Wednesday, 31 July 2013

How Does (The Bottom of) Our Garden Grow?

The bottom section of our garden is given over to the growing of fruit and veg, plus an area for the chickens, and a large potting/wood shed. The previous owner had used this part of the garden for the same purpose but because he was in his 90s he hadn't been able to give the garden as much attention as it really needed. Add to that the fact that we didn't really work on the garden for about a year after we bought the house due to renovation work, when we finally moved in we were faced with a somewhat Herculean task.

This was what the bottom of the garden looked like when we bought the house in August 2010; this photo was taken from one of the attic office windows, hence the elevated angle. Can you see the Victorian red brick wall that marks our boundary? No, me either. Can you see the woodshed? You might just about be able to make out a corner of the roof just off centre, about a quarter of the way up.
Here's a view from ground level.
And again, about eight months on in April 2011, just as the building work had started.
Let's step in a little closer. Welcome to the jungle.

Albeit quite a pretty one, in a secret garden kind of way.
That's the entrance to the remains of a fruit cage to the left.
Nearly a year on (March 2012), and some huge progress had been made. 
We could actually see/get to/use the woodshed. The edges of vegetable and fruit beds are visible. And the chicken run is where the fruit cage used to be.
A couple of months on (May 2012) and several tonnes of gravel have helped in marking out the paths between the beds. DC and his trusty spade (plus ice cream bribe) have also helped.
And now, July 2013, the bottom part of the garden (I mentioned to hubby that we should call it 'the kitchen garden' because it sounds so grand...) is looking verily tip top and abundant, thanks to hubby's hard work over the last couple of years.
Runner beans, plus onions and garlic in this bed behind one of the apple trees.

Squash, courgette, beetroot, peas, carrots and probably something else that I've forgotten.
Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, dahlia and a rose bush in the small bed nearest the camera.

Two beds chock-full of raspberries. Enough last year to make 36 jars of jam. 
Here's hoping for the same this year.
Some of the apple trees are just visible top left of the photo.

And it looks like it's going to be a VERY good year for apples. We've got five established trees and three new ones, so we could soon be buried under a mountain of eaters and cookers.
And one final photo - I was trying to take a shot of the beautiful cedar tree, but I got photo bombed.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Book Review No. 15: Requiem for a Mezzo

Book three in the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.

Set in the UK during the 1920s, this is a cosy crime series which differs from many, as I've mentioned in a previous review since most cozies, in my experience, seem to be set in modern-day USA. The social constraints of the era are apparent as Daisy fights hard to be 'independent'; despite her mother's complaints, she is employed by Town and Country magazine to write about stately/grand homes around the country, which is how she so often happens to be in the right place at the right time to help solve murder(s). The atmosphere of the 1920s is apparent in the language, behaviour, settings, etc throughout the book (and entire series, I assume), making it a gentle read where the modern world (computers, mobile phones, even motor cars for the most part) does not intrude. I'm sure a historian of the 1920s would find fault with some part(s) of the book, but I enjoyed the fact that we are taken back to a time when things seemed, even if they weren't actually, a little gentler and less frantic.

The story for the book is thus: Daisy and her 'friend' Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard have been invited along to the Royal Albert Hall where Daisy's neighbour Bettina is taking part in a performance of Verdi's Requiem alongside several other opera singers. During the performance, Bettina takes a sip from her glass to help her throat and promptly keels over, dead from arsenic poisoning. The remainder of the book is, unsurprisingly, taken up with Daisy and Alec attempting to find out 'whodunnit'. There is a glimpse into Daisy's home life in the Chelsea area of London and the relationship between Daisy and Alex also develops a little further. The suspects are "interesting" (to the point of kookiness) in the way that performers so often seem to be and the plot twists plus red herrings keep you guessing til the end. And that's probably all I can say without giving the game away.

If you enjoy cosy crime books you might be interested to give this series a go; even if you're more a fan of Agatha Christie and/or Patricia Highsmith you might enjoy it, for the settings or time period as much as anything else (autopsies, finger prints and other detection methods are evolving which is interesting in itself), although I'm not sure the plots are anything to match those penned by Ms Christie.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Little Trip to Amsterdam

At the end of June I was lucky enough to pop over to Amsterdam for three nights, leaving hubby and DC home alone. I met up with four of my old school friends over there (one lives there, the rest of us are dotted aross the South of England) and we shared a lovely little apartment (complete with mouse, it turned out) in the Jordaan district.

I flew out from Exter "International" airport for the first time - what a joy. It must be like what flying used to be: friendly, cosy, easy-going and, best of all, tiny with no queues.
The little twin-prop plane had us there in no time.
On the first full day, three of us headed to the recently re-opened Van Gogh Museum, which was well worth the visit. All the old timers are there: Sunflowers, Irises, Self-Portraits, as well as many, many more, displayed chronologically. I have to say though that my favourites weren't the show-stopping, bazillion-pound paintings that everyone knows, but a couple of floral beauties:

After the museum it was time for a little wander round the city; Tasha (the one who lives there) took us through the Red Light District which was, erm, interesting but not the sort of place to linger and take photos.
These chaps were more photogenic anyway.

As you can see, we didn't enjoy particularly good weather, but then sun/heat + cities isn't my favourite combo so I didn't really mind the drizzle and grey skies.

Friday lunchtime (good timing, eh?!) we were signed up for a cheese-tasting session at the Reypenaer Shop and Tasting Room

We got to taste six different Dutch (of course) cheeses with wine and port; yum (although I discovered that I don't like port.) We were quite cheesed-out (cheesed off?!) by the end, but still managed to buy a couple of pieces to take home.

And then, what else to do when in Holland but visit the windmills?!

All too soon it was time to jump on another little plane and head west once more.
Great views along the Jurassic Coast on the flight home - that's Burton Bradstock top middle with West Bay just on the far right of the photo.
A lovely few days away.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Books, Books, and More Books (and Then a Couple More)

Last Thursday I took a trip to Exmoor and Dulverton with my mum and aunty; whilst in Dulverton I popped into one of the several charity shops in town and came over all excited when I spotted a huge collection of Carola Dunn books on the shelves. Looks like a cosy crime reader was having a bit of a clear out. Soooo, what's a girl to do when quite a number of the series that I don't already own were there for the taking, and at just £1.25 each? Well, that's right, I bought them. All seven of them, plus one other unrelated title.
And then a couple of days later one of my Read It Swap It swaps came through the post. That's Gunpowder Plot, up there at the top of the pile; yet another of the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.

Before I crammed eight of these books into my unread cosy crime bookcase I thought it would be interesting to count up how many books are already in there. More than 50? Yes. More than 100? Yes. 130 to be precise. Or 138 now that the newbies have been squeeezed in. There's really no more room now.

Of course, then I had to take the other, non-cosy book to the non-cosy (unread) bookcase up on the landing.
And, of course, I had to have a little count up of the books here too. More than 50? Yes. More than 100? Yes. 121 to be precise. Plus the new-to-me one that was added.
And then I went back downstairs and realised that there were two unread Book Club books in the living room, making a grand total of....
262 unread books of mine in the house.
As hubby pointed out, at a rate of 25 books a year (which is the amount I said I would try to read as one of my New Year's Resolutions), that's over ten years' worth of books. Better make a start.

How many unread books have you got in your house?
Please say it's not just me who has this little book problem.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Book Review No.14: The Red House

Book number 14 of the year was sort of, kind of my suggestion at Book Club No.2. We had somehow started talking about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is probably this author's best-known book. Those of us who had read it (5 out of 6 of us) all agreed that it was a great read; I then mentioned that the author had a new book out and, since we were keen to read more 'current' books rather than older ones, it was decided that this new book should be our next read. I was super excited to get hold of the book and the next time I was in Yeovil I popped into Waterstones and made it mine (with a Buy One, Get One Half Price offer.) Fast forward a couple of weeks and we were on holiday in Spain and there were lots of reading opportunities to be had. I flew through the first two books (reviews 12 & 13) because I was happy to leave those behind; and then I started on the one I'd been looking forward to - The Red House by Mark Haddon. It was perfect timing as I managed to finish it on the plane on the way home (what luck that we had those two extra days on holiday!)
The story is set in (and around) a holiday home near Hay on Wye which has been rented by Richard for his family and that of his estranged sister, in the wake of the death of their mother. Richard is looking for a way to reconnect with his sister, and he hopes a week of enforced time spent together will do the trick. The book follows each of the characters (four adults and four children - if I remember rightly) randomly throughout their week's holiday. Of course, each character has more than their fair share of flaws, or it could be that normal behaviour is made out to be flawed when looked at in such microscopic detail. There's no real plot, just the story of a couple of (dysfunctional) families spending time together when really they would all rather be somewhere/anywhere else. The book is written in a stream of consciousness style which I found difficult to follow, not to mention way too literary and, dare I say, pretentious for my liking. It took me quite a while to form any attachment to any of the characters; I was probably a good two-thirds of the way through by the time I decided the book was just about ok. I'm glad to see that plenty of other reviewers on Amazon have felt the same, so it's not just me being a grumpy reader yet again. Oh yes, and the book is sooooooo modern and with it, that the author has dispensed with speech marks because clearly they are old-fashioned, unnecessary little things. Yep, just to add to my frustrations with the plot (lack thereof), dysfunctional characters (yawn), pretentious stream of consciousness literary style (gaaaah), the punctuation is partly dispensed with (why?!?) Back to the cozy crime shelves for me.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

An Evening at River Cottage HQ

After our day at Greenway, we jumped in the car and headed to River Cottage HQ. I'd been lucky enough to secure us a couple of tickets to the Barn Relaunch evening; the events barn at RCHQ burnt down last February and this was the chance for people to see the new barn plus extra teaching space in all its glory while noshing on fabulous RC food and wandering around the entire site.
View on the walk down to River Cottage
Veg patch envy

One of the many food stations

Hugh formally opens the barn
Plenty of food = happy faces (and tummies)

Hubby, looking guilty, inside River Cottage

Sunset over the valley

I can't believe I didn't take any photos of the food we ate or the drink we drank, but I can tell you all about it: we started off with a freshly made mint mojito; then it was slow cooked lamb with beetroot relish on crisp toast; in the kitchen garden lamb shish kebabs in toasted pitta bread with dressings; a strawberry and soda bread salad; freshly cooked onion bhajis; over in the courtyard by the new barn it was woodfired-oven cooked pizzas; in the barn itself roast pork and crackling with gooseberry salad; up by the polytunnels raw veggies and dips; on the deck lemon tart with berry sorbet; and in the yurt it was tea/coffee and petit fours. Can you imagine how stuffed we were when we had to heave ourselves back up the hill to the car park?!