Saturday, 31 January 2015

January Snowdrops

Whilst out driving this week we passed some snowdrops growing in clumps along a country lane. It was dark, but they glowed white as the car's headlights lit them up. They made me think of spring, but soon afterwards we passed through a hailstorm that left the road covered in tiny icy spheres and I was reminded that they are a winter flower, rather than a spring one. In our garden they are blooming in a strawberry patch under the apple tree. 

They are such a neat, compact little flower, and so very white. I'm not generally a fan of white flowers, preferring the richness of colours, but when I see snow white things in nature like white feathers or fur, I am always amazed at the reflective brightness of white. 

Their leaves have a touch of blue about them, and I remember trying to find exactly the right colour when I painted one a few years ago (you can read about my attempts at botanical painting in this post). The ones I painted are more open, and perhaps a different variety, looking at the way they have opened up to reveal frilly green inner petals.

Wordsworth described their whiteness in his poem 'To A Snowdrop':

"Lone flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far"

He also highlights the toughness of these tiny flowers. The poet Ted Hughes took this a step further, and imagined them to be made of metal:

"Now is the globe shrunk tight
Brutal as the stars of this month,
Her pale head heavy as metal"

It's tempting to see the snowdrop as a delicate little flower, fragile and tiny, but in truth they are very resilient, fighting their way up through frozen soil and withstanding battering rain, hail and snow in the depths of January.

They are inspiring, always welcome and a sign that life is thriving in winter, even on the coldest day, and for that I am very fond of them.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Dropping By

Hello there! Just dropping by to share some of the things that I've enjoyed over the last few days in what has turned out to be a rather busy week here. I did some sewing over the weekend - I'll post about that soon - but seem to be taking a little break from yarny things in the evenings. It's been cold and wet here with several hailstorms, sleet and snow flurries, so we've done a lot of cosying up indoors, as well as heading for bed early with plenty of blankets and hot drinks.

Outside in the garden there are few flowers to be seen, but this winter-flowering heather is putting on a good show. Its tiny pinky-purple bells are very hardy in the cold, and make a real splash of colour in the border.

In a pot outside the door is an ornamental cabbage. Usually I choose purple ones, but this year I decided on white. Its paleness emphasises and defines its frilly edges, making it look as if it's made from icing.

In contrast the edible cabbage I bought from the farm shop was a delightful mix of green and purple, and looked almost too pretty to eat. As soon as it was cooked, however, it lost its purple hue and transformed into a more run-of-the-mill green cabbage.

There have been some gorgeous skies this week. This was a glorious gold and pink sunrise ...

... and this was a heavenly lilac and pink sunset. The colours are exquisite, and watching them lighten, deepen and develop before my eyes is enthralling and quite meditative.

Indoors I've been enjoying some pale yellow daffodils along with one of my favourite magazines. I usually read my magazines in bed just before I go to sleep, as I find them relaxing and soothing. Sometimes, though, I'll read abut something that inspires me with an idea to make something, and it starts to buzz around my head just as I'm nodding off.

 On the windowsill is a pot of hyacinths which a friend potted up for me last autumn. I kept them in a dark shed and brought them out just before Christmas as they began to send shoots above the soil. The blooms are opening now and I can see that they will be my very favourite shade of mauve, somewhere between pink and purple. You can see the blue bases to the florets.

Equally exciting is my amaryllis which is beginning to open. It's tantalisingly revealing a glimpse of red petal between its green leaves, and looks like it will be a beauty.

The 'Bridal Crown' narcissi are open now, and smell wonderful, fresh and full of the promise of spring. I had to photograph them against the blue wall to bring out their soft, creamy shades.

Finally, I so enjoy having Clover around the house curled up on beds, sofas, her baskets and occasionally the floor under radiators. She sleeps soundly for a good portion of the day and snores quite loudly for such a small and delicate cat. She has very little interest in going outside at the moment, and her presence makes the house feel very homely indeed.

Hope you're somewhere warm and dry today too x

Sunday, 25 January 2015


We've been eating a bit more healthily here recently and I haven't done any baking (apart from B's birthday cake, of course).  This weekend I thought it was time I made a little something, and I knew just what it would be. B gave me this sweet little book as a present when she visited France a few years ago, and I'm very fond of it.

 The illustrations are so good, it's one of those cook books which are lovely just to look at, and I also enjoy trying out my A level French on it. This is my favourite page - so pretty!

The madeleines in particular caught my attention; light little buttery sponge cakes. After a bit of investigation I discovered that they come from northern France and are traditionally made in the shape of little scallop shells. They use a genoise batter and can be flavoured in different ways, and are even mentioned by Proust in 'Remembrance of Things Past'. 

I knew I could make them in my usual bun tray and they would taste the same, but I really wanted them to be shell-shaped. So I saved my pennies and bought a lovely madeleine baking tray last year. Here it is. A thing of beauty in its own right.

I used this recipe which is very easy to follow, but have made some from this one as well which were very good. First of all I zested and juiced a lemon.

Then melted the butter.

I whisked together the eggs and sugar until they were frothy.

Then I brushed some melted butter into the shell shapes and dusted them with flour to prevent sticking.

It was time to mix all of the ingredients together now and whisk them lightly.

After that I covered the mixture and left it to stand for 20 minutes.

I carefully poured the mixture into the tin, making sure not to go over the edges.

After 10 minutes they were done, although perhaps slightly overdone - maybe 8 minutes next time?

Once cooled I eased them out of their tin and dusted them with icing suger, sweet little lemony sponge shells.

The recipe says that they are best eaten within an hour of baking and who am I to argue? I ate one with a cup of tea, and it was very yummy. I'm just deciding what flavour to make next time ... lavender maybe, or almond, earl grey, rose and honey, lemon verbena, gingerbread? The possibilities are endless.

Have a good weekend x

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Frosty Days

It's been a cold week so far, with a sparkly frost most mornings. A close look at the garden has shown some beautifully intricate patterns and shapes outlined by the frost. These ferns look quite spectacular with their frosty edges.

Dead leaves suddenly look prettier, as if they've been dipped in icing.

The grass is crisp and crunches underfoot, reminding me of the grass made of mint sugar in Willy Wonka's factory in 'Charlie and the Chocolate factory'.

The cold air stings my face, and my breath makes little white clouds in front of me. The rosemary looks wonderfully spiky and brittle, as if it could easily snap.

And the hart's tongue fern has undulating crinkly edges.

The slate tiles on the roofs sparkle under a dusting of white, and I feel sorry for the starlings, crows and pigeons who sit on the rooftops and telephone wires on cold mornings.

I feed the birds all year round, but make a special effort in the wintertime. Food is scarce as most of the berries, seeds and nuts are eaten now. This is a new bird table, as our old one blew over and broke in the high winds we had last year. I get such a lot of pleasure from feeding birds - it's important to help them survive, and when I catch a glimpse of them it's quite magical.

Starlings love the coconut half with suet
 and seeds in it, and peck at it with their long pointy beaks.

 They are a very sociable bird, gathering together in groups chattering and bickering. In the winter their plumage is especially attractive, iridescent and shiny.


In both the front and back gardens I hang several fat balls, which many birds like. At this time of year I refill them every few days.

The cherry tree makes an excellent feeding station.

Last year I made a list of birds which come to the garden. They include:
blue tits
great tits
long tailed tits
coal tits

and these rather sweet collared doves who always visit in pairs.

My pictures are a little fuzzy as I'm not the best bird photographer - they always seem to fly away just as I get my camera out! Here is a photo from last spring of a pair of goldfinches on the feeder. I haven't seen any this winter, but am so looking forward to seeing their bright, colourful, almost exotic plumage again in our garden. That flash of red and yellow is unmistakeable.

And so, while I dream of warmer days in the middle of January we console ourselves with hot mugs of cocoa, and extra blankets on our beds - a treat on a cold winter's evening!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

This Week

It's been a quiet week here with everyone now back at university, work and school and feels as if we're finally back into the rhythm of everyday life again. The Christmas cake and chocolates are all finished now and after last week's daffodils finished flowering I headed off to buy some more. I couldn't find any, but came home with these lovely deep pink roses instead.

I've been a bit restless creatively and have been trying to work steadily on J's blanket (I don't know why it's taking me so long - it's not very big). I think it's because I know it was meant to be finished back in September so it feels like an autumn project. And I have a confession to make. Remember I said that I would not begin making anything with this yarn until the blanket was finished? Well, it's been calling to me from my knitting bag all week, reminding me that it's very soft and a lovely shade of icy blue, just perfect for making something in January, don't you think? How could I resist? Yes, dear reader, you knew I'd give in didn't you? I've decided to make a cowl and knitted a few rows of moss stitch which is my favourite stitch 'just to see what it will look like' (that doesn't count as starting another project, does it?)  I don't knit as often as I crochet and tend to keep it pretty simple stitch-wise, enjoying knitting rhythmically in front of the tv without having to give it too much thought.

I love the chalky blue colour - it's called 'Foggy' - and the soft texture (it's a linen/cotton mix).

This week we've had a good deal of rain, with some bright moments of sunshine thrown in. Here's yesterday morning's view from the loft bedroom window. It was actually snowing but it didn't settle, melting as soon as it landed. We're still waiting for snow here. It snowed on Wednesday night but didn't settle then either, much to the great disappointment of local school children who were hoping for a snow day. 

This morning was bright, sunny and cold when I opened the blind, and there were the most beautiful fern-like shapes on the outside of the glass which sparkled in the sunlight. They were difficult to photograph, but I just about caught them, I think.

Since outdoors has been so cold, wet and dark I've been tidying up indoors and thought I'd show you our dresser. It used to be an orangey pine colour, so a few years ago I painted it blue, a sort of lavender blue which we'd used in the bathroom (it was one of those any-surface paints). I was very pleased with the results and it's stayed blue ever since. My dad gave me his old pale yellow china coffee set to put on it, and I've picked up pastel-coloured china over the years to display on it.

It does make me happy to use it, and it's a very cheerful item of furniture to have around. The pretty colours on it really brighten up a dreary day, and throughout the year I like to put small pots of flowers from the garden on it. The very large fruit bowl (above) is actually part of a washstand set that would have had a matching jug and belonged to my great-grandmother. She was born at the end of the 19th century, and I have very faint memories of her from when I was very little, so it's lovely to have it in our home. There are lots of flowery things on the dresser.

Some of the pretty plates are from charity shops, or have been handed down to me, and the rest of the china jugs and cups are presents or souvenirs.

On the kitchen windowsill the pots of bulbs are blooming and smell lovely, scenting the whole room and bringing a bit of spring into the house.

The hyacinths are a lovely pure white, fresh and fragrant.

This weekend my oldest, B, has turned 21 and she and her boyfriend came home so we could all go out for a celebratory meal. J was able to pop back from his uni too, so it was lovely to briefly see them all again. It really doesn't seem that long since she was born, and feels strange to be the parents of grown adults, but wonderful to watch them flourish and make their own way in life.  I made her a quick birthday cake with jam, buttercream, lilac icing and sugar snowflakes. As you can see it went down well!    

It's been a good week here, with a lovely mixture of creativity, colour and family togetherness. You can't ask for much better than that, I think. Right, I'm off to do a bit more tidying and sorting. See you soon x