Posted in Life

Rode Hall Gardens

Last summer, on one of the May bank holidays, M and I made the most of some lovely summer sunshine, and took ourselves off to Rode Hall Gardens for an exploration.

And found a lovely oasis of calm, with a witch’s cave, lots of willow animals, and an island on the lake which would make the perfect place for my crafting hideout. I’d just need to learn to row….

And then we had a slice of cake and a cup of tea in the stables, which have been turned into a tea-shop.

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Posted in Crafts

Beginning to Craft

I’ve always been a sporadic sort of crafter. I can’t remember not knowing how to thread a needle and at least be able to attach a button or follow a cross-stitch pattern.

I know I was taught to sew and knit as a child – I have memories of making a satchel for school out of fake-fur off-cuts, with a Dalmation print, when I was maybe 7. I don’t know what happened to it, but I’d be surprised if it lasted more than one outing. It was unlined, and I’d sewn it by hand. I remember it being very flimsy.

I’ve made the odd garment since then, usually simple things without a pattern (like circle skirts or cloaks made on the same principle).

My knitting has never been brilliant. I can just about knit and purl a square, or the sort of lacy shawl where it doesn’t matter if you drop a stitch.

But it’s only been in the last five or six years that I’ve become a more dedicated sort of crafter, and built up my supplies.

You see, I came across Mouseloft, a cross-stitch company which makes stitch-in-an-evening kits. I started with the summer hedgehog shown above, and just like that I was hooked again. (The swallow was a magazine freebie.)

And then a few years later, a colleague taught me the basics of crochet. And I haven’t looked back. I very much prefer crochet to knitting, because I only have to worry about one stitch at a time on my hook.

Now, I have a large collection of cross-stitch and crochet supplies, as well as a stash of fabric and patterns. I finally sorted through all my magazines a month or two ago (mostly cross-stitch) and reduced the space they take up by removing the patterns I might actually make and recycling the rest. Sixty magazines went down to two lever-arch files. It only took a weekend.

Who taught you to craft, or did you teach yourself (maybe with a little help from the internet)?

Posted in Library

A Natural History of Dragons

One of the things I intend to do more of is to write more about reading. To practise thinking more about the books I read, rather than Yes, I like or No, I don’t. To work out why and what I like or dislike about a book, whether it’s the characters, or the writing, or the story in general.

To begin, a recent read was A Natural History of Dragons, the first volume of Lady Trent’s memoirs (author: Marie Brennan). Simply, I liked this book, and I fully intend to collect the rest of the series (the second has already been obtained and begun, and continues to entertain).

Initially I was uncertain, despite the lure of dragons. There’s just something about a first person female narrator which makes me nervous. This is an odd prejudice, given that several of my favourite books ever have first person female narrators (Scout Finch and Fanny Logan come to mind), but the ones I’ve come across in more recently published narratives have an annoying tendency to spill every last thought or heartbeat they have onto the page. Emotions are all very well, but learn to control or contain them: hearts belong in chests, not on sleeves. (Same goes for males, by the way.)

Lady Trent, however, is wonderfully restrained when it comes to such matters. Interested in natural history, fascinated by dragons, impatient of a society which wants her to become wife and mother, she tells, briefly, of her childhood, and then of how she came to join her first expedition to study dragons in the mountains of Vystrana.

The world she inhabits is vaguely 1800s, with some lands post-industrial and conflicts over natural resources such as iron occurring. Lady Trent’s interest in these is only insofar as they affect dragons or interfere with her research. She is not trying to change the world; simply, she is trying to study dragons, and not even her mother is going to stop her.

I like Lady Trent. She is largely unsentimental, driven by curiosity and a desire to know, and given to the occasional mad idea. Usually she thinks first, but there isn’t always time. In telling of her youthful adventures, she has an old woman’s disdain for society’s opinion, warning the faint-hearted and weak-stomached to read no further. The gory details are not, after all, all that gory, though they might offend those with Victorian sensibilities.

A Natural History of Dragons is a sensible length for a book. The sort which you could, if you had an afternoon to spare, probably read in one sitting, and not so complicated that you have to keep flicking back to check who this or that person is. (Or have to have a list of characters to reference each time someone is mentioned.)

I’m not going to have a star-rating system, I’m afraid; my way of rating books is even simpler: Keep or Donate. This one’s a Keep.

Posted in Kitchen

Miss Hope’s Devon Strawberry Truffles

This recipe comes from Miss Hope’s Chocolate Box recipe book.

It takes as its inspiration that standard summer afternoon tea fare: the great and glorious Westcountry Cream Tea. A little history on the Cream Tea. First mentions of such a meal come from Tavistock Abbey (Devon), where the monks fed labourers with bread lavishly (at least I hope they were lavishly) spread with clotted cream and jam. The clotted cream is important. A true Cream Tea uses clotted cream, and the only sensible way to eat it is by spreading a vast quantity of cream on before a tiny splidge of preferably strawberry jam. Whatever Cornish people may tell you about the jam going on first. That’s just silly: you wouldn’t put the butter on second now, would you? (You can tell my priorities too – at least twice as much cream as jam is necessary!)

I’ve made Cream Tea truffles before, carefully turning scones into crumbs in which to roll my white chocolate strawberry truffles.

My recipe was merely: Basic Truffle Mix of cream, butter and chocolate; strawberry chips; scone crumbs.

This recipe is slightly different. Scones are nowhere to be seen, for one thing, and I finally have a use for the strawberry lime vodka that I found at Christmas, for another. I somehow manage to follow the recipe to the letter, for once. It’s a good recipe, written in my kind of cooking style. I “whap” the chocolate and cream in a bowl over simmering water to melt. I pour in spoonfuls of the vodka; I like recipes which calls for tablespoons of cream or liquor. None of this precision measurement that so many use.

I melt and stir and splosh. Once it’s all smooth I set it aside and stick the kettle on. I might as well. I now must wait for it to set.

Then I take a melon baller. I scoop out balls of truffle mix. This one has actually set sufficiently for me to be able to make decent truffles. Because the kitchen’s cold I leave the balls on the side to set further overnight.

By morning, they are solid enough to be able to cope with being dipped in molten white chocolate. Usually I use cocktail sticks for this job, but for some reason, I have none, so I find two forks instead. While the chocolate’s melting, I chop up several of the dried strawberries, to decorate the coated truffles. Somehow I even managed to have just enough white chocolate. I’m never quite sure how much I need to coat truffles, so I guess. Apparently I had a lucky guess today. And, ta-dah! Devon Strawberry Truffles.

Verdict: The vodka’s quite strong. These aren’t quite Cream Tea truffles, but they are tasty. Make a nice breakfast…

 

Posted in Crafts

My Crafting Corner

As with my blog, my crafting space has had several iterations over the years. Partly this has been due to house-moves and having to make the best of the space available. But also because I like to try new arrangements, to see if they help me to stay tidy or inspired to work or craft.

At present, I have a comfy chair with directed lighting. Recently, the boxes and piles of supplies have been upgraded to a bookcase and tidied away. (Whether they remain tidied away is a whole other story!) These aren’t my only supplies, though: I also have a tallboy and a chest of fabrics. And a bag of the freebie cross-stitch kits from magazines.

Of course, I don’t always stay in my chair – it’s at the wrong angle for watching things as I work – but the thought is there. And it’s out of direct sunlight on hot summer days, which is a bonus in the current sunshine. And it’s the perfect size for my lovely new cross-stitch frame to rest on both arms at the same time.

Ultimately, though, I want to have a shed at the end of a garden, where I can shut the world out and cocoon myself with my books and my crafts. For now, though, my corner is my happy place.

Do you have a dedicated crafting space, or do you have to claim it where you can?

Posted in Library

Reading List July 2019

I know I’m never going to write detailed reviews of all the books I read. Largely this is because I simply don’t have time. There are too many books out there which I want to read, or am reading.

Instead, I will provide a monthly snapshot of my Read and Recently Acquired books alongside what I’m currently reading and a Proper Review later in the month, which may or may not be taken from the Recently Read list. Of course, these lists probably won’t match up, month by month – I can’t be the only person to buy books which leap the reading queue.

By and large, unless specifically stated, assume the Recently Read list to be recommendations. I don’t normally finish books I dislike, so won’t include them on my list.

 

Recently Read:

A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute : Contemporary (to Shute: late 1940s)

A Tropic of Serpents – Marie Brennan : Fantasy; volume two of Lady Trent’s memoirs

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn : memoir of walking the South West Coastal Path

The Great Fortune – Olivia Manning

To Be Read:

The Binding – Bridget Collins

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve

The Incredible Crime – Lois Austen-Leigh

Currently Reading:

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

 

What are you reading at the moment?

 

Posted in Life

On Beginning Again

 

I’ve been blogging, on and off, for about six years now. The last few years have been more off than on. The result, I feel, of 50-hour working weeks. I think I had a month back in January where I didn’t have to work that much, but then it started up again.

It only stopped about a month ago.

Now I’m starting again with my blog, with a shiny new name and look, and lots of good intentions for a planned-in-advance editorial calendar.

 

Crafts:

Most of my projects are either cross-stitch or crochet, but sometimes I have a go at making clothes and things with paper.

Books:

I’ll read anything that sounds interesting. Or sits still long enough. My comfort-author is Georgette Heyer: I can reread her books time and again.

Places:

Mostly these will be National Trust places – my partner M and I recently joined and we’re trying to make the most of our membership – but no doubt there’ll be other places too.

Recipes:

Cakes and cookies, fudge and truffles. Among other things.