Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas wanderings

Suddenly its almost the end of the year, and the sixth day of Christmas.  December seems to have passed by in a complete whir.  This blog posting is a pictorial representation of the last couple of weeks...

Walking when the weather has briefly been dry
Visiting National Trust houses
Baking and cooking

Making time for contemplation

Christmas entertaining at home
Visiting family and other animals
Relaxing at home with tea and mince pies

So here's hoping you are all having a merry little Christmas and will have a wonderful new year.  See you in 2013....

Monday, 17 December 2012

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum...

It is always a special day when we go to choose the Christmas tree and decorate it.  We are especially pleased with the tree this year, its over seven feet tall, and a lovely shape.  It amazes me every year how many people say they don't want a real tree because of the mess.  To me, the whole point of a Christmas tree is that it is bringing greenery inside the house - a very old tradition itself.  Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a real tree!  We will make sure we do as TS Elliot says and be "taking pleasure in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree."


Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance.  It may weave a spell of nostalgia.  Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.  ~Augusta E. Rundel

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Days of frost and candlelight

Now that it is December and we've had some quite deep frosts it feels like autumn has gone and winter has arrived.  I've been ill for the last couple of weeks so my intention to start tidying the garden hasn't quite started yet.  And now its almost Christmas and the garden appears increasingly forlorn.  However even in the cold, beauty is found in the frost and ice

In all the rush and busy chaos of the run up to Christmas, its even more important to spend time in nature, watching the seasons change.  At Hazel Cottage, the hazel tree is now almost bare.  The bare branches make it far easier to see the teeming bird life that bounces around the bird table.  The blue tits and great tits are frequent visitors in little gangs and we've seen a wren and dunnock recently too.  If we are still and quiet, they ignore us and carry on with their feeding.  The fearless robins appear regardless of what we do, although I imagine they are disappointed when we just walk through the garden and don't dig over the soil for them.  And the minute we walk back into the house, the blackbirds appear, the pigeons flutter in and the squirrel steals peanuts from the feeder again.  I love the idea that even when we aren't there, the garden is still teeming with life.

Our advent candle

by Robert Louis Stevenson   

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,  
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;  
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,  
A blood-red orange, sets again.  
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;  
And shivering in my nakedness,  
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.  
Close by the jolly fire I sit  
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore  
The colder countries round the door.  
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap  
Me in my comforter and cap;  
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.  
Black are my steps on silver sod;  
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;  
And tree and house, and hill and lake,  
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Darkling Thrush

The Darkling Thrush

by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate 
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires. 

The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Cheese making at Martinmas

As part of my interest in all things home made I had another first this weekend, and made my own mozzarella cheese.  Cheesemaking is one of those things I had long assumed was beyond my talents as an enthusiastic amateur cook.  However soft cheese appears to be one of those things that is relatively simple to do and just takes practice and experience to turn an okay cheese into something rather lovely.  All I needed was unhomogenised full cream milk, rennet, lemon juice and salt.  I'm pretty sure that with practice my mozzarella will be a far better texture - it was an odd sensation kneeding cheese I must say, and I'm not sure I kneeded it enough.
Milk - the first stage is just heating to 32 degrees.

The curds are cut and the whey is released and drains away

Mozzarella cheese just going into the fridge
Having said that, I managed to make something that had the texture of mozzarella cheese, so I was rather chuffed.  I hope to work my way through my little cheese book and see how I get on.  If I manage anything special I will post on the blog.

Sunday was not only Remembrance Day, it was also St Martin's Day.  St Martin of Tours was a 4th century Bishop who was hugely venerated in medieval Europe.  His day was celebrated with the eating of goose and the slaughtering of the pigs.  It was seen as the last day of celebration before winter, the last chance to eat unsalted or preserved meat, and the penitential season of Advent.   An old English saying is "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," meaning "he will get his comeuppance" or "everyone must die".

We celebrated by cooking a large piece of pork - part of half a pig we bought down in Devon earlier in the year.  Then we went into the garden whilst we still had some daylight and began the winter tidy up.  In my head as we were cutting back and digging over, I couldn't help but think of those Medieval books of hours, showing the months and seasons.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Remember, remember, remember, remember...

November is the season for remembering.  In the church year, 1st November is All Saints, a day to celebrate and remember all christian saints over the ages.  Then 2nd November is All Souls, the day to remember loved ones who have died.  On the 11th November, it is Remembrance Day, when those who lost their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent wars are commemorated.

Then of course yesterday the 5th of November we were told to

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

For those who aren't aware, Bonfire Night commemorates the events of 5th of November 1605 when Guy Fawkes' plot to blow up the King and Houses of Parliament was discovered, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King's escape from assassination each year afterwards by lighting bonfires in the city.  Each year on 5th November, bonfires are lit and fireworks are set off across England.  Until relatively recently, children used to make a 'Guy' out of old clothes and newspaper and ask for 'penny for the Guy' before the Guy was taken to the nearest bonfire and burned. 

Its one of those rather strange English customs where the original meaning was somewhat dark and grisly and it has now become a celebration with sparklers.  Very few people now will think about a dark time in English history where the burning of catholics was seen as acceptable.

A bonfire is far more our kind of thing than fireworks.  Fireworks are brash, showy and expensive and possibly more use at a celebration such as new year.  You can stare into a bonfire and think and muse and remember....

Monday, 29 October 2012

Larder love

We have always looked with longing at those old fashioned walk in larders you see in old houses (usually on the television).  Our house is quite old, possibly 150 years old, but it didn't have a larder.  Being the types who love preserving and home made food, we were starting to overwhelm our boring modern kitchen cupboards.  Then we had an idea of converting what was a dead wall space in a small room off the kitchen that housed the washing machine.  The space is always slightly cool and dark, and is away from the steamy confines of the kitchen.  So after a lot of sanding and painting, and making of shelves by Mr C, we finally started filling the shelves at the weekend and voila, we have a very old fashioned looking larder taking shape!

So together with the store cupboard items, our home made preserves, and our lovely 1930s glass light shade, we added some of our cornishware, and yesterday I added the Christmas pudding I've just made onto the top shelf.  Bliss!

Friday, 12 October 2012

The trees are starting to glow

Autumn is starting properly now, the leaves on the trees are starting to turn all kinds of colours and dropping to the ground with the conkers and acorns.  On a beautiful autumn day like today the leaves look like they are glowing against the blue sky.

I don't think any photographs can do this time of year justice, let alone my quick snaps but I can't stop taking pictures when the light is this beautiful.  Autumn feels like nature's last hurrah, a burst of brilliance and beauty before the majority of trees and plants die down for winter.

I love walking through the leaves in Autumn, and am often the only person in the park picking up the conkers as the children walk past wondering what on earth I am doing.

I have a small collection of conkers on my desk at work - they remind me of things that make me very happy, being on a walk on an autumn day in the fresh air, being in our garden and listening to the birds chattering in the trees.

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson

Sunday, 7 October 2012

All is safely gathered in...

This weekend was our Harvest Festival, the church was beautifully festooned with flowers, tins and packets of food.  We decided to contribute by bringing some of our own harvest - vegetables, flowers and home made jam - as a more traditional display:

Harvest is from the Old English word hærfest, meaning "autumn" and traditionally celebrates the successful gathering in of all the crops from the farms.  People would celebrate with a meal called a harvest supper with feasting and dancing.   The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall.  We did both of these, with a harvest hop on the Saturday (with much terrible dancing) and the festival on the sunday.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Happy Michaelmas!

Just a quick post to wish everyone a happy Michaelmas day and to show some photos of the garden on this beautiful autumn day.

Japanese Anemone

If you look closely, there are lots of spiders!
Michaelmas daisies gracing our dining table

Thursday, 27 September 2012

As memories fade of a summer that only occasionally was...

As memories fade of a summer that only occasionally was...our thoughts turn to preserving and pickling everything in sight!  After the second lot of chutney was made, we mulled 1.5kg of pears and made 5 jars of blackberry and apple jam.  We still have lots of apples and blackberries which is good as I don't think this jam will last very long.  The recipe is quite simple, but adds a little cinnamon and nutmeg, which is just lovely, so I wanted to share it:-

Blackberry and Apple Jam

  • 1kg of blackberries
  • 750g green apples (cooking, about 6 peeled & cored)
  • 1.5kg caster sugar
  • 125ml water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • Equipment
  • biggest saucepan you've got (30cm across)
  • 10-12 jars
Preparation method

It is as healthy to enjoy sentiment as to enjoy jam.
G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Full circle - Hazel Cottage one year on...

Today marks a year since we first posted on our blog.  I can't believe its been a year since we started sharing our experiments with growing vegetables and taming the garden, making nice homemade things and buying old bits and pieces.  This time last year I posted all about our adventures with hazels, courgettes and damson jam.  We had a glut of courgettes and apples last autumn, and a wonderful bag full of damsons from someone at work which I made into jam.

This year we've less hazelnuts, our courgettes did nothing and the person who donated the damsons has not been forthcoming.  Luckily we've been given courgettes and apples from family and friends, and so the chutney season has begun, with one batch made a couple of weeks ago and more being made this coming weekend.  We also experimented and after collecting half a kilo of hawthorn berries last weekend, we made Saucy Haw Ketchup (a River Cottage recipe).  I will report back on what it tastes like!

Haw berries
We've picked lots of blackberries and been given some as well, which are waiting for me to make into jam or jelly.  I'm looking at recipes and hoping to make it soon.

These aren't the ones we picked!
During our recent holiday we went to Cotehele House in Cornwall, they had wonderful orchards we were a little jealous of...

Now we are back from a week away, we are planning for the Autumn and Winter - what preserves to make, when to make the Christmas pudding, and what to plant for the year ahead.  I hope to have some time during the dark winter nights to start some craft projects, including starting a hexy patchwork quilt.

The seasons roll on and are constantly changing but the beginning of Autumn is a special time to me.  Just reading the wonderful posting about September that Sophie made on Fading Grace and the posting Maria made on Rosy Tinted Spectacles about kicking leaves made me excited about the Autumn to come!

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

George Eliot

Friday, 24 August 2012

A certain kind of light

Driving through Dorset early evening

I don't know whether its artistic sensibility or something learned or just luck, but I've always been quite good at working out whether a photograph will work out or not.  Sometimes its being able to frame something so the general composition works but other times it is just sheer luck and taking chances and hoping it works.  The last time we were down in Devon for a few days I took some chances when the weather was actually good enough to go outside...

I was rather obsessed by the sky not having rain clouds in it!
I loved the light in the late afternoon

Now we are in late August and the sun shines in the late afternoon there is a certain kind of warm glow.  It is the kind of light that makes me want to take endless photographs and try to capture that fleeting moment in time.  Mr C has been managing to capture some wonderful photographs of the myriad spiders and moths at Hazel Cottage in the last few weeks.  All of them finding their way into the kitchen before being set free.

Red-belted clearwing moth, or apple clearwing
Brimstone Moth
Silver-ground carpet moth

In the vegetable garden, the garlic and shallots have been dug up, the beans and tomatoes seem to be doing something finally, and the carrots and beetroot are still growing.  We've eaten one of the cauliflowers and hopefully have two more to harvest. 

The great pickling season has already begun with some garlic being pickled and a jar of chinese pickled vegetables being made.  We are collecting blackberries at the moment and hope to make some bramble jam soon. For my birthday I was given some equipment to start my new project of soft cheese making.  I will report back when I make a start....

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The missing dead tree

When we moved into Hazel Cottage one of the things we loved so much about the garden was the number of trees in neighbouring gardens; apple trees, pear trees, hawthorns, seedlings from our hazel tree, a very tall fir tree, and amongst it all, stark leafless dead tree.

Part of the thicket in winter with the dead tree
This little thicket provides a lovely home to the birds we love so much - robins, sparrows, magpies, crows, goldfinches, pigeons and doves, blackbirds, great and blue tits and the seasonal visitors that some and go.  We would often be in the house listening to the birds outside, wandering into the garden only to find large numbers of magpies and crows congregating in the dead tree.  There was a mass meeting once where we counted almost twenty corvids chattering and arguing and flapping about in the dead tree.  The sound was deafening!

Without warning, suddenly this week the dead tree has gone.  Even though all the rest of the trees are there, and the birds still make a racket around us, we felt inexplicably sad at its loss. 

To A Dead Tree by John Clare

Old tree thou art wither'd--I pass'd thee last year,
And the blackbird snug hid in thy branches did sing,
Thy shadow stretch'd dark o'er the grass sprouting near,
And thou wert as green as thy mates of the spring.
How alter'd since then! not a leaf hast thou got,
Thy honours brown round thee that clothed the tree;
The clown passeth by thee and heedeth thee not,
But thou'rt a warm source of reflection for me.

I think, while I view thee and rest on the stile,
Life's bloom is as frail as the leaves thou hast shed;
Like thee I may boast of my honours awhile,
But new springs may blossom, and mine may be fled:
Fond friends may bend o'er the rais'd turf where I'm laid,
And warm recollection the past may look o'er,
And say by my life, as I say by thy shade,
"Last spring he was living, but now he's no more."

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Call the fire brigade!

Just a short blog entry today, but I just had to share a picture of this wonderful little van we saw on our way into work the other day.  Its a Morris fire brigade van and we were both rather impressed!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Finding the rainbow amongst the rain

It would be so easy to make this blog into a moan about the constant incessant rain we've had this summer.  I didn't know at first whether it is particularly awful or whether its just because we now grow vegetables and try to live seasonally that we notice every change.  I now know this summer is somewhat freakish, although it has been interesting trying to live closer to the soil, so to speak.

Some of the crops we grew easily last year, like beetroot and courgettes, have been somewhat of a washout and have suffered from a major influx of slugs and snails.  Seeds have germinated for other crops, but then they just don't grow particularly large as they need warmth and sunshine to produce at their best.  Our little apple tree which produced three apples in its first year has only produced one apple this year - it has been widely reported that apple and pear crops are significantly down on the average this year.  It all feels lacklustre and as if the vegetables were waiting for a summer that will never come.

Due to the awful weather we have spent a lot more time than usual in the house and sorting through boxes of things.  I've even put aside a cupboard for my sewing things.

Our study is now painted in french turquoise, resplendent with floor to ceiling bookshelves and waiting for us to find a lovely wing arm chair and small desk.

We have also fitted our new front door, with a beautiful one made by my brother and fitted by him and my brother in law.

When we venture into the garden in moments of rare sunshine or dryness, we watch sparrows dance across the lawn, dipping onto the long grass occasionally and making a racket.  It is so lovely to see them again in bigger numbers, I remember seeing them all the time when I was a child but numbers had dropped massively over the years.  In the garden at Hazel Cottage this year we often get four or five of them at a time, chirping and sitting on the fence.

Amongst all the rain, it really does make you appreciate when the sun shines or when you see a rainbow...

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

I mentioned in my last post that we had seven different roses in our garden.  We inherited them all when we moved in - the previous owners had obviously loved them. I have to admit to having had a problematic attiude to roses until recently.  Most of the year they look like dry sticks and don't provide any greenery, and only look good for a few weeks in May and June.  I've always loved the roses themselves, but they seemed hard work with their aphids and deadheading and need for pruning.  I wasn't about to dig them up, but they seemed more work than anything else.

This year has been different though.  I've fed the roses early in spring, I've bought organic aphid spray  to keep them in check and I've deadheaded more often.  And this year they have rewarded me with the most wondrous smelling, beautiful blooms.  As an impatient gardener, I am learning a lesson here - some plants need a little more care, a bit more effort and planning in order to produce at their best.  I also seem to have fallen in love with roses a little.  So I hope you will forgive my indulgence and enjoy these photographs of all seven rose bushes in Hazel Cottage garden:

God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.
James M. Barrie

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses, a box where sweets compacted lie.
George Herbert

They are not long, the days of wine and roses.
Ernest Dowson

Monday, 25 June 2012

Summer and the strange owl

It truly felt like summer this morning as I gazed out into our garden, wishing I didn't have to go to work.

I yearned to wander around deadheading roses and yanking out miles of the dreaded bindweed.  I've been really pleased with how the garden is coming on, in spite of the odd weather patterns this year.  This area was mostly barren last year - its a man made raised bed/rockery which was built rather badly and is mostly just brick rubble and poor soil in places  I've planted a couple of geraniums and thymes, and let the golden marjoram take over a little and it is starting to look lovely. 

Our fruit harvest is small, only two apples on the tree we planted last year.  Seeing as we had three apples last year, it should be a little better, although Mr C tells me this is the pattern everywhere, apples and pears have really suffered.  We have started to pick raspberries and strawberries though, although we will have to be far sharper with protecting the redcurrants from the birds next year.  We have only harvested 4 currants, although there were double that amount last week!

I thought I would share a picture of my random purchase that I made at the weekend at our local summer fete.  I'm rather taken with my strange little owl, though have no clue where it will live.  For now he lives on the dining room table next to the flowers....

A clock we found in a charity shop that will hopefully live in our study.  And some of the beautiful roses from one of seven rose bushes that bedeck the back garden.