Saturday, 31 March 2012

The pleasure of lemon and cardamom

I had a restless night.  I was too hot, and flung my quilt onto the floor.  I heard the milkman leave our three bottles at the door at 4:05am, when it was dark and still outside.  Just before 6am, I heard a taxi drop off someone for the house over the road - they were very quiet but struggled to get their key into their door the right way up.  I listened to a few podcasts and tried to doze, but couldn't. 

And then just before 7am, when it was beginning to get light, I realised what had been keeping me awake.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Very faint, but persistant.  I could definitely hear dripping.  I went to the bathroom, and it got louder.  I hoped it was next door's problem, but when I looked out of the window, I realised it was ours.  We were on the phone to the plumber before breakfast, and he said he could come by in the afternoon.

I couldn't settle to anything all day.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Then the plumber came.  He dismantled the toilet, he muttered about valves and asked us where the hot water tank was.  He put in new washers, replaced worn pipes, mopped up the mess and checked everything was dry and fixed.  I smiled and was relieved.  We laughed and chatted about his toddlers and our neighbours, and then he went home.

Just as earlier in the week, I was revelling in the beauty of cherry blossom once I knew that a car emergency was resolved, now that there was no more dripping to worry about I could settle down to something peaceful and absorbing.

I made some lemon and cardamom biscuits.  These biscuits are delicious, and I was delighted to be able to use the edelweiss biscuit stamp I bought when I was in Brienz in Switzerland two years ago.  I mixed, rolled, stamped and baked with great satisfaction.  I wished the plumber had still been around because I would have offered him one with a cup of tea.

Lemon & cardamom biscuits, with edelweiss stamp

The recipe is from the new Hairy Bikers series - Bakeation.  C and I have loved the first three episodes, which have taken in Norway, Benelux and Germany, and with the accompanying book on sale at Amazon for an insanely cheap £8.86 I bought it without hesitation.  It is fabulous.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


There's a reason why things become classic.

Vanilla & chocolate buns for spring
Plain vanilla buns with chocolate buttercream and mini eggs

They are just very, very good.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A cherry blossom moment

Last week I spent over £300 on two new tyres for the car.  This morning, one of them was flat.  The AA man followed the sound of my sobs and came to my rescue.  I limped slowly on my spare tyre back to the garage, and asked them to fit me yet another one; then I walked home, wondering if it was possible for us all to live solely on lentils and oats for a month.

But about twenty minutes later the garage phoned.  There was no puncture.  The tyre had just come away from the wheel rim, had now been re-inflated and was absolutely fine.  I dried my tears and walked back to the garage, blinking in the sunshine.  I smiled at the cherry blossom, vivid pink against the blue sky and wondered how I could possibly have missed it earlier.

Cherry blossom in Leyton

Sometimes, I realised, our mood and well-being makes us more receptive to the loveliness around us than at other times. 

Here's hoping this is the start of a cherry blossom week for all of us.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I'm having one of my annual frustrating explorations into the world of crochet.

Crochet hooks
Sweet little wooden hooks

This year though, I've finally managed to produce a granny square.  In fact three whole granny squares!

First tentative steps into crochet
Three granny squares

I am totally getting carried away and imagining an entire crocheted blanket draped elegantly across the sofa before next weekend.  And it will only be the work of 5 minutes to darn in all those ends, right?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The List of Pleasing Things

  • Reading The Fine Colour of Rust by P.A. O'Reilly which introduced me to the concept of The List of Pleasing Things.  An excellent book by an Australian writer.  I want to read more from her.
  • A day with my sister and her new baby.  My little niece is smiling and cooing.  She tells me she likes handknits best of all, which is a good thing really.
  • Dithering over whether to have a chocolate croissant (made by C for Mothering Sunday) or a piece of chocolate crunch (made by O for Mothering Sunday) with my mid-morning coffee.  My veins mostly runneth with butter and chocolate this week.  Not wholly a bad thing.
  • Clever, croissant-cooking Cam
    C with one of his handmade chocolate croissants - as delicious as you might think
  • Sunshine and daffodils. I'm still not tired of them.  Plus my most elderly and stately hen just started laying again to celebrate the new season.
  • Catching sight of a new trophy on the mantelpiece.  Auntie Alison and Uncle Richard came over for a Just Dance dance-off at the weekend, and brought a trophy with them, which was eventually won by C and O.  There will be a re-match later in the spring, and the children are going to have to do some serious practise to retain the title.
  • Richard and Livvy throw some good shapes
    Uncle Richard and O set a very high standard
    Victorious children with their trophy
    Victorious children with their trophy
  • Making contact with long-lost family members in America.  Hearing their amazing stories and marvelling at their openness and friendship.
  • Listening to the properly excellent Sport and the British presented by Clare Balding on Radio 4 (available on podacast and on iPlayer).  Clare Balding is one of my favourite broadcasters; she has such a beautifully clear voice, and the series is fascinating.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

On Mothering Sunday

My mother is wonderful for a great many reasons; one of those reasons is that she completely understands why a bag of really good stoneground wholemeal flour makes an excellent present for me.

A present from my Mother

Thanks for the lovely flour, and for everything else, Ma!

Nancy xxx

Friday, 16 March 2012

Seen on the Tube

District Line - Mile End to Kew Gardens

  • A lady reading The Highway Code and sighing heavily.
  • Two work colleagues, heads bent together over an open lever-arch file, looking up at each other shyly when their hands accidentally brushed together.
  • Two elderly trainspotters, with notebooks and cameras on their laps, loudly discussing the points system at Willesden Junction.
  • A young lady, with a cascade of spectacularly curly blonde hair, sitting very still and poised in a corner seat.
  • Two Japanese teenagers, with matching spiky rubber covers on their iPhones, sitting on the floor of the carriage and chatting quietly.
  • A young man wearing a trilby hat at a jaunty angle and carrying a jute shopping bag with House of Commons printed on the side.

Pink & white camellia
Pink and white camellia bloom at Kew

Magnolia pink against the blue
Blue skies and magnolia blossom at Kew

This post is for Tracy and Kristina, who shared a glorious day out with me at Kew, and who liked Monday's post so much.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Me and my boots

When I wear my boots I feel as though I could walk on forever.  Their sturdy weight makes me feel as though I have an almost magnetic attraction to the ground.  I feel rooted to the earth with boots on my feet.  And yet they don't feel heavy, and I don't drag my feet; when I lace them on I just want to set off on a long hike and never come home.  That combination of solidity and energy that they give off is a pleasing contradiction.

I've only ever owned two pairs of walking boots.  The first pair I bought when I went to University.  They took me on treks along the Norfolk coastline and then they travelled to whole other contintents - America, Australia and Asia.  I walked up mountains and along beaches in them.  They went with me to New Orleans, Singapore, Toronto and Cairns.  They finally fell apart on a long, boggy walk in North Yorkshire.

Me and my boots - Australia 1995
In Queensland, Australia - 1995

My second pair are more sturdy and rigid than the first, which I prefer.  They are made by Gelert and I bought them at an outdoor shop in Snowdonia about seven years ago.  These ones have not been to quite such exotic locations, but have still served me very well on the cliffs of Pembrokeshire, on the Thames foreshore, all over Yorkshire and Cumbria, up the Swiss Alps and across France.  I'd love it if Gelert had made them with a built in pedometer so I could see how far I'd walked in them over the years.

Me and my boots - France 2011
In Tarn-et-Garonne, France - 2011

My feet are trained to know what to do when I lace on my boots: put a flask of coffee in my bag, grab a map and go.  Walk.  And keep on walking.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Seen on the Tube

Central Line - Leytonstone to Oxford Circus

  • A man in a black nylon jumper, deeply asleep with a completely serene expression on his face; his fingers laced together neatly in his lap.
  • A young man with red headphones, reading The Mail on Sunday and frowning.
  • A smart young lady surreptitiously slurping a McDonald's milkshake, hidden inside a bag of shopping on her lap.
  • A young man with green headphones, chewing gum and dozing lightly in between stops.
  • Two people in thick wool coats, sweating heavily.
  • A young woman with her hair in a high ballet bun and a stud through her right eyebrow, smiling at the photos on her pink iPhone.
  • A tired middle-aged woman holding a polystyrene cup with three dark red roses in it.

View from Hungerford Bridge at sunset
The view East from Hungerford Bridge, at sunset last night. Waterloo Bridge in the foreground and the City behind.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The multicoloured sock yarn shawl

I have finished knitting a shawl that is both wild and crazy in colour, and wonderfully warm and cozy.  Comforting and lively in equal measure.  These contrasts really make me smile.

Multicoloured sock yarn shawl - blocking

I love the old-fashioned charm of shawls, and I love the wrapped-up, comforting feeling I get when wearing one.  Wearing a shawl is like wearing a hug.  It is the time of year - almost - where I can put my coat away and grab a shawl instead when I nip to the corner shop, or walk to the school to pick up O.

Wearing my shawl

This one is made from all the leftover ends of sock yarn that I had.  It is a reminder of all the things I have ever knitted from sock yarn - that is four pairs of socks, three baby kicking bags and a shawlette.  It has every colour you could think of in it, apart from black (I don't like black, and never wear it if I can help it).  Pink, red, sky blue, brown, purple, white, orange, navy blue, green, yellow, grey, turquoise, lilac - they're all here.

Multicoloured sock yarn shawl - blocking

I decided not to plan in which order I used the yarns.  I just went with whichever ball I picked up next.  The result is nicely random and a little bit mad.  The pattern was a very simple, free one from Ravelry - it needed to be simple with all this colour jumping around.  I just kept going until I had used all the yarn, and it turned out just the right size.  Clearly it was meant to be.

Multicoloured sock yarn shawl - blocking

Technical details on Ravelry, here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Delightful dilemma

Which is cuter and more strokeable?

My new niece's sweet little tummy, kept warm in a tank top knitted by her Auntie Nancy?

Scrummy baby tummy

Or her little feet, waving around vigorously, and kept toasty in tiny cashmerino socks also knitted by her Auntie Nancy?

Auntie Nancy socks

I couldn't decide.