Monday, 31 December 2012

Room For Improvement

I've got a lamentable record as far as keeping New Year Resolutions , so this year I've rethought the whole thing .
I've decided just to concentrate on a couple of things where there is room for improvement ( yes , I know there are several areas that could be tweaked ... but to have any chance of success it's better to be realistic ) . So here goes ....
1 ) Remember this at all times , flossing with fervour every night , even when on holiday 

2 ) Play that wretched Pilates DVD at least once and remember that a lady never slouches

3 ) Surprise family and friends with unusual vegetables

Oh yes , and
4 ) Read even more vintage cookery books . These illustrations , from Economical , Easy & Tasty Fish Recipes and Countess Morphy's veg book , came in a packet of four such treasures from Smitonius and Partner , beautifully wrapped for Christmas .
Meanwhile , A Happy New Year to you all from Smitonius and me ! I hope 2013 is kind to us all .

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas 2012

Every Christmas is the same and every Christmas is different .
Some things never change ... mountains of spare ribs on Christmas Eve , turkey , and just rescuing the Christmas pud. before it boils dry. Stockings , too many olives , television , the lights fusing , lots of 'phone calls and the firm intention of going for a walk ... in just a minute . Exotic biscuits , running out of clean mugs again , pistachio shells  underfoot , a strange new gadget , and new cookery books .
This year for a change , we added a bit of slapstick to it all in the shape of toast  . Sitting in the kitchen , pondering with Youngest Daughter when the best time was to put the turkey in the oven , I suddenly noticed that she had smoke coming out of her ears ....
It took a second to realise that it was coming from the toaster right behind her . As she jumped up having smelled the charring and popped up the smouldering  remains , I switched on the extractor fan , she opened the front and back doors , I ran with the two black rectangles to the Green bin  , and the smoke alarm kicked in . That's the smoke alarm which is up at ceiling level in our very high ceilinged hall .... the one that neither of us could reach to switch off .
Resourceful to a fault she leapt about underneath it , swatting at it with a mop till she'd knocked it off the ceiling and stopped the noise , I waved weakly at the neighbour across the street and closed the front door and Husband appeared wondering what we were up to  .
Coffee restored the calm ,  our presents were lovely and lunch was delicious , if a little late . Husband  spent a bemused half-hour reading the instruction leaflet from his Build Your Own Banjo kit from Middle Daughter , YD buried herself in Giorgio Locatelli's Made In Sicily and I got acquainted with Johnny Depp courtesy of Smitonius and Partner ....

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Odd Bit Of Christmas Music

Sonata :
It still seems a little unreal this year but it's nearly Christmas ! Not that the music so far has been much of a clue . All the shops in town seem to subscribe to the same muzak channel which plays every Christmas song Dolly Parton's ever sung with a occasional guest appearance from Kenny Rogers .
 On a street corner , there was a man playing "Jingle Bells " very slowly on a penny whistle and an unlikely chap in the pharmacy this afternoon started " O , Denneboom   ... " until silenced with a look by the pharmacist . Well , I could see her point ... he might have had the odd mulled wine or two since lunch
 But the only Christmas song worth listening to so far has been from Elder Grandson ...
"We're singing carols for the Nativity play at school "
"How lovely ! Could you sing one for me ? "
" Well , I don't know , it's very long ... and a bit rude "
"Oh ? And you're singing it for the Nativity play ? "
"Yes , we all are , even though it's a bit long and not very polite "
"Well , I'd love to hear it "
Huge intake of breath ...
" We wish you a Merry Christmas,
 We wish you a Merry Christmas,
 We wish you a Merry Christmas ,
 And a Happy New Year  ...
 Good tidings we bring ,
 To you and your kin ,
 We wish you a Mery Christmas ,  And A Happy New Year

Another huge intake of breath ..." This is the rude bit now , Granny ! "

"Now bring us some figgy pudding ,
 Now bring us some figgy pudding ,
 Now bring us some figgy pudding
 And bring some right here ...

Another deep breath ...

"And we won't go until we've got some ,
 And we won't go until we've got some ,
 And we won't go until we've got some ,
 So bring some right here ....

see , I did tell  you it was a bit rude . "
I hope a big part of him stays five for ever .

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

To Be Honest , Left to Myself .....

 I'd probably have chosen to have a cat but somehow we seem instead to have been adopted by a butterfly . A red one . Yes , in December ....
He spends all day in the sitting room , snoozing and staring out of the window and flies around a lot in the evening . He's very companionable , sitting next to me on the sofa

 peering over occasionally to see if I'm as keen on the television programme as he is . He really likes the news and the impending Royal birth is of particular interest  . He flies over and sits on the screen for the updates , though that might have more to do with all the flash photography every time anyone comes out of the hospital .
Before the Dutch version of the RSPCA get too worried in case I'm about to make a habit of enticing wild life into the house , I should really point out that I haven't kidnapped him and if I could persuade him to hibernate till it was safe for him to leave again I would . But I suspect he's like the dried one I found in the cupboard upstairs in the summer , seasonally challenged . He wouldn't like it outside today anyway .
There's a wonderfully swirling snow storm and freezing slush out there . In here there's stew , stoofperen and wine , the house smells of cloves and there're are Christmas cards to write . And for B'fly  there's a bowl of water and the promise of another Paparazzi extravagaza on the News at Ten .

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Quite A Few Shades Of Grey

The tail end of Autumn has been horrid this year  . The whole world seems to have gone grey .... every shade from anthracite and charcoal to dust and fag-ash . So I feel  the least I can do is to offer a couple of splashes of colour seen around this week :
This shimmering golden poster for a ballet company

some wreaths in the market

and my favourite , these two old illustrations , artist unknown , that I found in a Collector's Fair last Saturday .

A visit to the playschool and a therapeutic half hour making things out of plasticine with giggly three-year-olds , television with the BBC series "Last Tango In Halifax" and culinary adventures in Professional Masterchef , and a wonderfully bouncy CD  "Congolese Soukous"  which promises 'guitar action from the heart of danceness' have all made sure that , grey or not , ít's been a good week .
And may I wish you all a wonderful and cosy weekend ....

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Determined To Have Fun

She who leaves everything , including using a free day travel card , to the last minute can't be picky , which is why I ended up in Utrecht on the coldest , foggiest day of the week . Luckily , I'd put on layers of warm clothes  ( though drew the line at the 1930's stomach warmer above, pattern available on request , since it looks rather itchy )  and could spend a happy half-hour doing what retired chaps /chapesses do everywhere and watch men dig holes . 

Not having the level of expertise the other spectators had , it took me a while to work out how they'd got the heavy machinery down there . And then a large barge went past with a crane ... Duh !
Then it was time to thaw out and the Museum of Modern Aboriginal Art is just the place to do it . The permanent exhibition on the top floor was a mass of warm ochre , caramel and chocolate and the Education Room was full of local children's own wonderful interpretations of aboriginal paintings .
Actually , Utrecht is full of colour and paintings even on gloomy days .

It's satisfyingly full of little shops , odd corners and little alleyways and you can always find something new . I loved these paintings , stuck in a window of a silent , empty building

and definitely wanted this Azbekhistani rug to tuck over my knees on the journey home .

Talking of which , by this stage I was chilled to the bone and resisted this last temptation on the corner of a sidestreet

and caught the next train home instead .

Sunday, 11 November 2012

SO Busted !

Today, it's St.Martin's Day and the evening Dutch children celebrate his life by going house to house after dark , carrying home-made lanterns and singing songs in the hope of being rewarded with sweets . So it was a surprise to open the door this afternoon , shortly after lunch  , to a tiny , very perky "ghost" and friend who promptly burst into song , a lively rendition of  "Saint Martin , Saint Martin , the cows have tails ...."  ( it sounds better in the original ) ... ending in a grand Al Jolson flourish and extra Tah-Dah !! Irrepressible as ever , the little girl from a few doors down was delighted to be given some cake by YD , who was tickled by their chutzpah .
Fast forward to 7.30 .... and a puzzled mum trying to haul carefully polished daughter out from behind her , "Oh come on , don't be shy , poppet  They'd love to hear you sing , wouldn't you? "
" Oh yes , don't be shy . I'd love to hear a St Martin's song . Do you know any ? "
So we all sang along , while lantern waggled and saucer eyes peered round mum's legs , begging not to be given away .
And I didn't . I just popped a chocolate bar in her goodie bag and wished YD hadn't  missed the encore .

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Foraging for mushrooms


Our local farmer's market has a stall which is run by the Mushroom Man (well, his name is Matthew actually). In the Autumn he organizes foraging walks in a wood near Colchester, and this year (unlike last year) there were mushrooms to be found. About 15 or so people, most of us unknown to each other, gathered on the fringes of the wood to be split up into three groups: one of whom I found myself calling 'the Mushroom Warriors', as the strapping lads stomped off to the ramparts (there are remains of an Iron Age settlement nearby). Our group tentatively and quietly set off, all eyes to the foliage covered ground and soon spotted our first (edible) mushroom.

Just look at how well disguised it is in among the leaves. It was relatively tricky to spot them until you learned about which types liked to grow near which trees. My other half was determined to find a parasol mushroom, and had been told to look among the holly, and there was sucess:

That came home and ended up in a risotto later that evening. Of course, not all the mushrooms were edible, although quite striking like this one straight out of a fairy tale:

 These little ones, like butterflies resting on a branch, are not edible as too tough but are believed to help cancer sufferers if made into a tea:

And, as we walked, all of our group quiet and focused found out about mushrooms and also a little about each other: the one whose father would benefit from drinking this mushroom tea, or where recent holidays had been spent, or who had rudimentary Latin. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon and concluded with a mushroom fry up. All the groups did well, our basket was fairly filled with Wood Blewits, among others. The 'Mushroom warriors', of course, found the rather dramatic looking beefheart mushroom (apologies for blurry photo of their basket). Can you spot it?

And, as we all said farewell, their leader was seen to hold it aloft in one hand and a knife in the other in order to carve up the spoils. I kid you not, mushroom foraging can bring out the wild one within.... and, after all, we were in Queen Boudicca's part of the world.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Thankyou , Rosemary !

                           Mary Isabella Grant ,  Painted by Sir Frances Grant
Sonata :
This morning it was suddenly only one degree Celsius outside , so it's just as well I'm not waiting for my new cardi . Still , I'm knitting away and the front's now finished ( both sides are even the same length ! ) and ten inches of the back and there's still all of November to go before it gets really chilly  .... 
The trouble is I've only really knitted scarves before , so I'm helpless once the instructions get technical . Rib to end of row held no fears  , neither did k. or p.   But the sudden appearance of p.u.k. nearly prompted a rhyming expletive .YouTube tutorials are good , though I probably look like the little girl in the middle here while watching them 

 but then I remembered I had my own personal tutor sitting on a shelf in the sitting room . Written in 1951 by Rosemary Brinley for Foyles Handbooks , Crafts For Girls says calmly and firmly " it is worth learning to do things in the easiest and correct manner " so I washed my hands , put on my Needlework apron and breathed deeply . And she's right .  I'll be swathed in faultlessly executed mohair cosiness by Christmas Eve .
And maybe I'll have enough time to make a few presents from the book , too . There are instructions for nightdress cases , silver paper pictures ( remember those ?) , shoe bags and comb cases . Actually it's a pity I don't have some of the other volumes in the series . Caravan Construction , for instance , Boat Building or Crinothene Craft . Never mind , there's plenty of time till Christmas 2013 .

P.S . To any of you who read my last entry and now think I'm tiny ... Liz kindly said petite .... I'm actually five foot five inches  , so not exactly elfin . After a few other customers had the same problem , the Eko shop have reset their doors . I can get in !!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Rather Porridge Than Steroids

There's a very nice health shop in town ... well , actually , there are two  but the other one's more for things like Devil's Claw or Mega Ginseng Brain Food supplements .  So I go to the plain one that reckons that organic is good and affordable organic is even better . And anyway , they're the only place in town with Jumbo oats which I mix with the ordinary kind to produce my own Mega Brain Food ... hearty porridge .
So if you're ever in town ... not totally unlikely since Leeuwarden is now officially a candidate for European Culture Capital in 2018 .... and you're admiring the very fine Art Nouveau pharmacy , take a quick look down the alley at the side .You might catch a glimpse of me trying to get into the Eko winkel . According to the large-ish young man behind the till  , my "profile" isn't big enough to be recognised by their new automatic doors . We reckoned I should eat more porridge .

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Darker Evenings , Soup And Jumpers

While I was off on my hols. , Summer seems to have vanished and winter's looming again . Since I only live a five minute bike ride from a well-stocked supermarket , I don't really need to line the cave with strings of berries and salted haunches of wild boar but somehow the prospect of a Fresian winter does turn one's mind to the laying in of plentiful supplies .
 Besides which , I've just watched Les dèlices du petit
 monde , a documentary about Erminio and Attilia who live in the Val d 'Aoste and have been  married for over fifty years .

They share a passion for the traditional mountain cooking and the film follows them through the year gathering wild oregano , filling bins in their barn with potatoes and chestnuts , picking juniper berries and making huge mounds of polenta or risotto with the tips of young nettles and rabbit slowly stewed  with mustard .
Given that I don't live in the Alps with a huge wood oven , I made Harira instead
with lots of chickpeas , lentils , paprika and cinnamon and settled down this afternoon to knit a tension square for my "apprentice piece" . Not the Mad Men cardi but one from a much simpler Emu pattern  using a second  big bag of passed-on mohair , thicker than the peacock
greeny-blue and a slightly brighter shade

( The '80s are back with a vengeance , have you noticed ? It makes one feel rather old watching all the young girls at vintage fairs leaping on garments one has worn quite recently ! ) . The wool feels beautifully warm and even I should be able to knit it up fairly quickly . Should this go well , who knows ?  I can see retirement transforming me ...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wow, the paralympics was amazing


It is still sinking in, we were really there! Although we watched the Olympics on screen, we did manage to get tickets to the Paralympics. One day pass on Wednesday, and one day pass with stadium on Friday. We only went in the afternoon on Wednesday, assuming that we would only be able to wander around the park and figure out where things were. Prepared, we had no liquids, packed a small bag, went though check-in and scanners (just like at an airport), and smiled. To be honest, I think it was against the IOC to do anything other than smile. The volunteers were amazingly cheerful and would high-five you, wave, ask perky questions, smile, if anything vaguely resembling a straight face (or, heaven forbid, a frown) passed ones face.

What we were not aware of was that the day pass entitled us to watch some sports like wheelchair tennis or rugby and 7-aside. So, we found ourselves watching Great Britain (or 'Team GB' as we all chanted) play 7-aside football and beat USA in the blistering heat.

Then we were swept with loads of people to queue for the wheelchair rugby or murderball.

Partner and I became instant fans. The game is wonderfully insane, like human dodgems, and yet the rules are easy to follow after a while (thanks to a wonderful commentator) and there is a cool level of humour - when one of the players faults in some way or another, he is sent out of the play area and the song that is played is 'Bad Boys'.

Exhilarated, we left that evening considering doing a marathon Friday in order to see as much as possible.

So, on Friday, we packed in lots of wheelchair tennis, watching Holland take all the medals in the women's singles and 'Team GB' women's double play hard to beat Thailand (who gave them a good and graceful run for the medal, but eventually lost),

had champagne and fish nibbles,

and strawberries and cream, and cup cakes (I think these are almost obligatory, I mean the cup cakes... )

and went to the stadium. This was akin to walking into a cathedral for the first time. My breath was taken away when I saw how close to the track we had seats.

A medley of flying disks, women long jumping, javelins, short races, long races, accompanied races, and a lot of flag waving and stadium madness ensued. The noise is deafening, like they kept saying.

I hope it is not too optimistic to consider that this event will make some difference to British culture, from the small gesture of seeing more smiles to the potentially revolutionary change that appreciating paralympic sports can bring to society as a whole. Personally, I am planning to watch much more! (not sure I can keep up the high level of smiling though... ).

. Link

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Shabby Chic ... To Just Shabby In The Space Of A Week .

Sonata :
As we wandered along a street lined with cafes , Smitonius was heard to murmur , "To moules or not to moules ....". Since , by this stage , we'd eaten our own weight in Moules Frites all weekend .... when we weren't eating yards of baguette stuffed with ham .... we rather fancied something else . So couscous it was .
Smitonius and partner , Friend and I had met in Lille last weekend for the Braderie , so in need were we yet more delightful vintage knick-knacks to decorate our houses . Actually we were all fairly restrained , though I seem inadvertently to have bought four 1950's Femmes d'Aujourd'hui

a 1939 programme of the Carnaval de Nice

a little recipe book for Le Tip ( a sort of post-war margarine , I think )

and a modern fish cookbook .

I can't comment on the others' impulse buys ..... but at least we didn't need those awful tartan shopping trolleys that the true afficionados were busy knee-capping everyone else with .

If you're after Shabby Chic , Lille is just the place for you . I'm always amazed by how much 1920s and '30s stuff still exists , not to mention odd , sometimes very odd , 1950s bits . I can't think how this was used ... little plates of very flat nibbles at cheese and wine parties , perhaps?

Later in the week , once back in Holland , I found myself in a tiny museum in Utrecht , De Volksbuurt Museum which is housed in a little old school in a formerly very poor neighbourhood , Wijk C . They'd filled it with minute , though actually life-size , mockups of homes and shops . At the turn of the last century families were often crammed into one tiny room with no lighting , running water or ventilation . Hardly anyone earned the bare weekly wage deemed neccessary then to sustain a family and scrabbled for money where they could . The shoemender earned a bit extra by going round at dawn waking those fortunate to have a job to go to , up , mothers bought pot herbs at the central market and sold them door to door , someone sold buckets of hot water on washday , someone else hired out a mangle .

Seeing all this made Lille's Shabby Chic look positively luxurious . Though I would happily have bought these anywhere....

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Three Cats And A Gadget

Absolutely nothing of any interest happened this week . It rained , sometimes the sun shone . The house didn't fall down and we ate omniverously , but in moderation . I even noticed in time that my favourite mug's handle was cracked across and avoided a lapful of tea .So all I've got to show you is three cats and a gadget .

First this nifty and rather beautiful wooden bread slicer ( c. 1920s ) which I coveted the moment I saw it in a small cabinet in the corner of an old church . Once used by a small religious community in Leiden , I feel it would be a great success these days in foodie circles , given the interest in good bread .

And , because there are times when I still miss having one .... three very fine cats .

This one seemed to want to be a cheerleader

This one was carved by Johan Coenraad Altorf in 1939 as part of a wall panel for a Den Haag board room

And this one was added by Middle Daughter to a card she sent a few days ago and echoes my sentiments precisely

Oh yes , and I had a birthday .