I Am Not Worthy…But Thank You!

It is glorious outside today, what a difference some sunshine makes!

DSC_0074I’ve been out in the garden all morning, clearing the borders (of leaves) and attempting to get on top of things before the growing year gets going. It doesn’t make for pretty photos, sadly, as my poor garden is very dull at this time of year. There are things on the way, it was nice to uncover and reveal all the little green shoots, but I’m sad that there isn’t more to brighten up the gloomy spots and it really is something I need to look into for next year (more Hellebores?…Possibly). I’ve left the leaves in piles at the side so the ladybirds have a chance to emerge, before I move them over to the recycle bins.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 12.51.35As I was working, and as always happens, I had a running commentary of possible blog content going thorough my head. I am a perpetual ‘virtual’ blog writer….shame I’m so bad at doing the actual writing! I was just about to head upstairs and start sewing when I realised that some blog post are well overdue and do need to actually be written, so here goes.

Back in February, I was really lucky to have my blog included in a post entitled 13 Glorious Gardening Blogs  by WaltonsNot only am I now lusting over a garden studio again (they have some really lovely sheds, garden rooms and cabins on their website) but I feel rather guilty, as I haven’t been a very good blogger recently, and don’t really feel like I deserve to be on a list with other truly, decent garden blogs. Ho-hum. Perhaps it’s the kick up the bum I need to get back to regular writing? DSC_0076The kind ‘blurb’ mentioned my Whisky Marmalade recipe and it reminded me that it is Seville orange time of year. Ocado currently have them available for delivery and I was very tempted, for a moment, until I checked the cupboard and realised I still have 6 jars to use up going back to 2011 and 2012. That’s one of my problems, I like making things but then it’s usually only me that eats them, and there is only so much marmalade one women can eat, especially as I don’t have toast much these days. Still, if I say so myself (and I do) my recipe for both Whisky Marmalade and Seville Jelly really do work well and the jars from 2011 are as good as the day they were made.DSC_0004I noticed one of Miss Bumbles little spring critters hanging in the door when I closed the cupboard up. It’s not like me to be that organised, I must have put her back there when the winter version came down.

DSC_0160I know most people who drop by here know me already, but for anyone new, I live in an end of terrace, period house with my two boys, two cats, guinea pigs, chickens and a decent sized garden with a vegetable patch. I sew for a living, and sell my work on my own website (The Linen Cat – even more neglected than this blog, right now). Most of the things I make are nature or vintage influenced, often a mixture of both. My house is quite ‘arty’ and I like to support other makers, where I can, so I tend to mention any pretty things I might have come across on here. I cook quite well, but my baking is a bit hit and miss and I struggle with time, these days, to look after my boys, sew and keep on top of the house and garden but I’m not one to give up. Oh and I’m Northern, but live in Kent, so be prepared for me to ramble on about Yorkshire a lot.

I have quite a bit to write about at the moment and I have actually taken my camera with me, as I’ve been working – big pat on the back for me – but I think it might be best of I split things into smaller posts. Small posts, more often, that’s the key, like the way I garden 🙂 Mushrooms next!

The Foster Family Zoo

As I’ve just spent the last hour sitting at the kitchen table, drinking peppermint tea and staring into the garden, I thought I should actually do something instead and finally writing a blog posts didn’t seem like a bad idea.  In an attempt to ‘catch-up’, I looked through my photos since I last wrote and most were of animals.  It would appear that we do now reside in a Zoo, which is fitting when you also have two small boys.

Back in August, we added to the two already rescued cats (from the local RSPCA) with an old boy from Battersea, Brands Hatch, called Buster.DSC_0196.jpgHe was lovely.  I say, was, as sadly we had to have him put down a few weeks ago.  He came to use with a rather John Wayne style walk, which turned out to be one fused hip and the ‘worst case of arthritis’ the vets had ever seen in a cat.  He had a successful hip operation but a routine check up afterwards revealed him to be FIV+ and bluntly, he went down hill rather quickly with anemia and had to be put to sleep.  I miss him.  He was fantastically grumpy (I like grumpy cats) but at the same time my sofa companion, as he rarely left it, and he made a cute ‘priiit’ sound when you ticked his ears.DSC_0147To add to the animal drama, Tuppence broke her leg just before Christmas.  She’s recovered well, right now she’s running around the garden like a loon, which I hope the vet doesn’t find out about as she’s supposed to be house bound, but she just made a Houdini like escape when I opened the door to collect a parcel.  Her fur is now growing back and she looks less like she’s had a chicken leg grafted on.MouseWe still get ‘little gifts’ on a regular basis from the remaining cat that is allowed out (crazy cat lady – me? – noooooo).  I manage to rescue quite a few, which seems rather stupid when I spend most of my summer cursing the mice for eating the contents of my vegetable patch.DSC_0185We have hens now, which I think I did mention last year…I need to take some decent photos of the set-up and the hens themselves…I have tried, but they always seem to move just as I press the button.  We did have two Ginger Rangers, but alas, Mabel (above) got eaten last weekend by a fox.  We got to watch it over and over as there is a camera on that part of the garden.  It was quick but I felt bad about my relaxed free ranging style as I do know there are foxes around here, but then I haven’t seen one in the garden for months, and they usually leave their little calling cards around when they do come in.  Luckily, Doris (the other hen) survived and has now been joined by Beryl and Edna.  Nothing like a good old fashioned and totally obvious hen name.PhesantAs it’s shooing season, there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment too, and they are quite nosey, I’ve noticed, often coming right up to the glass of our kitchen window to have a good look it.  I do think Pheasants are rather handsome.DSC_0003The house is full of ladybirds.  We always have lots, I’m not sure if it’s linked, but in the early days here I did buy a few batches of ladybird larvae to keep the aphids under control.  They do this thing when we get late warm days in late autumn or in early spring where they come out of hibernation and swarm all over the house, I did try to capture it (as above) one year, but it’s hard to see just how many there are and how they are flying all over the place as well as crawling on the house walls.  LadybirdsIn winter, I find them asleep in all corners of the house, the ones above were in the shell of the hen house when I recently moved it, there were some very happy spiders hanging out near by, clearly contented with their winter food larder well stocked, so I moved the Ladybirds into a bug house we have in the vegetable garden (partly as I wanted to scrub the henhouse down before putting the new hens in but also because I’m soft and the idea that they are happily sleeping away, all snuggled up together only to be picked off one by one by a spider makes me sad.  I know, I need help).DSC_0166Even my sewing work seems to be dominated by animals.  I’ve been sewing quite a few blinds in animal prints – this Mark Hearld, Harvest Hare print from St Judes was lovely to work with.DSC_0144And my Shop sewing is all rabbits,DSC_0149and swallows (not to mention mice, little hanging robins, deer and many others….it didn’t occur to me just how much of my work involves animal images until writing this post!).DSC_0139There were animals (and quite a lot of gin) finding their way into Christmas gifts this year too.  I was a bit rubbish and only took the above photo, sorry.  Weirdly, having given quite a lot of gin, I received a fair bit too, not that I’m complaining, I do like a nice bottle of gin.DSC_0153The weekend has finally arrived, here in the Foster Zoo, and I think it’s time to get the seed boxes out and start planning,. I’m moving more towards low maintenance plants in the garden, ideally annuals (the above were an add on offer from Thompson & Morgan that I planted up in pots in the greenhouse last autumn, no idea of they are still alive!) and even in the vegetable patch I’m going to keep it simple.  I have very little free time these days, but I really need to keep in top of things, so keeping it simple and tidy is the way to go 🙂

Winter is Here!

Clearly.  There has even been scraping of the car window screen in the mornings and on a couple of days, the frost has still been on the grass as evening has arrived.

DSC_0148Brrrrr, time to cook Boston Beans with the remaining barlottis that were hastily brought indoors from the greenhouse, where I’d left them to dry out, still attached to the vines.  I’m lucky the mice didn’t get them.  I always make beans as it’s such a nice staple tea to have in the freezer, neither of the boys will touch them so it’s just for me.  I use this HFW recipe, only I add some tomato puree and I cook the belly pork separately, so all the fat doesn’t end up in the beans, I know the fat is very flavoursome but I can’t face the calories.  When I freeze it, I spoon the beans into a container then place a few chunks of cooked pork on top, to reheat it I make sure the belly pork is still hovering on the beans, that way it ends up nice and crispy – yum!  I’d show a photo, but the truth is it looks a bit like brown mush, tastes heavenly though!

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The garden is now dormant for the winter.  I tried (quite half heartedly, if I’m honest) to make sure it was tidied and ready to plant up, come spring.  I finally got the garlic in.  I ordered a small variety box this year, just for the change, but still from The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, it’s been a while since I tried elephant garlic (which isn’t really garlic at all but a variant of leek, I believe) so I’m excited to see if it grows (I struggled last time).  I haven’t ordered potatoes or shallots yet, they’d normally have been paid for by now, ready to arrive in the New Year, but I’m unsure about my plans to grow either this time.

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Indoors we are getting ready for Christmas.  The boys have their fabulous sock advent calendar (from Germany) and I decided to re-use my Betty’s one, bought a couple of years ago, but filled with my favourite Lindt truffles.

DSC_0151 The cake has been given a layer of marzipan and icing, then finished with some cute vintage style decorations from Cox and Cox.

DSC_0154Since this photo was taken, half the cake has been eaten!  I’d rather it’s that way then it sits there for weeks, possibly months on end and everyone looses their Christmas sweet tooth and it gets abandoned.  My verdict on trying Delia’s Creole Christmas Cake?  Good decision, I LOVE it and will be cooking it going forwards…until I get bored and fancy a change, that is.

I have more to write about but I just want to get into the habit of posting again, so for now I’ll leave it here 🙂

Christmas Cookery Books and Crown Devon…

Finally, we are on the last day of the school term – hurrah! After this afternoon’s Carols in the playground, there will be lovely relaxed mornings without me yelling at the boys to get ready for school over and over….sadly, they will still both be up at 6am, but that can’t be changed.

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I’ve been re-reading my Christmas cookery books, looking for ideas.  I still really love the ‘new’ Delia Christmas one (I have the first Christmas book she did, as well), partly for the styling as well as the actual recipes, the vintage baubles and white backgrounds are pretty much my own taste and the recipes (including many re-worked from her ‘Winter’ cookbook) are, as always, fabulous.  I make her mincemeat every year, and if I do make a cake it’s also from this book.

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I also enjoyed re-reading Nigella’s Christmas book.  There are some nice canape ideas that I’d forgotten about.  This is the book that started the trend on collecting Crown Devon ‘Stockholm’ china, as it’s used in the photos (and, I believe, in the accompanying TV series).  More on the later.

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New this year and not strictly a Christmas book, is the The Great British Winter Kitchen.  I haven’t cooked anything from this yet but I’ve really enjoyed reading it.  The recipes look great and contain simple ingredient lists (it reminds me a lot of Jamie Oliver, if I’m honest).  My kind of book.

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Back to the Crown Devon ‘Stockholm’.  So, I remember mentioning some time ago, that I wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon in collecting this, instead I’d stick with the (much cheaper and easier to find) Royal Doulton ‘The Coppice’.

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What can I say?  I buckled.  I am weak.  Over the years I have watched this grow ever more expensive and more difficult to find and this year, I just couldn’t resist adding a few bits to my clutter.   My lovely SIL bought me a couple of pieces for my 40th, and I especially love the ‘tennis’ plate and cup.

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From collecting the Coppice, I know what pieces are the most useful to me, with this in mind I’ve managed to buy some tureens, by far the nicest things, I think, they have such a pretty shape and I like the detail of the little red line painted around the base.  I love having tureens for serving vegetables on a special roast lunch (or Christmas dinner!).  I’ve also bought some little fruit bowls and a jug (for serving Christmas pudding, naturally).  In an ideal word, I’d have a platter for the turkey (but don’t think there is a large one with this collection, only meat plates that are a bit small) and maybe a sandwich set with square platter and plates.  Ideally.  But this is expensive stuff to collect, so I’m stopping here, for now at least.

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In the garden, it’s all just very wet and soggy.  We have a lot of fog going on around here, that sits in our little dip all day, only lifting in the afternoon, if we’re lucky.  I still have chard, kale, spring onions, horseradish root and some old beetroot.  The garlic is in.  I’ve missed planting broad beans and sweet peas….oh well.  I’m happy to leave the garden now until January, when I’ll start obsessively reading seed catalogues and planning next year.

For those that celebrate it, I hope you have a fabulous Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Getting Started….

DSC_0022As most people know, we’re not having the best spring weather here in the UK.  Last week it snowed, since then it has rained continuously and is still rather cold.  It makes working in the garden very hard, not just that I get sodden (which, oddly, I don’t mind all that much) but it’s just too muddy, the grass is soaking, very sponge-like and it becomes slippery rather quickly.  Once the snow thawed, I did spend some of the weekend weeding the vegetable beds and removing all the wind blown debris, mostly uncleaned plant pots and plastic cloches that have broken out of their storage places in the high winds, but the majority of my ‘gardening’ has been indoors, sowing weeds.  So far, I have started :

Tomatoes – Sungold, Brandywine, San Marzone, Tigerella & Ildi

Aubergine – Money Maker F1, Aubergine Slim Jim 

Sweet Pepper – Topepo Rosso, Jumbo Sweet F1 Hybrid, Worldbeater

Chilli – Hot Stuff x 3, Long Red Slim Cayenne

I’m avoiding being over ambitious and getting too much going, as I know that if the weather doesn’t warm up soon, I wont be able to put the seedlings into the greenhouse and I’ll end up with leggy plants.  I should really be adding cucumbers, courgettes and melons at this point, but I think I’ll wait a bit longer.  I have, however, sown seeds today for:

Cape Gooseberry Giant

Artichoke Violette di Choiggia

The large wooden trough I ordered has arrived…..in flat pack….very flat pack (ie a pile of wood).  Obviously I didn’t read the small print and this was an expensive purchase so I was a bit grumpy when I can home from school run one day to find the pile of wood on my doorstep….it’ll be fine, I just need to find time to build it.  I grow a lot in containers and I heard on Gardener’s Question Time (BBC Radio 4) a great idea to plant in guttering, ie not just start crops in there (which I often do) but to plant things such as salad leaves, for the duration.  I like this idea, so I’m going to order some deep square guttering to attach in lines to the fence or side of the shed.  I’m not mad keen on lots of plastic in the garden, I already struggle with the huge plastic tubs I use, they are very practical but not very pretty, but maybe some additional carefully placed guttering will be OK.  

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On another subject, my quest for the perfect tea loaf continues and today, using my brand new copy of the revamped Delia’s Cakes, I made the Irish Tea Cake.  I really like the styling of Delia’s recent books and the recipes in this one are great, all her best cakes.  I noticed she mostly uses spreadable butter for her baking now, which makes sense with it’s oil and butter combination, plus it is so much easier to work with than solid block butter.

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Finally, I’ve bought a couple of lovely vintage table clothes recently.  I inherited some from Mum, but they are almost too delicate to use (there are a few holes that need repairing) but I fell so in love with the beautiful coloured embroidery, I hunted a couple down on Etsy (from the UK shop Fitzroy and Cole), all we need now is some sunshine so I can lay the table and enjoy a nice afternoon tea 🙂

I’m Alive..!

Just a little blogging break there then.  I fear I start many of my posts this way, apologising for my irregular updates, but to be honest we’ve been busy, then ill (norovirus, cold, flu, cold and now cold number 3!) and there is some family ‘stuff’ that will be taking up a lot of my time so I can’t even promise that I’ll be back to regular blogging in the future, but I do intend to try.  For now, I thought I’d get started by showing you some of the recent food and kitchen purchases.

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So, the illness in the run up to Christmas resulted in rather a lot of ‘cheating’ and for the first time ever, I bought mince pies, Christmas pudding and cake, and some rather nice Swedish ginger snaps (in the red tin).

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The cake is from Bettys, which I’ve talked about before.  Bettys is a small chain of Cafes in Yorkshire, famous for its traditional style of food and service.  I bought a tinned “Vintage Port” fruit cake.  No-one but me eats fruit cake here really, last year I made one and didn’t ‘feed’ it with alcohol, as I normally would (my husband and the kids – obviously – don’t drink) and the result was a rather dry cake that no-one ate anyway so I figured I’d just please myself this time around.  I am eating a slice whilst I write this post and I can say it is delicious and worth the (rather high) price tag.DSC_0075

More British food.  As part of my stocking filler, my husband bought me some fabulous chocolate, the lime and sea salt is especially nice, I do like a good, dark, fancy chocolate bar.
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I took advantage of the sales and bought this lovely platter made by ISAK.  I have a bit of a thing about Scandi design and have been hankering after this for a while, perfect for serving festive treats on, I think.DSC_0083 I also couldn’t resist these egg cups, from my favourite Scandi company – Hus and Hem – partly because we had similar ones when we were children.  They are Bordfolk (“Table People” in Danish) egg cups, which apparently “adorned many a breakfast table in the 1960’s and 70’s.  After many years out of production, Scandinavian company Lucie Kaas, has reintroduced and updated these Danish classics”.  The boys got one each in their stockings and the red one is for me.  M doesn’t eat boiled eggs.

DSC_0077I had quite a few books on my ‘wish list’ and was lucky to get this collection from Hope & Greenwood.  I do like their sweets and chocolates, yet another fabulous vintage style British company.  The books are full of great recipes and, as expected, are very funny to read.  One of the first ever blogs I got hooked on was the H&G one, the naughty innuendoes make me laugh so much, it’s like a Carry On film mixed with chocolate.

I need to get back to nursing the family now, I do hope to be a better garden/kitchen blogger in 2013, pending us finally having a moment when everyone is well at the same time….perhaps I should have put a nurses outfit on my Christmas list 😉

 

Wild Flowers…

We’re nearly at the end of the school summer holidays and it feels to have flown by so far.

We were lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics, and although the event itself was amazing, I was also very keen to get a good look at the wild flower meadows.  I was not disappointed, the flowers were stunning, especially the ‘gold’ beds as shown below.  Crammed full of blooms and very inspiring, especially after the non event of my cutting beds this year, which have failed for the first time ever.  The weather hasn’t helped but the main problem was a rogue rabbit that was trapped in the vegetable garden which relentlessly munched the seedlings until I gave up.  I still have some Cosmos and Zinnias that might flower before the weather turns but it’s getting a bit late in the year now.

Following the Olympics we travelled ‘Up North’ to stay in my beloved Yorkshire Dales.  For those who don’t know, this is where I am from and my family still have a working sheep farm, just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

One of the things that I am always in awe of, when we visit, are the wild flowers.  The Dales is sheep farming country, the landscape is lush and green and mostly involves fields surrounded by dry stone walls.  The roads are narrow, but quite busy (it’s very much a tourist destination and a cyclist’s haven), all along the sides there are banks of grass peppered with wild flowers.

The range and mass of flowers is due to the lime-rich soils, I had hoped to take lots of photos, but often I only had my phone camera with me and the results aren’t worth posting, these are the best ones I managed to take, sadly.  The geraniums above are my favourite, they appear everywhere, especially along the roads, along with willow herb and wild scabious.

We spent a lot of time in Upper Wharfedale and Littondale, where a lot of farmers take part in a government scheme that involves leaving the meadows much later before cutting, so as to let the wild flowers re-seed.  We were lucky with the weather in that generally all the meadow cutting was late, the earlier rain followed by the small pocket of sunshine meant that even the meadows not covered by the scheme were still in full bloom.

We had lots of days out that involved gardens.  We visited the Forbidden Corner in Leyburn (sorry to those who read both my blogs, as you’re getting this all twice!) which is a folly garden, but still full of lovely flowers, I was happy to find us in Valley Gardens in Harrogate one day (really for the kids to go to the playground), although I couldn’t manage to persuade my lot to actually to go to Harlow Carr…one day it might happen.

We also spent a pleasant day at Harewood House where a wander around the  Himalayan Gardens had me falling in love with this Potentilla, prompting me to order some similar pink plants from Crocus.  I did have a bit of a sulk after finding the walled vegetable gardens were closed for the afternoon for a play to take place in the grounds.  I was rather looking forward to seeing them.Whilst home, I made a visit to Grove Rare Books in Bolton Abbey.  We don’t often get to go as even though we drive past it daily,  it’s difficult to park in the village.

I managed to add to me ever expanding collection of old Observer Books which are a series of pocket guides to pretty much everything, some originally published over 60 years ago.  You can read more about them here, but don’t blame me if you also become addicted.

I should stress now, I’m not a fanatic or anything, you wont find me lurking at the next Observers Book Society meeting (they have meetings – oh yes they do!) each to his own and all that.  But I do have a bit of a ‘thing’ about collecting books from my childhood and ones on nature.  It’s often about the images, which inspire me in my work at The Linen Cat, but some are just great books.

One of those being the ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe’, which is from the 1970’s and not only is it full of fabulous illustrations but it’s also really good for identifying flowers.

This is a book we have at home (ie my Mum’s), one that belonged to my Dad and I’ve been keen to get  a copy for ages, I just keep forgetting.  Now that you can so easily buy old books from Amazon, it’s hard to resist adding to my collection.  My husband loves all my ‘stuff’, really he does 😉

The garden was a mess on our return from holiday.  I think I’ve really dropped the ball this year, especially on the flower side.  I think I am just bored.  It’s time for a change and I feel freshly energised to do that so I’m planning on moving things around this Autumn and getting some new colours into the borders.  It’ll be fun, I’m quite excited….just need to persuade M to allow a water feature next!