25 Dec 2014

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen (and women)

Finally, we're there. Christmas Day. For the next 24 hours I can put my feet up.  Sort of. The winter solstice, my favourite landmark day for the inherent optimism it brings, has passed; now we're at the start of winter, the days will start to get ever-so-slowly longer, brighter and, eventually, warmer.  I've had enough of putting the lights on indoors at half-two in the afternoon.  No wonder plants struggle.

So, onwards to the bleak midwinter. It's one of the UK's little ironies that just as we feel we're into a new year with Spring to look forward to, the weather can suddenly plummet into minus temperatures.  I'm ready. I have a new woolly hat and toasty sheepskin lined gardening boots.  Nothing like 'being prepared'.  (And, no, I was never a Girl Guide. Missed opportunity there, I think.)  Dare I say that, here in London, signs are good for another mildish winter like last year?  Hopefully without the wind and slightly less rain.

I've had a severe cold for the past week - the sort that gives you a temperature and sore throat, makes you ache all over, cough, sneeze, sniffle and generally be entirely unappealing to visitors.  Lots of hand washing has been taking place as I prepare for the big lunch today.  I'm quite proud of myself having put together a Charlotte Russe late last night, enduring through the fog of a head cold. It's one of those popular-in-the 70's retro puds that my mum used to make involving jelly, mandarin oranges, savoiardi biscuits (aka sponge fingers) and loads of cream and eggs. (Sensible eating will resume shortly.) It's one of my son's favourite puds and a complete faff to make although very delicious. Now all I have to do is turn it out of the mould in one piece and I shall be the (self-styled) Queen of the Kitchen.

Added afterwards, as requested!  
Here's what's left of it the Charlotte Russe - it was enjoyed immensely, despite colds.

Apologies for the lack of a post about wreath making - I've been feeling too wretched to think about taking photos.  I will do a post though as - to paraphrase - a wreath is not just for Christmas.  On my wanders I've seen some gorgeous flowerheads, foliage and seedpods which has made me think about making a wreath a permanent but seasonal feature in my home. It's a good way of keeping your eyes open and really noticing what the changing seasons are doing.

Sage, bay, juniper, lonicera, ivy, hebe, clematis seedheads, pine cones.

But for now, I'm going to wish all you lovely people the best of the season - with many, many thanks for coming back time and again to read and comment on my posts.

Happy Christmas and a fabulously productive 2015!

Caro xx

15 Dec 2014

Sneaking up on Christmas

Here's one for a tiny reindeer. 

Let's see now, what have I been up to? Well, I confess there's been very little gardening and even less blogging. I did take photos for the end of month records but then went away for a couple of weekends to visit family so lost the opportunity to post. Until now.  No, despite the glaring omission of a festive tree in my life (so far), I've been sidling in a most casual way towards Christmas. As I embrace a simple-ish life for most of the year, I don't see why Christmas should be different. This is partly for financial reasons but also I'm just fed up with excess consumerism and I refuse to lay my soul bare to seasonal stresses. It used to be different when I was younger (didn't everything?); there was less emphasis on presents, parties and dressing up for the big day and more focus on family, community and creativity - decorations went up at the beginning of December with the excitement and jollifications building up on Christmas Eve, not Hallowe'en.

Just yesterday, I put aside all pressing tasks and hopped off to a morning of outdoor festive willow weaving down in Covent Garden's Green Gym. (More about that later.) I had a lovely time, met some super people, made a door wreath out of natural materials and then wandered down to Covent Garden shops to buy some sketchpads (love Muji). All I could see as I gazed down Long Acre towards Leicester Square tube was a sea of slowly moving people, ebbing in and out of the shops. The streets were heaving with people moving about in a very lacklustre fashion to get their gift buying done. A fair few looked desperate, more looked bored or resigned (husbands, sons) and me?, well I took a deep breath, stayed calm and moved quickly towards the tube station after having made my purchases.

Compare that to last weekend when I drove to Oxfordshire to join family for a day of foraging and wreath making (this time with a foam core). We all went for a long muddy walk to gather supplies from the hedgerows, listening to the local steam train puffing along the line a few hundred yards away while Red kite birds of prey flew overhead; twenty five years ago, they were an endangered species and now it's estimated there are over a thousand pairs in the Chilterns area. It's quite the thrilling sight.

Rosy cheeked from our brisk walk, we headed home past another of the steam trains setting off (this time being pulled backwards by a diesel locomotive), to a bowl of home-made soup and an afternoon of pushing stems, berries and faux robins into foam. I was the last to finish by a great many minutes which has left me wondering over the past week whether I'm perhaps embracing life in the slow lane a little too enthusiastically.

Still, that mindset has stood me in good stead for a bit of bread making. I love it on two counts - one, the rhythm of stretching out the dough is very relaxing, especially with Radio 4 on in the background; two, it tastes so much nicer than anything bought in the supermarket and you can choose the flour/s you want to eat. A wholemeal spelt/wheat/rye combo is my current favourite, although this one is white flour, maize meal, honey, hazelnuts and cranberries. My nod to a festive loaf.

Mince pies have also made an appearance. I made my mincemeat in late October when plums were still plentiful and used a River Cottage recipe for Plum and Russet Apple mincemeat. Of course, there's no actual meat in it - no, not even any suet so perfect for vegetarians. It's all cooked dried and fresh fruit with walnuts and a good slosh of sloe gin/vodka. So good, I could eat it from the jar. I took a jar for my niece on the previous weekend when I went to babysit and ended up staying for the weekend to make felt animals for the Christmas tree. (And Barbie outfits.) It wasn't all foxes but these are the first we made - aren't they cute? Love that my niece's 8 year old made one in ten minutes flat. Good girl. Chip off the old creative block.

Cake, coffee and creativity; just about sums up my weekend perfectly.

Last Thursday I had a surprise package.  I was grumbling slightly as I had to collect it from the sorting office on a busy day and had no idea what it was.  I soon had a smile on my face when I opened it as Green Books had sent me a copy of One Magic Square for review.  I'm hoping to get more children involved with the gardening next year and I think this book may have more than a few ideas to help with that as that's what they'll have to garden with - one magic raised bed each.

So, that's me for now. The next few posts will be book reviews and a bit of wreath making how-to, so let's have a quick look at the garden in December. We've had only one real ground frost, not even severe enough to see off my nasturtiums. So while there's only a few bits of veg in the garden (broccoli, spring onions, a bit of lettuce,  herbs), there's also a few splashes of colour and even, unbelievably, a few last raspberries in the first week of December from the Polka bushes. Amazing. And the rhubarb can't decide whether it's coming or going.

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