Turmoil

During the same foray into Evesham’s thrifting emporiums that turned up the Chinese pastry mold we came across this little beauty

20130930-193112.jpgThe Wonderland Picture Book. There is no date printed on the book itself, but an inscription inside the cover is dated 1939, and this would tally with the style of the illustrations inside.

The binding is completely shot, and some of the content is, erm, how can I best describe this? dubious. Yes I think that is an apt way of describing it. Shocking to today’s reader certainly. Toe-curlingly un-p.c. without a doubt. But the illustrations are gorgeous.

And here is the source of my turmoil.

The librarian says – keep the book as is. Preserve it as an example of its type in all it’s battered, falling apart glory.

The crafter says Ah ha! Pretty papers to cut up and repurpose.

It is a battle on a grand scale worthy of Jekyll and Hyde, Two-face, Hinge and Brackett…

20130930-194132.jpgThe Toy Cupboard

20130930-194204.jpgThe I-Why Bird

20130930-194313.jpgThe Island of Moonshine

I’m thinking a series of beautifully mounted pictures hanging on the wall leading to the guest bedroom. Not completely cut up. A passable compromise?

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Chinese Shortbread

Some weeks ago we were in Evesham, puttering around the charity and antique shops, when youngest child spotted a basket full of what looked like wooden paddles. The very nice lady who was running the shop told us they were Chinese pastry molds and, well, they were only £2 each so we thought “why not?” and duly purchased one.

Now I know very little about Chinese cookery, beyond the obligatory stir fry. So I did what any self respecting Librarian would do and looked them up on Google. It seems these paddles are indeed pastry molds and are often used for making moon cakes for the autumn festivals. What are the chances?

Now I am a little reluctant to try making regional specialities when I have no first hand experience of what the finished item is supposed to look or taste like. A few years ago I tried making Polish pierogis for an Easter get-together we were hosting. It was some months later that I found out that the hearty Cornish pasty like offerings I inflicted on our guests should have been delicate and the size of tortellini. Mind you, the one time the kids and I tried making tortellini they ended up the size of Cornish pasties too. As did the sushi we attempted. Twice. So perhaps I am just genetically incapable of making teeny tiny things. Apart from when I wash any garment made from pure wool when it will inevitably end up small enough to become part of a fetching new wardrobe for my daughters Sylvanian families.

But I digress.

So, moon cakes scared me.
But the paddle was very cute and needed, NEEDED, to be used. It was sitting on the kitchen counter reproaching me for buying it when I didn’t really have a use for it. So I thought, shortbread. Forget the Scottish thistle, lets make Chinese shortbread. Which would basically be a Scottish shortbread recipe, pressed into a Chinese mold. Forget thistles, it’s Lotus blossoms all the way.

20130929-200918.jpgChinese pastry mold.

The recipe was a very basic one:
175g plain flour
50g corn flour
50g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter, diced

Preheat your oven to 160C/325F/ Gas 3.
Sift together the flour, sugar and corn flour and then rub in the butter. Keep rubbing until you can knead the mixture into a dough.

20130929-201432.jpgkneading the dough.
Press the dough into the molds, or make small mounds of dough on your baking sheet and press the mold into the mounds to leave an impression – whichever works best with your mold….

Bake for 35-40 mins until golden. Sprinkle with a light dusting of caster sugar. Leave to cool and then munch

20130929-201722.jpgSugar dusted shortbread

20130929-201832.jpgpretty!

Worcestershire woodland

At this time of the year one of the most beautiful places to be in Britain is the Welsh Marches, the in between land that is the border between Wales and England. The landscape is gently undulating, black and white timbered houses nestle in tiny hamlets or singly, often surrounded by pockets of woodland which, at this time of year, are just beginning to give hints of warmer colour.

I love this bit of the world. I love ogling the houses (thatch! Mullions! Half-timbering!), whilst at the same time recoiling slightly at the thought of the size of the spiders that probably inhabit such houses. I love the history of the area. And I love the books of Phil Rickman which are often set in amongst the weirdness of an area which is neither here nor there, Welsh nor English.

Our visit today was to the ruin of a Victorian masterpiece of overblown architecture, Witley Court. The house itself is impressive for the sheer scale and ambition of the building

20130928-203941.jpgWitley Court as well as the triumph of wealth over taste

20130928-204052.jpgfountain.

The woodland that surrounds the house however is quite the opposite. Peaceful, harmonious, tasteful.

20130928-204337.jpgfungi

20130928-204401.jpgsweet chestnut

20130928-204431.jpgtiny frog

20130928-204502.jpgredwood

20130928-204548.jpgskeletal tree.

Adventure play areas for the kids

20130928-204852.jpgclimbing frame and a baroque chapel for the grown-ups to admire

20130928-204958.jpgChapel

As well as a very good tea room :-). Quite the perfect day out.

Fiction Friday

Well, where did the week go?

This week I have mostly been reading

20130927-180436.jpgthe Cleaner of Chartres.

Bit of a funny one this one. I was expecting, perhaps unfairly, great things. But this is not a great book. It’s absolutely fine, enjoyable, a good read. But not great. It’s even, dare I say it, verging on chick-lit ish – but in a more erudite, gentle way.

The Cleaner of Chartres tells the story of Agnes Morel, the eponymous cleaner, from her extremely humble beginnings to her slightly less humble mid life point. The tale ambles on, flicking from past to present, drawing together the strands of a number of different lives, the narrative finally coming to a close with a not-very-shocking denouement. This is a nice, feel good story. It’s not going to set the world on fire but its a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Oh dear. Damned by faint praise.

Next week I will be reading

20130927-183625.jpgAlice Hoffman – The Probable Future.

I tried another volume of hers, The Story Sisters, earlier this year and didn’t enjoy it at all. But this sounds intriguing. And a little bit weird. Which is always A Good Thing.

We shall see….

Stratford

Our youngest’s school was closed for polling yesterday. Yes, I know. Obviously our children’s education will be irreparably damaged if we take them out of school the day before they break up for the holidays in order to benefit from slightly better (or cheaper) travel, but somehow closing the school halfway through the first term in order for the school to make money won’t damage their education. And of course, neither will the teachers going on strike next Tuesday either. Ahem. Ok I’ll shut up now. Not bitter or anything.

Anyway. School was shut so I asked the youngest what she would like to do with her brother-free day, and she announced that she would like to “go to Stratford and see a play”.

Yay.

So, we did the whole hog, mother-daughter day yesterday. Started with breakfast at Cafe Rouge

20130927-080331.jpgPain Perdu. And then had a few hours to wander the lanes of Stratford doing the tourist thing.

20130927-080427.jpgShakespeare’s birthplace

20130927-080457.jpgRSC

20130927-080524.jpgView to the swannery.

20130927-080601.jpgView to the church.

We finished our day with a trip to the RSC to see Alls Well That Ends Well.

With hindsight, the fact that I couldn’t find any copies of the play (which isn’t one that I’m familiar with) in the children’s section of a number of different bookshops, should have given me a clue. That this is one of Shakespeare’s more, erm, bawdy plays. But I remained clueless. Until we were wedged in the theatre, the lights went down and the first scene involved a long discussion on the pros and cons of virginity. I stared fixedly straight ahead, but could feel youngest child’s eyes boring into me, and sense the words “mummy, what’s…?” forming. I have never been more grateful for the fact that the RSC have not modernised the text and remained verily olde Englishe and Elizabethan, and thus largely indecipherable to 7 year old ears.

Do remind me to do my homework in future.

It was, to be fair, an excellent production. I did really enjoy it, in between trying to explain what was going on, in a more edited way, to Rosie. You can’t beat seeing Shakespeare at the RSC really. Unless its going to see it at The Globe in London. Which I’m supposed to be doing with some friends in a fortnights time.

Hopefully no editing will be required.

Warm hands

This weekend I think we’ll do the big change over to autumn/winter living. Summer clothes put away; jumpers, hats and scarves hunted down from whichever dark corner of the loft they got pushed to during the conversion work; thicker duvets put on beds. General hunkering down.

Which got me thinking.

Last year Father Christmas brought the kids handwarmers. Which were great. Except…
We could never find a pair together when the kids actually wanted to use them. And they were a bit (a lot) big for tiny 6 year old paws so didn’t easily fit in her mittens. And the covers weren’t removable, or machine washable. They came with instructions to “wipe with a damp cloth”. Really?. Have they seen the state of a 6 year olds hands after a day out in the wilds of Leamington? Or perhaps my kids are just unusually grubby. But believe me a wipe down with a damp cloth would not kill the many and varied strains of icky ness left on those handwarmers after a good days use.

So it got me thinking – how hard can it be to knock up some hand warmers at home? Or to make them with removable covers that can be thrown in the wash? And it turns out that it’s not hard at all.

First thing to do is make the inner bit. I used some old cot sheets that I still had stashed as they might come in useful someday (see? Vindicated). An old t shirt would do just as well. You could probably use felt but I have smelt warm felt before and eau de wet dog is not the scent I’m aiming for with these.

Anyway. Cut out a rectangle of your nice soft base fabric. Size is up to you but with my (now) 7 year old in mind I cut mine 8cm x 7cm

20130925-115427.jpgrectangles of base material

Fold the material over, right sides together and sew around the edges leaving a small gap at one end. Turn the material right side out.

Now get your filling of choice. Some hand warmers are filled with wheat, but frankly wheat in its unprocessed state doesn’t feature in my pantry so I filled mine with rice

20130925-115732.jpgthe filling.. If you are the kind of person who has useful things like small funnels around the house, this would be a good opportunity to use one. I am not that sort of person so had to make do with a rolled up piece of paper and a teaspoon.

Oh, and don’t do what I did and nonchalantly leave the teaspoon, loaded with rice, perched on top of your jar. They make incredibly effective catapults.

Once you have filled your inner (and you want it comfortably, squishily full, not overstuffed) sew up the little gap and voila your inner is complete.

Now comes the more satisfying part. Go to your stash of scraps of fabric and pick out some lovely pieces that reflect your mood, the season, whatever takes your fancy. Cut out a piece which is about 3cm wider than your handwarmer inner and about 2.5 times longer. Fold, press and hem the two shorter edges

20130925-120325.jpghemmed edges. Now fold the length of fabric, right sides together into a sort of envelope so you have two folds and the two edges overlap. The folded fabric should be just long enough to fit your handwarmer inner. Sew down the sides of the fabric and then turn it right sides out. You should have what looks like a teeny, tiny envelope cushion cover.

Squish and squash your inner into its tiny cover. Warm in the microwave (how long for will depend on what type of microwave you have, but do check how hot it is before using it!). Pop it into your gloves or mittens and enjoy a nice autumn walk with toasty fingers.

20130925-121022.jpgsnug

Ice Cream

It’s Freshers Week. Lots of fresh faced 18year olds have suddenly arrived in Coventry. You can spot them a mile off. They’re the ones who either look absolutely terrified and slightly grey around the gills, or they are particularly loud and swaggering – in an attempt to hide the fact that they feel absolutely terrified and slightly grey around the gills. It will pass.

It does mean chaos and stress at work. Presentations, often back to back but in different buildings (hmm how do they expect that to work?), shepherding lost souls to where they ought to be, and trying to keep the old welcoming smile strapped to the face the whole time. You crawl home at the end of the day and bibble quietly to yourself, in a corner, where no one will disturb your rocking for a bit.

Unfortunately, when you have an 11 year old and 7 year old around the self indulgent bibbling isn’t allowed to go on for long so last night we decided it was time to play with the new toy again and make ice cream.

Yay.

I’d promised our youngest that strawberry would be the next flavour we would try. Have you tasted the strawberries that are around at the moment? Unfortunately it’s past the British strawberry season but they’re still selling em in the shops -crunchy, tasteless, a bit pointless. But, a promise is a promise, so strawberry ice cream needed to be produced. We followed the recipe – mixture of strawberries, caster sugar and whipping cream, but added a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar to the mix. I know, sounds disgusting right? But the vinegar really brought out the flavour in those poor little excuses for strawberries, giving an intense strawberry hit and also counteracting a flavour that can be a little too sweet and cloying. Delicious 🙂

20130924-082217.jpggreat colour combo!

Our oldest child likes chocolate. A lot. So our next ice cream was connossieurs chocolate flavour. 85%cocoa solids plain chocolate mixed with cream, sugar, good quality cocoa powder and an egg white and then chunks of milk chocolate added in. Top with grated white chocolate on serving…

20130924-082634.jpgchocolate hit. Intense smoky dark chocolate base, lightened with the creaminess of the milk and white chocolate accents.

This was very, very good 🙂

Wool Town

Sunshine yesterday, and a reasonable nights sleep for the one with lurgy meant we were up for a quick trip out and about. Somewhere nice. So not Tescos then.

We live, practically, on the threshold of the Cotswolds. Which means, inevitably, that we hardly ever go there (you always seem to forget about what’s right on your doorstep). Yesterday, right on the doorstep seemed just about the right distance to go. So we went.

The Cotswolds is a bit of a sweeping term for what is actually quite a big area covering parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. What links them together is the beauty of the stone that is predominantly used for building. A stone whose colour seems to change with the seasons and the weather, that knows “the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them” (JB Priestley). At times it can be a bit chocolate boxy – some of the villages seem preserved/restored in a very unnatural, eye for the tourist way- but there can be no denying the beauty of the area.

So, we went to Chipping Campden. One of the Cotswolds wool towns (Campden was a big centre for the collection and export of Wool from the Middle Ages on) and much of the building was done on the back of Wool money.

The church, St James, is a largely Perpendicular (English Gothic) beauty

20130922-095405.jpgSt James. There are some stunning monuments inside

20130922-095524.jpgLady Noel

20130922-095640.jpgLord Campden
and a peaceful, meandering churchyard

20130922-095815.jpgSt James Churchyard with some very interesting tombstones

20130922-095909.jpgOrmonde Plested

20130922-100018.jpgTeapot Williams
The kids spent ages exploring the churchyard, looking at the graves, trying to find the oldest and youngest inhabitants, most ancient grave, most beautiful, most unusual etc. Makes a mother proud :-).

Campden has lots of other buildings to gaze at and admire. The Jacobean pavilions of the old Manor House are wonderfully Gothic

20130922-100606.jpgCampden Pavilion. The village proper has more of the warm, olde worlde charm that you expect from the Cotswolds with Almshouses

20130922-100804.jpgCampden Almshouses and a higgledy piggledy (love that phrase!) High Street with early Seventeenth Century market hall

20130922-101026.jpgMarket Hall. It has the obligatory Gifte Shoppes, but also a fabulous second hand book shop and a French Boulangerie so you can happily wander the streets, browsing the shops and nibbling a French stick (or pork pie in the case of my eldest ), whilst you soak up the reflected warmth from the stone of the buildings and lust after the beautiful old houses.

Fiction Friday

I read a lot. Ok, so I’m a Librarian so that does kind of go with the territory. But even so. I do read a lot. I have shelves piled with books that I’ve read. Um, and shelves piled with books that I’ve yet to get round to reading but really fancied the look of when I bought them, and I WILL read them soon. When I’ve finished the book I’m reading at the moment. Or possibly the one after that.

So many books, so little time.

So I thought it might be a good idea to hold myself to account a little, and actually chronicle (as it were) some of the volumes I’m getting through. To share the highs and lows a bit. I’ve always avoided the Book Club scenario as the very idea gives me flashbacks to torturous Eng Lit A level classes, plus I have a lengthy list of my own “need to reads” without factoring other people’s choices in there too. But it is nice to share views on books and this seems like a good vehicle to do that (hello Jean)

So without further ado

This week I have mostly been reading

20130920-173335.jpg

This is just brilliant.

When I first saw this book in Waterstones, I read the blurb, which described it as a Harry Potter for grown-ups, and that put me right off. A year or so later and it turned up in The Works (3 volumes for a fiver, how could I resist?) and I thought I’d give it a go. Reader, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes it’s a detective story, yes it’s got magic in it, but not your wand waving pointy hat wearing type of magic, no sirreee. And thank goodness for that. The plot is tight and well developed (and you may find yourself feeling slightly apprehensive if you travel on the London Underground after reading this book) The characters are memorable and believable.
And I believe the author must share my distrust of Punch and Judy.

Aaronovitch has written for Dr Who and you can sort of see that in the pace, wit and fast plot development of this story; but this story remains grounded. Magical realism at its best.

Next week I will be reading

20130920-173249.jpg

I really enjoyed Miss Garnets Angel, so I’m looking forward to starting this new paperback by Sally Vickers. Never mind that the dodgy cover makes it look like a Mills and Boon – I have high hopes for this one.

Lets talk about the weather

I love British weather. This is probably a good thing as there is so much of it. You can look out of the window at 6am and dress appropriately for what you see, and then during the course of a day be dressed inappropriately 5 times, and appropriately again 4 times. And that’s just by lunchtime.

As well as providing an endless supply of topics for us to talk about, the weather makes every day just that little bit more exciting. Will I be looking like a drowned rat when I pick Rosie up at 3.20pm, having worn a summery dress as dictated by the clear blue skies I saw before leaving for work this morning and now being faced by ominous black clouds as I leave work at 2.30? Light patchwork quilt or heavy duty duvet for bed tonight? If I book a UK holiday for next summer will I need to pack shorts and tshirts or snow suits?

It keeps you on your toes it does.

It is also incredibly inspiring. I look out of the window, and what I see this afternoon is wildly different from what I saw this morning. This morning late summer sunshine bleached the garden. This afternoon I saw fat raindrops on glossy holly leaves

20130919-223013.jpgholly

The lower light levels gave warmth to the ripening crab apples

20130919-223110.jpg

And I noticed for the first time the ripe plums on the Cambridge Gage

20130919-223221.jpg. Mellow fruitfulness indeed.

There were also raindrops on roses

20130919-223345.jpg and if there had been any cats in the area, rest assured whiskers on kittens would also have been snapped.