21 December 2009

winter wonderland, part three

More Petersham love...because you can never have too many woodsy ornaments,

too many jingly bells,

or too much coffee and cake! Well, maybe too much coffee...

19 December 2009

snowy springboks

With flurries swirling outside, it's the perfect time for doing jigsaw puzzles inside.

Loved this quirky take on the country church scene:

Because after all, what would Christmas be without a pink tree?

Christmas Village didn't have a pink tree. Instead, it had heaps of nearly indistinguishable purple pieces,

which made it terribly slow going...and a very effective means of avoiding the holiday to-do list!

15 December 2009

spice and ice

While visiting my mum, I discovered a fabulous new gelato shop, Pitango Gelato:

The Fior di Latte, made from locally sourced, organic milk and cream, was pure, creamy gelato heaven. I also tried the Cinnamon, which was wonderfully spicy--perfect for the festive season.

Now back in Teddington, and longing for a scoop of Cinnamon, I whipped up a batch of David Lebovitz' Cinnamon Ice Cream:

Made using Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients cinnamon--ginormous cinnamon sticks from the Seychelles--it boasts a very deep, very spicy, very adult cinnamon flavor. If an ice cream could be described as warm, this would be it...just the thing for frosty afternoons!

14 December 2009

brontës and blessings

I was planning to read this:

But ended up reading this:

When I spied A Glass of Blessings at the library, I couldn't resist. Especially as it was a new, pristine copy...unlike the cookbook I checked out, which was terribly eeeuw!

The story follows Wilmet, a 1950s London housewife, through her days at home, in church, and around town. It was easy to feel real affection for Wilmet and her companions, while at the same time finding amusement (smiles and laughs) aplenty in their many quirks and foibles. Might just be my favorite Pym to date.

But now, back to the Brontës...

07 December 2009

bloomsbury books

It was Darlene who first told me about The Bloomsbury Group, a series of 'lost classics' from the early 20th century being reprinted by Bloomsbury Publishing.

I started with Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys:

Henrietta, a doctor's wife in Devonshire, documents the mundanities and absurdities of life on the Homefront in letters to her childhood friend Robert. While similar in tone to Diary of a Provincial Lady, it was neither as funny nor as engaging, and even the quirky illustrations (by the author herself) couldn't quite redeem it.

More successful was Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D.E. Stevenson, author of Miss Buncle's Book:

Hester Christie (Mrs Tim) starts a diary in which she records her daily doings with all the wit and verve of my favorite Provincial Lady. While I think the book rather lost its way toward the end--the entire second half is taken up by diary entries for a single holiday in June--I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

And my faith in the series was further restored by Miss Hargreaves:

Norman and Henry invent a character, Miss Hargreaves, only to have her appear on their doorstep exactly as they imagined her. Things quickly spin out of control, as Miss Hargreaves gets Norman into one sticky situation after another, and what started as a light farce takes on a more sinister edge. A completely surreal, thoroughly engaging romp right to the end.

A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz was a much quieter book:

Six-year-old Joe, growing up in London's Jewish community in the 50s, buys a unicorn (a little white goat) in the Whitechapel market, hoping one day the unicorn's stubby horn will grant the humble wishes of his friends and family. This beautifully observed slice of life was warm and tender without being overly sentimental. Simply perfect.

Four down, two to go!

06 December 2009

winter wonderland, part two

On Sunday, G and I made our annual holiday visit to Petersham, and the decorations didn't disappoint. There were many more wooden ornaments this year,

as well as snowy pine cones, gathered into knobbly white bowls:

But what we really came to see were the mercury glass baubles, piled in buckets...

and baskets...

and hanging from the beams:

Amongst the woodsy whites and shimmery silvers, there were hints of green. But even the wreath forms were bare,

which somehow seemed fitting in that wintry wonderland.

03 December 2009

macaroons and moi

While I managed to fit in one last baking class before flying off to America, I've been terribly remiss in posting about it.

Back in October, Sybille Pouzet and Diane Rabaut guided 12 of us through the process of making French-style macaroons. Both Sybille and Diane trained at L’Ecole Grégoire-Ferrandi in Paris and were fantastic teachers,

taking us expertly through each and every step. We made several flavors of ganache--pistachio, raspberry, chocolate-passion fruit, and lemon-basil--before mixing, piping, baking, and filling the shells:

Perhaps not Ladurée standard yet, but for a first try, not too shabby! And we made mini financiers and fondants, too.

Now just hoping I haven't forgotten everything over the past month-and-a-bit. But if so, maybe my new book will help?

27 November 2009

pining for home

In addition to the requisite dogwoods and magnolias, the area round my mum's house boasts some mighty pines. And this time of year, the ground is littered with needles.

Their spikiness is misleading: where they pile up, they create the most wonderfully soft and squashy carpet. And then there are the pine cones, each so delightfully knobbly...

as well as mathematically correct. Remember the Fibonacci sequence?

While packing the real thing would've resulted in a crunchy mess, I'm sure, this pine cone reached England in perfect condition, ready to hang in the living room...

to remind me of my home-away-from-home.

Wool pine cone designed and made by Stephanie Congdon Barnes. Post inspired by Pebbledash.

22 November 2009

mount vernon morning

Glowing white walls,

red shakes,

russet brick,

and a brilliant blue sky.

But none as dramatic as the vivid verdigris decor in the dining room! Apparently George Washington was fearless not only in battle but in home decorating. Alas no photos were allowed inside the mansion house, but that green inside, combined with the glorious weather outside, made for a very memorable Mount Vernon morning.

09 November 2009

getting crafty

On Friday, we Metro-ed into the city for the 22nd annual Washington Craft Show, a juried exhibition and sale of contemporary fine craft. The show featured 195 artists, and we visited every booth, ooohing and aaahing so many times I lost count!

I especially loved the quilts by Brooklyn-based textile artist Erin Wilson:

Erin dyes her own fabrics, then makes the small squares one at a time, adding strips of fabric as she goes (without any preset plan) to form each perfectly composed block.

I also fell head-over-heels for Connie Verrusio's jewelry, all made from or inspired by pieces she's found in antique shops and hardware stores. My favorite was a silver cuff bracelet engraved to resemble a dressmaker's tape--a slightly more elegant version of the ring below:

I wonder if wearing it would improve my sewing abilities. With my current project, I need all the help I can get!

05 November 2009

home comforts

Happiness is a pair of the coziest felt slippers, new Amy Butler Lounge Pants,

and an old friend:

The comforts of home.

26 October 2009


Very excited about my new English Journeys collection from Penguin Books:

While journeying cross-country on a side saddle sounds rather uncomfortable,

I reckon a walk in the wheat fields would be quite pleasant,

especially if there's a picnic hamper involved (game pie, anyone?)...

and a garden visit or two along the way:

But must put my (virtual) English journeys aside, as I'm headed off on a (real) American journey tomorrow. Then again, I'm sure I could fit just a few volumes in my hand luggage...

20 October 2009

postcard teas

When presented with a tea menu, my response until now has been to stare completely dumbfounded, then (embarrassed by my own incompetence) order 'ordinary black tea.'

I suppose I could be forgiven, coming from American, coffee-drinking stock. But after so many years in London, it was time for a change. So I enrolled in the Tea School at Postcard Teas:

The shop is in an 18th-century building just off New Bond Street. Elegantly minimalist, the white walls and single wooden table provide the perfect backdrop for the caddies...

and pouches of tea,

as well as the Tea Mail,

by which you can send a pouch of tea anywhere in the world.

The Tea School is actually a series of four tastings led by the owner, Timothy d'Offay. Tim travels throughout Asia, working with and buying from the world's finest small-scale, family tea producers.

While the first session was a general introduction, the second focused on white and black teas. The most surprising was the Pu-erh tea: extremely earthy, with definite notes of hay, leather, and stable yard...not one I'll be ordering from the tea menu!

The third session covered green teas. I'd always thought all green teas were the same, so this was a revelation: six very different flavors from three different countries.

The next session (when Tim returns from Japan) will be on oolongs. I'm particularly excited about this one, as these were my favorites in the first tasting.

I was a bit nervous at the start, but I didn't need to be. While Tim is incredibly knowledgeable, he's also very friendly and down-to-earth. Definitely the most fun I've ever had in school!

17 October 2009

daylesford day, part four

On Friday, we drove out to Daylesford for our last course this term: Introduction to Cider and Apple Juice Making. When he's not managing the Market Garden at Daylesford, Jez runs his own artisan cider business using apples collected locally in the Vale of Evesham.

We started the day with crates of apples...

and Jez' own Heath Robinson-esque equipment, into which his assistants gamely fed apples for milling...

and pressing:

Jez talked us through the process step-by-step, then led us in a tasting of juices and ciders made from dessert, culinary, and cider apples. The juices had been pressed outside in the yard just minutes before, and the ciders came from Jez' own 'cider cellar' at home.

I was particularly excited by the bright flavors of the freshly pressed, unpasteurized juices. My favorite was Blenheim Orange, with Newton Wonder a close second.

After the tasting, we had lunch in the Daylesford Kitchen Garden, then piled into minivans for the short journey to Stow Cider, another artisan producer.

Here we experienced the process from start to finish. We shook the orchard trees to bring down a rain of apples,

used long poles to pull off the remaining apples, then gathered them into bags,

which we hefted back to base, where our apples were combined with apples of different varieties to produce the perfect blend:

We worked the mill and press in teams, filling the hopper with washed apples, scooping up the pomace, building the 'cheeses' (wrapping layers of pomace in cloth and sandwiching them between boards), pressing the cheeses, and dismantling the pressed cheeses.

In the end, we each took home 25 liters of juice to ferment into cider. And if you've never seen a 25-liter barrel, that's a LOT of cider!