Monday 3 November 2014

A Soul! A Soul! A Soul Cake!

Soul cake with perry - not an ingredient, just a good accompaniment

As you may be aware, yesterday was All Souls' Day. As I mentioned in my Halloween post last year, it was traditional on this day for people to hand out soul cakes to 'soulers', people who went around singing and praying for the dead. So I thought this year that I would make some soul cakes myself, as a good activity following an evening requiem service at church.

My understanding is that there are many variations on soul cakes... which isn't at all surprising when you consider that the concept dates back to the medieval period, when people around the UK couldn't just look up a recipe on the internet and see what them in the next county were cooking. The thing that unites them seems to be sweet spices and dried fruit.

Here is the recipe I used, taken from the blog Lavender and Lovage:

175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
450g plain flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
100g currants
(a little milk to mix)

Step 1:
Pre-heat oven to 180c.

Step 2: 
Cream the butter and sugar together, and then beat in the egg yolks.

Step 3:
Sift the flour and mixed spice into the mixture. 
(At this point I realised that the mixed spice I'd bought had coriander in it... Although the person who I had in mind as I baked very much liked coriander, I wasn't sure how it would go in sweet cookies. Fortunately I had whole nutmegs and ground cinnamon and ginger in my cupboard. So I grated some nutmeg, spread the measure between the three spices and the day was saved...)

Step 4:
Stir in the currants and add enough milk to make a soft dough, similar to scones. 
(I only added the tiniest dash of milk for luck, and then added up probably compensating when I floured things up as a rolled the dough out... So long story short is that milk may not even be necessary. Play it by feel.)

Step 5: 
Roll (or pat, if you're like me and don't have a rolling pin) the dough out on a floured surface. If you have a round biscuit cutter, use this. If you're like me and don't, roll into balls and then squish flat. You should get about 12. Place on a greased or/or lined baking tray and mark with a cross.

Step 6:
Bake the cakes for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack (... if you have one...)

Step 7:
Eat and/or distribute to family, friends and neighbours. Enjoy with a drink and make a toast to loved ones who have gone ahead of us.

Saturday 1 November 2014

This is Halloween

Some photographs snapped around Westminster Abbey after work yesterday evening.

And the friendly bat that lives on my balcony door (his friend lives with my sister):

Hope everyone's having a good weekend, however (and whether) you are marking Hallowe'en, All Hallows' Day and All Souls' Day.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

My brother's gorgeous girlfriend took this series of photos of my darling mother recently, looking like Alice in Wonderland or some other fairy tale...

Sunday 28 September 2014

Distinguished Gentlemen (and Ladies)

Today I strolled down to Borough to spectate at the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride... And I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning there.

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride happens in cities all around the world and is held to raise money for prostate cancer research. It involves gentlemen (and ladies) dressing up dapper and mounting their classic and classic-style motorbikes to ride around, making lots of noise, creating a (well-mannered) spectacle, and hopefully raising awareness and sponsorship money. I found out about it through a very good friend of mine who was involved in the ride in Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, I'm unable to ride myself and I don't know anyone with a bike here in London so was unable to join in even as a pillion. But I could go down and look at all the lovely bikes and admire everyone's style... People had made a great effort, with only a few shameful fake moustaches. (Seriously, when are some people going to realise that events that call for you to dress as a gentleman are about proper style, not about fancy dress piss-takes? Sorry, rant over.)

So on to the bikes and gentlemen:

Sorry, lots of photos there, but I figured it was the best way to demonstrate just how awesome the whole thing was! Oh, and a video snippet is definitely necessary, because what's a classic motorbike calvacade without the roar of the motors??

Finally, what did I wear as a distinguished gentlewoman spectator? Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures at the event as The Cat was unable to make it (despite being a motorbike fan himself - with a licence but without a stead...) so I had to wait until I was home to get a photo. It's still warm and sunny here in London, despite the fact that it's late September, so while I'm still able to get away with it, I'm wearing all the light summer dresses I can. I was going to wear gloves but it was just too warm! I did rock the (fake) pearls though, for a little distinction...

If you'd like to read more about the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, and if you would like to make an 11th hour donation, you can do so here.

Monday 25 August 2014

The Grass Beneath My Feet, a Walk on Sand...

I have been off the radar for some time - the result of some unexpected and major life events - but am making a return to blogland now. I am, however, currently still in the process of looking for a new flat to move into, so I may still be slightly sporadic for a while at least. But I'm definitely back, and I have a little stash of things to post about. 

The first of these is my Bank Holiday weekend visit to Kew Gardens, in the last week before my year's membership expires. Fortunately I opted to go yesterday, when there was some sun and warmth about, rather than today, which is all about torrential downpours and hanging about inside with cats (I'm currently cat-sitting...).

In addition to being the last week of my year's membership, it's also the last few weeks of the current event running at Kew Gardens, called Plantasia and being all about the healing power of plants. In addition to Plant Family Croquet (see the picture above), where I learnt about how plants are turned into medicines, I went on the Barefoot Walk. (The Barefoot Walk came before the croquet for me, hence the slightly dirty feet in the croquet picture!)

The Barefoot Walk had you removing your shoes and walking across and through various textures and surfaces, including stones, bark, charcoal, logs, water... and thick, sticky mud.

Starting off...

You could opt to take the dry route or the mud... I went with the mud, of course!

A fork in the road...

It was wonderful and fun, and I opted to leave my shoes off afterwards, except when I got to croquet, as I thought I might not be allowed to play barefoot! But I'm a great believer of slipping off your shoes whenever you feasibly can when you come into contact with the natural earth. It is definitely re-energising at any time, and I very much enjoyed all the textures and temperatures and squelching of the Barefoot Walk.

Then I checked out the Healing Giant - a garden planted in the shape of a human body, with the relevant herbs and such planted in the areas that they are reported to heal.

But what was my summery Kew outfit for this adventure, aside from my new(ish) blue shoes? Well, it was my jolly daffodil/ray of sunshine Easter dress. Which is a good thing as I never got around to posting any Easter outfit photos here as Easter Sunday was such a rainy, un-photogenic day this year. And what's the best thing about this dress, apart from the fact that it's such a happy colour, and exactly the colour dress I've been wanting for ages? I made it myself!

Yes, indeedy, I bought a 1960s pattern from Patterns from the Past and headed out to Walthamstow Markets, then got out my neglected sewing machine and whipped up this baby. It wasn't smooth sailing either, as I launched straight in without trying the sizing beforehand and the bodice was WAY too big around but also WAY too short. So I had to adjust it to be slimmer and add in some length. Fortunately, I could work it so that the seam where I had to sew in the extra strip of fabric came under the bust and it ended up not looking like an accident...

A close-up to allow you to appreciate the fancy contrast hand-stitched bit around the collar (that was actually part of the pattern, not an accident correction...)

Oh, and the other awesome thing about this dress? There's a matching jacket! But that's in storage at the moment as part of the flat-moving process, so I teamed it with a cardigan instead when it got a little bit chillier yesterday.

Dress: made by me
Cardigan: Charity shop
Hat: Accessorize
Shoes: Jones Bootmaker

And here are some flowers to complement the colours of my dress. As I suggested, the two shades of yellow I picked for my dress were inspired by daffodils, appropriately for the timing of an Easter dress. But these flowers are nice too... and there's some bees in there, as an added bonus.

So, I will leave you with a few lines from one of my favourite Belle & Sebastian songs, Asleep on a Sunbeam, which feel especially appropriate to the Barefoot Walk and the last days of the season:

Another summer's passing by
All I need is somewhere I can feel the grass beneath my feet
A walk on sand, a fire I can warm my hands
My joy will be complete.

And, indeed, it follows on to be appropriate for my flat-hunting:

I thought about a new destination
I'm never short of new inspiration
Roll out the map and mark it with a gin...

Good bye, Kew! It's been nice having a year with you. Maybe we'll do it again sometime. 

If you want to check out my other posts of Kew through the seasons, you can enjoy another August, October, November (2011), February and May. Also, January at Wakehurst, Kew's sister gardens.

Monday 4 August 2014

Lights Out

As we remember 100 years since the UK entered WWI, I thought I would share with my readers the war memorial from King's Cross Station. The 11 stones, engraved with the names of the men from the Great Northern Railway who lost their lives in the conflict, were relocated during the recent refurbishment of the station. The new arrangement reflects Sargent's painting, Gassed, which depicts soldiers injured in a mustard gas attack. And it is beautifully poignant.

Gassed, John Singer Sargent (1919)

All over the country tonight, people and organisations will be marking the beginning of the UK's involvement in the Great War by switching out their lights, leaving a single light or candle glowing. The act is in reference to the British Foreign Secretary's statement in August 1914: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime". It is hoped that the collective gesture will encourage reflection on the lives lost and changed during the four years of the war.

Saturday 31 May 2014

Rainy Day Gardens

When I visited the deer park at Knole last summer, I noted with some sense of regret that the walled gardens at the property are open on Tuesdays only over the late spring and summer. I love an historic garden, but when does one ever have a free Tuesday when one works full time in an office? If you have a Tuesday off, it's generally because you also happen to be abroad as part of a longer break.

However, I was delighted to discover that my new place of work has a few extra bonus days off each year in additional to the usual ones, one of which is the Tuesday following the late May Bank Holiday. So I knew immediately what I was going to do with my day, come rain or shine. And boy, did it rain! But that's okay, because I had my brand new wellies.

My new wellies were just one part of my incredibly generous parting gift from my former workmates. One of my friends took note of my comment that I was in need of a pair of fit, respectable, good wellies. My new job is likely to require walking around a fair few churchyards, which can be very wet underfoot, so it was thought that furnishing me with wellies would be a good idea for seeing me off on my way.

So when I knew what the weather was to be for my Knole visit, I dressed from the wellies up. I went with a fitted green jacket (part of a 1940s suit) and shirt for a respectable country look, but coupled with a denim skirt to keep it from being too dressy for a muddy, puddly garden romp.

And I had a delightful time in the garden in the rain. Yes, I couldn't sit down and enjoy a book or anything like that but I marched through with my wellies and umbrellas, unhindered. What a wonderful, extensive gardens, full of many hidden treats within the 'Wilderness' and all around.

Because my wander around the gardens was naturally slightly inhibited by the weather, I also had plenty of time to explore the house, which I missed on my last visit as I was too busy enjoying the fine summery day. No photography was allowed inside, but sometimes that's kind of preferable, because you can just look without feeling as though you have to capture...

The house was itself wonderful, and I would definitely recommend a visit. The spaces were amazing, the stories fascinating and the collection full of fabulous and exquisite objects, furniture and paintings. I enjoyed hearing about the Spangle Bedroom, which takes its name from a bed with curtains which, in their Elizabethan heyday, would have shimmered and sparkled with the firelight reflecting off the thousands of spangles or sequins that formed part of the decorative embroidery.

The Spangle Bed (Image source: Knole Conservation Team Blog)

So, all up, a rather satisfying day of rainy day walking, historic interiors... and a perfectly warm and delicious toasted cheese and bacon bagel bought at a bargain price from a local bagel shop on the way back to the station... Bliss!