Monthly Archives: January 2015

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Cake For The Prodigal Son

Cake for the boy!, Rocking Dog

Cake for the boy!

My boy is home today and so I baked cake. His favourite is Carrot Cake, so I took out my favourite recipe by good old Delia Smith.

Easy to make, quick to bake and very moist and yummy to eat, it’s a winner! The cakes are baked and on leaving the oven have a citrus syrup poured over. Having cooled they are turned out of their tins and filled and topped.

Ms Smiths recipe includes a topping made from fromage frais and mascarpone, together with a little sugar and cinnamon. In my experience this proves to be very runny, so I use mascarpone with some full fat cheese, sugar, cinnamon and a little finely grated orange zest. I stir the ingredients together carefully, rather than whisking.

Frouing is optional but I have used some clementine halves and fresh bay leaves.

There are a bunch of skiers who will also no doubt enjoy thick wedges of cake as they wend their way through France by train. Thus the cake tin will soon be empty once again!

Whatever your plans are for the weekend have a lovely time and wrap up warm. I’m dusting off my sledge in the hope there’ll be snow!

Coffee & Cake

Coffee & Cake

Prodigal Son Pie, Rocking Dog

Prodigal Son Pie

Not In My Tree

Whose Baby?, Rocking Dog

Whose Baby?

It always makes me sad to see old photo’s and photograph albums lying rather forlornly in charity shops, flea market stalls and the like. Sometimes I feel sufficiently sad to want to give these photo’s a home! I appreciate that I am very sentimental, and it would be completely alien to me to part with my personal cache of family photographs. I am therefore always curious as to why photographs are abandoned and discarded. Over the years I have amassed a small collection of “not in my tree” photo’s including an album with incredible photo’s of WWI Gallipoli and ANZAC soldiers recovering in an Oxford hospital (if only I could find it!) Other photo’s date back further and provide a wonderful historical document of fashion, housing, class, toys, prams, uniform etc..

Thus the lovely chubby baby above is no relation to me. You are left to wonder whether the baby reached adulthood, lost its endearing chubbiness and the hopes that they lived a happy life. We presume from the clothing that the baby is a girl, but one hundred years ago babies were dressed very similarly. This baby could indeed have served in WW1, a casualty, a survivor, a hero, a deserter, who knows.

My Dr Zhivago fur and velvet clad mother and child are in fact Danish. Dated on the back of the photograph 1902, these are obviously wealthy Copenhagen residents. My lovely sister gave me this photo a number of years ago, so even relatives know me well enough to know that i’ll love a “not in my tree” photo!

The montage of photo’s featuring children are an eclectic collection of children from different eras and social backgrounds. How stern the spectacled nanny (?) looks. Her starched apron features the embroidered words “All for Jesus”, and the photograph has been taken at the Salvation Army Photographic Studio. Is this baby a foundling, a baby to be adopted, a promotional photograph, a conundrum never to be solved. I love the photo of the girls with babies in prams, so reminiscent of “Call The Midwife”. Alas there are no dates, no names, no anything to tell us who these sweet girls are.

The Mother bathing her baby in the enamelled bath was a very exciting project. I found some glass negatives in a cigar box at an indoor junk market about 25 years ago. There were the faintest magical tracings of what the images could be, and I duly purchased the plates for a few pounds. For a while the plates lay cocooned in their cigar box home but eventually my dear dad found a super keen photographic enthusiast. The plates disappeared into his dark room and voila! this beautiful image appeared. I love the way the photographer has captured the mother’s smile as she tenderly sponges her calm baby. Another very special “not in my tree” photo.

Lastly, an entire album of one woman’s coach trip travels in the late 1950’s. There are the glories of Venice, Rome, Pompei, Capri, Florence, Interlaken and Windermere! There are the chair-lift rides, the group photos, full 1950’s skirts, the bags and the shoes. How did this meticulously ordered album end up unloved and unwanted?

So a little glimpse of my somewhat bonkers “not in my tree” photograph collection.

Dr Zhivago Photo, Rocking Dog

Dr Zhivago Photo

Montage Of Childhood, Rocking Dog

Montage Of Childhood

Cigar Box Photo, Rocking Dog

Cigar Box Photo

1950's Coach Trip, Rocking Dog

1950’s Coach Trip

The Day I Met A Holocaust Survivor.

Remembering, Rocking Dog


Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and with all the TV and radio coverage it made me think of my own personal and very precious memory of meeting a Holocaust survivor.

In the summer of 1991 Andy and I saw a small advert in a newspaper for an apartment to rent in the centre of Prague. Cheap flights booked we headed out minus children to the capital city of Czechoslovakia (in 1993 the Czech Republic was formed). Our living accommodation was reminiscent of a crackly black and white spy movie. With 1960’s Formica kitchen and a bathroom situated off the kitchen separated by a curtain it wasn’t luxurious, however, it was clean and a brilliant base to discover the city.

We found Prague to be beautiful with amazing Art Nouveau buildings, The Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, tube system and other architectural gems. Shopping was definitely one of the highlights, with tins of Caviar, Russian hats, Soviet tin space toys and political Matryoshka dolls being sold out of the boot of clapped out Trabant’s. Other retail browsing was done in a departmental store where you had to pass through a turnstile to look at aspirational western goods. These products included Levi jeans (so similar to the legendary Levi advert!) and Sindy dolls. There were shops selling a sparse array of vegetables, whilst others sold a handful of light bulbs or gloves. Soup kitchens to feed the workers provided rather grim soup and coarse bread for about 16 pence. Eating in Prague in 1991 was not a gastronomic experience with fruit and vegetables being particularly poor. However, we were only there for five days and not a lifetime, the lovely beer and wines rather compensated.

Having booked the trip rather last minute ( We were in the middle of a house build, with two jobs, and two lively children) we really hadn’t researched where to visit (no internet and no wonderful Top 10 DK guides). We visited the Tourist Information desk and were given a number of Must- Do’s including a pettrifyingly scary flight over the city in an old Cessna biplane. The other recommendation was to make a pilgrimage to Lidice.

So, one beautifully sunny August day we found ourselves on a public bus heading ten miles out of Prague to the new village of Lidice. Having done history at school the terrible fate of Lidice wasn’t something I had covered.

This is a very short potted history of what happened to this Czech village. On May 27th 1942 there was an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich (the Butcher of Prague) who was Acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich died as a result of septicaemia a week later. Hitler sought revenge and raided 500 towns and villages attempting to find the two assassins and collaborators. In addition he ordered the total obliteration of a village. Lidice was chosen as it was suspected of harbouring local resistance partisans. Therefore on June 9th 1942 173 Lidice men were rounded up and shot. A further 11 men who weren’t in the village at the time were also later shot. Meanwhile 203 women and 105 children were assembled at the local school. On 12th June the women were taken by train to Ravensbruck concentration camp and were forced to work in road building, leather processing and in ammunition and textile factories. The majority of the children were gassed in Magirus gas vans at Chelmno. Seven children who were considered racially suitable were sent for Germanisation and handed over to SS families.

With all the villagers dealt with, pets killed, bodies dug from graveyards, and homes ransacked for valuables, the village was razed to the ground and bulldozed. The Nazis proudly proclaimed that the little village of Lidice, its residents and its very name were now blotted from memory.

Following the wars end only 17 children were to return “home”, whilst 153 women were liberated. Though Lidice was supposed to be eradicated from maps, many countries very quickly after the atrocities named towns, squares and roads after Lidice. Many girls were named Lidice and numerous memorial statues were erected throughout the world. In September 1942 coal miners from Stoke on Trent set up a fundraising organisation, “Lidice Shall Live” to raise funds for rebuilding the village. The first phase of housebuilding was completed in 1949 and survivors were able to live in the new Lidice.

On the site of the old village a Rose Garden with 29,000 roses from 32 countries was established. Whilst in 1967 The International Exhibition of Fine Art, Lidice was begun. It recognised the need to commemorate the lost generation of Lidice (together with other child war deaths worldwide) and invites on an annual basis submission of artwork from across the globe ( there are often 70 contributing countries ).

Back to 1991. Andy and I arrive at Lidice in truly gorgeous sunshine and I remember very little of the roses, but I do remember large sunny fields with corn and wild flowers gently swaying in the breeze. I also remember a building with photographs featuring all the men that had been shot on that fateful day. It was very moving.

Then we moved to the building that housed the annual Exhibition of Fine Art. We were looking at a range of wonderful art of all mediums and enjoying the diversity and quality of sculpture, painting, collage etc.. when we were approached by a very small elderly lady. She appeared frail and had rasping asthmatic breathing. In very broken English and with much emotion she told us that she had survived the concentration camp and rolled up her sleeve to expose her tattoo’d number. With ever increasing emotion she told us that her two children had died in the concentration camp ( presumably Chelmno ) and that her husband had been one of those 173 Lidice men that had been shot. By now I was finding it incredibly difficult to digest all that she was telling us. Finally she took us to a large oil painting of old Lidice. Pulling over a chair she took off her slipper and clambered up onto the chair. Using her slipper she pointed out the house she had lived in before everything changed that fateful day in June 1942. By now she was very tearful and her breathing increasingly laboured and we hugged. She offered us apples, which i’m ashamed to say I didn’t accept, I simply felt I wouldn’t have been able to say the word thank you as my heart felt as if it was in my mouth and with my breathing having stopped. Outside the building I wept. It was such a short meeting but one I have never forgotten. I consider it to have been a great privilege to have had those few short poignant moments. It is one thing to read accounts in books but quite another to meet a person having lived through such a momentous and terrible period in history.

We left Prague with some of those Soviet tin toys, hand made puppets, a chance meeting with a Scottish football manager and of most importance, memories of that truly amazing Holocaust survivor.

Loose Ends Tied Up

Marmalade potted and Bloomsburyfied!, Rocking Dog

Marmalade potted and Bloomsburyfied!

The week has started with tying up loose ends. Thus, the Marmalade was labelled and frou’d, more recipes transcribed and a small pile of drawstring bags completed.

My Bloomsbury Marmalade gained ties and pot covers cut from a fabric which was originally designed by Duncan Grant, one of the Bloomsberry Group. In 1986 Laura Ashley reproduced some of these designs and filled the shop with wallpapers, fabrics, rugs, borders and lamps. I bought some of these fabrics, wallpapers and borders in sales. I also bought display curtains and they have dressed some of our windows ever since. In the last couple of years Laura Ashley has re-released a more scaled down range at unfortunately non 1986 prices! A few years ago I was very fortunate to find some L.A. Queen Mary linen fabric (featured in main photo) in an Indian fabric shop in Bristol for £1 a yard. You will learn I love a good bargain!

The transcription of my original 1846 cookery book is going slowly but enjoyably. I have gleaned what a hair sieve is amongst other things. Can you believe there were sieves which had a gauze made of horse hair? The recipe for Tomato sauce sounds quite delicious and involves oven roasting the tomatoes overnight. I think I might have a go at the recipe, but unfortunately won’t have a hair sieve to pass the mixture through.

As for my drawstring bags, they are ready to take off to a far flung beach or be hung on Shaker style pegs. Made from vintage gingham and table linen they are lined with a cheery polka dot remnant. Part of the Rocking Dog summer range complete!

Difficult Transcription, Rocking Dog

Difficult Transcription

Looking For The Sun, Rocking Dog

Looking For The Sun

Fast Food For Sunday Lunch

Fast Food, Rocking Dog

Fast Food

What could be lovelier than cooking for good friends, well that’s unless you hate cooking! Sunday’s menu was a little bit all over the place, part Spanish, Lebanese and Italian influenced. Shame on me, married to a Scot AND being Burn’s Night I should have been serving up Haggis, neeps and tatties!

However the menu was a starter sized portion of Tori Haschka’s Black Bean, Chorizo, Sweet Potato and Coconut Bowl followed by Yotam Ottolenghi’s Lamb Meatballs with Barberries, Yoghurt and Herbs served with rice. Pud’ was a Rocking Dog made up concoction which was well received. So here follows my recipe for a Limoncello Amaretti Mash Up!

Here’s how it goes- (based on 4 guests)

8 soft Amaretti
Limoncello (or other liquer of choice)
4 dessertspoons blueberry or blackcurrant compote/soft set jam
Small punnet blueberries or other soft fruit of choice
150ml double cream
150ml Mascarpone (I used a lighter version available in Sainsbury’s)
Finely grated zest of one lemon and a little of the juice
1 tbsp icing sugar
To decorate- a few blueberries and mint sprigs

* Roughly crumble amaretti into four wine glasses, sprinkle with a generous glug of Limoncello.
* Spoon a dessertspoon of compote or jam on top of the amaretti.
* Whisk Mascarpone, cream, zest and icing sugar together until mixture stands in soft peaks.
* Taste, and add in a little Limoncello and lemon juice. Taste again.
* Plop cream into the glasses – and leave in a heap rather than spreading.
* Decorate with mint and berries. I added a few baby Amaretti on mine.
* Place in fridge until serving.

I think these are best made on the day, so for all those neurotic fearful
entertainers they will HONESTLY only take 15 minutes and won’t require a hostess trolley!

…..and if you are not a pudding person (how often have I heard that said and then a guest comes back for thirds!) ….there’s always cheese.
Two pieces of cheese ( a lovely runny Chaource and a Montagnolo ) pimped within an inch of their lives!

How I love Sundays.

Pass The Cheese Louise !, Rocking Dog

Pass The Cheese Louise !

Rocking Dog Loves Markets!

Bucket of Wools, Rocking Dog

Bucket of Wools

This morning I had an early start taking Real Life Rocking Dog off to be expensively coiffured, and a trip to see Colin at Eastville Market,for haberdashery.

I am currently making some draw string bags made from some vintage table-linen. With embroidered palm trees, exotic flora, straw huts and charming little figures these bags will be perfect for packing holiday essentials for the beach.

Colin’s eclectic stall provided ribbons for drawstrings, and I couldn’t resist some extra thick bakers twine, some lovely Scandinavian inspired braid and kitsch wedding cake decorations. You never know quite what you’ll find – it depends on Colin’s latest round of wheeling and dealing! With ribbons at around 30p a metre and Indian glitzy braids at £1 metre it’s worth taking a look. And of course if you need suspender replacements, bra extenders, knicker elastic and bobbins Colin is your man!

Sewing is to resume shortly, balmy looking bags for forthcoming balmy summer days.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend and Happy Birthday Colin!

Balmy Bags, Rocking Dog

Balmy Bags

Colin's Bazaar, Rocking Dog

Colin’s Bazaar

Spinning Yarns, Rocking Dog

Spinning Yarns

Button Up, Rocking Dog

Button Up

This n' That, Rocking Dog

This n’ That

Eclectic Stock, Rocking Dog

Eclectic Stock

January Nature Table

Winter Flora And Wool, Rocking Dog

Winter Flora And Wool

Walking in winter, cheek chiseling cold, brain numbing, teeth chattering and invigorating! Even in winter there are lovely things to see growing and evolving. My January nature table enjoys pickings of predominantly green hues. As the winter extends into spring, green will turn to the yellows of Forsythia, Wild Primroses and Daffodils.

There is a bounty of food for the birds, juicy globes of ivy berries and rose hips. Meanwhile, delicate Churlish Green catkins remind us that spring is tantalisingly close. Moss and ferns, verdantly green, bask in their shady dells and the leaves of autumn provide a carpet of rusts and browns.

Hellebore, (the Lenten or Christmas Rose) is a welcome floral display in these short January days. Originating in Europe and Asia, throughout history they have been used for medicinal purposes even though they are highly toxic. The plant is thought to have been used by Hippocrates as a purgative. Meanwhile the dramatic Black Hellebore has been used in ancient times to treat paralysis, gout and insanity. Alexander The Great is thought to have died as a result of taking medicine containing Hellebore.

You know how much I love a good story… so… Hellebore Niger is often called the Christmas Rose, due to an old legend that the plant sprouted in the snow from the tears of young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem. Aaaaahh!

Lastly I love the amazing fungi which I photographed in the winter sunshine, it really did seem that it was positively sunbathing.

Bird Food, Rocking Dog

Bird Food

Fabulous Ferns, Rocking Dog

Fabulous Ferns

Exotic Hellebore, Rocking Dog

Exotic Hellebore

Sunbathing Fungi, Rocking Dog

Sunbathing Fungi

What’s Going On On Your Mantlepiece?

Muddled Mantlepiece, Rocking Dog

Muddled Mantlepiece

A few years ago The Guardian asked readers to describe and send in images of their mantlepieces. It really got me thinking of the strange things that accumulate on mantlepieces, well certainly mine. They aren’t styled, rather more they come about as a natural dusty evolvement. Christmas usually sparks changes with the addition of putz houses, tatty decorations and Christmas cards, otherwise, my mantlepieces remain pretty constant. I do however love a jug of garden flowers or a gorgeous scented candle to ring the changes.

The photo above is of the mantlepiece in my sewing room and has simply come about. The dogs are a pair I bought as a present for Andyman (you know one of those gifts you buy by proxy!) and were on the scene long before Real Live Rocking Dog was a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye (incidentally his Dad’s name had the Pedigree name “Stand and Deliver”). An advent calendar, postcards, a graceful 1930’s bust, knitted asparagus and lots of other frou vie for space and until I write something like this I don’t really think of the cornucopia of tat that I live with.

The mantlepiece adorned with tulips, is a pretty grand fireplace for this humble cottage. It is a large ornate cast iron affair which took a lot of stripping to rid it of the green and yellow marbling effect which the previous owner had favoured. Eventually I need to inject a little more colour into the room, but the tulips give a welcome but temporary colour pop. I love the photo on the mantlepiece of the little Russian baby and its mother, both dressed in fur and finery. It gives me a Dr Zhivago moment every time I dust!

My wooden mantlepiece has obviously seen the new arrival of Toby jug, Mrs Mack and Sailor Dog (bought from the lovely Jayne Soule) but everything else is years of knick knackery! The old clock face was rescued from underneath a carpet in the house, used to stop floorboards creaking!

One Sunday when our son arrived home to be fed and have his washing done, he reluctantly watched Antiques Roadshow with me. One item featured was valued at about £6,000, that got son…… thinking! He was studiously looking around the lounge before asking me whether we had anything that could be worth that. I somewhat incredulously exclaimed “no”, but he then decided to interrogate me further. He pointed up to the clock on the mantlepiece and said “what about that then”? We are talking about a crudely made clock (possibly American) with crude mechanism and a Robertson’s “Golly” on it’s little glass door. Try again Alex!

Lastly my bedroom mantlepiece which is strangely for me, colour coordinated. I don’t have many photo’s up in the house but this is where most find their secure long term place. I love my bedroom wallpaper which has been with us for about 15 years. We could only afford to do one wall, but every morning it makes me smile, I don’t think a B&Q paper could have done that!

What’s going on on your mantlepiece right now?

Colour Pop, Rocking Dog

Colour Pop

What's it Worth? Rocking Dog

What’s it Worth?

Colour Coordinated, Rocking Dog

Colour Coordinated

Making Marvellous Marmalade!

Spectacular Seville's, Rocking Dog

Spectacular Seville’s

Seville oranges are in the shops! These particular oranges whose bitter characteristics are perfect for making marmalade come into shops in a blaze of glory in January and will have disappeared in a few short weeks.

I am following a different recipe this year, taken from The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondantje Rolls. It’s one which is a bit of a three stage recipe and is quite useful because it allows me to seek out enough preserving sugar, jam pots and covers over a couple of days. The first stage is to slice the oranges, de-pip them, and leave them to soak in water for 24 hours. The second stage involves boiling up the orange slices until they are tender, and again leaving the oranges to sit for another 24 hour spell. Today is the day when the alchemy begins with further boiling, the addition of the sugar and then hoping and praying for a good set. I am thankful to my Home Economics teacher Miss Lawrence for teaching me the flake and wrinkle test to decipher when the hot marmalade can be decanted into spotlessly clean jars. My time spent in the dusting room at Filton High School wasn’t quite so enjoyable. Yes there really was a room where we girls learnt how to dust, lay a tray for an invalid, make a bed etc… The boys meanwhile were making 1970’s metal wall art etc..Grrrrrrrrr!

Today’s recipe is one that was used by Roger Fry. Fry was an English artist and art critic who belonged to the Bloomsbury Group. The Bloomsbury’s were an influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists. They were a loose collective of friends and relatives who lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury during the first half of the 20th Century. Virginia Woolf her sister Vanessa Bell together with Lytton Strachey and Duncan Grant all belonged to the group, along with a number of others. They were often despised for their tangled love lives, being conscientious objectors and for having the audacity to bring Post Impressionist Art to British shores. Fry obviously also liked making marmalade!

A good few years ago I went to visit Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Sussex retreat, Charleston Farmhouse. I absolutely loved it, furniture, walls, doors, pots all painted and printed, tapestry’d and scrawled- visually eye popping. The garden too was inspirational, a cottage garden with mosaics, brick paths, gnarled apple trees, pots and beating sunshine. I did not want to leave.

It had always been a bit of a dream of mine to own a little piece of Bloomsbury art, something that had tangibly been scrutinised by Virginia Woolf or witnessed soirees, trysts and debates. A few years ago a piece purporting to be by Vanessa Bell came up on a certain online auction site. With the winning bid I have enjoyed my picture (on the back there’s a rather grey man in a loin cloth!) Unfortunately it now sports a rather nasty tear, Andyman managed to fall off a stepladder whilst putting up a curtain pole. Cracked head (the joy of flagstones) requiring stitching, torn artwork, an amazing lamp smashed and walls requiring painting it was quite an expensive and painful misadventure!

So today I will be busy in a somewhat steamy kitchen with my Bloomsbury marmalade, and thoughts of trying to revisit blissful Charleston hopefully sometime very soon.

Shall We Begin? Rocking Dog

Shall We Begin?

Precious Pectin, Rocking Dog

Precious Pectin

Torn Art, Rocking Dog

Torn Art

Rocking Dog Upcycled Gift Tags

Tags Looking For Presents, Rocking Dog

Tags Looking For Presents

Happy Monday!

With an accumulation of magazines piling up I decided to remove useful recipes etc.. and then salvage small scale images to make a plethora of gift tags. Armed with an A4 paper trimmer I made light work of cutting chosen images and then used brown luggage labels (of the recycled card species) to mount these pictures. I laid the pictures onto the labels and grouped them so that five pictures complemented each other. Therefore I had groups of Champagne stoppers, Summer flowers, citrus fruits, Christmas images (perish the thought!)etc…

Pritt (do not accept imitations!) stuck the images firmly in place and then where there were gaps on the tag I stamped various messages. The undersides were printed with To and From in most cases. Twine and thin ribbon were used to complete the tags.

The strung tags were then loosely knotted together in their fives. They are now looking for presents to adorn- the Christmas ones having a little bit of a long wait. Voila!

I was supposed to be moving a largish dry stone wall over the weekend in preparation for raised vegetable beds. Andyman and I were inspired by the rather rustic raised beds that we saw at our Agritourismo in Orvieto in November. Unfortunately plans for getting our vegetable garden underway got rather thwarted when I couldn’t make decisions of where to move the resulting stone from the demolished wall! How I hate my hindering procrastination.
It was therefore much warmer and less finger chapping to be inside making gift tags- but not quite so constructive. Oh well there’s always this week to move the wall in sub zero temperatures. Tantalising prospect!

Grouping Tags, Rocking Dog

Grouping Tags

Stamped & Strung, Rocking Dog

Stamped & Strung

Orvietto Raised Beds, Rocking Dog

Orvietto Raised Beds