Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The End of the Old Year

Weather lore:
"If on New Year's Eve the wind blows south
It betokens warmth and growth
If west, much milk and fish in the sea
If North, much cold and storms will be
If East the trees will bear much fruit
If North-East flee (from) it man and brute"

No wind today in Owl Wood, so we can't tell what is to come.

"Dry January, plenty of wine
A wet January, a wet Spring"

Apparently this one dates from medieval times, when there were many more vineyards in England.

"A warm January, a cold May"

We shall see.

1 January - Weather Lore

"Morning red, foul weather and great need"

"The first three days of January rule the coming three months"

Time will tell.

I can't deny that I will be happy to wave farewell to this year.       I don't want to begin a pity party, the saga is not mine to share, so I won't go into details; it is enough to say that it has not been a good year. 

I don't stay up to celebrate, I did plenty of that when I was young, these days it is just another night - early to bed, early to rise.   The animals make sure of the early to rise bit.

If you do stay up then I hope you have a great time as you see the old year out and usher the new one in and I hope that the New Year is a good one for you, and those you hold dear. 

Thank you for taking the time to read, for all your comments, the blog friendships.   All truly appreciated!

Wishing you all "Health, Wealth, and Happiness throughout the New Year".

For anyone who plans to party hard:   "Hang a piece of ivy over the bed tonight, so that the first thing you see upon waking, is green.   Green ivy is symbolic of everlasting life and will guard against drunkeness."  

Good luck!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Gasping and Terrified

I caught sight of an orange blur streaking up the side of our property, at first I thought it was Millie the cat, then I realised that it was rather larger, and that it had a truly magnificent bushy tail. 

A beautiful fox, gasping, panting, terrified.

It paused at the corner, gasping for breath, s/he looked straight into my eyes.   Five to six seconds later the poor creature took off again, taking a diagonal line across the field, heading for the old school playing fields, and safety, I hope.

Foxy was not just out for a jog, he had been chased, hard.     I could hear dogs in the distance, but I didn't see the hunt at all, thank goodness.      They are not supposed to kill foxes these days, but of course they do.

The last time I saw the hunt around our village was quite a number of years ago.  A spectacular sight, but my sympathies are always with the foxes.

This post isn't about the rights and wrongs of hunting, it is about that incredible moment when you lock eyes with a wild creature and there is that breathtaking moment of connection.

Have you enjoyed such a moment?

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Love in the China Cupboard

An old photograph of the kitchen table

I suppose I should have written this post before Christmas, still, better late than never. 

The two 1970's dressers which are in the photograph hold lots of china, so does the pantry which is through the door between them.      I often think that I should send the lot to charity, enjoy the empty space, the uncluttered shelves.

However, Christmas is the time of year when I am glad that I haven't given into that particular temptation.    Cooking a celebratory meal for the family is enjoyable-ish, but dressing the table is enormous fun, especially when I start looking in those china cupboards, for they are filled with lovely  memories of people I loved, meals we shared, the celebrations and gatherings.

I always dress the table with a vast piece of sumptuous dark red and old gold curtain fabric - a bargain find in 'Boyes',  many years ago.     I've tried a plain white cloth, but that looks too starchy and formal for my hotchpotch collection of china and bits and pieces...pieces which link my life as a child with my life as a mother and grandma, along with everything between.

Throw on some brass candlesticks, a few pieces of silver, my late mother's dark red and gold china - bought by her, sixty years ago, when we lived in Hong Kong), plus quirky, individual pieces which make me smile, special glassware, whip up a dollop of magic, then serve the delicious (naturally!!) food to the fabulous family and away we go!

How about you - do you go for immaculate presentation, everything perfectly aligned and matched, or are you a messy and sentimental person?   As ever, no right, no wrong. 

Oh, no photograph of the finished table, because I was far too busy to even think about using a camera, instead there is this photo - fairy lights right around the perimeter of the kitchen and homemade 'snowflakes' hung from the kitchen beam, there are fresh holly sprigs on many of the paintings and lots of holly and greenery on the mantelpiece at the other end of the room.   No tree, with a very waggily-tailed Toby, plus two cats who like to shimmy up trees...

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Christmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope your Christmas Day has been a good one.

Mine started early, as usual.  The two cats and Toby are used to an early start and if I sleep in beyond 5.15am they seem to think I need a morning call...thanks guys.

By 8am two of our grandchildren had come across the garden, full of tales of what Father Christmas had brought for them, and checking around to see whether he had managed to squeeze down our chimney, too.     We had a wonderful, crazy, hour or so with them.

Most unusually, the morning service was being held in the small church of the neighbouring village.  My daughter, grandson and I decided to walk through the fields to church.   As we cut through the farm and along the track to the church, the bells started to ring, so we picked up our pace and arrived with a few minutes to spare. 

The sun had been shining, the ground was squelchy, but not as muddy as it has been.   It almost felt as though there was some sort of slippage of time and we could have been villagers from hundreds of years ago, following the track and scurrying to the sound of the bells...apart from the fact that we had high tech Wellington Boots on, of course!

The vicar has a very young son of his own, so he kept the service short and sweet.   Plenty of carols, lustily sung, lots of greetings were exchanged with friends and strangers, mince pies and cups of coffee handed round.   The church was bedecked with freshly cut holly and lots of candles, there was a beautiful and very old wooden crib set on one windowsill.   The whole church felt warm and welcoming, despite the fact that we all had dragons breath coming out of our mouths, due to the cold!

Son No 2 and MingMing arrived shortly after we got home.   The grandchildren and their parents went back to their house - we always leave the rest of the day clear for them to spend time with their other grandparents, it seems only fair as we are lucky enough to see them every day.

Then I got stuck into some serious cooking.    I may not eat meat, but I make a supreme effort for Christmas, an enormous turkey and a giant ham, that should keep them all quiet for a while!   The animals were quite chuffed, too.

Crackers, silly jokes, enough to eat and drink without being silly.   We listened to the Queen's Speech, natch, then we settled down to play "Double Nines" Dominoes, which is the same as regular dominoes, except that you have more tiles of course.   It makes it a bit more challenging.   What began as one gentle game ended up becoming highly competitive.    I shall say no more.   Good game.

So that was our day. 

I hope your day has been a good one, however you spent it.

Belated Christmas Greetings to one and all!

ps No time to proof read this, so here it is, warts and all. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Habit, Confusion & Old Books

On a couple of occasions just recently I have found myself going to search a document for a particular word or phrase by using Ctrl+f, only to realise that I am not on the computer but reading through an old book...   

About an hour and a half ago the power went off, we were plunged into darkness, apart from a small string of battery operated fairly lights and the log burner.     I discovered that my habit of walking through the house in the darkness of the night stood me in good stead, I was able to make my way through to the Boot Room and the pantry to gather up the battery lamp, candles, etc.   

A quick scout around outside showed me that the rest of the village was also without electricity.    The power company assured me that they were aware of the power cut and engineers were on the way.   So we settled down to watch the flames flickering, listened to some old 50's/60's music and enjoyed the experience.   

The longest night made extra dark, for a while.   It makes you realise how much we depend upon electricity, how much of a habit it has become for the hand to reach for a light switch, or to flick the kettle on.

Baking day tomorrow so I hope we don't have any more outages.   

Friday, 20 December 2019

A Few Days before Christmas

...and the rain is still falling. 

Christmas preparations are slowly progressing.   Slowly because there is no rush and I am enjoying myself.    No rush, no pressure. 

The simple pleasures of the kitchen and home, an escape from the wider world.

These illustrations were done by a Lincolnshire artist, Colin Carr.   They all appeared in 50/60 year old copies of Lincolnshire Life.     They may be too sentimental, nostalgic, or sugary sweet for your taste, but his work has brought much pleasure to people for many decades and still sell well as Christmas cards.

I have continued my experiments with frumenty, fermenty, furmitty, etc.   There are no photographs though because no matter how the recipes and ingredients may vary, the finished dishes all pretty much end up looking the same.    However, the experiment has been a success.   Healthy and nutritious food which has slotted so easily into the way I like to eat and, as a side benefit, I am happy to say that I have lost 3lbs in weight.

The basic dish can be enriched in many ways, and even made to resemble the flavour of Christmas Pudding, not surprising as that is where the traditional pudding is thought to have evolved from.  Of course Cromwell and his Puritans would most certainly not have approved of such decadence, especially over Christmas.   They believed that this period should be spent in fasting and prayer and if any house was suspected of having any such delicacies hidden about the place, they were searched.

This led to rebellion, plum pudding riots, year after year.    Woe betide the man who gets between and Englishman and his plum pudding.

I digress.   I have made:
Poorman's Frumetty - a very simple dish of creed wheat, milk and honey.   It was delicious.

Creamy Frumetty - all of the above, but with the addition of sultanas, nutmeg and brandy. I had to omit the brandy, for fear of migraines, but it was still very good.

Plum Pudding - pearl barley, raisins, currants, nutmeg, sugar, butter/suet.    This one filled the kitchen with the aroma of Christmas Pudding.  Deliciously decadent and very moreish.

Barley Pudding - pearl barley milk, sugar or honey, butter.  Simple, but excellent.

Groat Pudding - traditionally eaten by the poor as a Christmas pudding up to the late 1800's.  Groats/pin head oats, sugar, raisins, milk, water.   Another really delicious dish.

There are dozens of recipes still to try, mere tweaks on the basic dish, but I shall give them a go.  The richest of the dishes is one I have decided to leave until Christmas Eve - for I know how to have a good time.   It is noted as being the equal of any modern day Christmas pudding:

Rich Frumetty - wheat, mixed dried fruit, brown sugar or honey, 1 egg, milk and butter, with a glug of brandy to your taste.   

Ooops!  I hit publish, when I meant to 'save'.  Oh well, I haven't got time to write more, so this must do for today.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Call My Bluff

On Thursday we had some torrential rainfall, but I hadn't realised quite how heavy, until yesterday morning, when I walked past the old watermill.   Duck Island has disappeared and the stream has swollen to become a river, the water trying to squeeze under the bridge where I took the photograph from.

It didn't prevent me from walking Toby.  We managed to fit in our usual walk of a little over three miles, although it was heavy going in some parts, but that was balanced by the joy of walking along riverbanks and through open farmland. 

I wouldn't swap any of it for pavement walks, that is for sure.

Because we live just across the garden from two of our grandchildren, our home is something of a sanctuary to them, it also works as a place for their mother to let off steam - as she did this morning.

Storm in a teacup, of course.   I think most parents have been there - the house was a tip, children's toys all over the place, husband's sports gear just dumped in the kitchen, school books scattered around (he is a teacher, too), etc.       One grandchild wailing because she doesn't like mummy any more, grandson muttering under his breath as he half-heartedly sorted his things, husband looking thunderous because he wanted to be outdoors.

I couldn't resist, I went over and did my best Mary Poppins impression.   We looked for the fun and the job was soon done.   

Easy for me, but how it brought back the memories of when I was a working mother with three children, husband working away, and everything fell on to my shoulders.   Molehills became mountains and I often felt as though I was trying to swim through treacle.

When I returned home I decided to do a little cupboard sorting - talk about easily influenced.

I came across a huge brown envelope.

It was filled with pieces of card which had been cut from cereal/tissue boxes.    I recognised the handwriting immediately.    The cogs went round and I was whizzed back over thirty years.

Remember Call My Bluff?  The panel game, where contestants are split into teams and have to decide which definition of an obscure word is correct?     My father used to love that game.    Back then we used to have big family gatherings over Christmas and he must have spent days, if not weeks, making this for us all to play.

Can you imagine anyone these days spending so much time on a thing?   Much more likely to check out Amazon.      I love that this bundle of card is so imbued with his energy and hard work - he died almost twenty years ago, but this made him feel very near.

Well that's our Christmas entertainment sorted out then. 
Thanks Dad.xxx

Monday, 9 December 2019

What's On in the Village Hall Today

We had a little carol singing party in the village hall today.    It was not well supported; just the usual tiny group of strangers who have become friends over the last few years.   

We had the lovely Carol on the keyboard, belting out tunes in a very high key, and at double speed while the rest of us tried to sing along. 

We were even worse than last year, and that was embarrassingly bad.

There were mince pies, festive bakes, chocolates, crisps and lots of naughty treats, along with tea and coffee.    We sang, very badly, played games, chatted, laughed, had fun.

The singing was terrible.   Really and truly.   It was worse than bad.    I recorded the group singing a couple of songs (discreetly) on my phone.   I had intended to post a clip on here.

It is so dreadful that I know it would go viral.

Still, it was a fun little gathering and it was nice to see the village hall being used.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Frumetty, Frummenty, Frumettie, Firmetty & Furmenty

Every year I try to eat slightly more frugally throughout the first few weeks of December, and by that I mean consume slightly less food than normal.     It works for me, although I do know that other people think "what the heck..." and decide to eat what like through December and make January the time for a fresh start, and that works, too.   

I prefer to regard the Christmas feasting, as a reward for being 'good'(ish!).

Why am I telling you this?   To set my food experiment into context.    I knew that I wanted to try cooking some of the many variations on Lincolnshire foods - and goodness knows that there are lots to choose from:

Lincolnshire Cheeses  (Stamford and Gainsborough used to hold Cheese Fairs)
Lincolnshire Plum Bread - Yeasted and Non-Yeasted
Lincolnshire Rich Plum Bread & also Plum Puddings
Lincolnshire Ginger Bread
Lincolnshire Curd Cheese Cakes and Cream Cheese
Lincolnshire Stuffed Chine
Lincolnshire Sausages
Lincolnshire Hazelets/Haslets/Haselets
Lincoln Monkey
and let us not forget the mighty
Lincolnshire Pork Pie.

Henry VIII may have had a low regard for Lincolnshire, which I believe he once described as 'the most brute and beastly of the whole realm', or words to that effect.   But what did he know of this glorious county and our local dishes.

Of course I wanted something to fit in with my sensible eating, but also something I could have a bit of fun with.    Plum bread, Gingerbread and Lincoln monkey would have been fun, but very calorific.   I settled on Frumetty, Frumenty, Frumettie, Firmetty, Fermety, Furmenty, Furmety - or however you wish to spell it, I have come across all of these, and more.

The basic dish remains the same though.   It has been eaten since man cultivated grains.   Some make it with wheat, others with barley, while some recipes call for groats or pin head oats.    There are poorman's versions, rich ones, creamy ones and special festive recipes (which I will make nearer to Christmas). 

It was once sold by stall holders at country fairs and the basic recipe remains very much like the pottage which the Roman soldiers made over their camp fires.   In the Lincolnshire Wolds it was traditionally eaten at sheepshearing time, at harvest time, and was also a traditional Christmas Eve dish.

It is, in essence, a kind of porridge.   Now porridge is something which I do eat almost every day.   So with a little bit of planning I can try out the many variations on a theme which my old recipes books have to offer - and I can eat them without any sense that I am over indulging before the official feasting begins.


The first problem I hit was that I didn't have any whole wheat grains in the pantry.   Never mind, I did have barley, so I made Barley Pudding instead.    It was so delicious that my husband pinched most of it, and he had been pretty scathing about my experiment to begin with!

Barley Pudding

2 tbsp pearl barley plus water to cree*
1 pint milk
Honey or Sugar if you want sweetness
A knob of butter if you want to make it slightly richer (I didn't)

Cree the barley in water until soft - approx 2 hours - you can drain off any surplus water to make barley water, if liked.    Put the barley into a saucepan, or your slow-cooker, with sugar, butter, milk and cook very gently for about an hour.   

To *Cree:  Cook the wheat/barley in water in a slow oven for several hours or overnight - I used my slow cooker on a low setting - until it more or less forms a jelly.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Winter Reading...

The weather has been cold, crisp, frosty and very beautiful.   A nice change from never-ending rain and flooded fields.

I should have taken advantage of the fine weather to get outside and rake the leaves from the lawns, or to continue cutting back some of the shrubbery.    Instead I have taken extra-long walks with Toby, visiting some of the places which were inaccessible due to the poor drainage of the clay soil around here.

We have walked miles through the fields, skirted ancient woodland, and I have pondered about the countless feet which have walked these pathways since the days of yore - the people, their daily lives, clothing, footwear. 

I get lost in my thoughts but, luckily, one part of my brain keeps a look out for wildlife and things of interest.

On one occasion I saw an enormous flights of geese making their raucous way to somewhere else, a common enough sight around here, but what made this particular group special was that they had a flock of much smaller birds flying with them, inside the 'V' formation.  A sight I have never seen before.  They looked sparrow-sized, but could have been a little larger.   I wondered whether they were 'hitching a lift' taking advantage of the aerodynamics provided by the motion of the much bigger birds.

Home again, home again.  Rub-a-dub-dub-dub/paddy-paws/paddy paws.    Good boy Toby.  Sit!  Have a biscuit...
Good boy.
All gone.
Off you go!

Time for a cup of tea and a quick read.

None of that Marie Kwondo (or whatever she calls herself)  nonsense around here. 

The old piano stool makes a handy table/repository for my current books/research material.    I should work at my desk, down the other end of the house, but Toby and the cats are not allowed down there and they hate being left alone when I am in the house.

Duty calls, I need to get on with housework and also with writing a few more Christmas cards, but all that can wait for half an hour.

Old recipe books and books about the history of food await.

In many ways I would rather dig and delve into the books than cook.   However, I cannot deny that I like trying out new (to me) recipes from these old volumes.       At the moment I am particularly interested in old Lincolnshire food, though one would really need to be a meat-eater to do full justice to all the local dishes, many of them require pork, for country folk depended on the pig to keep them fed. 

Luckily I have found a very traditional dish which has so many variations and traditions associated with it that it will keep me happily occupied until Christmas.   No meat required.   Thank goodness.

More in a day or two.

Feel free to ignore my ramblings, I know it won't be of interest to many, but the blog will help me to keep a note of my various attempts.

Enjoy the week. 
Keep warm, be safe, be happy.