I confess there has been little cooking, perhaps just a fraction more writing, but very much sitting, because as well as my appointment for a ‘virtual’ visit to the second day of Royal Ascot this afternoon, I was first in Westminster this morning, again ‘virtually’, to attend the State Opening of Parliament. 

However, because of the snap General Election that Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May called for the 8th June (in which she had expected to have a huge majority but then didn’t have a huge majority), the State Opening of Parliament was postponed for a week, and then it was a pared down affair, so that the Queen didn’t appear in her ceremonial robes nor travel in a coach drawn by horses, but in a blue ensemble and driving to the Palace of Westminster in a Bentley. 

Indeed, I don’t think it matters one jot that she didn’t appear in robes of velvet and ermine, or wear the Imperial State crown, because the crown was there; it is the symbol of monarchy whether the Queen (or King) of the day wears it or not.

And so, the Imperial State crown arrived at the Palace of Westminster …

and was carefully carried in and placed close to where the sovereign would sit on the throne in the House of Lords in order to read the Queen’s Speech which outlines what the government of the day proposes to do. 

The Queen hasn’t written the speech, it is written by the government of the day; she simply reads it.  I mention these things for those who are not familiar with how our government ‘works’ in the United Kingdom.

As well as the crown, two other important items are carried in and placed close to where the Queen will sit – the Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance. 

These items are part of the Royal Regalia and both are carried before the monarch at the State Opening of Parliament.  

And as the Queen would not be wearing her ceremonial robes today (indeed, it is more than 40 years since she last didn’t wear her robes for this ceremony) that meant she would not be wearing the Imperial State crown, and this was carried into the chamber of the House of Lords where she would give her Speech.

The Peers were all ready and waiting for the Queen’s arrival.  Unfortunately she was not accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh as he’d been taken unwell last night and was in hospital being treated for an infection.

As soon as the Queen was ready, the trumpeters sounded her arrival.

The Yeoman of the Guard looks a little perturbed – but then so might you be, as close as this to a State Trumpeter!

The Queen was accompanied by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, but before proceedings could begin, Black Rod (another office of State) summoned the members of the House of Commons to the House of Peers, in order to hear the Queen’s Speech. 

It is tradition for the door to the House of Commons to be slammed in the face of Black Rod who then knocks with his rod on the door three times before he is permitted entry, and then summons the members to join the Queen in the House of Peers.

Once the Members of Parliament have arrived the Queen reads her Speech. Here, below, are Members of the House of Commons. In the front wearing all the gold braid is the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.  PM Theresa May is just behind Mr Speaker.  They line up, piling as many in as can get into an already packed House of Lords to hear the Speech. 

Having been presented with the Speech, the Queen begins to read it …

And after that, the Queen departs and returns to Buckingham Palace.  

 Today, I think she will have gone swiftly to Windsor Castle for a quick change of outfit and then off to Royal Ascot. She certainly looks less solemn (below) when at the races!

Here she is seen in her carriage, chatting to the Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen now in an ensemble of what we were informed was “buttercup yellow.” 

Again, a blisteringly hot day, temperatures even higher than yesterday, reaching 34C – I wouldn’t want to have been wearing a morning suit with top hat on a day like today. Indeed, permission was given to the gentlemen that they could remove their jackets because of the heat. Not that I saw any who did.

Some people had fans, both electric and traditional …

 

Everywhere looked immaculate, you’d not have thought there had been thousands of people there yesterday, or that six races had been run. The course had been watered overnight but the going was good to firm, nonetheless.  But first, the traditional drive down the course, the playing of the National Anthem, and the crowds cheering.

Considering her husband had been admitted to hospital  last night, and she’d been at the State Opening of Parliament this morning, and then perhaps having hosted lunch for her guests who were in the other carriages, the Queen looked in remarkable form, and wearing such a beautiful dress, coat and hat. 

And if anyone thought that because she always carries a black bag that it was always the same black bag, I noticed that today’s bag was different from yesterdays …

Today’s bag with two handles (above)

Yesterday’s bag with one handle (below)

Between watching the State Opening of Parliament and ‘attending’ Royal Ascot, I made lunch for ourselves and younger son, who was again working at elder son’s house.  I quickly cleared up the lunch things, loaded the dishwasher, and then decamped to the summerhouse, first with a cup of Earl Grey tea (photo at the beginning of the post), then with a glass of orange barley water topped up with mineral water and a couple of slices of lemon …

and later when husband joined me, a cup of tea with some ginger cake …

After which the heat became too much even in the summerhouse and I decamped to the study, opened the patio doors and switched on the electric fan and buckled down to some writing work.  I actually managed to finish a piece and file copy. 

I hope your day has been as enjoyable.

Until next time.

6 comments

 

“Come on, Dover, move your bloomin’ arse!”
This wonderfully expressive expletive is uttered by Eliza Doolittle (aka Audrey Hepburn) in My Fair Lady. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Professor Higgins is putting his little ‘experiment’ to the test: to pass off a Cockney flower-girl Eliza as a member of society. Dressed superbly for the occasion, Eliza is being introduced to the great and the good on Royal Ascot’s opening day. All is going well until she forgets herself and, in an attempt to encourage her chosen horse to victory, shocks those around her with her use of colourful language.

Royal Ascot is one of the most prestigious events in the racing calendar, with a wealth of history behind it.  Horse racing in Britain dates back to Roman times, when soldiers organized tournaments on horseback but the first officially recorded horse race took place during the reign of Henry II during a horse fair in a suburb of London in 1174. At Chester, in 1512, it is reported that the first trophy was presented to the winner, not a gold or silver cup as might be awarded today, but a small wooden ball decorated with flowers.

Royal Ascot on a blisteringly hot day, the course looking magnificent

Anyone who has seen Her Majesty the Queen’s arrival for Royal Ascot, when she is ceremoniously drawn down the course in her carriage by a team of four Windsor Greys and the royal standard is raised, must thank Queen Anne who, in 1711, while out riding near Windsor Castle, considered it was ideal for “horses to gallop at full stretch.” The origins of the Royal Meeting, which takes place in June each year, are unclear, but the event evolved from the first four-day meeting in 1768.

And so today I virtually went to Royal Ascot, from the comfort of our summerhouse.  I had elderflower cordial to hand, plus a peach and raspberries with a little cream, and a lovely rose-scented hydrating spray, which is lovely to use in this very hot weather.

To continue with a little more history …

While the Derby was the most coveted prize, Royal Ascot was the most exclusive meeting. If female, one wore one’s very best dress or had one specially created in silk taffeta perhaps trimmed with antique lace, velvet ribbons, and crystal embroidery. If male, a black or grey silk top hat was de rigeur. “This gilded existence,” says one source when I was researching Royal Ascot, “continued until 1910 when Ascot happened to fall a few weeks after King Edward VII’s death. The race cards that year were black-edged, the blinds of the royal box were drawn, and everyone in the Royal enclosure wore full mourning.” It was Black Ascot, as it became known, which inspired Cecil Beaton to create the monochromatic scene I have mentioned in My Fair Lady.

Royal Ascot is still the place to see the most wonderful fashions

I love to see the drive down the course with the Queen and Prince Philip in the first carriage, followed by other members of the royal family and friends.  It is a unique sight in racing.  As the procession reaches the grandstand, the band strikes up the royal salute (the national anthem.)

The royal party then makes its way through a tunnel under the grandstand to the royal enclosure and from their to their private box overlooking the course.

And once the royal party are safely ensconced, the racing can begin. For racing is what Royal Ascot is about. Yes, it’s about royalty.  Yes, it’s about fashion.  But first and foremost it is about racing and the very best thoroughbreds can be seen here.

The Queen looking elegant in a brilliant green outfit with printed dress underneath 

The stalls

Thundering down the course

I watched all six races and tomorrow I will be going again for more racing from the comfort of the summerhouse.

Care to join me?

Until next time.

PS  With apologies for the quality of the photographs, again taken from the television.

16 comments

In our normally temperate climate I never thought that I would be putting an electric fan – an electric fan, indeed! –  as the leading photo on a blog post, but here is the most useful piece of electrical equipment we have in our house today!  We haven’t used this fan for several years, but it came out today, and is busy cooling our sitting room as we speak.  Thank you to whoever designed the first electric fan, what a brilliant idea it was!

* * * * *

Another scorchingly hot day and we’ve been reliably informed that parts of the UK were officially hotter today than Rome, Barcelona and even Athens, at 30C.  And it’s set to be even hotter tomorrow.  Thank goodness we don’t have to go to work, or have any appointments, so we can stay at home and do our best to keep cool.  We Brits aren’t used to heat, but it’s so lovely not to have grey skies. 

We enjoyed breakfast in the garden again this morning, our elder son joined us for that.  Again, I felt I was providing something akin to a hotel breakfast as we all had something different.  First, bowls of fruit (strawberries, raspberries, grapes, bananas and a sliver of stem ginger on top). Then for son grilled bacon & tomatoes on toast with a fried egg; husband had porridge (oatmeal); and I had bran flakes mixed with a little Jordan’s Raspberry Crunchy, on top of which I added raisins and sultanas. 

The only thing missing from the table on this photo is husband’s porridge.   Not a brilliant photo as the sun was filtering through the branches of the tree, so I either focus for shade or for bright light. 

Son then went home to get on with work (our sons are self-employed and both work from home), I cleared the table and filled the dishwasher and made the bed. 

Mid morning and time for a glass of elderflower cordial topped up with sparkling Badoit mineral water and a slice of lemon, this is a lovely drink on a hot day.

I do like some flowers even on the garden table and the blue and ‘gold’ mug goes well with the blue floral embroidery on this little cloth.

For lunch I made smoked salmon and cream cheese ‘finger’ sandwiches, just one round each, crusts removed of course. And after that, a slice of ginger cake (a commercially produced one by McVitie, a lovely sticky cake.)  To make this more a dessert, I served it with raspberries and a little single cream and a sprinkling of icing sugar.  The raspberries were lovely with the ginger cake which was deliciously soft, the cream having soaked into it.

I have to say that the smoked salmon was something of a disappointment.  It wasn’t top grade smoked salmon even though it was from Waitrose.  If you’re going to have something like smoked salmon I do think it pays to buy the best quality you can afford (or justify!) This one simply tasted too salty, it didn’t have that lovely rich smoky flavour that smoked salmon should have.  I added a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice and a good grinding of black pepper before I made the sandwiches, too, but as I say, it was bland and salty (if something can be both of those things!) and a disappointment.  I served them with just a few crisps.

As the afternoon wore on it became too hot to sit outside, even under the walnut tree.  I decamped to the summerhouse with a cup of Earl Grey – husband found it too hot either in the garden or the summerhouse, so remained indoors.

The little butter biscuits are from Lidl’s and are lovely and light, almost little wafer biscuits and ideal with a cup of Earl Grey.  It really is a lovely blend of tea, such a thirst-quencher.

And then it became too hot in the summerhouse, with the sun now lower in the sky and directly facing the little building. I closed the summerhouse up and came indoors.  And I’ve heard on the Weather forecast, that it’s going to remain hot until at least Wednesday. 

* * * * *

For all those who love to see horse racing combined wonderful fashions (and some not quite so wonderful) it’s Royal Ascot tomorrow, starting on television at 1.30 pm.  ITV now shows racing on television but I think Channel 4 made a better fist of it, but I hope to be able to virtually attend this royal meeting. 

I don’t know whether the Queen will be there on Wednesday (the royal meeting is from Tuesday until – and including – Saturday) because it’s the State Opening of Parliament, which was postponed from last week.  I don’t expect Her Majesty can do as quick a clothes change as once she might’ve done, out of her ceremonial robes and Imperial State crown and into her race-going outfit and binoculars!  But we shall see!  She might just make it, if she has a good dresser and a helicopter to whisk her away from the Houses of Parliament to Windsor Castle in time for the carriage drive down the course! 

Until next time.

 

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We started today with how we usually start a sunny Sunday – well, a sunny any day since we are retired – with breakfast in the garden.  This is my favourite breakfast:  grilled bacon and grilled tomatoes on toast ,and fresh fruit.  However, as the bacon was hot we thought we’d have it first, rather than the fruit.  The fruit platter consisted of grapes, cherries, some banana slices, raspberries and strawberries.  I use whatever is to hand, and if we’re low on fresh fruit, I also use tinned pears and tinned pineapple. 

We love to eat out of doors. We’re not keen on barbecues, we just carry our everyday crockery and food outside. It’s the eating it out of doors that we enjoy, we don’t eat any particularly out-of-doors picnic-style food. 

It was far too hot to do any work, even gardening, so after husband had collected the Sunday paper from our local shop and then watered the plants, we sat on the loungers under our walnut tree.

This is the view as I looked up at the sky through the branches of the tree. 

Lunch was just a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich each, and I had the sandwiches ready on plates when our younger son arrived with Barry-the-dog to wish husband Happy Father’s Day, and so I handed him my plate of sandwiches (he’d not had lunch) and I made another round for myself.  He stopped and chatted for a while before going to see his brother (our elder son) who, as I’ve mentioned, lives just 50 yards away. 

We enjoyed being in the garden.  We had sufficient shade from the tree until late afternoon when the sun had moved around to the west.  Around three o’clock elder son, our daughter in law and our little grandson called, as it was Father’s Day.  I had just taken out a tray containing tea and slices of lemon sponge, so of course little grandson wanted some cake! (The glasses contain water, by the way. We make sure we have plenty of water to drink this hot weather.)

 

We need new lounger cushions. We had some very old ones that had ‘belonged’ to our previous (plastic) loungers, but they really were very much past their best and so we got rid of those last year and now can’t find suitable ones for the steamer chairs.  As with The Apprentice, “the search for the steamer chair cushions continues …”

When our family left I decamped to the summerhouse and watched Escape to the Country.  I enjoy this programme but am irritated by some of the people (correction, I am irritated by a lot of the people!)  on the programme, some of whom it is blatantly obvious are not really interested in buying any of the properties and sometimes a voiceover at the end says that they have now extended their search area, or even are searching in another part of the country entirely.

Husband joined me in the summerhouse and I made us drinks of elderflower cordial topped up with Badoit sparkling mineral water, and two little macarons each. 

I love our little summerhouse.  Hard to think it is almost seven years since husband built it for me.  The only new things in it are the chairs … well, they are hardly new any longer, we bought them about three years ago (in a Sale.)

The summerhouse is tucked away in the far corner of our small garden and although we live in a Close of 20 houses, few people notice when we are in the summerhouse or are having our meals outside.

It is now time to close up the summerhouse for the evening and come into the cool of the sitting room – curtains have been drawn against the heat of the day, so it’s pleasantly cool in there now.  And a new programme with Timothy West and Prunella Scales to watch, one of their Great Canal Journeys, this time in India.

The garden this evening – it’s small but we have grass in which to wriggle our toes, somewhere to sit, somewhere to eat, the summerhouse for shade, and some flowers. 

Hope you have had an equally restful day.

Until next time.

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In the aftermath of the horrendous events of recent weeks, it was lovely to see what is always a joyous event:   the ceremony of trooping the colour which takes place in June each year on the occasion of the sovereign’s official birthday. 

When Her Majesty attended the ceremony this morning she was participating in a custom which dates back to the reign of Charles II in the 17th century.  This spectacular ceremony – with over 1,000 officers and men on parade, together with horses, and over two hundred musicians from six bands and crops of drums playing as one – has a specific purpose: the colour was a rallying point in battle and therefore it was trooped every day to make sure that every man could recognise his own regiment.

The first known mention of the Sovereign’s birthday being celebrated in this way was by the Grenadier Guards in 1748. From the accession of George IV, with few exceptions – such as the two World Wars – Trooping the Colour on the sovereign’s birthday has been an annual event. 

* * * *

We don’t usually go shopping on a Saturday but my shopping list was sufficiently long enough to warrant this, but it didn’t take long and we arrived home with just in time for me to put away the fridge and freezer goods before the ceremony began at 11 am.

And so, with a cold drink – lime cordial topped up with sparkling Badoit mineral water – I settled myself in the summerhouse and took my place on my own virtual Horse Guards Parade.

The colour being trooped today was that of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards.  I wish I could remember all that Huw Edwards, the commentator for the ceremony explained, but that would be impossible.  Take it from me it is a wonderful sight, with military precision and stirring music. 

The proceedings always start with the massed bands playing one of my favourite slow marches, Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots

It has been a very hot day even in our summerhouse, shaded by the walnut tree.  Goodness knows how hot it would’ve been on Horse Guards Parade, without any shade at all and dressed in thick military dress uniform.  And one mustn’t forget that these are all serving members of HM armed forces, they don’t always dress like this. 

Here is a view of the massed bands playing Les Huguenots.

And here, on a dais, is Her Majesty with The Duke of Edinburgh on her right (as we look at this photo) and Her Majesty’s cousin, the Duke of Kent, on her left.  When she was younger the Queen would inspect her troops while on horseback, riding side-saddle, but she is now is taken to the parade ground in an open carriage.

I really felt for this elderly couple, even though there was an awning, it must’ve been very hot.

 

The colour being trooped.

Wonderful drum horses with the silver drums dating from the reign of Charles II.

Sparkling breast plates, sleek horses.

Gun carriages being driven at speed, the dust flying …

The Queen and Prince Philip being driven from the parade ground and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace where members of the royal family were on the balcony watching the procession.

As the television audience waited for the Queen to arrive on the balcony, we were informed about the preparations for this special event.  I think it was said that 260 flags had to be erected …

How the royal parks and gardens close to the route of the parade were replenished and carefully weeded …

How the traffic lights along the route were removed …

and how the statues were cleaned and any bronze given an extra sheen …

And once the royal carriage and the soldiers were back at Buckingham Palace, the police ushered the crowd slowly up the Mall so they could have a closer look at the Palace and see the fly past by the RAF.

The royal family and guests await the Queen and Prince Philip …

But they returned inside the Palace to allow the Queen and Prince Philip to appear first on the balcony, and then they were re-joined by the family.

The Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Before the fly past of 29 planes, some large, some small …

And finally, the Red Arrows …

I wanted to take a shot as they flew over the Palace, but sadly, my camera battery packed up! 

I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual visit to London today, as I have done.  Apologies for the quality of the photos, but I was taking photos of the television screen! 

Until next time.

12 comments

Alstromeria, bought on Wednesday, now fully open two days later

 

I was up early this morning.  Not bright-and-early, just early.  Around 5.30 am. It was light, the sun was ‘up’, and while husband was fast asleep I made myself coffee and wandered around the quiet house. I love early mornings.  I don’t need to do anything in particular, I just enjoy the early morning light. 

Our house faces due south, with the main bay window of our sitting room also facing due south, and so in the early morning the sunlight enters the dining room end of our sitting room, the only time of the day when it does enter this part of the room, from the east-facing window.

The brilliant light causes the walls, which are a pale lime-yellow, to glow ..

What a difference between the dining end of the room and the sitting part at this hour of the day. It almost looks as if the room has been painted in two distinctly different shades of paint.  Sadly, this colour – Gervase Yellow – has been discontinued by Farrow and Ball, but I understand that paints that they archive can be mixed to order.  I love this colour as it’s neither lime nor yellow and changes dramatically with the variations of natural light in the room during the day and also looks really lovely at night when the lamps are on.

Yesterday evening, I decided the hall table needed some flowers, so picked these three You’re Beautiful roses …

I really will have to start ‘weeding’ my books!   I need to go through each and every shelf as there are now some books stacked under a console table in the sitting room  and they really need to be on shelves …

These are just some of my interiors/décor books …

Before you ask, the two plates are Spode Imperial, two of four that my late mother had.  I parted with two of them and now I rather wish I hadn’t.  Strangely enough, I didn’t much care for them when my mother bought them.  She had them as plaques on her kitchen wall.  However, when we decorated our sitting/dining room in 2002, I brought them out and placed them on this table and liked them so much against the wall colour that, with the Oriental prints above, there they have remained ever since.  (The table actually opens out to reveal a green baize surface for card games (not that we’ve ever used it thus.)

 

The morning seemed to disappear in a flash, and as I wasn’t actually doing any cooking for lunch but simply reheating a cottage pie from the freezer, to serve with peas and extra gravy, for lunch for three – husband, myself, and our younger son …

 

 

I decided to make a Victoria sponge.  I’d not made one in ages. I’d made fruit cakes and banana bread and rock buns, but nothing as simple nor as lovely as a plain Victoria sandwich.  And rather than filling it with butter cream, or turning it into a coffee and walnut sponge as I sometimes do, or a chocolate sponge with melted dark chocolate on top which sets as ‘icing’, I simply added a little lemon zest to the mixture and then sandwiched the two halves together with delicious lemon curd.  If you haven’t made your own lemon curd, it pays to have a good quality one for this cake. 

I am now going to make a pot of tea and cut us each a slice of cake. 

Victoria Sponge 

The recipe is a very simple one and there are just four ingredients:   weigh 4 large eggs and then using that as your guide (my four large eggs weighed  266grms) weigh the same in caster sugar, margarine, and self-raising flour.  Set the oven to 160C (this is for my fan oven).  Prepare two sandwich tins by greasing them and then lining the bottoms with baking paper ‘circles’.  All ingredients should be at room temperature – don’t use them straight from the fridge.

Now ‘cream’ together the sugar and the margarine.  Add the beaten eggs gradually, with just a little of the flour,  and continue to beat the mixture until all the eggs are combined with the sugar and margarine. Now sift the remaining flour and fold it in, taking care not to beat the mixture – you want to retain the air you have beaten into it, not knock it all out again.

Now divide the mixture between the two prepared tins.  Give them a little shake so that the mixture evens out – I even weigh the two tins with the mixture in to make sure they contain more or less the same amount of mixture.

Now pop them on the centre shelf of your hot oven and bake for 25 minutes, but check them after 20 minutes.  When you remove them from the oven, leave for a minute or two before turning out onto a cooling grid.  When completely cold sandwich with jam, lemon curd, or butter cream.  If you make a lemon sponge as I have done today, add some lemon zest to the creamed butter and sugar.

Before serving, sprinkle the top with caster sugar or, as I have done, icing sugar.  

 

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, have a lovely weekend.

Until next time.

16 comments

 … Working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do …

 

I’m sure you know the old song, and it sums up how today has been.  I started out with every intention of doing several jobs but instead I just did pleasant things, not what you could call work at all, not even housekeeping.  But first, I cooked breakfast for husband, myself and our elder son (who lives close by, his wife was at work, grandson at Nursery and he was very busy so I thought it would be a treat for him to have his breakfast made and all he had to do was walk the 50 yards from his house to ours, sit down, and eat.)

Really, when I do breakfast it’s like a B&B as we all have something different. Husband now prefers porridge (or oatmeal I think you would call that in America or Canada), I prefer to have a bowl of fruit and then a bowl of bran flakes mixed with some crunchy cereal all topped with sultanas, sliced bananas and perhaps some raspberries (and definitely not sugar to spoilt it!) and son loves to have fruit to start with and then a cooked breakfast. So this is what I did. First laid the table – I always lay a table first, no good thinking about that once the food is ready.  Then I pop the grill on and get the bacon and tomatoes grilling, measure out the oats and milk and get that cooking for porridge, and then once all that is underway, prepare the bowls of fruit for myself and our son.  I also make tea (1 bag Earl Grey, 1 bag Indian) and put out two kinds of milk – semi-skimmed for husband’s porridge, skimmed for the tea – plus marmalade and honey in case anyone wants that with extra toast.  I tell you, it’s like a catering kitchen.

As well as grilled bacon and tomatoes (on which I sprinkle dried Basil), I fry some sliced Portobello mushrooms and a lovely egg from our egg man who delivers them to our door  (few food miles, they’re from a lovely chicken farm in East Devon). 

And so, breakfast all ready, I text our son, and he hot-foots it around and we sit down and have our breakfast together.  A good start to the day.

 

When all that was cleared away, I changed the bed linen and eventually got some of it onto the line …

Husband had put the garden chairs out for us, and you can see the pattern created by the shadow of the leaves from our walnut tree on the sheet and pillow cases.

Once the fresh bed linen was on the bed, I changed the flower water … there are tightly budded alstromeria in the sitting room at the moment, but they will open in due course, and some of the sweet Williams are still doing well (I change the water frequently). These are the pastel-coloured ones I had on the sofa table last week but now cut down to fit a smaller vase which I have placed in the punch bowl in the hearth.  They will last a few more days, I think.

 

As I wasn’t able to find any pastel pink roses for our bedroom this week, I chose white instead, but that meant changing a few of the scent bottles around on my dressing chest … you can see now how I have been busy doing nothing, can’t you?  I think the other term is “faffing” …

While I was arranging the flowers the doorbell rang – it was a delivery from Penhaligon’s. I had bought their lovely Blenheim Bouquet soap in their summer Sale …

Also some lip balm. I’ve never used lip balm before – I have used Lypsyl when I have had chapped lips following a cold, but as I’ve always worn lipstick I have never felt the need for lip balm.  But it was £3 in the Sale, so I thought I’d give it a try …

I’m afraid it does look like tan shoe polish, but it’s quite pleasant. I wouldn’t buy it at the full price of £8 but for £3 worth a punt as they say.

 

Lunch was easy; I used the two remaining asparagus and potato tartlets I made at the weekend from the freezer, allowed them to thaw, and then popped them into a hot oven for 15 minutes. We had them with salad, new potatoes and coleslaw.

 

After lunch I decamped to the garden and later, husband joined me and we had tea and sticky ginger cake (not my own, I might add, but a commercial one by McVitie’s) …

I am really enjoying the book by Harry Mount, How England Made the English, and am half way through it.  So much history in it to devour, so many things I’d not heard of (does that surprise me?), it’s a great book if you want to know how England ended up looking like it does.

 

As the sun motored around and even though our walnut tree had recently come into leaf, it didn’t offer sufficient shade, so I decamped to the summerhouse  – husband went to do some jobs inside the house – with yet another cup of tea, this time Earl Grey. I even picked some roses and Johnson’s blue geraniums for the summerhouse …

I then spent my time reading back issues of The English Home

So, a very pleasant day, no work done (unless you count making breakfast for the three of us, plus changing the bed linen, and putting together an easy lunch, changing flower water, and clearing up after meals and popping the crockey into the dishwasher.  Indeed, the sort of day I could manage quite easily every day!

Finally, the heliotrope (and some lobelia) are coming along nicely by the back door …

I love heliotrope for their wonderful vanilla scent. There is a pot either side of the back door. They are more purple than the royal blue colour above indicates.

I wonder what you have been doing today?

Until next time.

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Visiting a zoo can’t be on everyone’s Monday agenda, so I thought it might make a pleasant change to visit our local Zoo Environment Park as it is now named.  I posted about this some weeks ago when we decided to buy ourselves a season ticket. We worked out we only had to visit three times and after that our visits would be ‘free’.  Not only that, the ticket permits entry to Living Coasts, the Zoo’s coastal park in Torquay.

This morning we thought, for a change, we’d visit the Reptile & Tropical House and the Desert House.  Unfortunately, most of the animals in the Reptile House do like to hide themselves away or perhaps they are so well camouflaged we just think this is what they are doing!  However, the little chap above was showing off his lovely green coat and, while munching on some lettuce, decided a more pastel shade looked better (see photo on right.)   We saw several more animals, such as a boa constrictor (he was huge, you wouldn’t want to ‘tangle’ with him!  He was submerged in a deep water tank with just his little nose above the water, as if in a hot tub!) and a flat leaf gecko (well, I think that is what it was, I didn’t make any notes.) 

The place was really tropical, with lots of tall plants and waterfalls, really impressive. From there we  emerged directly into the Desert House which, as the name implies, is very desert-like, with sand, cacti, and succulents. Here there were birds flying around and as the building is quite long at least they could really stretch their wings.

We only stayed there about an hour, the idea was to have a walk away from traffic and as the Zoo is only a mile or so from our house it’s the easiest place to visit for a walk.

 

The next thing in this Monday Miscellany is this …

 

The contents of my bag.  I’m always fascinated by what we women carry in our bags. Here, there are no sweets, no chocolate bars, no roll of Polo mints, no chewing gum, no makeup apart from a compact and lipstick and a small phial of perfume, nothing that I do not actually need while I’m out and about.  I did have a small umbrella with me this morning, but that isn’t something I normally stow away in my bag.  I want my bag to be as light as possible and so here is the list:

At the top you will see a black zipper bag. This was actually a freebie makeup bag which came with a magazine many years ago.  It is ideal for my things, as I tend to put all the items that go into my bag into this, with the exception of my wallet and my camera (I was taking the photo with my camera, but it goes in that little black container on the left.)  By putting all the things into the black zipper bag, I can simply remove this from my bag when I change bags over and pop it into another one.

The other items are: sunglasses, distance glasses (I’m wearing my reading glasses which would go in as well), the little pouch to put them in; wallet;  lipstick, compact, perfume; handkerchief (usually for drying my hands when I wash them in public loos); a small hairbrush; spare front door key; anti-bac wipes; Kleenex tissues; notepad and pen; mobile; car keys.  My mobile is ancient, I’m almost too embarrassed to show it! A smart phone it is not.

I wonder what’s in your bag right now?

 

And to complete my Monday  Miscellany …

 

The All-in-one fruit cake I’ve mentioned on previous occasions. I thought you might like the recipe …

4oz of margarine (or butter);

4oz caster sugar;

2 eggs;

1/4pt milk (less two tablespoons);

12oz mixed fruit (I use sultanas, raisins and glace cherries which I have rinse to remove the sugar and then halved);

8oz self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixes spice (I use cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg);

Walnut halves to decorate the cake.

Method:

Place all ingredients except the walnut halved in a mixing bowl.  Beat with a wooden spoon until well mixed.  Place in a greased and lined 2lb loaf tin (or use a round tin as I have done here).  Decorate with the walnut pieces.  Bake in the oven at 325F or around 160C for approximately 1 hour.  Test with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked – if not, return to oven for a few more minutes. 

This cake is best left to cool completely before removing from the tin, and then best left until the following day before you cut into it, if you can wait that long.  We rarely can! 

(I have been using this recipe for the past 46 years since I cut it out of a magazine in 1971!)

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

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There is nothing like a wet and windy Saturday for making me keen to get cooking.  I’d seen a recipe in last week’s Sunday Telegraph that I thought might make a good lunch dish and as it had few ingredients (I don’t like recipes with pinches of this or dollops of that, things you don’t usually stock in fridge, freezer or store cupboard and then, if you do buy them specially, they moulder away there, never to be used again) I thought I’d make it for our lunch today. 

But more of this recipe later, along with the recipe for Quiche Lorraine which I’ve been promising to post for weeks.

So, yesterday first, and the arrival not only of one of my favourite monthly magazines …

… but also a keepsake following the death of a much loved family friend last year (we were asked to choose something from her effects as a keepsake and we chose this little set of silver tea spoons, although being from the 1930s, they are much smaller than teaspoons today and would be more suitable as formal coffee spoons; coffee spoons are always smaller, for use with elegant coffee cans.)

 

I have photographed both the magazine and the spoons on my latest purchase, another table cloth for the kitchen table which also arrived in the post yesterday.  I also bought the matching napkins and I’ve pushed two of them through silver napkin rings, also from the 1930s.  Perhaps you can just see the initial H on them?  According to my (late) mother, these were a set of four napkin rings awarded to her youngest brother for playing cricket in the 1930s, and the H was the initial letter of her family name.

 

 

But now  the Quiche Lorraine recipe.

You need plain flour, margarine, onions, bacon, cheese, cream or milk, and eggs, and a little oil for sauteeing the onions and bacon.

I first make shortcrust pastry but you could buy some ready made if you wish (although I prefer to make my own.)  For two quiches (as above) I make 8oz (or 224grms) of pastry, which means I use 8oz of plain flour and 4oz (112grms) margarine (or you could use a mixture margarine and lard, or butter and lard.)  You know how to make pastry?  Of course you do!  Rub the fat into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs and them use enough cold water to draw it all together into a paste, i.e. pastry.

Now wrap in cling film or foil and rest in the fridge for half an hour.    No, not you. You don’t rest in the fridge. The pastry does.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling ingredients.

I know that onions aren’t used in a traditional Quiche Lorraine, but they do add flavour.  So use a couple of large onions, peel and chop finely, and saute in a little oil.  Set them aside so that they cool, preferably on kitchen paper to absorb extra grease.

Now fry some chopped bacon in the same pan, perhaps four rashers, and similarly allow to cool on kitchen paper.

Grate cheese, I won’t give a specific amount, but you need quite a decent amount for two quiches.  I use a mixture of mature Cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan, indeed, use whatever you have to hand. Gruyere is the traditional cheese for this dish.

Whisk six large eggs with some milk and/or cream (again, using whatever you have.  If you don’t have cream, use crème fraiche.)  Use your discretion as to how much you need for two quiches, err on the side of caution otherwise the mixture will boil over and ruin the pastry and burn on the bottom of your oven, too.

Put the oven on and set it at a high temperature, around 190C – 200C.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, and divide it in two, and then roll out and line two prepared loose bottomed (if you have them) flan tins.  The better the quality of the tin,  the better the pastry will cook.  Don’t be tempted to use a porcelain flan dish, these are pretty but hopeless for baking in as porcelain isn’t as good at transferring the heat as well as metal.  Grease the tin, regardless of it perhaps being non-stick, and then line with pastry.

Now, assemble the ingredients in the raw quiches.  This is contrary to what most TV cooks/chefs will tell you.  They say you must ‘blind-bake’ the pastry cases and only then put in the ingredients.  But I’ve found that if you have a very hot oven and use good metal tins and if the pastry is very thinly rolled out, you can cut out the ‘blind-bake’ procedure.

So, once you have the thinly rolled pastry in the tins, spread the onions over the bottom of the quiches, then spread the bacon, and finally the grated cheese.  Now add the egg/milk/cream mixture.  I don’t tend to add salt and pepper as the cheese and bacon are salty enough for me, but you might like to add some, it’s just a case of personal preference. 

Now put the quiches in the oven for about 1/2 hr or until golden and the egg mixture is set and browned slightly on top.

Really, it’s all very simple.  You don’t really need an exact recipe if you are a fairly proficient cook.  If you can read this, you can make a quiche, it’s that simple.

 

And so to today’s cooking.  I decided to make Asparagus and Potato Tartlets according to the Sunday Telegraph recipe.  The recipe makes 6 tartlets but I have only small individual patty tins, so I made four.

You need shortcrust pastry using 100g marg or butter, 200g plain flour, and a splash of milk to mix. This will line 6 patty tins.

The other ingredients:

150g of boiled new potatoes

150g of asparagus, blanched (i.e. put into boiling water for about a minute and then drained and put into cold water)

150 ml of milk or cream

100g crème fraiche

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

20g of parmesan, grated.

 

Again, make shortcrust pastry, allow it to rest for 1/2 hr in the fridge and line the prepared tins (by prepared, I mean greased) and then allow the pastry in the tins to rest again in the fridge for 20 minutes. This isn’t fast food!

Heat your oven to 200C

Chop up the cooked potatoes into small chunks, slice the asparagus into 2cm lengths (no you don’t need a rule, just chop them up, not too small, not too large).

In a bowl whisk the eggs and milk/cream together.

Remove the patty tins from the fridge and fill the raw pastry  cases with the potatoes and asparagus, sprinkle on the cheese and parsley, and then pour on the egg/milk mixture.

Now bake in the oven for around 25 minutes until golden brown. I served (one each) with a salad and coleslaw.  These little tartlets can be served hot or cold. I’ve popped the remaining two into the freezer for another day.

They were very good, but I would say they have a delicate flavour.  Next time I think I will add some leeks or onions (sautéed) for extra flavour.  I served them with salad and coleslaw.

Yesterday I made a cheese loaf and a fruit loaf (below).  I’d never made a cheese loaf before, it was a recipe from a cousin and she said how good it was. Once I’d made it I realized it was really a cheese scone mixture but baked in a loaf tin. It is lovely, but next time I think I will bake it in a round Victoria sandwich tin and then score the mixture so that you end up with 8 almost-triangular portions.  The photo makes the cheese loaf look paler than it is.

The fruit loaf is the all-in-one method I’ve used many time before and very tasty it is, too.

And as well as the baking, I made a sausage casserole today as the weather has been so rainy and cold, and it was the kind of food ideal for supper on such an evening.

When cooking or baking, I like to assemble all the ingredients before I start. Here I have all the ingredients for the casserole – good quality sausages (only use good quality sausages in such a casserole otherwise it will be greasy.)  The other ingredients I use are onions, leeks, celery, a little green pepper, a couple of bay leaves, two dessert apples (cored but not peeled), a bottle of medium cider, veggie stock cubes (I use three for a casserole which has 5 large sausages – yes, there are only 5 in the packs I use but they are large and well packed with pork sausage meat, and this casserole will make two meals for the two of us.)

On the hob in a flame-proof casserole saute the sausages, onions, leeks, celery peppers, and then add the cider, stock, apples, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, and then pop on the casserole lid and cook in the oven for about an hour and a quarter.  This casserole can be served unthickened, but if you prefer the sauce to be thickened, slake some cornflower and water in a cup and then stir in to the casserole about 1/2 hr before you wish to serve it. I served this with a baked potato each (i.e. baked in their skins.)

This has been more food than books, has it not?  And so to two books which arrived this morning. I have rather over-indulged on books this week, but in mitigation none has been expensive. These are my most recent ones, they arrived this morning …

I love these kinds of books.   I have started reading How England Made the English and am really enjoying it.  It’s strange, isn’t it, but some things are obvious but they are only obvious when someone points them out to you! 

On that thought I will leave you for now. Wherever you are, I hope you have had a good Saturday and will have a lovely Sunday.

Until next time.

 

 

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This post is entitled Small Indulgences but it could so easily be called a Red Letter Day, as all the items are in shades of pink or red.

But more of those items later. First, we were up fairly early for us and our grandson arrived about ten minutes to nine, with his little back pack and a bag filled with books, games and toys.  I asked him if he’d had breakfast and although he said he had, when I asked him if he’d like a bacon sandwich like Granddad was going to have, he said yes, please, he would like that!   So I made breakfast for us all and made him a little bacon ‘butty’.

While I cleared up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher Granddad read to him and played games, and then, as his daddy had put his little apron in his back pack, I asked him if he’d like to make jam tarts?  Well, what four year old could refuse an invitation like that?

And so I got out the baking tin, the mixing bowl, rolling pin, weigh scales, etc, and showed him how to weigh out the flour and fat, how to rub it in so that it resembled breadcrumbs, how to add water and turn it into dough, then how to roll it out.  No ready-roll stuff here!  Nothing wrong with ready-made pastry, but it’s good for children to know how to make things from scratch. 

But first of all I taught him to wash his hands carefully before handling any food, this is a good lesson to learn early, I thought.  Also that the oven is Very Hot and he must not touch it. 

He listened carefully, and when we each had a portion of the dough I taught him how to roll it out and cut out the shapes for the tarts.  He then chose the various jams to spoon into the tarts and I put them in the oven to bake so that he could take them home for his mummy and daddy.  We had a great time!

There was flour everywhere, but who cares?  It was easily cleaned up and nothing beats the enjoyment of teaching a four year old how to bake.  The earlier children start to learn basic cookery skills, the better.  My mother had taught me to make a Victoria sponge by the time I was seven or eight and I could manage a roast dinner by the time I was ten or eleven.

After his mummy and daddy returned to collect him, having been to see the school our grandson will attend from September, and then having gone to vote in the General Election, we then went out to vote and then to do the food shopping. 

I love sweet Williams and I could not resist buying two more bunches even though we still have last week’s looking good –  one of the bunches is in the photo above and another is below.

I have not read the novels of Kathryn Hughes but I have bought both of then, the one above arrived this morning and the one below arrived yesterday …

and with this book above, by the same post came …

(As you can see the predominant colour for this post is red!)  This is a lovely book, showing how you can make small improvements to rooms without too much cost or effort, using flowers, objects, books and textiles, but most of all having a clean and well-organized home.   A lovely book to add to my already quite large collection of interiors books.

I should add here that all three books are 2nd hand and were inexpensive.

 

As well as the books, I sent for some eau de toilette, and that also arrived.  I received a present last Christmas of dusting powder and three lovely Bronnley soups in the fragrance of Hibiscus.  I liked the soaps (all now used) and dusting powder so much that this week I sent for the eau de toilette. It was very inexpensive and although it is similar to the dusting powder, I think it is going to prove too ‘heavy’ for me.  We shall see, but as it was so inexpensive I don’t feel I’ve rocked the fiscal boat.

Indeed, it has been a couple of days of small indulgences – books, flowers, perfume, sweets and chocolate.  We rarely buy sweets but I bought some humbugs and toffees and a bar of marzipan-filled chocolate, one which I’ve had before and which is delicious. 

Just a few indulgences – well, we all need those now and again, don’t we? 

This evening we will stay up as long as our eyes will stay open in order to watch the results of the General Election.  It’s going to be a long night! 

Until next time.

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