Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the red dogwood

Now that the sun is shining, I thought everyone would be delighted if I were to post a photo of the shelf over the range, with the red dogwood looking well in some coloured bottles.

It's hard to fathom the thinking behind the newly designed Cadbury's chocolate wrapper. 'EASY RECLOSE'?  Is it now the done thing to reclose one's chocolate bar rather than consume it all in one sitting while browsing for an old-fashioned brass locket to send to America? It is only a small bar, a mere eight squares.

I have also fallen a bit behind in blogging conventions and have been slow to notice that it is an essential of lifestyle posts to shoot the same photo from various angles and distances.

To make amends, you will see that my camera and I have backed cautiously away from the chocolate in order that the image should also encompass my petit four serving dish, my pink poinsettia, and my Greengate tea towel. One could almost call the ensemble a vignette.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hot Cross Muffins

A moment of thought fusion occurred in my celebrity kitchen on Saturday: why not combine two of my favourite foods, English muffins and hot cross buns?

Hot cross muffins: standard English muffin recipe,
plus cherries, sultanas and spices.
Secular version.
These are extremely nice, and they bake in about 12 minutes on the stove hotplate. If you have a top tip on kneading glacé cherries into bread dough without breaking them up, please make haste to the comment box to set me straight.  Is my brand of cherries too puny?

I haven't posted in a while, as I've felt awfully cut up over the state of my sourdough starter. It's a living thing, I'm told, a colony of well-intentioned lactobacilli, so I don't like to abandon it to the storm despite its iffy appearance, but, anyhow, soldiering on, the verbena is casting splendid autumnal shadows,

and posies of flowers still come in from the garden although it's nearly November.

People keep getting in touch saying they want to rush me a truckload of pistachio cookies or ergonomic secateurs for me to review on my blog, no strings attached. Does this mean I have risen from C-list to B-list, or do they fail to realise that I only have seven readers, not all of whom are partial to pistachios?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

flowers and food

Blogging always reverts to the classic themes of flowers and food while the rest of life whirls unsuitably on around the camera moments.

Pink Daughter packed up this year's pressed petals to show at school. She was surprised that her classmates don't know the names of even the easy ones, such as cosmos and hydrangea. The One Direction Official Compendium of Garden Flowers should remedy that.

The last of the unpressed flowers still linger outside, getting somewhat in the way of the bulbs waiting to be planted. I've set up a scientific experiment in the corner by the rocky mound: a bed of autumn-planted perennial sunflower, purple toadflax, and Japanese anemone, vigorous invaders all. Time will tell which one overwhelms its companions.

Pizza with blue cheese, rosemary, and potato. It was a great revelation to me that I could make pizza sauce by sautéing courgette and onion rather than cooking tomatoes.  So bourgeois, tomatoes.

Homemade doughballs and Nutella for after school.   I've considered making my own chocolate hazelnut spread in that idle way one toys with the notion of giving up alcohol, but the children would be upset if it contained antioxidants.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

homemade baked beans

Shop-bought baked beans are my enemy, first cousins to that most detestable of foods, ketchup. So I didn't think I'd like the homecooked sort either, but, with my characteristic saintly approach to feeding the family, made them nonetheless. They were jolly nice.

The English muffins on which the beans are served are homemade.
The coriander is homegrown.
The dahlias are from my dahlia-bucket on the terrace.
The butter is handspread.
Hurrah for me.

To make them, sauté a chopped onion in a small casserole dish until soft, add a tablespoon each of cider vinegar and maple syrup, two chopped cloves of garlic, half a carton of passata, and a tin of cannellini beans. A teaspoonful of cumin or a little chilli powder is good too. Stir and bring to simmering point.  Place in a medium oven for an hour (or an hour simmering on the hob is fine too if you don't want to light an oven).

If you're wondering how big a carton of passata, this big.
Like many slow-cooked foods, they taste even nicer the next day.

Friday, September 27, 2013

the pictures from Paris

Goodness, I said to myself, it's Friday. I had better post something or my defenceless little blog will be lost amid the stampede of lovely things bloggers have handcrafted this week.

It wouldn't be honourable to post the pictures from Paris. So many people don't receive, out of the blue, an envelope containing original artworks, inscribed with a kindly message, from a chic European capital.  Bad feeling would ensue.

Flowers, by Margaret

Bakery shop (detail) by Elizabeth

No, I said, still talking to myself, I will do the decent thing and post a photo of the inconsequential jellies instead, the ones that look so pretty in the light. 

The jellies
The jellies will do until I cease to be so busy and important.  There has been such a rush of requests to critique websites and blogs in the aftermath of my recent pro bono work in that area, and I shall certainly get round to yours once I have finished the report on this particular one, with its many manifest lifestyle deficiencies.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

For the crocheters

After Annabelle's dress, depicted here recently, had spread around the international crocheting community like wildfire, a flood of three emails sought to see more of her wardrobe. Here are a few more ensembles:

Pleased to meet you, Mr Ambassador

Crocheters of the world, I greet you! 

I am delighted to accept this lovely, large parcel

What you are saying about your yoga is truly fascinating

You must forgive me for partially obscuring the lovely cushion
Beautiful!, you kindly think.  As Jen so rightly tells me, the poster struggles to reply thought-provokingly to a comment that simply says 'beautiful!' so I am happy to propose a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby you will save yourself the effort of leaving an admiring comment on this post and I will take 'beautiful!' as read.  We will remain best friends.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Helping Dr Ada

I first came to know Dr Ada a decade ago when an unfortunate timetable clash left her first year course on runic studies vying for attendees with my own series of lectures, Professor Mise's Introduction to Pure Mathematics. Attracted by my charm, reputation, and pedagogical skills, 354 of the young First Arts Students chose to attend my lectures. Five students signed up for Dr Ada's course, no doubt lured by her charm, reputation, and pedagogical skills.

An inevitable, one-sided coolness developed between us despite my frequent macaron gifts to her (I was ever the peacemaker!), and we had quite lost touch until her personal assistant contacted me this summer with the surprising news that Dr Ada had resigned her post and set up her own blog. She was hoping for some hints and tips for this, her new venture.

Dr Ada's Guide to Leaving Academia

Who better qualified to help than myself, I reflected immediately. By then, I could boast as many as seven regular readers, I had self-published extensively on blogging mores, Yvonne from Yvestown had once commented on a post of mine, and my blog statistics had led me to suspect that one of my subscribers was from New York. New York!

"Certainly, my dear," I told Dr Ada's assistant, and promptly forgot about the matter until Dr Ada herself called to my house recently on her motorcycle tour of Ireland.

It is difficult to let someone down when they have apologised so abjectly for their clumsy fall into your marigolds, and so, once Dr Ada had left, marigold petals still in her hair, I set to ponder how I might help her improve her blogging technique.

The first thing that sprang to mind was that her posts contained no images. Compare that with this present post, which I have illustrated with a photograph of Dr Ada's blog, depicted in my own celebrity kitchen.  Yes, the photograph is a tad out of focus and the laptop screen is crudely cropped to conceal my real name, yet the image serves to break the monotony of the paragraphs of text.

The chosen illustration need not necessarily be of a laptop in one's celebrity kitchen. A large, vintage copper pan, proposed tiles for the swimming pool, two candidate sequined scarves for wearing to the launch soirée: any old thing will do. Whatever is to hand.  

Note, however, that one cannot be entirely cavalier in the choice of image. When Dr Ada states,
The sidecar held up well: its occupant complained only once, when I took a series of spectacular hairpin bends con brio (as the advanced driving qualification demands)
the reader would expect to see a series of stills from the police speed camera.

The other major piece of advice for Dr Ada is, of course, that blog posts should be brief.  This will present a challenge to someone who is used to producing wordy, banal papers in the area of heiroglyphological research, but Dr Ada must bear in mind that her typical reader will simultaneously be skimming five other blogs, making a pudding that includes agar agar, eating buttered toast, and keeping ducks.

Again, taking the present instance as a case in point, there is no chance at all, its lucid eloquence notwithstanding, that any reader would ever reach the end of my post.      

Friday, September 13, 2013

an arrant knitting infringement

Exhibit A: the piece of knitting on which I've been working away uncomplainingly for the past ten, maybe eleven years. The pattern, called garter stitch, is an advanced technique for highly experienced knitters.

Here it is attractively displayed on my honeymoon cake-stand.

Exhibit B: the latest Chanel advertisement. Note how similar that pink knitting is to mine. A lighter shade, I grant you, but it would be insufficiently visible against my honeymoon cake-stand.

[by Chanel]

Is this a flagrant ripoff by Chanel of years of patient, creative effort on my part, or what?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You sit around getting older there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me

I've made this banana bread a hundred times by now. It's really banana cake, I suppose, but the daughters are trained to call it bread for school lunch purposes.

Well, I took a notion and, instead of the melted butter, I added half a can (or one mini-can) of coconut milk. It was Even Nicer. I felt very delusionally wholefood as I ate it.

They say you gotta stay hungry, says Bruce Springsteen, and how true that is. Here, then, is another favourite: feta and lentil salad.

Mix together some cubed feta, a tin of lentils, your favourite chopped herb (I use coriander), a few chives or spring onions, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, and, if you like, some chopped walnuts. Add dressing made from olive oil, lime juice, and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Leave it in the fridge for an hour before it is served.

You'll be showing me up by cooking dried lentils yourself, I realize, rather than using a tin. Jolly good.

This is the uplifting blaster mix of Dancing in the Dark. I wish melodious clubbers would follow me round echoing my words.

Monday, September 9, 2013

flowers, cake, and a new online shop

First of all, for Jane, Flowers in the House. An opportunity for us all to stroll out into the garden in our best wellies, the cosy Orla Kiely ones with teacups on, and fling together a few effortless blossoms to display attractively in front of anything that will show us in a good light, lifestyle-wise. 

Cornflower, Nepeta, Hydrangea, Calendula, Verbena. Do I have the right Monday? 

I made reliable sponge cake for the visitors. 4 eggs, 4 oz flour, 4 oz sugar. Raspberry jam, cream.

 The scene shifts to a determinedly minimalist corner of my house.  Golden yellow sofa, assorted cushions, accoutrements.

[from Natural Calico]

And if colour didn't creep so invitingly up on me, this is the state of grace my interiors would achieve: serenity epitomised by a contained quantity of stripes and the rustic chic of grainsack fabric. 

I covet the ottoman, from Natural Calico, a new online home boutique set up by Marie, whom I met when she came to style my house for an Ideal Home photoshoot.  She and I remained in touch and I'm pleased to see her enterprising new venture.  I confidently told Marie that my readers would be particularly interested in washed wood herb planters: was I right?  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

merely dresses

Annabelle is sporting a handmade crochet dress,
 suitable for wearing to a vignette.

A present of a Vanda Luddy print awaits curation.

I plan to wear something like this, from Charlotte and Jane,
when we meet, so please have your dressing assistant call mine
if your dress will clash or is too similar.

Monday, September 2, 2013

doing the right thing

I have picked blackberries,

made blackberry jam,

and baked blackberry crumble in a pink cast-iron pot,

as befits the lifestyle blogging genre.  Self-satisfaction must surely follow.

Following on from their Moroccan art expedition last year, my friends Elizabeth and Margaret are traveling to Paris this month to give some painting workshops.  French readers, if I have French readers, perhaps you would like to join them? All details are here.

The women of the parish wonder what my new metal sign, Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, means. It is a standard placeholder, reserving the textual space until the day comes when the true sign will burst forth in a blaze of revelatory significance.  But that day will not come. A metaphor for my life.

Happy Home goes to Flora, of Through the Round Window. Thank you all for entering, and for your welcoming comments since I resumed posting. You are such a convivial, kindly lot.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

am I the only one who has no paper straws?

I never purchased the striped twine after all. I yearned for it, of course, as bloggers do, and fully understood how useful it was for tying things up in situations where a plain twine would cause offence. But it was such a challenge to select a sensible number of colours, and then, one day, the passion for twine was gone. I just wasn't interested.  Paper drinking straws were what I wanted instead.

this sort of thing, from

You have them already, I assume, in a little enamel pail on your sideboard, colour-matched to your fruit-infused vodka cocktails.  I wish I were more like you, so on top of things. I've only just added that Follow with Bloglovin badge to my sidebar that everyone else has had for ages. What is Bloglovin and why omit the g? Is there anything else important I'm not doing?

At least I have a sign. You've had Read and Eat and Sleep and Live about your house for as long as I've known you, inspiringly placed in activity-appropriate rooms, and I've had nothing, not even my quilted initials over the mantel. Now, at last, with my new sign, I can hold my head up and blog without shame.

my new sign, propped up by hydrangeas

Unless, of course, signs are so last year. Are they?

I mustn't forget to draw a name for the Happy Home giveaway and will do so the second I have finished adhering labels to everything for the start of the school term and drilling the daughters to coordinate their lies about what they did during the holidays. The more inquisitive teachers can be so canny.


Friday, August 23, 2013

this and that, including a Happy Home giveaway

Now this is a giveaway only insofar as I am giving something away. Nothing big, nothing special. Just a book called Happy Home.

If you are interested, you know the drill: comment accordingly and let the stars hold your destiny.

When the washing line broke under the great weight of our habitual garb of vintage French linens and delicately embroidered brocades, Scottish Husband rigged up the Land Rover as a temporary pole. 

Good upcycling, no?  I assure him that this sort of stuff is worthy of inclusion in the 66 minute, professionally edited film of his life, even at the expense of close-up shots of him fine-tuning the motorcycle engine to maximise torque on the straight. I do hope I have that technical terminology right.

And these Liquorice Allsorts are my current downfall, not that I am falling down.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I do have some tranquil serenity, mind you

My garden may be a bit vivid, right enough, and readers took a medicinal dram and donned their sunglasses before venturing into the previous post's comment box.

So that I may be redeemed in your eyes, I wanted to show you my lavender-coloured lavender in its pale green planter, a shade which I recall was described as French Green in the seller's blurb. Who among us does not square their shoulders in quiet pride at owning something in French Green, once the pain of self-assembly has been forgotten?

There's the lavender.
I probably shouldn't have mentioned that the planter was self-assembled.
One day I must show you something I inherited
in case you think I am nouveau riche,
or indeed merely nouveau.

So, you see, if you disregard the sunflower yellow front door and the bright red bench, I am at heart a gracefully faded lady, and will gain my rightful place in the great brocante in the sky when the Blogtopian empire finally topples.

I must dash off now to photograph the item to be given away in my upcoming giveaway.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

aged 42, she suddenly took up gardening

Abandoning my tenacious purchase of cushions, I went full tilt for the gardening this year and spent May in wellingtons, not answering the telephone. Here are some of my efforts outdoors.

 Last year's yellow chairs are now painted blue

West terrace

Steps up to the house

Toward the woodshed.  I am kind to weeds

Circular flowerbed, precursor to fine upper arm muscles
Japanese anemone on a misty day

Outside the back door. I can't decide what colour to paint the wooden planter

Perhaps next year I shall tackle a small, easy vegetable which I can turn into chutney and give away with bashful pride.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crispy Cheese Biscuits

With housewifely diligence, I resolved to bake a morsel for Scottish Husband to accompany his glass of wine when he sits around of an evening denouncing Socialism.

A sprint round the cheese biscuit recipes yielded that they all contained too much butter, lovely and all though butter is. So here's how I made mine, which turned out deliciously: 
Place 8 oz flour, 3 oz butter, and 4 oz of any hard cheese you like in a food processor. I used a mix of parmesan and mature cheddar, but stilton would be lovely too. Press go. 
When nicely blitzed, add an egg and then gradually a small quantity of cold water until the mix reaches pastry consistency. 
Press into a roll, as wide as you want your biscuits to be, wrap in greaseproof paper, and place in the freezer while your oven warms up to 180 degrees C 
When the oven is heated, thinly slice the biscuit roll and place on some lined baking trays. This quantity makes heaps of biscuits - about 40. Bake till they turn golden (about 10 minutes). 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lilies in the kitchen

lilies waiting fragrantly to be planted

I may introduce my cheese biscuits tomorrow, if they photograph well. The recipe is my own creation as something in me isn't able to follow a cookery book obediently, or condone jagged ethnic prints, or take a silver taxi.
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