Wednesday 30 November 2016

Woody Woodpecker

One morning, I was trying to study and heard this insistent tapping.  For a while I tried to block it out and concentrate on my books, but after it had continued for quite some time, I decided to investigate the source of the noise.  

It didn't take me long to discover that we had a woodpecker drilling holes in the wood outside our window.  I didn't manage to get a photo until it moved to a nearby tree.  I'm informed that it is a Hairy Woodpecker.  Similar in appearance to its smaller cousin the Downy Woodpecker, but with a much longer bill.  In reading about this woodpecker, I learned that it forages along tree trunks and the main branches of trees, but this one had been busy drilling holes in our balcony!

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Santa's Laundry

Yes, this was another unfinished project!  I started it last year and ran out of time before Christmas arrived, so it was consigned to a bag until I finally got round to getting my knitting needles out again.

As everyone knows, Santa wants to look his best for his big day, so his clothes have to be clean and ready to wear.  Nice shiny black buttons and pristine white fur trim on his jacket.

Coordinating trousers with a drawstring waist for the times when he over-indulges in the mince pies!
The whole outfit includes long-johns, striped socks and a wool hat with a fur trim and bobble.

This pattern was for hanging tree ornaments, but I thought that it would look good if I use some bakers' twine in red and white and buy some mini clothes pegs, then I can string Santa's washing up to dry..

Monday 28 November 2016

Tea Cakes

One of my favourite tea-time treats is a toasted teacake with butter.  I have fond memories of cosy tea shops offering such delicious treats on cold winter days, with a reviving pot of tea.

Sadly, there are no such places here and I have yet to find anything resembling a teacake.  I saved a recipe from a magazine and made this batch for a Sunday afternoon treat.  They were not quite how I remembered them, but they were still delicious with a cup of tea.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Thought For The Day - Part Four

'The Advent moon shines cold and clear.
We watch and wait.'

Christina Rossetti

Today we light the first candle of Advent ~ the candle of hope.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Our Daily Bread

I'm not ashamed to admit that I use a breadmaker for most of the bread that I bake.  The only dough that I physically handle is pizza dough and dough for breadsticks, but only after it has been kneaded in the stand mixer.

After a neck injury left me with chronic pain, I am not able to knead bread myself and I like the convenience of being able to put everything into the machine and have a perfectly cooked loaf come out at the end of the process.

Since we got our 'new' breadmaker (second-hand, but in as new condition), I've stuck to the recipe for quick French bread, which gives excellent results in only two and a half hours.  I did try a malted loaf, using a recipe from another breadmaker book, but it was not successful, as it came out burnt and crispy.  As our machine is a Cuisinart, I suppose that Americans don't bake malt loaf, so there is no recipe supplied.

I fancied a change and decided to try the Rustic Italian loaf.  This bread is amazing and it even keeps well for a couple of days.  I can't resist the still-warm crust with melted butter, though I usually share it...delicious!

Friday 25 November 2016

The English Home

The appearance of The English Home on the newsagent's shelf is a certain sign that Christmas is approaching.  The annual ritual of buying the December issue signals that it is time for me to begin my Christmas preparations.

Whilst I can aspire to the perfect English country cottage, beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, the reality is a little different.  I think that this year will be a pared-down version of Christmas for various reasons, the least of which is lack of space. 

Anyway, I can still dream of curling up in front of a fire in that cottage in the countryside and enjoy a welcoming cup of tea and a seasonal nibble as I daydream...

Thursday 24 November 2016

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I love rhubarb, so when I discovered a recipe for Norwegian rhubarb cake, I decided to try it.  As rhubarb is not in season, I used some from the freezer.

The recipe is very quick and easy and the cake baked in minutes (just as well I kept an eye on it, as it cooked in about half the time stated in the recipe).

The cake was delicious warm and is a recipe that I will be keeping for future use.  If you would like to try it for yourself, you can find it here.

Wednesday 23 November 2016


In recent years, I've had very little time to work on many of the projects that I started.  I am slowly trying to rectify this situation and I've been busy during the last few weeks working on this sampler.  It was a gift from my dear friend Tracy and I believe that I started it about three years ago.

Sanctuary Shells is a counted cross stitch kit from Dimensions' Crafts.  It is in really pretty shades of blue, green and creamy beige.  I had to down tools to wait for some extra thread to arrive after I ran out of two colours.  As these are custom colours, I had to ask the company to supply them and they kindly agreed to send me some.

This soothing still life is a scene of peace and tranquility, which I will have framed and then find a suitable spot to display. I'm thinking that it may inspire a whole new decorating scheme...

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Vegetable Stock

This has been a year of thrift and I've had to economise in the kitchen.  After buying some vegetable stock for a soup, I decided that it would be cheaper to make my own.

I discovered this recipe.  What was interesting was the suggestion that perfectly good vegetable stock can be made with the waste vegetable scraps that most people throw away.  I didn't have enough scraps to make stock this time, but from now on, I'm going to save them, put them in the freezer and make stock once I have a bag full of scraps.  

This stock is the base for a warming winter soup and makes twice the amount required, so I have a bag left over, which I can freeze for another time.

Monday 21 November 2016

Thought For The Day - Part Three

'Be patient,
everything comes to you in the 
Right moment.'


Sunday 20 November 2016

Stir-Up Sunday

'Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord.'
                                                                     The Book of Common Prayer

The opening words of The Book of Common Prayer, read on this Sunday before Advent.  Since Victorian times, Stir-Up Sunday has traditionally been the day for the family to get together to make the Christmas pudding.  Each family member must take a turn at stirring the pudding and making a wish.

This allows time for the pudding to mature before Christmas Day.

My favourite pudding is a recipe dating from 1845.  This recipe is from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery.  It has become a seasonal favourite and its preparation is much anticipated.

I have discovered a modern twist to its preparation, as I now cook it in my slow cooker, rather than filling the kitchen with clouds of steam.  This recipe makes two medium size puddings, so they are each steamed in turn after being covered in parchment paper and foil.  Once steamed, they are well wrapped in fresh parchment and foil, before storage in a cool place until Christmas.

There is a huge sense of satisfaction in laying down delicacies in preparation for the festivities.  I hope to add to my culinary collection in the coming weeks.

Saturday 19 November 2016

In The Kitchen - Scones

I really enjoy baking and especially scones.  Whilst I like the small individual ones, it is far quicker and less wasteful to make a large round, score it with a knife and bake it as a whole.  This first one is a sultana scone recipe, which is a favourite, still warm from the oven with melting butter.

This second scone round is a variation with fresh raspberries.  I first had raspberry scones a year or so ago and decided to try my hand at baking them.  They can tend to be a bit on the wet side, but I think that the answer is not to be over-generous with the fresh berries and to make sure that they are dry before adding them to the dough.

Anyone for tea and scones?  I'll put the kettle on... 

Friday 18 November 2016

Home Comforts

A recent trip to a British shop yielded some treasure.  With Christmas in mind, I needed to buy suet for the Christmas pudding.  Atora can be difficult to track down, but fortunately it was in stock.

Heinz beans are a favourite from home.  I know that they sell the brand here, but they don't taste anything like these, so we generally stock-pile a few tins.  

It was quite a small shop this time - usually, I'm stocking up on the British chocolate, but I'm trying to be good in the weeks leading up to Christmas! 

Thursday 17 November 2016

Mrs Miniver

'Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame
 in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.  
The spell might break, the atmosphere be impossible to recapture.'

The opening paragraph of Mrs Miniver captures her zest for living and her delight in everyday objects and situations.  On arriving home after the summer holidays, she enters the drawing room where tea is laid and a fire burns brightly; sun floods through the windows and she arranges chrysanthemums in a vase, so that the sun shines through them.

We are immediately transported to her world: she shares her insights as she describes the people and situations she comes across with warmth and wisdom.  But her contented existence is threatened by the prospect of war.  

Jan Struther's book was published in October 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war.  Winston Churchill said that Mrs Miniver had done more for the Allies in hastening the United States' entry into the war than a flotilla of battleships.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

History In Silk

On a visit to our local charity shop earlier in the summer, I discovered a scarf tied to a rail.  The colours had caught my eye, as they were so vibrant.  I thought that it was silk and when I gave it a closer inspection, I found that it was.

What came as a bigger surprise was the information on the label, which stated that it was 'Made in Occupied Japan'.   

Not only is it vintage, but it must be more than 70 years old.  It is in perfect condition and I think that it will add some much-needed colour to winter.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

In The Kitchen

 Baking a Christmas cake is part of my seasonal preparations at this time of year.  I actually baked it a couple of weeks ago, but I've only just got round to posting about it.  The first stage is washing and preparing the fruit, with the addition of brandy to allow it to soak overnight.

After preparing the cake tin, I mix the butter, sugar and spices in a large bowl, before beating in the eggs.  I then fold in the flour and finally add the fruit mixture, stirring well to combine.  The cake mixture is then placed into the prepared tin.

As cooking is long and slow, the cake needs lots of protection, for which I use newspaper tied in place with string.  The cake is then ready for the oven.

I kept a close eye on this cake as I was baking it in an unfamiliar oven.  I haven't baked a fruit cake in it before and I was concerned about overcooking, as the oven tends to cook a lot faster than recipes suggest (I suspect that the temperature is inaccurate).

The result of my efforts.  The cake will be fed with brandy on a weekly basis over the coming weeks, so that it is moist and mature by Christmas.  It will then be ready for icing.

Monday 14 November 2016

For The Love of Liberty

I have to admit to yet another unfinished project.  Those of you who regularly read my blog may remember that I posted about this a year ago.  I had thought that it would be fairly quick and easy to sew these, but life got in the way.

Still, as they say, better late than never.  I love Liberty prints and I think that these will make beautiful gifts which will be treasured.

This final photo shows the reverse side with the main piece of Liberty print.  The flower details on the front were all done by hand with off-cuts of fabric.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Thought For The Day - Part Two

'Let yourself
be silently drawn
by the strange pull
of what you really love
It will not lead you astray.' 

Rumi, 1207-1273

Saturday 12 November 2016

The Yorkshire Shepherdess

I have been reading two books by Amanda Owen, who is known as the Yorkshire shepherdess.  Amanda grew up in Huddersfield, but shunned the idea of a regular job and decided that she wanted to be a farmer.

Her first book The Yorkshire Shepherdess follows her early efforts at farming, working for farmers around the country and finally settling in the Yorkshire Dales.  Meeting Clive Owen, a farmer, changed her life when she fell in love and moved to Ravenseat, at the top of Swaledale.  This book is the story of those early days and is full of anecdotes and typical Yorkshire characters.

The second book A Year In The Life of The Yorkshire Shepherdess was published in the spring.  It continues Amanda and Clive's story as their family has grown to include nine children (eight at the time of the book).  They farm in a remote part of Yorkshire and breed the traditional Swaledale sheep.

If you enjoyed the stories of James Herriot, you will enjoy these books, with their stories of everyday life on the farm and caring for their family, including a flock of 1,000 sheep, horses, dogs, hens and a goat.

Amanda may have started out as a city girl, but she has clearly given her heart and soul to rural Yorkshire and her farming life and family.  Should you ever decide to walk the Coast to Coast, you may be interested to know that you can call at Ravenseat for a cream tea to refresh you after your long trek across the heather moorland.

Friday 11 November 2016

Remembrance Day


For The Fallen

'They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.'

Laurence Binyon

The Royal Canadian Legion constructed this Cenotaph in 1933, in memory of the local men who lost their lives in World War I.  It now stands as a memorial to the memory of  the fallen of both World Wars and the Korean War.

Thursday 10 November 2016


'If these shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.'

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Today is a day of enforced slumber as I am having surgery under a general anaesthetic.  I had some routine health screening during the summer which resulted in further investigations, weeks of worry and a surgical referral.

This came out of the blue, but it is something that has to be faced, and I would rather have it behind me.  I've planned a few blog posts in advance for my blog posting challenge, as I will need a some time for recovery.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

In The Pink

On a visit to one of the last farmers' markets of the season, I bought some fresh beetroot, with no real plan as to how I would use it.  After some thought and a little research, I came up with the idea of baking a cake.

Frosted Spiced Beetroot Cake to be precise.  This is a recipe
which I found online under the title National Pleasures and it is taken
from the National Trust Cookbook.

I've never used beetroot in a cake before, so I was curious to see how it would turn out.  Having no desire nor wish to add grated fingers to the mix, I opted to shred the beetroot in my food processor.  As I don't have a fine blade, the texture was a bit coarse.

The recipe produced a moist cake, but I'm told that the frosting was 'a bit strange'.  I don't normally make cream cheese frosting and this was a caramelised cream cheese.  Personally, I think that this cake would have been better with a vanilla buttercream.

I would definitely like to get my hands on a copy of this book to try out some of the other 
National Trust recipes.  No doubt there are some national treasures amongst them.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Late Autumn Colour

Just when I was feeling quite disappointed with the colours this year, Mother Nature decided to give us one last hurrah.

The time change in the early hours of  Sunday morning made a huge difference to me - I have no doubt that I am affected by those darker mornings, so it was a joy to wake up to daylight.

As promised, I headed out for a walk to enjoy the early morning light and I captured some photographs along the way, though it was not as bright as later in the day.  I headed to the park, which was quiet early on Sunday morning, with just a few dog walkers about.

Out of the park and into the neighbourhood, where there were some lovely colours to be found.

Some of the maples are past their best, but there are some later varieties which have managed to keep their leaves a little longer.  A close-up view of one tree, which had some gorgeous colour.

And this is the same tree from a distance.

Mother Nature certainly knows how to surprise us.  I was happy to have been outdoors on such a glorious morning and to have enjoyed these last colours of the season.  It looks like this is going to be a mild week too, so I plan to enjoy some more walks before the onset of winter.