Monday, 28 March 2011

Domestic Godessing

I have gone all 1950s and am house-wifing it up! 
It is a lovely sunny day, so I have hung out the washing to dry in the fresh air. There is nothing quite like doing things the old fashioned way. 
We desperately need to do something about the state of our yard. Unfortunately, we can't quite afford the money or the time to resurface it, at the moment, but I plan to pretty it up by planting lots of big tubs and pots of herbs and flowers. I wouldn't mind some vegetables, but I think it might be a bit late in the year to start. 
Vegetables rule! I can't get enough of them. Last night we had little baked beetroot, wrapped-up in their silvery parcels and courgettes roasted with oregano and rosemary. 
So pretty, so summery and so delicious. 
We also had chicken with lemon-thyme and garlic, washed down with lashings of salad and a cool glass of white wine. 
Unfortunately, it was so delicious that we had polished it off before I could get a picture of the finished results, but I can assure you that it was simply splendid. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Out and About with Treacle and Ginge

It's funny how you can go for months without a break, not realising you need one, yet as soon as you have one, you seem to need to need another one even more! Missing our holiday desperately, we decided that Saturday should be a proper day off, for a bit of Treacle and Ginge time. 
We started the day with a drawn-out, late-breakfast at our new favourite coffee shop, Bragazzi's; a lovely little italianesque deli/cafe on Abbeydale Road, in Sheffield. 
My coffee-of-choice is a cappuccino. Common yes, but not always done very well. In my search for the best cup around, I have been working on a set of criteria: size, taste and foam, with bonus points for pretty patterns and the addition of chocolate powder. This one scored very highly with its deliciously rich and fruity coffee, tight-bubbled, almost moussey foam and a lovely swirly top. It was let down slightly by the absence of chocolate, but not enough to stop me ordering another one!
We also had some very tasty grub, in the form of homemade sandwiches: one with emmental, parma ham and tomato and another with salami, artichoke and balsamic onions. We also had a little pot of marinaded courgettes. De-lish! So good, in fact, that we had eaten nearly everything, before I remembered to take a photo for you! 
This is the scarf I knitted Andy, for his birthday. It was sitting on the table, looking so pretty that I just had to take some pictures.  
It was the first thing I ever knitted, so it is quite simple (just garter stitch), but I am extremely proud of it, most particularly because of the little 'made by treacle' label I stitched for it. It is the softest wool, made of Alpaca and Merino and it looks truly lovely on my man! 
Here he is, catching-up on the Heeley City Farm news. Apparently, they have lots of new pigs, so I think we might have to make a visit very soon. 
Anyway, here is Bragazzi's. Yummy food and coffee, in beautifully and simply decorated surroundings. Perfect. 
Once we had eaten our fill, we journeyed to Derbyshire to visit Hardwick Hall, built by a brilliantly clever lady  called Bess of Hardwick; elizabethan courtier and social-climber extraordinaire. 
She was married four times in total, each time to a richer man. I'm not saying I would approve of such behaviour, in this day and age, but back then it was the only way to get anywhere, as a woman. She remodeled and built several highly fashionable houses, she had eight children of her own, plus two that she inherited from one of her husbands and rose from sheep-farmer's daughter to the second richest woman in the country (after Queen Lizzie, herself). What a woman! 
The house has many claims to fame. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there, Jane Eyre has been filmed there at least twice and when we arrived, I was quickly informed that the house had recently been used as the location for Malfoy Manor, in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'. Being a massive Potterite, I jumped at the chance to do a Harry Potter themed detective trail around the house. 
We had a lovely afternoon, poking and gazing around the incredible house. It was definitely one of the best National Trust houses I have visited to date.  
We even squeezed in a cream tea, before heading back across the Peak District to Sheffield, feeling very pleased with ourselves. 

The Great Basil Contest

Andy is of the opinion that he is something of a basil-whisperer. He has been making all sorts of wild claims about his abilities to keep plants alive. So, when we were in the supermarket the other day, struggling to decide which basil plant to buy, I hit upon the idea of allowing him to prove himself one way or another, by having a basil-off!
Here is my plant, Daphne. She is a delightful Greek Basil. I must say that whilst I am well-versed in the general principles of plant-growing, I lack knowledge of the finer points of basil-care. 
I am therefore taking a leaf out of Barbara Good's book and using love and encouragement to get Daphne her gold medal. I may even play her a little classical music. If I were a plant, I think I would grow for Vaughan Williams. 
This is Andy's plant: a regular basil. I doubt he has named it, but I shall call him Mr. Fawlty. Andy is being very cagey about the whole affair, but I believe his principal tactic is to concentrate on maintaining adequate leaf-turgor, by carefully timed watering. 
I will keep you posted about our progress, but for now, all I will say is: may the best basil win!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Monster Awakes

Well, Andy and I have just got back from a lovely skiing trip to Val Thorens. As I said in my last post, it was the first time I have ever been (apart from a couple of lessons on the dry-slope, before we went), so it was very exciting indeed!
What a week we had! I spent my mornings as a debutante in the Ecole de Ski, whilst Andy ragged it down the slopes with the experienced skiers, as fast and as hard as possible. 
Lunchtimes were spent eating delicious french food en ensemble. Most days it was too cold to be outside, but on the last day it was so sunny and warm that we sat outside to catch some rays, whilst drinking beer and tucking into amazing pizza. 
In the afternoons, I either had some extra skiing practice with Andy or chilled out in the spa with everyone else. Evenings were mostly spent eating (yes, more food!) and dancing, which gave rise to some of the highlights of the trip, including a dance-off with a crazy dutch guy and getting told that our collective dancing skills were 'super-stylee'! 
There are so many reasons why this holiday was so special, not least because it was a 'holiday' - some actual time away from it all! The mountains are so breathtakingly beautiful that everything else virtually melts away as soon as you look at them and the adrenaline rush of throwing yourself down a mountain is the best way to remind yourself that you're alive! I must say that I have developed a bit of a penchant for going extremely fast, hence the nickname 'monster'.  
It was so wonderful to be away with Andy, spending some quality time together and doing something that he is so utterly passionate about. I don't think I have ever wanted to do something for anyone as badly as I wanted to be good at skiing for him! The group of people we went with was superb; a mismatch of close friends, friends-of-friends and family that couldn't have worked out better. 
I miss them already and wish I could be back on the slopes, after a long day of skiing, looking out over this incredible view. It's crazy that this photo was taken a mere 48 hours ago and now I am back in front of my computer, getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. 

Still, there is always next year. 
I am now officially hooked! 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Cheerio, but be back soon.

will be leaving fair England for a few days, 

to find some of these...(mountains, not horses). 

I am going skiing for the first time. Andy is rather good at it (ex-speed ski racer and qualified instructor, no less). No pressure, then! Cripes! I am very excited and I definitely need a holiday. Fingers crossed I come back fully intact. Either way, will tell you all about it when I get home. 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Damp Day in Drizzly Dovedale

Can there be a better way to spend a Saturday than in the beautiful middle of nowhere with one of your closest friends and your respective other halves? Only if the 'middle-of-nowhere' happens to hide a veritable feast of gastronomic establishments, selling drool-worthy, hunger/craving-quenching delights.

As I have got older (and thus more busy), I have found it increasingly difficult to arrange regular meet-ups and catch-ups with friends, especially those of the used-to-live-round-the-corner-but-now-live-far-away variety. The other side of being older and busier, however is that it is so much more important to hang on to the important people in your life and to drop everything from time-to-time in order to spend quality time with them. 

Having not seen Jenny - first and best friend at secondary school, pen-lender extraordinaire and general heroine of my teenage years - since Christmas, I decided it was high time that I saw her again. She lives in Nottingham (only an hour away), but both of us fancied getting away from our respective cities and out into the countryside. We therefore met at halfway point in Dovedale, Derbyshire.
Being the slightly (but not really) grown-up ladies that we are, we also took with us our significant others. This worked out very well for all concerned. Jenny and I had plenty of time to talk the world to rights whilst the boys were able to indulge in a little male-bonding over sports, medicine etc. 

Dovedale is very quiet and sheltered, compared to the rest of the rugged, wind-harried peak district. A shallow river, so clear that you can see right to the bottom, runs through the heart of the dale and rolling  green hills rise-up either side of it, occasionally pierced by an enormous shard of a grey, stone cliff. Clusters of snowdrops seem to litter the skirts of every road and path and great carpets of them stretch out like the remnants of actual snow before a thaw.   

The area around Dovedale is clearly the place to live if you have a lot of money, but prefer a life in the country. The former will never be true of me, even though the latter is the subject of most of my daydreams. Never mind, this house and the many others we saw, though stunningly beautiful are rather too big and palatial for little old me. Still, nice to look at though, eh?

As I said at the start, we punctuated our healthy country walk with regular food stops. The first was in a little village called Milldale, where some very business-savvy people have set up a little window-kiosk at the front of their cottage. In the absence of any other sustenance-vending establishments, a veritable flock of people were gathered in the tiny area around the cottage, all munching on homemade biscuits washed down with a hot cup of well-earned tea. They even sold 'Fab' ice-lollies, which proved to be an irresistible childhood throw-back, for Andy. 

Our next stop should have been the The George Inn at Alstonefield; a quintessentially English, rickety old pub that specialises in locally reared meat and seasonally grown produce (I could not be a bigger fan of either of these things). Unfortunately, this is clearly a matter on which a lot of other people agree as the pub was completely full when we got there. 

Starving and three miles from the next pub (far too far for anybody's liking), we satisfied ourselves with the pub's farm shop. What a treat! We had pork pies, goats' cheese tarts, bread and an amazing cheese called 'Hartington Bomber'. It was rather drizzly outside so the ingenious lady from the shop gave us an industrial roll of clingfilm with which to waterproof a picnic bench. Such industry! I am definitely going to keep a roll in the boot from now on as it worked an absolute treat!
We did get slightly lost on the way back, but were cheered up massively when Jenny produced a stash of brownies from her bag. 
We returned to our cars feeling very pleased with ourselves. We had spent a lovely day in each others' company, eaten some seriously delicious food and found an absolute gem of a place to visit (one, which we will be returning to as soon as possible).
We even managed to squeeze in a cornet of lovely, local ice-cream for the road. 


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Weekend oop North

We just spent a lovely family weekend up in the North East of England. It's where mum grew up and where a lot of my family still lives, including my sister who is at university there. I love being there, not just because I get to see my family, but because we spent so much time there as children. 
It has always felt like a second home to me.   
We spent Saturday afternoon / evening walking along the Quayside in Newcastle-Gateshead and looking around the Baltic Flour Mill Gallery. It was so quiet and the light made the water so serene and calm. There was an excellent exhibition by an artist called George Shaw. If only I were a very rich person and could afford one of his paintings. 
We spent Sunday at the coast, at St. Mary's Lighthouse.
I love the Durham/Northumberland coastline.It is so rugged and dangerous, yet capitvatingly beautiful.
It was bitterly cold and extremely windy. 
We pottered around for a while, sticking our noses into rockpools and gazing up at the vast white lighthouse.
It was a fascinating old place. So bleak on a cloudy day. 
It was amazing to think that people used to live there.  
There was a weird juxtaposition between the beautiful, Victorian lighthouse and the natural beauty of the seashore with the garish, brilliantly tacky snack van. The chips smelled so good though! It would have been very hard to resist if we didn't have some amazing pies to munch on in the car. 
It was not, however, very difficult to resist the ice cream van. Too cold. 
We finished off the afternoon with a trip to a new National Trust House called Seaton Delaval Hall. It was marginally warmer than the seaside and had some really beautiful formal gardens. A lot of the house was falling down, which added a tumble-down charm to the place. We even saw the first few snowdrops of the year. 
The rest of the weekend was spent visiting my awesome relatives and eating delicious food. Not too shabby for Naomi.