Thursday, 29 December 2011

Farewell sweetheart


 We called the vets in for a home visit, and they were very kind, sensitive and careful. We were able to be with her, and that meant she was at home and comfortable at the end. Our companion for 15 years, and will be missed.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Very Merry Christmas ..


I wish you all a very merry Christmas with the people you love , excellent food , the occasional glass of something delicious and lots of good music !

Husband , Youngest Daughter and I will be munching our way through the usual turkey etc. and finishing on a literary note with a stylish Christmas pud. from Waterstone's , the bookshop in Amsterdam . And the Christmas music will be beautifully sung Polish carols from an ancient CD ( Vànocì Koledy ) I found in a junk shop .

The days when we could all be under the same roof for the holidays have passed but , as for so many other families , the phone will bring us all nearer and I , for one , am looking forward to hearing Eldest Grandson's long , rather breathless catalogue of Lego bits received and chocolate buttons eaten and Little Grandson's squawks of protest over the possible tardiness of milk delivery .

This year's Christmas Greetings are brought to you by a 1929 advertisement from a German magazine and might , with luck , mean an end to Bad Hair Days all round . And yes , I got a new plaster cast today and can move my fingers again .... hence the capital letters . Quite the best present so far !

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

" oh , have you broken your arm ? ". week 1

sonata :

the world's suddenly strangely different . i can't thread a needle or tie a bow . i can get dressed , after a fashion , but i can't do up my coat . i can't turn the pepper mill or drain the pasta . i can't put handcream on by myself but it doesn't matter because , within twenty-four hours , i realised that i couldn't do most of the things that make my skin dry , anyway . i hadn't realised how many languages i could swear in , either .

breaking your wrist and being one-handed requires a whole new battery of skills . for instance , you learn to grip things between your teeth or your feet ( this is not the time to be a denture wearer or lumbago sufferer )

mind you , the glow of sheer triumph when you get the top off the marmite jar does fade after breakfast , when you find that you can't open the shampoo bottle ( child-proof flip top ) .

still , you square your shoulders and stand plump but grubby , remembering that it's only for a few weeks ..... and , as people never tire of saying , it wasn't my right hand .

oh , and you might have noticed . i can only type one handed , so , not having any capital letters , this looks a bit odd .

Sunday, 18 December 2011

More thrift than vintage...

Smitonius says:

Before I blog about my finds yesterday, I am sure you would want to know that Sonata has had a tumble off her bike and broken her left wrist. She is in remarkable spirits though, but finding out what she can and cannot do whilst bandaged up: she is not sorry she can't peel potatoes, but is sorry she can't sew. Hope she recovers well!

There was a vintage kilo sale yesterday in London, and I was ever so curious about what one might find to buy by weight. We were rather late in the day, but the racks were still loaded. Some dreadful things you would not have wanted first time around, like a Jesus gold and red waistcoat, but lots of vintage summer dresses, leather handbags from the 1950s (I scored a black faux snakeskin one), and staples such as jumpers, sweatshirts, jeans, and more.

I grabbed almost 3 kilos for the bargain price of £30. This netted me one vintage handbag, a cute waistcoat, and 13 tops. They are more thrift than vintage, to be fair, but will be worn! I would most certainly go again, earlier and armed with sharp elbows.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Keeping a cat company


Have had a quiet day recovering from my recent eye laser treatment for Glaucoma, and keeping my cat company. She is now on medication for the kidney failure but, it has to be said, is not too happy about the whole thing so we don't think she is going to hang around for too long. Here she is posing with my new deer stalker hat:

The iridoplasty treatment has made the world an incredibly bright place, so I have taken to look like someone who needs to hide from the paparazzi: dark glasses and a brimmed hat. So I guess I have to start a new collection of brimmed hats for all seasons.....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The ( First ) Seven Days Of Christmas

Sonata: One scarf knitted and worn in lightning weekend dash to England.
Two grandsons inspected , cuddled and delighted in .
Three SinterKlaas parties held at the playschool with customary overexcitement , paper hats and presents .
Four hailstorms cycled through .
Five Christmas presents bought and one ditto card written .
Six endives blanched , wrapped in ham and gratineed .... and manfully resisted by me , depite the tantalising toasty cheese smell wafting through the house .
Seven tiny patchwork stars sewn , which only leaves another sixteen to do ...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Main Difference Between Michel Roux Jr. And Me


Well , we're probably not really culinary twins , anyway . But , as I pottered about this morning , peeling cooking pears to stew very slowly with cloves till they turn a deep rosy red , I pondered on Fine Dining , presentation and portion size .... and our approach to "plating up". Yes , it's Professional Masterchef time again .

Chef Michel's clients don't seem to have any cutlery skills . Minute mouthfuls of concentrated deliciousness are dotted about large plates , all the better to pop between refined lips . And not a pin bone or seed to cause disquiet or alarm . Which , let's face it , is probably essential in such circles , tomato pips being the conversation stoppers they are .

But I've trained my lot to be a bit more pro-active at the table . Years of eating grilled sardines in little beach cafes , gnawing their way round spare ribs and finding bayleaves in the soup have toughened them up .

I feel I can leave Husband to fish the cloves out of the syrup himself as he polishes these off

Anyway , he's just come back from the local Occupy camp looking wistful .... for two pins , he'd be down there tonight eating beans off a tin plate and enjoying a good sing-song .

P.S. No , I haven't seen New Grandson yet . Weekend flights in December are proving difficult to squeeze onto . But Smitonius is going up tomorrow , so I'll hear every detail very soon . Meanwhile , I've heard the yells and he sounds sturdy... very sturdy for a pixie !

Perhaps the fact that the first thing I saw through the mist , as I left to cycle to work after I got the news , was a young man , carrying a violin case and whistling , is a clue to who this child will become .

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Finished Object

Or , as they say in crafting Blogspeak, FO. The very little boy has finally turned up to claim his quilt.

Not, despite family fears, called Ptolemy, Horatio or Agamemnon he looks, according to his fond Papa, like a grumpy pixie. Middle Daughter is having a well-earned rest and Grandson has seen him and survived.

And we're all trying to restrain ourselves and not move in en masse, cooing .

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Their War

Like most of us , I've been remembering people this weekend .
Family stories of wartime . Grandparents , uncles and aunts memories of being evacuated to Perth or to Wales or being stuck in Rawalpindi , hoping that the Japanese could be halted in Burma , at least . Of being hauled over the coals for not laying one's WAAF uniform out neatly enough for kit inspection . Of Aunt Gladys being machine gunned by a low flying German plane in Cornwall and having to fling herself on the road . Of Aunt Grace's cousin's son in a POW camp in Italy .
Of seeing John Gielgud in Macbeth in Glasgow , before going off to fire watch for the night . Of Arctic convoys and Malta convoys and of pears costing a shilling each . Of lunch time concerts and of hearing Churchill telling the nation that Singapore had fallen . Of the introduction of soap rationing and the absence of barrow boys . Of Polish pilots and call up papers . Of Dunkirk and malaria and whale meat .
My father's sketch of himself in his new uniform , ready for anything .... though not , perhaps , being torpedoed

His mother writing that she'd seen a neighbour's son going up the road on his motorbike , with a sailor riding pillion ... and her sudden wild hope that it was him . And this photo of my mother's parents at the outbreak of the Second World War , their faces showing that they knew just what awaited them ... and their teenage sons

Friday, 4 November 2011

One Can Overdo The Self Restraint

Grandson was on the 'phone yesterday ,

"I get school dinners" ( this good fortune never fails to amaze him ) "and today I had potatoes and pizza and baked beans ."

"On the same plate ? ", I ask faintly .

"Of course!" ..... the "Why ever not ? " unspoken but clear .

"And what did you choose for pudding?"

"Strawbery Smoothie" .

My grandson , the Gourmet .

Perhaps it's a boy thing .... if there's food about , it must be eaten . Years ago , when my daughters were little , a neighbouring small boy would drop in and hover in the kitchen . If we were eating , he'd get a plate too . The contents would be hoovered up and he'd clear his throat . His deep little voice would give the verdict . "I like cheese ." .... Considered pause ...."I like more cheese".

Mind you , I don't do self restraint either . This evening Friend called . Long Tall Sally , the Mecca for tall ladies , was having a pop-up shop in Amsterdam this weekend , "would I like to go , too ?" . Having already resolved to economise this month , I should have declined . Instead short little me leapt to my feet and said YES !!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Swings And Roundabouts

The Brighton Pavilion , lovingly knitted in very fine beige wool and on display in a cafe window


Holidays are much better if you don't have any concrete plans . Revisiting favourite places ( Cigala in Conduit Street and eating the definitive prawn , for instance ) or discovering something new ( just how addictive making Pick'n'Mix mini Lego figures could be ) made this half-term visit to England great fun . The weather was glorious , so the mushroom hunt was cancelled .... too dry and sunny for a good "crop" apparently , but sitting in the sun overlooking the 2012 Olympic stadium and eating a perfect selection of smoked salmon was a delight , instead . And the bright blue skies prompted me to go to Brighton for the day on Tuesday . Now that an aged relative is dead and uneasy afternoon teas by the white grand piano ( she was a pianist of the more flamboyant kind ) are no longer necessary , I can zip about the town enjoying the enormous colour and quirkiness that fills every street . I was weak with hunger by the time I got to the little streets in the middle of town and dashed into the whole food cafe .... where I had the ugliest lunch I've ever seen *

and very tasty it was , too ! One day I must go to the Aquaria fish bar , though , simply because of the wall paintings in the patio .... aren't they gorgeous !

In fact , every street had lovely murals and grafitti .... I want this cat on my sitting room wall

Spending time with my two eldest daughters and their families , being stuffed with delicious food and being bounced on by Grandson has quite set me up for the return to work and the whirlpools , quicksands and bear traps involved in working in a system financed by a rapidly shrinking public purse . I've been to two gloomy meetings this week , we've had our annual inspection and an extremely generous preschooler has given me her horrendous cold . But I'm just wrapping my new scarf three times round my neck , stuffing my fingers in my ears and singing "La La , La-La-La ! " very loudly .....

*A baked potato filled with chick pea dhal

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Olympic Park Tour


Sonata is on a train back to Holland after her visit to London, we managed to pack in quite a few visits, but the best trip was a tour around the London Olympic Park. These tours are free, though there is a three month waiting list, and we had to get up bright and early to get there. Security is tight, and it was like checking on to a plane (off with the belt!), but was it worth it!

The site is in construction but it is now possible to imagine how attractive it is going to be when they finish landscaping it. Some bits are still being built:

Whilst others are already erected, like this one:

The most stunning building has to be the velodrome:

Here is a close up:
When it is all over, it will be a park worth visiting, already the place is teaming with wildlife, we saw lots of birds like a kestrel, and cormorants, coots, ducks, swans... there are a few waterways and something like 30 bridges.

And, today, when I checked the bank account I saw that some money has been debited by the Olympic people so we must have got some tickets for the paralympics (neither of us can remember what on earth we asked for though!).

After such a visit there is only one place to go, over to Fish Island to taste some Forman's Salmon.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011



Autumn seems to be edging in ... it's difficult to tell through the gloom . The pre-schoolers are beginning to stagger in , enthusiastically clutching huge bags of chestnuts , acorns , cobnuts , wet leaves and woodlice for the Autumn table . Eric Carle's spider book is read to shreds and toadstool houses for gnomes are being made and sung about .

Next week it's half-term ( yes , I know , it does rather look as though I'm hardly ever at work ! ) and I'm going to England for the week . A full programme of great things to do has been organised, including a mushroom hunt in Pitchbury Wood ( near Colchester ) . Luckily my Festival-going stripey wellie boots are still in London , given the rooting about that will surely be involved . My Russian cookbook has loads of wild mushroom recipes , all of which sound deliciously fortifying so we'll have to hope that we find lots ! If I do see a red spotted toadstool with resident gnome , I'll make sure I take a photo for you , though actually I'm hoping more for a glimpse of Queen Boadicea's ghost ( she fought a battle nearby ) .

By Wednesday I'll turn myself into Granny Train and head north , ready to put my mini Lego building skills to the test and to hear all about the new delights of School Dinners . "I-take-a-purse-and-PAY-MYSELF-and-eat-sausages-and-mashed-potatoes-and-baked beans-and-chocolate-cake-for-pudding" . "Every day?" . "Yes " says Middle Daughter . He's growing exponentially .... upwards , luckily .

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Colouring In

As a child ... a happy child , I hasten to add ..... I fantasised about being somebody else entirely . Part of a circus , or living in a gypsy caravan or , better still , on a barge . Too much exposure to Laura Knight perhaps . Actually it wouldn't suit me at all . I'm far too untidy . But when we all went to the Cropredy Festival this summer , I discovered to my delight that the festival site was next to a canal lined with beautiful painted barges

Middle Daughter found me a colouring book for my birthday

full of castles and roses , the traditional decorations for English canal boats and I've been having great fun colouring them in , while swigging coffee from her other present .

It has provided a little , much needed , relief from The Great Quiltathon that finishing this ( decidely unminiature) quilt became

By the time I'd got round the 334th handsewn piece I'd had enough . The ( very) little boy I've made it for had better cherish it unto the third generation .

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I Would Like To Thank Willie And Merle , Emmylou And Dolly ...


Without Willie Nelson , Merle Haggard , Emmylou Harris and dear Dolly

this would not have been possible .They kept me company all weekend as I painted the hall ... endlessly .

Thanks are due , too , to the very nice young man in the DIY megastore who mixed the exact shade of red* I'd had in mind and restrained me from buying far too much , reassuring me that he could mix more , if needed , in a jiffy . And forebore to point out that , next time , it might be an idea to measure the room I intend to paint .

And last , but not least , to my oven which supplied a constant stream of baked potatoes to keep body and soul together . ( It's astonishing what you can fill a baked potato with , when you're famished . I didn't realise , either , exactly how much chili I'd stored in the freezer .)

*This Rie Cramer postcard

De Familie van Muizesteijn ( 1931) , helped in the choice of colour . I'd love to find a frameable print of it .

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the finish of the paintwork leaves a little to be desired . Actually , I think it's just the successive coats of paint , however applied , that keep this house standing . The wall shown has more filler than plasterwork , by now .

Oh , and if you're not at least on nodding acquaintance with Willie and Co. , you must see Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan singing Pancho and Lefty . It's on YouTube and is definitely extraordinary .... whether you'll like it or not , remains to be seen . But might make you giggle as much as I did .... or was it just the paint fumes ?.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fishy Business


although the summer is behind us now, and the weather has turned autumnal (though many felt they didn't much have a Summer in UK) I wanted to share some seasonal foody pics. The lighthouse above is on the Isle of Man, which I visited one recent weekend. It was a magical day, as the tail end of the hurricane Irene stole all the clouds away. As I stood on the shore, a seal popped his (or her head) above the waves, looked quizzically at me and then swam away. Although his lunch would not have been served on a plate, mine was

A fitting final fish of the Summer season, which has been full of fishy delights. For instance, one recent weekend, we discovered a fine fish and chip restaurant in the area. It serves oysters too:

And our fishmonger, as we like to think of the fish stall in Broadway market, sold us some nice fish as well, including these delicious Venus clams.

Though that all looks like fine dining, we have also "slummed" it in Folkestone, eating a pint of prawns in the harbour:

I expect some of you may now be hankering after something fishy now? I might have to have a salmon bagel for lunch today or some sushi....

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Bring It On!


The Autumn term seems to have started with high winds , storms and torrential rain and , failing a huge lottery win (a ticket might help) and a Mediterranean cruise , we are destined to get a lot wetter , colder and more windswept before our next stab at al fresco dining .

With this in mind , I've been poring over my two new cookery books for hearty winter warmers .

Smitonius sent me a copy of exerpts from Colonel Wyvern's "Notes From Madras" reprinted by Penguin .... isn't the cover pretty! ... and I'm delighted to find plenty of good advice on how to produce "good Anglo-Indian food in the Victorian style with the ingredients available"... and a full kitchen staff . The Quoorma ( sic) definitely sounds yummy and ribsticking .

And I'm also delighted to say I've found another 70s' classic . "Russian Cooking" , author unknown , by Mir Publishing , Moscow in 1974 . While some of the recipes are downright strange , others like Beef braised with Quince would definitely be worth a try and Potato Soup With Sturgeon's Head is just a filling plain-ish chowder , good for winter lunches . After all , all I'd need to do is find a sturgeon .

I won't be making Sprat Pudding though . Layers of sprats , salt pork and potatoes baked in a sort of cheese custard might be nourishing , but won't be making an appearance here . Nor will an equally filling dessert , Lentils And Dried Apricots ( Soaked dried apricots , drained and gently fried with minced onion , seasoned with salt and pepper , with a cupful of cooked lentils , some chopped walnuts and coriander added before serving .)

But whatever I produce will have to involve using my lovely new toy .

Such a practical gadget , startlingly simple and brilliant . I love it !

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Just One Last "Big Day Out" Before I Get Down To Work Again


Antwerp , yesterday , was cold and wet , boarded up and covered in builders rubble . Even one or two of the hundreds of statues of Our Lady , which grace every corner of the city , weren't immune .

But Pain Quotidien still provided a tasty sandwich and big bowl of coffee plus the usual interesting dive down steep cellar stairs to the loo .

Boogkeers and the area round it had been prettily yarnbombed

and the recycling shop round the corner had , as always , a pre-dieu for sale among the flotsam of unwanted chairs and a couple of very quiltable '60s remnants .

This cat tried to persuade me that it needed to be adopted

and I would have adopted these tiles , if I could .

A good Day Out to finish off the summer holidays . Only one more year to go , now . This time next year , I'll be relishing the prospect of sitting with my feet up , coffee and crossword in hand , all winter long .But now it's time to gird up my loins , dust off the recipes for wholesome soups and knit the annual wooly scarf . ( In Noro Kureyon in a mix of charcoal , chestnut and spice ) .

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Any Excuse To Have A Blow-Out


Cue flags and choir ... I'm a year older ! Ever the party animal , I've chosen to celebrate my birthday this year by going to Ikea . There will even be a sandwich and as-many-cups-of-coffee-as-we-can-drink involved and Husband will have a slice of apple cake as well , because he's Dutch and Dutch people eat apple cake at every opportunity , even after prawn sandwiches .

I will even be giving myself a present .... a scarf-hanger . I seem to have acquired thousands of really pretty ones this summer ( it's Recession Chic , apparently , to jazz up last year's wardrobe with affordable accessories . They're kind to the somewhat older neckline , too . Not that that has anything to do with it ... that's next year .) Anyway , I've got tired of searching through a pile of silky slipperiness every time I want to add a touch of glamour to my Uniqlo white tshirts , so a proper Storage Solution seems sensible .

Youngest Daughter has recently turned thirty and said that on Saturday she got her first Older-Person -Alert !! reaction from some people at a party . She'd remarked that she remembered watching the fall of the Berlin Wall . Stunned silence .... "You remember the 198os ? Wow!"

Well , as one who remembers the 1950s .... ALL of the 1950s... I'm off to wrap a scarf artfully round my neck ... and PARTY!!