Saturday 31 March 2012

Change in the weather

 Due to the lovely summery weather we have had over the last two weeks, the tulips have suddenly shot into growth and here is the first one of the year.  However, there definitely is a change in the weather now as it is cloudy and much colder - around 10 degrees C, rather than the 20 we were becoming used to.
 As a consequence, I feel that my magnolia flowers will not last long, especially if it is going to be windy. This morning, I noticed lots of petals on the ground, so as a tribute to this lovely shrub, here is a swansong of photos.
 The scent from the flowers has been absolutely gorgeous, encouraged by the sunshine, and luckily for me, being kept inside the garden.
Lots of clouds rather than the brilliant blue skies of last week.

It has flowered so well this year and I hope that next year's show will be just as impressive.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Aprons and baking

 Here is my lovely apron won in the giveaway, which arrived yesterday, much to my excitement!  It was wrapped beautifully in tissue paper and tied with the flowery ribbon you can see in the photo.
 Here it is hanging on the door.
 A close-up of the two different materials used in its creation.

 With the apron, there was a very thoughtful hand made card.

 In the apron pocket, there was a surprise present of this crocheted egg in very Spring-like colours. Again, huge thanks to Elizabeth of   for this wonderful gift.
Once I had received the apron and pranced about in it for a while, I decided I needed to bake something to christen it with.  Scones were deemed to be the ideal choice and then this developed into scones with cream and jam for a cream tea at the morning break.

 I made two batches of scones - the ones above were made with vegan marg and soya milk (I nearly had a catastrophe due to not remembering milk was a major ingredient in scones and promising to make vegan ones specially, but luckily, the local shop was open and even more luckily, they had soya milk!)
The finished scones, some vegan, some vegetarian.  I took them to work today and added some Channel Island very thick double cream and raspberry jam.  I have to say they tasted wonderful!  The vegan option was vegan spread and raspberry jam, but from the comments later, they were yummy too.  So, my gorgeous apron has been christened and we have enjoyed (rather too much in my case) a proper cream tea.  All in all, two very good days.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Spring has definitely Sprung

 I know, more gardening photos.  I can't help it - I just love this time of year and when something else is flowering almost every time I step out of the door, I just have to share my excitement.  Above is the little cherry I bought recently, looking beautiful.
 The deep azure blue of Scilla sibirica, grown in a pot, in shade, and still flowering away happily for the second year.
 A viola with delicate hints of amethyst on the very edges of the petals.

 Magnolia 'Susan' with its buds beginning to break and show the rich pink of the petals inside.  It has only just started to flower in the last two days but is being encouraged by the sun we're getting at the moment.
Some of the flowers, enjoying the sunshine.

The inside of a flower, with a fuchsia pink centre.  It also has the most delicious fragrance of lemon which is why I am so pleased it hasn't grown too tall yet, so I can still get close to the flowers.  How can you not feel joyful with all this going on outside?

Another reason I am feeling particularly happy today is because I entered a giveaway on a blog that I follow and have just found out that I am a winner!  The prize is a beautiful floral apron made by the blog author and I'll devote a post to it when it arrives.  I don't win things very often so am absolutely delighted! Thank you so much to Thomasina (Elizabeth) of

Saturday 24 March 2012

Felt making again - at last!

It has been about six months since I made any felt pieces and last week, I finally managed to pick up my carding combs and make something.  The photo above shows the piece in process and I really liked this combination of blues and turquoises and teals, so had to stop to take a photo.

The piece was based on one I had previously made, taking my inspiration from the sea lavender on the marshes at Saltfleetby, on the Lincolnshire coast.  The original one was fine but I decided to make the colours a little deeper in this version. 
The felted piece, showing how the wool exerts its own influence.  The horizon was a bit more dramatic than I would like, but the colours have worked together well and have given the slightly impressionistic effect I was aiming for.  Now it needs to have the embroidery added, to give more definition to the sea lavender.  That's the next job.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The First Day of Spring

 To celebrate the official First Day of Spring, here are a few plants from the garden, looking rather lovely.  I have always liked Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) with their cheerful blue flowers, but they can get a little out of hand.  This rather glamorous version is Muscari Latifolium, which has different shades of blue in the flowers.  I have been growing it for a few years and it doesn't seem to try to take over the garden.  I would be very happy if it did, because I think it is one of my favourites.

Another Hellebore, this time Harvington Picotee which has been in the garden for two years and which has obligingly flowered despite the cold temperatures.
Here come some of the tulips - I'm think these are the multi-coloured ones, but will have to wait and see if I'm right.  These are in a large pot and had no protection over the winter, as I read somewhere that they need a period of cold temperatures in order to flower well.
My other recent purchase was this little flowering cherry (Prunus incisa Kojo-no-mai) which is just starting to tentatively put out a few flowers.  I had one of these a few years ago but gave it away as it was a bit big, then decided I that I needed another one last year, but that one didn't like the situation I had put it in and promptly gave up.  So, this is my third attempt and I hope it will do well.  It is a rather straggly shape, but the little delicate pinky-white flowers at this time of year more than make up for that.
Welcome to Spring!

Monday 19 March 2012

Latest reading

I love reading.  There is no doubt that if I didn't have to work, I would spend a good part of every day reading.  I usually have a couple of books on the go at any one time and more often than not, several.  The latest ones are shown above.  I have never read To kill a mocking bird until now - I'm not sure why that is - but really enjoyed it.  It totally transported me to that time and that location and the characters were beautifully drawn throughout.  I'm not sure that people have changed at all in their attitudes since it was written, they just have other prejudices to deal with and no doubt, some still have the very same ones. 
I read A Ladder of Years because I was intrigued by the excerpt read by Anna Chancellor on My Life in Books on BBC2 recently.  I enjoyed this second series (produced to coincide with World Book Day) as you discover celebrities' favourite book choices, and through the books, you find out more about them as people.  This book follows a typical American family who go to a beach and then the mother just walks away and makes a new life for herself.  As with the previous book, it is beautifully written and I really felt that these people were real.  The ending was somewhat bittersweet and not what I was hoping for, but very believable.
I have also read a few ebooks too - A weekend with Mr Darcy (which I thoroughly enjoyed, being a huge Jane Austen fan), Three Graces (which was by the same author, Victoria Connelly and which was entertaining) and The Serpent in the Glass by DM Andrews (which had been reviewed as being a cross between Harry Potter and Narnia, which it was, with a touch of Irish legend and fable thrown in.)
All in all, quite an eclectic mix!  On to the next...

Thursday 15 March 2012

Purple is the colour...

...of this beautiful plant, Primula Obconica, which is flowering away on the kitchen windowsill and which brightens my outlook while I am washing up.  It took a while to find a spot it was happy with, but I think the windowsill is the one.
...of my favourite amethyst with an agate pendant, which is my latest jewellery-making experiment.  It has worked well, but I had underestimated how heavy a single piece of agate would be when you are wearing it all day!  However, the colours are gorgeous, so that makes up for the weight a bit.  I have also discovered that I need to take more care when using crimp beads, so that the tiny ends of beading thread/wire aren't left to scratch your neck - I thought I had sorted this, but it seems that a little more experimenting is required.  I do like a challenge!

Monday 12 March 2012

A perfect Spring Day

 I know that it isn't yet Spring, but yesterday, I think anyone could be forgiven for believing it was here.  The bluest of blue skies (seen above through the silky buds of Magnolia 'Susan'), warm sunshine and a very light breeze all worked to ensure a beautiful day.
 There are leaf buds just waiting to burst out on my blueberry plant, which seems to have come through the winter unscathed.
 What could be more appropriate than primroses? A wild, native one in the front and a modern variation behind.
While visiting Mum and Dad, I went to the local garden centre and saw this lovely plant - primula 'Cheshire Life' which is a cross of wild primrose and wild cowslips.  I think I should be able to divide it into three with any luck, and dot it around the garden.  It really was a perfect Spring Day.

Saturday 10 March 2012

And the award for 'Star of the garden at the moment' goes to...

...the gorgeous Hellebore Harvington Pink Speckled - which was a present from Katy and Alison when we went to Hodsock.  At the time, there had been really sharp frosts, so the plant wasn't looking at its best and I was a little worried that it wouldn't recover terribly well.  However, it is obviously a tough little thing, because as the temperatures have started to rise, it has perked up no end and is happily flowering away in a very glamorous fashion. 
Being a hellebore, it is quite shy and needs a little encouragement to show off the lovely interior of the petals.  It should stay in flower for quite some time and is a sure sign that winter is almost over.

Sunday 4 March 2012

'Bounty' Cake and points of interest from my experience of baking it

I like trying out new recipes (when I have the time and inclination) and this one came courtesy of a blog which I follow.  Sue, the blogger, is a very imaginative cook and often puts recipes up.  This time, it was just too tempting!
Here's the recipe:
Cream together until light and fluffy
9 oz (250g) soft butter
9 oz (250g) caster sugar
Beat together in another bowl
4 eggs
Add the eggs a little at a time to the butter mixture, beating well with each addition.
Fold in
4 oz (110g) desiccated coconut
4.5 oz (125g) self-raising flour
Finally fold in
4.5 oz (125g) plain chocolate chopped into pea-sized chunks
1 tbsp milk

Scrape the mixture into a greased and base-lined 8 inch (20cm) loose-bottomed tin.  Bake at 185 degrees centigrade /165 degrees centigrade fan oven for 45-50 mins.  A skewer should emerge from the centre of the cake clean when it is done.

Having baked the cake this morning, there are a couple of amendments/points of interest that I would like to make - purely from personal preference/experience. 
I used a mixture of butter and margarine.
I used granulated sugar (I don't tend to have caster sugar in the house as a rule)
I used a mixture of plain and milk chocolate.  However, I used 70 per cent plain chocolate, which gave quite a bitter taste.  When I make the cake again,  I shall use all milk chocolate, as both Chris and I have a sweet tooth.
The mixture is very sloppy.
The chocolate pieces all went to the bottom of the cake, but I noticed that this also happened with Sue's cake too.
The cake took much longer to cook in an ordinary gas oven - at least an hour at Gas 4.  I kept checking it and did do the skewer test which worked.
Don't neglect the loose bottomed tin or a base lining for the tin.  I thought that just my usual margarine and flour would be fine, but it wasn't.  The cake is extremely moist and sticky!  Trying to get the cake out of a non loose bottomed tin was quite an interesting experience...
 So, how did it taste?  Apart from the bitterness of the dark chocolate (which detracted from the flavour for Chris and me), the cake is moist and sticky with a good coconut taste.  It would make a nice pudding too.
I'll definitely have another go, this time with the correct lining of the tin, and milk chocolate pieces, and then it will be totally delicious!

Saturday 3 March 2012

Things to make me feel cheerful

 Well, it's not exactly 'a host of golden daffodils', but it is enough to make me smile.  I have watched these daffodils growing for the past few weeks and now they are in full flower.  There was even  some sun shining on them too, albeit briefly.
  I have enjoyed my first bit of proper gardening today and it was lovely!  I pruned the clematis and roses, and filled my green bin with all the prunings.  I noticed all the buds starting to grow and it gave me a very optimistic feeling, (even though the weather is supposed to be colder again).  I also potted on some little plug plants (pinks) and planted some lily of the valley, which I haven't been very lucky with in the past, but these are 'giant' ones (it just means bigger flowers) and I'll keep my fingers crossed for success this time.  Lily of the valley always reminds me of Mum, as when I was little and Mum was going out, she would come and say goodnight and I would be surrounded by a cloud of her lily of the valley scent.  Perfume is incredibly evocative.