Friday, 30 November 2012

Autumn 2012

As November draws to a frosty close I wanted to share some of the photos I've taken throughout the last few months to remind me of Autumn 2012. Well, minus the torrential rain.

At this time of year I'm always reminded of the famous quote from the poem 'To Autumn' by John Keats. And 'Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness' seems to have been quite apt this year. We often seemed to wake to early morning fog and, funnily enough, it's very foggy tonight too.

Spiders' webs became more visible as they glistened with moisture. Better for avoiding their inhabitants too! Luckily only a few seemed to invade the house this year during 'spider season' - or, more likely, they've got better at hiding.

As the fog lifted, the warm glow of the morning light filtered through the mist lingering over the water.

And eventually gave way to glorious blue skies. 

The leaves seemed more colourful than ever this year. Or maybe it's just that previous years have faded in my memory. I did see more colourful displays than this but it always seemed to be when I was in the car and unable to stop to take pictures.

The berries also seemed more plentiful, though other kinds of fruit have suffered from our miserable summer: I had a single solitary apple on my little tree.

This tree was absolutely bursting with fat, juicy berries. Superstition says that lots of berries means a hard winter to come - let's hope that, as with all superstitions, they're wrong!

 Mushrooms also seem to have done very well. These were in a local garden.

This little fellow was in a park munching on what I thought was an acorn. You could hear the crack crack crack as he worked his way through his snack! I went back a few days later to take more photos of him and his friends and discovered that they were actually eating peanuts which they'd stashed at the bottom of a tree.

I watched in delight for about 20 minutes as they chased each other around, scampering among the leaves and digging in the earth to hide their food for later.

And then they'd pause for a rest and a snack.

Isn't he gorgeous? So cute! And my favourite photo of Autumn 2012. I wonder what images Winter will bring?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lancashire rose brooch

Last time I told you about Lancashire Day and mentioned the rose brooch I'd made. The idea was inspired by the poppy I made for Remembrance Day from the pattern by Tally.

The symbol and County flower of Lancashire is the red rose and dates back to at least Tudor times. There are many interpretations used in company logos but I wanted something traditional.

For my first attempt I enlarged a picture from the internet and traced around it to create templates. It's pretty but the petals felt too rounded to be reminiscent of a Tudor rose. I tried another image but the petals were too uneven and it was difficult to get the layers to line up. There was only one thing to do - draft my own pattern.

Using a round protractor, I drew a circle and divided it into 5 equal segments for the 5 petals: each segment is 72 degrees. I then drew an inner circle to the size I wanted the finished brooch to be. The petals were drawn freehand so are not completely the same but are at least spaced evenly. I kept measuring each element to keep them as uniform as possible.

Once the pattern had been drafted, I traced around each component to produce separate templates for the 4 layers. For the second sample, I decorated the petals with some simple stitching before sewing the layers together.

Ta-dah! And this is the finished brooch! This is my favourite and the one I wore. Others have preferred the simpler, stitch-free, rose. Which is your favourite?

PS I had planned to share the templates with you but it's proving more difficult than I thought to load up the pdf. For now, here's a photo of the templates which you could enlarge. If I ever figure out how to load up the templates, I'll attach it here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Lancashire Day

Did you know that today is Lancashire Day? Did you even know there was such a thing as Lancashire Day? No, me neither, but I stumbled across a reference to it on the internet and was intrigued. 27 November marks the day in 1295 when Lancashire sent its first representatives to Parliament and is championed by the Friends of Real Lancashire. There are events being held throughout the County before, during and after the big day.

After finding out about Lancashire Day, my mind raced with all the possibilities for celebrating with the girls at work (as it's on a work day). First we would have to begin with the Proclamation:

"Know ye also, and rejoice, that by virtue of Her Majesty's County Palatine of Lancaster, the citizens of the Hundreds of Lonsdale, North and South of the Sands, Amounderness, Leyland, Blackburn, Salford and West Derby are forever entitled to style themselves Lancastrians. Throughout the County Palatine, from the Furness Fells to the River Mersey, from the Irish Sea to the Pennines, this day shall ever mark the peoples' pleasure in that excellent distinction - true Lancastrians, proud of the Red Rose and loyal to our Sovereign Duke."
Then, every good public celebration has to have a parade so, a parade around the desks, everyone holding aloft a red rose (the symbol of Lancashire) or a Lancashire peeler. A what? Yes, Lancashire has its very own style of peeler.

Now you might be thinking that this looks like any other kind of peeler but it's all in the detail. What makes this one a Lancashire peeler is the twine around the handle.

For a good celebration, you also need music, preferably traditional but with a modern twist as befits the occasion. Maybe something like this.

With the music in place, there could be maypole dancing around the coatstands or clog dancing, if anyone can find their clogs.

And of course, food. Savoury treats like Bury black pudding, Lancashire cheese, Lancashire hotpot and butter pies. And for dessert: Chorley cakes, Eccles cakes and Goosnargh cakes. Lancashire is clearly keen on cakes.

Animated with excitement and enthusiasm, I shared these thoughts with the girls at work. They laughed and gently suggested it might be time I had a day off. Ah well. In the end, we are going to have a mini celebration by having coffee and the Eccles and Chorley cakes and I'll be proudly wearing my handmade Lancashire rose brooch which I'll share with you next time. And I'll write about Goosnargh cakes and some of the other foods one day too.

In the meantime, to all proud Lancastrians, I wish you a very happy Lancashire Day!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Which film?

We're going to the cinema today. Can you guess which film we're seeing? I can't wait!

PS Chickpea would like me to point out that she thought this photoshoot was 'sad' and that she is in no way responsible for the choice of film!

Port Sunlight

Port Sunlight has been on my list of places to visit for a while but there never seemed a particular reason to visit. Then I heard about the exhibition 'A Pre-Raphaelite journey: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale' at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, and fell in love with her painting The Little Foot Page which was on the front of the publicity leaflet. The Gallery also has a large collection of other Pre-Raphaelite paintings too, so, off we went.

We left under foggy skies but, by the time we arrived at our destination, the sun's rays had worked their magic, and Port Sunlight was living up to its name. After admiring the paintings in the exhibition and some of the other exhibits, we decided to take a look around the village.

Many visitors come to Port Sunlight purely to see the architecture. The village was built by William Hesketh Lever to house the workers from his soap factory: Sunlight soap being the factory's most famous product. Rather than the cramped row upon row of small terraced houses in many other Northern towns, he believed workers who lived in pleasant surroundings would be happier and more productive.
Take a walk with us, admire the houses, and I'll tell you some more of its history.

Port Sunlight was founded in 1888 and Lever employed almost 30 architects to design his 'model' village. Look at the diamond pattern brickwork on the gable end of this house. I think these were my favourite windows too (though I did think they might be a pain to clean!).

There are 900 houses and no two blocks of houses are the same. These reminded me of the quintessential English cottage.

All of the communal areas and front gardens are maintained by a charitable trust set up by Unilever (the company which developed from Lever's original firm). Several of the houses have this half-timbered mock-Tudor style. 

This is Bridge Cottage where Lever lived for a year whilst doing alterations to his manor house. I thought the cobblestone effect on the walls was interesting and particularly liked the spiral chimneys.

Although the fronts of the houses have lots of architectural detail and interest, the backs are very plain. Rather like a film set, I suppose.

Lever didn't just build houses: he also wanted his workers to have opportunities for education, worship and social gatherings, so there was a school, church, church hall, social clubs, an outdoor swimming pool and a gymnasium. Some of these buildings no longer have their original purpose - for example, a garden centre is now on the site of the swimming pool.

After our walk we stopped off at the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms for lunch. It was originally the village shop and then a post office before becoming a cafe in 2005. I loved the red and white theme with the gingham and lace tablecloths. My tea came in a pot with a red-checked tea cosy and a tea strainer - yes, real tea leaves! There was a shelf all around the ceiling piled with old toys, and pictures everywhere - lots and lots of things to catch the eye. As well as people watching through the large windows.

The last thing on our itinerary was the small but interesting museum near the Gallery. As we made our way there, we were fascinated by this Analemmatic sundial. You stand on the flagstone for the month and the time is shown by your shadow being cast across the number pillars. The inner circle was for British summer time and the outer circle for winter. Very clever. (Just in case you're looking at the time shown on the dial, this photo was really taken earlier in the day. We went back later but this ended up being the better photo).

We had a lovely day out with just the right mix of art, culture, history and fresh air. Having said that, what do you think was Chickpea's highlight of the day?

Yep, she got to stroke a very friendly cat. Isn't it usually the simple things which give the most pleasure?

PS. We actually visited in the middle of October and the Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale exhibition has now ended: apologies if you thought you might visit. Her painting 'The Little Foot Page' is usually on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and I remember that several of her illustrations and other paintings were on loan from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Weekend: 10/11 November

Just a few images to share with you from our weekend though I've left out the washing, ironing and cleaning! Sunday started with frost: I've had to scrape the windows on my car a couple of times already this month which seems terribly early - I'm hoping this isn't a sign of a hard winter to come.

Did some more work on Chickpea's quilt. I'm quilting the hexagon borders now and noticed that I hadn't sewn the outer edge of the trellis, so out with the machine. Worryingly it started making a horrid thudding noise as I was sewing. It's only recently been oiled (in fact there was a drop of oil on the tip of the needle when I went to thread it) but I think it might be worth doing again. I'm just hoping it's not going to pack up on me when I start sewing on the binding which, hopefully, should be next weekend.

Started work on a Christmas present. The wool is King Cole Galaxy (shade 688). Can't tell you more than that for obvious reasons but will reveal all after the big day.

Lunch on Sunday was Baked mushrooms, blue cheese and chutney sandwiches which was delicious. The recipe came from the November issue of The Simple Things magazine, though I added garlic and rocket. I also couldn't get any of the recommended walnut bread so we had spelt bread instead. 

This is at Mum and Dad's house and one of these is my Christmas cake! Mum makes absolutely the best ever Christmas cakes and every year makes at least five for various relatives, friends and neighbours.

Why was I at Mum and Dad's? Here's a clue: have you seen the film Tangled? My hair looks very much like the wicked stepmother's and has the same miraculous ability to become darker with the use of magical potions :-)

And talking of Christmas, look who's thumbing through the gift catalogues to start her wishlist!

We've had a busy few weekends so it was nice to have a quiet one pottering around at home. Hope you enjoyed yours too. Not long now to the next one!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Poppies for Remembrance

When I made these knitted flower brooches last winter, one of the girls at work suggested they would make good poppies for Remembrance Day. It seemed a good idea and I agreed to make a poppy for each of us. However, when the time came, I didn't feel like making the same pattern again, so I started to look for an alternative which would look more like a Remembrance poppy.

I searched the internet for free knitted or crochet patterns but the instructions were either difficult to follow or just didn't look right. Back to the drawing board but this time I searched for felt or fabric flowers instead. And that's when I hit lucky with this pattern by Tally. I've adapted it slightly by adding a leaf but as you can see from the components it's really simple and her instructions are very clear.

Remembrance poppy

Ta-dah! This is the finished poppy. The hardest part was getting a decent photo. It must be something to do with the way the light bounces off the felt but I just couldn't get a true representation of the colour. In reality they're a much richer red than this and the green is a dark forest green.

The girls were really pleased and wanted to pay me for the cost of the materials. However, by coincidence, the day I handed them over was the launch of the Poppy Appeal so I asked them to give a donation to the Appeal instead.

The idea of using layers of felt shapes to make flowers was so simple and so effective that it's got me thinking of ways to adapt it for other flowers. In fact, there's a celebration in a couple of weeks for which it would work beautifully and I've already started making a sample. Fingers crossed it turns out ok and I'll reveal all - watch this space!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Did you have a good Bonfire Night ? The fireworks were already going off as I drove home from work and I spotted a couple of bonfires in full flame.

We went to the fireworks display at our local church which is basically a few volunteers setting off fireworks for half an hour or so. However, it's our family ritual which started when Chickpea was small. At that time she spent most of the evening with her hands over her ears but she's got better over the years!

Before the health and safety police got involved, there was also a bonfire but the insurance costs now mean that this small 'cauldron' was the only thing on offer. Still, it was a symbol of the real thing and added to the atmosphere.

We handed over our bargain entry fee of just £3 each and gathered with a couple of hundred people in the church grounds. The queue for refreshments stretched out of the church hall. We'd already eaten but I went inside for a peek at what was on offer: tea/coffee/pop, hot dogs, pasties, toffee apples, toffee lollies, treacle toffee, marshmallow sticks, ginger cake, parkin and black peas!

Back outside, we stood to watch the fireworks. I think they must have upped the budget because the standard was generally higher than previous years. I kept my camera pointed skywards and kept pressing in the hope of capturing some of the display. Lots of black nothingness but occasionally these colourful shots.

As you can see, we were sheltered under the trees which I actually liked as I'm always worried about rockets falling on my head! At least here, the trees would deflect the blow!

After the final firework had flown, we got out our sparklers and stood in the darkness waving them around like a catherine wheel. And when the last of the sparks had died down, we slowly made our way home. A modest way to spend bonfire night but enough to make us feel part of it, and the comforting familiarity of following a family tradition.

Well, that rounds up the Bonfire Night posts. Same time, same place next year?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Happy Bonfire Night!

Bonfire Night has finally arrived and we're off to watch the firework display at our local church. Have a safe and happy one wherever you are. x

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Bonfire Night: Parkin

My second Bonfire Night recipe is Parkin: a dark, chewy, crumbly, gingery cake. It can be bought all year round but is most traditionally associated with this time of year. The recipe is also known as Yorkshire Parkin and contains treacle. There is another version, Lancashire Parkin, which is much lighter in colour and texture because it contains both treacle and golden syrup.

Oh dear, I can feel the spirits of my Lancashire ancestors disowning me but, whisper it, I think I prefer the Yorkshire version*. However, as I've played around with the recipe by altering the spices, adding extra ingredients to make it even more gingery, and I'm a Lancashire girl, maybe they'll forgive me if I call it Larkshire Parkin?

By far the hardest part of this recipe is that, after baking, you should leave it to one side for a few days to allow the flavour to develop. It's worth the wait, I promise!

Larkshire Parkin

175g treacle
150g butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
3 pieces of stem ginger, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon mace
275g medium oatmeal
1 egg
150ml milk
1 tablespoon ginger syrup (from the jar of stem ginger)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160 Fan/350F/Gas 4
2. Put the treacle, butter and sugar into a pan and heat gently until the butter and sugar have melted. Cool slightly. Add the grated stem ginger and fresh ginger.
3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl and add the oatmeal.
4. Mix the egg, milk and ginger syrup together in a separate bowl.
5. Add the egg mixture and treacle mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well.
6. Pour into a lined 20cm square deep tin. The mixture is quite runny but don't worry - as it bakes the oatmeal will absorb the moisture. Bake for 55 minutes or until firm.
7. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.
8. When completely cold, wrap in greaseproof paper and store for a few days to allow the flavour to develop.

Parkin can be served on its own but it's also traditionally served sliced with butter. However, I still had some of the maple buttercream from the Halloween muffins so Chickpea and I decided to have a taste off.

Two slices were spread with butter (thickly for Chickpea and a thin scraping for me) and two with the buttercream. Which would we prefer? Well, I was expecting the buttercream to win but, as Chickpea noted, the maple flavour somehow seemed to minimise the ginger of the parkin. We were both unanimous that butter was the perfect combination.

This is the first time I've made parkin and the first time I've tasted it in many years but I'll definitely be making it again: I'd forgotten just how delicious it is.

I'd love to know what you think if you decide to make this recipe. However, if you don't fancy trying parkin but like the idea of a ginger cake, my all-time favourite ginger cake recipe is Preserved Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing by Delia Smith. I've made it lots and lots of times and it's always absolutely yummy - mmm, mmm!

*Lancashire-Yorkshire rivalry has been around for several centuries - see the War of the Roses.