Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Challenge of the Utmost Kind - 9 months in...

This is a boring little corner of our patio, isn't it? The thing is, the dreadful plastic treasure chest which holds spare wellies etc needed replacing... But on the Challenge of the Utmost Kind, I'm not buying new stuff for myself or the house (and, by extension, the patio) for a year. I didn't mind waiting... There's been a hole in the top of the treasure chest for a long while now... But I've been on the lookout!
I'll admit to a few lapses from the Challenge: I sensed mutiny from Ben when I was ill and we were running out of tumblers and also kitchen knives, and I just picked some up at the supermarket next time I was there... Seems fair enough to me. But I held out on the replacement patio box, and also waited on POATS for a replacement basket for the washing and a food processor.
And lo and behold - a trip to the tip turned up this beauty! Ben had already hauled two teenager's mountain bikes out of the skip (to do up for Son 1) when I spotted this battered, stencilled crate, and begged first Ben to wrench it out for me, and then the tip supervisor to let me have it. 'Don't make this a habit!' warned the tip supervisor (but it might as well have been Ben)...
I've moved it round the corner now, and I think it looks even better than when I took this photo.
So, did I mention I needed a food processor? The old one died in November, I think.
They're easy to find in the Troc shops, but I was waiting for the Right One, and last week I found it! A Kenwood Multi Pro, with blender jug as well as the FP one. Some of the attachments are missing, but for 25€? I am really happy... That's Son 1, BTW, making breadcrumbs for his treacle tart.
The basket arrived on the same fortuitous day, in the Troc shop next door to the FP one! It's replaced a broken plastic one - a real upgrade, I feel!
And barely looked-for, I found the rag rug I've always wanted for 1€ at a Vide Grenier this weekend (with my sister).
It's made from vintage woolen blankets! 1€!!
The Challenge has certainly taught me to hold on for the good things that will come if I wait.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Summer Weekend in the South of France

Well, summer is finally (or at least currently) here! The good weather is marked by key events: Son 1's birthday party, this year with his home-made treacle tart.
A great visit from my sister and her husband, at the end of some hard work and good partying in Cannes!
And especially for Emma, the arrival of the hoopoes in our garden.
We've been hearing them since they arrived back from Africa in April, but they nest down near the stream, and don't venture as far as our garden until their young have left the nest. A young hoopoe is a funny sight - they look just like their parents, but behave very gormlessly!
Adults and young alike put up their wonderful crests whenever they have landed from a flight. It's been a lovely weekend to have visitors, human and avain!

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Beautiful Concert at Night

Just like the one The Washerwoman attended, we had a concert of local talent on Wednesday night. It was a great night for it, one of the first really warm ones of this delayed summer. The event was organised by the wonderful Marlene, who sings, runs the choir and teaches piano, and her fiancé David, who is our boys' piano teacher, and also the technical wizard of the local music scene.
We got started at 9pm (ish), as usual. The swifts were flying low down around the Mairie, but we knew they'd quickly be replaced by bats.
The view of the church changed from this,
to this.The moon rose.The younger children had finished playing their pieces (on the theme of 'Music from the Movies'), but were still there, cuddling up to their parents or running around the boulodrome behind us. Finally, just before 11pm, the bigger piano pupils began to play their film music. Son 1 played the Raiders March, from the Indiana Jones films. It went down well! David had organised some special features on the keyboard, which made the piece sound very orchestral.
A few pianists later, Son 1 was on, and played his 'Comptine d'un autre été : l'après-midi', a very atmospheric piece from a French film. It was his 13th birthday - he enjoyed the concert as a great end to a big day!
A really special night was had by all. Most of the pianists were not perfect by any means, and there were some technical hitches for the singers, but the atmosphere was supportive and tolerant of errors, appreciating the effort and wanting to encourage the musicians.
So what a great week we're having! My interviews went well, by the way, and I have also had some thrifty luck of a very practical nature. In addition we have great news on the education front - Son 2 will be allowed to stay down a year at school (he was a year ahead of his English peers up until now) which should really help him to relax and enjoy his secondary school life. This has been a difficult year for him and us, but now we can all breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the summer.
I hope we can share it with you!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Mega-Cakes

I'm scheduling this post, as Tuesday and Wednesday are hugely busy days for me - I'm doing final exams, in the form of one-to-one interviews, for 33 university students. Intensive, challenging, fun and well-paid! But I promised to tell you about the two mega-cakes at my birthday tea party... The chocolate monster above was made by Son 2, in partnership with me.
The recipe was from his wonderful new cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa, which he won in Sherri B's recipe competition.
Doesn't this chocolatey smile say it all?
And here is the final offering - Chocolate Buttercream Cake, made and decorated by Son 2. Wow, what a cake!
Can you see, lurking behind the chocolate monster, Ben's wonderful Swiss Roll? Or 'roulade' if you prefer. It's filled with home made lemon curd and crème fraiche, and was just brilliant, although eclipsed by his son's mega-cake.
There was much enthusiasm when the candles were lit.
And of course, Son 2 used a few of the re-lighting candles that Ben tormented me with last year...

Look at the difference in the weather between this June and last! Same dress, though...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Birthday Celebrations!

It was my birthday yesterday and I had a great day! My friend Matthew worked out how to use the auto pilot on my camera, which I've never done...I decided to get out my Limoges and 'nearly Limoges' for a proper tea party.
Son 1 made herb teas from the garden.
I made cakes and buns and our guests brought more.
Son 2 and Ben made some mega-cakes which deserve a post of their own - hopefully on Wednesday, although it's going to be a hectic week...
Thanks for your birthday greetings on Facebook - that was a lovely surprise!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Love, Love, Love Lace! (And a little something to give away)

You know I love lace and I'm aware that there's a certain interest in it amongst my fellow bloggers too! What I knew about lace before I learned from my mother, and now she has given me her Lace 'Bible' - The identification of Lace, by Pat Earnshaw. I'm going to share just a little of what I've learned in an occasional series of lace posts - the book is incredible in the way the author demystifies what semed quite complicated to me before, and I'm just going to pass on to you some of the uncomplicated basics.
For example, this is how lace began: as embroidery!
In Rennaisance Italy, the embroiderers began to cut away more and more of the fabric, filling in the gaps with complex designs in buttonhole stitch, which is the stitch used on this pretty mat often found on our table.
I imagine this is quite fiddly to do on fabric, but to do it in thin air, over nothing more than a paper pattern, must be incredibly painstaking! But that is what the first lace was.
The two examples from my collection that I'm going to show you today are nothing special - they're rather coarse - but this makes it very easy to see how they've been made.
This is a 20th century needlepoint lace mat from China. Can you see that all the linking 'brides' are buttonhole stitch? And the patterns inside the flowers are all stitched. These are the clues that you are looking at needlepoint lace.
This picture, taken from here, is the typical view of how lace is made - on a pillow, with bobbins. But in fact this style of lace came later, although not very much later- lace was becoming a huge fashion across Europe, and everyone was trying to develop the industry in their own country! The first bobbin laces were copies of the popular needlepoint ones.
Because of the pillow, bobbin lace can only be made in a fairly thin strip. This is a nice little example of what they call Bedfordshire lace, although it was made across southern England.
You can see the things that make it typical of bobbin lace, rather than needlepoint - there is no evidence of stitching, and the designs are made up by plaiting or weaving the threads together by moving the bobbins.
So that's my little history of lace so far - to sum up, there are two techniques of lace making which can be identified by looking at the way the lace patterns have been created - either by stitching (needlepoint) or by weaving (bobbin lace).
Now, this is what I'd like to give away. I bought this fantastic top in a British charity shop but it just doesn't fit (it's a UK 14, US 12, and it's a bit too big for me) and also, the slightly puffy sleeves really don't suit my wide shoulders. So it's a great top, but there's no point in my keeping it, as I just feel miserable when I wear it. Would one of you like it?It's a good make.
The details are very, very pretty.
You can see why I couldn't resist it, even though I realised it didn't really suit me in the shop.Would one of you like it? Please email me if you'd like me to pass it on to you, as it really is doing no good in my wardrobe.
Edit - the top has found a new home wiht Luisa in Tasmania!
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I spy, with my big round eyes...

... could it be?
.. yes, I think it is...
My Green Swap parcel from Annie!
So I think we should have a proper look, shouldn't we? It all looks both environmentally friendly and delicious, which has to be a good combination...
So, Annie, who lives in Scotland, very generously sent me a vibrant pink string bag,
a whole selection of thrifted buttons on a green/blue/brown theme,
Green and Black's organic mint chocolate (!!!) and some recycled gift tags,
a locally produced banana chutney, into which Ben is already making great inroads,
a pincushion Annie made from scraps of old workshirts and ribbon, and next to that a jar of ethically produced nutmegs,
and a home made book and pencil pouch - my Morning Pages book is going to fit just perfectly in there, and Annie added some handmade, recycled books for me to use when I've finished this one!
Check out the pencils from New York:
And finally, our adorable little knitted owl, who is conveniently on a peg.
Here's the whole set of gifts, in the lavender patch. Thank you so much, Annie! How did you know I needed nutmegs, that I am obsessed with buttons, that we are nearly out of chutney and that my Morning Pages book really needed a holder? A Green Genius...
Now, looking terrible in the artificial light, here are the parcels I sent Annie.
Some recycled tags ('great minds...') on map wrapping paper, covering...
... well, you'll just have to pop over to Annie's to see! Thanks very much to Emma and Rachel, the lovely ladies at That Little Bit Greener, for hosting and organising a really entertaining but thought-provoking swap. We really did think Green - do you see your Easter tissue paper, Vicki? I used it to post to Annie (while I was in Scotland, avoiding airmail) and then Annie used the same paper, and even the same box, to post back to me! I found this a really inspirational, yet surprisingly stress-free swap. Brilliant.