Friday 30 May 2008

Purple haze

A couple of miles north from me, heading towards the Penwith Moors, is Madron Carn - a granite outcrop with views across the moors, surrounding farmland, and down to the sea at Mount's Bay. At this time of year the rhododendrons are out, and they provide an unexpected purple shimmer across the landscape. It was a little hazy when I took these photos, but you get the picture.

I have no idea what sort of rhododendrons these are, but each year their growth is rapid and almost thug-like; where they encroach on ancient pathways they are brutally cut back. It may seem harsh, but it's very necessary.

I love sitting on top of the carn - to catch the breeze, to savour the views, and to be enveloped in nature.

Often I have the place to myself...with the dogs, of course. Joining in with the purple/pink theme, get this boy's tongue!!

And now the weekend is here again, and the forecast is sun all the way - here's hoping it stays a while.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Strawberries for jam, for sorbet, for puree

Last saturday my friendly local farmer, where I often purchase from the farm gate, gave me approximately 20 kilos of strawberries. Yes, that's right, 20 kilos! These were strawberries that were picked that day, but were not suitable for sale because they were mis-shapen, bruised, over-ripe etc, but still usable if you didn't leave them sitting around for too long. I can't bear to waste anything, so action was called for. I started sorting saturday evening - every single strawberry had to be checked. I wanted to make some jam, but if you use over-ripe fruit you run the risk of fermentation once the jam has been made. I got through about a third of the sorting that evening...and prepared some strawberries for jam. Do you know this book? It's wonderful - full of fresh and inspiring recipes, and fabulous photographs. This recipe for strawberry jam is the most delicious, zingy, bursting-with-flavour, full of strawberry-ness recipe that I have ever tasted. Tessa says "it is also incredibly easy to make with just this small amount of strawberries; it's not necessary to make a supply for the whole year and the whole neighbourhood - although wouldn't that be nice?"

Strawberry Jam
recipe courtesy of Tessa Kiros from Apples For Jam: Recipes For Life

500 g strawberries, hulled
200g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Quarter the strawberries and put them in a non-aluminium bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice and toss around to distribute the ingredients evenly. Cover, and leave overnight in the fridge to draw out the juices.

Sterilize your jars, ready for a panful of hot jam

Drain off all the liquid from the strawberries into a heavy-based pan, add half the strawberries, and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, until thickened.

Puree until smooth, then add the rest of the strawberries and bring back to the boil. Simmer over a low heat for a further 10-15 minutes and then test if the jam is ready by dropping a heaped teaspoon onto a plate. When you tilt the plate slightly the jam should not run off, but cling and slowly glide down. If the jam isn't quite ready put back on the heat for a while. It should be a lovely red and look quite sticky.

Spoon into the warm sterilized jars, filling to the brim, and close the lids tightly. This jam will keep for about six weeks before opening - after opening keep refrigerated.
Makes 375ml (1 and a 1/2 cups)

It has a relatively short keeping time as it has a lower sugar content than a standard recipe. I doubled the recipe, and ended up with two jars of jam (using recycled bonne maman jars, I think they're a little larger than standard). It also has a soft set, so lovely on bread and scones, but also swirled into plain yogurt for a quick dessert.

Then I made another batch, increasing quantities again, and ended up with a further four jars. Trouble is, I need to give the farmer a couple of jars as a thank you, and I've made promises to others too.....just as well I froze another quantity of berries for the next session.

That still left rather a lot of I made some puree for the freezer, and also some strawberry sorbet (another recipe from the book) which is also delicious. And I'm saving all that just for me. Or would you like to come round for tea and scones with clotted cream and homemade jam?

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Sunday for sunshine

Most of the weekend was damp, cold, grey, drizzly, get the picture, and I think in the uk everywhere was pretty much the same. However, sunday afternoon the sun did come out and it was beautiful - hot and sunny, clear blue skies (and seas). I ventured over to Mousehole where my neighbour had a final exhibition before their gallery closes, as the lease has expired.

After looking at the paintings we sat by the harbour, savouring the warmth from the sun

and looking out to the most perfect blues...

High winds and rain returned yesterday - a day for snuggling up indoors, and embracing chores like the ironing pile, and starting on another dishcloth. I also have some strawberry tales - more of that next time.

Friday 23 May 2008

Dog days

I am blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country as West Penwith, and have an eclectic choice of places to walk each day with the dogs - here are just a few photos from today's meanderings...

Words aren't needed here - I think the simple beauty of the photos says it all. This week has flown by (another week, it's nearly June!) and the long weekend beckons...

Have a happy time, whatever you may be doing!

Car booting

On wednesday I did a car boot with my neighbour - there are several on locally each week, but this one is considered the best, so off we went. I'd only been once before, a couple of summers ago, and that was to buy plants. This time, we were selling. I am having a super clear-out at home....tired of all the accumulated stuff that as far as I am concerned is past its sell-by date, I not only want to declutter, but also hopefully make a few pounds in the process. My friend was a pro - everything clearly labelled and priced, she was ready for the vultures to descend! And descend they definitely you're trying to set up and quickly empty the car, you need eyes in the back of your head to keep a watch on everything. It really helps having two people. I had priced most things, but ran out of steam at half past midnight the preceeding evening, and gave up. My dread was bringing most of it home again....prices were keen, mostly 50p and £1, and after the first hour I was open to negotiation. Suffice to say, by tot-up time I'd made £81 which was great (and helped pay for the car service and new tyre earlier in the week).

As we cleared up, I prepared a box to go straight to the charity shop, and saved a few other things for the next time. I shall be more prepared! It was also rather gratifying to feel no need or desire to look at any other stall - I know quite clearly that I don't have the need for any more gratuitous purchases. Phew!

(no photos.....didn't even think to take the camera, and surely you don't want to see photos of my clutter, anyway?)

Monday 19 May 2008

Busy busy

The weekend seemed to fly by in a flurry of work and jobs to be done around the house. It's been cold and chilly outside, so not very inviting to be lingering in the garden. I've almost succumbed to putting socks back on.....I'm being stubborn, I don't want to admit defeat just yet! Instead I seem to have permanently cold feet.

My car was booked in for a service today, its first since I have owned it. The fact that someone was going to give it the once-over shamed me into cleaning it yesterday, and it ended up taking the whole of the afternoon (it was that bad) but now it's gleaming, and I feel like I have a new car! Still, that didn't leave much time for all the other things planned....I'm still knitting dishcloths, seem to be on a roll with them; and I did make the ruby marmalade, but it's not worthy of a photo as you can't tell the difference between ruby oranges and seville oranges once the marmalade is cooked. I didn't get such a good 'set' this time, and the marmalade is sweeter and lighter in taste - still delicious, but different.

Tomorrow is my eldest niece's birthday, so time to make her a card. This is what I came up with. My stitching is a little wonky, this is all new to me, but I enjoyed doing it, so maybe I'll try some other things soon. I like small quick projects when I'm doing something new. That way I get to try something out first before committing lots of time to it.

I was wondering too how to mount it on the card - you can just see a shadow showing through from the stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. Perhaps I need to use a backing fabric as well? Any ideas? I shall experiment a little more.

Friday 16 May 2008

A book bag

Yesterday was a dear friend's birthday, so I popped over to say 'happy birthday' and sit down for a yummy lunch and piece of birthday cake (very delicious chocolate and coconut with a chocolate buttercream icing). Do you remember that fabric stash from my sister? I chose some fabric and made a little book bag....and it is small, about 10 inches by 12 inches, but perfect for taking a paperback to a favourite spot to sit and read for a while. You can't really see it in the photo, but the lining is a brown and white spotted fabric which I think goes well with the duck egg blue.

I also took a jar of marmalade......talking of which, I bought some blood oranges last weekend to turn in to ruby marmalade. I put them in the freezer again (partly lack of time there and then to make the marmalade, and partly to soften the skins) and took them out this morning. They were lined up on the side looking perfectly, well, orange, then I glanced at them ten minutes later and they were all beautifully frosty, so I couldn't resist the chance to take a photo.

I'll juice these tonight and slice up the peel, leaving it all to soak until sunday. I'm looking forward to this, I've not used blood oranges before for marmalade, and am imagining there will be a distinctly rosy glow.

I'll report back next week. Thanks for dropping by, and have a great weekend!

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Washing days

A perfect day for drying the washing

Monday 12 May 2008

A note on dishcloths

Thank you for the dishcloth appreciation! This post is for Pippa and Ginny, who have both asked me about the yarn I use. Well, you can all have a chuckle now...I didn't know there was such a thing as 'dishcloth yarn'! I just assumed you needed to use a yarn that was 100% cotton, so I have been using Rowan cotton dk handknit.

Am I being very extravagant here? As I mentioned before, I had some left over from way back, so I've used that and bought some more here, as I just love the colours. This retails at £3.50/ball, but I've also been looking for cheaper alternatives.

Twilleys of Stamford have an organic cotton dk at £2.50/ball, but with a more limited colour range (better photos at Loop but it's more expensive). There are other options to look at, such as Sirdar and Wendy, and you could also try bamboo or soya yarn.

I finished this dishcloth today - back to the Rowan yarn, shade 287, appropriately called 'Diana' so of course I had to have some! (and yes, I do keep my washing-up bits in an old enamel kidney dish, I'm rather fond of slightly battered blue and white enamelware)

This pattern is my version of Rhonda's - I like to have a little border all the way round, so I added that. So far, I've been knitting on 4mm needles as initially they were the only ones I had. I think if you're going to knit your own dishcloths, you might as well use gorgeous colours, too. Rather typically for me, I go for the all the blues. The other thing is texture - a cloth with a good texture is more effective, and for that my favourite so far is the seed stitch one. But it also took the longest to knit and drove me slightly potty in the process. Lots more pattern ideas here and here.

Happy knitting!

Sunday 11 May 2008

Locally grown

It's been a funny few days here - while much of the uk has been basking in hot sunshine, we've been enveloped in a thick sea fog, with visibility down to about five feet! I kept looking at the weather forecast which was promising us sunshine, then looking outside....and seeing the forecasters were wrong again. After a bit of a gloomy start this morning, the heat of the sun finally waved the fog away, and it's been gloriously hot again. A day for a walk in the woods in dappled sunshine, and work on the garden. I try and buy all my fresh food locally - that is, locally grown. From June to February I have a local veg box, and I supplement this with farm gate sales, and last year, a few pots of salad leaves and herbs at home. I have bigger plans this year for growing my own. Today was a real treat - my first taste of new season local strawberries and asparagus.

A quite delicious supper - especially with the addition of some clotted cream on the strawberries. Yum!

The rest of the day was spent clearing more of the garden, and picking numerous snails off my aurum lilies - here they are trying to escape!

I had some help today - two paws make light work of digging a hole...

Let's investigate...

A bit of frenzied action...

The deeper digging...

Close-up inspection...ah, there's my very muddy tennis ball!

I hope you enjoyed the sunshine!

Thursday 8 May 2008

Knitting dishcloths

I've really got the knitting bug, and for the moment I'm getting the hang of it all by knitting dishcloths. These are great small projects for me - I'm learning to read a basic pattern or make up my own. I finished this cloth last night - ever anxious to take a photo this morning, I still hadn't woven the ends in.

I know this looks very simple, especially to all you seasoned knitters out there, but I found I easily got in a muddle with my knits and my purls and lost track of the rows I unravelled when I suddenly noticed, too late, that I'd done two purls one after the other...three rows back! So at times I was very frustrated, but persevered, knowing it would be worth the effort. I laugh when I hear about knitters who watch television and knit at the same time.....if I dare take my eyes off those stitches, the pattern magically changes.

I started off with garter stitch cloths, but they're not very exciting, and they do pull out of shape easily. I like this cloth, which I found on Deb's blog, Homespun Living, and I found it relatively easy to knit too (for a complete beginner!) The other thing which is so satisfying is being able to produce something myself that I would otherwise buy. It gives me real pleasure to do that - another step on the road to simple living.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Making marmalade (and being in the garden)

Suddenly it's the middle of the week, and I feel like I'm still in long weekend mode. Blissful sunny days, it feels like we've dived straight in to summer and left any signs of spring behind. Socks have been discarded, shoes kicked off and flipflops are the footwear of the day. I even took my boots off on the beach and paddled up to my knees at the weekend. This was not in the plan, I'm a complete chicken about going in the sea, but the pup lost his favourite ball so I had to go in to help. Alas, to no avail! But I did rather enjoy myself once I acclimatised myself to the general chilliness.

Most of the weekend was spent digging up my garden. I've lost count of the dandelions I've dug up, and some of those long tap roots eluded me at their very tips so no doubt they'll make another appearance. I had plenty of help from the pup, but he was usually shifting the soil in the wrong direction, and showering me with muck in the process. Most of the garden is now covered with large sections of donated green carpet (at least it's green!). My little patch is only the width of the house, about twelve and a half foot, by about forty foot, with a patio area and the newly-cleared ground and a dilapidated shed. I have an internal courtyard as well, so I am spoilt for a wee town cottage.

The other thing I got around to was making a batch of seville orange marmalade. I bought some oranges back in early february, when they're only available for a few weeks. Too busy at the time, I stuck them in the freezer for another day. In fact, freezing them helps soften the peel and you often get a better marmalade.

The recipe I use, which came direct from the growers in Seville, suggests soaking the peel for two days before you make the marmalade, and it's worth it. Not only is the recipe delicious, it is very consistent - if anyone would like a copy leave me your email in the comments.

So now it's labelled and in the store cupboard, though I somehow think it won't be enough to keep me going until next year! Next up will be some jam from local strawberries.

Friday 2 May 2008

Blue Friday

Ahh! Blue at last...and my favourite colour, along with white. So many shades to choose from. It reminds me, too, of a compilation tape I made ages ago, where every song title had 'blue' in it. It wasn't that difficult to fill a whole tape!! Anyway, here are just a few 'blue' things that are hitting the spot at the moment:

:: blue blanket - I love all the different shades woven together

:: blue wool

:: old enamel bucket

:: bluebells nearby, the bright blue in the background is the sea

:: the pup surveying the bluebells

:: a just-finished knitted dishcloth

This has been an interesting week - of colour, and of photos. I often notice that once I've uploaded photos to blogger they appear lighter, a bit insipid. It's very disappointing. So I have mixed feelings about some of these photos, they look a little flat, and lacking in colour! Does anyone else notice this with blogger? Photos aside, this little exercise has definitely made me more colour-aware. Thank you, Leya, and I look forward to the next colour week.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Red and Pink Thursday

I like these hot colours in small doses. A few years ago I wouldn't have anything pink in the house, but now it's a different story, especially if it's bright (not so keen on the pastels). So here goes, a few things around my home.

:: my string bag for shopping

:: secateurs in the garden

:: Tulip 'Rococo'

:: an old white towel dyed hot pink, for the beach

Last day tomorrow...and it's favourite of all!