Woolly ripples and rose pink stitches…

nannys-face-powder-socks

Over the weekend I shared a wee peep of these beautiful socks I managed to finally cast off over the Winter holidays, they weren’t a fast knit for me by any means as they took just over 3 months to knit (though, as always, I was making other things at the same time) but I can say I am very proud to look down and see these pink poppets on my toes….

I’d bought the lovely rose pink sock yarn from Meadowyarn in the Spring last year, it’s the Exmoor sock yarn by John Arbon and the colourway is blossom.  I liked how it looked just the same rosy pink as my Nanny’s face powder (it’s actually her old compact in the above photo)….and like Mooch in the Mutts comic strip, I’m very much a fan of little pink socks

The pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook..it blends a series of different stitches into a beautiful flowing and very natural feeling design… with lacework and cables and moss stitch, it really echoes the pattern left by waves along the shoreline …… incredibly the pattern is written both top down and cuff down (I still find it amazing that Louise writes most of her sock patterns this way, she’s definitely a knitting wizard in my eyes) and even more awesomely…this is one of her free patterns.

The advantage to starting a sock at the toes rather than the cuff, is that you have somewhat better control over how much of your yarn you’re then using for the leg…if you want to use up all your skein then you don’t have to worry that you might run out like when you knit cuff down socks….I really wanted these socks to be a fancy luxourious pair that used up as much of the skein as possible and I ended up working quite a lot of repeats to create that lovely leg length….(I’ve not actually washed and blocked these yet, I’m too busy enjoying having them on my feet for any of that)

toe-up-lunar-tides

The wonderfully kind Isla from Brit Yarn gifted me a sock shop amount of assorted dpns last year and I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the Knit pro ones…as a rule I don’t really like their patterned wood needles, they make me feel a bit nauseous, like I’m on a rollercoaster…but actually these weren’t too swirly at all and were wonderfully sleek, the woolly stitches slid over them a treat, not so slippy as a metal needle, not quite so sticky as a regular wooden one…a real mummy bear of a needle….

I’ve not yet attempted magic loop or any proper two at a time knitting ( if you’re not a knitter I’ll try and explain magic loop a little….it’s when you knit something on a pair of needles that have a big loop of cable between the needle tips…some incredibly amazing kntters who I feel should all be in the Magic Circle with their “that’s magic” skills, can knit two socks at a time using this method…and I’ve even seen pictures of people …possibly wizards…knitting 2 pairs…that’s 4 socks at a time….however I know I can be a bit muddley with things like this so am happy to knit one sock at a time on little wooden pointy sticks)…..so instead I just did what made sense to me…..I had a set of Brittany wooden needles the same size as the Knit Pro ones so I mixed up both pairs so I’d have enough needles and worked a bit on one sock, and then a bit on the other…..just because the last pair of socks I’d made came out rather different in tension and I thought this would keep me on more of an even keel……actually I ended up liking the Knit Pro needles so much I bought a pair so I could knit both socks on those.

The only thing I would change about the pattern is that next time I knit these (and there will be a next time as I really liked the pattern) is to make the toe a little softer, just because I have very round toes and I find this suits my feet better….but that’s a very small change.

lunar-tides-detail

Working the increases around the heel and gusset of the sock was proably the hardest part of the sock for me, I’ve only knit one pair of toe up socks before and that pattern was very different in the heel construction, I’m more familiar with cuff downs and so everything here seems like it is being worked backwards….there was lots of ripping out and doing it again on both socks as I kept making silly mistakes but I got a real bee in my bonnet and kept on until that wonderful moment where the sun comes out and you understand exactly what you need to be doing…..it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, knitting socks, making creme brulee or baking bread, that moment where the cream starts thickening and resisting the spoon (it’s ready to cool and set for tonight’s pudding) the kneaded dough cools and becomes silky (it’s ready to leave it be so it can prove)…tiny happenings where understanding just dawns and a smile beams across your face.

I probably need to now knit another pair of toe up socks, no fancy pattern just basic plain vanilla socks, so I can go over this process again then I’ll have it fixed in my mind a little better….perhaps a pair of really tiny baby socks (no….not dropping cryptic hints about storks arriving, but I’ve seen other knitters do this to learn a technique)

lunar-tides

There were a couple of other little mishaps while knitting…not the patterns fault but knitting on the bus in fingerless gloves using dpns is possibly not the best idea when the driver of said bus is a lumpy and brake screechy driver…..at one point the needle caught n my gloves and before I knew it….a section of live stitches were all exposed….I had to just sit still and wait til I was off the bus and then was able to pick them all up…..but it was hairy scary for a minute though….

And the tah dah moment when I cast off the second sock to show my boyfriend and we both did a Cary Grant double take at the socks…..one was somewhat longer than the other…. I had some how managed to knit different lengths even though I was sort of knitting them at the same time together….anyway, we ended up laughing as there’s not much more you can do at times like this, and then after trying them both on I felt the shorter sock fitted better, so I just chopped off the very top edge of the longer sock, ripped it back to where I needed the new rib cuff to start and picked up the stitches……

However….after many weeks of picking up and putting down my socks were finally finished….the yarn is lovely, there’s a soft gentle haze over the stitches, my toes feel warm and and the socks are wearing well…I’ve saved a little yarn back for darning (I’m quite heavy on my socks) just in case…..

If you’d like to know a bit more about Louise then there is a great interview with her just here on the Shiny Bees podcast, or you can pop over just here to her website.

If you’re on Ravelry then more sock notes and waffles are over on my project page.

And I totally appreciate this will sound like I’m showing off, I’m just so super chuffed and excited about it…..I had a little message from Louise asking if my picture of the finished socks could go on the pattern’s Ravelry page….

 

 

 

Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..

karise-shawl-2

And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.

 

ready-to-eat

Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……

winter-blossom

I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing…..one of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..

lunar-tides

Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..

a-lichen-miten

We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…

bernard-shawl-testing

And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.

 

blossoms, bees, butterflies and bernard……

apple blossom

We’ve three small apple trees in our garden and this year we (well I say we but it was the boyfriend as he’s the one with the green fingers and thumbs,) decided to move two of them so they’d get a bit more sunshine and light…two are in huge pots, and I’m not wholly sure what the plans are for tree three…one of the trees is still to blossom but it’s a later variety however the other two have been a real treat to see….delicate rose tipped petals…with glorious buttercup coloured centers…..

the palest pink blossoms

The fragrance surrounding the trees has been so wonderful, the scent is quite reminiscent of gardenia or tuberose…especially one of the trees we’ve moved, it’s really basked in the sunshine and it’s blossoms are incredibly heady.

The powdery apple pollen has been somewhat of a feast for the bees, most mornings when I’m either taking out vegetable peelings for the compost or filling up the bird feeders I spot fat bottomed bees tumbling around in those silky scented petals…and it’s not just bees that have been enjoying the apple blossom, the garden is already full of tiny blue butterflies and pretty orange tipped ones.  As we live pretty close to a river and some of our neighbours have ponds, we often see damson flies and spectacular jewel bright dragonflies darting about the garden, sometimes they rest near the blossoms before flying off in the air above.

blue and yellow forget me nots

The forget-me-nots have begun to take over the garden and while I know some gardeners see them as weeds, we’re happy to let them grow, enjoying the soft smudges of colour as they spread out along path edges and down the sides of steps…the petals are a much darker bue this year, I suppose as it’s been a combination of mild weather which has meant they’ve grown, but without the full Summer sun to then fade them….they’re almost as dark as a bluebell.

delicate blue forget me nots

I love watching the colours of the flowers change, they start off as the tiniest buds of lilac and lavender, mauve and pinky…..slowly opening up to reveal those blue petals.  Last year we also had lots of catseye/birdseye speedwell but that’s been a bit slow making an appearance.

tiny blue sprigs

Tiny clusters of petals seem to form the smallest little posies….along with the forget-me-nots we’ve also let our wild strawberries spread out, everywhere we look there are tiny strawberry blossoms.  We’ve grown both the alpine (long pointy fruit and very hardy…I’ve eaten freshly picked Strawberries in November) and wild (rounder in shape and as sweet as a kiss) strawberries and over the years they’ve cross pollinated so the fruits now are seem to be a bit of a mix, some can be a bit tart but others taste like an opal fruit sweetie.  I like adding a few of them to the bigger berries when I make ice-cream and we’ve also used them before with some water mint or apple mint I’ve picked from a walk over the marshes to make a Summer cocktail with very happy results.

under the chery tree

And it’s not just blossoms, bees and butterlies in the garden…if there’s sunshine then Bernard soon heads out and takes up residence under the cherry tree….the shade there is all dappled and when he sprawls out he almost disappears….for the most part he ignores the birds, there’s been a few disagreements in past years wiht the blackbirds and he’s now a bit frightened of them, many the times he’s been chased indoors only to sit up and glare out the window at them.

Equally the birds don’t seem too bothered by Bernard, he’s not really agile enough to climb the cherry tree so they seem quite content to use the feeders above him (dropping bits of seed shell down on him as if to tease)….they’re also still pulling off wisps of fleece for nesting…mostly its the tiny tits that seem to love the fleece though I’ve also seem the goldfinches inspect it…but generall it’s the tits, they pull out the finest strands of fleecy fluff, and keep pulling and pulling, until they seem almost covered with sheepy candy floss fronts before flying off.

An alpaca and silk “unicorn”with some spring hued pips….

woolly pips of colour

As promised, here are some pictures of the “unicorn” moonraker shawl…I’d actually finished knitting this a couple of weeks ago but we were waiting for some nice weather to go out with the camera…on the whole I’m pretty happy with it, it’s nice and drapey and feels light not too heavy, just the thing for spring really when the temperature can soon cool in the evening.

I used some yarn that I’d bought in the Autumn from my local yarn shop (I loved the colour, a proper egg shell blue) but I don’t think it was such a good choice for this shape of shawl…..I’m not sure if it’s my knitting but both of the Moonraker shawls I’ve had to block quite heavily, and where as the wool yarn shawl was quite happy to put up with a bit of rough treatment and has held it’s post blocking shape perfectly, the alpaca/silk blend seemed a bit more fretful.  I used about a million blocking pins (well 3 packets) and it all looked fine pinned onto the mats, but as soon as the pins were removed the yarn sprung back into itself and left some stretch marks behind.

alpaca and silk moonraker shawl

The bottom edge in this picture shows what I mean…that little up and down pointy edge, it’s not a picot bind off, it’s meant to be a straight line.  It’s not the end of the world I know, but at the same time I know it’s not right and it’s distracting me when I see it…I’m wondering whether I could soak the shawl again and re-block it, and this time thread through some heavy silk thread (used like blocking wires) along the edge and see if that would do the trick….but apart from a wonky rippled edge, that’s my one grumble.

The yarn is very soft and the shawl just falls back off my shoulders, it’s as flopsy as my legs after I’ve had more than a glass of wine.  The row of red and pink “pips” are my favourite…I love how those colours sit so happily together, and when I’ve used up some of the yarn that seems to have bred in my work room, I’d like to try something in those lipstick and face powder shades once I’ve redued my stash some.  (I’ve not been knitting for that long but somehow I seem to have accumulated half a yarn shops worth of brightly hued balls and skeins).

Looking at these two top pictures I did sit a bit open mouthed at how much I look like my younger sister Rachel…where as I’m all dark brown hair (with kempy grey wisps) she’s a fawny blonde with a real peaches and cream complexion but our face shapes are the same, there’s a shared jaw line and mouth…even those straight eyebrows ….we’ve inherited all those from my dad’s mum’s mum…..

unicorn moonraker

Mostly I’ve been influenced in my colour choices for the “pips” by what’s been growing along the verges and in the hedgerows, powdery primrose and pollen yellows, apple blossom soft pinks, new leaf greens….bright red tulips…and then there’s those two  purple rows…in my head they worked really well but after I’d knitted those rows up I had some mis-givings but didn’t listen to my heart and carried on regardless.  I found the aplaca/silk yarn very slippy to catch stitches when I was ripping out and correcting mistakes…the thought of then re-knitting it wasn’t thrilling me so ….I have two purple rows…when the shawl is worn scrunched you don’t notice them so much.

adjusting the shawl not fighting off a bee attack

 

In case you think I’m shooing away a bee or a wasp…I’m just re-adjusting the shawl but this picture made me laugh so I thought you’d like it too…..

The Moonraker pattern is really easy to follow (and take it from me, if I thought it was hard I’d let you know) I’d certainly recommend it, if you can knit a knit stitch then you can knit a Moonraker.  It’s very soothing to knit as for the most part it’s all worked in garter stitch so I was able to switch off a lot and just relax into the yarn and needles.  And while I did like the yarn, I’ve got a skein and a bit left so will need to use that up for something or other…. I also know I preferred the feel of when I was using sheepy scented yarn, I missed that rustle as the yarn wrapped around my needles and the scent of those natural un-dyed wools.

The shawl was knitted as part of the unkal/kal over at The Caithness Craft Collective Podcast’s Ravelry group….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

grey skies and frothy blossoms

cherry blossom and grey skies

There’s been a such a change in the weather here, finally the cherry trees around here are in full blossom and looking so beautiful……most are in people’s gardens but there’s a handful that are growing in the green spaces that the village where I live is full of…tucked away from cars and traffic so it’s always nice to pick headgerow fruit and forage here without worrying about stepping off any sloping verge into the road.

Last week when I was walking back from the shops I kept wanting to look up, it was hard not to notice the huge grey clouds up in the sky, such a contrast to the soft white petals of the cherry blossom…..I wasn’t home long before the heaven’s opened and the rain/hail started……

a sky of blossom

I love seeing the glimpses of blue sky and billowy clouds up through the cherry branches and the froth of white petals.  I always think there’s something quite cheerleader like when the cherry trees are in full blossom, all pompoms and “Spring is here, Rah Rah Rah”…..

milky white blossoms

Up close the blossoms are so pretty, delicate milk white petals with golden yellow stamens and apple green centres….they must be full of pollen as the trees almost vibrate with the sound of bees gently buzzing from branch tip to branch tip.

And while I love each of the seasons in their own way, the cherry trees seem to be celebrating spring with an abundance of blossoms which fill the air with a sweet scent making a trip outside a treat for eyes and nose alike that…..

forget-me-nots

In our garden everything is waking up, our raised beds and path edges need some serious weeding but for now we’re happy to give over some garden to these pretty forget-me-nots…as the sunshine has been a bit slow arriving the tiny flowers are a much more intense blue than is usual.

The forget-me-nots were one of the first wild flowers I think I knew the name of, they’re very distinct looking and I think the name makes them easy to remember……because other insects like to visit them, along with the bees, then we often notice the birds having a poke about, investigating around the plants, finding food and tiny six legged snacks.

cowslip

Earlier in the year we moved a couple of our apple trees, they weren’t getting enough sun where they were and both now seem to be responding to the move very well….sprouting soft pink buds and blossoms, and giving something for the blue tits to sit on while they queue to use the feeders (they seem to wait for the great tits but anything else that is at the feederes they just fly down and shove out of the way…even the robin which is normally a feisty little chap gets chirped at nd told to move on)…during the apple tree move the cowslips must have been disturbed as there’s been no sign of them this year, but then when I began lifting the leaves of the wild strawberries I found these ones…..and since I took this photo I’ve found another one so fingers crossed next year we’ll have our yellow carpet again……

The yellow is such a soft shade, brighter than a primrose and nowhere near as intense as gorse or broom…the yellow is quite similar in hue to powdery catkins….I’ve always liked the name of them.

jack in the hedge

Something that does grow most unwanted in the garden is this jack in the hedge…it’s super stinky like wild garlic, and you can eat the young leaves…but I don’t like garlic to eat or to smell so it’s not coming into our kitchen…..it’s quite an invasive plant and you need to pull it up as soon as you see it as if not it’ll take over the garden in no time at all…because it’s been so wet some of the garden has been a bit forgotten about so I’ve spent a couple of days going round whipping these out…they do lift out quite easily, but the air around where they’ve been growing is still pungent with garlic aromas for some time afterwards…..And while I’ll happily admit they do look pretty, and have inspired me with numerous little florl embroideries, those tiny white petals combined with the yellowish green un-opened buds are so dainty, they’re not something I let grow in the garden for long.

Being outside when it’s Spring time and sunny feels such a treat after too many wet and windy afternoons cooped up indoors, when front gardens and hedgerows both are bursting with daubs of colour, sitting on the back door step keeping quiet with a lap full of  knitting and a cup of tea, Bernard sprawled out alongside my feet, birds are busy everywhere, scurrying and skittering around under the shrubs, feeding youngesters or still nest building and pulling at the fleece I’ve put out for them….the sound of them all singing lifts my heart as well as any piece of music by Bach, even the magpies raspily squawking at each other in the huge Sycamore tree that overlooks part of our garden…it’s hard not to be out of doors for 5 minutes this time of year without wanting to smile.

Milky soft Blackthorn blossoms and crusty lichen roves….

blossom down the lane

I’m so muddle headed feeling at the moment, I hate having a cold, I never know whether I’m coming or going and constantly feel like I’m two days behind in my week….I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s no good me trying to get anything much of anything done and to just take time out, not to stress and to let things be…..it means “to do’s” falling behind and not gettting done but experience tells me this doesn’t mean the world ends….chores can wait and it’s far better to just rest…..also “Doctor” Bernard has been wedging himself half on my lap and half down the side of the sofa so it pretty much stops me from doing too much as I don’t like to disturb him when he’s so cosy…

We’ve had another couple of frosty mornings this past week but I’ve kept in-doors in the warm and have been well wrapped up with shawls and blankets…the weather seems as wobbly as my head as we’ve also had days where the late Winter sunshine has been really glorious….the other Sunday before we both took sickly we went for a stroll down the lane, not far, just a half hour walk, an hour tops, enough to shake out the cobwebs and return home all ruddy cheeked and noses pink.

mossy greens and milky white

There’s a long stretch of Blackthorn hedges and trees which are all in blossom, frothy and delicate, the most milky white, with yellow and gold whiskers inside already heavy with pollen….

It’s too early for bees to be buzzing around them, tumbling and rolling over the petals, but the hedgerows are home to a whole wealth of birds…mostly this part of the lane seems to be full of blue tits and great tits, whenever I try to capture them in a picture it ends up looking a right blurry old mess, so I’m content to just stand still and watch them….long tailed tits fly over from the the other side where the marshes have big colonies of them, quite often we’ll spy a hawthorn tree with anything from a dozen upwards of tiny fluffy white and grey, charcoal and rose tinted birds with those instantly recognizable tails…

spring is on its way

The hawthorn blossom isn’t heady like when we go and walk up in the woods to see the bluebells, where the scent makes me all sleepy, heavy and slow …..instead it fills the air with an uplifting  sweet and crisp freshness.  The combination of milky white blossom, crusty roves* of lichen and the mossy green smudges on the branches is one of my favourite, both blossoms and moss feel velvety but where one is smooth the other often allows your fingers to press deep and leave behind a faint imprint.

fragile and pale blossoms

It’s often hard to tell what something is in the hedgerow and a few weeks ago before the blossom was out it would have been near impossible, however Blackthorns are pretty much the first of the hedgerow trees to blossom (make a note if you see any because it’s from these trees which come October you’ll be able to gather sloes for gin and vodka)…..they won’t be hawthorns as even though it’s mild they’ll be another month at least…another way to tell the two apart is that Blackthorns blossom before their leaves appear, and hawthorns have their leaves first before they show any sign of blossoming….their leaves are also quite different in appearance but as they aren’t showing yet that doesn’t really help you identify them. (once they’re out, the Blackthorn leaf is almost oval,  pointy at each end, the hawthorn is much more like a tiny oak leaf, all meandering ins and outs in shape).  Hawthorns are edible too but they are better slowly cooked along with rosehips for syryps and citrusy tasting preserves.

 

*when we were small and fall over and get a cut, as it healed over we’d call what formed on top a “rove”…it’s a proper old Suffolk term and one I know not so many people seem to use, certainly not once you’re out of the Suffolk and Norfolk area as I alwasy have to explain what I mean to friends from out of this region.  “Rove” sounds much nicer to my ears than “scab” which always makes me think of old toad backs and unpleasant things, not that a rove is a particularly nice looking athing but just saying “scabby” makes me shudder.

Gorgeous goosgogs and a refreshing cordial.

fragrant elderflower blossoms

When I’ve been out walking I’ve noticed the abundance of elderflowers this year, while all the heads may not be huge, the flowers are rich and heady with pollen and scent, they smell gorgeous and I thought to pick some during the week to make some ice-cream and cordial.

One of my friends gave me some strawberries and gooseberries from her allotment and while I’ll happily eat strawberries until they come out of my ears, I’m not the biggest fan of cooked gooseberries unless they’re in a jam…..however we’ve still got a pantry full of preserves made last Summer (since I’ve had to stop eating bread I realise just who it was eating all the marmalades and jam on toast…me) so I thought it would be a bit daft to make more, and then I found a recipe for gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream and thought it would make a nice pudding now the weather has turned almost overnight from wrapped in woolies Winter to scorchy Summer .

The ice-cream is very easy, and was nice although I think I should have used more elderflowers as the taste was very subtle (the heads I used weren’t huge so maybe I should have bunged more in)….I used the recipe from Sarah Raven’s Garden cookbook….this is one of my favourite recipe books and I’ve seen it quite cheap on a few on-line places…..she’s a great cook and there are some nice “foraging” recipes using food you can find in the wild.

The fruit and flowers are cooked with a little water to which you allow to cool and then you beat egg yolks and sugar together, whip some double cream, and then whip the egg whites…the cooled puree is mixed in with the yolks and then you add the cream and the egg whites before putting it in the freezer…..the full recipe and quantities are in the book.

It’s great because you don’t have to keep taking the ice-cream out of the freezer to whisk…….using the freshest eggs and best cream will make a big difference as will using home grown fruit.

and the assistant helps out

And as you can see, I had a little assistant to help me….the bowl wasn’t down two minutes while I got my camera but someone had to stick his nose in to see whether there was anything interesting inside……the lovely bowl is one of the few remaining kitchen items I inherited when my nanny died, I love the yellow glaze inside, and I’ve not seen another one like it.

The elderflower cordial was ridiculously easy to make and has come out tasting so good that even my boyfriend is drinking it (and he’s not normally a cordial kind of guy)

Elderflower Cordial

1 un-waxed lemon

10 big elderflower heads

1 kilo of granulated sugar

25 g of citric acid (you can buy it from Boots)

750 ml water.

Put a kettle on a boil the water….put the sugar into a large bowl (I used my jam pan* as it’s nice and big)……and then pour on the water…stir to dissolve the sugar.

Grate the lemon rind and finely slice the lemon.

Add the grated and sliced lemon and the citric acid to the sugary water….stir

Give the elderflowers a gentle shake making sure sure there aren’t any little creepy crawlies or eggs attached to the flowers…..immerse in the syrup and cover with a large clean tea towel.

Leave for at least 24 hours…stir occasionally.

Sieve the mixture through a large square of muslin, and pour into sterilised bottles** and then seal.

It’s really important to store the cordial in a really cold place as if it gets warm it will ferment, the glass bottles can explode, and you’ll be cleaning up sticky syrup til the cows come home…so if you don’t have room to keep this in the fridge, perhaps pour the cordial into ice cube trays/bags or small plastic bottles and store it in the freezer.

Next batch I make I’m going to add some crushed lemon verbena leaves…..

strawberries growing where they please

The past few weeks our wild and alpine strawberries have been ripening in moments of sunshine, because it’s not been great weather-wise they’ve had to work hard and the berries are even more intense flavoured than ever this year. As always it’s the plants that grow where they please that have produced the best tasting berries and although I normally have a small handful scattered over yoghurt for breakfast I’m thinking to adapt the cordial recipe and try and make a strawberry one.

We’ve also had the very first of the raspberries (no pictures though as I was too busy cramming them into my mouth to worry about getting my camera) ….this is very early as they’re a late season variety (Autumn Bliss)…the plants are already laden with berries so perhaps we’ll have a bigger first harvest….. (last year we only had a few in the first crop followed by a few weeks of nothing…but then our second harvest was the best ever…thankfully I’ll never get fed up of eating warm raspberries picked just minutes before).

* not the fancy copper pan but a cheap one I bought some years ago from a local department store.

** We’re somewhat addicted to Lorina lemonade, and always save the bottles for cordials as they have lovely tops and are a fantastic size….or we give them to friends who make fruit drinks.