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Archive Entries for May 2009

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Sunday May 31, 2009

Books in May

Good value books and magazines with fresh wearable styles for the summer.

  • Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 2) by Debbie Bliss
    DebbieBliss2.jpg This is an excellent value magazine - it has a lot of great patterns and it's about a third of the price of most pattern books. But never mind the width - this magazine has high quality too. It is a magazine in the true sense of the word with many really good knitting articles, not just feature padding, and lots of ideas and information about Debbie's own inspirations over the years. I found it a very interesting read.
    Some of the patterns have appeared before in other collections - or at least I noticed one specifically - but this is a magazine not a "new pattern" book. Added to which, Debbie Bliss creations are so very wearable and if not timeless, certainly time resistant, which is what you want if you have put your heart into a knitting project. It's a shame I did not spot issue 1 of the magazine as it briefly hit the shops and then sold out - but I'm not keen to rectify this oversight by paying £20 for it now on eBay! I noticed that it is pretty clearly aimed at the American as well as the UK market - maybe that's why we sold out so quickly here...

  • Deco and Nouveau by Louisa Harding
    Nouveau.jpg Deco.jpg These are great books with very fresh and stylish presentation. I looked at them initially because the Debbie Bliss magazine had an article on Louisa and a pattern for one of her bags (which is lots of fun and just what I would knit if only I had the time....). The stitch patterns are nicely complicated and very pretty. It is great to find some designs with pretty patterns which change throughout the design adding to the shape as an inherent part of it.
    The yarns are Louisa's own which basically translate to a double knitting, or an Aran. I have already started knitting the cardigan Anouk from Nouveau - and although Louisa's own yarns are lovely, I am using the ivory colour in Rowan bamboo yarn as I loved knitting it so much for the POM summer cardigan last year; the bamboo is a little finer than the specified yarn so I am having to make a few adjustments in the size. In fact, that would be my only comment - for summer designs I would favour a finer yarn - however, the benefit is they knit up quickly.

Posted on May 31, 2009 at 7:16 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday May 27, 2009


I spent a great evening with my sister. I had an unexpected bonus in that the shearer came late in the day - it had rained heavily overnight and in the morning the sheep were too wet to shear early on. So I was able to watch the whole operation and collect 3 fleeces at the end and drive them straight home.
My car smells terrible and George is appalled - but ... it's great nonetheless.

1. Min

2. Min

3. Min

4. Min

5. Min

6. Columbine

7. Columbine

8. Columbine

9. Felicity

10. Felicity

11. Felicity

12. Felicity

13. Felicity

14. Felicity

15. Fleece

Felicity is a Southdown but the other two are uncertain - and obviously crosses. Lyn thought Columbine was a Black Welsh - but she is a ewe with horns - so probably a Jacob cross of some sort. After Felicity went back in the barn minus her fur, Columbine started frantically butting her; we assume she didn't recognise her without her customary rotund shape. Min is a young white ewe, also with horns - it was her first shearing experience - the fleece has a very tiny crimp, so looks promising.

Posted on May 27, 2009 at 5:42 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday May 25, 2009

Magic Beans

It seems no accident that Jack's magic plant was a bean. George left for France and I noticed that 2 little pimples had appeared in my indoor bean pots.

A day later all 8 are through - and they have scared me with their rate of growth. I have moved them outside to slow them down a bit.

Other than that - the holiday weekend has been warm and sunny and we exhausted ourselves in the garden. I have little to show for it but bare earth where the weedy drive used to be.

And I also scoured a fleece in preparation for more fleeces arriving from my sister tomorrow.

I rose very early today and started more work but after a couple of hours It began to rain and has continued on and off ever since, so no more real progress on the weeds.

Posted on May 25, 2009 at 10:34 PM. Category: The Garden.

Monday May 18, 2009

Doing His Best.

I was delighted to hear that Bear Grylls has been named as the new Chief Scout. To me he seems the perfect choice - though I have to admit I am not the "target market"! However, (to me), he represents youth (being relatively young at 34), but also stands for the traditional scouting backwoodsman image, as well as having a background in the army like the founder of the movement.

About 10 years ago he came to speak to us at a sales meeting - he was the "inspirational speaker". He acquitted himself well, and spoke about his experiences which seemed enough for any lifetime and yet he was still only in his early 20s. Having joined the SAS, been severely injured and invalided out at, he then recovered and climbed Everest - but was pipped at the post to be the youngest Briton to to reach the top at 23. He was charmingly candid and came over as a thoroughly nice chap.

His reputation as a "TV personality" has come after this - and is not without controversy. Indeed an item on the Guardian News Blog puts over the question of whether he will cope with the role, especially the PR. However, I think it could be said that his life and experiences are based around traditional outdoor feats of derring-do - plus a lot of PR enabling him to make a living out of them....

He has been criticised by another favourite of mine, Ray Mears, but I think their rivalry is unnecessary. They produce similar "outdoor survival" TV series - but I don't think Ray's skills and sincerity in this area are in any doubt, and he has no need to defend them.

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 1:08 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday May 17, 2009

Digging In

We had hoped to make great progress this weekend, but the weather has been pretty horrid. What makes it most difficult is that there is an unpleasant cold wind, which means that going into the garden is not at all appealing. George made a lot of headway yesterday while I was enjoying myself at the workshop, and today we finished off digging over enough beds to finish planting the Brussels Sprouts from last weekend.


The plant tumbling over the rocky edge of the bed, to the right in the foreground, is an adventitious oregano**. As it has self-seeded, I never felt brave enough to try eating it - but it smells wonderful and attracts a huge number of bees when in flower - as does the geranium Herb Robert (a "weed") to the left of the picture, under the rose.
Our main problem was that it rained on and off all day. The digging was hard work, and although George prepared the canes, we did not plant the bean seeds, as it still seems so very cold. Meanwhile, I have planted up some pots of beans to germinate indoors.

** I never quite decided whether this plant was oregano or marjoram - I knew it was one or the other and tended to mentally label it marjoram. However, I thought I would determine which for this blog entry and now discover that this area is the subject of general confusion not just my own. I had never really thought before that they are even the same family - I just used the commercial dried herbs from jars. I now think this must be oregano on the grounds that it is perennial and has purple flowers; even then, oregano the herb is also known as "wild marjoram".

Posted on May 17, 2009 at 6:23 PM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday May 16, 2009

Beading workshop

I almost didn't make it to this workshop, as I had forgotten I had signed up for it. However, luckily they called to remind me, and as I live so close I was able to scamper round and join in. I had none of the required equipment with me, but everyone kindly loaned me bits and pieces. We made "flower pot" beaded necklaces.

The workshop was run by Jennifer Hughes, and here are her sample "pots":

The Flower Pot Necklace design and techniques were created by Karen Johnson, manager of Beads F.O.B. Sarasota, Florida.

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday May 15, 2009

Winslow Boy at the Rose

WinslowBoy.jpg I have seen several productions of the Winslow Boy over the years, and I think this one was the best. As Robert observed, it was a privilege to see Timothy West bring such convincing life and humour to the role of the Father, and he lead an excellent cast, including Adrian Lukis as Sir Robert Morton. Indeed Mr West had me convinced that he probably needed the role of an elderly man these days to take the weight off his feet - until the curtain, when he showed his normal sprightly self! I had read that Mr West finds it hard to remember lengthy roles these days, and I would say he stumbled during a couple of the speeches, but the character is so overwrought throughout that it seemed thoroughly in keeping with the part.

The costumes were fabulous - Catherine Winslow seemed a little more glamorous than I had hitherto seen her, but why should she not be? Her position in society, it is intimated, is due to her strong character and opinions, not her looks. The set design was interesting; a drawing room set in a box with a slightly off-kilter gold picture frame, which was used to deftly hide the lighting. Rob spent some time before curtain up trying to see how such a design could be lit successfully at all.

The Rattigan play is based on a true story which is fascinating in itself. One has to understand the importance of proving the boys innocence of the apparently trivial charge of schoolboy theft, in the context of the time - and also, which I did not pick up on though it was there in the text, the fact that the Father was a retired banker, making the charge of forgery even more heinous and damaging.

This production emphasises throughout the closing scenes, and in the final tableau, the imminence of World War I. It is made quite clear that the Boy, his brother, and the ex-fiancé of the sister will all be joining up - doubly poignant to us, as we know they are not likely to survive. Indeed this was the fate of the real "Boy", though his family circumstances are Rattigan's invention.

The production is at the Rose until 30th May, and then tours at Bath, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bromley, Brighton.

Posted on May 15, 2009 at 9:21 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Tuesday May 12, 2009

Traffic Light Socks

I have finished the latest weird and wonderful socks made from my attempt to create something brighter when working with Kool Aid. I think we can all agree I succeeded on the bright.

Here's the fleece and the skeins:

I allowed the socks to knit up randomly, but I did make some changes to sock 2 to try and make it similar to, if not match, sock 1. Also I broke the yarn to exclude the areas that were in plain green, as they turned out positively luminous. In fact the two-ply contrasting colours generally work much better in this sock that any of the single coloured plies.

If you are worried about George wearing such weird socks, I can show them lounging casually on the sofa, where the part of the socks which is on normal display turns out to have a pleasing autumnal feel.

[George says they are not "Traffic Light" Socks as they are nothing like the colours of traffic lights. This is true - I was thinking 'red, amber, green' - however, I was also thinking maybe they were socks which would stop the traffic.]

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday May 10, 2009

Dig for Victory

The BBC Dig In campaign that seems to have affected everyone in the UK (well, all the middle classes who watch Gardeners World, anyway). We always fancied the idea of growing vegetables - but in my past garden adventures I never really tried. My parents grew vegetables and so I know that (a) it involves hard work, and (b) the possibility of failure is always stalking you.

In our current garden, there is not an obviously good site with any amount of sun to dig a vegetable plot. However I seemed to remember dimly from my youth that runner beans were simple enough, so I bought some seeds and some canes with a view to making a wigwam in one of the sunnier flower beds - and I bought a growbag to raise some tomatoes. Then, yesterday, while weeding our drive, I noticed that an adjacent scruffy overgrown patch of garden was sitting in sunshine for a good part of the day. So that sealed its fate.

We (George) removed lawn turf and weeds, and dug over the tiniest patch of earth. And finally at the end of the day, we were ready to plant out some purple sprouting broccoli and Brussel sprouts. In fact, the bed is nothing like large enough for the brassica - so next weekend we will be attacking another patch of the little lawn

We also planted up some containers of tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries, and salad leaves.

Here are my floral pots that I planted last week, (a new pot due to fox activity on the old one last year...). Plus replanted pots of tarragon and thyme.

By the way, the title of this entry is not to suggest any chauvinistic call to arms - just a little historical nostalgia for a post-World-War-II world of allotments and potting sheds.

Posted on May 10, 2009 at 11:14 PM. Category: The Garden.

Sunday May 3, 2009

Unseasonal Cake

When we went to France at Easter, Sheila (G's Mother) gave us a cake to take with us. It was a Simnel cake, and was so delicious, that I decided to try my hand at an unseasonal cake for this weekend. Sheila had "not bothered" with the traditional marzipan topping (which suits me as I am not mad on marzipan) but the layer baked inside was ... mmmmm..... wonderful. So I copied her example.


My picture is of a slice of the cake, as I had a slight disaster after taking it out of the oven. I cooked it yesterday afternoon before we went to the theatre. We were so anxious to eat it that I took it straight out of the tin while it was still hot. [Not for me those silly instructions about "letting it cool fully in the tin" - o no...].
It fell apart. I then had to lassoo it back together with the tin, and let it cool, so it ended up maintaining some kind of round cake shape.

Simnel cakes seem to be made around Easter, but I had some vague memory of their being associated with Mothering Sunday in the UK - and it turns out I am not mistaken. I remember, as a little girl, that when we left church on Mothering Sunday morning, we each took a piece of fruit cake from a large tray of the same handed out by (and presumably baked by) a nice lady from the Mothers Union. We took these home to our grateful Mothers - or not. My Mother hated marzipan so the cake was always eaten by my Father (who loved it). [So our consumption of this cake has never been very traditional!]

The date of Mothering Sunday in the UK is set by the church calendar and is the middle Sunday in Lent (half way between Shrove Tuesday and Good Friday). Since my childhood, I had forgotten this, thinking all such days were invented by Hallmark Cards, even though UK Mother's Day is never the same day as in the US. The origin of the day was to do with attendance on that Sunday at the "Mother" church or the Cathedral of the diocese, and employers would send a rich fruit cake home to their servant girls' Mothers, as a charitable gift.

The name Simnel probably derives from the type of flour used but for a far more interesting set of suggestions, and an altogether more humorous entry than this one, read Raspberry Debacle.
[I especially like the explanation of the origin of marzipan which was "invented when Zeppo Marx fell into a giant pan of almonds just after he'd been for a swim in a pool that was unexpectedly filled with sugar, at which he was so angry that he broke eggs all over himself and rolled around until he was covered in a thick white paste; it certainly tastes like it." Also the author shares my view that it's nicer without the marzipan topping. A shame this blog is now archived.]

Read on for my recipe:

Simnel Cake


  • 6 oz (175 g) castor sugar (I like the 'golden' variety)
  • 6 oz (175 g) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 8 oz (225 g) plain flour sifted with 1½ rounded teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice, or,
    ½ teaspoon of ground cinammon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, and, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2oz ground almonds
  • 4oz (100g) glace cherries chopped small
  • 16oz (450g) mixed dried fruit
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 200g Marzipan


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 2. Use butter to grease an 8 inch loose-bottomed or springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  2. Mix together the sifted flour, baking powder, and spices.
  3. Roll out the 200g marzipan to a circle slightly smaller than your tin size. Use icing sugar to prevent sticking while rolling.
  4. Beat together the softened butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. (Use an electric whisk if possible as it makes it much easier to do this).
  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour with each one to avoid curdling.
  6. Fold in the sifted flour mixture, followed by the ground almonds.
  7. Mix in the milk, dried fruit, cherries, and lemon zest.
  8. Spread half of the mixture in the bottom of the tin, and make the surface level with a spatula. Place your circle of marzipan on top.
  9. Finally spread the remaining mixture over the marzipan.
  10. Now put it into the oven, and bake for about 2½ to 2¾ hours. Check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the cake is not going too brown on the top, (if it is, you can cover lightly with a circle of foil for the remainder of the cooking time). The centre should feel firm and springy when lightly pressed.**
    When it is cooked, leave it to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool.
  11. Eat.

** I confess to having some difficulty knowing when the cake is cooked, as, with the skewer test, it never seems to come out clean due to the layer of gooey marzipan in the cake; if you leave it to cook too long, the sides and base of the cake can burn slightly. You can try insulating your cake by wrapping the outside with a layer of brown paper and string, as suggested by Nigella, or you can put greaseproof paper over the top, as suggested by Delia.
And in the end all this depends on how fierce your oven is, and whether or not it's a fan oven - you need to get to know your oven with a test cake.... or several....


It is a shame to leave off the decoration, as that's where you get the religious references - 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true apostles, or less traditional egg shapes.

To make the topping you need about 300g more of marzipan, and apricot jam. Roll out and cut a circle of marzipan to fit the top of the cake, (use a dusting of icing to stop it sticking), and make your 'apostles' from the remainder. Brush the top of the cake with melted jam, put on the marzipan circle, and stick on your apostles (you may need egg white to make them stick firmly).

Nice traditional decoration on a cake from Tesco, [£7.99].
Note that the 11th apostle has been consumed....

Other (different) recipes, and pretty pictures of decorations appear at Delicious Magazine, Mary Berry at the BBC, and Delia Online. Raspberry Debacle (website sadly disappeared), chose to add faces to his apostles, and explains how he tried to like marzipan, using a preparation method which relied on the subsequent effect of Stockhausen Syndrome - but failed.

Posted on May 3, 2009 at 10:26 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Friday May 1, 2009

May Day

It was a beautiful sunny morning - the sun rose over a misty hillside and Morris Men danced in the Dawn at 5am on Box Hill.
Here they are:


And I missed it....

I am very disappointed with myself, when I think of all horrible May Days I have trekked up to Box Hill to greet a drizzly grey dawn. Sigh.
Anyway - they had quite a crowd attending as usual. There were several Morris sides as well as Spring Grove (Thames Valley, Wild Hunt, etc) - including a bunch of ramblers who turn up every year apparently - but this year they had specially learnt one dance so they could perform it on the day - great isn't it? Just what Morris should be. People dancing.

Here Spring Grove / Off Spring are on St Georges Day (23rd April) at the beginning of the "season" (with a surprisingly grand turn out). Several jigs have been performed, and baldrics presented to newly qualified members.


Posted on May 1, 2009 at 5:46 PM. Category: Art and Culture.