Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Recipes

This bookcase contains my recipe books.  I have a sort of embargo on buying any more unless I get rid of something to make room.  I broke this rule a couple of years ago by buying a book at a car boot fair that just would not fit in.  The trouble is that I'd be able to get rid of some of the smaller books relatively easily but new ones tend to be bigger. I have now put this book in the bookcase. How have I made space? Ah. Well. I suppose I have broken the rules still further.
 
For years I've had an A4 ring binder containing plastic wallets full of collected recipes. Naturally, the collection is a growing one. Recently it's been getting difficult to wedge the folder back into the bookcase and some of the compartments have been so full that it's taken ages to find a particular recipe. Some serious sorting was called for!
 
I now have two A4 ring binders of recipes. Eek! How did this happen? Surely the trail of cuttings covering the study floor must mean I have more space in the folder? On closer examination the trail of cuttings proved to be only one sheet thick and when collected together there really were very few pages that I had steeled myself to get rid of. On the other hand, in the interests of clarity I have subdivided the recipes into much smaller sections so there are more layers of plastic wallets and the finished whole just wasn't going to go back into one folder.
 
Well, there certainly wasn't room for two A4 ring binders in the bookcase so I made a decision to put the folders somewhere else and just reinforce the rule that I must not own more recipe books than will fit in the bookcase.
 
Where are the folders going to live? Haven't a clue, I'm afraid. 
 
In case it's of interest, the sections I have divided my recipe collection into are as follows:

  • soups
  • starters 
  • fish
  • chicken
  • duck & game birds
  • beef, lamb, pork, venison & rabbit
  • Indian
  • vegetarian main dishes
  • vegetarian pastry dishes
  • vegetable side dishes & salads
  • dressings, sauces, marinades & stuffings
  • cold puddings
  • hot puddings
  • cakes & biscuits
  • preserves & snacks
  • sweets
  • drinks
I think I will bite the bullet and see whether I can't get rid of some recipe books, even if it means typing out the one or two recipes I use from the book. I think if you've had a recipe book more than ten years, you know how useful it is - or not.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Tis the season





Not the very best robin pic you ever saw, possibly, but not bad considering it was taken through a double-glazed door.  We spent Christmas with my parents in Henley which, weirdly, really was one of the snowiest places.  As we travelled down from Gloucestershire on the 24th, we decided that there must have been a big thaw since we spoke on the phone the previous day - until about 5 miles from Henley when suddenly fields were completely white and the road was bordered by those small banks of re-frozen snow and slush that you get when roads have been cleared but temperatures have not risen.  This was a totally different landscape from the one we had left in Gloucestershire, in a reversal of the normal distribution of snowy, icy weather.  The main road might have been cleared, but residential roads certainly weren't and we had some trouble getting off the cul-de-sac onto the driveway.  Christmas day was sunny and the thaw was certainly under way but there had been plenty of snow and so we had a traditional-looking White Christmas.

I've always felt that the week between Christmas and New Year is a season all of its own.  It's one I really like, though I don't get to spend it quite the same way as I used to now that I live with someone else.  There is a level of consciousness which hovers about the line between conscious and subconscious where one finds ideas and feelings which are recognised if thought about but operate anyway if they're not thought about.   For me, ideas, feelings and resonances about seasons are in this place.  Below is a list that belongs to this particular season.  It's a list of things I like to do during this week.  Maybe it will ring some bells with you too.

  • Tidy the filing cabinet and weed stuff out
  • Re-print my filofax address pages
  • Read more than I usually find time to
  • Eat goodies like fudge, chocolate and Turkish Delight
  • Listen to music
  • Write down ideas for new shapes for pottery
  • Rootle through my cuttings box
  • Tidy sewing stuff
  • Make lists of meals I want to make
  • Make lists of friends I want to invite for meals
  • Make some new clothes
  • Go through piles of old magazines
  • Make lists of things I want to do in the coming year
  • Reorganise files on computer
Looking at the list, most things seem fairly prosaic and many don't seem to have much in common.  For me, though, there is a general feeling that runs through this "between" week that is often prompted by the activities above.  It's a time when new ideas pop up.  Clearing out the old, slowing down and relaxing or just noticing things are all good ways to open the mind to possibilities, probabilities and general looking forward.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas decoration



Over the past eighteen years, I have developed some of my own traditions for Christmas decorations in this house.  I love using candles around the house and there are always some in front of this mirror in the study but at Christmas I like to use gold ones if I can.  I tend to buy things like that when they are reduced to half-price in January.  Another of those many times when I feel sorry for people who don't have much space at home so they can't store much stuff.  I am very lucky that way; I can always take advantage of half price or BOGOF offers, even for ridiculous quantities of things.  So here are the gold candles that I probably bought last January!

I trail ivy, harvested from the garden, round the top and sides of the mirror and always buy a little holly with berries to decorate the top of the mirror and other bits and pieces round the house.  The gold baubles and red ribbons stay tied up in their bunches in a box and are ready to hook round the ivy and there's my Christmas decoration for this room.

This year I added one extra thing.  Normally there is a wind chime near the door and you can see that I have replaced it temporarily.

One year I held my Open Weekend at a time when I had already put up the decorations and someone wrote a lovely poem about the feeling of coming into the house and this room in particular.  I always do mulled wine for the Open Weekend and I think the smell of it added to the atmosphere.  At any rate, I was very pleased to know that I had created the ambience I had set out to create!

This year I haven't done as much decoration as usual.  There's still time, and I haven't ruled it out completely, but I haven't yet decorated the stairs in the way I normally do, with trails of ivy, bunches of holly, fir and juniper, red ribbons and strings of metallic red 'pearls'.  I often decorate the dining table in the same way, with bunches of greenery and red ribbons at each corner of a white cut-work cloth over a red one.  I haven't done that either, yet, since we will be having Christmas dinner elsewhere this year and I haven't decided whether to do the same thing for our New Year's Eve meal. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fudge

We interrupt the general preparations, festivities and frivolities with a practical post. Shandora asks for an easy recipe for beginners (with measurements in grammes.) This is a tall order as making fudge is something that can easily be not quite right, so I will divide the post into two parts, recipe and helpful hints.

Chocolate fudge (why start anywhere else except chocolate? )

450g granulated sugar
150ml full cream milk
150g butter
150g plain chocolate
50g runny honey

Grease a tin approx 18cms square or equivalent.
Heat all the ingredients gently in a large heavy-based sacepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil to 116 deg C (soft ball stage).
Remove from the heat, stand the pan on a cool surface for 5 minutes, then beat the mixture until thick, creamy and beginning to 'grain'.
Pour into the tin.
After a few minutes, mark the fudge out in squares.
When completely cold, turn out and cut through into squares.

Tips for fudge-making.
grease  - use butter as there is always butter in fudge.  Use plenty, especially in the middle of the tin, as this will help when it is time to turn out the fudge at the end.

boil - don't be tempted to have the heat up too high.  All fudge recipes are prone to sticking, some more than others.  The reason for specifying a heavy-based pan is to minimise the mixture sticking, so a lot will depend on the type of pan you have. 
You need to achieve what is often described as a 'rolling boil' where there are continuous bubbles but not too much more than that.  It's better to take time and need patience waiting for your fudge to cook than to have burnt fudge.  Stir from time to time, using a wooden spoon. 
If you have the heat too high, you will notice that when you stir across the base of the pan, you will feel the mixture lifted off the bottom of the pan and the bubbling will become much fiercer.  If this happens, turn the heat down a little.  Towards the end of cooking time this may happen more often and the fudge will tend to 'catch' and little brown overcooked bits will start appearing in the mixture.  This isn't a disaster, usually, but if it starts to happen you should turn the heat down and stir more often.  If this is all that happens then the worst result would be a slightly more caramelised flavour to your fudge.  If you don't take care with this, though, you will get really burnt bits, which will spoil the flavour and make your pan difficult to clean!


116 deg C (soft ball) - you are often advised to use a sugar thermometer for making things like fudge, as you are supposed to be able to judge the temperature more accurately.  Over the last thirty years or so I have had several sugar thermometers and without exception have found them more trouble than they are worth.  For jam, I use the saucer test and for sweets I used this method:
Half-fill a cup with cold water.  To test the temperature of your fudge, drop a little off the wooden spoon into the water.  Using your thumb and forefinger, collect the fudge together to form a little ball. 
The temperature needed for fudge is described as 'soft ball'.  The next stage (for some toffee) would be hard ball.  What you are aiming for for the best fudge is as firm a soft ball as you could still describe as soft ball without it turning to hard ball!  Imagine hard ball as feeling a little like the sort of toffee you have to break up with a hammer.  Soft ball is like what I would call caramel. 
If you cook your fudge too much, it will not have the right texture when set and will be more like toffee except that the beating you've done will break it up into fragments.  If you don't cook it enough, though, you will never get the fudge to really set properly.  I don't think I have ever overcooked fudge, but I have undercooked it through impatience.
If you are thinking you have done something completely wrong because all you have in your cup of water is a sugary, buttery mess, then it is just much too early!

cool surface - you can use a stainless steel draining board for this, moving the pan from time to time onto a cool patch once the heat has transferred to the draining board.  Best of all, though, is a marble slab.  This really speeds up the cooling process and saves beating time.  If you can, keep your marble slab in a very cool place, or if you are making the fudge in the winter, take it outside to get really chilly while you are waiting for the fudge to cook.  

beat - there are no shortcuts to beating fudge that I have discovered.  You just have to beat with a wooden spoon till your arms are thinking of dropping off!  Do not be tempted to use an electric beater; the beaters really don't aerate the mixture in the right way and when it starts to thicken, even a really sturdy electric beater isn't really up to the job.  The five minutes standing on a cool surface will save you beating time.


beginning to grain - when you're making fudge, beating really does mean beating.  What you are supposed to be doing is introducing plenty of air into the mixture as it cools and begins to set.  The first sign that this stage is near is when the fudge starts getting rather crystallised around the sides of the pan.  The mixture itself should be developing very fine lines through it as you beat.  These are in fact small areas of cooler, slightly crystallised mixture.  As soon as you see this happening and feel the mixture becoming noticeably thicker, pour your mixture immediately into the greased baking tin. 
If you do this too early, your fudge will be more creamy but also possibly not quite as firmly set as it should be.
If you do this too late, your fudge will be too crumbly and it will be impossible to cut it into squares.

mark - I have found that the best way to get the maximum number of whole squares of fudge (rather than triangular pieces and crumbs!) is to mark the squares out when the fudge has been in the tin for about five or ten minutes.  You should be able to get the knife to draw through the top of the surface and leave a clean line behind.  If you try this too early, the fudge will just settle back into the line.  Too late, and you will not be able to mark the squares easily.  Having done this marking out, the final stage will ensure beautiful squares.

turn out and cut - once the fudge is completely cold, I turn the tin upside-down onto a wooden board.  If you have greased the tin properly, the fudge should just turn straight out onto the board.
Using a very sharp, large knife, cut through from the 'back' of the fudge to meet the lines you have marked out on the top earlier.  This is fairly easy to do if you have a good eye and have divided the widths up evenly. 
You will always get some crumbly bits, especially round the edges, and some cuts will not go straight so that you end up with more triangular shapes, but with practice you should get more and more skilled at this.

As to what fudge should be like, for those who've never tasted it, I shall invite other readers to supply descriptions in comment form!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tradition



It's that time of year when the word 'tradition' gets taken off the shelf and paraded round by all and sundry. At other times there can be a downside to describing things as traditional because others see it as an argument against modernisation, progress and improvement. At Christmas, though, tradition is a buzzword. I grew up with a very narrow world view, in that it did not occur to me until my very late teens that there were different ways of looking at things. I thought traditional Christmasses were all exactly like ours. Only later in my adult life did I begin to appreciate the value of small-scale traditions such as develop within family or friendship groups, or even for the individual. I expect to be writing about my Christmas traditions off and on for the next couple of weeks.

Traditionally, as I mentioned a week or two back, I've always made my own Christmas cards and I've also always made presents. At different times in my life the made presents have become greater or smaller parts of what I've given, according to disposable income and disposable time. Unfortunately, a lack of either of these is usually accompanied by a lack of the other as the more I depend on my artwork for my income, the less time and money I've had! This year, though, having been unable to make pots, I've been able to enjoy making a proper job of making presents and things are progressing not just on time but ahead.

As most of the people I give made presents to also read this blog, I don't want to give too much away, but as these boxes of fudge are now traditional, they're not a secret. And think yourselves lucky that I couldn't think of anything to write under the groan-worthy title of 'Fudging the issue.'

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Being in the right place



This red hot poker plant regularly flowers in the autumn or winter here. It's just completely in the right place. Whatever the soil has here must be beneficial because I haven't done anything to look after it for some years and I'm pleased to say it is thriving on the neglect. I had the plant originally as a piece from my grandmother's garden and my mother had some too but never got it to flourish in her own garden. Things just like being in the right place.

I feel much the same and lately I have increasingly not been able to feel in the right place. The dull weather hasn't helped. Apart from preventing me from being interested in taking any photos, it just makes everything else a bit dull too. Today was beautifully sunny and this was doubly striking because of the contrast with the recent gloom.

Gloom has been some of what I've felt recently too. This rib injury has really been getting me down. Just as I think I am pretty much recovered, it has a little set-back. Yesterday I just felt incredibly angry all round and I think a lot of that was triggered by gloom about my slow recovery. Things always seem to take much longer with me.

Today, as well as a lovely dose of sunshine, I had a treatment from my chiropractor, who also practises kineseology. He is so good for me. He addresses the bits general practitioners don't and by and large what he says about body structures and healing usually turns out to be much more accurate than what the conventional medics say. So today I needed a twist in my back straightened out but I also wanted help with generally being able to heal. D thinks that rather than 6 weeks, a cartilage injury such as mine would probably need 3-4 months to both heal and settle. The need for time to settle is probably key here. It's not a unique view. My acupuncturist usually suggests similarly long times for recovery. But D talked a lot of sense and checked things out and said the healing was progressing and not stuck. He had good advice about what to try when and generally flagged some things up that offer a new perspective on healing and should make the process smoother.

So I am back in the right place. My world looks as I expect it to look. The creeping gloom and anxiety seems to have retreated and I've been able to do stuff again. Physically I'm a bit achey after the treatment but otherwise things feel right.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Feeling seasonal


If you say you are feeling seasonal at this time of year, people automatically think you mean Christmassy, but that isn't what I mean, really. I do mean that I feel "in the season." I have felt increasingly comfortable with this over the years.

I am fortunate not to be one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (but I have every sympathy with those who do.) I have always been able to appreciate the good things about winter. It's a time for sitting indoors and doing indoorsy things like sorting out the filing cabinet, catching up with the mending, indulging in films on tv in the afternoon and drawing the curtains against the world, lighting a fire and mulling some wine. I've nothing against the world, or the rest of you in it, but I do like to be shut away sometimes. At this time of year, if there's a day on the calendar with no going out and no visitors, I relish it. Even more than that, I luxuriate in it if it's one of the rare days I'm on my own in the house.

Digressing slightly, it seems to me that only children are not just more likely to enjoy their own company and for longer but also often have a real need for it. I was discussing this earlier today with another friend who is an only child and feels just as I do. My first husband was an only child and we had separate spaces in the house, joined by an intercom. It was perfectly acceptable to turn down a suggestion by the other to do something together; we both had a need to do this sometimes. M was not an only child, though he spent much of his childhood on his own, not getting on with his sister. He has the opposite need, though: he hates being on his own. So we muddle along and compromise and have worked out a life that feels good for both of us, but I still long for more time on my own sometimes. This is complicated by the fact that I am a real home-lover so would rather be on my own at home than go out on my own. Winter is particularly the season for this. However, as I say, we seem to have grown into a life that generally suits us both.

I've always made my own Christmas cards and some presents and December is usually the time for these activities. I always give edible presents in some form or other these days. Jams, pickles, fudge and roasted walnuts all go to various appreciative homes. Some of these are made in other seasons and in particular there's nothing like a jar of apricot jam for capturing the taste of a French summer. Some, like the fudge, are made nearer Christmas. I should be getting on with that soon.

I've been busy making some other presents in the last few days too. These can't be mentioned yet as it would spoil too many people's surprises!

What I haven't done yet is to make my Christmas cards. The photo above is what I used for my cards last year. Sometimes I use photos, sometimes I cut paper shapes, sometimes I paint one design and print off copies. I don't actually know what this year's cards are going to be and the time is getting near when I should start writing and posting them.

I may be rather quiet for a while .....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Open Day



For the past few years my jeweller friend Hazel has joined me for my open weekends. This year we weren't able to find a whole weekend when we were both free so decided to try a single Sunday. Sunday tends to be the more popular day anyway.

Following on from the tidy table, this photo shows how well it transforms into a display space for Hazel's work.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A place for everything and everything in its place



"A place for everything and everything in its place" is one of those phrases often trotted out in a mocking tone and accompanied by a reminiscence of a pernickity person who drove everyone up the wall. The phrase has become thought of as belonging to people who are, to use the modern idiom, rather retentive. So it was with some hesitation that I decided to go with it as a title and to own up to it. But hey - my name is Jane and I believe that there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place.

This is a photo of the table in my study - empty. It's a delight. This table is genuinely empty, it hasn't just been cleared prior to using it as a dining table. We (well, mostly I) have put away everything that was on it.

I find it difficult to explain my feelings about things like this but over the last few years I have tried because M just doesn't feel the same way. I've heard people say that homes where nothing is left out don't look lived in, but really, honestly, the picture above does not show a home that is not lived in and yet everything has been put away.

Even on my desk, things are looking fairly good at the moment.




I do admit to a pile of magazines on my left and a couple of computer-related objects on the far back right but the latter are waiting for the early part of next week when N is going to come and rescue my desktop computer and the former are waiting to be read. I am gradually working through them and anticipate some chunks of time on soon when I can seriously read more of them. (There are breakfast dishes too but I don't feel any apology is needed as it was breakfast-time when I took the photo.)

When rooms are tidy I feel a sense of wellbeing. My surroundings are important to me and by and large I have gone to some trouble to create an environment I like. If there is clutter then the environment becomes a different one. If I'd wanted a cluttered environment in the first place, I'd have created one. Untidiness didn't feature in my original plan.

I'm not unhappy all the time there is untidiness but eventually, from time to time, muddle builds up to the extent that I do feel oppressed by it. When we have a good clear-up I feel tons better afterwards. When the house has been cleaned as well, I feel even better. You just get a different quality of light reflected of clean surfaces. Things show their true colours when freed of dust.

I should make something clear to those who haven't been in my home. Although I love my house to be clean, it doesn't get such a high priority that clean is a state you often see. I like a clean house but I like so many other things as well and mostly the other things win. But tidy is different.

So here is my lovely tidy (and clean) study. All ready for my Open Day on Sunday. Here is information about the Open Day. If you're within reach, do come.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Computers, don't you just love them?

Well, yes, I do. For me, my computer has always felt like an extension of my head. Come to think of it, I may have a tendency to make physical objects an extension of myself. Houses, for instance. My cottage in Kings Stanley felt like a part of me and I can remember the astonishment among my friends when I said I was selling. It had to be done, though. I had just accepted a proposal of marriage and we weren't going to fit into the cottage that was already full of my stuff. I had to be almost dragged out of the house when it came to leaving. I vowed never to let a house become that way again, but after my first husband died, slowly this house did become an extension of me. It was a long five years of adjustment living with M before it really became "our" house properly with the living-room redecoration project in January this year.

Sorry - computers. Well, I think this extension feeling accounts for why I feel so stressed when things go wrong with my computer. I won't go into detail now about the trials and tribulations I have suffered with my laptop over the last 14 months but to bring the story near to a close, Dell say that they will collect the thing today and 5-7 working days later I will be in receipt of a full refund.

It's been clear from the beginning that it was a Friday computer. The trouble is that every time it was fixed, I started to really love it again and feel secure. Then pow! and I wished I'd never set eyes on it. Last week M took over some of the tech support conversation and at the end asked that a customer services manager should speak to him and one did duly phone him back a couple of days later. The guy was apologetic and agreed with our complaints of the time. I spoke to him then and mentioned that next time I would be seeking a full refund and he offered me one there and then because he could see how much trouble I had had and to try to give me a better impression of Dell. It worked. So far. Let's see if his promises are kept. So far so good, in that he has responded promptly to my emails.

So yesterday I set about removing myself from the laptop. Removing "My Documents" and therefore the photo that I have as wallpaper was a good start in de-personalising the thing and having also now removed all my software and any traces of me that I can think of, I do feel that I am not 'over there' on the table any more. I now live back in my desktop.

This is itself a slightly precarious existence in that the desktop's capacity is now much too small for my stuff. I await the arrival of a bigger hard drive which I hope will be installed next week. In the mean time some of my stuff is here but some is on an external drive, all wrapped up in a complete disc copy-type backup (I expect there's a proper name for this which I've forgotten) which occasionally throws a slight wobbly when I try to get files out. I'm trying to follow the principle that everything is in two places, so doing manual copying of any folders I worked on the previous day each morning.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blow, blow thou winter wind



We're ready for the cold weather now, at least as far as logs go. The new woodshed now contains logs rather than lengths of wood. These logs are from the wood that M brought back from dog walks in the spring and as such are really quite an impressive haul. It wouldn't last the whole winter if we had a fire every day but it hasn't been cold enough to have one at all yet so if we are careful the logs may last out.

My rib injury is healing slowly to the extent that I can now imagine returning to work properly in a couple of weeks' time. In preparation for that I have ordered my new wheel, which I have been waiting to order for a couple of years. When I tried making pots a couple of weeks ago, the horrible noise of the wheel was the one down-side to the experience at the time. I had got used to it but having the last seven months away from the noise has made it more noticeable now. I always listen to something while I'm working, either music or spoken word (radio or audio books) and have been really enjoying the clarity of listening through wireless headphones from the computer. I can't wear headphones while potting and the portable radio/CD player struggles to drown out the noise of the wheel, making listening almost impossible with some quiet things. The new wheel is called a Shimpo Whisper! I hope it does.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Six Word Saturday

Lovely workshop students. Miserable autumn weather.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting a life - 3 (or, be careful what you wish for)


Anyone kind enough to read these ramblings regularly will have noticed it's been a while since I've written anything here. I've been unsure what to write. I hope I can be read clearly in these ramblings and friends have told me that this is so - I am easily recognisable in my writing. On the other hand, it's not a dumping ground for all my inner stuff and as I've been feeling more down than up I've been uncertain about how to approach this within the blog.

I've certainly wanted to write. This blog is among a selection of pages that open almost automatically every day and every day this week I've seen the same entry staring back at me and wanted to post something different. The things that have been uppermost in my mind, though, have been mostly negative and didn't want to just pour out a lot of structureless stuff that would make people more gloomy than the November weather is probably already doing. A bit of an impasse, then. I suppose I was looking for a coherent approach. I tend to know how I'm going to write what I want to write about once I have a title.

Eventually it dawned on me that once again it's been about getting a life. Having said earlier that getting a life meant a life that wasn't just work, I didn't spend much more time thinking about the essential place of work in that life. So here I am, having wished for more time to do things that aren't work, and I've got my wish. I don't much like it!

My rib injury had been mending really well and there was only one way to find out whether I could make pots yet, which was to try. On Friday evening I made three jugs. Not much, but it was a start and I felt completely fine both doing it and afterwards. On Saturday I thought perhaps I was slightly more tender than on other mornings but as usual that wore off and in the afternoon I made 9 jugs. Towards the end of this things did start to hurt and the next day I felt I had been set back at least a week. I suppose I'll go and put handles on the jugs I've made when they're ready, but to be honest I don't have much enthusiasm.

It felt so right making pots. I felt as if I was back where I belonged. Now, though, it's like being shut out of where I belong. I've been somewhat rootless and unable to focus on alternatives.

I do have alternatives. I can think ahead and make the Christmas presents I am planning now rather than later. There are various domestic chores I could try to catch up with. I could find some leisure activity that doesn't involve rib muscles (no swimming or gardening, then.) I've just been unable to focus until now.

What I have done is to take whatever steps are possible to distribute the stock I have in the places where I am most likely to sell it. Because of the lead time to filling a kiln for firing, it now looks probable that I won't be able to produce any more pots in time for Christmas sales. Aside from the feeling of loss at not being able to work with the clay, this could be a big problem but I hope I've minimised it.

I've made an appointment with my own GP in the hope of getting some kind of meaningful prognosis. Both A&E and the GP I saw previously said that of course I could work and make pots. Nobody actually examined me to find out what I had done, it has to be said. It's clear now that I shouldn't be working. What's not clear is when I will be able to do so.

Having taken these steps I do feel a little better about life. At least I've been a bit proactive about something.

And then, there are still lots of good things, some of which I did wish for. I wished for raspberries in the garden and the autumn raspberry plants we were given in the spring have fulfilled the wish in bowlsful. This is today's harvest. It's the tenth of November. I've just picked raspberries. That has to be good, doesn't it?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting out there





It was great yesterday to get back into a craft shop setting. In recent years I'd been unable to work in The Made In Stroud Shop because the counter/chair arrangement was just not comfortable for my back and I ended up having to take the following day off work as well. Instead, while the shop was still a co-op, I did accounts and other admin tasks as my share of the work. At By Local there isn't that option but in any case the area behind the counter is much larger and there are ordinary chairs to support my back so I was pretty confident that all would be well for my two days a fortnight.

It was a busy day for people putting up new work and moving round existing displays, though a quiet one for customers. I got back into the swing of using a till (phew! it's a surprisingly intimidating experience!) but wasn't able to help with the shifting round because of my rib injury. Rosie had her laptop with her, though, and leapt at my offer of help with text-based stuff so I worked on the invitations for a private viewing and started on a press release. By chance I had already taken some nice pics of the shop first thing so when she mentioned the need for some new ones, everything fell into place rather. I so enjoyed working as part of a team again, which has been one of the down-sides of not being part of a co-op any more. It's always enjoyable to be in contact with customers, too, but without the inconveniences of the weather that you get at the Farmers Market. It was good to have time to take some photos both of my work and the shop as a whole.



I also now have work at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. This is on a more permanent basis (By Local only being open till 31st December) and I'm hoping will prove a good outlet in particular for my cards. Yesterday I delivered a batch of new photo cards to By Local. Most of these were photos taken during the summer in France and it will be interesting to see how they go. Photographic cards have always been the minority item but as mentioned before, I'd like to make more of my photography if I can.

The Laurel Tree at Bourton-on-the-Water still stocks my blue spotty range and colanders, serving bowls and utensil jars in plain blue. I'm pleased to have work there and to see it still selling in a shop which has lots of commercially produced ceramics which are necessarily cheaper.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the mend



We seem to be in a mending phase. M has repaired the big dining table, which has been becoming more and more wobbly over recent months. I had this table made about 8 years ago. It's wider than usual for its length so one can get plenty of dishes in the middle (and two people can sit at the ends if necessary) and has two ends which pull out to extend the length considerably. Fourteen people sat round it comfortably when we got married in April. The overall table top makes the whole thing very heavy and the leg joints have suffered over the years. The maker had repaired one leg for me a while ago so M reglued all the other joints and copied the repair. It feels solid and reliable again.

In the washing machine at the moment is my big white embroidered tablecloth being rewashed in an attempt to get the red wax stains out from, er, last Christmas. I'd used my usual methods and it hadn't come clean and there wasn't time to tackle it in the spring before we went away. I've now used boiling water and gentle bleach and it is in a hot wash. I don't think all the red is coming out, but I will be leaving it at that.

Why the picture? Well, it's not quite mending, but it comes close. The last piece of sitting room regeneration is done. I have made a new loose cover for my armchair. We pulled the old one off in several pieces! It had gone through in many places and recently you could feel fabric ripping every time you sat down, which was a little disconcerting. I did have the whole thing covered with a throw so it didn't look as bad as it sounds. It took a long time to find the right red fabric; it had to be fairly similar to our new red sofa, but the end result is very pleasing.

And finally, I seem to be on the mend. I know rib injuries take weeks rather than days to mend but I do at last (almost a week later) feel that things are improving. I've had acupuncture, been to A&E (it got worse, and M was worried, though I knew there was no need) and am using every remedy recommended! I put the getting worse partly down to brushing the dog, partly to grinding the bases of some pots but perhaps mainly because rib injuries apparently often do get worse before they get better. Now, though, if I pace myself and take paracetemol I can do quite a lot.

Unfortunately, making pots is going to be the last thing I am able to do so there is a little worry around because I really need to be producing right now, but I am being reasonably philosophical and getting on with things I can do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Officially Autumn



So the clocks have gone back and it is officially autumn but it really doesn't feel like it yet. I think the autumns have been starting later recently as this is not the first time in recent years that I've suddenly realised that I should be well into producing pots for Christmas sales before I've had time to think of the summer as really being over. It is very mild at the moment, of course, and then I have been 'settling in'. Last week I got back into the pottery and found enough pots to glaze and fire that will just top up stocks of, for instance, blue spotty pots before I am able to produce any more.

While the kiln was firing on Sunday, M and I were tackling shrub/tree pruning. He's about to buy a new car and it seemed sensible to do trips to the tip with trailers full of messy garden rubbish with the old car. M was pruning the buddleia by the gate and I was in the front pruning the escallonia. It has got a bit out of hand and some of the branches are now rather thick. Too thick for the lopper, some of them. But one of those needed to go. Rather than interrupt M to come and saw the branch, I decided to have a go anyway.

I used a technique I've used before - rest one handle of the loppers against the upper body and use both hands to pull the other handle towards you. Don't try this at home, folks. The lopper handle holds your ribs nicely in place while your arm pulls the muscle away! Well, not quite away as in detached, but away in direction and pulls certainly. I've had pulled rib muscles before. This one isn't as bad but it is certainly stopping me doing most of the things I would otherwise have been doing at this point in the autumn.

No more garden clearing. More seriously, no making pots. I'm not sure how long this injury will take to mend but the muscle I've pulled is one I'm most aware of using in the pottery. I'm taking arnica and rubbing in arnica gel but other than that I suppose it's a matter of wait and see.

I've got other work and jobs to do, of course. Yesterday I designed the flyers for my Open Day which I can take with me on Sunday when I go over to work in By Local. I have been printing out photos from the last twelve months, some to go in albums but some to make cards with and I can be getting on with those. I shall be getting stressed, though, if I'm held up for much more than a week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Getting a life - 2





Yesterday I still had four quinces left. What to make? H asked, couldn't you just eat them. You can't, not raw. Quinces are rather unpromising raw - pale and uninteresting skin, white flesh, hard and rather granular. The shape is pleasingly curvacious, granted, but that's about it.

I had found a recipe for quince tarte tatin but I didn't like the sound of it so I decided to use my usual recipe for apple tarte tatin but adapt to quinces. Quinces do take much longer to cook, so there was a degree of experimentation in all this. I worked out that I had to mess with the quince pieces. This is what you absolutely must not do with apples but it was going to be the only way to get them cooked through.

I started on a very large tarte tatin, in an effort to finish the quinces off. (I almost managed this, but have one half left that wouldn't fit.) Once the quinces were cooked and I turned up the heat to caramelise the butter and sugar, I could see the pudding was going to be a success. The quinces were working their magic in turning pink and for good measure were tinting the caramel a lovely dark red as well.

Now I had a successful pudding (well almost) I rather regretted making it for just the two of us. Pastry doesn't keep well for long and although I planned to freeze the leftovers, they would never be the same as the freshly cooked pudding.

Luckily, A & N came to the rescue. They are almost unique among our friends in being able to be flexible and completely spontaneous when it comes to food. They were delighted to be asked round for a meal at the last minute, even when I asked them to buy some bread to go with the lentil soup I would make to eat before the pudding. A good time - and most of the tarte tatin - was had by all.

We were talking about getting a life and A asked me what sort of Life it is that I want to get. I answered relatively briefly, for me, that it's a life that contains not just work.

It's so much more than that, though. At the risk of tempting fate in saying so, I still feel I have kept the life I got when we were in France. Getting a life is really about the sort of things I've been writing about here.

proper cooking
impromptu invitations
growing stuff
making stuff
reading
writing
swimming

but most of all enjoying.

I do need to work, obviously. I need to earn money and I also need to do the work I do to satisfy my creative impulse. The French Experiment was a success. I made so much stock before we left and shops sold enough in my absence that I still managed to make a living and didn't need to draw on any capital to survive. Now it's time for the English Experiment. This experiment is to get a better quality of life by not rejecting opportunities or desires to do things I love just because I think I haven't time.

It probably won't be easy. Let's face it, most of my goals aren't easy to achieve. I do always get there in the end, though.

Yesterday I swam half a mile. I finished the first textile "canvas". Clay was delivered. I used up the rest of the quinces. I cooked for friends.

Today I'm in the pottery glazing and decorating. I've just enough pots to fill a kiln and then it will be weeks of making again. This will be when the real challenge comes. Putting some flexibility into the rhythm of making tableware will need some dedication, but I am determined to get a life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quince Pickle



H told me that quince pickle is delicious, especially with cheese. K said that it seemed a bit of a waste of quinces as they are so expensive and you can pickle any old stuff. But I had made plenty of quince in vanilla quince syrup, a batch of quince jelly and still had lots of quinces left.

I searched around for some days for a quince pickle recipe, never finding quite what I was looking for. Eventually I realised that what I was looking for was a recipe devised by me, using components from recipes that had caught my eye.

I managed to leave enough on the sides of the preserving pan and the wooden spoon for us to have a little taste and it was delicious! It may change with maturing, of course, but the initial impression is of a fairly tart pickle, followed by rounded, mellow flavours, one of which is most definitely quince. The quantities below made the jars above. I can't say how it will keep but there's no reason to suppose it won't keep about as long as any other chutney or pickle containing both vinegar and sugar.

Ingredients:

1.5kg quinces, washed, cored and chopped
500g onions, chopped
500ml cider vinegar
200ml white wine
500g light brown sugar
6cms length of ginger, grated
12 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
2 tsp juniper berries, crushed
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tbs sea salt

Method:

1. Put all the ingredients apart from the quinces into a preserving pan. Heat gently, stirring, to dissolve the sugar then bring to a simmer.

2. Add the chopped quinces to the pan. Bring back to the boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.



3. Simmer for about two hours until most of the liquid has gone and the quinces are soft and dark pink in colour.



4. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nothing nasty in the woodshed ...



...unless you count a few bits of rubbish destined for the tip. But the exciting news is that we have a woodshed.

I'm sorry that this is probably not a very interesting post for those of you who read my blog but don't actually know our house, but for those who do and who may have been following the development of Shed City (as it is known), you will see that we have now converted some semi=detacheds and a detached to a terrace, by joining the green shed (which, yes, is the one on the left looking rather brown) to the blue shed and making a place for firewood.

What you can see stacked up is the wood that M collected last spring. Some of it has dried out and is probably burnable now, but some could not be protected over the summer and will need further drying. We may end up buying one load of ready-to-burn logs to kick-start the system, but M hopes in future to rescue enough wood by the spring to then dry out enough to last the whole of the following winter. Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jane Vernon's real deal artist's statement

I've been asked to provide an A4 artist's statement for customers and yesterday I put together a piece based on earlier statements but including the kind of details which had been asked for. I showed it to M. He said that far from showing the kind of person and artist that he knows I am, it portrayed me as a rather boring dilettante. This would not do! I've therefore cast aside conventional formats and written my real deal artist's statement. I'm rather pleased with it. Enjoy!




If you’ve been to Stroud and seen a large, talkative woman dressed in purple, it’s likely to have been me. I’ve always had plenty to say and that’s at the core of my work as an artist. Wrapped up in each piece of work I make, is something I’m passionate about.

Since I was very young I’ve wanted to make things from fabric and threads. I trained in Textiles at Bath in the seventies and for a while followed the fashion of the times for hairy weavings in muted colours. Eventually, in the mid-eighties, I found time to explore embroidery and Colour. It’s astonishing to me that it took me so long as all my textiles work since then has been inspired primarily by the never-ending possibilities of colour. Since the mid-nineties I have been making wallhangings, influenced equally by the textiles of the East and the natural world. My fish, birds, lizards and flowers are represented in rich colour blends by silk-painting, appliqué, machine and hand embroidery, beads, sequins and metallic threads. Each piece is finished with hanging ceramic pieces or beads or tassels.

Many of my hangings are reproduced as photographic greetings cards. I also make several ranges of silk-painted cards where I can indulge in a little frivolity and humour, painting birds with wacky hairstyles and cats and pigs in greens and purples.

Immediately after finishing my textiles training I went on a course at Douglas Phillips’ Ridge Pottery (in Somerset) and discovered an affinity for clay. After some years attending courses during the holidays, I changed from full-time to part-time teaching, set up a small pottery workshop at home and began producing tableware, which has been the focus of my pottery work ever since.

When you use one of my pots you are using something made by someone who loves food. No mug is made without my imagining the taste of tea, coffee or cocoa, no bowl without the smell of home-made soup, no oven dish without the sight of lasagne or plum crumble being presented to eager guests. Robust and practical, my pots are designed for everyday use and decorated in a way which I hope makes them visually pleasing but not overwhelming.

I’ve been a keen photographer since I had my first Brownie at the age of eight and in recent years photography has been an increasing part of my art work as I try to pass on in an image the essence of something that has thrilled me when I’ve seen it. Some of these images are available as greetings cards or prints.

I now work full-time as an artist but use my teaching experience in occasional workshops where I really enjoy the enthusiasm of the students for the materials and techniques that I love.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Perspective



Perspective used to be just what was taught about horizons, vanishing points and how things are smaller when far away. (Some of you will now be remembering Father Ted. Sorry I could only find a 28-second clip.) These days I think we use the word 'perspective' where I'm sure we used to talk about point of view. Perhaps this is because "you are seeing this from a different perspective" is rather more cuddly than "you are seeing this from a different point of view". Points of view can be rather didactic and all-encompassing and are very often immovable. Perspective sounds a little more open and you can imagine someone stepping to one side to see things from a different perspective far more readily than asking them to see things from a different point of view. Some people find the latter very difficult or impossible.

I'm very good at seeing things from someone else's point of view, to the extent that I think I can give the impression of being a little undecided. I suppose it's part of my moral code to be fair. I do try, therefore, to see where decisions have come from and whether they serve the interests of the majority. (For those who like to think of things this way, philosophically, utilitarianism is probably at the foundation of my moral code, though it may not represent the whole picture. That's a topic for another time, though.)

On Friday I went swimming in our local leisure centre. (I went on Monday, too, but I didn't blog about it as one swim didn't seem to make a kept resolution.) I used to go to the Early Bird swimming sessions three times a week but have got out of the habit for years. The last few times I had tried it had resulted in bad bouts of back problems, but during the summer when we swam in the river I began to build up the number of 'circuits' I swam each time without ill effects and I'm hoping to continue regular swimming now we're home.

Two changes caught my attention. The first is that the pool is now divided into lanes. It's not a big pool, 25m long and with only four lanes. One is labelled "fast", one "medium" and the two nearest the steps form one big lane for slowcoaches. I'm a pretty good swimmer and get up a reasonable speed once I'm in the swing of it but I swim breast-stroke so although I tried the fast lane, it was soon clear that since everyone else there was swimming crawl, I was going to be a nuisance. I changed to the medium lane. I then found myself floating about in the water waiting for the person in front to get further forward. It was the fact that I could be seen at the same time as too slow or too fast that made me think about the concept of perspective in the first place.

I was on the point of becoming very grumpy when I noticed that there were one or two swimmers who would occasionally wait in one corner of the lane and let others go in front. A sort of wetiquette, I suppose, it worked well enough that for the last ten lengths of my swim I and several other strong breast-stroke swimmers were able to swim pretty much continuously. I can see why this has been done because previously when it was a bit of a free-for-all it was often difficult to swim continuous lengths because of dodging those who are slower, just want to float or go for the social chit-chat as much as the swimming.

The other change is that there are large notices saying we must not wear shoes in the changing area. If we want to keep our shoes on there are plastic shoe-covers for our use which we may recycle ourselves but must not replace in the dispenser for others to use. Of course there is the option to take our shoes off. Outside the changing room there are some chairs on which we can sit to replace our socks and shoes after swimming.

Now, Stroud District Council, among other bodies, is trying to encourage the businesses and residents of Stroud to stop using polythene bags. Stroud District Council is also in charge of the Leisure Centre and although the actual management is contracted out, I am assured that the council know of this latest scheme. As an occasional market trader I am discouraged from packing my goods in polythene carrier bags. I'm generally in favour but for very large or heavy pots I do supply polythene carriers; they're a tasteful purple (of course) and can be reused for all sorts of things once the pots are safely home. But - at the same time as the council are discouraging me from supplying the plastic bags they are sanctioning a scheme which encourages me to wear single-use plastic shoe covers. I could spurn the shoe covers, of course, but then I am left outside the changing rooms after my swim with damp feet from the wet floors and my towel wrapped round my wet swimming costume, the usual way to take such things home for a swim for as long as I have been swimming. If I want to keep my towel available to dry my feet outside the changing room I shall have to take something to put my wet costume in. What could that be? Ah, I know - a polythene bag.

What's the other perspective on this? Apparently, people had been complaining about the changing rooms being dirty and have given positive feedback about the shoe cover scheme. It seems that we may tread in all sorts of things while outside and then if we go into the changing rooms, these allsorts transfer to the floor where people's children walk with bare feet. Well, yes, I suppose this must be true, but then it must always have been true. That's the point of changing rooms - you go in with your outside kit on and come out in your sports kit and after you've done your sport you reverse the process.

I suggested a very large heavy-duty doormat area outside the changing rooms and the duty manager said she would pass this on. The plastic shoe covers are a trial measure, apparently, but I'm afraid I'm not very optimistic that my lone voice will achieve much against the no-peck-of-dirt lobby. I'm contemplating a letter to the local paper, a thing I've never done before.

This has turned into a bit of a rant. I'll come back to the subject. As well as seeing things from someone else's perspective we also talk about putting things in perspective, usually meaning not making too much of it. Who's got things out of perspective here, I wonder - me with my complaint about using too much plastic or those who are frightened of what might be brought in on our shoes?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Settling in

I have eventually realised that what I am doing is settling in. It's not rocket science or even brain surgery but it took me a while to work it out. I expected to need a couple of weeks to get a few things done but then imagined I would be back in the pottery after that. It's obviously not working out like that and for a while I was rather worried about it. I just didn't have any desire to go back in the pottery and the more I acknowledged this the more I didn't want to do it and the more it bothered me.

As is my way, I began to analyse what was going on. Did this herald a sea-change away from pottery? (Alarming idea.) Was it that I just needed to continue with the textiles work I had to leave off when we packed up in France? (Possible, but I can usually accommodate such things.) Was it because I have to start with the unpleasant job of doing a thorough clean-up of the pottery prior to changing from brown to white clay? (True, but hardly major in the grand scheme of things.) Was it part of the picture of getting a life that I had too many other things I wanted to do? (Well yes, perhaps ...) But none of these really seemed to reflect what I was feeling.

What I've actually been doing this week is making several hundred cards that are needed for two new outlets and starting to organise the pots that will be delivered to those same places. And today I've begun to feel differently and suddenly I realise that I just needed to settle in. The process of collecting stock together, making up orders, preparing new artist statements and publicity literature ready for a new outlet is an important part of planning the direction in which my work is going. As I've labelled pots and decided how many of each will make a good display, my interest in making them has started to return. I've also been noting my feelings towards different designs and my reaction to whether I need to make more of them or not. Sometimes I catch myself thinking "oh, no" and then I know that's a design I'm not enjoying producing as much as I used to.

I'm not going to do anything too drastic, but I do want to inject a bit more life and passion into the actual pots. Latterly the passion had been focussed on meeting my targets rather than the pots themselves. I get a huge buzz out of meeting targets. The targets I set myself are always achievable ones, but sometimes only just and the feeling of elation on meeting the goal is immense. I started to write "if meeting the goal" but the truth is that I always do. I guess this makes me goal oriented and perhaps that's been part of the disquiet at this settling in process - no identifiable check-list type goals.

So I'm settling in. Finding my feet. Finding all sorts of things in still-to-be-unpacked boxes! And there's nothing like writing publicity material, even events handouts for the market tomorrow, for generating new ideas.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Walnuts



Since everything was early this year, the walnuts were no exception and we brought a huge bag back.

I'm surprised to find that fresh walnuts taste of nut rather than walnut. Neither of us knows much about storing nuts so until someone comes along to advise me differently, I'm storing them in an open box in a cool shed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

And there it was - gone!

How lovely to find an excuse to use this title; it is one of my favourite lines. Here's what's gone.



We were delighted that someone could make use of the old greenhouse. As they separated the panels, you could see which were still pretty solid and ready to put back and which were rotten. Starting from these components and replacing some sections should mean that they can reconstruct a sturdy greenhouse which can go on being useful for a long time. Repairing it in situ had become much more complicated.

I'm being patient about what's next because for the moment M is building a woodshed and that's much more important as it is the time for collecting and using firewood and not the time for sowing seeds.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Peppers



I love yellow peppers. Here are four of the ones I've been growing nicely ripened up and ready to go in the freezer. (There are more, but these four made the best photo!)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shopping



Today we've been shopping. Well, we've been looking at outlets, one existing, two new. The existing one is sort of on hold at the moment but the two new ones look good, in particular ByLocal. Rosie and Helen started this venture in a huge empty ex-toyshop in Cheltenham, at first as a six-week summer project. I would have been keen to be part of the project from the start but of course was in France at the time. The good news is they've got an extension until Christmas. I'm hoping to take work over there in a couple of weeks. It really is a lovely shop and well worth a visit if you are in Cheltenham.

This was a great way to finish a busy day. The shop was really inspiring and rescued me from a whole pile of indecision I was in earlier this morning. Next week can be spent sorting out stock, making plans of what pots need making and making photo cards for the two new outlets.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thanks, Mum and Dad

Excuse me, will you, while I just play with my New Toy for a while? There's a recipe for plum ice-cream thrown in for free if that helps.

Back in April, M and I got married and Mum and Dad generously gave me - oops! sorry, gave us - a Kenwood Chef. They actually handed it over a few weeks before the event so I could use it when making the celebratory lunch, which I did, but then it was covered over and we left for France and the KC sat here patiently waiting for my return.

I've been thinking about the ways in which it will save me time and was able to use three different functions one after the other when doing things with some plums. There were two jars of plums which didn't seal properly and needed using straight away.

First, I made a big batch of crumble mix.


The flour and fat went into the food processor and within about a minute the thing was done! Used what was needed for today's crumble and froze the rest, ready to take out in whatever quantities are needed. Fruit stewed, crumble crumbled, instant puddings!

Secondly I made a batch of Plum ice-cream. An unspecified quantity of cooked plums (enough to make a good quantity of puree, probably at least 500g when uncooked) liquidised themselves while I got the cream out of the fridge,



300ml each of double and single creams
whisked themselves till firm while I found a half-litre ice-cream tub,



and then puree and cream were blended together very gently in a few seconds.



The mixture goes straight into a half-litre tub and into the freezer. The beauty of this recipe (which is loosely based on one for strawberry ice-cream from the Readers Digest "The Cookery Year") is that it is so rich in cream that it doesn't need beating at intervals once it's in the freezer.

I think the washing up took longer than the making! I shall have to read the instruction manual and see which bits can go into the dishwasher for next time.

Stockpiling





Over at Making Good Milla has been asking whether she is organised or over-stockpiling. The things she lists as having handy don't seem over-stockpiling to me but as it happens I had been asking myself a similar question.

Part of the success of being a bon viveur on a budget lies in having plenty of storage space and freezers so I can take advantage of BOGOFs, bargain multi-packs and reduced-price-because-near-sell-by-date items. I have two freezers in the UK, one large, one medium. In France, though, I have only one very small freezer, which is turned off during the winter months. Still, after five months there this year it was pretty full. Three or four weeks before we left I set about eating everything up but couldn't quite do it. I thawed any fresh meat products and cooked them up, then brought back the cooked meat and froze it. The already cooked food was brought back as it was and we've been eating it up since. Yesterday we had chicken with preserved lemons for the third time in ten days. That was certainly not well organised.

As to over-stockpiling, I've decided that I don't.

In France it was a glut year for all fruit, as I've mentioned before, and I was determined to preserve as much of it as possible. I used to have one jam shelf, in the cupboard under the stairs. A couple of years ago M built me the broad shelf under the sloping lobby roof and that took the excess that I was building up. This year both are full and I now have bottled fruit and jam in boxes in a shed as well. The bottled fruit will become all sorts of puddings and we'll have lighter savoury courses on pudding days.

It was an interesting experience, though, eating meals based completely on what I already had. I like to batch-cook anyway so there are always meals which only need the minimum of work and it has been useful not having to cook much from scratch during the period of packing up and now unpacking. One of the strange things on our return here was looking in the freezers to see what I had. There's not much room in either, so I've decided to do a bit of eating up for the next few weeks. This will also save some immediate expenditure during the next couple of months, which are always lean ones for sales.

Working my way through the fresh produce we brought back with us, today I started thinking about the quinces. They're not over-ripe and it isn't urgent but I wanted to start planning the different things I'm going to make with them and I completely lost my recipe for quinces in vanilla quince syrup. Searched my recipe folder twice to no avail. I gave up looking and decided to do a google search for quinces in vanilla syrup. The fourth hit was my own recipe in the Umra Recipe Book, which I host on my own website! You really can find anything on the internet. (Do you think I can use the internet to find M's measuring tape?)

Mind you, I haven't found a recipe for quince pickle, which H told me on the phone yesterday is utterly delicious. If anyone out there has such a recipe, I'd be pleased to have it.

The greenhouse project - moving house


A new owner has been found for the greenhouse and he and his brother are coming tomorrow to start dismanting it, so today we emptied it not only of dead plants but all my stuff. At the end I swept the floor and gathered up most of the bits to make it easier for the guys coming to dismantle it to make their way round inside. Suddenly it felt just like moving house. Pack up your stuff, clean up ready for the next people. Clearing the whole thing out brought back a host of memories too, but surprisingly I didn't feel at all sad. I think this must be because the new greenhouse will be on the same site. Instead, I'm having to rein in my excitement because I know that, like Rome, the new greenhouse won't be built in a day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The greenhouse project



Here is my faithful old greenhouse. It's done 21 years, (although this year nobody has grown anything in it, our house-sitter deciding it was not for her.) M1 (first, late husband, who had same name as present one) had always wanted a wooden greenhouse rather than an aluminium one and had lots of reasons why it would be better, none of which I can remember now. Some time after he died, someone advised me, wrongly, that coloured wood treatments were the same as brown ones but just a different colour, so I painted the whole thing blue, along with all the wooden fences around the garden. After a couple of years it was plain that this stuff was really paint, not good soak-it-in wood preservative, but by then it was too late to remove it and start again. I did get it redone a few times, but eventually the elements began to win and over the last few years bits of the greenhouse have needed shoring up, first with wood and then eventually just with whatever materials we could find to stuff the holes!

Now, a new greenhouse has arrived.



I almost feel this post should be entitled "Can you see what it is, yet? #2" It doesn't look much like anything at the moment, does it? But it will. Oh yes. If a wooden greenhouse can last me 21 years, I reckon an aluminium one can last me 30 years and so I have bought one most likely to be suited to my needs when I am 85!

The weather being as capricious as it is, and M having a woodshed project before he can start on levelling and re-concreting the site for the greenhouse, we can't be certain when this greenhouse will actually be put up, but progress will be charted here, you can be sure. At the moment people are coming to view the old one to see if they want to dismantle, repair and rebuild, after I offered it on what used to be called Freecycle and is now Freegle. Watch this space. Which, of course, is what I hope you're doing anyway.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can you tell what it is yet?




I can tell what it is but not what it's for. It's a mixing bowl of eggshells left on the kitchen cupboard by our house-sitter. She's out of phone contact for a few days so I can't find out the real explanation for the time being and just have to guess the answer.

So far, the only conclusion I have come to is that they were destined to be snail deterrents. I've heard snails don't like the texture. I've never tried the theory out myself because, relative to the snail and slug population here, we don't eat many eggs. We had a big pile of scrambled eggs for lunch yesterday, though, partly because we had missed a meal or two in the previous 24 hours while packing up and travelling and partly because the eggs had sat in a hot car for a day so I thought it best to use them up. As the eggshells mounted up on the counter, I just thought why not start keeping them? It's really such an easy thing to do. By the time I have veg that need protecting from slugs and snails I will surely have enough shells to be useful. During the summer I have been keeping used coffee grounds (and drying them out) for the same purpose. Why not have several boxes of such items collecting in the shed ready for the spring onslaught?

There's a bigger picture to identify too. What shape will our lives have here? Five months away is long enough to break all the old patterns that belonged here and bring some of our more recent ones back with us. 24 hours after unlocking the door of this strange but familiar house, I'm feeling a great sense of possibility about all of this. Today there are things to do. I'll set about doing them and see what turns up. I can't tell exactly what life here is yet and it's a great feeling.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes



Over at the Down To Earth Forum people are discussing, amongst other things, what to do with all the tomatoes. Usually I make tomato puree, roast tomato and garlic soup and tomato and vegetable sauce and freeze them but here we have only a very small freezer which is turned off for the winter anyway, so I do jams, pickles and bottling, or canning as it seems to be known in the US, Australia and NZ.

Red tomato chutney and green tomato chutney are well known, but I made this recipe a couple of days ago and it’s tasty as well as different.

Tomato and Red Pepper Chutney
2lbs ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (skin first if you prefer)
1 red pepper (about 6 oz), deseeded and roughly chopped
8oz onions, finely chopped
10 fl oz red wine vinegar
4oz sugar (brown if you like for extra flavour, though I used white)
1tsp paprika

1. Put the tomatoes in a large pan. Add the other ingredients and bring slowly to the boil. Bubble gently, uncovered, for an hour or two until the vegetables are tender and the chutney is thick and pulpy.

2. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.

3. Store in a cool, dark place for at least four weeks. Once opened, keep in the fridge for up to one month.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Looking forward



We are packing. Some packing is of things to take back to UK, some is of things here so they are mouse, spider, frost and dust-proof during the winter. But, for the first time since I've been coming here, just before we leave we are not only packing. M is still occasionally attacking a patch of brambles at ground level so that in the spring the old, dead stuff will be easy to remove and the new growth which will be bound to happen will be relatively easy to kill off. I'm preparing my vegetable plot for next summer's vegetables. These are things we might be doing if we weren't leaving. Ordinary jobs but they have an eye on future seasons.

This summer I've been painting the downstairs windows, doors and shutters. They certainly weren't looking their best, but repainting woodwork is as much about protecting it for the future as it is about how it looks now. Not that I'm not happy with how my work looks, mind you! Most things have been stripped right down to bare wood and M has replaced odd rotten bits with new sections of wood in invisible joins. I've got through tubes and tubes of wood filler. (It doesn't seem to be available in any larger quantity, though we've looked.) You really can't tell which bits we've repaired, apart from my re-puttying. It's not yet my best skill, though M says it's no worse than when he does it. I stop painting for the winter with ideas fairly fresh in my mind about what I'll tackle next summer. There are a few more photos of the work we've been doing here if you're interested. (Friends who visited earlier this summer might notice the difference!)

Living here has, even more than before, become in a way just living. Of course I return to making pots, going to the Farmers Market and other sales events instead of spending all my working time making cards and working with textiles. The shape of my days won't be the same as it has been here. In between here and there lies a long journey, tiring for me as I don't sleep well on the overnight ferry. But over-riding all of these things is the sense that in some way life on the other side of the channel can be a continuation of this one.

Unlike other trips, which have been more like holidays for me, I leave this time without the traditional case full of dirty laundry. I've been on top of these sorts of chores while we've been here. There'll be no endless washing loads after this trip.

Not having finished the new pieces of textiles work has it's upside too. I'm so much 'in the middle of stuff' that I hope it will be possible to unpack these pieces and continue with them from time to time over the winter. It doesn't have to be a complete change of lifestyle just because it's a change of scene.

Having enjoyed fabulous swimming weather in July and August, we've both resolved to take up swimming again in the autumn. I'm planning on returning to the Early Bird sessions, starting at 8.00 a.m. Watch this space to see if I keep to my resolution.

This summer looked in advance very much like a self-contained event. Now, though, it feels more like one season in a constantly evolving life. I'm looking forward - to continuing life in the UK, to continuing life here.