Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Cranberry fizz

Spending Twixtmas in Snowdonia. All the snow has gone, and there is a light penetrating drizzle, so we are mooching with friends and knocking back the cranberry fizz - cointreau, prosecco and cranberry juice. Too easy to drink. Like a very sophisticated alcopop. Alison, who makes this as her signature cocktail every New Year, reminds me not to forget the orange zest and the cranberries. So I won't.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Less than a month until Christmas - what does Tove Jansson have to teach us?

"Is it spring already?" murmured Moomin.

"Spring?" exclaimed Hemulen irritably. "It's Christmas, don't you know? - Christmas. And I haven't got anything, and nothing's arranged; and then in the middle of it all, they send me to dig you out. I've lost my yellow gloves, I expect, and everyone's running around in circles, and nothing's ready..."

And Hemulen stamped up the stairs again and climbed out of the attic skylight.

"Mamma! Wake up" called Moomin, frightened. "Something awful's happened. They call it Christmas."

"What do you mean?" said Moominmamma and put out her nose.

"I don't know really," said her son. "But nothing's arranged, and someone's lost and everyone's running around in circles. Perhaps it's the water rising again."

He shook the Snorkmaiden gently and whispered:

"Don't be frightened, but something awful's happened."

"Calm!" said Moominpappa. "Calm above all!"

Monday, 15 November 2010

Back at the blog

Have been away for such a long time. So much has happened - Halloween, our Tour of the North, casting for the school Christmas play (  I  have one alien with lines and one dancing robot in the family), BT discovering Harry Potter...

My parents are having a clear out, so every time I go over there I am presented with stuff to take away. Some of it is exciting to get. Like this:

and this
Blast those katzenjammer kids

and this as well

What would Ma do?

So great to get them - all books that I loved.

Monday, 20 September 2010

fledgeling back

She's back! She had a great time! She got muddy! She abseiled! ("I'm not doing abseiling")! Abseiling was fun - once you got your feet over the edge (though apparently a chocolate bribe was used by the brownie leader - wise woman)! She wants to do it all over again!

Friday, 17 September 2010

My fledgeling flutters

My no 1 fledgeling is trying her wings out this weekend. Well, she's gone on a brownie trip to the local PGL, but she will be away for 2 nights, which seems immense to me. We dropped her off this evening, with vast amounts of luggage, and don't get her back until Sunday.

Interestingly, even though I would have said BT was the one who made all the noise, the house is very quiet.

Monday, 13 September 2010


I have pickled some plums.

That's all. I have restrained myself from making chutneys and jams. Apart from 3 jars of chilli jelly - red chilli flakes suspended in apple jelly, like pollen in amber. Rather beautiful.

But nothing else. Really. Promise. We have a shelf full of jam, and chutney, and quince jelly, and marmalade. So this year I'm holding off. Definitely.

I will make sloe gin. Rainbow wrote the labels for me last year, so it was all neatly labelled "Slow Gin". Actually, I find it is rather fast gin. but there you go.

I had quite a good summer in the veg patch. It is a blaze of gold and orange now - marigolds and nasturtiums, which gradually take over as the summer goes on - and there are 5 rather splendid pumpkins, one immensely tall sunflower, still a steady supply of courgettes (and the odd courges), and runner beans. I have some chard and kale on the way back, too. We may keep some over the winter, but last the year the deer came in and ate all my winter greens, so I'm not expecting much.

I have discovered sorrel - sharp, lemony, very useful in salads and sandwiches. Will definitely have some next year. And lovage, which is really like celery, so a little sprig gives that celery flavour to soups and stocks. I rarely buy celery, because I find I use a couple of sticks, store it til it goes totally flaccid and then put it in the compost bucket. And now I have lovage, I don't have to!

I have conceived a desire to grow jerusalem artichokes next year. Am trying to work out where to put them.

Also, some different kinds of beans, some mange-tout, more carrots and parsnips. The spinach was good, and we used loads of it, though it seems a long time ago. There is some perpetual spinach coming back. I am not entirely sure how perpetual perpetual is.

Nigel Slater has almost convinced me to grow beetroot.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sail Away Ladies by Wholesome Fish

Sail Away Ladies by Wholesome Fish This little lot were busking in Barnstaple town centre the other week. They were fantastic - full of energy - bluegrass on speed - it was sunny, and I could have stood there all afternoon listening to them, but I had to go back to work. And someone bought the last CD they had on sale right in front of my very eyes. Bummer.

Friday, 3 September 2010


OK, last week I succumbed and bought Nigel Slater's tender. I have been eyeing it up for a while, but there it was in the cheapo bookshop in Barnstaple, £6.99, serious bargain. (Sorry, Nigel, hope you got your share). In fact, there were 2 of them, so I bought them both. One for me, one for the  present box. Not for anyone in particular, you understand, but in case an occasion presented itself. And low and behold, was talking to Charlie, who is a Real and Professional Cook, who revealed she was about to move house. So there was her house-warming present. And I had already revealed the bargain that it was, so no-one can accuse me of cheating. So there.

It is a lovely book. Would I have spent £30 on it? Hmmm. Maybe if someone had given me it as a present.

But I am enjoying it. I used to be a big Nigel fan, but over the years we have drifted apart. He is very much a last minute, throw it all together kind of guy, and I am gradually morphing into a slow cooker kind of woman (though this week we have been mainly eating M&S pizza and sausages. Bad mother). But this book is lovely. Why??

There are lots of nice pictures of VEGETABLES

He talks about his vegetable patch as if he loves it.

He has lots of recipes for chard - always exciting

He enthuses about runner beans. The fact is that everyone who has a vegetable patch grows runner beans. And if you grow runner beans you get a lot of them. It is impossible to grow just enough runner beans. They glut.

Now, go to Delia, go to Nigella, go to Rachel, go to the Good Housekeeping book of every dam' recipe you want, and none of them will give you any ideas of what to do with your glut except for boil them. Or steam them. Or runner bean chutney (which I think is vile. I only really like fruity, spicy chutneys). So a runner bean section is VERY EXCITING. And if you don't think that, then you don't have a vegetable patch.

He quotes Michael Pollan in the introduction!! Is there no end to the wonder of this book?

Well...I was a bit irritated when he dropped in the fact that Monty (nice trousers) Don popped round to have a look at his soil.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Summer slipping away

A week today the kids will be back at school. It's nearly autumn.

We lifted the potatoes last night (BT barefoot in the potato patch, like a little 18th century peasant boy). Lots of potatoes, including a whole bucket full of pink firs. We also have marrows (never go on holiday when you have a vegetable patch), still some runner beans, apples, plums, plums, plums, some very battered, tattered looking red cabbages, and an enormous sunflower that still hasn't flowered.

There are some good looking pumpkins. The one BT planted from the storecupboard has produced fruit, so that's exciting.

We picked our first lot of blackberries this week.

Suddenly in a tizzy because we have no empty jars. How can that be? I want to pickle some plums this weekend.

We went away to Denmark, but had to retreat to Germany. We ended up doing a very unexpected trip down the Grimm brothers' fairy tale route. Beautiful medieval towns, saw the Pied Piper and Rapunzel's tower. And some camels. Unfortunately we forgot to take a camera, so all is recorded on Rainbow's DSi. She was the official holiday photographer. That means we have lots and lots of pictures of rabbits.

Still we all had a good time. Most of the time. It did feel as if every time we put the tent up the rain started and every time we took it down the rain stopped and the sun came out. And one day we seemed to eat nothing but cake. By accident.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Nanny McPhee

We bought Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang last week. We went to see it in the cinema and loved it, so it's great to have the DVD.

I do think Emma Thompson is fantastic. There are 3 films I think of as hers - Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee and N McP and the BB. I love them all. What do I love?

Well...she has great taste in men - Colin Firth (Nanny McP), Ewan Macgregor (NMcP and the BB), and (let's hasten over Hugh Grant) Greg Wise (S and S). Sigh. I reckon all of them are worth at least one sigh apiece.

There's a really nice humour in all of them. And proper stars being very silly.

And I love the look of them. I want to paint my house in mad acid colours, like the Browns. But mostly, I want a kitchen like Isabel Green's.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Losing things

I  have lost a small, brown leather wallet that I keep cards in. The cards I don't want clogging up my purse. And it has disappeared. Luckily it only has in it a few rarely used reward cards, but even so. I hate my lack of organisation. I hate the fact that I lose everything all the time. I lose keys, I lose purses, I lose my mobile, I lose stuff at work. Things just disappear into thin air. Where do they go??? It's partly because I'm always rushing, but partly because I am just rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Lots of good things

  1. YM's dad had his operation on Tuesday and is doing really well. They think they got everything, which is really good news. YM is flying over early tomorrow and coming home late Sunday. It feels like he's hardly back - which he isn't. Not great for us, obviously, but really hard for him. Still, at least he's going over to a good news situation.
  2. We have mushrooms growing in the field (obviously a whole different scale of good things, compared with no 1, but, hey, grab your joy where you can)
  3. Just booked our ferry
  4. Made some chocolate courgette buns that are absolutely fantastic - from here 101 cookbooks - it's American so it's all in cups - slightly weird - a cup of butter?!? - but really luscious, delicious, chocolatey yumminess. Oh, and she calls them zucchinis (I always feel that should refer to something slightly more exotic).  And slightly magical. Where do the courgettes go? It's not like carrot cake that keeps that slightly bitty texture. 
Went through Rainbow's Special Book of the work she has done this year. I note she is a very enthusiastic user of brackets. Could it be genetic?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


The Rose Family
Robert Frost

The rose is a rose
And was always a rose
But now the theory goes
That the apple's a rose
And the pear is, and so's
The plum I suppose.
The dear only knows 
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose
But were always a rose.

Michael Pollan

If you look at the books I have read, you will notice there has been a bit of a Michael Pollan splurge. He writes fantastic books. If you are at all interested in food, farming, growing stuff, eating stuff, big business and the complexities of government you should read them.

I also really enjoyed Wildwood, by Roger Deakin. It's a gentle exploration of the world through different aspects of wood. That sounds really weird, but it's a lovely, lovely book.

So now, thanks to these two guys, I really want to go to the forests of Kazakhstan, where all the apples in the world originated...can you imagine?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Enid Blyton

My friend has been accused of being "Mills and Boon" by an anonymous source. Actually she is quite a lot classier, significantly raunchier and has much better cover  design...

We, on the other hand, have lashings of ginger beer...


Red kale and courgette flowers.

The courgettes have exploded

Not literally, of course. But you go away for one weekend at this time of year and come back to courgette madness.

And lettuce and peas and beans and chard and potatoes. We just have to eat many many vegetables. It is our duty.

Went up north for the weekend. I am never driving on the M6 again. Very stressful. Went through Halifax with BT in the back saying "This is like London". We must get out of Devon more often.

Went to an excellent party - like a mini, mini Glastonbury with cocktails - and stayed with my friend Jane, who I haven't had chance to see properly for literally years, and her husband Andy and 2 beautiful daughters and very sweet dog. Rainbow delighted to get the chance to take a dog for a walk.

Very strange to be up where we used to live. It seems such a very long time ago. Drove through Bradford on the way home (M1, M42 - so much better), and I found it hard to believe that I used to work there, and drive there and shop there...I'm a born again bumpkin.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Football fever

Yer Man flew to South Africa at 7pm today. We are all feeling a bit bereft, in our different ways. I have all this time to get on with all those things I feel I can't do when he's around, but I think I might just have an early night.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Unbelievable. Just as I'd got the water butt cleaned out. Though I would have collected more water if I'd remembered to turn the tap off...

Our neighbour Sue moves out today. She has been so kind to Rainbow over Tink. She has 3 cats, one of whom seemed to really be friends with Tink. He pops up to visit every so often and seems to be searching for him. So we will miss him as well.

I do want our glorious summer to continue. I was starting to get used to it.

Lots of leaves - red and green lettuce, lots of spinach (delicious wilted with a bit of garlic). We had a pod of teeny tiny peas each at the weekend, but are trying to hold off until they are a more respectable size. We never manage to actually cook them. The beans are starting to take off and there are flowers on the pumpkin plants.

We have had our first courgettes - tender and tasty. I threw some sorrel into a potato salad last night - yum.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

First potatoes

First potatoes, first courgettes (fried with a bit of garlic). Made borek, with the help of a hot cross BT - much appreciated by all - so now I have to make more. Bottled up the last batch of elderflower cordial. Did a batch with lemon juice instead of citric acid - will have to see how it holds up. Tastes good.

Put some slightly desperate looking tomatoes into the vegetable patch. Last year, and the year before, the outdoor tomatoes did precisely nothing, but they were 15p each for big plants (desperate to be repotted), so I have invested a grand total of £1.20. Worth a go, I reckon.

Aaron came over and took down our dying holly bush. It was looking really tatty so I can't say I miss it, and there seems to be significantly more light in the living room, which is good.

Rainbow came home from Brownies talking about Tink. It's so unfair.

Must plant more carrots.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Missed the solstice

Forgot all about it. The whole longest day went past and it never clicked. How in tune with nature am I?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Elderflower cordial

The elderflowers are rather late this year, and seem to be going over really quickly. I have just made a batch of cordial. This is the recipe I use. I can't remember where I got it from, so if you recognise it, apologies. Though I think they are all fairly standard. The first year I made it I did it to a Hugh FW recipe. He didn't mention leaving it to stand for 24 hours, which I think is necessary, or you just get lemon.

20 heads of elderflowers (try and avoid ones with brown flowers - apparantly they will give it an aura of cat's pee)
1.8 kg granulated or caster sugar
1.2 l water
2 unwaxed lemons (not that you can get unwaxed lemons in Torrington on a Sunday)
75 g citric acid (get it from the chemist. Be warned, you may be quizzed about what you want it for. A friend of mine was refused it because he looked too dodgy. Our local chemist only does it in 50g packets so this year I shoved in an extra lemon)

  1. Shake elderflowers to remove insects. Place in a large bowl
  2. Put sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. This is a scary amount of sugar. 
  3. Meanwhile pare off the lemon rind in wide strips, slice the lemon and put it all in the bowl with the elderflowers
  4. Pour over the boiling syrup and add the citric acid
  5. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temp for 24 hours
  6. Strain and bottle in thoroughly cleaned bottles I made 3 wine bottles full with this recipe - I save the screwtop wine bottles for occasions like this. I strain through a teatowel in a colander.
  7. Feel smug.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


See what a gorgeous, cute and crazy cat he was.

such a sad weekend

Oh, oh, oh, so sad. Poor Tinker died on Friday. We found him on Saturday. We think he found some poison somewhere. Saturday was an awful, awful day. The kids were distraught. BT was just wandering around, saying he felt sad, saying he felt like there was a hole in his tummy. Rainbow went off by herself.

We buried him in the garden. I'm going to buy a rose bush to plant over him. Poor little thing. He was such a friendly little cat, everybody liked him, all the neighbours knew him. He used to go down and visit them when we were out. He used to appear like magic when Rainbow arrived home.

I suppose he had a very happy life, but the kids keep saying things like "He never even had a summer" and "He never even had a birthday". So sad.

We washed his food bowl and his water bowl, and put them away. I washed his blanket. I've put his carry basket and his sleeping basket under the stairs. The conservatory looks all wrong without them.

I can't believe how sad I feel about it. I suppose when you look after something you get attached to it very quickly. Even YM, who doesn't like cats, had to wipe away tears. I'm welling up now, just thinking about it.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Put in the last of the beans and potted up the last of the tomatoes. I do need some bigger pots.

I am not a very organised gardener. We have 4 rows of potatoes, and I have no idea what sort, except that somewhere in there there are some pink firs.

I did a tour of the field this evening. We have very few pears, loads of apples, loads of plums on a couple of trees, and none at all on a couple, damson, chrislings (not even sure what they are, but looking forward to finding it out). I took the last baby fruit off the quince.

I am wondering whether we should record our yields off each tree. It would be an interesting record to keep.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Lots of teeny tiny alpine strawberries. It's like a treasure hunt out there...

Monday, 7 June 2010

Half term is over

So sad. And it's raining. Have been enjoying the sunshine. We had a lovely half term - went down to Sandymouth on Friday - my favourite beach of all. Found crabs, some interesting sea anenome things (must look them up), went in the sea, twice, without a wetsuit!!!

Am now trying to plan our summer holiday. I find planning holidays really difficult. It all seems like so much hassle.

Picked a big bowl of leaves today for dinner - they are really growing now. Some of the potato plants are starting to flower. It was too wet today to look for strawberries, but we picked the first 2 last week. I have been buying gorgeous strawberries in the pannier market, too, locally grown - you can smell them from a few feet away.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

salad days

This year's first salad from the garden - chard, lettuce, spinach. Nice to be out there picking. Everything growing like mad, can see it change each day. There was good soaking rain this morning, so no need to water tonight, though am starting to battle against the slugs in earnest. Potatoes look v happy. Peas are twisting up sticks. Put in beans - too many beans, and still some to go in...

BT's pumpkin plant is bigger than mine.

Bought some sweet pea plants and some cosmos from the neighbour's plant stall. I have nowhere to put them. Also have 2 little alpine strawberry plants to find a shady, damp spot for.

I mowed the grass the day before yesterday. So glad I did after the rain today.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

End of May

So long since i was on here - can't believe it. The blossom came and went. We went to a lovely wedding last weekend - glorious sunshine and loads of kids running in and out of the place. The bride was 2nd generation Polish and the bridesmaids wore traditional Polish outfits. We spent an hour under the big apple tree gathering fallen petals in the morning and used them as confetti. Apple blossom smells almost like roses. I think they are related...

By the following week, the blossom was over.

I have put in some very leggy cauliflower seedlings that my dad rescued for me. Not sure how they'll do. Have some broccoli seedlings and some little red cabbage plants (also a rescue job) to put in. BT planted some seeds from the store cupboard, so I have a pumpkin plant and 2 sunflowers to put our, and Rainbow brought a huge bean plant home from school. In fact, even if we clear the last square metre of plot, I think we may need an extension.

There will be strawberries soon, and the quince has blossomed. Very pretty, pale pink blossom. Will have to take the fruit off this year, but next year...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

My birthday

It was my birthday on Friday. BT made me breakfast in bed, with great solemnity and fixedness of purpose. There were no hot liquids involved, but I did get a glass of smoothie, a ginger biscuit and some muesli. And there were no spillages, so a great success all round.

Had a very family day. Rainbow gave me a really pretty necklace ( she went shopping with Granny) and Yer Man produced a fine selection of books and a night away in a hotel (!!!) in 2 weeks time. Mum and dad are having the kids, so a double gift from them.

The other big news is that my dating CT scan came back clear. My friend Julie went down to Exeter with me to get the results, bless her. Not the best job in the world, potentially, and it meant setting aside a whole afternoon, but if it had been my mum, and if it had been the wrong result, it would have been hard for me not to feel I had to take care of her. So Julie was a great choice. And as it turned out it was all fine.

I thought I would be really elated, but I feel kind of flat. Is that wrong? It was so exhausting waiting for the results. I feel I should have headed home and drunk champagne, but I just want to be very very quiet.

The quince tree has definitely survived. There is lots of blossom around - not on the quince yet, but the apple blossom is opening, and so is the cherry blossom. The plum blossom is pretty well over.  I don't see too many bees, which is a worry. I have wondered if we should get a hive, not so much for honey, more to ensure pollination. Beans are sprouting on the windowsill, peas are shooting up in the garden and I see my first potato plants poking through. And the leafy stuff is sprouting. The garlic looks fantastic. The onions are so-so. Should get my courgette plants soon (thanks, dad) and the pumpkin plants are showing 2 leaves.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The little stranger/friend?

Isn't that terrible. I put it on my list of books, can't remember the title and can't find the dam' thing to check. Wasn't that impressed. Not v scary, despite the reviews I'd read. I am not terribly scared of the supernatural.  Reality is much much much scarier.

Spring continues

Serious sunshine for ages now. We have hired a gardener - for the flower garden. I have been known to call it the walled garden in moments of grandiosity, but it's not a walled garden, even though it is surrounded by a wall. He has basically given us 2 new beds so far just by clearing out all the undergrowth that had grown up, so we celebrated by buying a load of plants and trying to start a herbaceous border. Well, bed. The world's shortest herbaceous border. I like nice packed flower beds where you can't see the earth. That means that I even forgive ground elder (nice leaves) - though not couch grass.

I have also planted peas, beans, lettuce, kale, chard AND cleaned out the water butt. So ner ner ner.

I also let the children stay in their pyjamas all day today. I am a BAD MOTHER.

Monday, 12 April 2010


What a fantastic Easter! The weather was so great. We went over to friends in Rutland and the kids formed a pack and went feral. Then we went on alone to Holland - on the ferry! Overnight! In CABIN!!! and took the kids to Efteling, which is the most wonderful place. We did loads of rides, the sun shone, the kids were fantastic. The hotel had a swimming pool and we had sprinkles for breakfast.

I love Holland. The coffee is just the best, there are bikes everywhere and the sky is so big. We went from Hoek van Holland to Breda past acres of greenhouses with little corners with a couple of sheep or ponies in them.

It always feels like a country that assumes that you are a grown up.

Kids loved it too, loved being abroad, loved being in a hotel, excited about all sorts of little things. And everyone was lovely to them.

Did NOT want to go back to work. Would quite like to quit now and go and do something less stressful. If I didn't love living here so much I would be thinking about changing jobs, I think, but Yer Man has just managed to establish himself, the kids are settled, the house is great, the vegetable patch is good (got my potatoes in...), I'm acquiring friendships. I don't really want to move, I just want work to be a bit more sorted and a bit less frenetic and scary.

Monday, 29 March 2010

buds on trees

I think the quince is going to make it. I have inspected it a couple of times over the last few days and there are definite buds. I am now officially excited.

We opened a new pot of quince jam this weekend. It remains the best of all my preserves. The flavour is just staggeringly gorgeous.

There are teeny tiny leaves on the crab apple, and little buddings on everything else. I found 2 rhubarb crowns in the back that I had forgotten to plant and shoved them in a corner of the veg patch on Saturday. I really need to start some planting, but we don't seem to have had any time...how rubbish is that?

Interviewing at work tomorrow and 2 out of 3 candidates have dropped out. I suppose that doesn't matter if the one remaining is good, but it is disappointing. The staffing issues are just so stressful at the moment.

The kids are so excited about going to Holland. So am I. My brother is going to be working in a sprinkles factory in Rotterdam soon. Apparently sprinkles are BIG in Holland. I was really pleased to hear this because one of my childhood memories is doing a project on Holland at school and having a Dutch breakfast that included bread and butter and sprinkles. Have given it to the kids a couple of times as a treat(!). Felt somehow vindicated when brother got the job. So now am wondering whether sprinkles will feature in the breakfast buffet.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Sausage casserole

I cooked Nigel Slaters sausages and lentils the other day. I used to cook it a lot, but now tend to do Rachel Allen's sausage and bean casserole - partly because it is the easiest thing to cook ever and will last a couple of nights (always a bonus). They are basically the same idea - a bit of sausage and a lot of pulse. I used to cook a lot of Nigel's stuff, and still dip into his kitchen diaries from time to time, but seem to have moved on to Rachel. I think it's because his dishes are usually quick-but-last-minute, and when you have kids you want something (or I want something) you can knock up in advance and then leave sitting in the oven for ages. And then reheat/rehash the next night.

I have also found the best indian chicken recipe ever. And a basic curry base that you can shove in the freezer, whip out and cook meat or vegetables or whatever in. The children are begging for chicken curry every night! And it's so easy! How great is that?

And Mr Hockings is back. Could my gastronomic prospects be any brighter???

We are going to Efteling

 We (or at least, Yer Man, who is not happy on the computer) have just booked our ferry tickets to the Netherlands, where we are going to stay in a hotel with our adorable offspring and visit Efteling. I am very excited.

Went down to Sandymouth on Sunday - officially our favourite beach. The cafe wasn't open, but we had a packet of biscuits to keep us going

1 Skylarks. Up on the cliffs you could hear them singing their hearts out. It's hard to spot them, though, but we did spot
2 A pair of peregrine falcons, one hunched on the cliff top, the other soaring past from time to time. They shriek and chatter. We also saw
3 Fish. And the children managed to catch one with their rockpool dipping kit. We put it back - obviously. Rainbow wasn't quite grasping the concept that stroking a fish is not soothing.

Pilates tonight. Feel tall and stretched. It is the nicest exercise I have ever done.

And I read The very thought of you by Rosie Alison last week. I loved it, though it kept bringing me to tears.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Some springy photos - and a special one for Laura

First of all, here's one for Laura.
I didn't grow this.
All my potatoes were perfectly formed and were eaten long ago.
No leaves yet, but there are catkins. And blue sky.
And daffodils, of course
And adventures.


Sunshine - how wonderful! Had a bad night's sleep on Friday because I made the mistake of checking my work emails and went into instant stress mode. I need to start using another email address for my personal stuff. At the moment I can't resist reading everything on there, so I have only myself to blame.

We did a lot of digging. It's still too frosty for me to think about planting. I think we might bring the chard and kale into the walled bit of the garden this year, as we lost a lot to deer over the winter. The 4 things you must grow yourself are:

peas - nothing you buy tastes as good as peas picked fresh. The kids eat them like sweeties.
lettuce - again, freshly picked lettuce is a revelation
chard - cook it, use it in salads, use it instead of spinach, infinitely versatile and comes back again and again
potatoes - firstly, digging for potatoes is like digging for treasure, secondly, freshly dug potatoes taste like the food of the gods.

We also have a big garlic patch, and we are growing onions. I will grow some beans, because you have to grow beans. We were overwhelmed with radishes last year, so I will plant sparingly, if at all. Carrots are fun - we like the purple ones. I did toy with having a completely purple vegetable patch last year - purple kale (check), purple beans (check), purple carrots, purple sprouting broccolli...you could do it. Red spring onions (check) and purple potatoes. I grew some yellow sugar snap peas that looked fab on the packet, but in real life just looked like they'd gone off.

We tried sweetcorn last year, which wasn't worth the space. Outdoor tomatoes failed. Courgettes are great, and then you go away on holiday and come back to marrows...

We didn't grow pumpkins last year, but I plan to this year, if only for Halloween - mainly because I bought pumpkins to make lanterns last year and they tasted of NOTHING. I object to buying a vegetable (OK, fruit) for purely ornamental purposes.

Oh, yes, I'm very excited about spring, and the snowdrops are suddenly drooping and fading and the daffodils are bursting open like little golden fireworks everywhere. We cycled up to Yarde on Sunday and had a lovely lunch sitting outdoors in the sunshine, and then came home and just hung out in the field. Lovely.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Crow Point

The first time we opened our eyes
The second life


Tipi fire

It might still be there.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Still winter (just), but sunshine

I believe in spring

Fat jaunty catkins
Pewter sheen of pussy willow
Buds -
Swollen daffodil buds, almost bursting with yellow
Sticky buds on the horse chestnut
Tiny buds on the fruit trees, promising that there will be green

It's on its way!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Do you feel like a good cry?

Just collecting together some bits and bobs. This always makes me cry. Hard, painful, crying, not decorative welling up.Watch it and weep. Everyone I know goes away in the end.

In love

I'm really sorry, but I've fallen in love. I really really really want one of these. Isn't it gorgeous? I'm now having all kinds of fantasies about whereabouts we could put it....

Saturday, 27 February 2010

My daughter, sleeping

My daughter, sleeping

She is an egg
A princess in a forest
A white stone in a stream

I hold my breath
To hear her breathe

Friday, 26 February 2010


You must be aware by now that I am utterly fascinated and enthralled by my own children. They are just the most intense thing in my life, and I could go on about them for hours. So this is 3 beautiful things about my very own Bloodtester.

1 He came down the kitchen stairs the other morning, poked his head round the door and said "Just coming down the stairs" with the cheekiest grin on his face, just delighted to be awake and facing a whole new day.

2 We were going down the stairs together and he slipped his hand in mine. He has hard, dry little boys hands, always busy.

3 He was sitting on my lap, having a snuggle, and I said "I love you, BT", and he said "I know." How wonderful to know you are loved.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Nice music

Here is a link to Caitlin Rose and her rather lovely songs. If you like slightly bittersweet acoustic country music...

Return from the expedition

Got back yesterday from 5 days in Sussex, with sister-in-law I. We went by train - the drive to Sussex must be one of the longest cross-country drives you can do without falling off the edge of England, one of us is always sick, and the A303 is dug up at the moment. The train was quicker, despite the fact that we had 4 changes, the children behaved really well, and it made it all into a bit of an adventure. We also saw SiL II and the littlest cousins - 2 little dark eyed boys, the youngest just one, and the oldest a 3 year old toddler, with those lovely chubby hands and cheeks that toddlers have. I got some nice pictures of them all just rolling around like puppies.

Had a very nice meal on Friday night in SiL I's local pub. Rainbow opted for the beef Wellington. She is such a gourmet. I discovered on this trip that she is pretty good at reading a map. We managed to get extremely lost (only myself to blame on that one), and she managed to direct us back on track.

BT fell asleep on my lap in the pub. Felt like such a slummy mummy.

BT has been poorly today. He has a temperature and has been sick, and spent most of the day asleep on the sofa. Poor little man. He looks like a Dickensian orphan when he gets ill.

1 BT getting to chat to 3 adult Star Wars fans, wide-eyed. One of them had a ring tone that went "A message from the dark side there is". BT says he would like a t-shirt, all green, with "Much to learn you still have" on it. Must do an trawl and see if such an item exists. His replacement lego light sabres came through - the pick a brick service, marvellous.

2 Rainbow was so delighted with herself over the map reading. She dragged her suitcase everywhere, was really helpful.

3 We had a day at Fisher's Farm - a Milky Way/Big Sheep kind of place, with the added attraction of a mini ice rink, and a fab toboggan run (tractor tyre inner tubes on a mini dry ski slope sort of thing). The kids loved the ice rink - we had to go there twice. They went round together a couple of times, really helping each other. It is always so lovely to see them being kind to each other.

It's nice to be back in Devon, though. I was itching to do some digging this afternoon, but BT wanted me to hang around, and it's hard to resist a poorly boy. He's wide awake now, of course.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Master craftsman

Watched mastercraftsman the other night. Did anybody see it? They were bodging, which doesn't sound very mastercraftish, but it was.

I'm not usually that into reality tv manufactured competitions, but this ticked a lot of boxes for me:

1 Monty Don. Tick
2 More specifically, Monty Don's trousers, which look to me like navy blue moleskin. I wish more men would dress like Victorian gardeners. Tick.
3 Interesting pre-industrial mechanical devices - totally off-grid. Tick.
4 Really nice canvas shelters that I must see if I can find a blueprint for as I would really like one in my garden. Tick.

So I cheered Charlie when he decided that doing the craft was more important than winning the "competition". I cheered Sarah when she challenged herself and managed to create a rather adorable little child's chair. I wanted that chair. And I cheered the other guy, who I can't remember the name of, but who quietly and methodically went about creating a very nice chair indeed.

Thatching next. Can't wait.

And then at the end of it, we were talking about the urge to create, to connect with raw materials, and how important that is, and how frustrating it is sometimes to do a job with no real beginning or end, and I said "That's why I make marmalade" and YM said "And you make the best marmalade I've ever tasted". How wonderful is he?

Friday, 12 February 2010

pastoral pleasures

1 Saw my first daffodils - down at Landcross. They are always early there, must be an early variety. Anyhow, nice to see them, like a splash of sunlight, a real promise of spring.

2 Got home to a message on the answerphone from my dad saying that he was clearing out his raspberry patch and had saved us some canes. That does mean that we need to get on with our soft fruit garden. I want redcurrants and blackcurrants, lots and lots of raspberries, gooseberries - we adore gooseberries - and of course masses and masses of strawberries. I planted little alpine strawberries in various borders last summer. I'm hoping they will spread and spread. They fruit for ages, and it's like a treasure hunt every day for the children, and for me, and for the birds. And the slugs. Though I am hopeful there will be fewer of those this summer after the cold weather.

3 Went out of the house to a treeful of starlings, all chattering away. They lifted off in a great whirling, flickering cloud of birds and went wheeling over the trees and away.

Yer Man went down to the big barn to chop wood and said the owl was circling around outside waiting for him to go. It is nice to think that we haven't scared it off - it seems to be finding us increasingly boring!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Weird pleasures (well, not that weird, don't get too excited, but weird for me)

Read on the lego website that children across the world spend 5 billion hours a year playing with lego. Reckon Bloodtester contributes a significant number of those. It didn't mention how much time adults spend looking for lost bits, trying to make impossible structures work, and nagging their children to PUT THE LEGO AWAY AND GET THEIR SHOES ON BECAUSE WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE.

Had a slightly frustrating day at work. Nobody wants to play ball. I seriously feel like I am juggling one ball too many. Still, next week I am taking the TRAIN to SUSSEX with my CHILDREN on MY OWN. 3 changes. Should be an adventure. The big challenge will be to keep the children to minimal packing. They are both natural maximalists.

1 Saw my first lambs of the year. Sooty little legs, grey fleeces - much greyer than their mothers. Is that a camouflage thing?
2 My freezer book is going really well. Sorry, that is so boring, but it is really satisfying to me. I think part of it is that I am really enjoying keeping one part of my life under strict control.
3 We sorted out the lego yesterday. More control. We sorted it by colour - I suppose we could have tried sorting it by shape, but there are so many odd shapes - it started because I was looking for one particular brick for BT's Hyena Droid Bomber (you wait, Cloudgirl - one day your beautiful house will be filled with bits of geometric Danish plastic) - and kind of carried on. There is a satisfaction in having different containers filled with different coloured bricks. It's a bit like a Mondrian in a box. Made of geometric Danish plastic...Now I want better containers to sort it into.

What a bizarre set of pleasures. I'm quite surprised at myself.

What else have we done? Rugby has featured largely over the weekend. We had a Ladybird day yesterday - BT wasn't feeling well, so lolled on the sofa with his dad while Rainbow and me made biscuits. At least, she made biscuits, with really minimal intervention from me, bless her, and I made a crumble topping. I found some very old damsons at the bottom of the freezer when I sorted it out, so they came out. They were fantastic. Damsons have incredible depth of flavour and colour.

And the quince tree arrived, so I planted that out. It doesn't look terribly healthy. I'm a bit worried it's not going to make it.

I would really like to sort out a soft fruit garden this year. I think we'll have to have it in the enclosed garden  - if it's in the field the deer will have it. Or we'll have to cage it properly.

Friday, 5 February 2010

small pleasures

1 Rainbow had a hot cross bun for breakfast. It smelled so good in the toaster.
2 Followed a thatcher's truck for part of my journey. Big bundles of golden thatch
3 Found a parking space straight away! last time I was in that car park I drove around for about 20 minutes getting increasingly stressed out.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

More about lego

Lego is fantastic. It absorbs my boy for hours on end. It frustrates him and infuriates him, and then he'll find a solution (to the problem he has created for himself) and be delighted with himself. It is expensive, but if you costed it on a pound per hour of play basis, it would be incredibly good value. And all his friends love it. They talk about it, they show off their creations to each other...

It is amazing that it has been around for so long, that it still sustains and inspires kids so much. The only downside is that there is at least one brick in every room in our house, and it is deeply unpleasant to find a two-er embedded in your instep at 2 o'clock in the morning.

I love the colours, too.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


BT's latest lego creation. How cool is this? Mind you, it does remind me a bit of that photo of guys eating their sandwiches on the skyscraper...

Lego starwars is BIG in our house. Rainbow woke up this morning complaining that her dream of bunny rabbits and little lambs had been invaded by Anakin and Ahsoka. BT is a boy obsessed. He dreams of running his own little clone army. Bless.

Monday, 1 February 2010


So much to write about.

First of all, it was Yer Man's birthday on Sunday. On Friday we had no plans, so we rang David Job at Yarde, and he said he would open up for us. We really didn't feel it was on for just the four of us to go along so we did some ringing round. We assumed about half the people we asked wouldn't make it, but everybody said yes, so we ended up with 15 adults and 8 children. Charlie cooked us a really nice lunch - roast pork and apple crumble - and we were piggybacking on the back of someone's 21st, so the place was all decorated with wildflowers. She created a cake with a selection of slices, a fig, and some sparklers, so we all got chance to sing.

We cycled up, and it was quite frosty - there had been a bit of snow, too, and it hailed on us on the way, but we arrived looking pretty clean. It had all melted by the time we cycled back, so we arrived back home looking like a cross between a dalmation and a skunk. The children were so muddy we had to get them to strip down in the porch.

It was a really nice day, though. Rainbow made her daddy breakfast in bed - following the instructions in her 3rd Book for Girls to the letter - I had to fight for marmalade rather than "jam or honey".

The snowdrops are out. They sneaked up on me this year. One day there was nothing, next day there were patches of white under all the hedges and under the trees up in the top corner.

There are a few green shoots of daffodils showing through.

And this is my garlic patch on Sunday morning, with a sprinkling of snow. The onions I planted don't look so great, but the garlic is going strong.

Saturday, 30 January 2010


This is to acknowledge my friend Siobhan. She started out as an architect, then switched to acting, and now she's a performance poet and writer. I don't think it's always been an easy journey for her, but she's now in a place where she can make her way through her own creativity and through helping others explore theirs. I really respect her for that. www.myspace.com/siobhanmacmahon

I should also mention that she has 2 teenagers, a husband who we all adore, but must be exhausting to live with, 2 cats and, despite her dog phobia, has recently taken on a dog - and is managing it really well. So she has plenty to be getting on with. She's the kind of woman who can tell you she fancies a quiet night, and yet will host a roomful of almost strangers at 2.00 am with charm and aplomb. She is a great friend to  have.

So 3BT about Siobhan.

1 I laugh a lot when I'm with her
2 I talk a lot when I'm with her and feel like I'm interesting.
3 Siobhan's kitchen is the most welcoming kitchen in the world. It feels like the rest of the house is a bit of a tacked on afterthought. She designed it herself, so fair dues.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Work day

1 Everything fell into place car-wise as I had to do a home visit near the garage, so I got a lift there.

2 When we came down the hill to the house the cat was standing in the road looking like he was waiting for us

3 Suddenly there are snowdrops everywhere.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wet day

Lights reflected on a wet pavement and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. I grew up in coal country, so wood smoke is a bit exotic for me.

Soft white bread. I know granary is healthier, but just once in a while it's nice to have that stretchy, chewy texture in your mouth.

Yogi tea. Spicy and with an uplifting quote that you can irritate your colleagues with.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chilling at Yarde cafe

Here are the kids at the Yarde cafe a few weeks ago. Our favourite place to eat locally. The only problem is the portions are too big, so I very rarely get to eat cake there. They have a bunk house, too, with a great wood burner in it. One day I will work out a way of justifying staying there. You can find it here: www.yarde-orchard.co.uk

We missed the wassail this year because we were at a party (typical, isn't it, you have zero social life for weeks and then everything happens at once). Charlie, who cooks at the Yarde, came up to school with her very new and very gorgeous looking daughter yesterday, so this is in tribute to her...

1 I bought myself a new bowl for work. It's a really nice shape, and now I can eat soup.
2 I found a copy of a Willow farm book in Oxfam. I knew Rainbow would really like it and I got to give to a good cause at the same time!
3 Lucy gave me a thank you card, really thoughtfully written, made me feel really appreciated.

Still working on my optimism. It is being sorely tested at work, but I keep picking myself up, dusting off my shiny gold hope badge and pinning it back on.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Thanks Mum

This entry is brought to you in tribute to my mum who made our fantastic weekend possible by looking after her grandchildren for THREE nights. What a star. I hope she had a good time.

So we had a trip up north, to Leeds, in fact, which was fab. I've come back feeling slightly sad that my children are southerners, and likely to remain so...

We saw loads of lovely friends, stayed up far too late, indulged ourselves, ate out. It was Big Pete's 50th, great venue, great band (Moldy Joe) - who did a rather more fist pumping version of this rather wonderful song.

I have been trying to work out what it is about the north. I think people are far more determined to have a good time. I think it's maybe that there are a lot more Irish there?

So we had a great Indian meal in Arti's on Friday night - marsala dhosa, marvellous - a nice trendy arts centre lunch on Saturday, a cup of tea at Harvey Nicks , and Casa Mia's on Sunday at lunch time for the best meal I've had in a long time. I never thought a weekend in Leeds would feel like a glamourous city break but that's how it was. So my 3 BT:

1 Getting a dhosa. Fantastic. My favourite Indian dish of all time.
2 Hanging out with Siobhan for a bit. Not something I get to do very often.
3 Wearing a sticky out skirt and dancing all night.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cultivating optimism

Cultivate optimism. Easy to say. I think I am generally optimistic, in the face of the grim realities of the world. You know, death, disease, destruction. The fact that getting old is the best you can hope for. There was an article by Charlotte Raven in the Guardian on Saturday, about starting to come to terms with a diagnosis of Huntingon's ( one of the  cruelest diseases ever, I reckon), that ended with some kind of optimism, so I guess if she can...

So I will be hopeful that the staffing issues at work will sort themselves out. I will be hopeful that this summer will be better than last. I will be hopeful.


1 Made marmalade - first time ever. I had always thought it would be difficult, but in fact, it was easy-peasy. Saw some Seville oranges in the greengrocers and bought a dozen on a whim (eggs, bottles and oranges always come in dozens or half dozens for me - wonder why?). It smelled so good bubbling away on the hob, and now it tastes fantastic. I have 9 smug jars in the pantry, and one not so smug mug-ful in the fridge. I never have quite enough jars when I preserve things.

2 Sorted out the freezer. I now have a very nice notebook with all contents noted down. How smug am I?

3 On Sunday we decided to go somewhere we had never been before. We ended up in a little bistro in Hatherleigh, with a very friendly owner, lovely food, all very cosy. The kids surpassed themselves in charm and good manners, BT ate a pile of beef and Rainbow ate home-made soup without decorating herself with it. Afterwards we went for a very muddy walk, met a little dog, watched a model plane enthusiast. Came home and watched the 3 Musketeers. Very Sunday. Very family. Very pleasant.

I haven't even mentioned the party we went to on Saturday night - I had that 5 o'clock "let's just stay in" feeling, but forced myself into a (slightly pathetic, token gesture) punk outfit (70s theme) and we went for it. It was great - most people had made a huge effort, everybody was up dancing from the moment the music started, and the food was lovely. So there you go.

Did see a really good slogan on the back of an ageing punk's pond-liner waistcoat - "Too old to die young".

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

a quickie

1 Helen had organised everything when I got to work
2 New wellies - don't leak - dry feet
3 Yer man fixed the boiler. What a wonderful husband he is!

The snow is all going. On the plus side I got the car out for the first time in more than a week. But it looks so sad, and there is so much water everywhere. Kids have had indoor play again today and so are crazy with excess energy.

Have just realised that we forgot to take the Christmas decorations down in the dining room. There are still slightly tacky gold garlands running into each corner. It's not like we don't use the room and it's not like they aren't fairly obvious...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The end of the snow (I think)

1 Somebody had made Real Coffee at work and left a note on it saying "help yourself". So I did.
2 Finally found some waterproof mittens that fit the kids!!! Why is it so hard to find waterproof gloves for children? I can spend at least 20 minutes outdoors without feeling the urge to throw a snowball. BT can manage about 20 secs.
3 Walked home from the top of the lane. Saw loads of deer tracks and bird tracks. Nice to know they're out there.

But despite the predicted heavy snow it's not settling and it all seems to be melting away! There are very few things more beautiful than fresh snow and very few things less attractive than snow as it goes.

When the screensaver comes into play our photos flash up randomly. If you watched them flick round, you would think it snowed here for about 3 months every year. At work today Mark showed me some photos he'd taken of snow on their local beach, snow right down to the high water mark.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The cold snap continues

We walked out today. Well, almost half way and then our neighbour with a landrover gave us a lift to the end of the lane. We look a bit rag tag - a mixture of waterproof trousers and fleecies and BT in odd gloves. I was wearing leather gardening gloves (once a fetching shade of purple) over running gloves. Got the kids to school, though.

Came back and were dropped off at the end of the  lane. Got as far as neighbour 1 and he ran us back  in his landie. The children sat in the back, delighted. Mind, he was sliding around a bit when he turned round at our place.

The cat continues to hone his hunting skills on our legs and heads. A bit hyper tonight. Maybe he missed us, and missed being outdoors today. The cat flap broke yesterday. A mixture of old age and cold, I think. Must get a new one. We've had to block it up, as part of our attempts to keep the house warm.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

more snow

Woke to snow. We weren't expecting it 'til lunchtime, but there it was. It kept going all morning and even when we went for a walk in the afternoon it was still sprinkling. Tinker came for a walk with us, unexpectedly. Part cat, part dog, part parrot (he likes sitting on your shoulder). He seems to be enjoying the snow.

We sledged on the lane outside the house, or at least the kids did. Not too far and not too fast, so perfect for them. The snow wasn't really deep enough for us to have a go, but YM walked over to the sledging field later on while the rest of us hung out at home and made dinner.  Then we walked, saw icicles along the gutter of the old barn across the road, and Rainbow saw a barn owl. We had watched a fox nosing along the hedge from our bedroom window this morning, and on the walk we saw plenty of pawprints and a stained patch in the snow, and a few feathers, where he must have made a kill.

I still haven't got my car out and am not sure when I am ever going to.

1 Black cat, white snow
2 Chopped wood this morning, and it's immensely satisfying when you bring the axe down and the wood splits cleanly and somehow suddenly
3 Bloodtester watched Ivanhoe this afternoon, and I was mooching around, kept hearing his little voice "come on goodies, get the baddies" - so excited and so into it all.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

and still there is snow...

Walked out to the car today and went into town. Swimming lessons, lunch, shopping, then sledging, pub. Parked up and walked back in with the shopping on the sledge. It was rather wonderful walking back in the dark with the snow reflecting back light. RG pulled the sledge all the way. Little star.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Still snowy...

Tried to take the car out today. Got stuck. Our neighbour, Mike, happened to be coming along in his tractor, and pulled me down the hill. Headed back up our hill, got stuck again, Mike pulled me out again. It's actually quite scary being towed backwards, which is what happened both times. Luckily our new neighbour's daughter was walking through with a sled load of provisions the first time I got stuck, so she took the kids back to their place (to eat biscuits and learn to play rummikub) while we faffed about with tow ropes. They were both flitting around getting in the way and I thought I'd be worrying about what they were doing and failing to concentrate on what I should be doing.

We have spent a lot of time drinking tea and chatting with various neighbours over the last few days. Our neighbours who farm have offered us emergency milk if the worst comes to it. Am desperate to run out so we can trek over there with a jug, but we are just too organised. I know it will finish in a few days, but also am enjoying the glow of knowing we could hold out for far longer, if we had to.

YM has been walking the mile out along the lane and then driving to work, but I have been stuck here since Tuesday. It has been lovely!

In the field today the whole surface of the snow was covered in little spicules of ice, like ice feathers. It glittered and sparkled. And tonight we stood outside the front door in the dark and I showed the children where Orion was. You get such a deep silence when it snows, and the moonlight on the snow was beautiful.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Twelfth Night

Took down the decorations. Always sad to say goodbye to Christmas.Walked in the snow - silent and beautiful.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


So much snow. I love it, and I love having a surprise day off with the kids. It's like a gift.