Wednesday 30 November 2011

Latest reading - Vera

I have just finished Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim, which I really enjoyed.  It was the second book I have read by the author (the first was The Enchanted April) and it was almost the complete opposite.  Elizabeth von Arnim was the cousin of Katherine Mansfield, moved in similar literary circles as her cousin and was married unsatisfactorily twice, to a Count and then an Earl.  Her first marriage provided the inspiration for Elizabeth and her German Garden while the second was the inspiration for Vera.  I wonder whether Daphne du Maurier knew this book, because there are some similarities to this story in Rebecca.  However, this book concerns the relationship between a young and innocent twenty-two year old heroine who has just lost her father and the older man who befriends, looks after and then wants to control her.  The reader is drawn in very quietly but can see all the signs that Lucy misses.  In the introduction, it says that the author thought that this was her best book and it certainly kept me totally engrossed.

Monday 28 November 2011

A Bargain

Above is a lovely arrangement from my bargain book of the weekend - Vintage Flowers by Vic Brotherson. I thought that this book would be lovely and having read about it on amazon and on several blogs, I put it on my wish list. It was one of those, "One day, when I feel like treating myself..." things. I went into the town on Saturday (and spent an absolute fortune in the process) and saw the very same book in a cut price book shop for the bargain price of £5.99. Well, I couldn't just leave it there, could I? The book is all about colour and texture, and about using pots, jugs, vases and containers in an interesting way. I don't think I'm suddenly going to be able to create wonderful arrangements, but it is really inspiring to look at the lovely pictures (taken by Catherine Gratwicke). There are one or two storage ideas that I really like too, such as open shelves and a vast storage cabinet.
I would love one of the above cupboards - all the lovely craft things I could keep in there.  Of course, I would need, at the very least, a whole room devoted to my craft endeavours.  I'll just have to keep dreaming...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

300th Blog Post - 'Russian Roulette' Revels Cake

This is my 300th blog post (hooray!) so thank you very much to my loyal blog readers who help to keep me going.
To celebrate, this blog is all about cake.
 It was Chris' birthday last Sunday and it is an unspoken rule amongst his colleagues that the birthday person has to take a cake or cakes for them all to share and celebrate.  Some colleagues were away yesterday and today, so he has a cake to take in tomorrow.  It is a 'Russian Roulette' Revels cake.  I would just like to point out that eating it is not really dicing with death and there are no guns involved.  However, there are Revels all over the top as you can see.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this confectionery, let me explain.  Inside a layer of chocolate, there are hidden different fillings; orange, coconut, toffee, malteser, raisin, peanut, chocolate and worst of all, by far (in my opinion), coffee.  I would not want to have to eat a coffee one!  (In fact, there has recently been an advert for Revels which featured this very conundrum in an 'eat-off' competition and the loser was the one who got the coffee!)  So, all Chris' colleagues are going to have to face this problem, which should make it quite entertaining.
The cake is a really simple chocolate one, which stays really moist and is delicious.  I have made a squidgy chocolate fudge icing for the topping and then added the dreaded Revels.
So, would you take on the challenge of the 'Russian Roulette' Revels Cake?

Monday 21 November 2011

Apple crumble bars

I recently found a recipe for apple crumble bars which tempted me to make them. The apple is coated with a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, then placed over half the crumble mixture and topped with the other half.  The addition of the spices gives a very autumnal flavour to the bar.  My first attempt was, ahem, rather a disaster, due to me thinking that I knew best on the quantities and ending up with a very soggy cake-type creation (although it did taste nice).  I had only said to Chris a few days previously that baking is the one thing where you have to stick to the recipe, so I have no-one to blame but myself.  However, not to be discouraged, I decided to have another go, this time following the recipe exactly.    It has turned out with more crunch to it, but I still feel that it will go soggy.  Perhaps this is something that needs to be eaten quickly - never a problem in our house!

Monday 14 November 2011

"Soup of the evening, beautiful soup..."

 Autumn is the perfect time for a delicious soup - in this instance, tomato, pepper, carrot, onion, garlic and herbs.  This one was made by Chris and was one of the tastiest he's ever made.  Accompanied by crostini with garlic and herb soft cheese, it was the highlight of the day.
Perhaps not something I would usually post about, but occasionally, food does get a look in, when it can elbow gardening, reading, felt making or jewellery making out of the way.  The soup was the perfect meal to enjoy on a slightly grey, dull November day.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Tulip planting

I have finally got round to planting my tulip bulbs which have been waiting patiently for about one and a half months, sitting quietly in the cupboard.  I hope they will provide as much enjoyment as this year's tulips did.  I have bought 'Carnaval de Nice' again becuase I loved the striped petals,  ' Peach Blossom', a fluffy, frilly pink and a mixture called 'Triumph'.  I have planted them in containers, one type to each pot and have planted some cheerful violas in different colours on the top to give me something to look at while the tulips are growing.
I had a lovely time planting the tulips and thought what a positive activity gardening is, as there is always next year to look forward to.  No matter if your gardening year was awful, there is always the hope that next year will be so much better!

Friday 11 November 2011

More thoughts on Katherine Mansfield

Having nearly finished the book I borrowed from the Library, I have become a real fan of these short stories.  Most are incredibly bittersweet, many are poignant, only a few are happy.  I decided to find out more about the author and have discovered that she is regarded as one of the first Modernist writers.  Why had I not heard of her before?  I think this is because she wrote short stories - there was never a major novel that earned her fame or fortune.  Her short stories are superbly constructed and the characterisations are masterly.  I felt as though I knew these people, even though they only have a few pages in which to tell their story.  A couple of them were particularly moving; "Life of Ma Parker", which describes the life of a char lady, with all the disappointments and tragedy that life has thrown her way and "Miss Brill", who goes every Sunday in her fur collar to listen to the band and indulge in some people watching.  She happens to overhear a conversation and I really felt  her pain as she returns home with her life utterly destroyed.
Katherine Mansfield was only thirty five when she died of tuberculosis. I have bought her complete works so that I can read more of her fascinating stories and continue to find out more about her and her work.

Monday 7 November 2011

Bonfire Night 2011

Pictures of fireworks seem to be an annual part of my blog, due to the proximity of our house to the local football ground where the council-run 'extravaganza' (their description, not mine) takes place around this time each year. 
 This year, the show seemed to be shorter than ever, probably due to all the council cuts and the exorbitant cost of putting on a display.  However, I can't grumble because I got a free show.
Unfortunately, the art of taking photos of fireworks is one that eludes me somewhat - just after I pressed the button, there always seemed to be much more beautiful colours and shapes.  However, the photos above give some idea - my favourite is the second one.

Saturday 5 November 2011

More about Scruffy

Scruffy has decided that he likes sleeping on the stairs. There is nothing wrong with that when he has his head up so that you can see his white bib.
 However, if he has his head down, it is quite a different matter, especially if the light isn't on!  I can foresee a "Winnie the Witch" moment (see picture below from the book by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul with Wilbur on the stairs.  I love Korky Paul's fantastic illustrations - my favourite is where Winnie doesn't see Wilbur on the chair and sits on him.)

As neither Chris or myself want to end up in the hospital nursing broken bones, we have come to the conclusion that when he is on the stairs, we must switch the light on.
In such a short space of time, it is amazing that one small cat has managed to cause us so much trouble! (But we still love him!)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Latest Reading - Katherine Mansfield

(My original photo for this post was deemed to be 'boring' by Chris, so I have put a different one in, which I hope is a little more interesting.)
Above is a photo of my latest reading, 'The Garden Party and other stories' by Katherine Mansfield.  This  copy is from the library at college and hasn't been taken out since 1995.  However, while browsing through the blogs that I follow, I was intrigued by this book.  It is, as the title suggests, a collection of short stories and was first published in 1922.  Having read the first five stories, I can say that they are very well written, with excellent characterisations but are somewhat unsatisfactory as I have been left wondering "what happened next?" with each one.  There is a great attention to detail and description and some of the vernacular language the author uses really conjures up an image of the speaker.  Below is my favourite example of this so far from The Daughters of the Late Colonel:
"When I was with Lady Tukes," said Nurse Andrews, "she had such a dainty little contrayvance for the buttah.  It was a silvah Cupid balanced on the - bordah of a glass dish, holding a tayny fork.  And when you wanted some buttah you simply pressed his foot and he bent down and speared you a piece.  It was quite a gayme."
Josephine could hardly bear that.  But "I think those things are very extravagant" was all she said.
"But whey?" asked Nurse Andrews, beaming through her eyeglasses.  "No one, surely, would take more buttah than one wanted - would one?"

Katherine Mansfield

The stories are a little dated, but they do give a real feeling of the time they were written and I am enjoying becoming acquainted with each of the characters.
Photo of Katherine Mansfield from