used my dough scraper. Each will weigh around 115g, if you like to be precise, rather than cut by eye.

Pat or gently roll to the thickness of 5 mm.

Heat a dry frying pan or griddle pan on a medium heat.

Cook the flatbread until golden on each side and puffy. Do not leave the hob! You will need to keep a close eye on them, it’s so easy to burn flatbreads. I cooked them for about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes on each side before I turned them, using a plastic fish slice, then back again after a minute or so until they puffed up. It’s magical watching them puff up, until they’re fully inflated.

Pop the cooked flatbread between a folded tea towel to keep warm while you cook the rest. I cooked one at a time.

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We ate the flatbread with tuna and a simple salad of: watercress, a little gem lettuce, quartered cucumber slices and ripe juicy tomatoes, with a dollop of mayo. Food of the gods.

Someone mixes his tuna with mayo. I like mine with sliced spring onions, freshly ground black pepper and salad cream. Each to their own, but mine is better!

Of course these flatbreads would also go really well with soup, another type of salad or eggs for lunch, or a casserole or curry for dinner too. The original recipe was with a harissa chicken stew, which appeals as well. The possibilities are endless. I could also see them being the ultimate comfort food spread with some melted butter and a little raspberry jam or (fresh?) lemon curd. Or maybe for dinner brush with garlic butter, herby butter or a combo of the two when cooked…?!

Note: if there are two of you and you are greedy make HALF the quantity. You will eat both! You probably don’t need to ask me how I know.

Books I’ve enjoyed 005

Oh, I’ve got some good reads for you today! Here’s another six books which you can snuggle down with and hopefully enjoy too.

One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore

Rachel Gore’s latest is historical fiction, set during WW2. It is the story of a family and secrets that have been concealed for decades.

It is a nice read, a simple linear story which reveals what happens to Maddie and her two children after they leave London and wait to discover the fate of Philip, their husband and father.

I really like stories set in large ancestral homes in a rural setting. They are always appealing; I find the descriptions of nature restful, there are plenty of secrets hidden within and scope for strained relations and mysteries at the heart of the household.

The Lido by Libby Page

The story of Kate, a 26-year-old local newspaper reporter and Rosemary, an 86 year old lifelong daily swimmer. Kate goes to interview her and find out about the potential closure of the Lido in Brixton, London. This is the start of a blossoming friendship, an unexpectedly good thing for both for different reasons.

As you’d expect The Lido is a story about community, relationships, and the importance of fighting for what you believe is important. It also describes a very touching love story.

This is a light and rather lovely read. It would be a perfect holiday read if you’re off to find some sun. (Just don’t tell me about it. I’ll be envious.)

The Romantic by William Boyd

*Will be published on 6th October (UK)*

A fictional auto-biography which incorporates most of the 1800s as we follow events and relationships in the long life of Cashel Ross. It is the study of a life fully lived, and lived during an extraordinary period of history, filled with innovation and change.

This is truly escapist fiction. It made me really want to travel again, particularly after a few years grounded with the pandemic.

I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the long friendship between Cashel and Ignatz. You find yourself cheering Cashel on as he gets into all sorts of scrapes and commits misdemeanours.

The Romantic is a book where not everything is neatly wrapped up. The loose ends where you wonder what happened to so and so, are just like real life. In particular I was left with a lingering sense of wanting to know what would happen to Frannie…

By the way, if you’ve never read Any Human Heart by William Boyd then I recommend searching out a copy. It’s a 5 star read.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

‘Few aristocratic English families of the twentieth century enjoyed the glamorous notoriety of the infamous Mitford sisters. Nancy Mitford’s most famous novel, The Pursuit of Love satirizes British aristocracy in the twenties and thirties through the amorous adventures of the Radletts, an exuberantly unconventional family closely modelled on Mitford’s own.

The Radletts of Alconleigh occupy the heights of genteel eccentricity, from terrifying Lord Alconleigh (who, like Mitford’s father, used to hunt his children with bloodhounds when foxes were not available), to his gentle wife, Sadie, their wayward daughter Linda, and the other six lively Radlett children. Mitford’s wickedly funny prose follows these characters through misguided marriages and dramatic love affairs, as the shadow of World War II begins to close in on their rapidly vanishing world.’ From Goodreads

I’ve just reread The Pursuit of Love for probably the third time. The best parts are when the girls are at Alconleigh and especially when they’re altogether again near the end. (I LOVE the Bolter! I remember after I first read this years ago, I got a book about Idina Sackville who was almost certainly the person the character was based upon: The Bolter by Frances Osborne.)

I bought the complete Nancy Mitford collection for a little sum when it was a recent Kindle Daily Deal. I’m planning to read the other two books in the trilogy at some point too.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

I’ve been waiting for publication day to come around since I read this in July, so I could tell you about it. It’s a five star read. I adore Kate Atkinson’s books and this is one of her best.

An absorbing read, with a multitude of characters. This is London in the hedonistic 1920s, post-war, fizzing with energy, opportunity, money and lots and lots of crime. Nellie Croker is the Queen of the Soho Clubs, she wants to advance the futures of her six children, but her empire is facing multiple threats.

Kate Atkinson’s writing is so gripping, I enjoy it so much that I read slowly, every single word and sentence is savoured, so as to make the book last.
I loved the structure of the book; it basically loops around introducing an event or character and then revisits it, or them, more fully, often from another point of view.

It was a relief that I could read this on my Kindle. There are many characters fleetingly mentioned, when they reappear I feel compelled to look up where they first came into the story. If I was continually flicking back and forth through a paperback it would have taken me weeks to finish!

There’s a little mystery at the end, a will they-won’t-they and a generally satisfying rounding up.

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves

I read this in May and have waited a long time to write about this too! It’s just been published. 2022 really is my year of reading Ann Cleeves books. I started another last night, well actually it was the ungodly hour of four o’clock this morning. I might need to start it again, things were hazy after a gin cocktail and red wine, plural.

The Rising Tide is book number ten in the series and this time we find Vera Stanhope investigating a murder on Holy Island off the Northumberland coast. 50 years ago a group of teenagers went there on a camping trip, every five years they get together again for a reunion weekend. This time one of them is found hanged.

It’s an engrossing read which I really didn’t want to put down. I loved the concept of the school friends meeting up for a reunion. It gave so much scope for backstories to explore tensions and past relationships between the group.

I really didn’t know who the murderer was, until Vera worked it out. That’s the mark of an extremely well plotted and executed (!) murder mystery.

I’ll be interested to see if this one gets made into an episode of the TV series.

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There is nothing like snuggling up with a good book on chilly autumn nights. I like to read all year round, but there is definitely something so cosy about going to bed early with a book at this time of year. I find I keep looking at my watch to see if you can go to bed yet. The other night I went up at nine thirty to read. Bliss!

What are you reading at the moment? Any books you’d like to recommend?

September

Making: (made) an epic tiramisu for seven, all of whom are greedy for dessert. It made lots of portions – enough for seconds for the greedy fans, plus some to take home!

Cooking: A recipe a week from the Green Roasting Tin book, yes, still. I’m enjoying them, apart from this week’s which was a little less than the sum of its parts. Might try it again, but make my own harissa. This weekly project has really revitalised the meatless meals that I make

Sipping: Earl Grey

Reading: The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. Only just started, so this isn’t a recommendation, although it is a very successful best seller. But it’s good so far. I’ve read that if you liked the Crawdads book, this is for you. I did, so hopefully I’ll enjoy it

Waiting: for more rain, I collected lots several weeks ago, to the extent that I began to think I was crazy. But then it stopped raining after a few days and the water is now long gone, used in keeping the plants going

New violas, 6 for £3.50 from a local nursery. So much pleasure for a little cash

Looking: stylish as usual (ha!)

Listening: to the children playing outside, they’re just home from school

Wishing: for a long settled period for us all. Lots of continuing upheaval in the world

Enjoying: autumn

Appreciating: juicy blackberries, pausing to eat a few during walks

Gorgeously red haws (not to eat fresh, though apparently they can be used to make drinks, jams, jellies & syrups)

Eating: fish chowder later tonight, the first this autumn

Liking: cake and coffee with my friend yesterday, after a nice walk for a few hours. We talked and talked and talked

Loving: my aunt’s reaction to a potential menu for a light lunch next week, she said “No, I don’t think so, thank you” to my savoury suggestion. But when I offered to make scones and take over a cream tea she leaned forward, grinned and said: “Now you’re talking!”

Buying: bargains! I’ve got new tops from Seasalt, FatFace and a Craghoppers fleecy thing, which will be good for wearing on cooler autumn walks, all for around half to less than the full ticket price. WHOOP!

Greylag geese

Managing: to get the late payment and interest charges (circa £25!) taken off my credit card bill this morning. I’d uncharacteristically missed the payment deadline by ONE day. I was all ready and prepared to point out that I always pay off in full and have had the account for years, but didn’t have to at all

Watching: Wedding Season on Star, Disney+, so far so good and unexpected

Hoping: to go to London soon, at the beginning of the week I was waiting for the infrastructure from the Queen’s State Funeral to be cleared and things to settle down

Wondering: If you watched it? Jaw-dropping organisation, incredible sights. I loved the Scots Pipers and the Grenadier Guards and the Household Cavelry and …. It was such a spectacle. Along with over 28 million in this country, I was watching. This is the end of an era, so many of us have never known life without the Queen, just being ‘there’

Wearing: ball-gown, tiara, diamond encrusted slippers, naturally

The bees loved the sedum flowers at Buscot Park the other week

Noticing: it’s growing much cooler in the afternoons and evenings. Have you got the heating on, or a fire going yet? The fire has been on once so far, but I’ve wrapped up in my Tilted Squares blanket a few times

Getting: my preserving pan in action. So far I’ve made a batch of Chilli Jam. It’s v v pokey. I used a variety of homegrown tomatoes and hot, hot, hot homegrown birthday chillies

Prairie Fire chillies went into this, it’s definitely not for babies!

Following: what’s on at the V&A and considering Membership again

Heart, or bottom?

Sorting: apple recipes: jelly, chutney or jam?

A return visit to the Cotswold Sculpture Park, before it closes at the end of the month

Anticipating: the new series of Ghosts (BBC 1 tomorrow night, we’ll watch later on the iplayer)

Feeling: keen to see the next of River Cottage Reunited, such a shame there’s only 4 episodes, but wow it’s my kind of telly. Did you see it? Or watching now on catch up on All4?

Cerney House Garden

Hearing: Figure it Out by Royal Blood. Needs to be loud

Chilli Fest!

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What about you? Is all okay in your part of the world? Share three things?

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It is probably autumn, whichever way you look at it

I’ve been trying to eke out and make the most of the last days of summer. Over the weekend we went to a chilli festival. One of us ate a bratwurst and the other a brownie for lunch, while sitting, then lolling full and content on the grass in the warm sun. (Well, calling it grass might be exaggerating rather since most is closer to hay, after the hot summer we’ve had here.) We chilled listening to a mariachi band, who made us laugh and cringe at the same time! I’ve always loved Don’t you Want me Baby? by the Human League, but I’m not sure I ever need to hear a mariachi version again.

The photos above are from another garden visit, on Sunday, to Cerney House Gardens. It’s the time to go while there’s still some colour. As you see, the dahlias and sunflowers are absolutely stunning, vividly coloured and a real shot of brightness amongst what was mostly over and overgrown borders, as you’d expect at this point. The calendars and school terms are now telling us it’s the beginning of autumn. Today it’s pouring and it does feel like it. But that’s the meteorological point of view, the scientists’ neat way of dividing up the year.

In the astrological calendar autumn begins from 23rd September this year. Normally around 21st September the first day of autumn is marked by the equinox – when daylight and dark hours are equal. The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). This year here it’s Friday 23rd. There’s other info about autumn on the Woodland Trust website, here.

I’m so glad that yesterday evening it was dry and warm, so walking trainers on and up to the fields for a 2 1/2 mile loop. Ambling along, we stopped to pick the last few tart juicy red plums which are high up on the little trees, but we turned our noses up at the damsons which looked quite withered, and anyway are always too tart to be enjoyable eaten raw. The blackberries are a mix of mostly sweet and juicy, but it’s a real lottery and sometimes they shock the senses. The brambles must go down deep into the soil. They don’t seem to mind the lack of rain. They’re abundant as usual. I lamented the lack of a tub and suggested chugging down the last of our water on Sunday, thinking we could fill the water bottle with berries to freeze. Apple picking won’t be far off now and I fancy baking an apple and blackberry pie, or crumble.

I’ve just started reading a summer holiday type of book, although I love the change from summer to autumn I still have this feeling that I don’t quite want to let summer drift away. I’m in denial though; right now I’m standing in the conservatory dictating this into my iPhone and I can see the buckets and bowl we put down to catch rainwater are absolutely brimful. It seems a pointless exercise as the flowers and plants have been well watered already, with the terrific thunder and lightning rain storms we’ve had the last couple of nights. And it’s due to rain all week anyway.

We paused what we were watching last night and came in here. The lightning lit up the whole of the dark garden, while I shrieked “Don’t touch the edges of the conservatory, in case we get struck by lightning!” It was really dramatic as the storm raged overhead. Stood in a little metal and glass box, alternately light and dark, it was a little bit scary.

I feel so sorry for the fairs which are coming for their annual visits to the towns and cities around. Torrential rainstorms are going to be terrible for business, but I am glad it’s finally raining. Maybe the grass will be green again.

Books I’ve enjoyed 004

The Green Roasting Tin by Rukmini Lyer

My current favourite recipe book which I’m using to bring some fresh meat-free meals to the table. Last week I made the courgettes roasted with olives, feta and tomato bake. It was delicious both hot and cold, though perhaps not for someone who is advised to use eat a low-salt diet. You could maybe miss out the olives and cut it down that way, but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Tomorrow when I’m doing my groceries order I’ll choose another recipe to make this week.

The Diet Myth by Tim Spector

Tim trained in medicine and rose to the position of consultant rheumatologist before turning to genetic epidemiology, the study of genetic factors in health and disease. Now he is professor of genetic epidemiology and director of the TwinsUK registry at Kings College London. He is a specialist in twin study, genetics, epigenetics and microbiome, and diet. (Wikipedia) You may also recognise his name and his face from the Zoe website. He’s very active on Instagram and Twitter too.

The Diet Myth is an exploration and explanation of why most diets fail, why despite, the multi million pound diet industry, and so much advice about what to eat, and what to avoid, people are still gaining weight and populations are becoming fatter every decade. This is a fascinating read.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Published a hundred years ago, in 1922, this story is about a couple of women who are unsatisfied in their marriages and leading pretty dreary lives. They decide to rent a small castle on the Italian Riviera and gather two others to help pay for it during a summer holiday, without their husbands. It’s a lovely read, with some very touching and humorous lines. Apparently at the time it did wonders to advertise and bring tourism to the area. This paperback was a surprise sent by a friend when I was unwell, along with Midnight Chicken which I wrote about in my last books post. Friends who post books they think you’ll enjoy and cheer you up are treasures!

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

The second in the Vera series. This time she’s investigating a crime which happened ten years before. New evidence has come to light, which throws doubt on the original verdict. I found this absolutely masterful; the characterisation, setting and plotting. It could be any one of the community, it’s impossible to guess the ending.

The Woman on the Island by Ann Cleeves

If you have any interest in reading the Vera series then you MUST go to Amazon next and select this because it’s currently FREE! (Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free Kindle app on your phone or tablet and read the short story.) We learn the motivation for Vera becoming a detective during this short backstory. As she goes on a day trip to Holy Island with her father Hector. There’s an excerpt at the end for the new Vera book (number ten) The Rising Tide, which is set on the same island. This should whet your appetite for when it comes out on 1st September (sorry, I’m not sure of international publication dates) next week. I read of a proof copy, back in May, and it’s a 5 star read.

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

I’ve been looking forward to telling you about this one. The Night Ship is structured with a dual time period, which tells the stories of two nine year old children Mayken and Gil more than 300 years apart. The author weaves fiction around fact to tell the story of Mayken, who is a newly motherless child en route to the care of her father. She is travelling with her nursemaid Imke on an East India Company ship The Batavia. The ship is undertaking the long and hazardous sea voyage from Holland to Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies as it was (Jakarta in Indonesia as it is now called.) It is carrying goods and 200 passengers. Gil is also newly motherless and has been sent to his Grandfather Joss to spend the fishing season on a remote island off the west coast of Australia. Their story and developing relationship is rather touching as both adjust to each other and become closer.

Mayken is a fabulous character, she and Imke definitely have all the best lines. Mayken’s story made me both laugh and cry. She is a character who will stay with me.

Jess Kidd paces this atmospheric story perfectly, as usual in her writing there is folklore and supernatural elements. The tension gradually ramps up until the denouement for both children. I enjoyed the parallels between the two and found myself thinking a lot about cultural norms and what is thought of as endearing, or alternatively as weird; particularly from a gendered point of view.

From now on I shall be keeping witch’s stones / hagstones that I find on the beach and trying to see what has already been and what is to come! This is another 5 star read. If any of you have not yet read any of Jess Kidd’s books I urge you to find them. She’s such a talented and entertaining writer. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.

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There are some absolutely cracking books coming out in the autumn, I’ve read a fair few advance reader copies this year and I’m looking forward to writing about them, when I get the publishing dates.

We’ve had a good summer here, albeit far too dry, but now I’m looking forward to autumn. This is usual for me at this point in the holidays. I’m beginning to anticipate apple picking, soup making, cooking stews, walking through crunchy leaves and having cosy evenings crafting (crossed fingers) with lots more good books to curl up with on the sofa.

Want to share what you’re currently reading? Any book recommendations for us?

August

MAKING: salads still. Today’s lunch was delicious! You know when you really enjoy a meal?

Rocket, watercress, cucumber, vine tomatoes, sunblush tomatoes, artichokes and peppered smoked mackerel

COOKING: a new courgette recipe tonight from my latest KDD – 99p!

SIPPING: water

READING: Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves – fourth in the Vera series

WAITING: for my free tickets and food vouchers to a craft fair this weekend. I finally won something. Whoop whoop!

LOOKING: at the large miniature rose bush, I need to go and deadhead it again

A 6 mile circular walk on Sunday

LISTENING: to Craig Charles on BBC 6M

WISHING: for a garden dibber

ENJOYING: researching my family tree

EATING: fresh berries, greengages and nectarines

APPRECIATING: that I can see censuses from well over 100 years ago. Family Tree research has been consuming my thoughts and a fair bit of my time lately as I’ve been given a year’s sub

LIKING: all the colour in the garden still

LOVING: that the things I took on a long weekend away to the seaside recently are pretty much the same as I would’ve taken as a child! Something to make, read, colour/dot-to-dot, in case of rainy days and for quiet moments

BUYING: well, failing to buy some grey mats for the bathroom, currently out of stock. Wins were a Craghoppers top and a linen skirt from the M&S sale last week

MANAGING: to put off transferring my photos from the cloud to my laptop. I must because my phone told me I have 3,000+ on here at the moment

Ripe & juicy early this year

WATCHING: Rev on BBC iplayer. Why have I not watched this before?! It’s funny, touching, sad and thought-provoking. Absolute quality

HOPING: for RAIN. We’re going to have a hosepipe ban soon otherwise. It’s been so dry for so, so long

WEARING: shorts & a tee

Rousham church

NOTICING: The birds are really quiet today and not around

Breakfast (at this rate I’ll need to send you all a pic of today’s dinner*)

FOLLOWING: I thought of a good line for this one in the shower this morning. Can’t remember it….

GETTING: stiff from sitting a bit too much. I’ll move soon and dead-head those roses

BAKING: I made wholemeal pitta bread last week. Pleased with them. Will definitely be making pitta again, such a treat to eat one fresh from the oven for lunch

Nope, you can’t even eat lunch in peace here

COVETING: knowledge – what can I grow radishes in? I bet there are some good ideas online, but it’s nice to ask people, not Google all the time. At work I once grew potatoes in two tires which were stacked up, then you add another when the soil needs topping up. I need some ideas for radishes please

Great name, huge hydrangea flowers

FEELING: relaxed and happy

HEARING: Craig talking about embarrassing listener experiences. Lots of wind in funeral services and inappropriate laughing

*****

Tell us a few things? Maybe 4?

* Don’t panic, I promise I won’t

Books I’ve enjoyed 003

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger

Part memoir of a specific period in Ella’s life, mostly recipe book. What makes this an ideal book to dip in and out of is the lovely way that she writes about food in the introduction to each recipe. And the recipes sound good too!

Very sad endnote, but I’m glad she’s sounding happier and all is ok on the other side of everything now.

I’m definitely going to make the Midnight Chicken and a few other recipes too.

Kiss Myself Goodbye by Ferdinand Mount

‘Aunt Munca never told the truth about anything. Calling herself after the mouse in a Beatrix Potter story, she was already a figure of mystery during the childhood of her nephew Ferdinand Mount. Half a century later, a series of startling revelations sets him off on a tortuous quest to find out who this extraordinary millionairess really was. What he discovers is shocking and irretrievably sad, involving multiple deceptions, false identities and abandonments. The story leads us from the back streets of Sheffield at the end of the Victorian age to the highest echelons of English society between the wars.’ From GoodReads

This is a rollercoaster of discoveries, and it never stops! I read it while away last weekend by the sea and found it distracted me from paddling, ice cream and rock throwing games. It’s a goodie.

An Island Wedding by Jenny Colgan

A welcome return to the Scottish fictional island of Mure and lots of familiar characters. I enjoyed catching up with Flora, her family and friends. It was a welcome escape from the news and everything going on in the world. (I read an advance copy in March.)

I feel Jenny Colgan is at her best writing this series; it’s not sickly sweet like some of the others and it’s not repeating the same basic premise over and over like the recent Bookshop series. (Girl moves to new area due to unhappy previous situation, has to find a job, ends up selling books, meets a cast of quirky characters, including one or two possible boyfriends. Chooses one, lives happily ever after.) There’s some attempt at reality, grit, hardship and exploration of how characters really feel in the Mure books. These aspects take you on rather an emotional journey and you find you care about them.
The story has really moved on throughout the series, sometimes in unexpected ways, and there is definitely space for more; as this latest book ended with plenty of ends dangling. I’m glad.

(It is odd how from book 1 to book 4 Jan’s maiden name and both her father’s first and last names have been changed. I couldn’t work out why I didn’t recognise Malcy Doherty, head of the local council. Well, that’s because he was Fraser Mathieson in the first book!)

Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen

For Maeve and her friends daily life holds not just the common feelings experienced by all teens: anxiety waiting for exam results, the mad swings of love and lust, boredom with where they grew up, and worry about earning enough money to save for what comes next. Their days are also full of frustration and fear as the threat of violence flares up around them on a daily basis as there’s continual tension between the Catholics and Protestants and resignation about the troubled political situation in the country. Mixed into this mix there is heaps of black humour. It’s hilarious from the beginning and the humour doesn’t let up. This is a story where well-drawn characters are living in dangerous and strained circumstances over the border from the Free State, under British control in Northern Ireland, but it’s not nearly as grim as it sounds.

‘But it’s all these good intentions that’s killing me,’ Maeve said. ‘Everyone’s always asking us to paint pictures or write poems. Ye’ve artists sculpting doves. Teachers sucking the fucken lifeblood outtay us by asking us tae sing “Imagine” – like, no harm, but is that not showing a total lack of imagination?’ ‘Aye,’ Fidelma said. ‘Nobody’s tackling the hard stuff.’

Maeve and her friends then outline how they believe life could be different without segregation, starting the process of integration from the earliest years. The insider knowledge and lived experience of the author shines out, this is not clearly not researched, but drawn from the author’s own life growing up in County Tyrone.

It has to be said (and I know I won’t be the first to say this and certainly not the last) but it is a good companion if you’re watching Derry Girls. Some of what is sketched out in Derry Girls will make much more sense after reading Factory Girls.

Factory Girls is laugh out loud funny, irreverent and touching. I loved it. I know this because I read it slowly and properly, always a good sign as I did not want it to end.

How long until until there is a film or television series? I’m positive the rights will be snapped up. At the end I felt there was also a lot of scope for a follow up book about what Maeve (and friend) do next ….

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Detective Vera Stanhope’s first appearance, this was published in 1999.

Three very different women are living together in an isolated cottage, while undertaking an environmental survey. An apparent suicide, then another death and Vera Stanhope appears to try to piece together what has happened…

The first ever I read in the series was a proof of the tenth book, lucky lucky me. That’s coming out in the autumn. I have to say that’s a fabulous read, if you’re a fan then you’re in for a treat! Then because I enjoyed that so much, I decided to read all of the books in order.

I was already a fan of the tv series, but I think you need to let some time go by to forget details if you watch first, then read. In the TV adaptations motives have often quite changed and it can be disorienting to remember who and why, then find a completely different murderer in the book. That was why I stopped at the first Shetland book; it was too soon after I’d watched that episode. I’ll go back to the books when I’ve finished Vera and have forgotten a lot of what I’ve seen. (By the way: do you know the last series of Shetland has begun to air? The first episode is available on the BBC iplayer now.)

Ann Cleeves writes so well. I love her clear style of writing. I’ve got to look out for the fourth book, I keep checking on Amazon and finding random Kindle deals on different books in the series. I’ve only paid full price for one so far. Huzzah!

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Melodramatic and tense gothic storytelling set in the Victorian era. I started out listening to the audiobook, but I was finding it so anxiety inducing and generally horrible that I decided to read at my own speed (faster! Get past the gory parts!) and power through the e-library book instead.

I underestimated this book. It was a 3 star read all the way. Then, I got to maybe 80% of the way through, maybe more, and realised that it was going to be quite a rollercoaster of an ending. Upgraded to 4/5 stars, don’t underestimate a talented author like Laura Purcell.

~~~~~

What have you been reading lately? Anything you want to recommend to us all?

I really need to crochet a hexagon!

I woke up really early yesterday morning, read a bit more of Hidden Depths, the third book in the Vera series by Anne Cleeves and then fell back asleep for a few hours. When I woke I scrolled a bit on Insta and found I had a burning need to crochet a hexagon!

Do you ever feel like that? You just have to grab some scraps of yarn and a hook and go for it?

I’d seen Anita’s Vintage Hexagons a while back and that was the pattern I settled on. It’s free and here on her brand new website. She’s so clever with colour and original blanket designs. We’ve followed each other for years on Insta, but now she’s really taking designing up a notch. Check out her accounts.

I’ve been on a mission for a long time to finish all the things already started, or to unravel them, but I made an allowance yesterday. A few hexies, using oddments from blanket making, wouldn’t exactly be breaking the plan. I fancied something colourful. I really like the variegated Hayfield Spirit wool acrylic mix I’m using for my Coast blanket, but it’s quite muted.

Crocheting motifs bit by bit would be an ideal project for short bursts of crochet. I’d get that feeling of completing something, without crippling pain at the end of a mammoth row of a blanket. Anyway, I’m always drawn to hexagons, they’re probably my most favourite shapes.

Larger balls and little lengths wound up and in a little zippy bag I sewed a few years ago

Do you recognise my colour combo? I’ve used it a little more more than I realised. Thank goodness for my account on Pinterest. I had a quick look through my pins to spot everything made with this colour combo. My Pinterest doesn’t feature everything, but it’s a good selection. It’s amazing how many people end up here clicking through from Pinterest.

Baby Theo’s Patchwork blanket
Winnie’s Wave blanket (and Winnie’s baby brother who inherited it last year)
Blackberry Ripple blanket
Baby Hexagons blanket

Anyway, back to yesterday…

I think I might stop here and change yarns. I’ve become used to more of a wool content, even 20%, and the plasticy look of this acrylic is not doing it for me. Or maybe I should try a different brand?

This week I may donate what I’ve made so far, and the little middles I also made, with the rest of the oddments. I could pop in a note telling the buyer where to find the free pattern online too.

What’s your go-to yarn for blanket making? I’m not about to buy a vast quantity of pure wool. I crochet and knit with wool or blends for smaller makes, as I prefer to wear it rather than 100% acrylic. It would be way too expensive and too valuable for throwing about as an everyday blanket. Another brand of acrylic, or a wool blend would be good to try. Any recommendations would be welcome. Then I can go to wool shop to have a squish…

…when I’ve completed my ‘Finish everything and do not buy any more yarn’ mission, of course!

Seven Days

I really didn’t know where to begin with this post. July has been a mixed month. A lovely holiday (go to my Insta to see the seal) and then an evening a week or so later, I went to sing and suddenly found myself croaky voiced. I also sang a completely different melody to the rest a few times and wondered why. The next day my throat felt like there was a golf ball stuck in it sore and I felt on the odd side, although not exactly unwell. I was about to leave to go to the city, but thought it might be wise to do a test. It’s pretty obvious to you what I’m going to say, isn’t it? I had my first ever positive. It finally got me.

I tested a few times during the first week and within 2 1/2 minutes that blinking red line appeared. So many people have said it’s akin to having a mild summer cold. Not for me; I felt really unwell for the first four days. Apparently new very contagious variants have developed and here 1/17 have Covid, according to the BBC news app. After the worst part I felt really quiet, not wanting to talk or move much. I read a lot, did some crochet and adult dot-to-dot pages from a book that I found in a charity shop for 50p last month. When I say adult I mean tricky, tiny numbers to 400, sea themed pictures. Not ‘adult’. That would be an interesting book…

So, rather than wade through many photos from mid-June onwards I’ve selected some from the last week*.

I finally got my first negative result at the weekend, after ten days. I’m still coughing well a fortnight later, have a blocked up head and ears, can smell and taste little. It will all pass. I’m dealing with the post-viral fatigue by doing some activity, following by quite a lengthy sit-down-and-read. I’m very lucky to have chance to quietly recuperate.

Bread making continues unwell or not, this is a slightly flat loaf because I got very involved in my book (or maybe it was tv?) and it over-proved one evening! It tasted good, I’m told, which is the most important thing. I use locally grown and produced organic flours: dark rye for the starter, then a mix of white and stoneground wholemeal, often more wholemeal than white, sometimes half and half. I keep reading about the benefits to the gut of fermented foods and have a glow of satisfaction as sourdough is always included on the lists.

I found a new mustard recipe online, it’s Beer Mustard. Tomorrow it will be a week since I made this batch and we will try it.

A few months ago I made my own mustard for the first time, maybe I mentioned it? It was Spiced Honey Mustard from my Good Housekeeping Preserves book which I’ve owned for years. It was made to give as a gift and tasted so good that I made a few more jars for us. One came on holiday as we couldn’t bear not to have it for 10 days!

The giftee liked it so much that he kept sending pics of his lunchtime cheese and mustard sandwiches. That made me grin.

I’m working through the book, I have been for years. There are very few that I wouldn’t want to make. (Harissa and a lemon pickle are probably next.)

Lots of wandering around the garden and admiring my pots, picking up stray fuchsia petals and watching the progress of the very late planted gladioli. Finally razor sharp leaves have appeared above ground. I’m not sure that we’re going to get any flowers, it may be too late, but it’s exciting watching their progress.

I’ve kept the plant saucer of water cleaned and topped up for the birds, patio mouse and next door’s cats. Last week we had some of our highest ever recorded temperatures in the country so sat outside until after dark, reading our Kindles, in the relative cool of the garden. And several nights running we heard a loud rustle and movement behind the shrubs at the back of the garden. We have a hedgehog! On Tuesday evening, when it was furnace like, as the heat had accumulated from the previous days, he spent a long time noisily slurping the water. We were spellbound, holding our breath watching the dark rugby ball shape at the end of the garden. Then he was off, to the ferns and under the silver birch tree. They always move more swiftly than I expect. Magical.

The gifted jalapeño plants in the conservatory are coming on fast (from the cheese and mustard sandwich fan.) No sign of my Thai chillies or sweet peppers yet, sigh. (Isn’t that potted hydrangea outside a thing of deep pink beauty?)

Plum picking! Kind of scrumping. Sort of. Not really. But. I hope I’m not whipped or given hard labour.

I’ve made a plum crumble and also stewed some with orange juice and zest, cinnamon and star anise. I’m told they tasted good. I am eating, although I can’t smell or taste anything. But I do appreciate the colours of summer food.

A little trip out to a garden centre after my first negative result. Current guidance is to isolate for five days and stay away for ten from vulnerable people. But feeling poorly (and still testing positive) I didn’t really want to go out after five days anyway, and who can tell who is vulnerable? I really didn’t want to pass on the virus to anyone at all, it’s nasty even after vaccinations, especially those who might be really adversely affected. Interestingly none of the people I saw leading up to my positive result have caught the virus. Even the 2 guys I hugged. Someone I live with hasn’t either. Good, but it’s odd.

So refreshing to be out. I drank it all in. This is a posh garden centre where the staff are super creative; you never just see a plant stand with …umm plants plonked on it. There are sculptures and carriages, old cars and even merry-go-round horses. The flowers are grouped into attractive displays of colour and form. It’s a lovely trip out, no purchase necessary for enjoyment. The next morning I woke and discovered that I had slept for 11 hours! Post-viral fatigue is real, this was after a 40 minute wander at a garden centre. Oh dear!

A visit to Waterperry Gardens Sunday late afternoon. Still using the Gardeners World 2-for-1 card, so it was £7.50 for two. What a bargain.

On a quest to use up food in the freezer I roasted my first guinea fowl on Sunday night. It was a yellow sticker bargain I picked up a while ago for a mere £5. I cooked it very simply; with half a lemon in the cavity, olive oil all over the skin and a good grinding of black pepper and sea salt, sat on a trivet of slices of onion. I ate it too, with roasted summer vegetables and puy lentils, but sadly couldn’t taste or smell a thing. I’m told it was absolutely delicious. (Sorry, definitely a lot of repetition here.) The third portion was eaten cold with salad on Monday night, while I had a homemade Spicy Black Bean soup. If I could have tasted it I would say it would have blown my head off! I used *a lot* of red chill flakes and hot smoked paprika, along with cumin and mixed herbs. As it was I could taste a very nice buzz which was the first thing in ages. I loved it.

Still trying little trips to be somewhere other than home for a while, I popped to another garden centre on Monday. (My third in as many days, if you count WPG which has a nursery and shop.) They’re good places for recuperation.

The jackdaws and starlings appear within minutes of the mealworm feeder being refilled. Do they have lookouts using tiny binoculars? This means the little garden birds are not getting any of the good stuff. They are ruddy hooligans (if you get the ref? I’m listening to that lots while I do my dot-to-dots!) So I’m on the lookout for a protected small-bird feeder that would be suitable for holding mealworms. Squirrels aren’t an issue in this garden, I’ve never seen one.

More plums! 2.5kg this time. Another gentle walk around the —— on Tuesday evening. (Avoiding whipping or hard labour.)

I’m looking up plum recipes while Someone is lobbying for jam. There are a lot of very, very small plums and it’s super fiddly removing the stones. I could leave them in and fish out as many as I can, I’ve done that before when making damson chutney. But it’s not much fun hanging over a roiling pan….

Lunchtime Spicy Black Bean Soup leftovers. Bliss, I can almost nearly taste it, perhaps things are slightly improving. Catching up on back issues of Inside Crochet and Good Housekeeping magazines as I eat.

Yesterday I had baked beans with masses of curry powder, sriracha and Colman’s mustard powder and a couple of fried eggs. I took a friend to the hairdresser and that protein packed lunch kept me going until dinner at about 8pm. Pasta, lemony salmon fillets and half a pan of roasted veg topped up my 5 a day.

This morning’s loaf, much better shape. It’s a beauty! And with that I’m off to poach a couple of eggs to eat with a few slices, for lunch, or maybe I’ll just spread some with salted butter and leave it at that. Followed by half a dozen small plums.

~~~~

Tell me a few things about your last seven days?

~~~~

* apart from the crochet picture, that was taken when I was on holiday

Mid-June

Eating: Mackerel salad with homemade honey, lemon & mustard dressing, sprinkled with 4 different mixed seeds.

Reading: The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves it’s the first in her Vera Stanhope series. Far, far too good. I’m bleary today as I stayed up reading until 12:15 this morning. Oops!

Looking: at all the colourful photos I took during a recent visit to Waterperry Gardens

Glenfiddich rose

Baking: cinnamon buns in May, a few times. It was a very, very tricky month and they were needed to bolster and treat a few special people.

Anticipating: paddling in the sea, eating Cornish pasties for lunch, walks, a cream tea, cold lager shandy, ditto cider, toast & salted butter with marmalade for holiday breakfast, ice creams, chatting to strangers, taking flowery and coastal photos, visiting a favourite garden, zooming down the motorway to sea views and sand!

Watching: Everything I Know about Love on the BBC iplayer. It’s one for when he’s gone fishing!

Smelling: the scent of the Ambre Solaire I’ve just put on. It’s such a nice smell. It’s 25° today. Lovely.

Wearing: shorts & t-shirt

Drinking: cold filtered water. A glassful has just thoughtfully been brought to me outside.

Planning: a return visit to the Cotswold Sculpture Park. I bought May’s issue of Gardeners World magazine from Mags Direct after hearing about the 2-for-1 card, it’s valid for a year. It’s given us a couple of really nice days out, to places we’ve never visited before. We’re planning to take the card away on holiday too.

Repeating: this superb recipe with cod, butterbeans, canned cherry tomatoes, rosemary & parmesan breadcrumbs on top (with my twist of lemon zest.) It’s so tasty and healthy. Recipe from Olive mag website

Before it went into the oven

Buying: my first pair of prescription sunglasses.

From now on I won’t be screwing up my eyes through lenses of cheapy plastic sunglasses and making them tired from lots of reading. I have also bought some better quality sunglasses from Boots.

Visiting: my Aunty with my Mum next week. I love being ‘the young one’ and seeing them together. It feels special. There’s also something that makes me laugh about it too, but I can’t tell you. Sorry.

Loving: the new to me Czech gin Tōsh which was sent to me in a surprise free gin box on Saturday. It’s strongly flavoured, citrus with rosehips and works really well with Fever-Tree original tonic. I’m not a massive fan of it usually, because it’s quite bitter with strong quinine, but this gin complements it well.

May’s box – given free to me in June. Whoop!

Recommending: Craft Gin Club yes I know – again! But every time I include a referral code it’s used. If you also love gin and live in the UK this is for you. The offer is £15 off a box, free delivery and no further commitment. I love it.

Use my referral code to get this offer.

Visiting: a new National Trust property. We went at the weekend. Well, it was completely new to Someone, only new as an adult to me. Chedworth Roman Villa has changed as a visitor experience since I had to complete a worksheet and “Pay attention!” on a school trip.

All from the 4th century. The FOUTH century!

But it was these that made the hairs on my arms stand up:

I recognised and remember liking the dog and cat paw prints which were captured as they wandered around while the tiles were drying, either at the site of the villa, or in nearby Cirencester. But I remember feeling regretful that the cat’s print was not clearer, since I always preferred cats to dogs!

And a human print too

What have you been up to lately? I hope June is being good to you, so far. Please tell me three things?

Books I’ve enjoyed 002

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

Linda is on the face of it not a very interesting character; she is living the kind of life that millions of people live day by day. Going to work, plodding along, cooking uninspired dinners and pushing the hoover around the house. There is no real communication, or any sense of a spark of connection between Linda and Terry, her husband.

There is plenty of black humour and characters who are all too familiar in this book. From Linda’s mother to nose-in-everything neighbour Malcolm. What happens after the girls on the estate go missing and turn up one by one is very well plotted. I don’t want to say anything more about it all, as I’d hate to spoil it for other readers.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Fantastic!

Twisty turny, with a slow-building atmosphere of menace. I had so many questions and thoughts about what might happen when I was not reading, always a good sign of a compelling story.

This novel is deftly plotted, with leaps back and forth in time and to completely different settings. 1989 was interesting, the references took me straight back to my teens. Researching (or just remembering?) that period must have been fun.

The characterisation is solid; because despite a large cast I was never confused about who was who.

It also has to be said (because I bet I’m not the only one) that any book which is set within a large country house and grounds gets my vote too. Woodland, a pool and a view of the sea too? Tick, tick, tick!

My heart was beating so hard by the end. Loved it. This is a book I’ve already recommended to many friends. 5 *****

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

An engrossing read as we find out exactly what has driven Meredith to stay in her house for over three years, and what happened to cause her to become alienated from her family. Along the way she makes two new friends who have some issues of their own.

Meredith, Alone is in the same genre as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove. All are linear stories following characters who have deeply personal issues to resolve, as they form new relationships along the way and change through the course of the story.

Meredith is a really sympathetic character, so proactive in her self-care and very likeable, while supportive of others. I imagine the dishes Meredith makes and the items she bakes will inspire. It certainly makes for a cosy read. The food, the cups of tea and the cat. Perfect.

There is one aspect of the story that could have been much darker, which could have changed the path of the story as it moved forward in the present time, but the author chose not to go there.

Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait

What a fabulous book! It’s warm hearted, honest and incredibly positive. You feel there is nothing the family won’t overcome, because there’s no such thing as giving up. There’s a problem, then there’s research, teamwork and problem solving. Breadsong is a very uplifting read. Yes, I found myself welling up at times, but then I was laughing out loud and I’m pretty sure there were a few shouted “Hurrays!” And, of course, there is bread. A lot of bread.

I’ve been making bread every week since 2014 when I read The Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, a warm and cosy novel which really inspired me to make my own. After all I’d grown up eating homemade bread, I knew how much better it was than shop bought. My Mum would come home on a Friday night after working hard all week and make a batch of loaves. I’d wait the minimum amount of time allowed to cut a slice or two. I always spread the crust with butter and honey. For the last 4 years I’ve been baking sourdough, also inspired by some of the bakers Kitty mentions. (Happy 4th Birthday Marve the Marvellous starter!) So, I completely and utterly understand the appeal of dough and baking. It is therapeutic and apart from ending with something hugely tasty to eat, you feel a huge sense of achievement.

I can’t wait to try some of the recipes, in Breadsong. I didn’t realise that there would be so many! HURRAY!

Also I should go and visit the bakery sometime soon. Who can resist a visit after seeing all the beautiful photographs in the book? (And on their wonderful Instagram account.)

Appetite by Ed Balls

Part memoir, part cookbook, this is a very engaging read. I found the descriptions of Ed Ball’s years working in government very interesting. I also loved snippets about Ed’s family life both then and now. Ed always seems likeable on TV and radio appearances and comes across favourably in this well-written book.

I’ve saved some of the recipes to try: including the baked chocolate mousse, the custard (I’ve never actually made custard from scratch, so when it comes around to apple picking time I might make a crumble and serve it with homemade custard, instead of my usual extra thick double cream. My husband will be pleased) the soups and Cajun beans, which I plan to cook this week.

I noted how the finer details of recipes were sometimes lacking, for instance: how big a shoulder of pork for the bbq recipe? Around how many bananas might be required for the stated 425g? Smaller shops do not have scales to weigh produce and it is useful to know in advance. Do you remove the garlic from their skins and eat in the chicken soup, or discard when serving? When making the Yorkshire puddings the instructions state to divide the batter equally, but it does not say around how many portions the roast beef and puddings serves, so it would be rather a guessing game the first time. We tend to take specifics for granted when reading the cookbooks of experienced food writers. None of these are insurmountable problems, but some recipes could be tweaked a little.

Ed’s observations of the Sundays of his youth with the rituals and the patterns of roast lunch, football, the BBC serial and teatime were interesting as he states it was a true day of rest. I’m certain that his Mum didn’t get much rest! However I enjoyed the nostalgia of reading his recalling those quieter, far less commercial Sundays.

I quite often look up unfamiliar words when reading, my favourite in this book was policy wonk! I didn’t think it for a minute it would be in any dictionary. I thought it was probably political slang. Wrong!

I hope there are more books from Ed as I genuinely enjoyed reading his stories and would definitely read another of his books, if it was in a similar vein.

This is not a Pity Memoir by Abi Morgan

Heartwrenching, hopeful, a testament to love, family and loyalty. There is also humour, a lot of it bleak, but it lightens the reading of what is a devastating story.

Very best wishes to Abi, Jacob and their families.

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And there you go, there’s a booklist for your holiday reading, or for lounging about on sunny afternoons (or for cosy winter nights if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.)

What about you, have you read any corkers lately?

Books I’ve enjoyed 001

The Aerialists by Katie Munnik is a fictionalised account of a true event which happened in Cardiff at the Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime exhibition in 1896. I was unaware of this exhibition despite it being on a scale to rival England’s 1851 Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace. It’s such an interesting story, but I do not want to give any spoilers. At it’s heart this is a story about Laura, we find out about the journey that brought her to the streets of Paris and her life with the Gauldrons. Her story, as you’ve probably guessed, involves flying!

I have to be honest and say that I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing and depiction of the behaviours and dialogue of the characters, particularly as it is set during Victorian times, but overall the story is a good one.

When you’ve read it look up the BBC article published on 24/07/21, 125 years after the festival. (Not before, because it will ruin the book for you.)

French Braid by Anne Tyler follows one family from the 1950s up to the pandemic present day.

The Garrett family take their first and last family holiday in the summer of 1959. They hardly leave their home city Baltimore, but despite this are not a close family.

I love Mercy, the mother of the family. She is definitely a free spirit!

As an Anne Tyler fan I read everything that she publishes, this was definitely a five star read, one of my favourites, alongside Breathing Lessons.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the fictionalised account of the real life and work of Eliza Acton, while she wrote her famous cookery book in England in 1837. The story also focuses upon Ann Kirby although no facts about her are known, beyond that she worked for Eliza and her mother. But her story helps to round out the book and is a good device to compare and contrast the differing lives and opportunities of the two women. 

The Language of Food explores women’s freedoms (or lack of) and limited opportunities to work creatively under their own name. I felt the author successfully conveys the frustration and difficulties which must have been felt by so many.

And finally of course; the food! Luscious descriptions and well written passages illuminate Eliza’s process of developing and testing recipes. (Perhaps luscious is the wrong word for the recipe for brawn featured at the end?!)

Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley is written by a new-to-me author, but I will certainly look out for more of her books.

Set in Minneapolis in the 1970s, it tells the story of two women who meet in a cafe. Marge is a bus driver and Peg is training to be a psychotherapist. You find out about their relationship, the challenges and surprises they face over the next twenty years. Then one day things drastically change. It’s a story about family, love and loss.

I really enjoyed it; the style of writing and low-key tone reminded me of an Anne Tyler novel.

If you read this and don’t fancy making meatloaf (veggies excepted) by the end I’ll be really surprised!

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe. Have you read any of Nina’s books? If not, then do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Love Nina. And seen the TV adaptation. That’s one of my comfort reads / watches.

I also really liked Paradise Lodge, that’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments. I recommend the Audible version with Helen Baxendale narrating. She really cracked the Leicestershire accent, that isn’t easy.

Anyway, back to One Day I Shall Astonish the World; it focuses on the friendship between Susan and Norma. They are thrown together in a haberdashery shop in Leicestershire in the 1990s. Thirty years later Susan begins to wonder about the choices she has made in her life.

I’m sure all of us can agree that female friendships are weird, brilliant and challenging, when they’re good they can be one of the best things, but strange and stressful when they go awry. I think Nina Stibbe has captured this complex mix extremely well.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have a confession to make; this was my first book by Rankin, although I’ve heard him interviewed about every new John Rebus crime novel for years.

It was a bit mad to start with this one, because it is his latest. Number 23 in the series! I haven’t stayed up reading and chanting ‘just one more chapter’ for a long time, but found myself still reading this at 1 AM a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t put it down. I will look out for others in the series now.

Rebus is now retired, but definitely not planning on avoiding looking into other people’s secrets and crimes, he has kept hold of a large pile of folders of unsolved cases…

Before he evens finishes unpacking from downsizing his home, his daughter calls to say that her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst and knows that his daughter will be prime suspect. He has to decide if he’s going to go to her as a father, or a detective.

The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page I read last week. It’s such a goody! I felt a little bereft at the end.

Janice is a cleaner and notices people always tell her their stories. (I’ve always experienced that too, so I was drawn to Janice.) Her rule is that she can save one story from each person, but she is very clear: she is the Keeper of Stories and doesn’t have a story to tell about herself. But when she meets Mrs B (who is no fool) things begin to change. Set in Cambridge this is a really lovely story about supporting other people, while finding yourself and realising what you do and do not want. There’s much empathy and masses of everything practical, including DIY. If Janice’s skills don’t leave you feeling a tad inadequate, then I’ll be surprised. There is lots of humour, I laughed out loud often. Look out for the dog. (Warning for the faint-hearted…he swears. A lot.)

Let me know if you decide to read any of the books I’ve recommended. Or maybe you’ve already read some of them? I’d love to know your take.

Time to make a G&T (it’s not Dry Lent anymore woohoo!) and quickly sort out what I want to watch. Someone is fishing with a friend this evening, so I shall make the most of the P&Q. New Grace & Frankie eps are now on Neflix, or do I rewatch The Split’s third series and cry all over again? Or…?

Sleep Under the Stars blanket – finished

Started in May 2020 during Lockdown my star blanket, official show-name Sleep Under the Stars is finally complete. It’s not my first star shaped blanket, I’ve been drawn to them for a long time. I think it’s the novelty of making a non-rectangular or square thing once in a while. If you want to check out the three others you can see them here. Smaller sized star blankets make super car-seat or buggy blankets for littles. This is a snuggle on the sofa and read a book, or watch tv size for someone older.

It’s a weighty, soft and very snuggly blanket. This was my first time crocheting with Paintbox Simply Chunky yarn. I liked it so much I soon started to use it for other makes, including a couple of cowls. It’s really nice affordable acrylic yarn which both crochets and knits up well.

Here are the details in case you want to make a star blanket too:

Pattern: Free from Love Crafts site as you see I chose my own colour combo and no pom-poms! I finished emergency stop styley, brake hard and handbrake applied, when I felt it was the size I wanted. I didn’t do the back loops, or is it front loops only thing in the last round.

Yarn: Paintbox Simply Chunky

I used Misty Grey 303 / Slate Grey 305 / Mustard yellow 323

Hook: 6mm, I always use Clover Amour hooks

Size: 48 1/2” / 123cm

Weight: 816g

Tip: For self …don’t forget to write down which shade of yarns you’re using (I usually do but for some reason didn’t, let’s blame lockdown brain) so I’ve just spent about 10 minutes going to the window glasses on, glasses off to work out whether I used misty grey or stormy grey! They’re very, very similar.

For you…do start new rounds of colour by going into the pointy chain space and chaining 5, 3 of those chains equal 1 treble and 2 chains are for the 2 chain space which you do in between the treble(s) at every point. If it’s a row where you need 2 trebles in the point don’t worry, you add in the other right at the end of the round.

If you’re continuing in the same colour you simply slip stitch into the pointy chain space and carry on in the same way, with 5 chain stitches to begin. *If you don’t do this* and you slip stitch into a treble elsewhere it will look fine to begin with, but after a while you’ll find that you get a line of slip stitch joins. This spoils the look of the blanket. Believe me. I write from experience!

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And this is looking like a proper crochet blog again, at least for a moment. I shall have to try to finish something else which doesn’t have much left to do and then this will continue!

I’ve got lots of book recommendations, so I’ll be back soonish with another post. I’m having a fantastic reading year.

Hope you had a good Easter weekend? What have you been up to? Are you making anything at the moment, or having a break? TALK TO ME ;-)

Happy Easter

Slightly more rustic than usual, their appearance didn’t affected the taste and a warm Hot Cross bun spread with butter for breakfast yesterday was a real treat.

I proved this batch of spiced fruity dough overnight in the fridge and so they were hard to shape well. But I like the fact you don’t have to get up 04:00 to make dough to have them ready in time for breakfast. It’s a good method. But I wonder if I can shape them before they go into the fridge next time? They were light and airy and that’s the important thing, I was a bit concerned before as each felt like a cold clammy piece of concrete before they went into the oven! It was still a fairly early start as I got up at 06:40 to take the dough out of the fridge so it could come up to room temp, then shaped and baked them an hour or two later.

Traditionally Hot Cross buns have always been eaten on Good Friday, although you now seem to be able to buy them in some shops all year round. Usually I would have bought a few packets in the lead up to Easter and debated the merits of extra fruity or extra spicy varieties and voted which store’s were best. But I always draw the line at marmite Hot Cross buns, salted caramel or cranberry. I just want the traditional spicy fruity ones perhaps with a bit of orange zest. This year I waited until I’d made the first batch on Good Friday. I have to admit that I find it a bit perplexing that people now want everything available ALL of the time. Some foods are a seasonal treat, strongly associated with festivals at specific times of the year. So why not wait and enjoy them then? Isn’t that what makes them special? There’s no reason why you can’t bake or buy teacakes or a fruit loaf in between anyway. Here’s a bit of history and info about Hot Cross buns because I know not everyone reading will have ever eaten them or bought them.

I really needed a walk last night. We wandered off around the fields as the sun was beginning to go down and it was perfect. Still warm and bright. Good Friday was a very good Friday; a day of socialising, eating delicious roast pork and then blueberry tart for lunch and catching up with family. And what a lovely day it was, gorgeously warm t-shirt weather, sunglasses and suncream on while we sat on the patio in the garden. The borders were full of flowers, shrubs displaying their new leaves and the apple tree was absolutely covered in pink and white blossom.

We had nearly walked our one hour loop and a hare streaked across the field in front. He had been ambling along and then suddenly stopped quite a distance ahead, looking fully alert, ears up. I think he must have heard us. When he took off, streaming across the grass, it was magical. We see hares often but I will never become blasé about it.

What are your plans today and for the rest of the weekend? I hope you are able to do whatever makes you feel relaxed and happy, at least some of the time.

March

Making: you know what-what. Slow slow progress. But I enjoy crocheting the chunky yarn

And knitting with it too

Cooking: pot-roasted lemony chicken with carrots & onions. Peas cooked in the ready made gravy at the end. Delish. Shared the recipe with my friend and baby Theo loved it too

Cooking: this cauli recipe from the excellent book below, borrowed from the library. It’s even better eaten cold for lunch, along with some green salad

Sipping: Tonic & lemon, ginger ale with lime (Dry Lent)

Reading: my first Ian Rankin book! After chapter one I wondered why I hadn’t read a Rebus before. Not sure if to continue this book, which is 23rd in the series, or start at the beginning. In the meantime I’m reading an advance reader copy of the new Rachel Hore. Any Rankin fans want to advise? Will it spoil the series if I decide to read all? Or whatever, can it just be read as a stand alone without giving too much away?

Waiting: for an MRI scan date

Looking: forward to making Hot Cross Buns again next month (this month actually, again I forgot to post these notes I made during March! I’ll set a reminder in future)

A test to see if a family member is still reading and recognises his tulips tee hee

Listening: to Spotify. I’ve made a few playlists, good eclectic mixes. Can share if you like?

Suggesting: ‘Lord it’s a Feeling’ by London Grammar – Live at Abbey Road – it’s absolutely EPIC. Play loudly (when little ears aren’t around)

Rainbow harissa chicken & fennel bake

Wishing: for more sunny weather so washing can be pegged out on the line again. March has had t-shirt & BBQ weather, then snow, hail, wind and rain. Four seasons in one month

Enjoying: making sourdough flatbreads for lunch one Sunday

Appreciating: our first visit to the cinema this year to see The Duke. Helen Mirren & Jim Broadbent are absolutely superb together. I think Jim’s courtroom scenes are my favourite of all his performances. Well, apart from when he’s Bridget Jones father. The scene that makes me cry every time is the ‘I just don’t work without you’ bit with Gemma Jones

Eating: defrosted Christmas turkey mixed with leftover bean chilli & veg stock, fresh coriander & grated grana padano. It made a delicious Mexican soup

Liking: that lots of National Trust properties reopen this month

Hidcote Manor Garden
Upton House

Loving: the anemones which appeared all over the garden early in the month, such a colourful sight with the pinks of the heather behind

Buying: a little pot of joy for lunch! Sushi ends from a counter in Waitrose, only £1.95

Managing: my physio exercises. I’ve got a rocker board, it’s fun and hard to use, especially with my eyes closed

Watching: Upload. S2. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel S4, both are on Prime. Men Behaving Badly on BBC iplayer. The last we’ve found so good still, real laugh out loud funny, especially whenever they dance (when Neil Morrissey is Tony)

Another day, another traybake. This recipe. Tip: BB don’t need to added until 5 mins before the end

Wearing: my old pink hoodie lots. I love it and can’t bear the thought it won’t be with me forever. Should have bought a dozen

Noticing: buds on trees, daffodils, blossom and snowdrops

Following: the news…

Sorting: soft plastics for recycling. Do you do this too? You can leave them at larger supermarkets. So many collected in just a week, including pouches, plastics from fruit and veg deliveries, magazine bags, the list goes on and on

Trying: cooking Mushroom & Puy lentil bolognese for the first time. This Jamie Oliver recipe. It was tasty

Getting: stronger glutes

Coveting: can’t think of anything right now

Feeling: determined

Hearing: birdsong. This is excellent for ID and lovely background sounds: RSPB | Sounds of…Parks and Gardens

Wondering: if you have any requests for blog posts? What do you want to see more of? Anything new?

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What have you been up to in the last month? Are you seeing lots of spring flowers and buds, or is autumn coming in for you?

And there were lambs

My Star Blanket is slowly growing as I crochet another round and then undo half because I made a mistake. My concentration isn’t always great at the moment and my hands are sore from digging up dandelions in the garden, so it is a very slow process. It’s a lovely thick and warm soft blanket, so worth the effort.

I’m having a really good reading year, so far. I recently finished this and found it a good read, there are some interesting stories. Both sides of the family were so supportive of Ed and Yvette in their busy years. I loved reading about their family gatherings, and descriptions of family life with both parents being politicians. Appetite is part memoir, part recipe book. I’ve highlighted quite a few recipes in the proof copy I read on my Kindle. There’s nothing particularly exotic, but there are dishes that I haven’t made before, or those that I fancy making again. Cajun beans and custard are two that spring to mind. Ed Balls always comes across well on tv and this book portrays him no differently. It can’t be easy to write a book about oneself which is well balanced; not too self-critical or high in praise, Ed has managed it admirably.

Friends have given this five stars on Goodreads. At first I found the opening chapters rather twee, although I love the fact that it’s set in my home city. It’s enjoyable being taken back to when I lived in an adjacent street to one described by protagonist Esme, in her twentieth century setting. I remember cycling home from work and stopping in Jericho to buy a bottle of cider on a Friday night. It’s magical when you read a book and know every single place mentioned, isn’t it? I went into town yesterday because I wanted to buy some new tops in Seasalt, but mostly because this book drew me back to the city. I’ve found it hard to get back into the swing of my usual pre-pandemic (and let’s be honest it’s not over yet) activities and city life is one of them.

Anyway, I soon became engrossed in the story and now I’m finding it hard to put down. Have you read The Dictionary of Lost Words?

The only jarring note so far is that halfway through the (Australian) author has used the term ‘blow-in’ several times and it doesn’t feel right. I’ve never heard anyone use it here and thought it American. I’ve looked it up and according to the Oxford English Dictionary on my Kindle it is ‘informal, Australian slang’. Oh the irony!

Hidcote Manor Garden was looking stunning on Sunday. The magnolia trees are absolutely wonderful. Although I’ve visited many times over the years, I don’t remember seeing them in bloom, but then it only takes one windy day or a heavy rain storm for the petals to fall. This was lucky timing. Perhaps I’ve always gravitated there more in Summertime?

And, THERE WERE LAMBS!

I have a few videos of them hop, skipperty, jumping. Ahh the baas too, I’d forgotten how loudly tiny lambs can call. It was my first sighting of lambs this year and I stood on a log watching them for ages, absolutely mesmerised.

That was a little snapshot of some of my past week, what about yours…Have you seen lambs yet? Any book recommendations you want to pass on? Or new recipes? I think most of us love book and food talk.

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I’ve been wondering again about continuing this blog, I’ve had these thoughts every now and then over the last few years, since I haven’t been able to crochet or knit so much due to my sore hand. It’s not a very dynamic craft blog anymore. When I see all the colour work and inventive crochet being done on Instagram it makes me feel like I’ve been left behind. But then I looked at the numbers of new followers on my blog’s Facebook page and caught sight of the WordPress stats for this month alone and felt really encouraged. If what I waffle here is continued to be read, then it’s my pleasure to carry on. Thank you and welcome if you’re a new reader and follower.

The best flatlay background ever

Do you remember the Early Morning Cowl I made and sent to a friend last January? She has a crazy number of dogs: big dogs, huge massive furry things, middle sized ones and little happy yappy ones. She walks them very, very early in the morning in fields near her home. She often text me at that time and I always replied that I was snuggled in bed, with a cup of tea! She was the ideal friend to send a cosy knit. Not that many people suit mustard and it really suits her. I have a photo of her wearing that first cowl, it was straight out of the envelope with post dog walk crazy hair, her smile is huge as I hadn’t told her it was done and posted. It’s a really lovely pic. But I don’t think she’d appreciate it being beamed around the world!

Here’s another more sedate version in soft misty grey chunky yarn. I started it (eek!) last January when we were deep in our third Lockdown. Now I love you all, you know I do, but reading that post again, I now can’t help wondering why someone, or even a handful of you didn’t say: “BUT Rachel, that’s not the only four WIPs you have, is it?! Why have you started more?” I seem to have become scattered, starting and not completing many. If you’ve read for the last decade (and I know some of you very patient lovelies have, thank you!) you know I always used to have a couple of things at the most on the go, finished them and then thoughtfully decided on the next. Now, not so much!

Perhaps continually starting new makes reflected my lack of concentration during that stressful period? Or trying to get some variety in a very dull time. Due to the Stay at Home rule we mostly all stayed indoors, apart from tramping round the fields during daily exercise sessions and tried hard to restrict the baking-eating-baking-eating habit. That left craft and reading, along with unfulfilled intentions to learn Italian, write a book and stop biting my nails.

The bees were buzzing around in the heather flowers, such a welcome sound
Tiny tete a tetes in front of a lavender bush

This year I’m really determined to focus on one thing at a time in a bid to finally finish makes and cut them down to probably just THAT SOCK.

Green shoots on the lavender

I wanted to blog today, because it’s been a week and I felt like a chat, then I realised that you really, really don’t need, or probably want to see the Star Blanket yet again. That’s what I’ve been crocheting this week. So, I decided that it would probably be okay to have one crochet and one knitty thing on the go. It’s still keeping focus and not flitting madly about. That’s why I delved into one of the top layer of my project bags and found this cowl. I added an inch or so to it after lunch, before doing an hour’s tidying and pruning in the garden.

All the colour out there is so pretty now. I spotted lots of new growth which feels an encouraging sign of Spring. It was a real pleasure to be out in the sunshine, tidying up stray leaves, branches and twigs that blew down in the storms and to prune back some of the perennials. I cleaned the bird feeders too.

Someone spied flowers on the rosemary bush. Pretty pale mauve, aren’t they?
Anemones
Cyclamen with a cheeky anemone which has come up in the middle of the clump
Hellebores are so elegant
Many clumps of tulip leaves all around the borders, I can’t wait to see the flowers

I’ll share the Early Morning Cowl pattern shortly. It’s a little iffy timing as we’re heading into spring here, but some peeps in the Southern Hemisphere are heading into cooler temps. Plus I guess there’s plenty of time to knit one, or a stack, ready for autumn. It’s a really easy knit.

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If you’re feeling powerless and crafting helps to feel like you’re doing something to help the people of Ukraine, there are lots of ways to join in to raise funds for charity. Today I saw a gorgeous free sunflower pattern which Carol, aka Dansnan, on Insta has designed. Here’s the pattern. It’s a good use of brown and yellow oddments of yarn.

Mother Hookers are a crochet group based in Doncaster, which is in the north of England. I love following their community crochet projects. They are currently asking for sunflower brooches which they will sell in order to raise more money to send to the DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee.) They state that the Government has pledged to match donations up to 20 million pounds. All the details are on the MH page, linked above. Or perhaps you’d like to sell some within your own community?

February

I’m not sure whether to carry on with the monthly posts…

I think you should.

Why?

Because they’re fun to read, lots of little snippets.

Is it alright to do February’s on the sixth of March though?

I don’t know, I think so, but I haven’t read the rules.

Ha! Ok, so I’m taking their word for it. Here goes….

Making: my third washcloth in last year’s series from Garlene of The Kitchen Sink Shop. This is called Double Dutch. I could manage one set of repeats at a time, 10 rows, before my hand started to warn me it was really, seriously, No, I MEAN IT, it’s time to stop!

Cooking: a lot of white sauces. I made fish pie several times, a beef lasagne and a cheesy topped gratin of leeks, smoked lardons and chicken. Comforting comfort food, which went well with the wild February weather

Reading: so many good books! February included the soothing stories that are Jenny Colgan’s Mure series: An Island Christmas and Christmas at the Island Hotel, both perfect comfort reads, Free Love by Tessa Hadley and The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. I’d waited months for the last and finally got the ebook from BorrowBox the library app. It didn’t disappoint

Sipping: Tanqueray, our first bottle in a while and a bit of a pause from Craft Gins. Although I did get February’s box which had a Berkshire London Dry Style gin. Very pretty bottle and label

Here’s my referral code for Craft Gin Club. If you’re in the UK you can order a box with £20 off (free delivery.) There’s no obligation to order any other boxes. I’ve shared this before and people have used it, so may as well again

Waiting: for more of the garden to wake up, there’s a lot of colour, even in February

The garden was absolutely carpeted with these purple croci by mid-month, lovely

Looking: at the stark beauty of the trees and bare hedgerows

Listening: to birdsong when Storm Dudley, Eunice and then Frank had gone. I really felt for the tiny garden birds and wondered how they managed to cling on in the face of 75mph winds

Wishing: for dry days so the mud dried and walks were easier

By the end of this new 6 mile circular my walking trainers were no longer pink and grey…

Enjoying: Blue skies. Cold and wind are ok if accompanied by beautiful colour like on this day’s walk

Appreciating: Traditions like Shrove Tuesday, seeing friends’ pancake pics on a WhatsApp group and popping up on Facebook

Eating: English crepe style pancakes with lemon juice & castor sugar and American style fluffy pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

Liking: The Tuckers. I appreciate Welsh humour, being a massive fan of Gavin and Stacy and enjoying Stella. The Tuckers ticks the boxes: Does it make me laugh? Do I like the characters?

Loving: Russian Doll on Netflix, only 3 episodes in so far but wow it’s good. Glad to see there’s another series in the offing soon

Fish pie, balsamic roasted plum tomatoes and steamed tenderstem broccoli

Buying: a new walking raincoat. When you take off your jacket and reveal two large circles on your t-shirt, it is fairly embarrassing. That was the only area(s) no longer waterproof, despite having a try at reproofing

Managing: to tick things off the ever expanding list of things to do. There are a few things which I do not want to do, but they WILL be tackled in March

Watching: for signs of Spring as March 1st approached

Hoping: for peace, it was not to be. I’m so sorry for the people of Ukraine. And my heart also goes out to their family and friends in other countries who are waiting anxiously to hear from them and watching the News. It’s really scary for us all. Please give to one of the many charities who are raising money to support Ukraine. Here’s a link for UNICEF, but there are many. Pick one please and donate

Wearing: scruffs and blue socks with white spots

Noticing: how naff it feels to write the above about Ukraine, then describe my socks. I’ve been astounded at the number of bloggers who are not writing anything about it, no mention at all. Then this morning (March but…) I read my friend Phil’s Blue and Yellow blog post and noticed my shoulders dropped. So relieved to read a post which doesn’t feel like the writer has their fingers in their ears, going lalalalalalala

Following: lots of cooking accounts on Instagram, more and more. I like the dinner inspo, though actually rarely follow their recipes. Love the little reels filmed over a mixing bowl or chopping board. Watching snippets as someone kneads, mixes, chops or peels is so relaxing. Alex Hollywood, Anna’s Family Kitchen and 5 O’Clock Apron are some of my faves. Anyone you want to recommend?

Sorting: egg boxes for my cousin

A few stitches out of whack on the last repeat, I see looking at the photo. I was listening to Julie Walters audio book, no cider was involved. It’s a washcloth; so no need to undo. I will fight my perfectionist tendencies

Getting: appointments booked in for March

Coveting: chocolate, the weather in February boosted sales of nutty chocolate. Bars from M&S, Cadbury and there’s a gorgeous dark or milk chunky hazelnut one by Lindt

Feeling: round, ahem, it was the above

Hearing: nothing much by the end of the stormy week, I appreciated the peace

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How are you doing?

Lots of yellow & grey

Gah! And this is why I should never crochet while drinking cider.

I realised that the stitch count was really off in the section with the stitch marker, but in my tipsy wisdom did quite a few decrease stitches to get the it right. Then I carried on going around and around. In the morning I realised I’d have to rip it all back, in an acknowledgment that it’s not my way of doing things. I’m a perfectionist and those rogue stitches would forever bug me.

The blanket was pretty large, so it took A LOT of unraveling and winding yarn. I undid the whole yellow section. Once again…Gah!

I keep thinking I should be at expert level now, these kind of silly mistakes where I have 17 stitches in all other sections and find 22 in another should not be happening…it was definitely the cider.

The Chevron Cowl made it up to the NE coast, just in the nick of time! I offered it to friends and Safron jumped at it. Of course she’s perfect for it; she never shies away from wearing bright colours, plus always looks great in yellow. Doesn’t it match perfectly with her grey beanie too?

We’ve been battered by the weather since last week. We had Storm Dudley on Wednesday, followed by Eunice on Friday, with 75 mph winds and then Frank on Sunday with 60mph winds and very heavy rainfall. There are trees and branches down, but luckily nothing worse. I did wonder if the conservatory roof would lift off at one point. It’s still intact, thank goodness.

I think (and hope) that’s it now. The morning is calm and sunny, so far. It’s half term around here and parents are breathing a sigh of relief to be out and about again. I can hear the birds for the first time in days. They must be ravenous. How does a little robin or wren withstand 70+mph wind? They must go deep into foliage and hide?

Thursday really was the calm in between the storms, fortunately we managed to get out and do a new 6 mile circular walk. With an unplanned pub lunch in the middle. Anything more than a snack was probably a mistake. There were still steep hills to walk up, to loop back to the starting point, but I enjoyed being out for lunch very much. At least I could keep pausing to ‘take photos of the view’ while not fooling either of us.

Aren’t those aconites beautiful? The leaves are such an unusual shape, sort of rectangular. They were next to a huge clump of snowdrops near to where I parked the car.

I wonder what the aconites look like now? The garden here is full of croci and surprisingly they haven’t been flattened. The Christmas tree went over in it’s very heavy concrete pot early on when Storm Eunice arrived. A huge clonk and then bumps and bangs, as rolled back and forth whacking into the side of the house. We had to run out and rescue it, into the safety of the garage. It was wild out there. Scary, but exhilarating too. The rest of the time it’s felt like Lockdown, taking advice to stay indoors and stay safe, out of the risk of falling trees and flying debris.

I was on a FaceTime call during Storm Eunice and saw a fat pigeon being blown sideways in the wind. That was pretty funny.

The other week I swapped a novel for this Mollie Makes Crochet book at an exchange. It’s fairly basic, aimed at beginner crocheters, but it has some little things I might make.

My poinsettia lost 90% of it’s leaves, as I suspected it would, so now the cyclamen takes its place. Something red this time of year makes a darkish corner a bit brighter and cheerful.

Are you reading a good book? I’m gripped by the latest from Lisa Jewell. I’ve waited months for it from BorrowBox the library app and it’s not disappointing. I read about half in a day. Book details here on GoodReads.

If you’re in the UK did you come through the storms unscathed? Maybe you’ve got snow or floods, or are sweltering in heat?

And I finished it!

I finished the Granny Chevron Cowl last Sunday. There were lots of ends to darn, but I’ve always found the sewing bit quite relaxing. Such a nice achievement to start AND finish something in the same month.

You can just see the join-as-you-go row, where I’ve slip stitched along after each group of trebles, into the spaces. It’s a really neat and quick way to finish. Who wants to join by sewing, when you can crochet?

I hung it on a branch (or is it called a cane?) of fuchsia to photograph. It was really blowy last weekend as we had the tail end of Storm Malik, so it swung and forwards. I stood still capturing these two photos as it moved.

Details

Pattern On Ravelry from Zeens and Roger blog, by Rosina Northcott.

Yarn Paintbox chunky mustard yellow (323) & misty grey (303)

Hook 6mm

Height 24cm

Width 32cm

Circumference 64cm

Weight 135g, so used less than 2 balls of 100g chunky yarn

Tips

I did 8 pattern repeats, so 8 sections of colour, instead of the pattern’s 6 to get the required circumference. Remember you need to end on colour B rather than A; otherwise you’ll have one big one coloured section and it will ruin the pattern.

It’s worth watching Rosina’s You Tube video, linked to on the pattern’s blog post, for handy tips such as trebling around the first stitch of the previous row, instead of going into it at the end of each row. This saves a lot of fiddly stuff.

Before you do the join as you go row you could fix the beginning and end together with stitch marker rings (see below), it helped me to see how it was going to fit together. Finding the middle ensures you match it up accurately. I left the markers and took them out as I joined the two edges.

My poinsettia won’t be featured in every blog post for much longer, since it’s losing leaves quickly now

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And now I need to crack on with the finishing the Star Blanket, because I have a cunning plan for it. Except, I’ve just seen something that’s inspired me to try something else….oops!

What are you making at the moment? Are you feeling busy and productive, or are you in hibernation mode? I think either is good at this time of year. Here lately it’s mostly staying around 4° all day every day. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, what are you up to? Sunshine and warmth….lovely!

January

Making: my cosy chunky star blanket larger, still. Really it’s the perfect project on a chilly day.

Slipping: on icy roads, they have been like driving on an ice rink quite often this January. I hope for milder weather now.

Reading: another book set in London, this time during the Victorian era. It’s a proof copy. If I think it’s worth recommending I will write a bit more about the story when it nears its publication date in the spring.

Eating: Brunch! Non-stop chat with a friend a couple of weeks ago, cups of tea, full English breakfast with locally sourced everything, then creamy cappuccinos to finish. As you see it was an absolutely HUGE plateful (so glad I went without eating anything since dinner the night before…) I was in a food coma for the rest of the day! I didn’t eat until the evening, and then it was a light meal, but it was so amazing. The best EB I’ve ever had. My friend enjoyed her Egg Florentine, but I think might be going for the full English next time. She looked really envious.

Disliking: Mud! As some fields are beginning to be ploughed and planted there’s such a lot of mud on the road from the tractors. Car wash? Oh yes please. Love them. But…it was rainy the following day and my car is back to grey. Oh it’s not the only thing either; my handbag is splodged with it as I brushed past too closely.

Reading: the latest issue of Inside Crochet and trying to catch up with my Good Housekeeping mags. I’ve now got a pile of January, February and March GH to read. I got a year’s subscription from Nectar points (I think) as I always really like their recipes. But I’m finding it hard to keep up.

Finishing: something at the weekend! Ding-ding first thing of the year made. I’ll show you soon.

Snorting: with laughter at Daisy May Cooper’s audio book: Don’t laugh, it will only encourage her

Singing: along to the Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher version of C’mon People (We’re Making it Now.) It’s the perfect pairing you never knew you needed. It makes me grin. Here on Spotify.

Grateful: for a year’s worth of Spotify.

Listening: to Grace Dent’s Comfort Food podcast. I choose the episodes I fancy. There’s so many; it’s the advantage of coming to a podcast later. The Rafe Spall episode is painfully honest. His comfort food though OH MY, it’s roast chicken smothered in butter, with lots of lemon AND they make homemade chips. Mmmm. My current episode is Dave Myers from The Hairy Bikers. I listen to it in chunks. Some of Dave’s was at 0400 this morning. Groan.

Rewatching: Derry Girls as they’ve just announced there’s to be a new series in March. It’s so good, so funny. (Series 1 is on Netflix so you can miss the adverts, 2 is only on All 4 at the mo.)

Missing: Schitt’s Creek. It really has been my tv programme of the Pandemic. Moira never failed to make me laugh, every single episode. If you’ve been under a rock and haven’t watched it yet, it’s on Netflix. Worth getting Netflix for IMHO.

Laughing: the day after the car wash / mud bath, I had my hair done, then walked my 5 mile loop and it started to pour with rain!

Deserving: after the rainy 5 mile walk I had a big slice of cake and a mug of English Breakfast tea. January involved lots of treats. It was the freezing cold weather…

Forgetting: your nearest and dearest reads your blog “You had cake after the walk?!”

Loving: wholegrain mustard with honey. If I could find white mustard seeds I would make some, I’ve got a good looking recipe. I don’t need a kilo thanks Amazon. I’ll try to buy some locally from an Asian shop.

Cooking: crab linguine, lots of curries and dals, poached pears in red wine and apple juice with blackberries (voted absolutely delicious.)

Drinking: a gin cocktail last night. Well ok, two. A free repeat January box was delivered here yesterday. It was an incredibly generous offer for those who decided to order February’s box, instead of skipping it. It was funny timing; I’d changed my mind anyway, decided to order it and then had the the offer email, but I wasn’t too worried. The timing was just a bit off. Then to my surprise I had an email on Friday saying my repeat January box would be with me on Monday! We never usually have a drink on a Monday, but yesterday it had to be done. I really like the Vietnamese gin. It’s floral, perfumed and really different to any I’ve had before.

Tempting: you… here’s my referral code for Craft Gin Club. If you’re in the UK you can order a half price box for £20 (with free delivery.) There’s no obligation to order any other boxes. I’ve shared this a few times and people have used it. I hope you’ve enjoyed your gin, mixers and snacks.

Spotting: the garden waking up and winter flowers appearing. Then on a walk on Saturday, we saw snowdrops in the wild. So lovely, so lovely.

How was your January? Any patterns, good reads, podcasts, tv shows or recipes you want to share?

I started something new!

The latest copy of Inside Crochet plopped onto the doormat the other day. I haven’t really read much of it yet, but did read the interview with Rosina Northcott, better known to me as Zeens and Roger on Insta. When she named her two most popular designs I wanted to check them out on Ravelry. As soon as I saw the Granny Chevron Cowl pattern I found myself reaching for my hook and chunky yarn, even without really thinking. Next a part of my brain was shouting “NO, no, no! You’re not supposed to be starting anything new! You’re meant to be finishing the stuff you’ve started. It was doable, albeit slow. What are you doing?!” Ha! Too late brain, you need to speed up next time.

Here’s the Ravelry page which will take you to the original pattern blog post.

I’ve crocheted the required 29 rows, the 30th should be the joining round but my tension must be way tighter than Rosina’s. (It does lie flat, I just threw it down without due care and attention, for a quick snap in the photo above. A girl’s got to get back to her crochet, after all.) The only thing it will go around is my leg at the mo, and a leg-warmer was not really the plan. No matter, as I’ve got lots of this Paintbox chunky yarn. But just be aware of your tension and possible need to add extra rows, in case you’ve got limited chunky yarn.

I’m listening to Daisy May Cooper’s audio book as I crochet, she’s hilarious.

I’ve been to another community book exchange, this time an official Little Free Library, as I said I would a few weeks ago. This type of box on a pole book exchange is modelled on the original Little Free Library in Wisconsin, USA. Here’s some info about that first. I love the whole thing!

If you want to see some real handmade beauties, all over the world, just Google ‘Little Free Library’. People are so creative! I’ve just seen a house shaped one, which has origami in the attic and is beautifully decorated on the outside.

Some tempting things there, but the one I immediately swapped my book for was The Guest List. I’ve read Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party and her latest: The Paris Apartment. Both are good reads, but The Hunting Party (her debut) was my favourite of the two. The Guest List is a great find. It’s one of those books where you find yourself sighing and settling down into a more comfy position halfway through the first chapter.

And further along the same road, opposite the pub and along from the church in Freeland, Oxfordshire, there is another book exchange. A not-so-small Little Free Library. I’d already swapped my book and there wasn’t really anything else I wanted, but isn’t it well stocked? Lots for children too.

I absolutely love community projects like these and apparently the first LFL (the box on the pole) in the village was a roaring success when it was set up in 2016. It’s been estimated that more than 2,000 books passed through it in the first 12 months. Woah!

St Mary the Virgin Church, Freeland

I’ve always been a huge advocate and supporter of our public libraries, but I do think there is a place for both those and community book exchanges. Especially in rural communities which are not well served by public transport, or at all. Community book and toy exchanges became lifelines and positive distractions during our months of Lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 when the libraries were closed. I remember we walked to a neighbouring village during that time, and saw numerous boxes left outside people’s garden gate. Sharing books, jigsaw puzzles and children’s games had sprung up. Did this happen where you live?

I’ve left books in book exchanges, cafés, holiday homes and telephone boxes for years and years. You never know where they’ll end up and also what you will find! Actually, for Sunday lunch tomorrow I’m making a dessert from the recipe book that I swapped for my Christmas novel. (Poached pears with blackberries.)

What are you making and reading? Or are you busy doing other stuff? Have you got book exchanges or games swaps? I’ve heard of bus shelter book and game exchanges which sprung up in Lockdown. Have you spotted one? Tell us…

6 Good Things

How’s the second week of January been for you? Here it’s been mostly very, very grey and white skies, no sunshine or brightness at all. Quite hard going. Everyone I’ve spoken to lately seems to be struggling a bit post-Christmas sparkles. But what I’ve noticed is when we do get the occasional bright day, loads of people have also swarmed outside. I’ve tried to move more. Yesterday that included half an hour of hoovering; it counts, it’s still movement!

I’ve fancied some crunchy salads. This was tinned mackerel with a homemade honey and lemon dressing and pumpkin seeds sprinkled over the top.

And I’ve made a spicy chickpea sauce, with chunky slices of red onion and leek, crushed garlic, tinned and fresh tomatoes, a little veg stock, smoked paprika and red chilli flakes to liven it up. I cooked some cod fillets on top of the first half and served it with green veg. The rest I turned into a mushroom curry, cooking off some spice paste first, then adding the chickpea sauce, some sliced chestnut mushrooms and jarred peppers snipped into strips. We ate that last night with roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts sprinkled with salt and pepper. Yum.

I’m quite into the idea of two different meals out of one. Last week I made a spaghetti Bolognese and turned the other half of the sauce into a lasagne on Saturday. Do you do this one into two thing? Shall we share some ideas which might be useful inspo for meal planning?

Yesterday I added more to my Sleep Under the Stars blanket. The pattern link can be found here.

Here’s when I started this blanket. I can’t believe it’s nearly 2 years ago…

And here’s when I (prematurely) decided it was finished. That was more about my hand pain than anything else I think. Now I’m on a mission to make it bigger, slowly slowly, and then I *think* I have a cunning plan for it. This is the year of finishing things I’ve started in the last 3 or 4 years. Sure I said that last year too, but I’ve got my determined chin on, can you tell?!

So relaxing to sit and crochet while I listened to the rest of Blackberry & Wild Rose by Sonia Velton. It was a good story and I liked the two narrators. Crochet or knitting with an audio book or podcast are such a winning combination. Deeply relaxing.

Still reading the Crawdads book, I haven’t picked up the Mudlarks this week. I’ve been reading more of Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth. It’s fascinating. What are you reading?

And some cheery blue sky and sunny pictures from my walk on Wednesday.

See the frost on the grass?
Icy along the edges

It was a bracingly cold morning, but once I got warmed up I ended up tying my jacket around my waist, because I was glowing! Others trudged past wearing all the woollies and looking quite chilled. I walked just over 5 miles and treated myself to a slice of very delicious Victoria sponge for lunch! I know, I know…!

I appreciated some small kindnesses this week: B. saving me a seat at an event we were both going to and giving me a strip of raffle tickets she’d bought me. A. messaging to say there’s a new series of Vera on TV. (She does every time and for new eps of Shetland. So kind, always needed too since I’ve usually missed the ads for them.) And there was something else, but I’ve forgotten. D’oh!

Let’s call this post 6 good things? 1. Blue skies 2. Getting outside 3. Crochet 4. Books 5. Cooking 6. Kindness

What about your week? How’s it been? Do you want to list some of the good things?

January Cheery List

Well here we are in the first week of another New Year. I don’t know about you, but the week started with lots of energy, optimism and achievement, there were blue skies, there was sunshine (although it’s really cold here) everything was bright and breezy. But I often find that this first week in January is a tricky one; you start full of energy and resolve, take down the Christmas things and feel all organised for the New Year, then something happens around the 5th or the 6th. I’ve gradually realised it’s a yearly pattern. The puff seems to go out of you and you deflate a little.

Today I’ve been thinking about what usually makes a difference when a low mood appears. Here’s some ideas if you’re also feeling a bit the same: do a bit of singing, a bit of dancing, play an audio book, listen to classic comedy from BBC radio on the Sounds app (the ones which were before I was born are often so comforting, ok not particularly always funny, but somehow comforting. I can’t explain why) cook a homemade curry, (a dal counts, it’s so easy. I’ve got a throw it all in a pan and stir occasionally recipe, if you want it?) Do a bit of crafting. Immerse yourself in a good book. My current good reads are above. Go outside for a walk. It doesn’t have to be for miles, just walk for five or ten minutes, set a timer at the start, then turn around and walk back again when it dings. Call an older person and have a chat. You might make their day. Make a plan for the weekend, or next week, or the next month. Just have something in the diary to look forward to, it can be anything. Be proactive; write a list of nice stuff you want to do, learn, make or achieve. Choose one and start or apply, order or read up about it. Write a list of the stuff you’re putting off doing, because it’s hard, boring or is something you hate or dread intensely. Do one of these a day, begin to work through the list. At least start one of them, then do a bit every day. Sometimes it’s just not as bad as you anticipate. The thing has grown much bigger in your mind, than it actually is to accomplish. Ask for help or advice. There’s a good glow of satisfaction and a buzzy feeling at the end when you tick one of the horrors off. Eat a little chocolate, drink a mug of tea / coffee / hot chocolate. If it’s really, really urgh have a swig out of the gin bottle. (Don’t do this one too often!)

Terrible photo but warm fuzzies finding this on Monday

Google or check Facebook pages to find a a book exchange near you. It can be a Telephone Box library, a Little Free Library, a community Bus Shelter book & toy exchange. Leave a book, take a book. I left a fluffy Christmas novel and brought back a little Book of Desserts. I’ve lined up a new to me Little Free Library to exchange another book soon.

Join Olivia’s Random Acts of Crochet Kindness Facebook group. It’s a really positive online space.

Garlene is hosting another Year of Dishcloths KAL this year. I recommend joining in, because even if you don’t fancy making washcloths you can use the patterns as swatches to practice your knitting skills, learn new stitches and designs. Then you can always turn them into something else; maybe blocks for a blanket? Or adapt them into a cowl, scarf or whatever. I’m knitting one of last year’s, the design from March called Double Dutch. Mine are knitted with rather posh Rowan hand-knit cotton DK and are washcloths, not dishcloths, for two special girls.

I made a cosy nest and started knitting during the Crimbo Limbo week. This has now doubled.

Tip: contact Garlene through Insta or Rav and get yourself put on the email list and then you’ll get the patterns sent straight to your inbox. This is before they’re added to Ravelry.

Really Important: Make sure you save them all, even if at this stage you don’t think you’ll be knitting all twelve. If you change your mind later on, they probably won’t be available for free anymore.

February’s design is my top favourite

Let me know if you have anything to add to my January cheery list. And tell me what you’re making and reading right now? Have you got a book exchange near you?

2019 – 2021

I hope you’ve had a really good Christmas, are feeling well and relaxed, or buzzy and productive. If none of these things, then I send you Feel Better Soon vibes and very best wishes for the New Year.

I always used to do a round-up gallery at the end of each year of blogging. But realised recently that the last one was in 2018. Skimming through my blog posts, I’ve realised why I paused.

In 2019 the only thing I finished was the cross-stitch 45 hoop! I started so many things that year, but could never complete them as my hand was too painful, following a hand injury in April 2018. Each thing was begun with hope. Perhaps this would be the magic project…? But there has been no magic, it’s been time and an acceptance that I cannot sit and crochet, knit or sew for hours on end anymore. But I’m so happy today’s gallery above shows a good collection of all I’ve made in the last 3 years. Things are definitely on the up. This is now a slow crafting blog.

You can see all my other roundups from 2012 onwards, if you click on the links at the bottom of that 2018 gallery post. Maybe start with the 2012 link and then come back here? Wink.

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Ahem!

Taps teaspoon on champagne glass…

DID YOU NOTICE WHAT I’D WRITTEN at the bottom of the 2012 gallery post?

So, today it’s my blog’s 10TH BIRTHDAY!

🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂

Merry & Bright

Shall we play a game? It’s called spot the sprout on the Christmas tree! And no, he hasn’t got his googly eyes yet, because I need to get some glue. I’m very reluctant to use superglue because of all the people I know, I’m most likely to end up in A&E over Christmas with my fingers stuck together…

Fortnum & Mason, London, Christmas window from 2017

And here’s the first large amigurami I’ve done in years! He’s been fun to make. I particularly like his bowtie. Thanks – heaps of thanks actually – to June of Planet June and her absolutely marvellous tips on invisible finishes and securing features. She has such a clear way of explaining things and brilliant tips.

So how are you doing? Are you feeling all prepared and calm, or is it a bit frantic and you’re frazzled? Christmas is such a weird time. Such a lot of build up and things to do, when in essence it’s a few days with family and friends. But it can easily become a juggernaut. Anyway I hope you’re well and you can spend some time with people you love, or at least whose company you enjoy.

We’ve just decorated the Christmas tree while listening to Motown and Jamie Cullum Christmas songs on Spotify. We each sipped a glass of champagne which always makes the tree prettifying into quite a lovely thing. I always, always forget about some of the special decorations and so it’s a really nice surprise to see them again.

New this year. He’s soooo cute.

On Sunday we visited Waddesdon Manor NT (Website here) for the annual light-trail, Christmas market and in my case; Bailey’s hot chocolate and a peanut butter brownie. Yum. During Lockdown people who would usually have volunteered in the property started to knit and crochet wraps for the tree trunks along the Carriage Drive. Apparently this really helped with feelings of isolation and missing normal activities. This I was really glad to know, the volunteers are always super when you visit. I took some pics to share with you, although there were many, many more yarn wrapped trees. I kept thinking no wonder we had a yarn shortage!

I liked the dangly ends and even Someone said it’s a good way to get out of the darning
Such a foggy day but it added to the atmosphere, although I wasn’t so keen when the moisture made my mascara drip down my face and onto my mask. I looked a bit alarming in the light!
And bunting too
Spectacular light show and music in front of the manor, it’s in the style of a French Château

I will be crocheting over Christmas, either more sprouts or I might allow myself to break my own rule about finishing all my WIPS. I may begin making something new. It *is* Christmas after all. I have new yarn which I’m itching to get out of its crinkly paper bag.

I shall love you and leave you now. It’s time for dinner and maybe another glass of champagne later. Maybe a slice of Stollen too. Oooh I do quite like Christmas. Have a merry one. If you aren’t feeling it this year, then stay cosy if you can.

I would like to live in a house like this

So, following on from my last post, here is the Christmassy National Trust property we visited. Greys Court is somewhere that we’ve visited in the summer, mainly because they have a sculpture exhibition and so the grounds are filled with all sorts of impressive and also weird and wonderful sculpture! Lots of it’s available to buy and some of the fun is in looking at the price tags. However we’ve never visited at Christmas. It’s absolutely lovely, as you will see…

And my crafting? Lady Brunner would not be particularly impressed. (Still haven’t made that chutney.) But LOOK! I’ve crocheted a brussel sprout! I know, it’s only one but at least I’ve made one.

Next time I need to get some safety pins to hold the leaves in place, as I found it really really fiddly to hold them while I sewed them onto the sphere. I still need to glue on the eyes and thread some sparkly thread so it can hang on the tree, when we’ve got one.

Here’s the pattern I used

I’ve also added some more rounds to a new block for my coast blanket. You’ve seen that quite a bit recently, so I haven’t taken any new photos.

What about you? If you celebrate, how is your Christmas prep going? Are you feeling Christmassy?

Taking Stock – November

Making: the rest of the Gingerbread Man. I finally have eyes for him! Crocheting the Coast Blanket bit by bit

Cooking: Sausages with apple & onion in cider sauce

Sipping: Twinings tumeric, orange & star anise tea

Setting up for Christmas at Blenheim on 15th