A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

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Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..

making-mincemeat

Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf

Ingredients….

2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy

Method

In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

A calming bake of Christmas spices…..

gingerbread man 003

One of my most favourite smells in the whole wide world is gingerbread….a big pan of bunn and golden syrup melting on the stove, pouring in a fat swirl of treacle and then slowly stirring in freshly grated gingerbread……even when I’m feeling all fraught and anxious, wondering how what’s in my purse will stretch to gifts or how I can make the hands on the clock slow down so I have enough time to check everything off, taking a few minutes out o potter about in the kitchen seems to restore better than you can imagine….

I love making gingerbread men, or little houses and for those I use the recipe I wrote about a couple of years ago….but our main stove is currently not working so I’m making do with a little one and for  that a tray bake will suit much better……

This was originally a recipe from an old Marguerite Pattern book I received when I left Primary school but over the years I’ve tinkered and added to it and have now perfected a really moist and richly spiced Winter cake……

I whole heartedly advise buying a Japanese ginger grater, I bought mine from a local health food shop but you can pick them up quite easily at Asian food stores and they are about a fiver….they grate up the ginger so well, actually they sort of mush it and allow the juice to be extracted so well, the fibrery part I just squeeze out and then pop into the compost…..

I also make up a batch of spice mix at the start of December and then it’s all there ready to use over the holiday season, I like to grind my own spices so they are more intense flavoured but if you use pre-ground you might want to add a little more to what you are making…..

My gingerbread spice mix (good for sticky cake as well as the biscuits)

4 parts Cinnamon……3 parts Ginger……1 part Clove….I part Mace…1 part Star Anise…..

(I also quite often add a handful of dried edible rose petals in the spice grinder and add that scant powder to the spice blend as well…..)

Ingredients

4 oz butter (doesn’t really matter if it is unsalted but it does need to be butter and not a “I can’t believe…” style spread…trust me, you will taste the difference)

40z dark muscovado sugar

4oz golden syryp

40z black treacle or black strap molasses

8 oz plain flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolvedin a tablespoon of warm water

1 1/2 tablespoon of mixed spice mix (or 1 really heaped one…sometimes I just do 2 of these)

2 medium eggs beaten

6 tablespoons milk (full fat or semi skimmed or half cream/half semi skimmed…I’ve tried them all and a little fat does make this taste nicer and lighter…)

an adult thumb size piece of fresh ginger that is freshly grated

A well lined 8 inch square baking tin (I use baking parchment)

 

Method

preheat the oven to gas mark 3, 325 f, 170 c…..tin wants ot bee placed in the middle so arrange your shelf height before hand……

in a heavy bottomed pan put in the butter and dollop in the golden syryp and treacle (wiping the spoon over with a little vegetable oil will mean the sticky syrups slide off easy peasy)…slowly lelt over a low heat…..while this is melting add the sugar, spice mix and grate in the ginger (squeeze the fibres that cling to the grater….)….stir well and just breathe in that wonderful aroma…….

take the pan off the heat and stir in the tablespoons of milk, beat the two eggs and gently stir those in two and finally add in the dissolved bicarbonate of soda……

measure out the flour, sift into a large bowl and then pour in the spicy scented thick and sticky liquid, beat until nicley mixed through….this is quite runny, but fear not……

por the batter into the lined tin and bake for between 45-60 minutes……until the bake is risen and just firm when you gently press down on the top.

place the tin on a cooling rack and allow to cool for a good 15 minutes before removing and allowing to further cool on the rack…..

once the cake is cold you can either eat it (yum) or cover it in a lemon icing  (yum yum) or wrap it in tin foil and leave for a few days………hard work knowing it is there but the flavours mingle and the cake gets stickier…once it is unwrapped you can also ice it, the lemony icing seems to cut through the sweet perfectly.

Lemon Icing

Sift 200g of icing sugar and slowly add the juice of a lemon, you don’t want the icing over runny, drizzle on top of the gingerbread and allow to dry before cutting……enjoy a fat slice with a nice pot of tea.

If you want to substiture 4oz of flour for 4oz of fine oatmeal to make a more traditional parkin (which will want to be kept foil wrapped for a week before cutting) then go ahead…….

(my gingerbread man was made by my friend Sasha)

I love making this so much, like I say, it allows me to switch off, put verything else to one side and just lose myslef in the smells and memories this conjurs up….those all so familiar Tate and Lyle tins which never change and the nose tingling scent of  ginger and spices slowly simmering away on the stove….

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas stockings and a girl called Joyce……

weeny stocking for weeny sized bears

When me and my sisters were growing up we had the excellent good fortune to know a lovely lady called Mrs Ellis….she’d turn up on her bike with the front basket so laden up with all sorts of vegetables and flowers from her garden, apples from where she’d go apple picking, mushrooms from the meadows…a glut of asparagus in the Spring….she was always cheerful and had a smile, you really couldn’t feel miserable or downhearted in her company.  As I got I older I moved away from the Suffolk village I grew up in and came to live in Norfolk but I’d often go see her and her husband, as soon as I walked down their path the back door would open and there they would stand, waving and beaming to see me, their kitchen was the cosiest place in the world….it was just like having an extra set of grandparents and really even I don’t have the words to express how wholly fond of them I was…

Sadly a few years ago,that hazy mist of dementia took hold of her and her mind become all muddled so she had to go into a home and before long she became Joyce, the girl she’d once been and very quickly quite clear forgot her adult life….she’d always been so delighted and impressed at seeing things I’d been sewing or crocheting and over the years I hand made many presents for her and her husband, it was always so lovely to go visit them and see my makes, some very old and sun faded in their kitchen or other rooms of their home….the pleasure of seeing handmade never left her though and even on days when she was very confused a lavender heart I made her was straight away stroked against her face, stitches inspected and lavender smelt…..

hand embroidered Christmas stockings

So the other year while she was in the care home I embroidered a stocking for one of my oldest friends, even though she no longer could remember my name she still had a smile for me when I’d go visit and would reach up and touch my cheek….

I filled the stocking with all the things I thought she might have had when she was little, some brightly foil wrapped sweets, a few chocolate coins, a couple of satsumas,tiny puzzle games….. she was entranced, she slowly traced the letters I’d embroidered with her fingertips and said “that’s my name” …and even though it broke my heart to see this incredible and so inspiring, capable woman all befuddled she made me smile at being happy and together we laughed trying to do the puzzle games……

joyce 004

If you are a long time reader of my blog then you know my dear friend passed away earlier this year and with thoughts of her I’d like to offer someone the chance of a personalised stocking…if you know someone who has been affected with dementia or any ill health, someone who needs a little cheering up then please just leave a comment below and I’ll do a draw on Friday evening around 8 pm.  Due to me leaving this rather a bit late I don’t think the stocking will reach you in time if you live overseas so this is for UK residents only.

ETA This giveaway is now finished……

A most marvellous year with a somewhat crappy ending….

homemade mincepies

I hope you all had lovely Christmases, most festive Yuletides, Winter celebrations warm and merry, in the company of loved ones be they family,friends or furry and fluffy ones (and by that I mean animals rather than anyone particularly beardy)…

I can’t quite believe it’s the end of another year, this year more than any other I shake my head and wonder where on earth the time has gone….and I think that is one of the really nice things about keeping a blog, you have the chance to look back, not just skimming over notes,scribbles  or entries in a written diary (mine always end up looking like they’ve been written by Prince Charles with his spidery old scrawl), but you also have the picture prompts and straight away I’m remembering how cold we were that day going for a walk, the smell of the horses in the field, the taste of that elderflower cordial….

I always enjoy looking back at what I’ve been up to, not in a maudlin old way but remembering the high points, the happy times, the taste of jam made from hedgerow fruits and finding the kitchen invaded by the kittens from next door…….

So I’ve put the kettle on, made a pot of tea and am happily looking back and remembering the past 12 months……

January was all cold mornings, we had some pretty heavy frosts where the broccoli and herbs looked quite other worldy covered with a delicate silvery frost, and the marshes down the road flooded which was quite exciting when we went out for our Boxing Day walk…..I was determined to sort out the sides of my granny’s paperweight crochet blanket and made umpteen half hexagons to fit in the gaps on the top and bottom, actually I got right carried away making them and had enough to fill all the sides for a scarf I’d also been working on….another walk saw three graceful swans which were making no end of row as they were eating and snuffling about in the river, then bottoms tipped up, one, two then all three at once…

I got into my head to make a couple of cushions using the same crochet pattern and made two fronts….a year later they’re still waiting to be finished so that’s somethng on the New Year’s to do list….I also had a good tidy up in my work room and found some old floral embroidery testers I’d made a couple of years back.

I spent some Christmas money and bought Felicity Ford’s excellent Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook which is a wonderful and inspirational resource, it’s really to help you plan and design stranded colourwork but I found it a great read for patchwork planning too…

The first part of Februarysaw me still tidying up my work room, it never seems to take long to get all pickly and this time tidying I tried to make sure all the tins and boxes were opened to see what treasures were hidden away…and I found more embroidered samplers, some inspired more by beautiful fairisle jumpsers and tank tops than traditional embroidery samplers….the weather was still cold, we had some proper heavy frosts and the marshes seemed constantly half hidden under a low laying mist…baking cakes for Sunday afternoon tea and pack up is always part of my routine of a weekend, and never more so than in the Winter where a fat slice of cup seems much more appreciated with a cup of tea.

I bought a huge bundle of beautiful coloured tapestry wool, the little skeins were 10 pence each and the happiness a huge pile of them turned out on my worktable gives me is priceless., and some new to me vintage sewing needles, these what I prefer to use when I’m hand sewing, they seem to bend less and the points keep sharper……I also un-ravelled a whole load of crochet squares, I’d trimmed them with white originally but I decided I’d rather a blanket to match my granny square crochet scarf….

My boyfriend’s birthday is in February and one of the presents I made him was a tweed cycling hat, the pattern is by The Little Package company and both styles of hat are so nice to make….

For me the most exciting part of February was being asked to design a pair of baby quilts for one of my friends….lovely Darren who has The Little  Red Roaster (Norwich’s best coffee shop) is having twins and he wanted two quilts made for the new arrivals….

 

At the start of March new neighbours moved in next door and within a few days we met their two little cats, Bob and Izzy soon became regular visitors in our garden and although at first Bernard was a bit wary of them, he soon became great chums with Bob…most mornings start with a nose rub greeting, quick bottom sniff then Bernard and Bob wash each other….Izzy gets the odd look in.

The weather is getting nicer, blossoms and catkins seem to be out earlier that usual, and on days when it’s not too cold we head up to Little Tinkers, a small horse and donkey sanctuary which is just up the road, we tend to go the long route which is over the marshes so we’re generally quite out of puff and rather muddy when we get there.  I love the donkey’s and would one day dearly love one of mine own, but for now I’m happy to cuddle this gorgeous one, so friendly and loved being scritched behind the ears.

I found an old copy of Cold Comfort Farm in a local charity shop, it’s been on my must read lists for the longest time…..it’s so funny and very good reading.

Bread gets baked a couple of times a week and I use a natural starter that my friend Daisy gave me, it makes for a good, robust loaf which isn’t heavy and which smells so nice and homey.  I even used the natural starter to make hot cross buns which came out perfectly….the kitchen always smells wonderful on baking day.

Most of the month has been spent working on the quilts, designing the patchwork tops and choosing fabrics…sometimes having free rein is a bit overwhelming so Auntie Ally said Kate (Mrs Darren) liked stars…after that the designing was much easier.  To help me with the patchwork I painted up a series of patterened papers so I was able to make little paper patchworks…..playing really with moving the papers around, but I was able to see the designs much clearer than with just plain coloured shapes.

Spring has most definitely sprung, everywhere in the garden there are bursts and pops of bright colours….the cherry tree is a riot of gaudy pink, the raised beds are edged in soft blue smudges of forget-me-nots and cats eye speedwell….golden dandelions grow up alongside alpine strawberries through the cracks on the the patio paving and garden path….sitting out on the back door step often seems the nicest place to be.

Early morning sunshine is streaming in through my work room window and I pin up some patchwork as I prefer the softer, muted light this gives…I also like the shadows that some crocheted garlands cast.  Work on the quilts is progressing nicely, all the patchwork piecing and quilting is sewn by hand, so these were never going to be weekend makes…..holding the quilted tops up in the sunlight and the pieced fronts show through, all ghostly and reminding me of stained glass.

The bread proves and rises outside now, covered with a tea towel and placed in a warm spot, a few loaves get the odd poke from a curious paw but then cats are curious…..Izzy likes to hide up under our sprouting broccoli, she runs and sits there as soon as I open the back door, some days she lets me tickle her, stroke her face and ears, other days she’s back over the fence in a flash or peeps at me from around flower pots and watering cans.

One of my favourite walks each year is up the road to our local university, the woods that edge it’s grounds are a fair treat for the eye when the bluebells are in flower…the air becomes heavy and fragrant, and the scent of the bluebells soon has me all heavy eyes and sleepy…..I never fail to gasp as we turn the corner and our eyes are just flooded, overwhelmed with the most intense blue…….truly breath taking.

The forget-me-nots fill every spare bit of ground in the garden, huge swaithes of blue cover path and step edges.  Occaisonally a cat darts out from under it’s floral bower, disturbing any bees that may be taking their breakfast.  Flowers in the garden inspire me to embroider  lavender bags, made from an old linen shirt from Anne that I’ve tea dyed and weathered.

The quilts are finished, as the binding is carefully stitched into place, I say my goodbyes, wish good things and so much happiness for the twins…and I can’t help but wonder about how these quilts will journey, become snuggle blankets and sleeping comforts, toy beds for their favourite dolls, maybe be taken away to university, and one day get tucked around their own sleeping babes…….I’m a daft old thing and get very sentimental about my quilts.

I finally find some skinny coat hangers in a “tat” box at a charity shop so I can make dottie angels happy hanger tutorial….it’s nice for my fingers to work now with yarn and a hook rather than a needle and thread…..

Bernard is enjoyng the sunshine and warmer weather, he tends to nap upstairs, snuggling then stretching out on the quilt and blanket we have on our bed…..often you can hear him snoring while he sleeps, from time to tie his paws twitch….what do you dream of little trumpster.

Sadly this month I lost one of my oldest friends, my dear Rupert who was in his eighties and who I’ve known for some thirty odd years…him and his wife have been like grand-parents to me and my sisters and he had the best sense of humour of anyone I’ve ever met….their kitchen all pipe smoke and warm, a place of comfort with the kettle on for tea and a plate full of biscuits produced before your coat is barely off……

June sees the first of the hedgerow harvesting, baskets filled to the brim with billowy white clouds of elderflower blossom to make the sweetest cordial…even Bernard is half intoxicated by the sweet scent (picked while the blossom is all powdery and pollen rich, and before it begins to smell like tom cat pee)…the cordial it makes is so refreshing, and the bottles I make don’t last us 5 minutes.

The sourdough bread swells and grows enormous in the Summer, often looking more like neolithic fertility figurines than a loaf of bread….

The tiny wild strawberries in the garden are growing up everywhere, tiny berries which seem to taste different from plant to plant are scattered over yoghurts or are tumbled over puddings in the evening.

A plate of sausage rolls are made for my pastry fiend with tiny little leaves on top…

The meadows and pastures over the marsh are so abundant and full with flowers, and the colours seem to change from week to week…..one morning the fields are all golden with marsh buttercups and yellow rattle, a few days later a fine spread of ragged robin and rose bay willow herb….the wild flowers I’m seeing continue to inspire me with my botanical embroideries, generally I use vintage silks sourced from a local antique shop which sells all sorts of truck…most days see me head out for a slow amble over the marshes which are now sucha feast for the senses, the colours are glorious, the smell of the blossom is lovely and the sound of bird song and buzzing bees very soft and lulling …..

I also become somewhat obsessed with paper piecing hexagons…no piece of scrap fabric is safe and some thousand odd of tiny fabric wrapped papers are made and are sewn together with a series of small stitches… numerous cushions begin to appear on the sofa.

July was hot, a proper scorcher….. by mid-morning I felt all drowsy and and slow, cold drinks and sitting somewhere shady with Bernard seemed to fill my days.

The chives in the garden all flowered at once, huge purple pompoms of blossom which I used to flavour sandwiches or sprinkle on top of goats cheese pizzas.

Just down the road there are huge marchmallow plants, each year they get taller and talle and this year they were taller than me, huge blossoms of the softest lavender.

I bought a bag of the most brilliant blue threads, shiny silks that sew through linen like butter.

Last month I made hexagons, this month I can’t stop making ice-creams, slowly stiring egg rich custards and mixing in cherries from the wild trees just down the lane, or gooseberries from Jan’s allotment…..I made a lovely raspberry sorbet with last years berries I found lurking in the back of the freezer and even a small handful of the wild strawberries make an ice-cream so good I close my eyes and remember Summers spent down at the beach in Southwold.

We bought some little panibois “tins” to bake smaller loaves of bread in….oh my goodness, these are so nice to use and I felt all “artisan” and proper bakery when I opened the oven door and saw such pretty loaves baking in them.

Everything in the garden is green and growing, the beans almost grow while you watch them, and the lettuces are coming up as fast as I can eat them.

August too was hot and humid, nights were spent feeling all frazzled under a sheet and hoping that Bernard wouldn’t jump and cuddle leaving me feeling all sticky and sweaty when I woke in the mornings…..

The headgerows are fair heaving already with ripening harvests, most saunters out see me return with a basket filled with something to cook with….mirabelle plums and blackberries are picked and slowly covered with sugar and vodka to make warming Winter tipples…..

This was also the year I tried my hand at pickling walnuts …..I picked the walnuts too late so they weren’t a great success but I’ll have another go in 2016…..the Autumn Bliss raspberries in the garden are coming on a treat, already they are swollen and deep red, delicious picked all warm and popped straight into my mouth.

August also saw the start of my dress making obsession…I think I made about 7 dresses in around 3 maybe 4 weeks, I used the dottie angel pattern by Simplicity…..I tinkered a bit with the pattern so it fit me better, I guess I’m a bit of an odd shape as I have quite wide shoulders and a broad back but I’m a bit hollowed chested and the original pattern wasn’t doing me any favours…however post tinker and I’m very happy and every time I wear one of these dresses it gets a compliment.  Where possible I’ve tried to use vintage threads and notions when I’ve made the dresses (my darling boy bought me some vintage dressmaking tools for Christmas 2014 so I got to use those while drafting the pattern) and two dresses have been made from silky feeling sixties prints.

I also was nominated in August for a Liebster award, this was my first blog award and I really was quite chuffed….Zeens and Roger who nominated me probably didn’t expect quite the lengthy old answers that I gave but while writing them I unknowingly planted a seed that would soon come to fruition……

It seemed the sunshine was never going to end, September had some really glorious days, and often I’d start the day with a cup of tea sitting on the back door step with Bernard and Bob from next door keeping me company.

The little crab apple trees just up the road seemed their fullest ever, and I made several trips with my shopping basket in hand to pick the beautiful coral and salmon coloured fruits….where as last year there was such a bounty here of blackberries I wasin danger of turning into one myself, this year hasn’t been no where near as good, but the silver lining has meant I’ve looked elsewhere for fruits to make jam…..the hedgerows round abouts where i live are so laden with wild fruits, rosehips, and haws, rowans, elder berries and wildling apples and crabby ones……all delicious in jams and jellies and syryps.

One of the first jellies I’ve made was an apple one flavoured with vinegar and herbs from the garden…this was used to make the nicest vegetarian gravies I’ve ever tasted…..the jellies using just hedgerow fruit are very citrussy and are ideal as breakfast preserves.

I finally finished two projects which had taken a little while to complete….first up a knititng bag made form no end of hand pieced hexagons….it’s nice and roomy and has pockets inside…..second was a grannnies paperweight crochet scarf which I’ve been working on for ,oh I don’t know how many years…a good few at any rate…..it reminds me of richly embroidered velvet coat collars by Paul Poiret and I love it…..I spent so much of this month secretly wishing for the weather to turn so I could start wearing it.

 

Oh October….you are my most favourite month…partly because my birthday is in October (yep, I’m that shallow) but even when it’s all wet wild and windy I love the changes this month brings…..the man with the roast nuts barrow sets up stall on London Street, the smell wafts all the way down to Jarrolds where you turn the corner and know Autumni s well and truly here…..

More jellies were made, this time using some foraged japonica quinces which I left in a bowl in the parlour to ripen up…opening the door each morning and the sherbety aroma was so uplifting and smile inducing…..I also made some soothing syrups as I always end up with a crocky old throat come Christmas….some of the foraged finds bought home possibly the teeniest weeniest little old snail I think I’ve ever seen…I know he’s just going to eat all our veg but I didn’t have the heart to squish him…but instead allowed him to “run” or slide free behind the compost bin.

Izzy from next door had babies in the Summer and her four kittens have been running amok in the garden…carefully planted seedlings have been upturned, chewed, covered with earth while the kittens themselves have been making most merry…poor old Bernard hasn’t known what to make of them, and often comes running down the path as the tiny tots are in full pursuit.

A little more tinkering with the dottie frock pattern, this time splitting the bodice from the skirt and inserting side pockets…. I’m so happy with this pattern and am finding a pocket to be perfect for my hankies.

The little seed planted back in August began to grow, and I picked up my knitting needles…I’ve been able to knit for a few years but only simple scarves, and dishclothes…nothing more fancy than that….but I kept thinking about wishing I could knit better and decided I didn’t need a fairy godmother ot wave a magic wand.  This was something I could do myself….so I began to practise, small samples/swatches with stitches chosen from an old Harmony guide…suddenly I was knitting, slipping stitches, passing them over, knitting two together…I even dabbled with cables…..and then I fell in love, completely hook line and sinker…I saw this gorgeous gorgeous shawl on Instagram and wanted it so bad…I was on the verge of asking a friend to knit it for me then thought no, I would do it myself……mistakes have been made, stitches un-knitted, full rows un-ravelled but oh how proud I have felt, watching the stitches slowly grow……thank you so much Zeens and Roger and Buttercup and Bee for those original Liebster questions.

Oh, and I got nominated for another blog award, this time by Sharon over at Creativity and Family.

 

November is suddenly upon me and all I can think of is my knitting….at the same time I find out about Wovember and a British Breed KAL over on Ravelry by Louise of Knit British … I’m setting my alarm earlier and earlier to enjoy my quiet time knitting on the sofa with Bernard all snuggled up next to me, often with his head on the wool. I’ve become a wool convert and love the warm scent of my sheepy Shetland wool.

I finished the shawl and when I attempt to fling it around my shoulders half near strangle myself to death…..I re-check the pattern and realize my gauge or tension is way off so if I want to wear the shawl without doing myself a permanent mischief I’ll need to unknit it and start again ……oddly this doesn’t make me sob my heart out, but instead I know I can do it…the feeling of knowing I can do it is just wonderful.

Then it’s a mad flourry as the Christmas fairs are now starting, work days start while the lark is still sleeping and commssions for stockings are posted off…..I start to make a toy for on eof my little nieces birthdays but realize it won’t be ready so will have to be a Chrtstmas gift instead…..

Just down the road there is a beautiful rowan tree with pale pink berries, even when I’m super stressed and have 101 things to do, stopping and looking at it never fails to make me smile and feel a little calmer.

And so the year is nearly over……December started with two busy craft fairs and then a series of commissions, family came to visit, a cat toy needed to be made (complete with teeny dottie angle frock and a green cardigan)and slowly burning the candle both ends began to take it’s toll…a prickly throat soon became a nasty cold and laryngitis but then worse of all our beloved Bernard (the trumpiest and sleepiest cat ever) had a nasty lump come up under his paw……an overnight stay at the vets and an operation has meant it’s all been a very fraught here.  Everyone’s kind comments when I wrote about him being ill has meant so much to me….the kindness of strangers and internet friends never fails to amaze.

Finding time to knit has been my escape from all the worry and fears*….the shawl has been un-ravelled, I did that Christmas Day afternoon, and it’s slowly being re-knitted on rather larger needles….(plenty of swatching for the correct tension was done before hand) the wool smells so sheepy and comforting, and where as in the past Bernard has pinched yarn or tapesty wool, he’s been very respectful of my shawl wool…I think he’s enjoying the scent as much as me and will happily rest the tip of his nose against the ball of wool….I’ve also started making plans for a second shawl, thinking about how I can change the cloverleaf pattern so I don’t have two shawls quite the same….

So I’m wishing you all a very peaceful 2016, with lots of good times and laughter and health and happiness….

*We got the results of the biopsy late Christmas Eve, and I’m afraid to say it wasn’t good news, the lump they removed proved positive and the cancer is the sort that will return…We have to go back to the vets next Thursday to talk over the options on future treatments so for now he’s being spoilt rotten like you wouldn’t believe.

Christmas colds, soothing syrups and a knitty kitty….

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Before I can even write anything I need to cough and blow my nose….and in a raspy old croak whisper that I’ve got a cold…my nose (or dose) is all stuffy, my ears are popping and I feel like a right cotton headed noodle head……this happens every year, my good intentions for being all organized seems to go out of the window and November and the start of December is an endless cycle of very early morning starts and late night sewing trying to get everything finished in time for fairs and commissions…..and inevitably it gets to the point where my body says “enough” and everything seems to just shut down….stupidly I ignored the warnings last weekend when my throat began feeling very sore and scratchy, this is always the first sign for me that I’m getting sickly….I guess I was so focused on getting things ready for my boyfriends parents visiting (gifts to make, wrap…biscuits and puddings to bake) and with Bernard being ill too that I just carried on regardless…..til Friday afternoon…..I was on my way to pick up the boy from the vets (a quick check up and he’s doing all nicely) when I just felt all faint and my energy leave me.

crocheted cosy

So for the past day or so I’ve been sipping fruit syrups that I made in the Autumn from foraging and clambering about in hedgerows looking like Catweazel…the syrups arel lovely stirred into a cup of hot water, and drinking soothing honey and lemon teas and have been getting through no-end of tissues as my nose won’t stop running ….most annoyingly, and you’ll know this if you are a regular reader or have ever met me, I am a chatter, mostly it’s just piffle and I can happily waffle on for ages….but for now I’m only able to manage a croaky old rasp…a bit like a dry leafed rustle…gradually it rises to an almost inaudible squeek (the neighbourhood dogs are no doubt running about wondering what the noise is) then dissappears.

 

Luckily almost everything is done….I’ve one last commission, though it’s a big one…two supersized stockings for Peggy and Pearl (the little poppets I made the star quilts for back at the start of the year)…

paws for a kitty toy

At the moment I’m knitting a wee cardigan for “licky paws”…I’m using a lovely bright green colour but the yarn itself is acrylic as I couldn’t see any pure wool in my wool basket (however is often the way, once I started I then remembered a nice soft apple green I have from Jamiesons of Shetland but I figure I can knit up another cardigan for her over the holidays)……the yarn is rather squeeky and I miss the soft shuffly corduroy sound of knitting with wool.

I’ll try and take pictures once everything is ready, the light here isn’t great and I’m really just trying to get this all finishied to be posted tomorrow.

I’ve also got a little dress to sew up for licky paws to wear, I’ve drawn up a teeny version of the dottie angel dress so I’ll make that in the same tiny green floral print as one I made in my size (Eliza’s favourite colour is green so figured that would be the best choice for kitty clothing)….so for now I’m on the sofa, sipping fruit teas and knitting as fast as I can while watching old black and white films and soundign like a right old sick note.

 

A wee Christmas stocking give-away….

weeny blue stocking with red pom pom trim

I’m trying to grab 5 minutes to catch up with a list of chores and half remembered need to dos before Christmas is upon us…the “invalid” is full of beans, objecting rather loudly at having to use indoor facilities and I’ve even been down the road and bought a new type of kitty litter as he didn’t care for the wood variety that we’d  bought and had by us…don’t think he he’s any more impressed with the new one but he’s not allowed out til he’s seen the vet again on Friday.  However he seems full of beans and is right perky, I think he’s downstairs at the mo entertaining my boyfriend’s mum and dad.

One of the things I’d intended to post last week was details of a Christmas give-away so it’s a few days later than I’d intended but with craft fairs and poorly pawed poppets the last some days have all been a bit of a blur.fingers crossed could be with you at the start of next week.

detail of blue snowflake embroidery

So this little stocking is looking for a new home, one where it’ll be filled to the brim with presents and have a fat and lumpy tummy.

It’s all embroidered by hand using vintage tapestry wool and inside it’s lined with a pretty striped fabric.  (sadly the bears don’t come with the stocking but maybe you’ll be able to find one of your own to squidge in on top of the other things you care to fill it with.)

If you’d like the chance to win it then just leave me a wee comment and you’ll be entered….

The draw will be held first thing Friday morning (December 18th) and will be posted off later that day so fingers crossed it should be with you before the big day itself.  I’m only able to post to UK addresses but you can still enter if you live overseas and would like it sent to someone in the UK (hope that makes sense…)

UPDATE…..Bernard has to go to the vets now Friday morning so the giveaway will run to late Friday afternoon with the draw taking place about 5 o’clock (or 1700 hours)  xx

UPDATE number two….this giveaway is now closed.

a proper old pickle and a sleepy shawl stealing cat……

it's all a bit of a pickle

This is the current state of play in one corner on my work table….it’s a proper old pickle as I’m on “craft fair countdown” mode…..next Monday there’ll be a quick tidy up then chaos will resume within hours….I always try and be neat and tidy but it never lasts for long…as soon as I start putting things away I always then need them straight away or just forget where I’ve put them.

Little piles of embroidery silks tumble over scraps of wool felt, I try to snip up the smallest pieces as I go along so I always have a ready supply of stuffing to hand….strands of silk I’m using for applique sewing float around everywhere and my footsteps down the stairs have become rather rainbow coloured the past few days…..

There’s a pointy tipped heap of skinny black pins, they were part of a birthday present, they come from Merchant and Mills and are wonderful to use…very sharp and they don’t rumple or bulge the felt as I lay out my applique…they’re also nice to use in finer fabrics as they’re so fine they don’t mark the cloth in the slightest.

work table chaos

I had the devil of a time yesterday trying to buy red velvet ribbon in the city…neither little haberdashery/sewing stall on the market carried it which is fair enough, but then when I went into a larger shop the girl in there looked at me like I’d asked for something really bizarre…to be honest she didn’t actually know what it was and then when I explained, said no she didn’t think they still made it. Sigh…so I ended up trekking down to Anglian Fashion Fabric on Magdalen Street which never lets me down, but was a bit further out then I’d intended to walk….I had a roll of lovely vintagey velvet ribbon from a car boot and now I’ve used it all up, I never thought it would be so hard to replace.

And I found 5 minutes to quickly pop into St Gregory’s Antique Centre as I was nearly all out of cream thread for sewing in the linings of my hot water bottles.  There is a very good haberdashery stall in there run by a lovely lady called Jenny, and it’s a rare old trip that doesn’t see me leave without a few brightly coloured reels of vintage cotton thread in a paper bag…memories of leaving sweet shops with a little bag of penny sweets always come to mind when I step out into the cold air.

detail of hand sewn applique

I’ve been sewing up hot water bottle cosies all week, hand sewing and embroidering little birds made out of pure wool felt onto vintage blanket fabric…at least with a pile of these on my lap I’m not feeling the cold.

detail of red bird applique

They’ve just gone into my Folksy shop as I’m trying to keep that nicely stocked up now til Christmas….

Originally the birds began life as brooches, just a couple of inches across, then slowly they grew a little larger and began to appear on notebook covers before they found their final home on tea cosies and hot water bottle covers.

I really like sewing using wool felt, it costs a bit more than the wool mix which a lot of shops seem to sell instead so I have to buy mine online…Handmade Presents is very good, they also sell wool felt which is plant dyed.  And the other place I buy from is Myriad (I’m also really tempted with their lovely wooden animals….

paws for a kitty toy

This is a bit of a secret sewing share now….between us (that’s me and my boyfriend)  we have five nieces, the ones on my side are all grown up now but in the past when they were all small and chubby of knee I’ve made them fairy dolls and mermaid ones (including one that came out so big she looked like she could have wrestled Moby Dick), but our other two are still pretty wee….I’ve made them both stockings and crochet blankets, but only Maggie has had any dolls made for her.  I ran out of time last year but this year I wanted to make Eliza an animal doll…her mum told me she really likes cats so I’ve started work on what I’m calling “licky paws”…(when I was asked for baby names licky paws was one of my suggestions and thought it would be a good working name for this little kitty).

The body is made from a Llama hair coat I bought years ago in Wells, it’s lovely and soft, yet the fabric is nice and robust and you can stuff it really firmly….the kitty pads are hole punched pieces of wool felt, made from the tiniest of scraps I get left with after cutting out my applique birds.

Turning the arms and legs right ways out always makes me feel like I’m going to bust something and have a hernia pop out…I seriously do not know how Sasha manages to make her dolls without doing herself a proper mischief as she often uses blanket fabric and I can’t turn that for toffee.

For now I’ve sewn the arms and legs, and need to stuff all of them before wedging them in the body but I won’t have time until after the 12th of December which is the date of my last fair.

the sleepiest cat in the world

The weather here has been pretty rotten…Bernard seems to dash out, do the world’s quickest wee then is back and nestled down in my shawl (it’s mine, not his even though he’s covering it in cat licky smell, and the look he gave me the other night when I went to put it round my shoulders was hilarious…puffed out cheeks and whiskers right forward….)

He’s feeling all sorry for himself at the moment, the kittens from next door beat him up…well we think it was them as they don’t seem to get on too well.  Bernard’s face is all scratches and he’s a bit flinchy when we stroke his head…the kittens are like 4/ 5 months old max, so he’s a bit of a wussy really.

He’s still jumping up on the sofa and cuddling alongside me in the early hours though the time is now spent embroidering snowflakes on stockings rather than knitting….but he’s been very good with the knitting wool.  I’ve been knitting up a couple of swatches for the British Breed swatch kal on Ravelry and the wool I used was lovely and sheepy scented so maybe he can smell the animal so leaves the wool alone…he sniffs it, rubs his face on it and there was a bit of licking at first…but he’s not run off with it or thrown it on the floor like he’s done in the past…..anyway, this one is for mon ami Celine….

The calming scent of gingerbread and finding pieces of wool felt stuck to my elbows…..

 

It’s all a bit chaotic here at the moment, those precious early first hours of the morning of the past month are no longer for knitting but instead have given way to embroidering and hand sewing (too early to use the sewing machine as I’d wake half the house) … in between trying to keep my Folksy shop stocked up and the weekly Christmas fairs about to start, I’m getting a bit fraught and frazzled, feeling I’ve not made enough but barely being able to carry what I have made with me when I do a test run….and my first fair (which is a two day affair) is only a week away.

sewing the snowman scarf

Tiny pieces of felt cut out and all ready to applique on the stockings and snippets of embroidery thread are trailed around the house, pinned pieces are put down in between making pots of tea only to wonder where the devil I’ve put them (the times I’ve checked my elbows to find the wool felt stuck to a cardigan sleeve)…when it all gets too much I head outside, the marshes are bit boggy so I have to keep to the path rather than go off over the meadows but it’s just enough to  blow the cobwebs away, get a breath of air before another sewing session…

When I’m sewing early in the morning I’m aware of every noise, every creak of the scissors or the clink of them being placed down on the table, the delicate clutter and scrape of pins moving about…even the sound of the thread being pulled through the thick wool blanket fabric, a low dragging sound which I never seem to notice in the day time….trying hard not to wake anyone else….

hania's stocking 009

In the middle of all this I decided to make some gingerbread and a couple of days later I can still smell a faint waft of spices and treacle in the kitchen….the gingerbread came out really well, very dark, sticky and so spicy scented (I use both fresh and dry ginger, plenty of cinnamon and a good dash of clove go in too….and rather than chop the fresh ginger I like to use a ginger grater which you can buy at health food shops or at an Asian foodstore.  There’s something about making it which calms me right down, just opening the cupboard doors and seeing those familiar tins of golden syrup and treacle…green,gold and red tins which I grew up seeing in our pantry and also when I’d go up the road to Nanny’s house, she’d also have them tucked away on a shelf. Tins of comfort….oh Tate and Lyle please never ever change them.

gingerbread man 003

(gingerbread man made by my friend Sasha)

The smell of melting butter, syrup, treacle and sugar, the soft warm aroma of spices from far far away (well to be fair I buy all mine from Gareth and Jane on Norwich Market but it’s lovely to imagine the hot and exotic lands they come from)….lining a baking tin, mixing in cream and eggs, flour….stiring and making wishes (I always make a wish with gingerbread)……then just letting it sit quietly in a warm oven where it slowly rises and fills the whole house with the smile inducing, “this is the smell of Winter” scent of spices and sugar…..

pinning branch

I’m very generous with the amount of spices I use, evoking proper old European spice cakes (rather than an insipid flavouring added in high street coffee shops) and then make a thick lemon juice icing to be spread on top (in my eyes gingerbread is medicinal, it doesn’t count as cake and the more spices and lemon juice in there , well the better it is for you.)…I also add a couple of tablespoons of dried rose petals which are ground really fine that I can dust them in like icing sugar….no one ever can tell they are in there but I’m aware when I don’t use them.

In my mind I associate gingerbread so much more with The Brothers Grimm or other European folk and fairy tales than Christmas time really, it’s the smell and scent of those stories…..I only make it in the Winter months (I can’t imagine eating it in the Summer…nope, just tried and screwed my face up with the very idea of…) and once I make the first sticky, spicy scented batch of cake then I feel like my Winter has begun, we might not always have snow, but I’ll always have a batch of dark, treacley gingerbread in a tin in the kitchen.

embroidered bird

So the first “spell” of Winter has been cast…the gingerbread is out of the oven and as the scent of spices and warm baking fills the house, so does the feeling of calm and happiness. The pace of the sewing slows, becomes a little less frantic, a little less fraught.