Saturday, 3 December 2016

Christmas Countdown and Traditions Day Three

Hello Friends!

Already we are on day three of opening the Advent calendar, how December is flying by, and I do think I have found a very special treat today for the Christmas Traditions and Trivia ~~~ but first, here is this morning's picture behind the door ~~~

Today's Christmas Tradition is all about the Bambino, or Baby Jesus, that spends a night in a different house in my village through December.

It is a fairly recent tradition in my parish that well received and is establishing itself in a country far from it's origins.  A local couple went to Italy on holiday and found the Bambino tradition where they were staying, so they sought out a Bambino to bring back with them to start the same tradition in our village.

Prior to December 1st, members of the congregation sign up to give refuge for one night to the Bambino.

On December 1st, the Bambino, which represents the Baby Jesus, begins his journey as he travels around the village spending a night at each of the houses who offered to take him in and give him refuge. Special prayers are made each night {see the cards, below} giving thanks for Lord Jesus in our lives, and all that he gives us, then in the morning the Bambino travels on to the next house that has offered to take him in and give him refuge for that night.  On Christmas Eve he returns to the Cathedral.

I hope this sweet tradition continues to flourish, and maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to have the Bambino in my cottage for one December night.

Until the next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas Countdown Day Two

Hello Friends!

Thank you for joining me again today. Here is this morning's window opened ~~~

Today's Christmas Trivia Tradition is why are Mince Pies called Mince Pies when they are a fruity and sugary sweet treat?

Mince Pies trace their origins to the thirteenth century when they were traditionally made with meat, often mutton, and suet.  The Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought back such strange and unknown ingredients as cinnamon, cloves and mace, along with dates and other delicious fruits, and a variety of nuts which ultimately made their way into many British recipes.  Their pungency was regularly used to disguise the taste of meat which was often becoming rancid. The pies have celebrated a varied history over the years but in essence remained the same until Victorian times when the sweet sort we enjoy today evolved.

Not everyone leaves the meat out, I know of several cooks who have old family recipes which do include meat, and while suet is still included in the sweet pies, these days it is often vegetable suet rather than grated animal fat.

Traditionally, Mince Pies consist of two layers of sealed pastry which contain a filling of mincemeat {dried fruits macerated in alchohol, grated fresh apple, brown sugar, nuts, spices, and suet}. Mincemeat should be made well in advance to allow the flavours to mature. Today, however, there are so many variations on the theme that the pies are taking on a whole new and very flavoursome twist. I've made them with flaky pastry, and sometimes I've used marzipan for the top instead of pastry. I've made them as a traybake to be served in slices, and added all sorts of different dried fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, and apricots. The taste can be further changed by using different spirits ~ brandy, whisky, sherry etc, or even non~alcoholic by using apple juice. I use my homemade mincemeat mixture for so many other things too, such as Christmas ice cream, Mincemeat Cake, and Mincemeat Cookies.

It is a singularly British problem that from now until January you will find Mince Pies served with every cup of tea you are offered, or, in some instances, sherry and a mince pie ~ of which I am particularly fond! Have you ever lived dangerously and eaten a Mince Pie with a small piece of extra mature Cheddar cheese and a glass of port?

Just remember, for some of us a Mince Pie is Not Just for Christmas!

Do stop by tomorrow!

Until tomorrow's Christmas Countdown~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Christmas Countdown Day One

Hello Friends!

I have decided to share with you, each day, a little snippet or two of Christmas trivia as we open the door each day on my Advent Calendar.

I have almost always had an Advent Calendar to open in the days before Christmas and I still have many of my childhood ones stored in the attic. Even as an adult I've indulged in this Christmas tradition and, although I also decorate my laptop with an e~Advent calendar, the main one must always be a paper one, a proper traditional one with pictures not sweeties behind each door.

Here is my Advent calendar for 2016 ~~~

and this is the picture and scripture behind the first door this morning ~~~

Today's Christmas Countdown snippet is that during the Middle Ages it was common for a pre~Christmas Advent Fast to happen. It is still observed by several Orthodox churches and you can read more here.  One of the earliest written observances is found in the fourteenth century chivalric romance "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" {anon} which forms part of the Arthurian legends.  As with all fasts what follows are days of feasting and merry making on Christmas Day and beyond.  No wonder we all stock up for what I call the Two Day Siege of Christmas!

I do hope you will stop in each day to take a peek behind my Advent doors and pick up a snippet or two of Christmas trivia ~~~

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Return of Muse

Hello Friends!

Just the other day something unexpected happened. Long have I said my writing Muse has been on extended vacation, and there were times I felt she'd upped and left with no intention of returning. For so long I have felt I've just told you about my photos in a near clinical way instead of with my usual flourishes and curlicues,  but then, last Friday, I had an unexpected trip to a nearby beach and all that changed in an instant. You see, this was so unexpected I got well and truly caught out, for my camera was at home and for the first time in a long time I was "out and about" without it.

Blind Panic!

What was I to do? The offer was made, it was too good to pass up, and I had to go there and then with no time to return home for my trusty friend, so off I went. It was a glorious day and the opportunity too good to pass up. I was near to tears without my camera, and feeling strangely alien not holding it in my hands ready to snap away, biting at the opporunities to shoot. As we drove along, all I could think was, "oh! look at that!" "that would be a great shot" or "isn't it a shame I don't have my camera" and so on until the unexpected happened {as it always tends to do when you least expect it, or aren't looking for it} I had one of those epiphany moments and suddenly realised I was letting this get in the way of me enjoying the moment. What do they call that? I think it is Mindfulness?

After getting over the initial shock of being camera~less, I found I had stopped looking at everything from a compositional viewpoint and was no longer subconsciously analysing how it would fit in the frame; I became aware that I was engaging with what was right there in front of me for the first time in a long time. It is astonishing how the camera has changed how I look at the world, or not look at it depending on the way you interpret all the time behind the lens. The camera is quite a distraction to actually appreciating what is right there in front of you; you get the shot but you miss the moment and the feeling.  I have said this before, the photographer is so focused {groan, bad pun} on capturing the moment that the moment is gone and they have not enjoyed or been part of the emotional experience.

Suddenly, my Muse was right there alongside me, helping me record the beauty of the moment in thoughts and memory! I had not realised, much as I love my photography, how much my reliance on the lens has destroyed my natural sense of recording ~ that is sight transposed into words! I am still reeling from the shock of all this, but it seems, to me, the camera has become to my writing what texting has become to conversation.

So, not a Wordless Wednesday, it isn't even Wednesday as I type, but a Picture~less Prose instead to record my half hour in nature on Friday last ~~~

We puttered along the quiet country lanes; there is very little traffic at this time of year, the world is a very different place compared to the height of summer when the roads are crammed jammed with tourists driving Chelsea Tractors, caravans, walkers and bicyclists. The stone hedges rise high, green covered, with red berried hawthorn bushes cresting the tops as nature decorates with festive bounty in Christmas colours ~~~

The day was clear as crystal, and over the tops of the hedges we could see as far as the hills allowed and we peeked through gateways at meadows and fields rolling away into the distance.  On and on we rode, down to the stream that winds lazily across the farm spotted fields and meadows of this corner of the Shire. As we came up the other side, a rocky outcrop dominated the skyline, as a sleeping dragon, clear and sharp guarding the land that lies beneath the sky.  Nearby, hardy golfers teed off, ready for a chilly walk in the cold winds that bluster in off the ocean just below the nine hole links ~~~

A tree stood, in the garden of a quaint stone cottage, bedecked with recycled buoys as giant oversized decorations, boldly bright and lots of seaside fun!  We gasped and giggled in amazement at the novelty ~~~

On we travelled, and we bounced merrily along the country lanes and down the other side to the now deserted beach; the tide was low and the pale golden sand stretched lazily before us as it gleamed, glittering grains in the glorious sunshine, contrasting against the icy blue and cloudless sky of a perfect late Autumn morning. Ah! the delight of respite from the howling winds and rain that battered just a few days earlier. The sea and sky both the shade of blue that was perfectly painted by that master of paint ~Turner ~ and with barely a ripple breaking the surface the day felt as lazy and languid as the barely existent waves.  The ocean view stretched way out yonder to the far and flat horizon, with the Bishops and Clerks offshore islands seeming almost close enough to touch; the Irish ferry chugged along to Pembroke Dock in a sea so calm it belies the storm that lashed against the rugged cliffs just a few short days ago ~~~

Two or three small groups strolled, long shadows casting across the sand as they walked along the water's edge, their dogs speeding hither and thither along the beach and splashing in the salty shallows while away in the distance, towards St Davids Head, a lone gannet flew; suddenly it's wings snatched back, it turned in an instant to dive as it plummeted beneath the surface of the ocean deep to snatch an unsuspecting fish for breakfast ~~~

All too soon we had to return to the village and back to my cottage for mugs of steaming hot tea to warm us up for, despite the beauty of the sun shining on us, the day was seasonably cold but still my heart is full and warm with the memories of a lovely morning, and with grateful thanks for the companionship of my missing Muse ~~~

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Gardening Improvements Underway!

Hello Friends!

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving I hope you had a peaceful and happy day filled with the joy of having your loved ones near. It is a funny old day for me, for having lived in America, and around Americans, for the best part of twenty years I now mark the day on my own as I don't know anyone who celebrates in my little corner of the world.  When I lived in America our home was always full with the Single and Unaccompanied from the barracks. We welcomed as many as we could, cramming and jamming everyone in with never enough chairs to go around, and calling on sturdy paper plates for the food, but these things didn't matter, what mattered is that we managed and it was always a great time of sharing food and friendship.  This year, I did not feel alone at all for I had the well wishes from many friends on Twitter and Facebook who shared their day and made the day special even though I wasn't there.  Love is an amazing thing to give and receive.

The week started out with the tail end of our first named storm, Angus, hitting our shores. The south of England bore the brunt on Sunday, but Monday and Tuesday saw us with winds of fifty and sixty miles an hour and lashings of torrential rain. An early sign that autumn will soon turn into winter ~ sigh ~ and this will be our normal weather once again for three or four months.  There will be more on this in my next entry in a few days.

Meanwhile, my plans to get work done in the garden have started in earnest. On Tuesday, despite the atrocious weather, the tree surgeon came along and began the work. I told him I'd understand if he didn't come but, as he said, it's his job and if he doesn't show up he doesn't get paid so he works in almost all weathers. Fair enough, but rather him than me!

Here are some photographs so you can see what he did. Because of the weather I didn't get proper before photos, and I hope that the after photos {sometime in Spring} will show a marked improvement on the mess there is now.

Here is the rockery. I was not able to maintain it myself because I am too short could not reach into the middle to keep it clean and tidy. Clambering around on top was just too dangerous and several times I nearly had a nasty fall. Consequently, after a summer of neglect due to two episodes of my back being bad, it was horrendously overgrown with brambles and honeysuckle. There was a tall and rather dangerously whippy cottoneaster tree in the centre, the unwanted gift of a seed dropped by birds, which was cut down last year, however the roots were still in there and it was sending out new shoots aplenty. This is after he has weed whacked away most of the brambles ~~~

I don't know what madness made me think that I would be able to tackle all this on my own!

This is what I have still to clear, it is mostly now a weed killer job {sadly} to eradicate the remains of the brambles and honeysuckle and then cleaning away the remaining mound of earth ~~~

I will need someone in to rebuild the retaining wall, but there are now plenty of stones for this job!

For here are some of the rocks and almost boulders removed!

and some really big ones! I could never have lifted these myself ~~~

I have a couple of different ideas for the space, so will mull over these through the Winter months and make plans accordingly. However, all the ideas I have so far will involve using some of the really big stones but no rockery to have to climb over to maintain!

This is the small apple tree he removed, and behind it is the yew tree which he has now cut back so it is no longer whipping around in the gales and posing a threat to the neighbour's garden. The apple tree was an untested cross and did not yield good fruit, not even for vinegar or cider; the surrounding border will be cleared of the infestation of Crow Garlic and flattened to make mowing easier ~~~

and as it is now ~~~

The yew tree will be pruned into a shape that will keep it neat and tidy. I did not want to remove it completely as I believe they are trees of great and ancient magic, and this tree came as a gift borne on the wind, but is, sadly, growing in the wrong place to allow it free reign.  I'm not a fan of topiary, but will make it into a funky rectangle with rounded corners {I think} ~~~ Watch this space!

It is already starting to sprout new shoots from my earlier botched attempt last summer to remove the massive branches ~~~

It's got a way to go before it fills in the hard cut back branches, but yew is a quite quickly growing tree and it probably won't be that long before I'm starting to shape it up!

The red Camellia was reduced in height by half. Since my neighbours cut back their much higher hedge I spend many worried hours in the winter months watching mine rock back and forth frightened it is going to just rock one time too many and uproot, so I've had it shortened to where the wind won't catch it now ~~~ there are still plenty of buds on the remaining shrub so I hope there will be blooms around February ~~~

I have not yet decided the final future of the two Camellias; there are more blooms than I can count on the pink one!

These should be opening in early to mid January for some much needed colour in the darkest depths of winter.

Well, Dear Friends, I was also going to share some sunset and sky photos with you, but I have probably gone on enough and this entry is more about the practical side of what is happening in my little corner of the world as I get the plans for the garden's future underway. Next time my writing muse will make a long overdue return!  Yes, she's back!

Until next time
~~~Deborah xoxo

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Crock Pot Cooking

Hello Friends!

A while back I decided to buy a Crock Pot. I'd owned one when I lived in America and loved it. I used it for all sorts of savoury dishes, but also used it as a hot punch bowl for my Spiced Apple Cider and even as a simmering potpourri pot using fresh herbs and spices!

So, for a while now I've been hankering after a good old fashioned rice pudding and with the weather taking it's turn for the worse and getting more and more wintry by the day, I decided to make one today ~ in the Crock Pot, of course. Now, rice pudding isn't exactly rocket science and is a very easy recipe, but oh! how much easier it is in the Crock Pot!

With the winds blowing wildly outside the cottage today and with a hankering to increase the hygge, it was the perfect day to make this childhood comfort food as a pudding for later on.

I weighed out the ingredients and just tipped them all into the Crock Pot which I then turned to high for about three hours. I kept an eye on it as I've not done a rice pudding in the Crock Pot before, and it did need fairly regular stirring but there was none of that lifting a heavy dish in and out of the oven, it was right there on the counter top making life so much easier.

I had a late lunch today, and the pudding was ready to be eaten with a dollop of strawberry jam after lunch ~~~

Just weigh out your ingredients, I'm sure everyone has the recipe, but just in case, these are the measurements I used

200 gr pudding rice {be sure to use short grain pudding rice}
1 litre milk {I used semi skimmed}
1 small can condensed milk {or increase your milk by 200 ml}
50 gr unsalted butter
30 gr soft brown sugar {any sugar will be fine}
{nutmeg, cinnamon, or other spices may be added to taste, if desired and you can always melt a little chocolate in, or add some chopped dried fruits, such as craisins, apricots, or sultanas}

Tip all ingredients into your Crock Pot and turn on. Cook for about 3 hours on high, or 5~6 hours on low, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and checking to see if pudding is cooked.

I forgot to take a photo of the cooked pudding in the pot, but here it is, served up, thick and creamy, with a dollop of strawberry jam. If you like a thinner pudding, just add more milk ~~~

I don't know why, but this is one of the most delicious rice puddings I have ever eaten!

Meanwhile, back in the garden ~~~

My osteospermus just haven't got the message yet that the weather is turning rapidly and they really should not still be flowering ~~~ I bought these earlier in the year and put them into a growbag  meaning to move them to a permanent location during the summer. The best laid plans, as they say, and the move never happened so they are still in the growbag and I really must get them into the soil before we get the very bad weather that they say is coming.  Here they are, full of lovely strong new shoots coming from around the bases, and a few blooms still insisting on flowering for some autumn colour!

There are three different colours, but this purple one is my favourite of all ~~~

They are still not particularly big, but very sturdy and healthy, so I really must get them in the ground this coming week, even if I just bury them wholesale in the bag until spring to protect the roots.

Here are a few pictures of the skies over the cottage in the last week ~~~
I am always amazed and in total awe at the diversity and beauty of the universe ~~~

an early rose gold sunrise through a rain spotted window pane ~~~

a jewel coloured palette of a mauve and golden sunset ~~~

and I had hoped to capture the November Super Moon, but we were, as so often happens, scuppered by cloud cover, so here is one of our beautiful moon taken a few days before the perigee ~~~

Until next time ~~~

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Chilly Autumn Days

Hello Friends!

October flew so quickly by and how can it be November already?

(c) Susan Branch 2016 Wall Calendar

The clocks have fallen back an hour on both sides of The Pond, and the days are noticeably shorter; that blissful autumn nip has turned into the chilly days that herald winter, and ere long the gentle breezes will whip the fallen leaves about our feet as we quicken our pace on afternoon walks; wrapped up well in cosy layers we scurry home to warm up by the fireside, sipping mugs of steaming hot chocolate as we thaw from traipsing along the country lanes in the cold. It is time for crumpets toasted and dripping with butter, slathered with strawberry jam for tea ~~~

Tonight, there was an amazing sunset, a true renaissance sky, I rushed outside

~~~every cloud has a silver lining~~~

moments either way and I would have missed it all together ~~~ so inspirational and calming ~~~ 

Countless are the times I've taken this walk and visited this rocky outcrop near the cottage, and countless are the times I've seen this view, but I never tire of it, nor do I tire from sitting or standing gazing out across the fields to the ocean that lies beyond, and one of the many offshore islands that sit along the coast ~~~ there is always something new to see, with the slow turning of the days as each season takes it's turn to shine ~~~

Look! Poldark's horse in a nearby field ~~~ well, of course, it isn't really Poldark's horse, but we can dream he is somewhere nearby, right? This lovely mare is {apparently} called Henrietta, or Holly for short. She's a little beauty, don't you think?

Here she is, standing in the landscape ~~~

Let's take this path today, shall we?

Looking out from a higher point across the fields and moors, the hedgerows now bare of leaf but still some yellow gorse is scattered here and there ~~~

Goodness, the berries are red this year, a sign of a hard winter to follow ~~~

Follow me this way next ~~~

to find a lovely view across the bay ~~~

and out across the Shire ~~~ {I hope you will scroll right, it seemed a shame to shrink this panoramic scene to fit the screen}

there are always sheep grazing in a field somewhere nearby ~~~

Can you see the cathedral tower, peeking up from the valley where it lies hidden from marauding Vikings of days gone by?

This was the sunrise yesterday morning, Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherd's Warning ~~~ and it was, for the day turned windy and wet shortly after I took this ~~~

Finally, a happy little Robin Redbreast sitting atop my garden canes ~~~

Do you like the shorter days or do you prefer daylight until bedtime?
While I love the lighter evenings to work late in the garden, I also find something extremely comforting in closing the curtains across the windows and snuggling by the fireside as the nights draw in ~~~

Until next time ~~~
~~~Deborah xoxo