So that was 2009. In many ways, I'm not sad to see it go....so much hardship, war (STILL??), poverty, sadness...you'd have thought we'd have learned something by the 21st century but in so many ways man just blunders on, having the same prejudices and petty hatreds, treating each other and the world with contempt and disdain. BUT there is so much good out there too. On a personal level, I've made new friends this year (hi Dawn & Morwenna to name but two! x) which is always a good thing, and I've been so lucky and happy in my life. I saw my beloved sister and her family when we visited Australia in May, spent time with special friends in the USA which I'll never forget, and I made the big decision to change my working life after 6 years of full-time baking.
Yesterday was spent clearing out my industrial kitchen unit. It was freezing cold and lashing rain all day - it hardly got light! Luckily I wasn't alone - Paul and my great friend Charlie-the-Coffeeman were on hand to help - but it was pretty grim! I've had so many happy days there, overlooking farmland and a golf course, listening to BBC Radio 4 and watching the birds as I baked up a storm. But my lease came to an end, new landlords taking over the units, rents going up...and times change. My working life has always fitted into 5 year cycles, bizarrely! I could never give up baking professionally altogether....well, not yet anyway. So for now I have a mini-bakery at home, and have kept a couple of customers who are also, after all this time, good friends as well. My plan is to bake on Mondays & Thursdays, and the rest of the time I shall write - my lifelong ambition, always hovering in the background, but now it's time to DO IT! - and enjoy our home, my friends and family...give everything a little more time, which I haven't had for too long.
We are going to London this afternoon to celebrate there...lovely supper booked, at Le Cafe Anglais, with music & dancing (and maybe some champagne too.....x)
My resolution this year (most years actually!) is to STOP PROCRASTINATING...just do it! Life really isn't very long, there's so much to fit in....so I shall endeavour to fulfil my favourite saying and Carpe Diem. Watch this space!
Wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. May 2010 ,and the decade to come, bring you love, happiness and all you wish for yourself and those you love.
So Christmas is nearly upon us....tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is my very favourite day of the holiday. The time when you are where you need to be and all the shops are closed and you can finally relax and enjoy each other and everything that is to come....the anticipation is so much of the joy!
We are very lucky to live where we live, in a beautiful church square. It means that we feel a real part of the celebrations as the bells ring almost every night for carol services or concerts....and they chime the quarter hour every day of the year. People imagine it to be intrusive, but we miss them so much if they don't ring - we're so used to them now. It's comforting to wake in the night and hear them ring and know that I'm at home!
These pictures were taken this morning, one of the frostiest I can ever remember here. Apparently it went down to -10c last night....I've filled up the bird feeders and my poor plants will just have to take their chances now. The rather smart gentleman with the briefcase is my darling on his 5 minute walk to work....no scraping ice off the car for him...!
Some of our neighbours have the prettiest decorations.....and just outside the church walls is our very own stately home, once lived in by a famous parlamentarian and later a school, then offices...now sadly empty as it waits to be turned into apartments. I love to look at it and imagine a time when it's chandeliers would have been lit with real candles, it's cellars were full and life filled it's every room. There is even a tunnel that runs from it's cellar into the church....how i'd adore to go back in time, just once, to see it in it's heyday!
I must go and scrape the ice and snow off the car, wend my way sloooooowly to my kitchen and bake the last few dozen mince pies, carrot cakes and trays of bakewell pudding. My aim is to finish everything by this afternoon and then spend tomorrow wrapping, walking Alice and packing the car with goodies before we set off for Mum & Dad's farm. I wish everyone a magical and so happy Christmas. Enjoy time with your friends & family and think of the beloved ones who can't be with you.....they're always in my thoughts and it brings a special poignancy to this season of seasons.
We have had a LOT of snow in the past week...almost unheard of this side of Christmas in this area. It is truly beautiful and I love it really but I can't deny that this side of Christmas is just a little inconvenient! Last night, for example, I was babysitting for my youngest sister while she & her partner went to a work dinner - and I ended up getting snowed in and had to stay the night! While it was wonderful to wake up to my 18 month old nephew, it was difficult too as I'd planned to spend the whole day at work getting ready for Tuesday's Christmas Farmer's Market. I set off for home at 10am...the scariest 12 miles I have ever driven! The roads were an ice rink, completely untreated...several times I nearly burst into tears with the tension of keeping steady! I have never been so pleased to reach home. I walked to my kitchen unit in the end....3 miles away, but the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the frosty snow was sparkling - and I was on my own 2 feet and not behind the wheel of a ton of heavy, dangerous, skating-out-of-control machine!!
While all this was going on, Paul & Alice were out for a beautiful long walk. She absolutely adores the snow and is completely invigorated by it. I'm so glad he took these pictures so I could share it with them - and you! Stay warm xox
This, then, is our Christmas tree. I put it up while watching one of my favourite old movies (The Five Pennies, starring Danny Kaye & Louis Armstrong) to get me in the holiday spirit. Alice looked most bemused and tried to steal some tinsel strands - but she's a good girl and soon realised that it WASN'T the right thing to do!
One of my favourite things about Christmas is the memories it evokes of past years. Part of the season, for me, is the layers of remembrance and tradition that have accumulated over my life and go to make each Christmas deeper and more special.One tradition that my sister, Esther, and I have that helps us when we are so far away is that each year we send new decorations for our trees. Now that her children are older, they pick one each for me and I do the same for them. It's a lovely thing to do and I especially love the way that each decoration is so personal and could only have come from that particular child. For instance.....this one could only have been chosen by my niece! Pink, sparkly & gorgeous....very like her in fact! Her almost-6-year-old brother on the other hand is animal mad, a walking encyclopaedia of natural history! This wombat was last year's choice. And the fish is one of my all time favourites! My Christmas tree is always busy, colourful and slightly messy. Full of bits and pieces (the mini-Alices were a present from Paul last year, the wax figures picked up in Salzburg many years ago....) added to each year from loved ones and from our travels. It, and the rest of my Christmas house, reflect 20 years of the holiday seasons in my life. I love the warm cosiness, the way it makes me think about those I love - far away or very near - and brings them all close to me at this very special time of year.
Alice, as you probably know by now (!) is our beloved 19 month old wire haired fox terrier. We don't know what we did with our lives, they must have been so empty before we got her! She's very strong-willed, so needs constant discipline of a kind but firm nature....but she's also very clever, sparky & loving. Her quirks are endless, but the one that is most unlike any dog I've ever had or known is her total, teenager-like ability to not be able to get up in the morning! She's always been the same, except when she was a VERY tiny puppy...(this picture was taken when she was still with her mum & only 4 weeks old....but I knew right away she was the only one for us!) She sleeps on our bed & at dawn she moves from her position at our feet to snuggle under the covers instead....and then Paul has to pick her up when he goes downstairs or she won't move. She just shifts to her basket by the heat in the front room & carries on snoozing!!
Her coat does get very wiry & thick, so every 12 weeks or so she visits the lovely Tania who tidies her up & clips her nails! She went on Monday & Tania fixed a little blue bow to her collar for Christmas, which I've now removed & will save for 'best'!
We don't have her clipped correctly for a fox terrier....that involves lots of time, work & hand stripping of the coat. We don't want her to be a show dog, we just want her to be comfortable & cool. She's such a part of our family, our little Alice Bear.
We're just back from buying our Christmas tree, a task I love...I always have to go, even though Paul does all the carrying, loading & unloading because the choice has to reach my exacting standards...right height (about 5ft), not too bushy nor too sparse, plenty of well spaced branches...as I walk around the display, the right one somehow sings out to me - as it did today. So she sits outside, in deep water, waiting for the right day to be brought in and decorated for the season. That will probably be in 10 days or so, and of course I will post the results. But I wanted to leave you with a poem from one of my favourite writers, the great e e cummings, that I always think of when I hear my special tree sing out to me each year!
little tree little silent Christmas tree you are so little you are more like a flowerwho found you in the green forest and were you very sorry to come away? see i will comfort you because you smell so sweetly i will kiss your cool bark and hug you safe and tight just as your mother would, only don't be afraid look the spangles that sleep all year in a dark box dreaming of being taken out and allowd to shine, the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads, put up your little arms and i'll give them all to you to hold every finger shall have it's ring and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy then when you're quite dressed you'll stand in the window for everyone to see and how they'll stare! oh but you'll be very proud and my little sister and i will take hands and looking up at our beautiful tree we'll dance and sing "Noel Noel"
Every year, at my bakery, things of course go mad at Christmas! Suddenly everyone HAS to have mince pies, Christmas cakes & gingerbread houses right now! I try and keep on top of everything (remember, there's only me doing it all, including deliveries!) but despite my best laid plans, it always snowballs (sorry for the pun) as we get nearer to the Day & people realise that they forgot to order in good time! I always seem to manage in the end, even if I get a little frazzled & decidedly un-Christmassy in my language at times!
I was very organised with my gingerbread house though - I have to be as it takes several precious days to bake, assemble & decorate. This particular one is now on display in our local coffee shop and is being raffled for the British Heart Foundation. I was especially pleased with the pretzel fence!! I love the decorating bit and have to stop myself from going TOO over the top! "Ok, Ray, STOP there" "oh, but just a little more glitter?? Please?" "Ok, but that's definitely IT then!" Schizophrenia abounds in my Christmas kitchen! Also showing are 6 dozen of the 80 or 90 dozen mince pies I make each December...it's worth making every bit by hand, but I am so glad when it all stops as it gets a bit repetitive. I'll post more festive fancies soon! x
So it's almost upon us! I don't know why I get so excited about the Christmas season. I'm not religious at all, I'm not that keen on the day itself and I'm separated from some of the people I love most at this time of year. BUT the run up, the Advent period, the decorating, the carols, the frosty weather, the lights, the present buying, the movies, the food.... just grab me every December, fill me with excitement, wonder, creativity, love...it's a kind of magic! This year I'm looking forward to it more than ever. Perhaps because I'm really organised and that means that I should be able to enjoy the holiday without worrying or too much stress. It's so hard, in most ways, having my middle sister and her family so far away in Australia, but if it has one redeeming feature it's that it pushes you into searching out the perfect presents early and getting them wrapped, packed and sent off by the end of November at the latest! And over the years, this has expanded from just getting their presents, to getting everyone's presents because among the many pearls of wisdom that fall from the lips of the wonderful, beautiful Susan Branch (http://www.susanbranch.com/ and you'll see what I mean!) is the truth that presents should be bought throughout the year, when you see them, NOT left until the last minute when you'll (let's face it) buy anything in your desperation to have a gift to give...not only probably choosing something unsuitable but usually hideously overpriced and extravagant. This is the pitfall that so many men fall prey to when they don't even start thinking about a present for their loved ones until Christrmas Eve! So if I have one thing to share with you this Advent-Eve it's this: if you haven't already, start buying things now, get them wrapped in good time (another job that's fun if done as you go along, but stressful and shoulder-aching if left until Christmas Eve!) and then r-e-l-a-x. You'll have time to enjoy the beautiful things about the holiday season, without that nag in the back of your mind!
This tray of Cherry Pie Bars, for example. A recipe I made up for our local coffee shop to sell today. Quick-ish, looks delicious (I think!) and tastes good too (I actually bought a slice this afternoon) Or this tray of Spiced Autumn Gingerbread with Orange Frosting. Really gorgeous, just gingery enough and moist as anything.
But other things really stress me out, and give me no inspiration whatsoever. This cake, for example. I really, really hate baking novelty cakes! Everyone who orders one, has a picture in their heads of just how the cake should look. And my huge worry is that it just won't! And they'll be so disappointed, and I'll end up on one of my favourite blogs, http://www.cakewrecks.com/! I don't think this effort will get there, and it SHOULD taste fine. But I'm really, really, really not going to bake any more novelty cakes ever ever again. Unless I really love the person. And they really love me!!
However well I know the works of my beloved Mozart, he still has the power to knock me off my feet with the beauty of his music. I was just preparing supper when Paul called me from work and told me to 'switch to Radio 3'.
As I always know what this means, I immediately turned the dial....and tears sprang into my eyes as I heard the joyful, life affirming last movement of Piano Concerto No. 15 in Bb Major (K450).
If you don't know this piece (or if you do!) just listen to it....and I hope it works for you too. Guaranteed joy and hope for a better world in a few perfect bars. What would I ever do without you, my darling? Here endeth the lesson.....! xo
'Here dead we lie because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, after all, is not so very much to lose...
But young men think it is - and we were young'
This poem by A.E Houseman has always moved me so much and reminds me of the way those young, young men who volunteered so eagerly for service in World War One must have felt as they joined up. That they were upholding all that they held so dear, defending their beloved countries. And so many, so very many, never saw that much loved homeland again.
There have been wars before, wars since and wars still. But for me, the sheer scale of the loss of life, the futility of the sacrifice they made and the unimaginable reality of everyday life for those who fought, suffered, died or lived with the terrible images of what they'd seen held within them forever encapsulates the true meaning of Remembrance Day. We truly must never forget. xx
Nine years ago, my darling younger sister emigrated to the beautiful East Coast of Australia. It's something that she & have I never quite recovered from. It's her home and she loves it there, she's married to a gorgeous, tall, dark, handsome Aussie hunk of manhood and she definitely wouldn't be happy living back here in the grey, cold (usually) UK. But - there is always but - she's not with me physically and that's harder than anyone not in the same situation will ever know. We talk every week without fail and e-mail or text most days too....I also am lucky enough to be able to visit every year and they have been back to England 3 times too. But it's the everyday things, the not being able to just pick up the phone when I hear or see something funny, the popping round for a cup of tea, the quick 'I love you' hug when you really need it...and it all became much, much harder seven years ago when my adorable niece was born, followed by her 2 delectable brothers.
I made it across 12,ooo miles in time for all three births, and I can honestly say that they are the lights of my life. Everyone thinks this about their own children, but I know I'm right when I say that none were ever so beautiful, sparky, intelligent, kind, funny and delightful as Scout, Kip & Alfie are! They are truly a delight to spend time with, and I look forward to seeing them grow into the wonderful adults I know they'll be. I'm just lucky that I now have another gorgeous nephew this side of the world, or the deprivation might send me mad!
The reason for the photo that accompanies this post is that the children call the moon 'Bella Luna' (italian spoken in broad Aussie accents has to be heard to be believed - but it works!) and wherever I am, I look up and see it and know that in a few hours the same sharp brightness will be lighting their night sky.....such a BIG sky they have....and it's comforting, somehow.
So here's to you, Little Robinsons (and big ones too!) You are loved far, far more than I can ever say. X
I know that this is a little late, but I thought you might like to see my Hallowe'en window. We really don't get many Trick or Treaters here....Hallowe'en (despite the best efforts of the shops) isn't a huge thing in the UK as it is over the Atlantic. As we were driving down to Boston, through New Hampshire, I saw whole mock graveyards set up on people's front lawns...spiderwebs covering bushes and trees....skeletons and ghosts peeking from every window & from behind porches...oh no, over here we may have the odd carved pumpkin and spooky table decoration but we really don't do Hallowe'en like our American cousins!
Still, we do our best! I had a grand total of 12 little ones knocking on the door that night - actually quite a lot compared to recent years. I made some spooky cupcakes for our local coffee shop too...I was pleased with the eyeballs (inspired by a post on Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP blog!) The cakes were red velvet, so should have had a nice 'bloody' look to them...
Every morning during the week (Paul takes over at weekends), rain or shine, I take Alice out for a walk...we usually end up at a local beauty spot, about 15 minutes drive away. We always take a different route to keep it interesting, and I love seeing the seasons and the weather come and go throughout the year....from the top of the hill you can see the Prime Minister's weekend house, and if the weather's clear (which it wasn't when I took these, obviously!) you can see across 4 counties...The memorial commemorates local men who fought and died in the Boer War and it's been hit by lightning more than once!
Sometimes, when the bad weather closes in and we're battling across the hill with with wind and rain battering against our faces it can feel like a bit of a chore...but I never regret it afterwards - there's always something new to see, smell, hear. And our girl loves it so much too!
When we were in Cape Cod, we drove up to Portland, Maine & broke our journey with a stop in historic Salem. Anyone who's read Arthur Miller's The Crucible will already be familiar with the terrible Witch Trials that occurred there in the late 1600's. Basically, if anyone didn't like you (for whatever reason!) they could denounce you as a witch, say that you had caused their illness or their animals to die or anything at all...and you'd be tried and probably hanged. Visiting the old Burial Ground and the site of the original court where these poor (usually) women were sentenced to death on the most trivial of grounds made me go cold...
However, Salem is a beautiful place and home of the Peabody Essex Museum which is worth a special trip there on it's own. The museum also has one of the best gift shops I've ever seen..great for buying early Christmas presents! Salem also gave us a fantastic lunch (Thanks to all at Lyceum Bar & Grill!)and the worst ever public lavatory in the history of the world (not in the restaurant, in a shopping mall!)
But over it all hangs the spectre of those long gone but terrible times, and the horrible truth of what took place there....
There's a lot that's wrong with the world now, but visiting a place like this reminds me of just how lucky we are in most ways!
No picture to go with this post, I'm afraid....that computer is out of reach, and this one has none downloaded! We just got back from a very short trip to the West Country (Devon) which was utterly beautiful in the Autumn sunshine. The blue/green sea stretched before us as we came over one of the many hills in the car, dotted with white-sailed yachts and coloured buoys. The park where we walked Alice was full of enormous and beautiful trees in various shades of orange, gold, red and the largest of all - a towering oak, laying a carpet of acorns at our feet, was still completeley and vividly green.
We were there to spend the sad anniversary of my father in law's death two years ago. It hardly seems possible that it is two years since I last saw his spirited face and heard his kind,warm voice. Death is a sad fact of life and must come to us all, I know. But the finality of it is so very cruel. That's it. The world that once contained that person must go on without them. And of course it does and so do we who remain. But how important it is to really cherish those we love, to remind ourselves not to take their presence for granted for one minute.
I don't want this to be a morbid post....I feel reflective and peaceful rather than sad. A candle burns today in remembrance of dearest Jim. And reminds me to count my blessings and to try to overcome the terrible human tendancy to let hours, days, weeks slip by without letting those we adore know just how very much they are loved. x
As I said, a lot of our holiday revolved around food...eating, drinking, restaurants, cafes...we love them all. So here are some images from the trip (and some of the reasons for being on that soup diet!)
Firstly... root beer - one of my great loves! They used to sell it in McDonalds when they first opened over here, but now you can only get it over the internet or in the odd speciality shop. So I always order it when I see it on a menu. And this was a really good one - so refreshing and natural. But definitely an acquired taste!
And this was one of the amazing bakery displays at a fantastic restaurant we lunched in one day (State Road in West Tisbury) We DID eat healthy and delicious salads first...but I couldn't resist taking home some samples of the wonderful cakes on display (just for research purposes you understand.....x) They were all gorgeous but my favourite was the Gingerbread Cake made with dark stout...yum.
This wasn't actually my lunch, but I had to take a picture because it looked so perfectly New England-y! And I have it on very good authority that it was as delicious as it looked. This particular lunch was in Portland, an historic coastal town (city?) in Maine. Full of tiny independent shops, great bars and cafes...I was spoilt for choice. Did Christmas shopping and bought Alice a stuffed squeaky lobster from 'Fetch' - just one of the fabulous pet stores we came across. I could have filled a suitcase just with presents for her, but I had to be sensible. She really doesn't need a chunky knit grey wool turtle neck sweater with the Stars & Stripes on the back now does she?! More history, less calories in the next post!
We arrived home yesterday after an amazing holiday on the USA's beautiful East Coast. Eight days of relaxing, eating (a lot!), reading and being with dear friends. We have so many great memories, so this may span a few posts....
We arrived late evening by tiny 9 seater plane - Paul loved it as he's learning to fly, I was a bit less enthused even though we've done it before...but of course it was fine! The gorgeous city of Boston spread below us....we banked and then over the dark water to land on our lttle island home from home. I sat behind the pilot and saw what he saw...sort of fascinating, wondrous and terrifying all at once! Iwas glad to be on solid ground again if truth be told.
Greeted by golden candlelight, warmth, wine and a party in full swing - perfect! We chatted and ate creamy chowder, pumpkin cheesecake in a gingersnap crust...my mouth waters to think of it even now. Then bed, soft soft pillows and a wonderful sleep.
The days really flowed into a peaceful rhythm from there...early mornings, coffee, chat, sometimes a walk in the crisp Autumn air, then a plan for lunch....gorgeous food, wine, conversation....nap or reading then cocktails with friends or dinner plans of some kind and early bed! As you can tell, food was a huge part of the experience. I fear that I have put on at least 10lbs, but I'm scared to stand on the scales!! So this is all I'm eating for a while....homemade minestrone soup, CRAMMED with healthy veggies and just a whisper of parmesan on top (actually in this picture it's more of a shout!) The broadband signal is playing up today, it's taken me 30 minutes to upload this one photograph so I'll try later or tomorrow. It's (sort of) good to be home...but that felt like home too, except for no Alice which would have made it all too perfect!
My last few homegrown strawberries, all ready for a little breakfast with some yoghurt on top! They have been amazing this year...sweet, perfectly ripe and so abundant. The blackbirds didn't seem to see them, and Paul doesn't like strawberries (I married a man who doesn't like strawberries...how clever was that?) so I got to eat them all!
And here is one of my very favourite Autumn lunches - an Egremont Russet apple (one of the very few things that's still seasonal in this 'everything-all-the-time' world) and a chunk of strong English cheddar cheese. Perfectly balanced and just enough. So one season ends and another begins...and little Summer delights are replaced by little Autumn ones. Just as it should be....x
I live with my gorgeous husband, Paul and our wire fox terrier, Alice, in a small country town.I have cooked professionally for 30 years (boy, does that sound OLD!) and now run Sugar Moon, an online brownie business, as well as a small wholesale bakery, which I love. In any rare spare time I'm working on my first novel and a cookbook based on my business. I love Mozart above most things, but also adore reading, movies,visiting different countries,walking Alice, eating & all things foodie as well as spending time with my beloved friends and family....I hope you enjoy my blog!