Sunday stroll – from the Country to the Sea

Sunday Stroll

Sundays were very different when I was a child, only local newsagents were open to sell morning papers and sweets. There was always a sense of quiet on a Sunday, with most families heading off for walks or picnics, the streets were quiet and even noisy gardening was curtailed on a Sunday.

Rumi quote and wheat field

Sundays aren’t really any different from the rest of the week now. Family outings head to busy shopping centres; you often hear noisy grass cutting or DIY tools, there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of peace and quiet; unless you manage to find some peaceful spot, like this one!

dog walking

These wheat fields are at the height of their beauty,  green wheat slowly yielding to golden husky brown while the breeze gently ripples the heads, slowly swaying, like the field is dancing. As we wandered the paths, where the hardened earth was deeply cracked by the warm dry summer, we caught the summery scent of hay and the slight sea saltiness on the breeze.

walking the dog

We followed the path between the tall wheat, eventually coming to a small woodland path between the fields. The coolness of the trees was welcome, but it was a little battle against nettles and brambles.  The wood was narrow, creating a gap between the large fields – barely wider than the path, leading towards the sea.

beach

Despite the heat of the day – this beach is virtually deserted! The sea was warm as we paddled for a while

the sense of peace was wonderful, as the waves gently lapped over my feet.

empty beach

We had the beach to ourselves – there wasn’t even a boat on the horizon!

wheat field

Eventually, we turned around and followed another path through more wheat fields

Baliffs court hotel

To a lovely spot nearby, the lovely Bailiffs Court Hotel,

It was built in 1927 from old medieval buildings it even has a secret underground tunnel.

Tea and Cake

After our walk we were ready for a lovely pot of Darjeeling and a selection of cakes.

If only all Sundays could be a as good as this!

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Glasgow Girl

Glasgow Girl!I headed up to Glasgow on Friday, leaving the blue sunny skies of Hampshire and landing at a cold, wet Glasgow! However the I found the Scotts’ hospitality warm and inviting! We were up to meet Mr D’s family, they were so welcoming it was easy to feel at home.

Glasgow has been given the title of City of Culture, and was host to the Commonwealth Games last year, as well as being the home of Mackintosh. There are some beautiful buildings, stunning red bricked Victorian tenements with beautiful 8 foot ceiling proportions. Turrets and large bay windows abound, like magical castles there is so much to delight the eye.

“The Hunterian Art Gallery houses one of the most important collections of the work of Scottish architect, designer and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his artist-wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933).‌” you can visit the site here.

The house was absolutely wonderful, it was extraordinary being able to walk round their home as if we were visiting! Although the home was a Victorian villa, Mackintosh made many alterations to the property re-defining the space entirely. It feels as if there is a Japanese influence, with black block back chairs and white. He added windows and adjusted the ceiling heights to create a light airy space. They used the house as a ‘shop front’ for their designs and often commissions were duplicated so that they had copies in their home. The dining room was soft green tones, with dark furniture, the walls had a dark stencilled design. The first floor was a lovely surprise, painted entirely white with white drapes and a few items of furniture painted black. The top floor was entirely white with beautiful roses decorating the bed, wardrobe and dressing table. When you consider most of the usual Victorian interiors were dark and cluttered, the Mackintosh style must have been revolutionary.

Willow Tea Rooms

I also enjoyed seeing Margaret MacDonald’s plaster frieze on the walls, she was influenced by Aubrey Beardsley (caution!) with the curves and lines, but I also noticed her focus on hands and feet with decoration detail creating the rest of the form. Considering she was painting pieces like this, you can’t help but surmise the influence she had on Klimt, especially the Beethoven Frieze her work pre-dates his by 10 years.

The Mackintosh couple had tremendous success, with commissions for the Glasgow School of Art and a Mrs Cranston’s Tea rooms. Thankfully the Willow Tearoom still survives, and I was thrilled to take my tea enjoying their beautiful lines. All these pictures are from the Tea rooms.

These were a wonderful invention, the temperance movement needed alternatives to public houses and tea rooms became very popular. They were designed for ladies who lunch, as well as a place to have business meetings.

Mackintosh Fireplace

There were newspapers and reading material available for customers, as well as billiard tables.

When you consider that most homes were cramped it must have been a wonderful escape.

I love the striking colours on this fireplace, stark, black and white with cool blue the red coming from the fire must have been a wonderful contrast.

The straight lines combine with curves and organic flower shapes. (here you can see the oval from the honesty flowers)

Entrance Doors

You can see the beautiful entrance doors – notice how the proportions are played with by altering the width of the windows on either side of the the handles.

The illusion elongates the glass and makes the doors appear taller.

Famous Rose

Here you can see the famous Rose design in the door panel detail.

This works beautifully with the linear organic honesty.

Fire place detail

This is one of the fireplaces, I love the use of the mirror and silver.

You can see the beautiful Stained Glass window here, as well as the lovely wet Glasgow weather!

Willow Tea Rooms
Willow Tea Rooms

The Glasgow Girls were also revolutionary, the Girls were taught the applied arts, at a time when many women were barred from Universities. Margaret and her sister Frances both attended learning from skilled craftsmen – they were both able to make every aspect of their objects including copper work and pewter. Margaret created pewter panels for some of the Mackintosh furniture. Charles Mackintosh was studying Architecture together with his friend James Nash, so the two friends married the two sisters.

I can definitely recommend a visit to Glasgow, although more balmy May might be better weather.

You can find out more about Mackintosh style here

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Icing on the cake

Our Belle’s activity last night was cup cake decorating and what fun we had! I am simply astounded by the many gadgets and gizmos that are available it feels like child’s play! 
It was lovely to have an excuse to bake cup cakes, I miss my children being young as we often baked cakes together. These came out quite well although their peaks might just have to be cut off. 

Oh my, this takes me back to my days of making birthday cakes for my children, I once made a lot of Pokemon creatures for my son’s tenth birthday. 
I was not sure about the colours that were available from the store so I chose smaller quantities and then mixed in my own colour. It was supposed to be vintage – so I chose pale green, pale blue and pink. It was such great fun and I had not even arrived at the meeting! 
I can also give you a little glimpse of my vintage china I picked up at a local sale this weekend. This is a little corner of a beautiful art Deco plate. 
I could not resist the beautiful design – it reminds me of the embroidery patterns that were abundant in the 1930’s – and I like to dream about having a cottage garden one day! 
I had such fun making the circle of little flowers – less is more is not a philosophy I ascribe to more of the ‘how can I fill the space with as much as possible’ 

The pink icing was used with a stencil rolling pin – I love the raised daisy design.  
The green and white Gerbera  was a mould I have had for a long time but I had not really played with it much. It is so effective – I like the combination of the white and green. 
The blue plate is a small cake plate my son gave me for mothers day years ago. 
The quilted design was from a press, it was amazingly easy! 
I had the little button makers – I cannot resist adding a sewing theme to my baking! 
The lady running the event had some gorgeous little cutters, these little hearts are tiny! 
The butterfly moulds were also easy to use, and I lightly dusted this one with edible glitter to highlight the delicate design. 
I found this sandwich plate in a vintage shop recently, it matches my rosebud tea set!
Someone’s birthday is coming up soon, just the perfect excuse for more fun.
Can’t let all that effort go to waste! 

Just for the frill of it

There are times when I get a little carried away, this little tea cosy is a prime example! It is simply frilling! I wanted to learn several fringing techniques as well as creating gathers, so I thought this little project was a way of playing with the stitches and having something to show for all that hooking! 

 These lovely little loops make a nice fringe – yet are very simple to do. 

There are two layers of frills at the top, made with different lengths of stitch, double crochet and treble crochet. The white edge is a scallop shell stitch.

The second frill is a treble crochet, it creates a fan like effect, edged with another colour it separates the stitches even further. 

A little drawstring bow gathers the frills around the pot lid – a ribbon of crochet is made with a simple chain – threaded through treble crochet loops. 

There really is a tea pot under there! 
I know that it is totally OTT but there are times when a little frivolity doesn’t do any one any harm! 
….
Pattern is available free of charge if you fancy a frill of your own! 
just pop a comment on the blog. 

London Weekend

My darling Mr D is a very talented man he knows exactly how to take a girl on an adventure! I saw a few pictures of the V&A a friend of mine had posted – which made me all dreamy – how lovely it would be to see the costume museum –   it had been closed when I went to the V&A last year. 
No sooner said than done, I was rattling off to the big smoke the following Friday – the clackity clack, closing the miles while I sunk back in my seat reading relishing the enforced relaxation – driving and traffic queues a distant memory. 
It is so romantic to meet your beloved at a train station – catching sight of him waiting at the gate my heart skipped a beat, I felt we were starring in our own 40’s film. He took my bags and led me out of the station and round the corner to a lovely pink pub called the Biosdale that has a reputation for a combination of extensive range of whiskies, cigars and live jazz. Luckily the cigars were being smoked up on the roof terrace –  the jazz band was lovely. We drunk champagne, eating cheese on toast with truffle mayonnaise enjoying the vibrant atmosphere as the mellifluous sax rose and fell. All around were celebrations of the Scottish traditions tartans and a lovely portrait of Robbie Burns. 
Mr D’s talent for spotting perfection continued our boutique hotel, the Thompson Belgraves was very warm and welcoming, the room was splendid and joy of joys a nice deep bath! The staff had just the right mix of friendliness and professionalism I particularly liked the way we were always warmly welcomed when we came back from our shopping jaunts. 
Saturday afternoon, Mr D surprised me with a lovely afternoon tea at Aspley’s restaurant in the Lanseborough hotel. I am a dovotee of of tea, crisp linen, bone china and cake! This hotel had a tea sommelier –  with a whole menu dedicated to many varieties of teas –  first blush assam is my favourite, and Mr D had a Ceylon with rose which came in silver tea pots and was poured for us! We had a very wide selection of savouries and sweets, I never thought I could be all ‘caked out’ reluctant to miss the taste of the raspberry mousse we just could not find room for we took them home in a lovely little box. 
We  headed for the Hakkasan in Soho late into the evening, their cocktails were delicious as was the food. I had not tried soft shell crab before – I really enjoyed it despite it having a resemblance to a large deep fried spider! Once again the buzzing atmosphere was splendid, the cosiness of our table was enhanced by the delightful screens -our hunger sated we headed to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club.
Oh how divine! the club had a nostalgic atmosphere, with pictures adorning the walls of famous names who had played there. The venue offered an intimacy with the band – low ceilings the stage – all around were such lovely little glowing lamps – if I could have changed one thing it would have been a small dance floor – but then I am more of a dancer than a musician. 
We spent a lovely few hours on Sunday enjoying the costume museum, there were some beautiful outfits and work from famous names.  What struck me most is that fashions seemed to be all about enhancing a woman’s feminine shape, either through cut, to accentuate the curve of her hips, to to drape in such a way as to highlight various aspects of her body. Victorians seemed to focus on the waists, while the Regency period highlighted the bust, with classical lines that hid the shape of the body below the bust line. When I reached the later examples, I saw the fifties dresses emphasising the waist but the sixties seemed to focus more on showing leg, which was completely new. Looking at the clothing after the eighties we appear to have lost any emphasis on enhancement  and the fashion seems to be an androgynous mix of jeans, tee-shirts that distort the body rather than flatter. I found myself agreeing with one of the quotations in the fashion book I read in the bookshop – ‘we seem to have forgotten how to dress’ 
What is fantastic about the current trend for vintage is that women can choose to express themselves through clothing – re-claiming any era of the last century and make it their own: be it the forties with their victory rolls and neat tailoring or the tight waisted big net petticoats of the fifties. Women are no longer slaves to fashion instead they have a choice to return to an age when women were dressed up, stockings, make up, hair do’s that make the most of their femininity. 
We walked along knightsbridge to Harrods for afternoon tea, the dining room was lovely and our table overlooked the street below. We ate macaroons and supped Darjeeling from the pretty duck egg china, watching the world rush by – bliss. 
It was a fantastic weekend – I came home inspired and a very happy girl – thank you Mr D you are a fantabulous man. 

Simply the best

It is all well and good trying new recipes but my success rate has taken a bit of a bashing recently, after all the festivities and rich food, what  I wanted at the weekend was a touch of simplicity, –  I thought I would go back to an old favourite of mine, Victoria Sponge. Named as I am sure you know, after Queen Victoria. 
This is a foolproof recipe – this cake is made from 6 eggs, simply weigh your eggs, add the same weight of sugar, self raising flour, and softened butter, (not straight from the fridge it won’t work!) a good teaspoon of vanilla essence and a teaspoon of baking powder ( for every three eggs – 6 eggs =2 teaspoons). Mix together to form a soft dropping consistency – using two lined round cake tins – place in a moderate oven for around 20 – 30 minutes. You will know it is cooked because it will shrink slightly around the rim, have a golden colour and will not leave any cake mixture on a cocktail stick that you can push through the centre to check. 
It is important to let the cake cool completely before icing. 
Victoria Sanwich relies on the combination of butter and vanilla, so I always use butter and not margarine, however Stork can be a good alternative for the cake, but I always recommend butter for icing. While I am a great fan of the cupcakes, I prefer my victoria sandwich with just a little Raspberry jam, but you can ice yours with buttercream if you wish. 
What I love about this recipe is that it works for me every time, there is nothing more disappointing than using good ingredients and spending time in the kitchen only to have a soggy or disastrous cake, but this really has stood the test of time even my daughter uses the recipe. 
I love to get out my china tea service and really push the boat out, I feel very Duchess of Bedford! (She invented the concept of Afternoon Tea so I am told!) China tea cups really do make the best cup of tea, not to mention a good full bellied pot! 

Uplifting … tea

Its that time of the year when it seems that the sunshine has long disappeared and the days are grey, it is so easy to get a little downhearted, especially when the dullness means lights need to be turned on early in the day. It is when I find it more important to search for simple pleasures and one of mine is tea. 
Firstly I love proper leaf first blush assam tea, you can get it from a wonderful tea importer in Portsmouth called All About Tea he even has a little email tea course you can follow with links on youtube all about how to make the best cup of tea. Assam has a strong earthy flavour, and a lovely golden colour often labelled English Breakfast tea. If you prefer something a little more gentle then Darjeeling is a lovely tea but don’t expect a dark colour its pale but packs a punch. 
Tea pots have a glory all of their own, generously pot bellied offering up all sorts of opportunities to keep warm with a knitted cosy. I prefer to use a metal strainer which gives the leaves freedom but makes it easy to lift out once the required strength is reached, so the second, or even the third cup of tea is just as good as the first and not stewed. 
One of my most favourite ways to have tea is from my little china cups, it feels decadent the tiny china cups are so delicate I love the little rosebuds and they are designed so that the tea is at the optimum temperature to enjoy almost straight away. 

I cannot help but grin when I serve the milk from this gorgeous cow creamer, the milk comes out of his mouth! It is a Burleigh design, I simply adore their take on blue and white china from the deep indigo of the calico range to the pale Victorian chintz.

Sitting enjoying my cup of tea, especially if it is with a friend or two, reminds me of the many years of practice I had when I was a child playing with my little tea sets. I don’t recall any child who likes to make their tea in a mug with a bag give me tea sets any day.

Now that is a very good way to cheer up a November day.

tea pot biscuits – domestic child’s play for grown ups

I saw this lovely teapot cookie cutter in TK Max the other week and I could not wait to try it out. It is made up of two pieces one is the teapot shape cutter and the other is a stamp you press out. There is nothing to beat the flavour of buttery biscuits hot from the oven and this recipe can be made ahead of time, stored in the freezer so that when friends drop round unexpectedly, they can be hot on the plate in under twenty minutes, definitely one of those domestic goddess moments with minimal effort. 
Pressing the stamps in the dough feels like child’s play and so much fun sheer domestic bliss! If you can’t get hold of your own teapot biscuit cutter, why not use a stamp from you craft collection, (you can use a surface sanitiser if you need to, but they will be in a hot oven to kill off any bugs!)  There are some wonderful Christmas stamps out that look beautiful stamped across a heart shaped biscuit. They would make lovely home made gifts that are sure to be appreciated. 
8 oz SR flour (If you use plain the shape might stay better) 
5 oz butter
4 oz golden caster sugar
I beaten egg (save some of the white) 
Egg white and sugar to glaze
Sift flour into the bowl and then rub in butter to make breadcrumbs
Add the sugar and mix, then add egg to make a dough
(if the dough is very soft put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to make it easier to handle) 
Roll out on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick
Press the stamps into the dough and then carefully cut round each shape, transfer to a buttered baking tray, wash with egg white and then sprinkle with extra fine/caster sugar.
(or if you wish to freeze place in a plastic tub with a layer of baking parchment to divide them and freeze. When needed can cook these from the frozen, just lay out in a tin)
Let the biscuits firm up in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes before placing in a moderate oven about gas mark 4, 180c or 350F until golden brown. 

Strawberry Shortcake Butterflies


A friend of mine gave me a butterfly cutter that came with a cake decorating magazine, I was having a tea party for friends and thought it would make a different version of the strawberry shortcakes. Mine were just a simple outline of a butterfly but you may be able to get the push button ones from a cake decorating shop that does the impression as well as the cut.

You will discover there are two types of shortcake recipes some versions create a softer mix which is added to a shortbread mould, but this recipe requires a mix that can be rolled out.

Many recipes will allow you to use either butter or margarine, but for shortbread it really does have to be butter, it is not only traditional but gives shortbread its taste, using margarine will give you a bland tasting shortbread. I know butter is very expensive compared with stork, but if you are going to the trouble to make something why scrimp on the ingredients?

200g / 8 oz of soft butter (leave at room temperature for a while it makes beating easier)
100g / 4 oz Caster sugar
250g / 10oz Plain flour
50g / 2 oz Semolina

To decorate: Whipped cream, strawberries and a little strawberry jam.
If you are using fresh cream you need to keep them in the fridge until ready to serve, or you could use buttercream.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, you will see the mixture gets paler the more you beat. When it drops off the beaters easily it is about right

Using a fork, gradually mix in the semolina and flour until the mixture finally comes together, try not to handle it too much or you will lose the air from the mixture.

Press together to form a large ball and then place on a floured surface.

Flour your rolling pin and roll out until it is about 1/2cm thick.

Starting at the edge of the dough, cut the butterfly shapes out carefully – press into the mixture and then use a fish slice underneath to transfer to a greased baking tray, then remove the cutter. It helps to maintain the shape of the butterflies.

Make in pairs cutting the second butterfly along the middle to divide the top wings, move the wings slightly apart from each other so that they will cook separately.

Using a cocktail stick or a butter knife, make indentations to the wings like a butterfly.

Keep cutting the butterflies in pairs until all the mixture has been used up.

Bake in a moderate oven, 160c / 325F or GM 3 for around 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Do not touch the biscuits until they have cooled a little as they will be very soft and fragile. After 20 minutes or so gently ease them off the baking tray and put them on a cooling rack, until they have cooled down completely. (essential as the cream will run if the biscuits are hot).

Take one of the flat butterfly biscuits and place two teaspoons of cream and half a strawberry on each side, and cover with a small spoonful of jam.

Add another small spoonful of cream in the centre, and then press the inside edge of the wing into the centre cream and allow to gently rest on the strawberry. Repeat for the other side.

Continue until you have created all your butterflies.

You can dust with a little icing sugar if you wish, or some edible glitter, and serve.