Monthly Archives: October 2015

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From A Cynic- Happy Halloween!

The Best Pumpkins Are The Uncarved Variety!

The Best Pumpkins Are The Uncarved Variety!

I truly dislike Halloween, mainly because I really am scared by Trick or Treat!

For me the best pumpkins are the uncarved variety and I love these ones in this misty Umbrian garden.

For all those of you who love dressing up, carving pumpkins, eating sweets and scaring the living daylights out of people have a truly wonderful Halloween. Love scaredy cat Rocking Dog x

P.S. Be a kind to a pumpkin this halloween, it’s delicious roasted, in soups and tagines. However I have never really enjoyed pumpkin pie, a traditional Thanksgiving delicacy, sorry my lovely American kinfolk!

Gone To Hang Up Washing In The Sun!

Laundry In The Olive Grove, Rocking Dog

Laundry In The Olive Grove

Be back soon just going to find some sun to hang out the washing! Love Rocking Dog x

Waffle And Waffle- Rocking Dog Brunch

Spot The Pancetta!, Rocking Dog

Spot The Pancetta!

A lovely friend was stopping by for a quick catch up and I decided to get my waffle maker out! It lurks in a cupboard with my abandoned ice cream maker (preferring my Kitchenaid version), an unused American electric ice cream cone maker (why oh why?!!) and various other kitchen gadgetry. I can’t remember where I bought my electric waffle maker but know it’s a bargain basement contraption which makes very good waffles!

The aroma of waffles being cooked is the first smell I remember as a child. We were on holiday in Belgium, five of us travelling in a Mini. As soon as I smell waffles now I am transported back to that holiday as a five year old. In a similar way there is a furniture polish which horrifyingly takes me right back to my Army basic training. It conjures up early morning room and kit inspections, drill practice, bulling shoes, fitness tests, lots of shouting and lots of crying! I was not the best recruit.

Back to Waffles! So what waffles to rustle up? After flicking through my waffle bible I decided on Smoked Pancetta Waffles with Blackberry Maple Pour. The batter includes mustard powder, Parmesan, buttermilk and semolina. Not having semolina in my store cupboard I substituted it with polenta which worked successfully.

After the thick mixture is placed in the waffle maker, it is topped with some thin rashers of Pancetta or streaky bacon. The Lid is closed and the waffle is cooked for approximately five minutes. If you don’t have a waffle iron I imagine you could cook the mixture on a griddle or heavy based frying pan in the same way that you’d cook Scotch Pancakes.

The blackberry syrup was made by heating through blackberries, maple syrup and a strip of lemon zest.

How we enjoyed waffling whilst we ate waffles. Now does anyone fancy popping on by and i’ll get some ice cream whipped up, and I might even get my Ice cream cone making machine out!

Waffly Reading, Rocking Dog

Waffly Reading

Guinea Pig Recipe, Rocking Dog

Guinea Pig Recipe

Essential Ingredient, Rocking Dog

Essential Ingredient

Blackberry Maple Pour, Rocking Dog

Blackberry Maple Pour

Brunch Y'all !, Rocking Dog

Brunch Y’all !

And Then A Walk.., Rocking Dog

And Then A Walk..

Trying Not To Be A Control Queen- The Makery

First Attempt, Rocking Dog

First Attempt

I hope you have had a good weekend and not feeling too down about the longer darker nights. It takes a while for our household to change all the clocks and its quite disconcerting for a couple of days as to what time it really is!

On Friday I had a great time at “The Makery” in Bath when I joined a Freehand Machine Embroidery course. It’s a very bizarre technique, and not one for Control Queens (or Kings!) The feed dogs of the machine are dropped, so the little teeth that normally feed fabric through are no longer there. Ultimately you are in charge of the movement of the fabric.

The morning started with friendly Emily and Jess making mugs of coffee and tea for the group of eight before taking to our machines. Free embroidery requires a darning foot for your machine, copious reels of thread and embroidery hoops, in short nothing too wildly expensive. We embroidered lots of stitch work to gain confidence, and then added in fabrics which spilled out of baskets in the workshop. It was so relaxing, for me so much better than a spa!

My attempts are a bit rough and ready -but i’m looking forward to lots of further practice on Beloved Bernina.

Yes, i’m becoming a bit of a serial offender at The Makery, Roman Blinds, Meticulous Ink Calligraphy and now, Freehand Machine Embroidery. I can truly recommend taking a workshop there together with a visit to the shop. If you have done a workshop that day you benefit from 10% discount on shop supplies and any workshop bookings. For London residents The Makery is available at John Lewis, Oxford Street and again you can enrol on a variety of lovely workshops.

Since I have a Christmas Pudding on this post perhaps it’s a good opportunity to announce Rocking Dog Christmas events.

On Saturday 5th December I will be at Chipping Sodbury Town Hall for the Original Vintage & Handmade Christmas Fair. 10-3pm. Gorgeous vintage cupped tea and cake by the lovely WI.

On Sunday 13th December Rocking Dog will be opening the kennel in Hambrook, Bristol. 11am-2pm ish. There will be lovely last minute homemade gifts to buy, and a chance to sit with a mulled drink and delicious home made eats. As usual the kennel will be decked with 11 boxes of mainly vintage and homemade decorations. My poor long suffering Andyman just how does he cope with my Christmas dec’ addiction?!

Someone very kindly told me recently that a visit to the Rocking Dog Sale really signifies the beginning of Christmas for her. Thank you I am humbled. This year profits from refreshments will be going to Young Carers. During 2015 I have worked as a volunteer with a group of young children who help to look after parents and siblings with complex needs. They are truly inspirational.

So i’ll soon be dusting off you know who!

Makery Calligraphy, Rocking Dog

Makery Calligraphy

Makery Blinds, Rocking Dog

Makery Blinds

Spread The Word, Rocking Dog

Spread The Word

Makery Take-Away, Rocking Dog

Makery Take-Away

Brown Paper Packages Tied ..., Rocking Dog

Brown Paper Packages Tied …

Second Attempt, Rocking Dog

Second Attempt

Sloe Gin And Posting Advent Packages!

Festive Tipple, Rocking Dog

Festive Tipple

I could wait no longer for a frost! Sloe folklore suggests that sloes are best plucked following a frost. The seasonal white crystalline dusting apparently helps to soften the skins of these tiny fruits. In turn, the cold helps to release the bitter dark purple juices. Many of the fruits I spied during my dog walk were becoming wizened, action hurriedly needed to be taken if I wanted a batch of 2015 sloe gin!

I therefore spontaneously picked a mixture of sloes and bullaces (small bitter plums) and headed home with my booty.

Sloe Gin
1. Wash fruit, drain in a colander
2. Prick each fruit and place in a large Kilner style jar (Ikea is a good port of call for jars)
3. Add some caster sugar to the jar together with a split vanilla pod (optional)
4. Top the jar up with Gin and stir.
5. Place in a dark place and shake or stir every three or four days. Eventually the sugar will dissolve.
6. Taste around Christmas. You may prefer to leave the brew for a little longer. Strain and decant.
7. Reserve the alcohol soaked sloe berries and store in a jar in the fridge. Stone as needed, and add to summer pudding, boozy rocky road and homemade ice cream

The sloe gin itself can be drunk neat or used in cocktails.

Part of my day yesterday was spent talking weddings and helping a bride choose flowers and discuss styling for a December wedding at No4 Clifton Village. Wow! Katie…. it is going to be Sooooooo beautiful.

Wedding talk done, my day finally became snow sprinkled with wrapping Rocking Dog parcels. Winging its way to Christchurch (UK and not NZ!) one of my 2015 “Twas the night before Christmas” advent calendars. Rocking Dog Advent Calendars are for life and not just one Christmas!

How can we be at the end of another week- it’s gone in a flash. The nights are drawing in and last night I was lucky enough to see some large bats swooping and diving over the brook in our garden. It was amazing to watch, but part of me was thinking “I hope you are not thinking of setting up home in our loft”. As a protected species they are more difficult to move on than squatters!

Today I am learning how to do freehand machine embroidery at “The Makery” in Bath. It’s such a lovely friendly environment to learn a new skill. There are mugs of coffee, laughs, great instruction and a lovely little sewing/craft shop. I hope I will feel confident in showing you my first attempt at free hand embroidery next week.

Wishing you a very happy weekend whatever you are doing- I have left plenty of sloes around Hambrook, so why not get picking!

Colander Crop, Rocking Dog

Colander Crop

Liquor, Rocking Dog

Liquor

Jar Magic, Rocking Dog

Jar Magic

Looking Forward, Rocking Dog

Looking Forward

Twas the Night....., Rocking Dog

Twas the Night…..

Parcelled To Post, Rocking Dog

Parcelled To Post

Yippee! It’s Fantastical Fig Season!

Baubled, Rocking Dog

Baubled

Yippee! It’s Fantastical Fig Season and I couldn’t be happier! Used in both savoury and sweet dishes they are a welcome fleeting autumnal delicacy. Perhaps because they are so transient they have an aura of being special and decadent.

Originating from the Middle East, figs were first cultivated in Egypt. The fruit has much religious symbolism and many scholars believe that the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple.

Meanwhile, in Roman tradition Romulus and Remus who founded Rome were said to have been suckled by a wolf in the shade of a fig tree.

Figs were used as a training food by early Olympic Athletes and figs were also presented to the winners. These were in essence the first Olympic medals. Mmmm, I wonder whether the para -athletes who are about to start competing at the World Championships in Doha would prefer a fig to a metal medal! Good luck to you all, and Alex I hope you are slapping on the factor 50!

What could be easier to prepare than fig segments lightly draped with cloaks of Parma Ham, and served with Ciabatta and a dish of olive oil. Incidentally a drop or two of good balsamic or pomegranate molasses could perk up even the most basic olive oil.

Cheese and figs are also a wonderful combination. Young Pecorino,figs, a drizzle of honey and scattering of walnuts would be a perfect starter or light lunch dish to delight guests. My cheese plate includes a yummy creamy blue number, Montagnolo Affine. Despite its very Italian name it in fact is made in Bavaria. It won the Supreme Champion award at the 2013 International Cheese Awards beating 3,900 other cheeses!

Figs could prove a great start to the day sliced over a bowl of granola or muesli. Add some Greek Yoghurt (I however love Lidl’s Turkish Style Yoghurt )and a little drizzle of maple syrup or honey and the day will start deliciously.

Sweet offerings include roasted figs. I made mine by melting a little butter together with 2 tbsp apple juice, honey to sweeten and a cinnamon stick. Cut any stalk off your figs, leaving them whole, cut a cross into each of the fruit. Place in an ovenproof dish and pour over the syrup. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Roast at 180 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, spoon over the hot juices, cover with foil and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream, yoghurt or very naughtily clotted cream!

One of my favourite ways of eating my most favourite of fruits is on an authentic Italian pizza. No tomato sauce, just figs, goats cheese or Mozzarella, perhaps Parma Ham, a scattering of fresh Basil and drizzle of olive oil. And that is absolutely why i’ll never been a size 8 (or 12 for that matter!!)

Knowing their mad mothers love of this fruit, my girls recently bought me some glass fig baubles in the Christmas department at Harrods. Yep- definitely the sort of decorations that never find their way into the Christmas boxes destined for the attic! Thank you girls I truly and absolutely love them.

Bavarian Cheesed !, Rocking Dog

Bavarian Cheesed !

Roasted, Rocking Dog

Roasted

Parma Ham'd, Rocking Dog

Parma Ham’d

Granola'd, Rocking Dog

Granola’d

Book'd, Rocking Dog

Book’d

Next Years Lusciousness!, Rocking Dog

Next Years Lusciousness!

Romulus And Remus, Rocking Dog

Romulus And Remus

From A Jack To A King, From A Top To A Bag !

Gather Supplies, Rocking Dog

Gather Supplies

I apologise for today’s posts title. For some reason while I was doing a very slow walk with Real Live Rocking Dog the song lyrics “From a Jack To A King” came into my little brain, very strange, very true! I continued my walk quietly humming the song, wrestling with just who did sing it in yesteryear. I came up wrongly with Max Bygraves and then all the horrible memories of Saturday TV came back. Saturday Night at the Palladium, Dick Emery, Val Doonican, The Black & White Minstrel Show etc… etc… Yep, even then they thought that everyone suddenly lost their brain on Saturday’s and weren’t capable of coping with a gritty drama, documentary or good film. Agggghhh! Something’s never ever change.

Back home having Googled “From A Jack To A King” I think it was probably Slim Whitlam’s version I was remembering. Sorry you will have probably lost the will to live by now!

Yesterday’s little project, because I was still behaving, was to reconfigure a top into a bag. A little bit of a conundrum that Sorrel bravely left me with on a recent visit.

The top in question had been bought for £5 at a recent sample sale. Sorrel could not resist the textural crocheted quality of this garment (that’s my girl!!). Ridiculously tiny, she bought it in the knowledge that it would need to be Sewing Bee’d into something else. She came up with the idea of a chic string bag, and so the project was left with me. I am sure Sorrel was sadly confident that the top would be mulled over, cast aside and then eventually abandoned on Material Mountain! Therefore, she will be somewhat shocked today to find that The Dog has stitched and not bitched the top into a bag!

I came up with a cunning plan over a cup of coffee and a bit of Elgar mixed with Slim’, Elvis and Ibuprofen. I’m not going to give the explicit details of how I went about completing the task but I hope the photo’s give you a little flavour of how I went about it. In short, I reinforced the straps with bias binding to create the bag straps and up cycled some lovely Designer’s Guild silk for a strong inner liner prior to sewing the bottom hem of the crochet top.

Voila! The bag is ready to be laden with everything my modern business woman daughter wishes. Purse, Oyster card, keys, lippy,…… sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, squid, figs etc.. Working for Abel & Cole this bag will be no chici little number!

Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a great one and I hope that you are able to brave Saturday night TV better than I can ever do!

Voila! One Top, Rocking Dog

Voila! One Top

Textural Close Up, Rocking Dog

Textural Close Up

Up Material Mountain For Lining!, Rocking Dog

Up Material Mountain For Lining!

Lovely Lining, Rocking Dog

Lovely Lining

Pinning Lining, Rocking Dog

Pinning Lining

Pin & Sew Side Seam, Rocking Dog

Pin & Sew Side Seam

Reinforce Handles, Rocking Dog

Reinforce Handles

Cut & Sew Lining Hem, Rocking Dog

Cut & Sew Lining Hem

Anyone Up For Retail Therapy?, Rocking Dog

Anyone Up For Retail Therapy?

Sorry I’ve Been So Silent, Love Rocking Dog.

Sorry I’ve been SO silent! I’ve been a bit under the weather. I wanted to test drive the Accident and Emergency Department at the local new super hospital myself! Back home, I have been snuggly and relatively painlessly holed up, and somewhat ashamedly have let little penetrate my peacedom.

Today I tentatively stepped outside for the first time in nearly a week, and was amazed how Autumn has swept in so confidently with her capacious metallic coppery cloak. My usual riverside walk was so different to the ramble I took there last week. My earthy path was swathed with a rich carpet of rusts, coppers and bronzes. The Frome was afloat with a veritable Armada of curled mystical leafy sailing craft, whilst in the stream a log was docked together with its delicate fungi passengers. It all felt quite surreal.

Autumn had touched the leaves of the Sycamore with her magical welding tool. The metallic weld had dripped sporadically and artistically on to the citric yellow base layer. Nature’s painterly beauty, competition indeed for Jackson Pollock!

Everything was really so deliciously quiet, sun-beamed and glorious.

Nearly at my door, there was raucous cawing. A Murder of Crows (how I love that word for a grouping of crows!) were in my neighbours orchard. Such fights for the plentiful crop of ripe rosy fruit. “Listen here you Murder, there really are plenty for everyone!” “Mind, can you leave me a few apples, i’d love some to make mincemeat….. when i’m feeling a little more energetic!”

Leafy Islands In The Stream, Rocking Dog

Leafy Islands In The Stream

Hanging On, Rocking Dog

Hanging On

Autumn's Metallic Weld, Rocking Dog

Autumn’s Metallic Weld

Leafy Trail, Rocking Dog

Leafy Trail

Firewood, Rocking Dog

Firewood

The Apples Are Ripe!, Rocking Dog

The Apples Are Ripe!


 

Just Gone To See A Man About A Dog/Goat!

Nosy Nanny!, Rocking Dog

Nosy Nanny!

As a child, whenever my mum didn’t want us to know where dad was, or simply didn’t have the energy to tell us where dad was, she’d say “He’s gone to see a man about a dog”. On one occasion he really had gone to see a man about a dog, and we ended up with a Golden Labrador that we named Bracken. Another time dad went out and saw a parrot. However, that time he thought better of all the squawking, talking and mayhem, and came home empty handed. I remember that phrase ‘He’s gone to see a man about a dog’ with great affection. I’m sure most of the time dad had gone for a quiet pint, or sought solace in the cellar or garage, where there were the ilicit chocolate stashes.

Yesterday, whilst walking Real Live Rocking Dog I came to the field with a herd of goats, and met their owner. We had a great goat husbandry chat. In half an hour I learnt what they ate, gestation period (6 months), size of litter, common ailments, popularity of goat meat in UK, life expectancy (roughly 30 years), sociability (quite) etc.. I think the large Billy rather thought that RLR Dog was an escaped kid for they made nose to nose contact through the fence. Mmmmm, let me see now, I think I may have found my doggy day care solution! It was all rather endearing, and these local goats are not for a tasty goat stew or milked to produce delicious cheeses. All thirteen of them are one mans beloved pets (together with hens, thirty ducks, two dogs and goodness knows what else). I expect his wife will be known to say “He’s gone to see a man about a goat”!

Not far from the thirteen billy goats gruff exists a field that I only fairly recently discovered. As soon as I set eyes on the brook in the middle of the field I had a real sense of de ja vu. This was the little bit of water that I paddled in, fishing net in hand in the 1960’s as a young child together with my siblings. I remember picnics, other children, sun, strung jam jars and I can even visualise one of the outfits I wore. It was a two piece floral playsuit in psychadelic orange, and I loved it. We had our own name for the brook which sadly has been lost in time, but it was something like sunny brook or buttercup brook. I am so pleased to have rediscovered this pastureland, full of warm summer minnow catching memories.

Autumn really is gathering pace, with leaves falling and flowers in their final ebbing summer crescendo. It is such a wonderful time to be walking, especially with interesting and slightly eccentric conversations with the local goatherd.

Must leave this now, i’ve got to go and see a man about a dog!

13 Billy Goats Gruff!, Rocking Dog

13 Billy Goats Gruff!

Eye Eye!, Rocking Dog

Eye Eye!

Man About A Dog, Rocking Dog

Man About A Dog

Childhood Memories, Rocking Dog

Childhood Memories

Cow Parsley, Rocking Dog

Cow Parsley

Downstream, Rocking Dog

Downstream

The Great Rocking Dog Bake Off!

Last Of The Summer Fruit, Rocking Dog

Last Of The Summer Fruit

My weekend of baking is at an end, and I quite enjoyed myself! I methodically ploughed through my list of makes, leaving the scones and sausage rolls to the very last minute. The party would have warm fluffy scones together with golden un-solidified sausage rolls!

I am still amazed about how terrible some event catering is. How often have you been “welcomed” with cling filmed sandwiches, wrinkled grey cocktail sausages and anaemic looking chicken drumsticks? Knowing of my love for colour, Andyman trailed back from a recent buffet and warned me that the scene was reminiscent of a sepia photograph! Indeed, everything was a strange shade of greige and there was absolutely no attempt at any type of garnishing. Foil trays and cling film completed the unappetising scene! But…..despite all this, there were people exclaiming “nice spread!” AGGGGGGGGHhhhhh! I played safe with a packet of McCoys, (alas, no Kettle Crisps were to be had!)

Some of the worst catering unfortunately can be experienced at funerals. What could be more depressing than awful grey food on such a sad and solemn occasion? Even dead people deserve to be remembered whilst eating something gorgeous!

I once had to feed nearly five hundred funeral guests, and my brilliant team kept on filling freshly baked croissants with yummy things. There were homemade cakes, scones, pastries and lots of tea and chatter. Is it that many establishments or caterers feel it is slightly irreverent to serve showstopper cakes or sandwiches with any fillings apart from cheese, cucumber and ham (crusts reverently trimmed, naturally!) Please Ferguson kids send me off with plenty of bubbly, sourdough doorsteps, charcuterie and ice cream! Remember, I want a Christmas carol too- whatever time of year my demise happens!

I wonder when Britain will finally move on from curled sandwiches, quartered pork pies, damp crisps AND the cling film. Last year whilst on our Umbrian adventure we ventured into the medieval hilltop town of Montefalco. Six of us were needing lunch and we approached a restaurant in the sunny square. No tables were to be had. No worries, the restauranteur offered to magic a table out of nowhere. Indeed, within five minutes we were seated in the most glorious November sunshine enjoying a Prosecco and perusing the menu. Within fifteen minutes, tables next to us were laid up with the most beautiful Italian “buffet”, and ten minutes later an entire wedding party descended on the square. We felt so privileged to be witnesses at the feast. Needless to say there were no wrinkled cocktail sausages, soggy pastry or any form of grey!

Back to my cake table. None of my simple bakes will past muster with Mary and Paul’s technical challenges, life simply is too short! However, I hope the choice, homemadeness and colour pleased the assembled cricket pavilion guests, and helped to make it a truly memorable birthday.

PS. The photo labelled guinea pig cake, has absolutely and utterly no guinea pigs in its makeup. It’s just that I have never made the cake before, thus the guests were my guinea pigs!

Simple Floral Styling, Rocking Dog

Simple Floral Styling

Guinea Pig Cake, Rocking Dog

Guinea Pig Cake

Marvellous Macaroons, Rocking Dog

Marvellous Macaroons

Cake With The Midas Touch!, Rocking Dog

Cake With The Midas Touch!

Boozy Cake!, Rocking Dog

Boozy Cake!

Snow Sprinkled Brownie, Rocking Dog

Snow Sprinkled Brownie

For The Kidlets!, Rocking Dog

For The Kidlets!

Cream Tea, Rocking Dog

Cream Tea

No Sweet Tooth!, Rocking Dog

No Sweet Tooth!

The Ubiquitous Sausage Roll, Rocking Dog

The Ubiquitous Sausage Roll

Umbrian Buffet, Rocking Dog

Umbrian Buffet

Italian Crisps, Rocking Dog

Italian Crisps