Friday, August 17, 2018

Putting on the Ritz

A very busy week, for us.  After Tuesday's expedition and a visit from friends on Thursday we were off again today, this time into central London.

Alighting at Green Park tube we were caught up as the world, his wife and seven children tried to pat the police horses providing security at the access to Buckingham Palace.  Just round the corner was our destination: The Ritz Hotel.

My elder sister and her family had very generously given us a voucher for lunch for two as a Christmas present.  It was my husband's birthday so we decided to make the most of the occasion.
The restaurant makes its dress code very clear - jacket and tie for males, no sportswear, jeans or trainers - to "complement the architecture of the dining room".  We actually saw a chap, who had slipped off his jacket after entering the room, being asked to conform.  So it was full formal fig for us.

The dining room is indeed very grand, not unlike a stage set, because this is dining as theatre.

As each course was served, two waiters attended the table to lift the covers and reveal the plate of food for each diner.

We began with a plate of amuse-bouches - cheese,coronation chicken and a lemon macaron with a salmon mousse filling.

Then it was on to the starters of red snapper, not the highlight of the meal for me.

And followed by a really delicious serving of lamb with courgette.

Note, that's three slices of courgette, which tells you a lot about the style of cuisine here.  You'd never eat your way through a glut like this.

So then, the piece de resistance.  The main menu offered the option of ordering crepes Suzette to be prepared at your table by the head waiter.  Who could resist this?  I enquired; it was possible.  So we found ourselves witnessing a display of  skill by Enzo, who really knew what he was doing.  First, he heated sugar in his frying pan until it began to caramelise.  So many things could have gone adrift during this process, and in full view of the whole dining-room, but nothing did.

Then he added a knob of butter and fresh orange juice.

He squeezed in half a lemon and reduced the mixture over the heat.  Then he folded up the crepes and placed them to soak in the pan.   In went the Grand Marnier, and then whoosh - the whole thing was a sheet of flame.

But that was not all - the brandy went in next, and again was set alight.

I can tell you that the resulting sauce was a delight to eat: rich and full of marmaladey depth.  It was a spectacular end to the meal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Day Trip

Yesterday, I took a long-anticipated day trip.  

So, where can this be?  A castle on its hill, an Old Town?

Different money?

Distinctive, monuments in Victorian Gothic style?

I went to Edinburgh, as did George 1V in 1822.  I imagine he did not attempt to do the return trip in one day as I did - that's a round trip of 760 miles.

 So, how was this possible?  Well, if you catch the 6.25 from Kelvedon, a strangely silent commuter train into London, and then the 8.00 London to Edinburgh from King's Cross, that will get you to Waverley station by just after midday.  A quick trot across streets crowded with Festival visitors takes you to George Street, a noble thoroughfare now exclusively housing upmarket clothing chains such as Hollister and White Stuff.  On the second floor above White Stuff is a gallery space rented by the crafts council for a selling exhibition and workshops.

I was here for a class in mosaic-making given by Helen Miles, daughter of Jean.  Helen is an expert mosaicist; her website is a delight and an inspiration.  The tutorials on there would enable you to have a go yourself.

This is an example of Helen's work, using ceramic tesserae.  We were introduced to the idea of halving and quartering the glass and ceramic pieces for use on the pre-prepared designs.  I could not get the grip on the ceramic pieces, so made my sample piece using glass.

Helen had set up the mesh on a backing board, taped down over the design so that the lines were clear to follow.  We had three hours but were massively helped by all the preparation having been done ahead for us.

I chose the bird design and set to work to fill in the outlines.  Others were using a fish design and I could not help but note that my effort increasingly looked like something a six year old might have done, whereas others made more sophisticated choices.  Helen was constantly at hand to offer reassurance and suggestions as to how to introduce more variation into the line to create a more nuanced effect.

Helen finished the session with a demo on how to use tile adhesive and grout to place the sample into a location at home.  It was obvious that she had done this many times before.

My finished piece:  I was quite pleased with the more muted colours in the second wing and the yellow tips to each section.  I was also happy that it held up to the journey home in a carrier bag.

Then it was back to the station for the 5.31 Edinburgh to King's Cross train, round to Liverpool Street on the tube and out to Kelvedon by the 1037.   The whole journey went like clockwork, thankfully, because I was very tired by this point.

Friday, August 03, 2018


So, Green Mountain Girl, was that a raptor feather?  Certainly big enough - that would be some hawk.  In fact, it is a peacock feather, from the wing rather than the tail.  Surprising, eh?

This summer we have been tending to our allotment as usual, but it has been far from a usual summer.  We had a cold and wet spring, but once our onion sets were in the ground all rain ceased.  Onions need moisture to start them into life; many of ours failed to start at all.  Weeks turned into months and still no rain.  Eventually, any which had begun to grow turned over their tops and dried out.  We harvested them, the poorest crop we have ever had.

One of the biggest shifts of modern living has been the move away from dependence on seasonal produce.  There is the  expectation of constant variety in our diet, even if we choose to ignore it.  But when you grow your own crops on an allotment it brings it home to you that year on year seasons vary.  One year the sweetcorn will crop in abundance, the next there will be a few wizened cobs.

Last year, for example, we planted courgette seeds as usual, alongside pumpkins.  While the squashes rampaged across our new plot, drowning out all opposition and producing spectacular fruit, only one courgette made it to maturity and cropped poorly.  This year six courgettes are growing vigorously, despite the drought.  You can guess what is coming.

This week I have given courgettes to three people from my knitting group, a friend, a neighbour and two people from my volunteering job.  That's a lot of courgettes, but still they keep coming.  I've made soup to freeze down, I've chopped them into salads...  I've still got a bagful.

Imagine an earlier time before freezers existed.  Essentially, your diet would have depended on what was in season and plentiful that year.  Presumably this would have built on the staple of bread or potatoes - or rice or yams if those were the local crops.  Maybe a glut of courgettes would have been a welcome change.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fine Feathers

I love feathers.  I love their shapes and varied colours.  I like the fine detail of their design.  It makes my day to pick up a feather randomly discarded and of no further use to the bird.  This one is, I think, from a gull.

Whereas this fine white curl, edged with down, must be from a swan.  We have an arboretum with ornamental lakes just north of us and swans nest there.

A fancy, spotted pheasant from Sudely Castle...

And a common or garden pheasant from the woods.

Mallard, with iridescent blue/greens...

And a curious dainty feather precisely marked with sky-blue

A shell-like curl

Guinea fowl perhaps?

And my latest acquisition - about a foot long..

What bird dropped this fine specimen?

Monday, July 23, 2018

A change of scene...

So, where can this be?

This is Lyme Park in Derbyshire, aka Mr Darcy's little place, Pemberley.  Sadly, he wasn't at home the other day when we called in for refreshments after braving the Manchester ring road.  Nor was the house open, but we enjoyed wandering in the grounds, and taking tea in the cafĂ©.

We were on our way to Castleton, our base for the annual family get-together at the home of my husband's cousin.  Castleton, because of course it has a castle  - Peverill Castle, up on its cliff above the town.

The next day, we walked out on to the tops by going up Cave Dale and along the ridge to Mam Tor.  By chance our visit coincided with that of an entire junior school, climbing their first mountain.  The noise on the top was deafening.

Just down the Hope Valley, we came upon this unremarkable street scene.

Unremarkable, except that every item of street furniture, including the traffic lights, was designed by one man: David Mellor.

We very much enjoyed looking around the museum of his work near Hathersage.

This is the factory where his lines of cutlery are still produced using traditional methods.  The whole thing was a feast for the eyes.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


I'm knitting Arboreal by Jennifer Steinglass.  This is a top-down yoke sweater and I am using Batik by Stylecraft, a 20% wool yarn.  I chose it because the colour really spoke to me.  I bought the recommended size and length of circular needles.

So, last time I had cast on the neckline and begun the yoke of stranded colourwork.  I have begun topdown sweaters before but have never finished one.  I think this is because I don't like circular needles.

There I was at my knitting group happily knitting along when the stitches started to slide off the right hand needle somehow.  The cable had pulled out of the point.  I realised that it was a screw fitment and wrestled it back in place, picking up the stitches.  But then the joint began to fail because the cable was shearing off.  Fortunately I had a 4mm  circular to hand and was able to transfer the stitches before the cable finally gave out.

Now I am jogging along on the body of the sweater simply knitting round and round.  I decided against waist shaping as I don't want it tight across my stomach.

Batik is performing well for a budget yarn and I am happy with the speckle effect.  However, twice I have come across a major boggle, once at the end of a ball and once after a knot.

 Here the dye changed from a speckle to a solid, once light and once dark.  Knitted into the middle of  sweater body this would create a distinct and anomalous line.  I simply cut the yarn and removed the solid colour sections, but it was a surprise to find them there in the first place.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Day Trip

A little outing, a break from the endless round of watering the allotment and shifts at Paycocke's House.  We went by train to Norwich.

Our main objective was the Castle Museum where an exhibition relating to the Paston Treasure had been mounted.   The treasure in question is a large painting, dating from the 1680s, showing all the objects collected by the famous Paston family.  Alongside the ornate gold-mounted shells and timepieces are some odd items, notably a stuffed parrot and a huge lobster.  Also present are an African slave and a daughter of the family, so clearly the word "treasure" could be read in different ways.  We really enjoyed our visit; you might enjoy visiting the website for the museum where you can view a short video deconstructing the picture.

Norwich is always a delight visually because there are ancient churches everywhere, several repurposed as tea-rooms.

We ate lunch in the cathedral refectory.

On the way back to the station, this amusing shop - or shoppe, as it says.