Monday, 28 December 2009

Small Island

Amazing island home. The snow is still inches thick on the north facing slopes but today I was fed up with it and we drove to the coast at Littlehampton where it was a positively balmy 8c. We are about as far as anywhere from the coast so it took a good couple of hours to do the eighty odd miles but was worth it. Low tide, wide skies, everyone taking the air: kids on Christmas bikes, oldies on scooters and zimmers, skaters, walkers, runners and lots of dogs. Especially retired greyhounds. Ate at the East Beach Cafe which was, deservedly, packed and walked along the beach and around the harbour to Climping.
Swans prettily on the River Arun which runs down from Arundel where we stopped and looked at the castle, now closed for the winter, and the Wetlands Centre. We will go again.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow birds

This is the crab apple tree outside my bedroom window. Today, the sixth day of snow, it was covered in birds - except when I tried to photograph them! There was a whole flock of Redwings, blue and coal tits, chaffinches, a robin, a blackbird and a huge pigeon all snacking on the overripe crab apples. Yesterday, in the bitter cold soon after dawn, a little wren picked its way along my kitchen windowsill searching for insects. As the window cracks are usually full of hibernating ladybirds and lacewings I hope it found some breakfast.
Today was grey and foggy, warmer with snow plopping off the trees by late afternoon and this evening the rain blew in with several claps of thunder to finish the job off. I was fed up with it. De-icing the chickens and burning the clutch on icy roads and slushy pavements and not getting to the pool. I am such a wuss!

Sunday, 20 December 2009


It snowed on Thursday night, almost two months later than last year's exceptionally early fall when the leaves were still on the trees. It had been threatening for a few days and was bone cold when the blizzard blew in. On Friday it was enough to clear a patch of grass in front of the hen house and retreat indoors. I spent the day cleaning and washing which was a good thing as I had not given it a good go since half term in October, v slutty.
Saturday was still icy but the sun shone so we walked and I managed to get the car out which was another good thing as we had eighteen for lunch today and I had to shop. I concocted a gorgeously festive coleslaw but as my camera is snowed in at work there is no photo. This is the recipe!
Gorgeous Pink Coleslaw
A red onion, half a smallish red cabbage, a couple of smallish beetroot and a Granny Smith's apple allfinely sliced and shredded. A good tablespoon of wine vinegar and a handful of lemon thyme leaves. Give it all a really good mix so that everything is coated in the wine vinegar and won't discolour. At this point it looks really beautiful. Then mix in a few tablespoons of mayonnaise to your taste and a light sprinkling of black pepper. It looks a bit pinker now but still quite glamourous. Best left in the fridge overnight fro the veggies to soften very slightly and the flavours to permeate. Serves 10 as a side. Everyone said it tasted yummy!
When my coffee grinder and liquidiser both broke earlier this year I bought a Kenwood food processor but there are so many bits it rather puts me off using it. And it fills a whole cupboard. And then it is so quick that you almost feel it is a waste of time getting it out. It does chop more finely and evenly than I do but I rather feel I need to start a catering business to justify it!

I love beetroot but had never thought of using it in stew before and as it turns out I wish I had thought of it sooner. It gives a lovely rich colour as well as a sweet, earthy taste.

Lamb and Beetroot Hotpot

Chop and gently fry a couple of shallotts and a couple of leeks. Chop and put into a large casserole dish: a couple of carrots, a couple of turnips, a small swede and a few beetroot - anything in that line you fancy really. Chuck in the fried leeks and shallotts and in the pan brown two neck fillets of lamb cut into cubes. When brown add to pot and pour a few glasses of wine, beer or fruit juice into the pan along with a vegetable stock cube. Stir in all the caramelised veggie bits and after a couple of minutes add to the pot with a large tablespoonful of black treacle and stir well. Season with a little salt and pepper. Slice a couple of potatoes and layer on the top dotted with crushed garlic and butter. Press down into the liquid and put on the lid. Put into a hot - 200 degrees c oven and turn down to about 160 after half an hour. Continue to cook for at least another two hours but three is even better. Check after a couple of hours to make sure there is still enough liquid. Even better cooked the night before and warmed up for half an hour when you get in from a hard days work! Serves 4 or 2 and freeze the rest for next week.. You can also leave off the potato top and serve with mashed parsnips and potatoes - that way your partner doesn't realise he is getting the same thing two weeks running - mine didn't anyway!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I had a mind to write tonight but first I had a little comment moderation to do and I am so glad I did that. Thank you gals, I am so happy to know I am not just spouting off into the ether or indulging in a bit of therapy - which of course I am...
Miss Whistle is blue. I hadn't heard of 'the blahs' before but I know just how she feels. I call it ennui but there are many different translations of this so for the sake of clarity mine is a feeling of tetchy listlessness: I can't be bothered to get up and go and I even annoy myself. Not today you understand, but too often, especially at this time of year. Today was that nasty grey, wettish cold that is no good for anything but frizzing up your hair, but today I had a mission so all was well. When I feel ennui I don't write my blog or walk or cook and I am perfectly horrible but usually I keep that to myself - thank you Miss Whistle for sharing.
I actually ordered one of those SAD lamps which I feel is pretty sad in itself but having acknowledged my order there has been a long silence from 'the healing store', though funnily enough I feel much better!
Miss Whistle likes my header and I am over the moon about that because I don't think I've had a comment on my header (which I change very often) for ages. Her guess was very close.This valley runs almost parallel to the Golden Valley, from Nettleden to Little Gaddesden and if you took a footpath past that tree on the right and up the hill you would reach Amaravati, the buddhist monastery I have mentioned before. This view changes daily with the seasons and the weather and the most amazing pic I have of it was taken in the summer of '08 when the farmer had a bit of an Andy Goldworthy moment. If you haven't seen it do take a look - I save it in my 'best pics' folder which has only three pictures in it as I am a perfectionist at heart.
This is the robin I stole from Miss Whistle's post because.....outside my office window a robin has been singing at dawn and even after dusk all week . It has really cheered me up and I kept meaning to do a quick bit of internet research on it. You can follow the link (I do love links) or read it here: I am sure that this is the Spring song. Yes, from mid December the Spring song can be heard: 'powerful, confident and upbeat'. Apparently robins are well adapted to low light conditions and are often the first bird to begin the dawn chorus. This one is definitely looking for a mate. I always think they look a bit brash on Christmas cards, but I am so glad I was prompted to find out a bit more. Thank you Robin!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


If you have a bike in the shed, like me, and maybe that bike should be got out of your shed more often, like mine, log on to the Minx website and feast your eyes on all the fab fashion for gals on bikes. As well as the gear there is a blog (a bit scary but some awesome females out there) and really good advice. Yep, those minx girls will tell you if your bum looks big in that and they will give you the confidence to not give a damn. They really will talk you through what you need and what will fit and they will take it back too if you are not happy with it. I love those minxes......but I wish they did sailing stuff too. My best tip: three quarter length, capris, whatever are sooo much more flattering than shorts, and they need only be a couple of inches longer. Just over your knees girls and you will look great summer or winter. If you don't get the bike thing just look at this jacket - no argument really is there? You know you want it!

Monday, 14 December 2009


If you haven't heard me raving about Jasper FForde before, listen up now. I first heard of him when I read The Eyre Affair about eight years ago and the heroine, Thursday Next, really rivals Jane in my book - or his...

The Thursday series, of which there are five with another on the way, are a fabulously idiosyncratic read on the very edge of sci-fi. Cunningly wrought plots and clever but never clever - clever references to the classics, with which our literary heroine is highly familiar in her role as Spec Ops detective for Jurisfiction, make compelling reading. I have read them all and listened to several which the library have on CD (support your local library!) and could easily read them all again.

Don't be put off by the deliberately trashy covers or the cult website, just take my advice and get to know Thursday, my twentieth century heroine. Except when she is my nineteenth century heroine.... oh just read it and find out!

I did not like the Nursery Rhyme series, but reading the excerpt from Shades of Grey I feel myself being sucked in to Jasper's world once more..... click on the title for the link.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

On Wanting 'Stuff'

It has been so mild I can hardly believe that Christmas is just around the corner. Unusually for me I am really well prepared - cards sent, presents wrapped, parties arranged and as of today tree and lights up. Some years I have shopped on Christmas Eve, done Meals on Wheels on Christmas Day and last year not even bothered to put the tree up - my kids were horrified! I really wouldn't mind forgetting all about X and going for a long walk along the beach with coffee and sandwiches but it seems that would worry them, so if I must be conventional I will try (this year a bit harder) to do it right.
One problem is being torn between a desire to live simply and give away all that stuff I don't need or use, and the strong pull of consumerism. The thing is I love stuff.
I love, shiny,beautiful, comfortable, cosy, colourful things. I love sofas and throws and duvets and bath stuff, and earrings and perfume and chocolate and roses and my bantams and all sorts of stuff I could do perfectly well without. And though I dream of a one room stone cottage in the middle of nowhere all sorts of details creep in at the edges of my picture of uncluttered and solitary bliss - the big comfy sofa covered in pillows and throws, the old cream Aga with cast iron casseroles and copper bottomed pans, the deep, white bath and pile of towels, the tall, crammed bookcase, the potter's wheel, the kiln in the back yard, oh, and my sewing machine.
Chickens are a must, a pig inevitable, a couple of sheep and a dog if I'm not working.... getting a bit manic now! But who can live without sheepskin slippers and warm boots and at least a couple of pairs of decent jeans and a whole drawer full of socks and hand knitted jumpers. And there would have to be spare beds too because I can't imagine not having my grandsons stay over. It's just not going to happen but the dream lives on......
So here I am again, Christmas is coming, I am completely out of control and half of it will have to go to the charity shop in the New Year. But to assuage some of these deep cravings for warmth and comfort and satisfaction I am just going to indulge myself here with a few pics of some of the stuff I don't want to do without, even if I could if I really, really tried......
I love coffee, black or white but always with sugar and especially with turkish delight.

Every day I wear this gorgeous perfume by Estee Lauder - it is called Delights and it smells of sugar and vanilla and candyfloss and is perfectly juvenile and delicious. I love the packaging too - it is sooo stripy and the exact right shade for the scent.

As I write I am wearing these incredibly comfy and cosy sheepskin slipper socks - my daughter makes fun of them but I know that if she put them on I would never get them back.

I have just finished reading this book - it is as good as the cover. I love books with good covers! and I love Charlie and Lola, and Rupert Bear and Quentin Blake.

And this little tamworth is the one I would have curled up next to the Aga and if the yard stretched to an acre or so it would be Giant Buff Cochins scratching in it and laying my eggs for tea!
Hmm. I feel a whole lot better for this!