Monthly Archives: January 2017

This morning, a very wet Monday morning (the photo above was taken last summer) I met a dear friend for coffee in China Blue, primarily a ceramics studio in Totnes, Devon, but which also has a lovely coffee shop, interiors items (candlesticks, cushions, photo frames, all manner of objets), a glass studio (which we didn’t get to see today) and a hair salon.  I was surprised that, on a dismal Monday morning, it was busy with shoppers and those who, like ourselves, had met for a catch-up over coffee.

Exterior of the conservatory coffee shop on a very wet day

Garden ornaments for sale

My friend is one of those people who are life-enhancers, someone whom, as you part company, you return home feeling uplifted for having been in her company, even for a short time.  Don’t you find some people are like that, life-enhancers while some simply drain you dry, so that when you part company you tend to breathe a sigh of relief that you can then go home?  But not this friend, you feel truly invigorated by her company, she brightens the wettest of days. 

The café offers more than coffee and scones, too.  They have freshly filled baguettes, paninis & crisp salads, cakes and pastries. 

Such a jumble of items and in a kaleidoscope of colours

I didn’t photograph our food as it was only scones and coffee (cola for my friend – well, she is American, isn’t cola their national beverage?) and then we had a good look around all the lovely things this emporium has to offer.  How could I pass this array of pretty cups and saucers …

… without buying a pink set and a turquoise set for our morning cups of coffee?  I was almost tempted into buying the matching plates … I’m sorry now that I didn’t buy them and so I’ve made up my mind to make a return visit! 

When our little grandson is just a bit older we will take him to China Blue (www.china-blue.co.uk) as children can choose a plain piece of ceramic on which to draw, then paint and complete.  The advertising material says:

“The new studio has been specially designed to accommodate all would-be ceramicists & creatives, whatever their age.  Full of inspiration to help create personalised gifts, you can design something original from the collection of themed pottery, mugs, plates and a whole lot more.”

When I returned home I found that one of my monthly magazines had arrived also a book I’d ordered …

… so I’m now going to spend the rest of the afternoon not spring-cleaning – it’s too wet and dismal for that; I need sunshine to energize  me! – but reading, with a cup of tea and a delicious Florentine biscuit (my friend handed me a packet for my husband, but he’s  generous and has kindly allowed me to share them!)

(It never fails to surprise me when magazine and book covers tend to follow similar patterns/colours:  these two ,for example, have dark blue backgrounds and are then overprinted in yellow, pink and green, regardless of the objects on the covers.  Perhaps we shall soon be seeing more dark blue in book covers?)

 

 

 

 

 

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Incognito? 

Well, not on purpose, but because of the chilly weather!

You could not possibly know, either, how many times this ancient faux-fur hat has almost been binned!  It has had more lives than the proverbial moggy!  Every time I’ve given the wardrobe a clear out  somehow it has managed a stay of execution and, boy, was I glad of it today!   But even if I look like an ancienne bag lady wearing it,  I’m past the age of caring and, at least, it matches, in colour, my new navy overcoat.  I am wearing the coat with navy cords and aubergine ankle boots (which match the gloves and cross-body bag, and there are some subtle shades of aubergine in my long winter scarf. )

We decided, as it was sunny, to take a walk along Torquay sea front.  It was a gloriously bright morning when we parked the car …

 

… and here you can see the scoop of Torbay with, perched on top of what is known as the Rock Walk (proper name Royal Terrace Gardens)  an array of apartment blocks. 

In recent years the Rock Walk has been denuded of it’s foliage and the cliffs have been made safe, but it still looks rather bare, compared with the Rock Walk of my youth, when it was somewhat over-grown but a lovely place for a stroll, along half-hidden paths, and towards the bottom, coloured lights which, at night, changed the colours of the plants to bright green, red, blue, gold … it was a truly magical place for a child, and a walk along Rock Walk at night, with all the fairy lights on, was a lovely, innocent treat. 

Rock walk , a few years ago, just as the cranes moved in and the trees began to be cut down

Rock Walk after the ‘improvements’, safe but now lacking character

In summer, the rock face does look pretty, with a carpet of wild flowers

We walked from where we parked our car (opposite Torre Abbey, where we had coffee last week) as far as Princess Pier, where my  husband took my photograph (top), and then we returned along by the sea, going in the direction of the Grand Hotel. 

Some of the ‘palm’ trees look quite exotic in the sunken gardens along the sea front …

 

And below you can see more of the scoop of Torbay with Berry Head in the far distance.

However, as we walked, clouds loomed over the horizon, we could see that rain was on its way.  But we decided to pop into the Grand Hotel for coffee.  This is the hotel where Agatha Christie once stayed – it’s very much in the French Chateau style.

I took this photo (above) of the Grand Hotel couple of years ago, in summer, because today we didn’t go to the front of the hotel – the entrance is as the back – but I thought you might like to see this rather handsome building.

View from the lounge of the Grand Hotel over the hotel’s garden

We enjoyed our coffee, the sun appeared long enough for me to take this photo (above), and then we headed back to our car and home.

Do you have a favourite walk or, right now, are you experiencing summer and it’s simply too hot for such activities?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Husband and I love cut-glass. 

This love of cut crystal began over three decades ago when, on achieving 20 years with the company, staff were awarded a sum of money with which to buy a present, one that would be presented to them at a small ceremony, with drinks and nibbles.  And so, when husband achieved his 20 years (he was a senior design engineer) we pondered on what we might buy.   I say “we” because we have always made joint decisions, we have always considered each other. 

The decision wasn’t a difficult one:  to buy the best item(s), in our opinion, we could buy for the money being offered.  Most other employees, also being awarded, were choosing electrical goods:  music systems, televisions, etc.  We knew that such things would last but a few years and then be discarded, so we chose something which, hopefully, would last at least our lifetime:  two Waterford crystal decanters (photo above).  We decided on two different designs, one for sherry or port, one for spirits.   Not that we drink much, it was the actual decanters we loved. 

And we still have these lovely objects 34 years later. 

[I would add here that on the 30th anniversary of my husband joining the company – he eventually served 35 years  before his retirement – a similar gift was made, the money available was upped slightly, and we chose a pretty watercolour landscape, again eschewing electrical goods!]

In more recent times, we have added to our collection by buying some items second-hand and we have been delighted with our very inexpensive purchases – inexpensive because right now, as with ‘brown’ furniture, cut-glass is deeply unfashionable.  But we don’t care, we love it! 

Indeed, it almost seems an insult to the glassmaker’s art for it to be sold so cheaply.  Three cut-crystal tumblers were just £11 secondhand (that is under £4 each) and a beautiful Royal Doulton cut-crystal jug was just £14. 

Because we tend to take glass very much for granted – you might be reading this through a pair of ‘glasses’ – we sometimes forget what a truly remarkable substance it is.  It is made by fusing silica, in the form of sand, flint or quartz, with an alkali (potash or soda) and a small amount of calcium oxide (lime) at a high temperature. Together these form a clear liquid which can be blown or moulded into shapes and then coloured, gilded or even enamelled, techniques which have changed little in thousands of years.

Five mis-matched (but who cares?) cut-crystal water glasses, plus jug

In medieval times, the glass industry was dominated by Venice. However, because of the potential for fire from so many furnaces, in 1292 the Council of Ten (the governing body in the Republic of Venice) banished the glassmen to the island of Murano. Not only was this considered a safe distance from the city, but in order to safeguard their unique skills, they were also prohibited from leaving the island.

By the 16th century, glass from Murano was unrivalled. It seems that the glassworkers would produce almost any shapes they fancied – for example, stems for wine glasses in the shape of serpents – and they developed a method of decorating known as latticino, the manipulation of straight or spirally arranged threads of opaque glass embedded in clear glass. Colour was used frequently – painted in enamels or clear or coloured glass, or in vessels imitating precious stones like agate.

Not only crystal wine glasses from the Quay Antique Centre, but a violet-design tea service and six silver-plated teaspoons

The invention of lead glass was the next great push forward in glassmaking, for here was a product that was superior to that of the Venetians.  It was George Ravenscroft who, in 1673, produced the first successful English ‘christaline glasse’ at his Savoy glassworks on the River Thames in London. What made this glass different was the introduction of lead oxide and within a few years this new glassmaking process was widespread. English lead crystal, with its clarity and purity, was here to stay.

 

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I was reading Jo’s lovely blog, Through the Keyhole (www.jo-throughthekeyhole.blogspot.co.uk) today, about the things she loves about January and it set me thinking about what I loved about the month. 

I think the most important thing to say is that I am always energized by the beginning of a new year, even at my great age.  I enjoy Christmas when it arrives, but not all the mainly-unnecessary hype that surrounds it, from early September until 12th night. The endless adverts on TV, the shops filled with things we really don’t need.  I find it intrusive in the extreme and there seems no way of escaping it.  But I won’t blather on about that but mention some of the things which I love about January.

I think the first must be the days begin to lengthen and by the end of the month it is still light in our part of the country, on a fine day of course, at 5.15pm. That’s a whole hour longer of daylight since the shortest day in December.

One of the joys of living where we do is that we are just a few minutes from the sea front (photo, top) and in January, while it might be windy and cold (although we’re past going out in the teeth of a gale!) we do enjoy a walk by the sea, even if just to stretch our legs for 15 minutes before hot-footing it to our favourite sea-front hotel for coffee or hot chocolate. 

 

Also in January , after the long slide into winter from October onwards, it is lovely to wake to sunshine pouring through the bedroom window and making patterns on the opposite wall. 

 

 

Better still is sunlight when I enjoy a Sunday morning breakfast in bed.  I haven’t photographed a full breakfast in bed when we have fruit or fruit juice, coffee, and bacon & tomatoes on toast, but even a single brioche and some apricot jam is a treat when it can be eaten in bed, with a cup of strong, hot coffee and the morning paper or a good book.

 

 

It is awful to think of people going to work in the cold when I’m able to snuggle down in bed for a little while longer or, at least until the house is warm with the central heating on, and I hope those who must get up early to venture out  will forgive me for saying I love to see a hoar frost!  It transforms even suburban gardens such as ours. 

 

 

And then, even before our own narcissi are in bloom in the garden, there are the small bunches of daffodils, still in their ‘pencil’ state, available at the checkout in the supermarket and after a day or two in water open out to give our winter-tired eyes a flash of dazzling yellow.  I actually prefer the softer, white daffodils when they are available, such as these we had in the study last year.

 

Also in January I enjoy baking and soup making, but I’ve posted about both those activities quite a lot recently, so will spare you the sight of vats of soup and succulent sponge cakes!  I also enjoy the start of spring cleaning even though we’re not yet in spring (see my previous post).  And so I wonder whether, like me, you enjoy January, feel refreshed by a new year, or whether you dislike the dreariness of some of the damp, dank days, and also dread the post-Christmas buff envelopes arriving.  What are your likes and dislikes about the month?

 

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It is never too early to start spring cleaning.

And, as the days lengthen (here in the UK),  if we tackle just a few jobs each week it will mean that by the time spring really is here there will be more time available for gardening or even simply relaxing in the sunshine.

Spring cleaning also gives us an opportunity to assess our homes to ensure that everything is in tip top working order.

 

I start by checking my housekeeper’s box to make sure I have all the items I need: dry and wet cleaning cloths, rubber gloves, all-purpose cleaner, anti-bac wipes, white vinegar spray for mirrors, furniture polish, and so forth, and that the vacuum’s dust box is empty and ready to swing into action.  

What works best for me it to tackle one room at a time, but not all on the same day otherwise I end up with little achieved and far too tired.  My aim is to enjoy spring cleaning:  I think of it as maintaining our home and making it as pleasant an environment as possible for my husband and myself.

I first attend to the walls and radiators and, after having removed any mirrors and pictures, I wipe the walls and radiators down with a just-damp cloth if, indeed, the walls need this.  I dust away cobwebs and clean the skirting boards.

Sometimes a thorough vacuuming – having moved the furniture (husband helps with this, of course)  – will be sufficient to freshen carpets, but if necessary we hire a carpet-cleaning machine from the local supermarket.

A proprietary carpet spot remover will tackle most small stains.  We also vacuum the upholstered furniture thoroughly and last year we had all our curtains dry cleaned.  If rooms are kept reasonably clean throughout the year, dry cleaning curtains won’t be necessary every year, simply taking them down and hanging them on the washing line on a fine day will air and refresh them. 

 

Curtains after dry cleaning

I remove all our books and ornaments from the shelves, and give the shelves a through clean before dusting the books and replacing them.

To clean books, use a gentleman’s shaving brush and brush outwards from the spine of the book. Wash ornaments which can be washed, but if you have antiques take special care as some are unsuitable for washing and just need brushing gently with an artist’s paint brush to remove dust.

 


If washing precious ornaments, first line a plastic bowl with an old towel before adding water and a small amount of washing-up liquid so that fragile items will not hit a hard surface, and similarly drain them on a towel. I was once given some excellent advice: take the bowl to the ornament, not the ornament to the bowl, so there is little chance of breaking something, as I once did when I accidently hit a vase against the taps over the kitchen sink.

Wash and buff the mirrors – I use a white vinegar and water spray – and wash the windows and the window sills. 

 

Dust lamps and lampshades and, if you have large collections of DVDs or CDs organize them and give away those which are no longer needed. 

Your rooms will soon start to look clean and fresh again, but pay attention to such things as clusters of cables; can they be tucked neatly out of sight? Don’t forget to clean light switches, door handles, and air vents. 

Kitchens and bathrooms require special attention. In the bathroom throw away out-of-date medicinal or cosmetic items and give the bathroom cabinet a thorough clean before putting back only the essential items. Clean the bath, basin, shower, and loo, paying attention to the bath sealant and tile grout – does it need replacing? Clean waste pipes and polish the taps.

 

Oven after having been professionally cleaned

 


In the kitchen, as well as washing the windows and blinds, wipe down walls and wash cupboard inside and out. Empty the fridge and freezer and, having defrosted the freezer, move it and clean behind it before re-filling again. Clean all the kitchen appliances and clean the dishwasher and washing machine by emptying filters and perhaps using a proprietary cleaner or just running the machines empty on the hottest cycle. Clean out drawers and cupboards, one at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the task. Pay particular attention to the larder, discarding anything out of date. Clean the work surfaces and check to see if any bath sealant or tile grout needs special attention, either cleaning or replacing.

I find one of the most satisfying jobs is cleaning out the wardrobe and putting everything back neatly, colour-co-ordinated, and disposing of items we no longer require.  I have just ordered a verbena wardrobe spray so that once it is clean and tidy, I will be able to keep it refreshed and sweet-smelling. 

Some people will clean the hall, staircase and landing first but as this is the main thoroughfare it will become dusty and possibly untidy as you are attending to the other rooms, so I do it last of all, wiping down walls, cleaning the banister and its supports and newel post. Pay particular attention to the floor which gets a lot of traffic and clean or replace the door mat.

Finally, arrange summer throws, cushions and china, put bowls of spring bulbs in the windows or in front of the fireplace, spritz with a room spray and your home is spic and span once more.  Now, it’s time to start on the garage, the garden shed and the summer house … but not today!


 

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Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon, UK

Here in Torbay we are at a distance from the great collections, the National Galleries of England and Scotland, the Lady Lever Gallery in Liverpool, or even collections in historic houses such as Woburn Abbey (famed for its Canalettos). But we do have fine art right here in Torre Abbey, the Borough’s own art gallery.

The Children’s Holiday by William Holman Hunt

Founded in 1196 as a monastery of the Premonstratensian order, Torre Abbey was home for 300 years to the Cary family who remodelled the Abbey into a family home. They were keen collectors of art and although the original contents were sold in the 1850s, some items have since been returned on loan by descendants of the Cary family.

Indeed, the Abbey – following its various periods of restoration over the past few years – now has many new galleries filled with works of art which include The Exile’s Departure, showing Napoleon on board HMS Bellerophon, brought into Torbay on 7th August 1815 before his transference to HMS Northumberland and exile in St Helena.

This is an art gallery/museum where there are all kinds of learning devices – how else can I refer to them – so that there are ‘speaking’ paintings, and so forth.  In the dining room the plates have ‘photos’ of various historical characters connected with the Borough beamed onto them, and as you look at each plate, the character ‘speaks’  and tells you his or her little piece of history.

The Spanish Barn

A large building by the Abbey gatehouse is the monastic tithe barn.  It was originally built to store tithes, which were taxes paid to the Abbey in the form of grain, hay and other produce.  It dates from around 1200 and is one of the most complete early medieval tithe barns in England although its roof timbers were replaced in the 15th century.  The Cary family used the barn as a stable and as a garage for Colonel Cary’s Daimler car. During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force used it as a gymnasium.  It is called The Spanish Barn because during the Spanish Armada, the crippled Spanish ship, Rosario, was towed into Tor Bay by Capt. Whiddon, assisted by Brixham fishermen.  According to Michael Rhodes, in his book Devon’s Torre Abbey, Faith, Politics and Grand Designs, “Whiddon’s only concern was to seize the gunpowder and to chase after the English fleet to deliver it to them. The Spanish ship and her crew were left in the care of George Cary and Sir John Gilbert, who summoned help from a troop of mounted lancers at St Marychurch [a nearby village]. When the lancers were in position, around twenty-five crew members were left on board to care for the ship, while the remaining 397 were led ashore and held in the Torre Abbey barn, which ever since has been known as The Spanish Barn. 

(The observant among you might notice that in front of the Spanish Barn is a pitch-and-putt course.)

But today, although we were at Torre Abbey, we didn’t visit the gallery/museum (the photos were taken on a previous visit; I had inadvertently left my camera at home.)  We had decided to drive to Torquay (not far from home), park our car, and have a brisk walk.  But when we stepped out of the car it was just too cold for us, even though we were well wrapped up.  As we were not far from Torre Abbey we decided to walk as sharply as we could across Torre Abbey Meadow and have a cup of coffee in the Abbey’s café.

We only ordered coffee as we’d not long since had a very late breakfast, and my plan was, when we returned home, to make soup for lunch and also bake a cake.

So we drank our coffee and then headed for home.

I made tomato and pepper soup, using a large onion, five large fresh tomatoes, one green and one red pepper,  a small courgette [zucchini], and a small potato (to add some extra thickening-starch as the courgette was rather small), veggie stock, tomato puree, and fresh basil leaves, and half a teaspoon of sugar (to remove some of the acidity of the tomatoes.)  I sauteed the main ingredients, added the stock and the puree and fresh basil leaves, and simmered for about 20 minutes then blended the soup with my hand-held blender. 

Meanwhile I warmed some small onion baguettes (I had had in the freezer) in the oven and then served the soup with freshly grated parmesan and some fresh basil leaves.

As the soup was simmering I made an almond cake.

You requite just one Victoria sandwich tin.  Lightly grease and line with baking parchment.

Make a Victoria sponge mixture but use only 2 eggs, and the equivalent weight of those eggs in golden caster sugar, margarine, and a mixture of self-raising flour and ground almonds (i.e. half the weight of the flour in ground almonds).  I also add a little almond essence to the beaten eggs before I add them to the creamed sugar and butter.  Pour into the sandwich tin, shake a little so that the mixture levels and bake in a pre-heated oven, middle shelf, for 28 minutes, 160C (this if, like me, you have a fan-assisted oven.) 

Remove from oven when nicely golden and cooked, and leave for a little while to cool in the tin.  Then remove onto a wire grid and allow to go completely cold before icing with some icing sugar mixed with  a little water.  Spread thinly on the cake, and then sprinkle with flaked almonds.  A lovely tea-time treat.

 

 

 

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I love a blue-sky-days after so much greyness and today we have a fabulously blue sky.  Of course, I would not wish for this every day; it would soon become boring without clouds or even rain, but right now I’m enjoying seeing vivid blueness in mid-winter.

There are now signs of spring, the narcissi are well above the level of the soil, even some tulips, and when we went into town this morning (just a few errands, nothing exciting) I felt warm enough with just a light jumper and trousers, silk scarf and coat.)  Furthermore, the street lights don’t come on until 5 pm (with this brightness it might be even later today … we shall see!) and so we have already gained an extra 40 minutes of daylight since the lights came on around about 4.20 pm in mid-December.

On our return from town, and as younger son is here today (along with Barry, his Patterdale terrier)  I decided to make French Onion soup.  This is Barry, by the way …

When I started writing this blog last August it wasn’t my intention to write about food.  Far from it!  There are already sufficient food blogs, thought I, but food plays such an important role in our lives – we’d not exist without it – that I can’t help but sometimes want to share recipes with you, especially those we particularly enjoy (not just things concocted to fill us up, fridge-bottom soup and so forth, because while left-over-bits-made-into-meals are sometimes necessary, I think our meals deserve as much attention as we can give them because, as I have just said, they represent such a large part of all our lives.

I know some people don’t enjoy cooking and if this is the case they obviously won’t agree with me – they will want to be in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.  But I have the luxury of being retired and  I actually enjoy cooking good, nourishing meals using the best quality ingredients I can afford (without being silly and wasting money).  My only regret is that this soup isn’t exactly photogenic!  But, my goodness, it tastes good!

 

 

And so to French Onion soup.  This recipe is one I’ve taken from a very old Sainsbury’s Book of French Cooking which I bought in December 1984.  I have adapted it to our needs and this will serve three good helpings or four smaller ones.

 

50g (2oz) butter (I use garlic butter)

5 large onions, chopped (the recipe says sliced but I prefer chopped)

1.2 litres (2 pints, perhaps slightly more) beef stock (I make this with four beef Oxo cubes, but you could use Bovril or a vegetarian option)

salt & pepper to taste

slices of French bread, toasted

sufficient grated Gruyere or Cheddar cheese for the amount of bread you are using.

  1.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  2. Add the chopped onions and sweat down for at least 50 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are a pale golden colour.
  3. Add the stock, bring back to the boil and cover and cook for a further 20 minutes.
  4. Season to taste.
  5. While the soup is simmering for the 20 minutes, toast the French bread, divide the cheese between the slices, grill until melted and then, as soon as the soup is ready, serve in individual bowls with a slice (or two) of toasted cheese on top.

After that we had a slice of Sicilian lemon tart each with some fruits-of-the-forest (compote) that I had in the fridge.  A lovely, easy meal on a blue-sky-day.

 

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Today I was set to meet a friend for coffee in a nearby town when she phoned to say she was unwell.  I was sorry to hear this, but we will reorganize our meeting as soon as she is well again. 

Meanwhile …

 

… as I was showered and dressed, ready to go out, rather than having a lie in – as is my wont in January – with a 2nd pot of coffee and a book, I thought I would kick-start the day with a rather nice breakfast.  Now, I have a new book, Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal, by Terence Kealey which suggests that we should not be eating breakfast, but perhaps (I have yet to ascertain this) he means breakfast early in the morning?  We have our breakfast in winter around 10.30am – 11.00am, which to some people is the middle of the day! 

So for today I laid the table with a pink cloth (which is over 30 years old), black floral place mats, and a posy of pink roses.  I maintain we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths and how much nicer to sit down to a nicely laid table than hunch over a breakfast bar or eat on-the-hoof?  All the crockery is old.  The pale green and white side plates (they are the last that remains of a breakfast service which belonged to my late uncle and he bought it in the 1930s) have a rose design, and the fruit bowls match our 1930s dinner service (again, 2nd hand – which of course means many-hand because it belonged to my mother and she bought it from an elderly lady and goodness knows where she bought it.)  The small bread knives I bought in a charity shop about 15 years ago and the Oriental tea pot was a gift from my mother.  The only item on the table that I bought new is the toast rack, several years ago. 

For breakfast I did a medley of fresh fruit, and then just one slice of bacon (grilled) and a lightly fried egg (in just a little rape seed oil.)  Plus toast, marmalade and tea.  Not a huge breakfast but sufficient to keep us going until lunch time, which was around 2 pm after our late breakfast.

For this I made broccoli and blue cheese soup and while that was simmering I decided to make a banana and walnut loaf.  I only make this when I have some bananas that are well and truly beyond the ‘eating’ stage, far too brown and squishy.  But when they’re like that, they are absolutely ideal for baking.

This is a very easy loaf-style cake to make. 

You need a 1lb loaf tin (and I use loaf-tin liners, but if you don’t have these, grease the tin lightly and line with baking parchment.)

You will need 3 medium sized bananas

240g (8oz) caster sugar (I use golden caster)

112g (4oz) margarine (or butter)

2 medium eggs

240g (8oz) plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

112g (4oz) walnut pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 190C/gas 5. 
  2. Into a separate bowl (not the mixing bowl) sieve the flour and the baking powder.
  3. chop the walnuts (reserving 6 or 7 whole walnut for the top of the loaf if desired).
  4. Using an electric hand-held mixer (I don’t have one so I do this by hand) cream the bananas and the sugar until mixed and fluffy. 
  5. Add the butter and mix until evenly combined.
  6. Beat and add the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon or so of flour with each.
  7. Fold in the remaining flour/baking powder.
  8. Finally, fold in the walnut pieces.

Now spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin, spread the top evenly, add the whole walnuts to the top, and bake in the centre of the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, testing with a skewer after 40 minutes.  You my need to turn the oven down to 180C if the cake is browning too much before it’s baked.

When cooked, cool the loaf in the tin on a wire rack. 

When completely cold, serve sliced and spread with butter or spread. 

I can’t show you it  sliced and buttered as our son called in and I cut the loaf in half so he could take half for himself and his family. 

Today, therefore, has been a cooking and baking day.  Not what I planned but still an enjoyable way in which to spend a Monday in January.

 

 

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Today we went to Topsham, a small town situated on the estuary of the River Exe in East Devon.  I took the above photo three years ago and it would appear that the  boat above has been renovated as  today it looked like this (below):

 

“In the 1660s, when Holland was the greatest customer for the Devonshire serges [woollen cloth], Dutch bricks often came back to Topsham as ballast, and it is to this  – and to the personal contact between the woollen merchants and their Dutch customers – that we owe the so-called ‘Dutch houses’ in the Strand at Topsham,” says W G Hoskins (1908-1992) in his book, Devon, first published in 1954.

 

But while this is a delightful small town which we love to visit in spring and summer,  today it was bitterly cold and our visit had but a singular purpose:  to visit the Quay Antique Centre, hoping to find some cut-glass tumblers and perhaps a jug as last week I managed to break one of our previously-purchased glass tumblers from this Antique Centre (this photo below was taken last summer):  

The Quay Antique Centre isn’t pretty building but this former warehouse on the quay (obviously), has three floors of antiques and collectables.  Better still,  we have always found things to be reasonably priced.

Seldom are there matching sets of glassware, but that doesn’t matter to us. The last glasses we bought were mis-matched, but I’d rather have mis-matched fine, cut-glass than a matching set of an inferior quality from a supermarket. 

Today we found three matching tumblers, plus a cut-glass jug:

Who could turn down these tumblers for £11 (for the three) and the jug for £14?  Lovely, aren’t they?  Well, they are if you like cut-glass! 

I saw several other things I liked, in particular an attractive small bench-seat with scroll ends, upholstered in ivory damask which would’ve looked lovely at the end of our bed, and also a powder compact (by Francois Coty) with its original box, a compact which looked like silver but was, I think, some other metal, but with a finely decorated surface. 

But I left both the bench-seat and the compact where they were.  However, as we were leaving my eyes caught sight of something yellow:  a small Vaseline glass ‘basket’.  I already have a small round bowl (on the left in the photo below) in Vaseline glass and thought this would make a rather nice companion piece. How could I leave it behind?

I am not usually one for buying knick-knackery and really, this must surely come into this category?  It’s certainly of no practical use, merely decorative.  (It is metallic oxides that produce coloured glass. Green glass contains iron oxide and the yellowish ‘Vaseline’ glass contains uranium oxide).  But I really like it and it will sit on the windowsill here in our study.

The waterfront of the Quay Antique Centre has views both upstream towards the city of Exeter and downstream to the seaside town of Exmouth.  I took the photo below, looking downstream towards Exmouth, last year on a fine summer’s day:

We left the Quay Antique Centre and made our way across the forecourt to L’Estuaire, a bar-bistro.  We have been there several times before but always in summer when we have been able to sit outside. It’s not exactly a pretty area as it fronts onto a car park but it’s always busy and therefore interesting.

Today we sat inside, on comfortable sofas, out of the cold wind, and enjoyed coffee and toasted tea cakes.  We then made our way back to the car and drove home, happy with our purchases.

On other visits to Topsham I have taken many photos so here are some of the pretty buildings, many with gardens – some almost hidden so you only have glimpses of them – going down to the River Exe.

Topsham is one of our favourite destinations. Do you have a favourite city, town or even village that you return to again and again?

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This is something of a mixed bag, and I think it more a clutch than a large tote, just three minor topics.  We didn’t have a particularly good night last night, up at 3am with both of us feeling not particularly well, but husband managed to go back to sleep while I got up and made myself a cup of tea, then I decided to refresh my hot water bottle (even though we do have an electric mattress cover and I can pop my side of the bed on, so to speak, to keep warm) and eventually I returned to bed. The next thing I knew, my husband was putting a cup of coffee on my bedside chest of drawers and it was 9.15 am.  But I remained in bed, reluctant to get up, and so he showered and dressed and went to collect the paper from the local shop.  When he returned he made us porridge for a very late breakfast (I think that is called oatmeal in other parts of the world but we Brits refer to it as porridge – my husbands has a little brown sugar on it, I have golden syrup) and I didn’t get up  until gone 11am.

Therefore, the first part of this mixed bag is the photo above.  More than ten days ago I bought some apricot roses and I decided to use this black ceramic coffee pot in which to display them (but first removing the lid, which is already loose – it isn’t something I actually use for coffee.)

 

The roses were in tight bud when I bought them but for the past week they have looked truly splendid on the breakfast table in the kitchen.  I would add here that the lamp has been ‘borrowed’ from the bed sitting room upstairs as the kitchen lamp’s bulb blew and we didn’t have a spare bulb and so rather than be without a lamp, we brought this one down from upstairs.  Now we have bought some spare bulbs it has been returned to its rightful place, but for a short while I think it looked rather attractive on the table next to the roses. 

The second part of the mixed bag is, because of feeling sluggish, I didn’t even feel like cooking much today, and so simply popped a chicken in the oven to roast (having sprinkled it with herbs first and stuffed it with some lemon, but not garlic). I tend to steam-roast, with some Bertolli spread on the top (simply as I don’t like butter) and some water in the bottom of the roasting tin, and then covering the chicken loosely with foil before popping into the oven for about an hour and a half on 190C.  Husband prepared some runner beans and carrots and I boiled some small new potatoes and made gravy.  We didn’t have anything else with the chicken, no stuffing, no bread sauce, no ‘pigs-in-blankets’, no roast onions or parsnips, just a very simple lunch, but it was very tasty. 

 

The third and final part of this mixed bag is that I’ve spent much of the day reading.  And my reading right now is The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-1987. 

I have had this book since it was first published, but somehow it had been transferred (long ago) from the To Be Read pile to the bookshelves … and now I’m thoroughly enjoying it and have ordered his recently-published second collection of diaries.  By the time that book arrives I think I will  have finished this one and therefore be ready for the next instalments!  Indeed, it is appropriate that I’m reading this now as today, Tristram Hunt, MP, has resigned as a Member of Parliament to take up the Directorship of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, where Sir Roy was also Director and during a very difficult period in the Museum’s history. 

And so, just three mismatched items:  apricot roses, a roast chicken, and a good book.  But there are days like this, aren’t there, when nothing really happens, a day in which you simply need to sit down and do absolutely nothing. Except perhaps read.

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