Sunday, 24 November 2013

'Long Was The Night'

That's the title of this Mackenzie Thorpe limited edition lithograph that I bought for hubby as a wedding pressie back in 2005.

Not everyone's cup of tea I'm sure, but we both rather like it.
You may have seen it lurking in the background of some photos previously - it lives above the sofa in the living room.

Or that's to say it did live above the sofa, until this afternoon when it got moved to a new spot...

Ta daaaaaa

What do you think?
Although I still think a starburst (or similar) mirror could work there, hubby and I were getting a bit frustrated by the blank space above the mantle, it was crying out to be filled ASAP. So, we looked around the house to see what might fit - we tried two different mirrors: one was too big, the other too small (it was like something from Goldilocks); we tried two other pictures, one was too small, the other was almost perfect. And then hubby suggested this one.
And we love it there.
As hubby says, it is the most expensive piece of artwork we own (not that it's worth that much), so it should have a more prominent position.

And a shot of the whole wall (please excuse the TV blaring out at you, but DC was watching his beloved Power Rangers...)
I love the picture, and I do think it goes really well there - the colours work (both of the picture itself and the frame) and it's just the right size. However, it's not quite got the 'oomph' I was hoping to achieve for that particular spot. But, it will definitely do for now.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Recent 'Vintage' Finds

I've managed to pick up a few lovely little things recently, at local vintage fairs and antique shops. 
My first lucky buy was a lovely little metal bucket.
It's about half the size of a normal bucket, so I thought it would be perfect for a plant (or two) by the front door, if I ever get round to potting it up...
I say this was a 'lucky buy' because it cost me just £7 from a sweet little antiques/vintage shop in the nearby town of Ilminster; and why is that lucky? Well, just a few days before I had very nearly bought this bucket from a vintage trading centre in Crewkerne for the princely sum of £15. 
Fate was on my side that day when I popped it back on the stand.

Then I went to the Buttercross Vintage Market in Somerton and picked up a few lovelies
These adverts date from the 1950s. I got this one because hubby is a big fan of jelly sweets.
And I couldn't resist this one
because now I know how to solve those housework 'blues'; I shall stop relying on a large mug of coffee and a chocolate bar to see me through.
This letter 'A' is perfect for DC's room. 
You might have spotted it in this post, on top of the chest of drawers.
And finally, a lovely old Ladybird book which should give DC some idea of what his future holds.
I also made a trip to Blandford Forum for the Vintage at the Village pop-up boutique fair; it was a bit of a trek, taking over an hour to get there, but it was a pleasant place for a wander and I also spotted Pearl Lowe in the loo, so that was my claim to fame on Facebook for the day!

This was my only purchase from the fair itself (I picked up a couple of non-vintage things in a charity shop including the latest book by one of my favourite cosy authors for just 99p, so it was almost worth the near-on 3 hour round trip!)
It's nothing 'wow', but I fell in love with this old American drinks carrying 'crate' as soon as I saw it; but I did a deal with myself whereby I looked round the entire fair, then went out and looked round town. The deal was that if it was still there when I went back, I could buy it. And it was, so the Retro/Vintage Fates clearly had it earmarked just for me.
Apologies for this photo being the wrong way round
I have a big love for America and all things American, so the fact that this has come from New Jersey is perfect, as far as I'm concerned.
I've no idea what to use it for - possibly a (rather large) in-tray on my desk where pieces of paper are filed away never to be seen again.
But while I decide what to do with it, I can spend time stroking it (it feels very smooth and almost leather-y even though it's made from some sort of waxed cardboard) and imaging those American chaps delivering their crates of Yoo-Hoo chocolate milk back in the 1950s or 60s (at least I think that's when it dates from.)
I've done a little Googling and found some info that suggests these particular crates are quite hard to find, so perhaps it's worth lots more than the £18 I paid for it. 
This time next year, Rodney, we'll be millionaires!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Mantle; At Long Last!

Last month I blogged about the shelves, cupboards and chimney breast we had built in the living room (see here.) This meant our room went from looking like this
to this
to this in the space of a few weeks.
But the chimney breast looked a little bare.

That was until yesterday afternoon when the carpenter came round for an hour or so and

ta daaaaaah

We finally got our mantle fitted.
Sorry, no 'in progress' shots since we were busy entertaining DC at the time.
But plenty of 'after' shots, with the prettyfying having been done.
Ahhhhh, what an improvement.
We are officially in love with this big old lump of oak.
Hubby can't wait to hang the Christmas stockings from it. 
Big old softy that he is. 

Just a little bit of touching up required where the chimney breast meets the floor, plus a mirror or picture to source (I'm favouring a starburst style mirror since there is so much 'square-ness' going on all around.)

Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Review No. 24: A Killer Stitch (Cosy & Knitting in One!)

This is the fourth in the Kelly Flynn [Knitting] Mysteries series. I read the first two (Knit One, Kill Two and Needled to Death) in 2012 and the third in August of this year. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of this series, but since so many of them are sitting in my unread (crime/cosy) bookcase I may as well read them (am I a glutton for punishment? Or perhaps I just keep hoping they'll get better?)

Kelly Flynn is a book-keeper who moved to Colorado on the death of her aunt in order to help sort out the aunt's estate. She ended up staying rather longer than anticipated and, wouldn't you know it, helped to solve the mystery of her aunt's death (book one) and a further death (or was it two?) in book two. By books three and four Kelly is feeling settled in Fort Connor, especially when she is spending time with her newly-acquired friends at the knitting shop-cum-cafe next door; the money she has inherited from her aunt enables her to give up her job in Washington DC and make a permanent home in Colorado.

The hapless victim in this book is cad about town Derek Cooper; he's a nasty piece of work of the 'love 'em and leave 'em' kind, although we only actually meet him after he's been killed (thwacked on the head with a shovel at his barn in the canyon). Derek's death is first mentioned on page 24; in the previous book in the series the murder victim is found on page 23 - is the author writing to a strict set of rules? I must look back on the others and see if there are further similarities. Anyway, Kelly immediately starts to investigate the crime in her subtle way, which involves lots of knitting and coffee drinking while getting other people to ask questions. After several red herrings - is it the drunk ex-girlfriend, the pregnant current girlfriend, or one of many other girlfriends - on page 240 Kelly persuades the real killer to confess and all is good in Fort Connor once again; the knitters can get back to knitting, playing tennis and having parties at alpaca ranches and Kelly can finally succumb to the advances of local builder Steve.

What to say? I keep reading this series and I don't mind it, but I don't 'deep down' enjoy it and connect with it in the way that I do with some other cozies. The main issue is the weakness of the stories/plots - clearly that's a biggy in a murder-mystery setting; but you can forgive a weak plot line if the story around it is well written and interesting. And, for the most part, the stories in this series aren't that great. The other issue I have is in the huge cast of characters - it's so confusing! At one point Kelly lists some of her knitting friends: "Lisa, Jennifer, Megan, Mimi, Connie, Rosa, Lizzie, Hilda." And when you factor in the non-knitters: Curt, Steve, Eugene, Burt, Marty, Pete, Lucy, Jayleen and probably a few more I've forgotten, you can see how it can be quite tricky to get a handle on who's who.

BUT, after all that, you just know I'm going to read another from this series, don't you? And you know why as well, don't you? Because I already own the next one (and quite possibly the one after), and it's sitting in my unread cozy crime bookcase just begging to be picked up.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Store Cupboard (if you have a cupboard like me) Banana Cake

There's been a selection of nasty old bananas sitting on our windowsill for several days now. They keep looking at me and making me feel guilty for letting them get to this distressed state. I'm a bit of a fusspot when it comes to bananas, I can't bear to eat them when they are anything like ripe. And by 'ripe' I mean if they don't still have a tinge of green about the skin. If they are totally banana-y yellow all over they are too ripe; if they have just a single black spot they are heave-worthy. So when they look like this
I either try to palm them off on DC (usually under the guise of a "delicious" desert when chopped and covered in yoghurt - yes, I know, bad mother) or I give them to the chickens - they have never been known to refuse a banana, no matter it's aesthetics.

But not today, DC and the chooks will have to go hungry (not really, before you call Childline and the RSPB) because today I decided enough was enough and I took the bull by the horns (or the bananas by their disgusting black skins) and made a cake with them. I did a spot of Googling before settling on Nigel Slater's Black Banana Cake (click for the link to the BBC Food website), so-called, I assume, because you use black bananas and not because the cake itself is black.

However, I had to do a bit of tweaking (but not twerking) as I didn't have all of the ingredients in the house and I certainly wasn't going out and buying extra stuff just to use up two manky old bananas. And that's what made me think about blogging this recipe, because the cake turned out to be really yummy even though I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. So if, like me, you've got a couple of nasty old bananas hanging around making you feel bad for not eating them and getting your five-a-day and you've also got a store cupboard that contains half-used bags of 'fancy' sugar (muscovado, demerara) and nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts) that you bought for a recipe and have only used once (or not at all), perhaps you could give it a go too.

The ingredients required versus the ingredients I used (I used the same amounts even when substituting)

175g/6oz unsalted butter, softened :: Stork margarine, taken out of the fridge about 30mins prior
175g/6oz sugar (half light muscovado, half golden caster) :: 1/4 light brown soft sugar, 3/4 light muscovado sugar
75g/2½oz hazelnuts :: walnuts roughly chopped into smallish pieces
2 free-range eggs ::  free range eggs from our lovely chooks who get fed manky bananas
175g/6oz self-raising flour :: self-raising flour (I tend to use supermarkets' value ranges)
2 very ripe bananas (about 250g/9oz total weight) :: 2 disgusting bananas, but I didn't weigh them
drop of vanilla extract :: vanilla flavouring, because I'm not spending that kind of money on the real stuff 
175g/2oz good quality dark or milk chocolate drops :: 100g Tesco Finest Ecuadorian 74% plain choc (because I had a free bar, courtesy of Tesco, sitting in the cupboard) which I chopped roughly into smallish pieces and 75g Dr Oetker milk choc drops
a little demerara sugar :: golden granulated sugar

As far as the method for making the cake goes, I followed the instructions as they were set out. I won't bother re-writing them here because you can easily follow the link to the BBC Food website if you fancy giving it a try.
roughly chopped walnuts
roughly chopped dark chocolate besides milk choc chips
The chocolates I used*
vanilla flavour instead of extract = no need to re-mortgage
cake mix prior to baking
Cake 1 hour and 10 mins later
And about 5 minutes later because I couldn't wait any longer to taste it 
It was YUM!
But what you might want to do differently should you decide to have a go - the cake tasted delicious (especially when it was still warm), but not very banana-y. That was fine for me as I'm actually not a big fan of overly-banana-y banana cake (yes, I know, so why bother), but if you like your banana cake to taste of banana, you might want to make sure that the amount of banana you add is what it says in the recipe. The chocolate taste was quite strong and I think that was for two reasons 1) I didn't use enough banana to balance the flavours 2) I used some very strong plain chocolate. If you're not a fan of plain chocolate (and I'm not, usually), you might prefer to use a higher ratio of milk choc to plain, or at least a slightly less strong plain chocolate.
The cake really is very nice; it might be even nicer if you follow the recipe to the letter but if you want to use up some bits and bobs knocking around in the cupboards you could probably tweak it further and still come up with a very delicious hot beverage accompaniment.

*I just want to mention that I received the Tesco Finest Edcuadorian 74% Dark Chocolate free of charge as part of a campaign being run by the social marketing company BzzAgent; however, they didn't ask me to blog about it, but I thought I would mention it, just to be completely open.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Book Review No. 23: The Garden of Evening Mists

The blurb from the back of the book reads:
In the highlands of Malaya, a woman sets out to build a memorial to her sister, killed at the hands of the Japanese during the brutal Occupation of their country. Yun Ling's quest leads her to The Garden of Evening Mists, and to Aritomo, a man of extraordinary skill and reputation, once the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. When she accepts his offer to become his apprentice, she begins a journey into her past, inextricably lined with the secrets of her troubled country's history.

But, you know what? I don't think the blurb does this book any justice. Reading that would not encourage me to pick up and read the book, so it was lucky that this was a Book Club choice otherwise I would probably never have come across it. Is that the real point of Book Clubs, do you think? To encourage members to read books they might otherwise never have chosen for themselves? Or is it just an excuse to get together and have a natter? A bit of both, I think.

So, how to describe/discuss this book? It's a slow burner. It took me quite a while to really get in to it (and the jumping back and forth chronologically doesn't help), but I think that has a lot to do with the style of the writing and the fact that the story itself starts off very slowly and gently. It's certainly not a page-turner in the sense that you are anxious to find of what happens next, racing through chapter after chapter; it's probably more a book that you would curl up in a comfy chair with and let yourself become lost in the world that is Yugiri - The Garden of Evening Mists.

But it's not altogether a comfortable read; the parts where the narrator describes her time in a Japanese POW camp are disturbing, and the details of the attacks carried out in Malaysia by the Communist Terrorists (CTs) are very unpleasant. That aside, the book really draws you in to the time and place. The descriptions of the garden that Yun Ling (the narrator) and Aritomo (the gardener) create together are beautiful; the way in which the story is told is enveloping and graceful. I am so glad to have read this book and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to read a story that they can become fully immersed in. And relaaaax.

Monday, 4 November 2013

24 Hours in Bruges

Back in September hubby and I were lucky enough to pop over to Bruges for a (very) short break. Ostensibly, we were there because hubby's dearly beloved football team Wigan Athletic were playing against a local side in the Europa League. I wasn't one bit interested in the footy, but the chance to visit a city I'd never been to was too good to miss. And so, with Grandma and Grandad looking after DC, we set off at 5.30am. 
We zoomed past Stonehenge an hour later.
A quick trip on the ferry from Dover to Calais, along the autoroute, and by 2pm we were all checked in to our city centre hotel and out exploring Bruges. I left hubby after about an hour to find his football friends and had a very pleasant few hours exploring the city (and eating cake.)

I also managed to fit in a little shopping and unearthed this gem of a chocolate bar which combines milk chocolate and salted Tuc crackers in one mouthwatering combo (or eye-wincing, depending on your choc preferences.)

I was lucky that the rain stayed away until about 6pm, by which time I was happy to wander back to the hotel.

The next morning hubby and I had a couple of hours to explore a little more of the city.

And to eat cake. The cake I had (called a Froufrou which was a little bit like an extra deep Bakewell tart with raspberries in the sponge and cream on top) was so deliciously amazing that we bought two extra slices to bring home with us. Needless to say, they didn't last long.
And, of course, we couldn't possibly make a trip to Belgium without indulging in some frites with mayo.

After leaving Bruges, we called in at Carrefour in Calais and stocked up on a few foodie items before hopping back on the ferry
and sailing home, just 36 hours after we'd left.
Altogether now, "There'll be bluebirds over..."