Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Mince Pies, Music, and Endless Queues

As I approached the village hall I could hear the sound of music.   No, not Julie Andrews & Christopher Plummer.   The sound of a keyboard.   It was as lovely as it was unexpected.    I was half an hour early for our meeting, planning to get in to warm the place up before the others arrived, but someone was there before me.

The music, plus the car parked outside, gave the identity away - Carol Ferrari -  the friend who had offered to play her keyboard so that we could have a Christmas carol sing-a-long.   

I made my way into the hall, to be met with a blast of arctic air, it was much colder inside than out.    Carol hadn't known how to switch the heaters on,  but they would hardly have made an impact on the cold, anyway. 

She had been in very early, setting up her keyboard,  pulling a few tables together, finding some green tablecloths and placing some very attractive foliage arrangements (made to grace a dinner party, which she hosted two days earlier)  plus tealights, to make the place look jolly.     Each place had ten sheets of typed-out carols, a beautiful seasonal napkin and three golden coins of the chocolate variety.  It looked beautiful.   Thank you, Carol!

When we greeted one another you could see the breath hanging in the air, it really was that cold!  Luckily she was snuggled in an enormous and very warm quilted jacket which she had found hanging in the storage cupboard, so she wasn't about to slip into hypothermia just yet.

I zipped round and put the heaters on, though to be honest the tealights probably gave off more heat.

When the others arrived they opted to keep their coats on, then we settled for a quick chat and a catch-up, before we faced the inevitable.

We sang. 

Unfortunately, although we all sang the same words, we each had a  slightly different tune from those of the keyboard and the other singers, and all at different paces.    Half-way through we paused for sustenance, most delicious of all were the mince pies which the squire's wife had baked.   A couple of years ago, she won our Mince Pie Tasting Competition, they were worthy of the prize then, and this batch tasted sublime, too.

Then we got back to the singing.     Gareth Malone would have no chance of moulding us into anything fit to be heard.   So I will draw a line under that little episode.

This is a jigsaw puzzle which I found at the back of the store cupboard, I had to take almost a decade's worth of dust off it.     I have brought it home to work on, once we finish the one I showed you in a previous post.

Yesterday morning I had to post a few bits and pieces - there were 31 people in the queue ahead of me...   By the time I reached the head of the queue I knew my neighbours very well.  The woman in front of me had recently lost her beloved rescue dog, after 11 years of patience and love, but felt that she was now too old to take another one on.       The woman behind me was excited because her son was having Christmas Dinner with her this year, the first time for five years.

It is amazing what conversations happen when you are forced to queue, unless you prefer to stand isolated in a little bubble and discourage chattiness.

I had to walk the length of the queue to get back out of the shop, it was almost double the size of when I first joined it.      Post offices are few and far between around here!

Time has run away with me, again.   I need to go and check on the jacket potatoes and beans which I will serving to my grandchildren in about ten minutes' time, which means that I have no time left to proof read this, so apologies for typos.   

Fingers crossed that I remembered to switch the oven on!

Monday, 10 December 2018

Owl Wood and Village Life

This is Owl Wood and Parsonage Cottage viewed from the barley field.    It looks like a little village because of the number of sheds which seem to be an essential part of country life!  Log stores, tool shed, workshops, old chicken house, polytunnel, plus large compost bins and assorted log storage and cutting areas. 

I should say here, Owl Wood is not as large as it looks in this photograph, it is merely the portion on the left, the other trees are across the lane and belong to assorted farmers!   The barley field doesn't belong to us, either, it just feels that way because Farmer T calls it our lawn. 

Most of the leaves have fallen  and the majority seemed to find their way to the main patio, in drifts several feet deep, thanks to the wild and mischievous winds.  I love the trees throughout the seasons, the splendour of the foliage in spring, summer and the glories of autumn, but in winter I take pleasure in seeing the graceful elegance of their form.   

Owl Wood is always interesting, at this time of year there are lots of berries and fungi, a few crab apples still cling to the trees and the ground is strewn with lots of fallen branches and twigs.    There will be plenty of warming exercise in clearing that lot up, the payoff being that there will be lots of kindling to be dried and used throughout the winter.

I have spotted all manner of mushrooms, some nibbled one day, gone the next, nice to think that they made a good meal for a hungry animal.

I would love to know who ate this - squirrel, deer, rabbit?

Some fungi nestling among the undergrowth, others growing on the old trees stumps and dead wood.

One of these days I will take my camera with me, these are all snapped on my phone, though I should really call it a camera, because I hardly ever use it for calls.

At this time of year it is a real joy to see the texture of old tree trunks, green ivy leaves and red berries, they never fail to delight me.

The north side of the old hen house - the roof is covered with beautiful green moss.

I headed into Louth, to get my hair cut.      It isn't the easiest salon to find, you have to walk down a tiny dark alley, head towards the light and you come out into a small courtyard.

Earlier in the year the courtyard is filled with masses of beautiful blooms, even in November they still manage to keep it looking attractive.    This is only the second time I have been there, it is a bit more down market than the place I used to visit, it costs less, but the hair cuts so far have been very good.

My previous hairdresser worked in a much more upmarket salon, and had magical scissors.   On my last visit to her she was running on time, but ended up at least twenty minutes late, because the customer before me had just returned from a holiday in Disney World, which just happened to be where she had booked a holiday.

They spent most of my appointment time oggling photographs on the customer's phone.   I really needed to have my hair cut, so I bit down my impatience at their rudeness and her unprofessional behaviour.    I should have left.    Her head was still filled with Disney, she gave me the worst haircut. 

So far, so good at the new salon.

Can you tell that I am taking life at a slower pace?    I have the time to make a start on a lovely Christmas jigsaw puzzle - I bought it from a charity shop, so I hope it has all the pieces!   I also made a huge batch of Ginger biscuits to fill up the biscuit barrel, they keep really well and seem appropriately warming for this time of year.

No time for puzzles today, though.   I need to bake a cake this morning, once I have walked the dog and seen my grandchildren onto the school bus. 

It is the second Monday in the month, which means that our village hall will be a meeting place for some of the older people in the area.    A sing song has been planned - oh joy!   If I play my cards right, I could man the kettle and serve the cake, keep busy and avoid having to sing along.

There won't be a meeting in January, but in February we are having someone in to give us a lesson on marbling paper, which should be fun.   It will cost us about £5 each, but to be honest, I would pay that just to avoid having to sing.  😳😸

Saturday, 8 December 2018

A Nice Fresh Cabbage or a Bestseller? Christmas 1917

I wish I had found this illustration in time for my previous post!

One hundred and one years ago times were hard, food was scarce, bread and flour were in particularly short supply and people were being reminded that every scrap of food brought into the country came at the risk of many men's lives and must be valued accordingly.

The December 1917 issue of Home Cookery came up with lots of helpful advice and recipes.  It was all given in the form of cosy chats with friends and family.

"Something good to eat" is a form of practical Christmas present which is always appreciated.   Try the following suggestions for dainties which will give real pleasure to your friends.

We have such a lot of relations and friends, you see, and we've always been in the habit of exchanging Christmas gifts.  When times weren't so hard as they are now it was less difficult to decide, but, as it is, the problem has been acute.

"Let's stop asking what we can give and ask what they want. What do you suppose Aunt Nellie would welcome more than anything else this Christmas?"

"Sugar" said mother, thinking of Aunt Nellie's growing girls and boys, and the difficulty she met in trying to get sweet things for them.

"I'll tell you what we can get," interrupted Mary eagerly.  Cake!"  Why not send one of those topping cakes of yours that take next to no sugar?  It would be such a boon to Aunt Nellie to have that item taken off her Christmas preparations."

"Yes, it would," agreed mother, "and I could put in a jar of apricot jam.  That's the next best thing to sugar."

"We could send grandma some chicken jelly." put in Elsie.  "Yours is so much nicer than the bought kind, and I'm sure she'd enjoy it more than bought knick knacks."

That started the ball rolling - what bachelor girl in lonely 'digs' wouldn't welcome a tiny home-made pudding or a pat of country butter?    Many a town-dweller would be more grateful for a nice fresh cabbage or a few carrots and turnips than for the very newest best-seller.  The mother of a big family would regard a good substantial cake as a veritable fairy godmother offering.

We may smile at the way this is written, or giggle at the thought of being given a cabbage for Christmas, but after reading of all the shortages and struggles during the 14-18 war, I can also see just how these gifts could have brought happiness to both the recipient and the giver.   

At this point I am so tempted to launch into a comparison with Christmas 2018-style, but I won't.   Did I just hear a big sigh of relief?

Chicken Jelly

A good present for an invalid or old person.

Skin and cut in pieces an old fowl (You may take the toughest old rooster you like for this purpose.)  Break the bones and put them in a covered earthenware jar with a few peppercorns, a good pinch of salt, and the rind of a lemon.

Cover closely and simmer for seven hours, adding more water from time to time, as required.  Strain off the liquor and cool.  Decorate a mould with slices of hard-boiled egg, pour the jelly into it and allow it to set.

The chicken that is left will do quite nicely for mince.   Of course all the best nourishment will be gone from it into the jelly, but you make up by adding gravy or stock.  

A Dainty Little Cake

This will please a person who is fond of delicate fare.

1 egg and
Its weight in margarine, flour and ground rice
1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of strong coffee/coffee essence
1 teaspoonful of baking powder

Cream the margarine and sugar, beat in the egg and afterwards the flour, rice and baking powder.  Melt the honey in the coffee.

Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ones, making a fairly stiff dough.

Bake in a tin lined with greased paper in a fairly hot oven.

War Christmas Cake

(Far nicer than the old-fashioned Christmas cakes.)

Half a pound of barley flour
Quarter pound of regulation flour
Quarter pound of chopped dates
Quarter pound of stoned raisins
Quarter pound of currants
Six ounces of margarine
The rind of 3 lemons, grated
The rind of 2 oranges, grated
2oz of brown sugar
1 teaspoonful of ginger
One breakfast cup of sour milk
One dessertspoonful of baking powder

Put the fruit into a saucepan of cold water and just bring it to the boil.  Drain well, and dry on a plate in the oven for a few minutes.

Melt the margarine in the milk.  Sift the baking powder, spice and sugar into the flour.

Mix all the materials together, and beat them with a wooden spoon for five minutes.   Put the mixture into a tin lined with greased paper, and bake in a brisk oven till it is risen and slightly browned.

Then move it to a cooler place and continue baking till a skewer, when put into the thickest part of the cake, comes away clean.

This makes a splendid cake; just the thing to give as a present to a family of boys and girls.

The final article in the magazine:

My Dear Readers,

For three Christmases now we have made our preparations thoughtfully and economically.  And now this fourth Christmas since since war began, we are asked to be still more careful.    We are not asked to go short of things, but to remember that all foodstuffs are precious and that in wasting even a crust, or an odd left-over of pudding, we are throwing away something for which human life has been risked.   Furthermore, to bring more food for another meal that scrap might have helped to go further men are again risking their lives......

In this number you will find practical advice on choosing and cooking and making the most of  Christmas good things, for the home circle, the children, Tommy in camp or abroad, the invalid - for everybody, in fact.

The magazine is printed on flimsy, poor quality,  war-time paper.   Plain, simple, absolutely packed with economical recipes, hints, tips and exhortations to use every bit of food.    It is a very dull and worthy offering compared to those high gloss magazines of today, which are filled with wonderful photographs of dishes prepared with more ingredients than they could have dreamed of, back in 1917, and yet it is so much more interesting.  Times of need v times of plenty.  So much to read between the lines.

There is much more that I wanted to say, but time has run away with me and, anyway, this is a blog, an amusement, not a lecture hall!

Enjoy your weekend.

(NB to any of my children who may read this  -  I may be old, but I do not want a pot of chicken jelly, nor do I want knick-knacks.  Thank you. xxx)

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Brand New Bathtub Baby

Just had news that Grandson No 4 has finally arrived - he my have been overdue, but he made a very sudden entry to the world.   I won't go into details, but the title gives it away.

Another little Londoner.   Still no name, they want to get to know him a little.  All I know is that he weighs in at 8lb 10oz and has dark hair.

I still have some comments to answer, from my previous post.   I will be responding, just a little distracted tonight - texts and photographs are whizzing around from various members of the family and I don't want to miss out on any of them.

Monday, 3 December 2018

"I'll Saw Your Wooden Leg Off"

Most evenings see me more than content to stay at home in the warm, but last night I braved the darkness and went out to the cinema.      Not just any cinema, a very special one called 'The Kinema in the Woods' at Woodhall Spa, which is about half an hour away from Parsonage Cottage.

The Kinema was originally a concert pavilion which overlooked the tennis courts, croquet lawns, gardens and bandstand in hotel and Spa grounds.     In 1922 it was converted to a cinema,  moving pictures being all the rage at that time. 

One quirky little touch was that the posh seats - the first six rows - were deck chairs  and very much in demand at their price of 1/6d, other seats ranged from 1/3d to 6d!   In 1953 the seating was updated and changed.

There are two screens, last night's film 'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' was shown in the smaller auditorium, which seats about 90 people.     The walls have some very interesting murals of countryside scenes, while the wall lights look like clusters of enormous ice cream cones, great fun and no doubt quite old.

The seating is comfortable, plenty of leg and arm room. 

My big gripe - and this applies to cinemas large and small - is that people these days seem to think that they are going to starve if they don't eat constantly, while slurping down enormous cartons of fizzy drinks and coffees.   

Before the film began the auditorium was filled with the sound of people chomping and munching on gigantic tubs of candyfloss, popcorn and/or enormous bags of sweets.   Chomp, chomp, chomp.   

This was my grandchildren walking ahead of me as we made our way back into the woodland car park.  Dark and mysterious, but well illuminated along the pathways.   They loved the adventure.

It is a charming little cinema in a fabulous setting, not too far from home.   Will definitely be visiting again, as soon as there is something I want to watch.

Other than that, I have been very domesticated, trying to make up for all those weeks when I neglected the house and indulged in craft work.    The pantry - which is as large as a small single bedroom, has had a thorough cleaning and everything has been organised, it looks wonderful at the moment, but it won't take long for those mischievous pixies to start messing it up again.

Today I began work on scrubbing out the Boot Room, which should really be called the Mud Room.  It is the room where Wellington boots, coats and hats reside, so do the white goods.      Dog towels hang on the radiator, they are constantly in use, every walk is a trek through mud, but that can't be helped.     I hose down my Wellingtons, before I come in, but the dog can't be hosed.    Instead i towel him dry, clean his paws as best I can, then time and the warm fireside do the rest.

The cake and biscuit tins have been filled again, the grandchildren are happy.

Tomorrow I should tackle the mountain of ironing, but I also need to do the supermarket shopping, after which I have arranged to have coffee and a chat with a friend, so perhaps the ironing can wait until Wednesday.  One thing for sure, it won't run away.

Talking of which, I was cleaning the bedroom the other day and noticed some fresh wood dust around one leg of a very old tallboy...I investigated, and yes, woodworm.   Little beggars.

The tall boy is now residing in the polytunnel, upside down,  having had some woodworm treatment applied.  I have scanned all around the room and other pieces of furniture, but it seems that only the tallboy was affected, thank goodness.

I'm wondering whether woodworm could have come in with some of the logs which we occasionally burn on the open fire in that room.

I am thankful that I noticed it, it could have been so much worse.

Looking at the tallboy, I couldn't help thinking about a phrase which my father sometimes used to warn us that we were getting a bit unruly.

"Behave yourself or I'll saw your wooden leg off." 

Friday, 30 November 2018

Hat, or No Hat?


I have quite a few of the things.   Woolly ones, straw ones, big ones and small ones, felt ones and faux fur ones.     Many of them hang in a row on the pegs in the Boot Room.   I look at them, occasionally try one on, then put it back on the rack.   Occasionally I put one into my coat pocket, just in case and if the weather is really cold I will even put one on my head before I go out to walk the dog.

However, unless it is freezing cold, or absolutely tipping down with rain, sleet, or snow, I whip the hat off at the earliest possible moment.         Nothing wrong with the hats, they look neat and presentable, but I dislike having my head cocooned in warmth.

The joy of being able to snatch my hat off, then feel the wind blowing my hair around (slight exaggeration, my hair is fairly short) almost makes it worth the trouble of putting the hat on in the first place.

How about you?   Are you a hat wearer?

This photograph has absolutely nothing to do with hats.   It is one of my favourite walks though, always done on a day when wearing a hat is not necessary.