Thursday, 31 December 2009

For auld lang syne....

So that was 2009. In many ways, I'm not sad to see it much hardship, war (STILL??), poverty,'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 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.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

All is calm, all is bright.....

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 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 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 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.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Wintery Tail...

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

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas 2009

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.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Alice Before...& after!

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.

Happy Weekend!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Little Christmas Tree

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 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"

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Christmas at the Blue Angel Bakery

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'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