Saturday, 24 December 2016

A Merry Christmas

Even though I haven't posted very much lately, life continues to be busy here at Hazel Cottage.  Since my last posting, I've made the Christmas pudding, a Christmas cake, visited the wonderful Buckland Abbey in Devon with their Tudor Christmas display

 I was quite impressed with these old fashioned style mince pies, in the shape of the crib and wondered whether I could create one with gluten free pastry!

We've walked through the parks on a misty morning in December

Hosted a Scandinavian Christmas meal with friends, with homemade Cucumber pickle, Janssons temptation, gravadlax, kale, pomegranate and hazelnut salad.

We've put up the Christmas tree of course. 

And finally we are at Christmas Eve, and it is dark outside.  This is one of my favourite parts of Christmas.  Everything seems hushed and I've even finished the mince pies.  I'm very pleased that my old fashioned mince pie hasn't fallen apart!

We would like to wish everyone who still keeps the faith with our little blog a very merry Christmas.  I do hope to post more often in the year ahead.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Glowing embers

The leaves are many glorious colours and crunchy underfoot, the air is crisp and filled with smoke and mornings are misty and damp.  Autumn is here!  I often think that autumn has a deep sense of nostalgia to it, we seem to be remembering, marking times and seasons and thinking about the past.  Perhaps it is a deep human need to make sense of the increasing darkness by thinking of ways to create light and warmth and to remember.  November especially has a special feel of its own which is often lost when people rush towards the light and glitter of Christmas.  We are quite a way off from Christmas, we are still getting used to the darkness and colder weather.  There is much more we can do to create light at this time of year.


Today is 5th November, which marks Bonfire Night here in the UK.  All around us fireworks are being set off, but here in Hazel Cottage we're having a bonfire, which is far more traditional.  Standing in the cold night air, watching a wood fire, whilst the fireworks went off, and where we could see the stars in the night sky, is rather special.  I love watching the sparks flying and the glowing embers sparkle. 

'If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I'll bet they'd live a lot differently'.  
Calvin and Hobbes

When I'm looking at a fire, it feels as if I'm connected to the past, for hundreds of years people have sat around fires, laughed, commemorated, remembered and even put life into perspective a little. Kindling some light in the darkness perhaps.

A new life begins for us with every second.
Let us go forward joyously to meet it
We must press on, whether we will or not,
and we shall walk better with
our eyes before us
than with them ever cast behind.
Jerome K Jerome

Sunday, 18 September 2016

For the love of cream and green

One of the questions we asked ourselves the other day was 'how much Woods Beryl Ware is too much?'.  We've been sorting through our cupboards even though it isn't spring and discovered that we do have quite a lot.  Most of this was purchased in charity shops for very little money and is a classic design which a lot of people owned in this country for a long time, hence why is found quite often.

After Mr C packed it away in various places, I noticed how much older kitchenware is based on the theme of cream and green.  It is such a lovely combination and along with classics like the blue and white Cornish ware, make up much of our kitchen.

There is something rather calming about these colours to me.  They speak of home.

We have collected a few different designs, these are T&G Green Streamline and Kleenware pots.
We are very proud of the dresser in our dining room.  Almost all of the pieces were bought for very little money in charity shops, at car boot sales and on eBay.  The dresser itself was an online purchase, painted by Mr C when we moved into Hazel Cottage.
A recent addition to our dresser is a plain white plate I bought at a charity shop, which I painted in a rough approximation of Bloomsbury design.  I'm quite proud of it, it isn't precise or exact, but the colours were ones that went very well with our other crockery and it was the first time I have used porcelain paints.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Small things of life

“The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”  

I began this blog thinking I was going to recommend or review a specific book that I'd loved whilst reading on holiday recently.  I'd loved reading it so much and thought everyone of good taste should think the same.  However yesterday I started reading another book by the same author and loved it just as much, so now this article is less a book review and more a love letter to the wonderful Barbara Pym. 

Barbara Pym is a novelist whose works on the surface seem to be about the musings of spinsters and their church jumble sale lives.  A world of gossip and curates and taking tea, where the vicar is often unmarried and looked after by his vague sister and there is a disagreement about the church flowers.  In lesser hands, this world would be disparaged and these seemingly unimportant lives mocked.  However with Barbara Pym, the main characters are wry and sensible and very English in their self conscious modesty.  Pym's writing is sensitive, amusing and actually rather emotionally subtle.  There is no startling drama, but the small things of life were seen as equally valid.

“After all, life was like that for most of us – the small unpleasantnesses rather than the great tragedies; the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction.”

Many of her characters are spinsters or people feeling as if they observe real life from the outside.  People who have longings, unfortunate marriages or deep disappointments but don't give in on life and hide away, they still help at the jumble sale, meet friends for tea at a Lyons corner house and make copious pots of tea.  There is something timeless about the way she describes the inner monologue of someone who yearns for more in life.  Even in the funniest passages, this world is acutely observed and tenderly described.

“It seemed so much safer and more comfortable to live in the lives of other people - to observe their joys and sorrows with detachment as if one were watching a film or a play.”  

As someone who has spent a lot of time reading and watching films from the mid 20th century, another joy about Pym's earlier novels are the wonderfully evocative descriptions of life in the 1940s and 1950s.  Bells tolling for evensong in Oxford, honey toast lying unfinished in the fire grate, listening to the rain fall and the Salvation Army band play hymns on a dark winter Sunday evening.  These experiences may be set in the past, but are common experiences that remind us of our own lives, a very gently English form of nostalgia.

“I love Evensong. There's something sad and essentially English about it.”  

Friday, 27 May 2016

A Bloomsbury adventure

Both of us are keen on 20th century writing, art and culture.  Most of the art we love and a good proportion of the books we read are pre 1950.  In reading about the culture of the times, you do notice a number of connections between people; none more so than the so called Bloomsbury set.  Recently we've both been reading a lot about them and I've been struggling through Mrs Dalloway very slowly.  Last week however we had a little Bloomsbury adventure and had a week away to Kent and East Sussex to follow in their footsteps.  I thought I'd share some pictures of our adventure

Knole, Kent.  The seat of the Sackville family and where Vita Sackville West grew up
Sissinghurst, Kent.  The garden created by Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson


Monks House, Rodmell, East Sussex.  The home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf
Painting of Virginia Woolf by her sister Vanessa Bell

Virginia Woolf's bedroom
Virginia Woolf's writing room
St Michael and All Angels, Berwick, Mural by Duncan Grant

Berwick murals
Charleston Farmhouse near Firle, the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

At Charleston

At Charleston

Saturday, 9 April 2016

A magical alchemy

This post is really a boast, although not about me.  Mr C is a clever kind of person who can turn his hand to anything.  He was already a very practical person and an excellent cook when I met him.  However he has learned so many new things since we moved here to Hazel Cottage, he has made cheese, sloe gin and at least three different types of wine (parsnip, sloe and cherry plum).  

His main creations however are breads.   I just wanted to share some photos of the marvellous things he has made.
Cottage loaf

Hot Cross Buns


Rye Bread

And to go with all that bread, here is the cheese he made last year.  It was very tasty, especially washed down with the parsnip wine he made the year before!

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
M.F.K. Fisher

Sunday, 3 April 2016

O soul of the spring-time

After what feels like months waiting for spring to appear, not only has it begun, but each day the sun is brighter and the buds on the trees and bushes are growing by the second.  The birds are singing loudly and even the odd day of cold and rain, the march of spring continues on!
A sunny day in the garden
Luckily even though it is early April, some afternoons still need a fire to be lit and a blanket to keep cosy under.
I even had time to do some sewing, although I don't quite know what I will do with it yet, it may end up on the patchwork quilt.  For some reason the lovely dark green looks brown in this photo.

Here are some of the buds in the garden, I will take some pictures when the bluebells are out properly as well.  I love this time of year!

Revive with the warmth and the brightness again,
And in blooming of flower and budding of tree
The symbols and types of our destiny see;
The life of the spring-time, the life of the whole,
And, as sun to the sleeping earth, love to the soul!        
John Greenleaf Whittier

Monday, 7 March 2016

The sun is brilliant in the sky

"The sun is brilliant in the sky but its warmth does not reach my face.
The breeze stirs the trees but leaves my hair unmoved.
The cooling rain will feed the grass but will not slake my thirst.
It is all inches away but further from me than my dreams."
-  M. Romeo LaFlamme, The First of March

I was going to call this post 'Four Seasons in one day' as last Friday was a typical changeable March day.  The morning started bright and sunny and breezy with an intensely clear and blue sky.  Then the snow started, which turned into hail, then sleet.  Then the sun appeared, then the rain started.  The problem with calling my post that is that I only have pictures of how beautiful and sunny and clear it was first thing!  

March was always seen as the new year rather than January and you can see why.  Even though the weather is still cold, the days are longer and the sun is brighter and warmer.  The daffodils are coming out, and the smallest of buds are appearing on the bushes and trees.

Early flowering shrubs like Forsythia are starting to bloom and the catkins are forming on the hazel trees.

The birds are starting to make a lot more noise too.  The blackbirds who fed companionably together on the lawn all winter are now competing for food and space.  The woodpigeons always squabbled and argued with each other of course!

We haven't reached spring of course, but winter is starting to come to an end.  By the end of March we will have a number of flowers in the garden and everything slowly starts to green.

The cherry plum is already flowering.  I hope we get more fruit this year.

The beautiful hellebore glowing in the sunshine.  There isn't much else flowering yet in our garden.

"March is a month of considerable frustration -
it is so near spring and yet across a great deal of the country
the weather is still so violent and changeable
that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away."
-  Thalassa Cruso 

Friday, 12 February 2016

Space to spread my mind out in

Hazel Cottage isn't a large house by any stretch of the imagination.  However we do have a spare room where a couple of years ago we added a plain sturdy table in front of the window so I can have a space to create.  My sewing machine sits there and my paint brushes and pencils share pot space with sewing scissors and pinking shears.  Nearby are paints and a basket filled with bits of material for future project.  Sat on the desk too is Hopeful Bear, an old bear I bought a few years back from Fading Grace.

I love the fact that I have somewhere to paint, sew and write.  Somewhere Virginia Woolf called 'Space to spread my mind out in'.  Any projects I'm in the middle of can sit on the table and are safe until I come back. 

Sometimes I just like sitting at my table and look out the window which overlooks the back garden and watch the birds in the trees.  Even when I don't have time to do anything creative, I like to come and stand in the room and I just feel calmer. 

'I feel so intensely the delights of shutting oneself up
in a little world of one's own,
with pictures and music and everything beautiful'
Virginia Woolf

Monday, 8 February 2016

Muffins and hearts

Some weekends are just 'making' weekends.  Mr C was out on Saturday morning and I had a quiet morning listening to Radio 4 and making banana and chocolate chip muffins.  There is something so wonderful and British and precious about Radio 4.     You could be listening to a play or learning about culture or a very silly comedy.

As I made the muffins  I listened to the Reverend Richard Coles and friends on Saturday Live.  It almost felt as if it could be any time in the last 50 years or so!

Our mixing bowl is an old Mason Cash one we had found in a charity shop a few years back.

The muffins were quite nice in the end, I wasn't sure the banana I used was mushy enough though. 

On Sunday we cooked a wonderful recipe of stuffed lambs hearts.  It was a bit fiddly as you have to make the stuffing (onions, sausage meat, mushrooms, parsley garlic), then a sauce made with tinned tomatoes, red wine, flour and butter, then stuff the hearts, wrap them in bacon and tie them up with string, then cook for about two hours.  It was worth it though, they were lovely! 

Offal never looks pretty, but it makes up for this with the wonderful flavour.  I do find that these days a lot of people are very squeamish about using heart, liver or kidney, many people are even flummoxed by any meat on the bone that isn't vacuum packed and bloodless!  I do think they are missing out though.