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Midwinter Special

Candles lighted this afternoon. I know I’ve said I don’t like candles as I consider them a fire risk and only use them when there is a power cut, but I was tempted to light these, and I have to admit they do look very pretty. 


I thought it might be fun to have a bumper edition of my post, longer than the usual post, not only to make up for five days with no posts but also to embrace midwinter with some of the things I enjoy – homemaking, flowers, cooking, and reading.  You will notice that going for walks or visiting places of interest hasn’t been mentioned; this is simply because the weather has been awful, or rather Very January.  We’ve hardly stepped outside, apart from the usual visits to the supermarket (and husband has been busy making some gadget or other in our garage, hardly ‘going outside’ as it’s part of the house.)

Where to begin?  I think with a request from Pam in Texas who has asked for some of my soup recipes.  I hope those of you who have already seen this recipe before will forgive me, and I will make it as brief as possible as it’s a very easy soup to make, but for Pam and others who haven’t seen the recipe, here is my version of Pea & Mint soup.  It will warm us all up on a cold January day (sorry if in, Australia and New Zealand, you are sweltering right now!)

I have to admit it doesn’t look a very appetizing colour but, believe me, it’s a delicious soup.  You need four main ingredients – onions, potatoes, fresh mint or mint concentrate (I use concentrate in winter) and a packet of frozen peas.  The quantity will obviously vary according to how much of each of these ingredients you have and how much soup you wish to make.  I used two medium onions, two medium potatoes and the best part of a packet of 907g pack of peas (less two portions which I’d taken out for a meal a few days ago).  Why 907g on the pack I do not know, why not 900g?  I mean, 7g over?  Why?  Very odd.  But that’s manufacturers’ for you!  No rhyme nor reason to it, is there? Anyway, this gives us sufficient for a good helping and sufficient for at least another helping each on another day.  It freezes well.

You need a little oil. I use rapeseed oil.  Splash some into a large saucepan.  While that is heating peel and chop the onions and potatoes, and they saute them in the heated oil.

Now add the frozen peas followed by sufficient boiling water to cover the whole lot.  Now add the chopped mint, a good tablespoon or more if fresh mint, a dessert spoon or a little more if using concentrate   Go easy on the liquid at this stage, you can always add more later if the soup is too thick.  Now add 3 or 4 Oxo vegetable cubes (crumbled, of course) or your own favourite veggie stock powder.  I find this soup doesn’t need extra salt as stock cubes are already salty.

Pop the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes. Once simmered, add a splash of milk, not too much, and then blitz, either in a liquidizer or a hand held blender.  You could, if you prefer, add a dollop of crème fraiche or cream and then blitz, but I use milk.  Once blitzed, serve with a dollop of crème fraiche on top, and perhaps some chopped  mint (if you have some) or parsley.

You will notice that on the table there are also cheese scones. I made these before I made the soup – they are a lovely accompaniment to this soup (well, to any soup!)

I cannot claim this to be my own recipe, it comes from the book Afternoon Tea by Susannah Blake, and in the book Susanna uses a much smaller pastry cutter to make ‘baby’ scones, more suited to an afternoon tea than my scones which are to have with soup for lunch.

But it’s all very easy.  Set your oven to a temp of 220C (I set mine at 201C as I’ve a fan oven and you reduce the temp slightly for fan ovens.)


225g plain flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

a pinch of salt

50g unsalted butter (I use soft margarine instead)

75g of mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 egg

100ml of milk


Susannah uses a food processor but I don’t possess one, I use my hands (what do they say? Fingers before forks?)  Your hands are one of the most important cooking tools, believe me.  So sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and then rub in the fat with your finger tips, lifting the flour as you do so, to get as much air into the mixture as possible. Now add the grated cheddar cheese and mix into the flour and fat, which now resembles breadcrumbs, reserving a little grated cheese for the tops of the scones before baking.

Make a slight well in the mixture and pour in the milk into which you have mixed the egg, reserving just a little for the tops of the scones.  Draw the flour and fat mixture together into a dough.

On a floured surface roll the dough out so that it’s approximately 2 cm thick, certainly no less than 2cm, and cut out your scones using a 5.5cm cutter.  A smaller one will result (obviously!) in more scones, a larger one in fewer scones.  For me the mixture made nine scones.  Place them onto a baking tray (I use baking parchment on the tray) and then brush over the egg/milk wash that you have reserved, not allowing it to go down the sides as this prevents the scones from rising, and then sprinkle on the remainder of the grated cheese. Pop into the hot oven, middle shelf, and set your timer for 10 minutes, by which time they should be risen and golden.  But you know your oven, so you might need to check the scones before 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

We enjoyed them with the mint & pea soup for our lunch …


My next item in this bumper issue post concerns Peter Mayle whose book A Year in Provence was a best-seller in 1989.  It was so popular that it was made into a drama series for television starring John Thaw and Lindsey Duncan, and was the inspiration for the Russell Crowe film, A Good Year (which, incidentally, I have on DVD and enjoyed very much.   It is only recently that I mentioned Peter Mayle’s book and  also the  earlier book by Lady Fortescue, Perfume from Provence.  Indeed,  Mayle’s book spawned a whole lot of books about people enjoying life in France so I was sad to learn in yesterday’s paper that he had recently died; but how coincidental that we were only talking about these books so very recently.

Cuttings from this weekend’s papers, The Daily Telegraph on Saturday and The Sunday Telegraph today.

My other reading is Rosamunde Pilcher’s long novel, Coming Home.

I read this book when it was first published 20 years ago.  I thought I’d remembered the story but, surprisingly, I could remember very little of it and, as I’ve been reading, I have been both surprised and delighted all over again by the quality of the writing, the plotting, the characters, indeed everything about this book, but most importantly the fine details of  life during the years leading up to World War 2 and which form the first part of the book.

It is the story of Judith Dunbar who, at the beginning of the story  is a 14-year-old returning to the UK  (in 1935) after an idyllic childhood in Ceylon (now, of course, Sri Lanka) and for this Mrs Pilcher draws on her own experience in Ceylon as a Wren, submarine spotting in Trincomalee, and it was there that Mrs Pilcher told me in the interview she granted me in 2000 that she sold her first story, the news of which reached her on VE Day.   “I felt wonderful! I got a cable which said that Miss Johnson had bought the story for 15 guineas [£15.15.0d in old money, i.e. fifteen pounds and fifteen shillings, £15.75p in decimal currency].  It meant I’d got the end of the wedge in the door.” But, she said, Coming Home wasn’t autobiographical:  “Judith Dunbar isn’t me, even though everything which happens to her happened to me.” It is a story of a group of young people whose lives are splintered by war, and how different things might have been if there hadn’t been a war.

Another book which arrived recently is …

Obviously, our love-affair with everything French continues!

I have also recently enjoyed the DVD of …

I bought it, not because it was close to Christmas – indeed, Christmas had been over for more than three weeks – but because it stars Diane Keaton, and surely she can’t make a bad film?  Husband and I watched this, it’s great fun with some laugh-out-loud moments.  Perhaps not a keeper, but fun for a once-only watch.

Right. Back with food.  On our trolley dash around Waitrose a couple of week’s ago I was unable to find our favourite Devon Rose Olde English sausages.  No great deal, but these make the best sausage casseroles I’ve tasted and so I looked them up online and, sure enough, I could buy them direct from the family farm business in Devon.  OK, I had to shell out on the delivery fee, but to have them sent from the farm to my door, cutting out the middle-man of the supermarket pleased me somewhat, even though in this instance the supermarket wasn’t stocking them!

To make the delivery fee worthwhile, I bought two packs of Old English sausages and one pack of pork and leek sausages which I think will be lovely with mashed potatoes and gravy.  They arrived in a polystyrene box with a chiller pack, beautifully fresh.

The next item concerns the many bloggers who are endeavouring to have a ‘no spend’ January.  I haven’t joined them because we only spend what we need to spend and/or what we can afford. Also, I think that while this is a good idea (i.e. the ‘no spend’ January) as it focuses our minds on our spending habits and those habits we might change (if we need to change them.) However, if we drastically deplete our fridges, freezers and larders (and other stocks of household goods) we only have to replace them in February.  We are simply deferring the spending.

What I find at this time of the year though, while we’re indoors much of the time, is that I take stock of some household items that need replacing.  Therefore, I have ordered a couple of new oven gloves, nothing fancy, the old-fashioned plain off-white cotton style like a scarf with a pocket for your hands at either end, which are sold by a company called Woods Fine Linen.

I have also purchased three new mop pads for the steam cleaner (for the kitchen, shower room and bathroom floors). After a couple of years of washing them after each use, they need replacing.

Furthermore, I’ve ordered a radiator brush, and this has yet to arrive.  You would think, would you not, that by now one of the vacuum companies (Hey, James Dyson, are you listening?) would have an attachment that could suck out the dust from between the slats and the back of radiators, wouldn’t you? Each time the radiators come on I can sniff the dust and yet I can’t GET AT IT to remove it!  I’ve read the reviews and I’m expecting magical results from this brush!

I have also ordered two new room sprays. I dislike the ones in aerosols from the supermarket and buy ones which look more like bottles of perfume (it’s now OK, apparently, to refer to scent as “perfume”) and the fragrances I have chosen are Jasmine and Sandalwood. I will report back on these when they have arrived and I’ve sprayed our rooms with them.

And finally, for this section of my Midwinter Special, I bought a new dustpan and brush in B&Q yesterday.  Husband, wondering why I’d bought one as he thought the old one was perfectly OK (Men! Had be used it recently?  Even though I wash both the pan and the brush, the brush had seen better days).  He asked how much I’d paid for it?  I replied 97p.  “That much!” was his reply.

Not a glamorous item but essential in the kitchen

And so, to this afternoon.  After I had cleared up the lunch things I arranged the flowers I bought yesterday. Well, not really “arranged”, simply put them in jugs and placed them in the sitting room.

These alstromeria will look better once they are fully open

Tulips waiting to go into the sitting room


Daffodils on the kitchen table, along with two Red William pears in a dish designed for pears (by Fieldings, Crown Devon ware)

And finally, a cup of tea and some macarons this afternoon, while reading the paper 

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Lovely post Margaret a bit of allsorts. Soup and scones, yum. I agree about the no spend thing. I love your red lidded dish.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Marlene. The lidded red dish is, I believe, French. It was a Christmas present, many years ago, from my mother. She knew I wanted a new casserole dish, and she chose this for me. I love it, too.

  2. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    A little note to all readers – I can vouch for Margaret’s pea and mint soup. It is delicious and I make it to her recipe regularly. I serve mine with oat bread which has a very scone-like texture so I can easily see why the cheese scones complement it. I shall be trying the scone recipe later this week, Margaret.
    I bought daffodils yesterday. Yellow is far from being my favourite colour but I love the promise of spring that daffodils bring. Tulips are wonderfiul too – I like white ones best.
    I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a radiator brush. I use a feather duster which I poke down the gaps as best I can…….not often enough, I know!
    The pear dish is so unusual, I’ve not seen a dish like that. I love it!
    I do occasionally carry out an eat-it -all-up exercise for the freezer. This ensures that things don’t get left there for too long and it frees up space so that I can indulge in a big cooking session.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Eloise, for that vote of confidence in my pea and mint soup! The other soups we enjoy are cauliflower & blue cheese (almost any kind of blue cheese); pestou soup, minestrone soup; and tomato & courgette soup. And then there is the traditional vegetable soup (made in a totally different way, no sautéing). But I can include these recipes in the next few weeks.
      I love daffs but actually prefer the white ones or those with the pale pinkish trumpets, but all of them are like a breath of fresh air after the long winter.
      Yes, you can buy radiator brushes! Indeed, there are brushes for everything imaginable. We have a feather duster but it won’t go far down the concertina effect of some of our radiators. I will be very surprised if the new one will do this, too, but we can but try.
      Yes, it is a good thing to eat-it-all-up from the freezer, and then have a good cooking session. You have made a very valid point there. We’ve not had this new freezer long enough for things to be very old in it yet.

  3. …. It’s raining in NZ & we recently had a storm…. but otherwise it has been so hot!! Have you thought of having a recipes page? Your food is such a treat. It looks as though you make your home “snug” and welcoming in winter, a haven.

    • Margaret Powling

      I wouldn’t know how to create a separate recipes page, Ratnamurti, devoted to recipes. How I manage to do posts and add photos is still as much as I can manage. But I could perhaps have one day a week, or even once a month, when I devote a post to recipes. I will certainly give this some thought.
      Maybe your storm will have cleared the air a bit in NZ, when it’s been so hot. And yes, our home is our haven, especially so in winter. We’ve not had snow like so many other parts of the UK, but it’s been very wet and dreary these past few weeks.

  4. Hello Margaret, I loved reading your bumper edition today of your blog. Sorry you’re having chilly weather in your part of the world. It was chilly here this morning according to SoCal standards but it warmed up to a nice 68 degree this afternoon. I do hope we get some much needed rain though. Thank you for the wonderful recipes. And, another good book to read, too. I really enjoyed reading Return to Fourwinds. The author did a great job on building up the characters in the story. My copy of Perfume from Provence is on its way. Your flowers are lovely as ever. I bought a nice, large bunch of white alstromeria yesterday at the store. I’m anxiously awaiting for my bulbs to bloom so that I can bring them inside to enjoy. Speaking of buying, I’m afraid I was unaware of no spend January. There’s so many good bargains out there is you need them! Enjoy your week dear friend. Pat

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Pat, so glad you enjoyed the bumper post! I’m also delighted you have enjoyed the novel, Return to Fourwinds, and what a lovely mild temperature you are enjoying at 68 degrees. We are now on the Celsius scale which is, I think, is just around 20C for us. I love alstromeria – they last long and are very pretty flowers, the one drawback is they have no fragrance. I forgot to add a couple of things to my list of purchases of household goods: new scales for the kitchen and new Cleanology cleaning products which I sent for by post as I’m not able to buy them in the supermarket we visit.

  5. Thank you for the extra long post:) I really enjoyed reading it. The pea and mint soup sounds so delicious. I will try it.

    • Margaret Powling

      So glad you enjoyed the long post, Kavitha, and I hope you will enjoy the pea and mint soup. It’s so easy, too, and doesn’t take long to make.

  6. Thank you for the lovely long post Margaret, the pea soup recipe has been added to my stash, we love a bowl of soup on a cold day and usually share a round of toasted cheese sandwiches with it, the idea of cheese scones really appeal though.
    We were meant to be going into Cambridge this morning to pick up a few bits for the house but my horse cast one of her shoes at the weekend so had to have an emergency visit from our farrier, shopping trip has been postponed for another day.
    I do like that pear dish, have to confess am slightly addicted to collecting dishes that are shaped the same as the foodstuff that goes in / on them, have a beetroot pot shaped liked a beetroot, an apple dish for apple sauce etc, not sure if they have a special name or anything but they really appeal to me.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, your horse must come first even though I don’t know the first thing about horses! Do they cast shoes often, I wonder?
      The pear dish was picked up quite inexpensively many years ago, but for the life of me I can’t think where I bought it. I just happened to have two pears that looked just right on it this weekend (Red Williams). Oh, how lovely to have those pots – beetroot for beetroot and an apple-shape for apple sauce!
      I hope you enjoy the pea and mint soup when you make it, and the scones are lovely with any soup.

      • Not that often thankfully, the trick is to find the shoe, firstly so that you don’t have to pay for a replacement! and secondly so your horse doesn’t tread on it and potentially injure itself on any leftover nails. Luckily I found the missing shoe but did have to comb the whole of her field, oh well it all goes towards my 10k steps a day!

        • Margaret Powling

          Well done on finding the horseshoe (lucky horseshoe!) I have no idea how much these things cost, i.e. a new shoe plus the farrier to do the work.
          I heard on a TV prog that the 10k steps a day is just an arbitrary number that was almost pulled out of fresh air. I find housework is enough for me at my great age these days, but a walk is also very pleasant (but not in the very cold weather.)

  7. You set such a lovely table. Loved seeing those lit candles – being such a candle person myself! I’m not one for pea soup, but those scones look delicious. You have such a wonderful way of keeping a home. Thanks for sharing your ideas and ways.

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Jeannine, and thank you for your kind comments. Pea and ham soup wasn’t a favourite of mine, either, but once I started making pea and mint soup my opinion of pea soup changed. But like butternut squash soup, which I’m not keen on, this, perhaps, isn’t one for you. The scones are also lovely if made with a smaller pastry cutter and then split and filled with cream cheese and chopped watercress.
      I must buy some more candles as, I admit, those tall dark red ones looked really nice, lighted at the weekend. It isn’t that I don’t like candles but, as I say, I’ve always considered them a fire hazard, and unless you can find a really nice scented ones, the cheaper end of scented candles don’t smell all that nice to me.
      I suppose I got the habit of trying to make our home look good (not that I always succeed!), not with new things but with what we have or what we have inherited, from my late mother. She didn’t have anything new, I don’t ever remember her buying any new furniture, all she had were hand-me-downs or bought second hand, but she made her home look pretty. I remember, years ago, when we both moved into our new homes (that’s a long story) which were close together (one of our sons now lives in her former home) and a neighbour took her children to see my mother and they were amazed. “It’s like an Aladdin’s cave!” they said, admiring her open fire, her fireplace, her brass candlesticks, all her pictures (original art, not framed prints), her china and ornaments, her polished mahogany and oak furniture, colourful cushions (many of which she’d made from pieces of patchwork) and flowers and books. “It’s so colourful!” they said, looking at all the things, so different from the modern homes they were used to with the ubiquitous leather three-piece suite, coffee table, large TV and little else, indeed just like every other home, with everything bought as if from the same source and without any individuality, rooms which were easy to keep clean and tidy but oh, so boring. So while we haven’t bought furniture since 1985 (apart from new beds, I don’t count those, and a couple of sofas) having decorated in a traditional style (which I hope doesn’t mean ‘old fashioned’ style) I hope our style transcends annual decorating trends.

      • Thanks for the comments on decorating and style. I agree completely – your style does transcend and is very lovely. I also agree that so much today is all the same and thus rather boring.

        • Margaret Powling

          Thank you, Jeannine. Yes, much of the new furniture in the large furniture stores where many people shop (there are exceptions, companies that make bespoke pieces at subsequently high prices) are all much the same and are, in my view, boring. They are mass produced and therefore made as simply as possible so they end up all looking like plain chunks of wood, whether they are tables, chairs, sideboards, wardrobes or chests of drawers. If I were setting up home today I’d hunt for pieces in antiques shops and 2nd hand shops where the prices are often far less than new modern furniture.

  8. We continue to swelter here in Australia. It has been quite severe, with the relevant authorities issuing warning messages on the radio and television. Some coastal cities have reached 40 deg C. Just awful. Our temperatures rarely exceed 30 deg C but humidity is so high that lethargy continues. I read your posts about hot soup, freshly baked scones and can but dream ….

    • Margaret Powling

      The heat sounds awful, Lara. All extremes are awful, though, aren’t they, whether extreme heat or extreme cold. I can’t imagine temperatures of 40C, we feel hot if its the high twenties! But the heat will eventually go and you can enjoy soup again!

  9. Good morning Margaret, at least it is morning for me, I know its the pm for you!
    Just getting caught up on my blog reading and delighted to find this lovely post which I enjoyed so much.
    Your home looks so inviting, I am sure it brings you much joy and to be living in such a beautiful part of the country is extra good.
    Thank you, thank you for the recipes. I am anxious to try both today. I have all the ingredients including the fresh mint for the soup.
    Here in TX is is hard to grow anything except native plants because of the extremes of temperatures, but, I do have a planter of mint just outside my back door.
    My husband and I enjoy home made soups and I am thrilled to have your recipe, I will look forward to any more that you might post in the future.
    Best wishes to you and your husband.
    Pam in TX.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you for saying our home looks inviting, I couldn’t wish for a nicer compliment, Pam. And glad you enjoyed this long post. I’m glad you have fresh mint for the soup. You can taste it as you go and see how much mint you want to include (I’d not include the thick, woody stalks, though; they would be difficult to blend with a hand-held blender). I will pass on your best wishes to my husband (he’s been busy cleaning out the first of our radiators with the new brush, and then holding the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner to the brush as it emerges from the radiator, all very efficiently. But he’s far more practical than I shall ever be!)

  10. A bumper post indeed – and most enjoyable, too.
    I read the Rosamund Pilcher book just a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed her style of writing. I may have read one other one of hers – Winter Solstice, so that probably leaves me plenty of others to track down.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you for your kind comment. Yes, Rosamunde Pilcher wrote many books, mostly light romances, but when she wrote The Shell Seekers this was her break-through novel, the one for which she is most remembered, as this is more than just-a-light-romance. Then came September, then Coming Home, and finally Winter Solstice which was to be her last book (she’s not written since then, as far as I’m aware.) I loved Winter Solstice and read this over the Christmas period for which it is ideal reading. I haven’t read her light romances, with the exception of one called April which was published in 1957 by Collins and which she kindly signed for me when I interviewed her in 2000. But this one has never been re-issued, I think she put an embargo on her very early books, perhaps she thought they weren’t good enough or rather dated, but I love this book, I have many happy memories of reading it when I was 13 and I’ve read it several times since (how I’ve managed to keep it since I was a child, goodness only knows!)

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