Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year Resolutions Of The Achievable Variety

Having learnt from past experience , I'm not aiming too high this year . I've settled on three , at least two of which seem do-able .

1. Always eat off a pretty plate .
Grabbing a sandwich at work is uncommonly dreary , no matter how many carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes one tries to gussy it up with . But on an Art Deco plate , even cottage cheese looks cheerier
2. Exercise more .

I thought maybe we'd draw a veil over the Hips firm bit

and concentrate on the Raising arms sideways and Arms bent bits . Eminently do-able surely , with a bit of practice .

But now we get to the challenge .

3. Buy a dress .
I can't spend the rest of my life in jeans or the standard black trousers for best .
Actually , thinking about it , the last dress I bought for me may well have been on the same shopping trip that netted this little number for Barbie ..... mid-'90s , then .

Oh yes , And WEAR it .

Meanwhile last year's resolutions met with a varying degree of success . I did , for instance learn how to make a link .... and at least half of the ones I now post work !

So may we wish you a very happy , healthy and prosperous New Year and , whether you've made resolutions or not , every success in whatever you attempt , big or small .

Monday, 27 December 2010

Post Mortem


We had a lovely time and ate lots so it did seem a little excessive to be fishing yet more mountains of food out of the 'fridge this morning . But Youngest Daughter has been laden with enough food for a couple of days and is carrying it off to Amsterdam , as we speak .Temptation in the form of Serrano ham , Manchego cheese and Salami Milanese have been neatly removed and , if the train gets snowed in along the way , she and her fellow passengers should survive till rescued .

The turkey ( yes , I found one .... dainty at 2.5 kilos but French , delicious and more than enough ) has been reduced to rubble . The bones are simmering for soup and the scraps will become a stir-fry of sorts later , with peppers , spring onions and mushrooms .

I've still got a week off and a pile of loot to keep me happy

(The Borgia cds are fabulous and The Book Thief can't be put down ) .

The Christmas flowers look pretty

and , if I get cabin fever , there's a new exhibition in Groningen Museum that looks excellent .

Or I could join the conga line on the river round the corner as everyone enjoys the ice

Sshhh . No one mention the E-word . This year they're insisting on a minimum of 30 cm. of ice along the whole route ..... . Fat chance !

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Xmas to all

Smitonius and Sonata:

In both of our households there is a little uncertainty about Xmas lunch. We all have plenty of food, but perhaps not entirely festive (do olives count as festive?). My mother is not sure she will find a Turkey in town, given the snow, and we had our heart set on Quails (to a recipe in the Observer Food Monthly) but have decided that if they cannot be easily found we will happily eat something else. Mind you, I am teling a little white lie about not having festive food because we have treated ourselves to some local smoked salmon. And when I say local, I mean local inner London down the road local. Hansen & Lydersen smoke their salmon in Stoke Newington, where I live in North London, using a family recipe.

So, we won't be going hungry. We have put up seasonal decorations all around, and Sonata sent this photo to share:

Although we have failed to put up our tree yet, we have found time to hang up a fancy wreath:

I now have to do some mad dashing about to complete the Xmas shopping or I will be wrapping up fresh air for my other half to open, but in the meantime we wish you, wherever you are, a wonderful Xmas!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

So Far So Good .

The school holidays have begun . Early morning coffee and Kerstbrood has been shared with the childrens' parents
The works party has been survived . Parcels and cards have been posted . Father Christmas seems to have got his act together this year and stocking fillers have been found . A visit to a Christmas Market has been planned as long as it doesn't snow too much . The tree has just been rescued from the frozen ( minus 4) back yard .

Youngest Daughter will be getting together tonight with a group of friends in Amsterdam for their annual pre-Christmas Turkey-fest . This year the bird will be prepared by one of them , famed for his interest in the good things of life , to a family recipe as cooked by his mother in Budapest every year . YD is doing the roast potatoes and everyone will be bringing something delicious . Much will be eaten . I'm hoping she's not too jaded to cook our Christmas lunch on the 25th . Last year's was delicious !

And , perfectly timed , a parcel from Catey has just arrived as part of a swap , organised by A Little Pink Room , full of lovely fat quarters , buttons

and a beautiful buttony star for the tree , which is thawing out nicely in the kitchen .

Mind you , the big snows started on the 19th of December last year . It's still only the 18th ........
P.S. YD reported this morning that she ended up having to make roast potatoes for 18 ! This does not bode well for the 25th , I feel . Perhaps she can peel the sprouts ?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Although working on birthday...


nevertheless, I went out for a meal afterwards. There has been a buzz about a restaurant called Trullo in north London, so getting a table meant booking weeks in advance. But my other half was very organised, and so a table was waiting for as 9.30. I was attracted by the idea that it was inspired by the River Cafe. That is a must-visit restaurant (fill up your little piggy-bank first), and the last time we were there a couple of years ago Rose Gray herself was in the kitchen.

So, what was on the menu at this place? Some seriously hearty dishes (apologies for the pun) like 'grilled ox heart, confit garlic and borlotti beans'. Whilst I avoided that one, I simply couldn't resist 'Ox cheek braised in Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia '07 with pureed potato and Capezzana's new season olive oil'. But I am racing ahead of myself!

Wine ordered: a chilled Rose, which tasted of Summer in a glass and brightened up the dark evening.

Antipasto shared: Coppa di Parma. So tasty, I forgot to do the Iphone thing which is to hold said phone over dish pausing whilst it focuses and then taking a pic of what is on the plate before eating it.

Primmi: Other half chose Taglierini with Spinach and clams. There was a lot of spinach, and some convincing clam shells, but barely any of their previous residents in evidence. To be fair, when they asked what was wrong, they immediately offered to remove dish from final bill.
I ordered the 'rabbit ravioli in sage butter':

That was supperb.

Main: I was, as you have seen, a total carnivore. And the Other Half had Poussin with chick peas. All very tasty and so filling we did take left overs home! Before the recession, this seemed to be a slightly shocking thing to ask, but now restaurants appear positively delighted... do you do the 'doggy bag' thing?

Pudding: Chocolatte and quince tart.

All in all a lovely evening! Thank you for birthday wishes, and here's to hoping I get some spare time to blog regularly again in 2010....

Sunday, 12 December 2010

In House Memo

The Leeuwarden branch of Smitonius and Sonata would like to wish our London correspondent

Many Happy Returns for tomorrow . We've had a whip round and , given that the local postal service is on strike , a bag of salty licorice will be sent to her by carrier pigeon .

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sinterwho ?


As I said in my last post , Dutch children get their presents , not from Santa Claus on the 25th , but from Sinterklaas on the evening of the 5th and one of you wanted to know more .
St Nicolaas , bishop of Myra in the 3rd century , had a reputation for the secret giving of gifts , maybe most notably to the daughters of a very poor man who couldn't give them doweries without which their futures were bleak . He is the patron saint of children and also of New Amsterdam , or New York .

Sometime in the 19th century , when Christmas was acquiring new traditions such as Christmas trees , Sinterklaas and his black page boy became the stars of the winter celebration in Holland and Belgium . They arrive in Holland from Spain every year in a steamboat and spend a week or two , before the feast , dropping chocolate coins in childrens' shoes , which are carefully left by the fire overnight , often with a carrot for the Saint's horse .

The page boy became Zwarte Piet , a mischevious helper in the bringing of presents to every child . He wears brightly coloured knickerbockers , a ruff , gold earings and a cap with a feather . Traditionally children who dressed up as him blacked their faces too , but that's becoming less common .

This year at work , we have a rather fetching wooden steamboat with the whole cast . Today , as we sat round the table eating a snack , the children took it in turns to pick out a figure and say something about it .
When we got to the Saint's horse , the little girl knew all about him . His name ( Americo ) , his preference for carrots and his colour but was stumped when it came to the markings on his coat .
And then it came to her .
So what were the darker marks ?

"Chickenpox !! "

Monday, 29 November 2010

What I Did This Week ..... Well , Not Everything , Of Course .

Sonata :

Well , we finally got to the Collector's Fair in Utrecht , Friend and I . We had our usual enjoyable potter through a huge number of stalls , selling everything from Thirties' haberdashery to ( metal) detectorists finds . Why anyone would want a handful of old rusty bent nails escapes me , but then why did I lug home a handful of 1930s and '40s business letters ? I could probably find a Taschen book of pre-war graphic designs with plenty of examples like this

But I can read these and try to picture the correspondents . There is , for instance , a humble apology for the malfunction of a fan and the hope that the client will be so kind as to accept the immediate replacement of same , signed by the boss with his "salutations bien distinguèes " . What do you think , would I get the same treatment now if I sent back my defunct pop-up toaster ?

Meanwhile , it's nearly the end of term and it's almost Sinterklaas , the night when Dutch children get their presents and there are all the decorations to make with the pre-schoolers . Serried ranks of St . Nicolaases line the window ledges

bishop's mitres and page boy hats in bright crepe paper hang from every available hook . We've sung every song to death and read every picture book about the Good Man to tatters . And this week we'll hold three parties , complete with small presents , which must be hunted for .

On the 6th. he'll have been and gone and the children will calm down .

Which will be handy , because then I'll be able to prepare for my next career . The one I'll be taking up when the Budget Cuts start squeezing the playschools out of existence

I find , to my relief , that I already know a fair number of these songs so I'm off to a head start .
You must do , too . So all together now , one , two , three ... " All I want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth ".

Monday, 22 November 2010

tis seasonal to be... coughing


Fell foul of some bug or another, so slipped out of the blogosphere. So did my nephew (catch a bug, I know that he is very advanced for his age... but at 3 1/2 he is not yet blogging). Though the last time he was amused at getting a cough ('I am a Coughosaurus', he claimed delighted), he wasn't so much this time.

Sonata may not like this month too much, but I can't say I agree: I love being able to drag out jumpers (though, do any of you have the moth plague? Not a thing a knitter relishes having to deal with); dust off the winter coats (never knowingly fashionable, but bought a vintage faux fur job earlier in the year... and it is - almost - like being an 'it' girl); buy gorgeous seasonal vegetable at the farmer's market (Curly Kale, though not Brussel Sprouts!); try all sorts of new and old anti-virus remedies (actually, no, that bit is a lie).

Anyway, although I have not been up to anything faintly interesting craft-wise lately (new work responsabilities gained unexpectedly earlier in the year have knocked the needles out of my hands), there is always something to blog about. Although not that many people watched the television series 'The Great British Bake Off', we did in this household. So, imagine our delight, when we visited the farmer's market on Sunday:

One of the ten bakers was selling cakes, he has called his enterprise 'The Cake Stop'. His treacle tart was the lightest and most fragrantly lemony version I have ever tasted, and as for his apple and cinamon cake... words failed my other half. We couldn't resist these buns in a jar (soaked in Cointreau - does that work against coughs?!):

Yum. Have searched the internet in vain to find out his name, but he fell foul of the judges too early in my opinion (and now I have tasted his cakes... I can't imagine why!). Other participants have blogs, like Ruth at The Pink Whisk, and the winner Edd at He Eats. So if you need some more droolworthy pics, click on.....

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Humph !


This is what I had planned for today

wandering round the big Collectors' Fair in Utrecht .

But the Dutch train system had something else in mind and a signals fire in Utrecht has turned what would have been a two-hour journey into an open ended odyssey for only the truly determined .

So I'm doing this instead ( and possibly baking some of A Wee Bit Of Cooking's savoury muffins )

Smitonius , who seems to have perfected a cough to wake the dead , says she'll be recovered enough to blog tomorrow, too .

Does anyone like November ?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

You Have To Be Crafty To Get Into Jail Round Here

Blokhuispoort dates from the 17th century and , until recently , housed the prison .

Now it has been turned into a Culture Center , each cell providing a studio for artists , performers , writers , alternative therapists .....

And yesterday , as part of Leeuwarden's Open Studio weekend , they threw open the doors and we could all wander about and admire their work .
And on every landing , behind every blue door

there were potters , sculptors , painters , photographers , jewellery makers and a glass blower but also a poet , a couple of interior decorators ( "See how I can restyle a cell . Just think what I can achieve in your home !") , even a woman who can get rid of your whiskers in an environmentally-friendly fashion .

And in another wing , for the ladies , there was Holy Stitch , a craft fair . Girlie heaven . Pink checks and spots , bunting , woolly hats , cunning bags , candles , cookies and vintage clothes . Ads for a two-day Make Your Own Teapot And Teacosy workshop , lunch included .

There was even a Decorate Your Own Cupcake workshop , very popular with small girls who were reverently bearing their glittery creations home for tea

All great fun . And I had only one uneasy moment

Does this make anyone else think of the Inquisition ?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Multi-Culti Temptations Abounded

Sonata :

I've just spent a week in England eating and thinking about eating and then eating some more .
Hard not to when one's children seem to be afraid that one will float away like a soap bubble if not fed at frequent intervals . Though , to be fair , I have done nothing to dispel this myth .

But eating in England now is such fun that it would require greater will power than mine to resist for long .
Travelling through London , one is tempted by "The Authentic Taste Of Cameroon" near Bethnal Green or this

in Borough Market . "Still Scottish at heart , I see ", said Smitonius .

There was Rosti or Portuguese pastries , Keralan spiciness , Congolese , Ethiopian or Vietnamese cooking , Finnish , Cypriot or Belgian food and Persian take-away in Notting Hill .

Endless , expensive treats in stylish Food Halls and this in Shepherd's Bush

A losing battle with a fast chewing Grandson over a plate of Calamari and a big bowl of olives .Excellent chili at Middle Daughter's and delicious crab risotto at Smitonius's
And we all enjoyed every mouthful .

Friday, 29 October 2010

Autumn Colour


The Japanese Maple tree in the garden is ablaze!

And I have seen the Berry Man walking through Borough Market:

Perhaps it signals a bountiful harvest and season ahead.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Parakeets and poetry

Sonata and Smitonius today:

We are having a real family week-end, as Sonata is over in London, and we went grave hunting (the way you do). Having discovered that Sonata's great-grandparents were buried in Twickenham Cemetery.

It was an easy grave to find, being close to the entrance, but the grave was in pieces and we needed to re-arrange it to take this picture.

We are hoping, if it doesn't prove too expensive, to have it re-assembled and made secure. The inscription said: "In loving memory of Peter, beloved husband of Dora O'Donnell, died the 8th of June 1916, aged 63 years and their granddaughter May. Darling child of Percy and Anne O'Donnell died 18th June 1918 aged 9 1/2 years. "Until the day dawns". Dora, as it happens, is there too though she has no inscription, having died at the start of the War when people had other priorities. Here is Dora on a British seaside holiday:

But she started life in Kamptee (India) in 1862, the daughter of a military man. And then married a splendid looking Irish bandmaster who took her all over the Empire (as it was). With them, is little Gladys May, their grand-daughter, born in Muree Hills (India), in 1908 and brought up eventually in England by them. Poor little mite had lost her mother, and her father was at war. So it was particularly fitting that the birds circling the trees overhead were, to our surprise, green parakeets. You can see one flying in this photo:

We also received in time for this visit a copy of "The poetry of P.A.T O'Donnell", edited by Robin Gilbert (who also wrote a biographical sketch). Robin was one of his pupils, also a poet, who has worked hard to bring the poems and sketches back into print. P.A.T. was, of course, another descendant of Peter and Dora.

Here is one of his poems, which is quite seasonal:


Furled fall, lemon and rust, in shoals to sleep
in the sun's pools, the legions of the leaves.
False, this deciduous peace.

Autumnal consummation, like a sigh
shaping the heart for rest, an amber draught,
solves the sharp thoughts that tease.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Stocking Up For The Months To Come

We've had fabulous sunny days this week , one after the other , and people .... and cats ....are snatching every chance to bask .

And those who could were making for the river

Even sewing the binding on this little quilt was a pleasure in the last of this afternoon's sun .

Meanwhile , we're overdosing on these

At this rate , I'll have as thick a layer of insulating fat as a bear . All I'll need is a cave , come the winter .

Friday, 8 October 2010

The eyes have it...


Yesterday was a day I had not been looking forward to. I had an appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital for an iridotomy. I dreaded having my eye balls prodded again, being zapped and was worried about how my eye sight would be afterwards. On the other hand, given that they warned me I was on the verge of an acute attack of sudden onset Glaucoma due to narrow angles (two minutes in a hospital and look at all the new words I get to learn!), I wasn't about to refuse the option.

I have brown eyes, and, as I learnt, this means I needed two sets of laser treatments on both eyes. It was an excrutiating experience (I won't go into details), but appears to have been succesful as the pressure in both eyes dropped. The added bonus is that the world looks a lot brighter, sharper and well defined now than it did. Now that I have stopped having to put drops in on the hour every (waking) hour, I intend to pop down to the pub to celebrate!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Boredom Threshold


I can't cope with boredom better than anyone else . I always have two books with me on train journeys and at least three crosswords . Not that I'm often bored on journeys actually. One's fellow passengers are a constant delight and the rare exception can easily be banished by an Ipod . And big stations or ferries are vastly entertaining .
But this week was exceptional . After a couple of days feeling pale and peculiar , I had a day's course on speech development in small children . ( "They learn from you , they learn from each other ". Golly ! ) One Powerpoint presentation followed another , with a pause for lunch ( Can't some people eat a lot , when it's all laid on?) And then yesterday was spent watching a Dutch party conference , all 6 hours of it , in mounting disbelief at the naivety of reasonably normal looking people , till I was reduced to yelling "Wake UP!!" at the screen . And it's not even my party ..... I weedily vote Green , since , as a foreigner , I can only vote in local elections anyway .

So today called for hyper activity .

There were buttons to sort

Material to admire and put away

Pieces to be cut out for next quilt while current quilt's border and backing had to be chosen

and last quilt's photos put in file .

My new toy had to be played with which resulted in the beginnings of a patchwork cat .

Pumpkin soup had to be made and a chicken roasted .

My latest audio book had to listened to . Many thanks to mountainear ( to be found on our sidebar ) for the lead to !

A teetering pile of guddle had to be put in tidy new boxes .....

"But this is what you do almost every weekend ", you'll say and you'd be right . But it's never boring . In fact it's oddly relaxing to potter about achieving not a lot .

But what's your idea of a good Sunday ?