Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's Eve

It's New Year's Eve, and I can't believe that the year is almost over. It always creeps up on me and feels like a bit of a surprise. I find the spell between Christmas and the New Year fun, but disorientating - I never seem to know what day of the week we're on! It's been a lovely few days here, with lazy time spent at home, as well as going for walks, to the cinema, shopping etc. Earlier in the week we drove to a country pub for our annual family Christmas meal. We've doing this for many years with three generations getting together to exchange presents, laugh and catch up. The last year has had some wonderful moments, but some sad ones too for our family, and we really valued being together. The pub is very old with an old barn attached, and this is where we always book our table near the open fire.

Desserts are served in pretty tea cups,

and all around the walls and beams are antique agricultural implements. It's very cosy there, a great pub in winter, and apparently it even has its own ghost!

Yesterday we went ice-skating in Bath, or rather, P and the young 'uns did, and I spectated. On the few occasions I have skated I have spent most of the session holding on to the handrail, only to fall over soon after I let go. Instead I stood at the side with a coffee and took photos. The session started in the light just after the sun had set.

Gradually the light faded and the floodlights came on, illuminating the  heavily scored ice in different colours and casting shadows in purple, pink and blue. 

By the end of the session it was dark. The rink is in a large park and the surrounding trees were lit up. I loved seeing the moon behind the tree's branches against the dark sky. The scene looked ethereal and rather magical.

As we left the park, the lion statues on the gate were thrown into sharp relief in the moonlight, reminding me of  E Nesbit's story The Enchanted Castle in which marble statues come to life at night and move about the garden. 

Tonight the five of us are going out for a meal which is very unusual as we usually spend New Year's Eve in. We will celebrate the arrival of the New Year, and say goodbye to the old one. I shall leave you with an extract from one of my favourite poems, 'The Darkling Thrush' by Thomas Hardy:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky,
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

It's dated 31st December 1900, marking the beginning of the new century. I love his description of a wintry afternoon as the light fades and the frost sets in, and the contrast with the people who are warm indoors by their fires. A beautiful poem, I think.

However you spend it I hope you enjoy New Year's Eve, and I wish you a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! See you in 2015!
x x x

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Creamy Chestnut Pie

A very quick blog post from me tonight! A couple of you have asked for the recipe for the Creamy Chestnut Pie which I make every year for our Christmas lunch. When I first became vegetarian in 1990 my mum came across this recipe in her Woman's Weekly magazine and posted it to me in time for Christmas. There are five of us 24 years on, and we're all vegetarian. I've made it every year since then, and it wouldn't be Christmas in our family without it - thanks, Mum!

Here is the original recipe, and it's worth adding that I substitute button mushrooms for courgettes, as they go well with the chestnuts, and am always generous with the cream and sherry which make up the Christmassy sauce. I've included two photos in the hope that they will be easy to read, as the cutting is quite crinkly now.

I always cut the left-over pastry into stars or holly leaves and berries to decorate the top of the pie. This is what it looks like after cooking, and we always serve it with roast potatoes and roast parsnips, sprouts, carrots, sage and onion stuffing and vegetarian gravy - yum!

I wanted to share the recipe before the New Year, as I won't be feeling in a Christmassy mood after then and will be ready to move into January.

Hope you like it x

Best Bits

The New Year is fast approaching, and I've been thinking about 2014 and all of the lovely things which I've recorded in my blog this year. Without doubt, the best thing of all was starting it in the first place. I had been reading some wonderful blogs over the last few years, and had always been  rather shy about leaving comments. My children kept telling me to start my own, and in April I finally did! I've had the best fun ever since then, making lots of lovely new friends in the blog world, and being able to write about all the things which mean something to me. I so value everyone's comments, and am excited every time I read a new one. 

I've loved being able to share my love of flowers throughout the year. As the months pass there are so many fabulous blooms to enjoy in my own garden, and in some beautiful gardens which I've visited. Flowers really do make me very happy indeed!

Some amazingly delicate and colourful wild flowers can be found on walks in the countryside, along pathways, and even growing on pavements in towns and cities. They really are delightful little discoveries.

It's been a creative year too. Working full-time in term time means that I do my making in evenings and weekends, so I generally start quite small projects. I start to become a bit bored if something I'm making goes on for too long - perhaps I'm too impatient! Here are a few of the things I've made this year, some from my own design, and others from designs in books or shared by other generous bloggers. I learnt to needlefelt this year, and plan to do some more soon.

Last year we managed to get out and about on some lovely day trips, and on short local ones too. I love the anticipation of heading off somewhere wonderfully familiar or excitingly new, with a picnic and my camera.

I've enjoyed cooking this year, and love to make seasonal recipes as the year progresses. Locally produced or foraged food, along with flowers, marks the changing seasons and I get a sense of satisfaction when I cook recipes which I've been making for years. Old favourites like garlic pesto in the spring, lavender or rose shortbread in the summer, and squash soup in the autumn fall reassuringly into order as the months pass. I love to discover new ones too which I add to my well-used collection. This year I tried damson and gin and some new ice cream flavours.

There have been some wonderful skies this year, and I have been ready with my camera to capture them. Most have been sunrises which I spot from the window when I'm getting ready for work. Sunsets often take place when I'm busy elsewhere and I miss a good many of them. I love clouds too, and have enjoyed spotting stunning cloud formations.

I hope you've enjoyed my little wander down memory lane, and will come with me as we venture into 2015.
I'm looking forward to the New Year x

Saturday, 27 December 2014


Hello again! I hope you have had a lovely Christmas! Here we enjoyed ourselves very much, just the five of us. We'll be catching up with our families over the next couple of days. Our Christmas lunch went very well, with my traditional table decoration made with garden foliage and the crab apples which I bought from the market.

The damson gin which I made back in August was a success and I'll definitely make it again.

As a vegetarian family our traditional Christmas lunch is a Creamy Chestnut Pie. My mum found this recipe for me over 20 years ago when I first became a vegetarian from her weekly magazine, and I've been making it ever since. It's got nutmeg and sherry in it and is delicious.

As usual we set our pudding alight, but few of us have the room to eat it.

We had some fun games of Scrabble, but play was halted for a short while when Clover decided that the Scrabble box was just the place for a little rest.

It has been a lovely couple of days, relaxing and festive here, but today we're ready for a proper venture outside. A good deal of Britain had snow yesterday; we had rain, although it is noticeably colder now. This morning the sun is shining and I had a bracing walk outside in the bright cold air. I enjoy this part of the Christmas break very much as we're all off work and school/university, and can please ourselves for a few days. I'm still enjoying the sparkle of Christmas, but am looking forward to the New Year as well.

I hope that you're able to spend some time relaxing too.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve

We're just about ready for Christmas here at The House with the Blue Door. 

I finished my snowflake garland and hung it up, finally settling on hanging it at the window.

I'm glad that I wasn't too ambitious with my Christmas makes this year.

The house is looking cheerful,


and sparkly,

 and there's not much left to do now except to wish you a very merry Christmas!

x x x x x 

Sunday, 21 December 2014


Just a quick drop in to say 'hello' on this Winter Solstice morning! I've been laid low battling germs all week, but now that term has ended I can recover and enjoy our Christmas preparations. B and J are both home from university, and P is on holiday now too - the house is full again and it's all feeling cosy and festive here at The House with the Blue Door.

Now is the darkest point in the year, and I imagine the earth starting to turn towards the light again after today. Traditionally our ancestors gathered evergreen foliage and greenery and brought them into their homes for their winter festivals to keep evil spirits away, celebrate growth and bring good luck. I always light candles and bring into the house some holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary. This is also traditionally the first day of winter here in the northern hemisphere, and it's an evocative time of reflection and spirituality, a time of shadows and flickering firelight, at the same time cosy and mysterious. It's a time for story-telling and imagination, snuggling up indoors and reading or listening to something magical by candlelight. With Christmas Day itself imminent, I don't always manage to do all of this, but try to incorporate at least some of it into my 21st of December.

Mistletoe is one of my favourite winter evergreens; such a strange plant both in looks and habit, parasitic and with very sticky berries which are transported to their host trees by sticking to birds' beaks.  It grows well in apple orchards (but also on other trees as well) and is quite prevalent here in Somerset. Mistletoe has ancient, pagan associations and nowadays it's still very much a part of Christmas celebrations, hung around the home for people to kiss under.

In ancient times the winter solstice was a time to think about the coming year and to encourage the sun to return to a dark, cold world. It certainly must have seemed as if the sun had lost its power, appearing weak and low in the sky.

And so, as we prepare for the Christmas festivities, I look forward to our days lengthening and the sun's warmth in the year to come.

Have a Happy Solstice x

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wells and a Wreath Repair

Yesterday was another glorious, bright, chilly Saturday. We had some Christmas shopping to do, so headed off to Wells for the afternoon. We arrived in the late afternoon as the sun was setting and I took a couple of rather blurry photos from the car as we drove over the Mendips. The landscape at this time of year is breath-taking on a clear, cold day.

At 2.45pm the low setting sun cast shadows across the landscape, highlighting the contours of the fields.

We have been coming to Wells on a Saturday afternoon for over 20 years now, and I love it just as much now as I did when we first came. The market was already in shadow, but the cathedral's mellow limestone was caught by the sun's rays and positively glowed.

The Penniless Porch was as striking as ever, with a busker playing carols underneath it. 

Some of the shops' Christmas displays were so pretty; this one must have taken ages to put up.

As I wandered around the market I came across my favourite farm stall which sells seasonal fruit, vegetables and plants. I was so busy chatting to the lovely lady who runs it I forgot to take a photo, but I noticed that she had some small pieces of mistletoe left and some wonderfully bright branches of red crab apples for sale. 

As soon as I saw them I knew what I'd do with them. the wreath which I made in this post was starting to look a little wilted on the front door - these lovely branches would really bring it to life. They are so wonderfully bright, like large cherries with a tiny bit of orangey-yellow in them.

This morning I took out the wilted pieces of purple sage and replaced them with bunches of crab apples and sprigs of mistletoe, tied everything securely in place, and hung it back on the front door.

I must say I like it better than ever now. It's bright and festive but has cost me under £2 to make, as most of the materials are from the garden.

The red apples and purple berries bring the wreath to life.

And the variegated holly leaves are reflective and glossy.

I'm very pleased with my repaired wreath. Fingers crossed, it'll last till Christmas now.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

This Week

Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post; I love to read about all of your Christmas decorating preferences and traditions. Life's been very hectic around here lately, and I'm really looking forward to having some time off work when term ends. My warm bed is feeling more and more cosy on chilly mornings, and I keep thinking that surely it must be the weekend? Now that it is, I can look back at some of the creative things I've been up to lately.

I decided it was time to make mince pies, because if I leave making them until Christmas itself they get left in the tin, overlooked and ignored because of all the other treats around. I still haven't got round to making my own mincemeat yet, so used shop-bought which I think still tastes nice. I made the pastry, cutting out bases and stars for the lids. Then put them into their trays and popped a teaspoon of mincemeat in each one, finishing with a star on the top. I started topping them with stars years ago, and now that's how I always make them.

After baking, I let them cool and dust them with icing sugar (the children always referred to it as 'snow' when they were little, and liked to choose the one with the deepest drifts on it).

We ate them warm from the oven with a cup of tea. Delicious - such a sweet, spicy, Christmassy taste. Doesn't this little pink rose from the garden seem incongruous at this time of year? The roses flower sporadically right into December, and as the weather gets colder their perfume weakens. Soon they will stop and we will have to wait until May to see them again,

Remember these squashes? I cooked them using the River Cottage recipe, and they turned out really well. They were delicious with their cheese and leek filling and a sprig of thyme from the garden.

My crocheted snowflakes have turned out well. I had planned to design my own this year, but time has been against me so I used the same lovely pattern that I used last year. You can find it here. After darning in their ends I pinned them out on an old towel and spray-starched them, leaving them to dry overnight. This is where they really begin to take shape.

Here they are almost finished.

Finally I added some thin organza ribbon and hung them in the sunlit hedge this morning for their photo-shoot.

The light brought out the sparkle in the yarn.

Think I might make some more for a snowflake garland.

Have a lovely weekend x