Category Archives: Home And Garden

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

2015 Supper Versus Supper 1846 Style

Supper In A Jiffy, Rocking Dog

Supper In A Jiffy

Black Bean, Chorizo, Sweet Potato, and Coconut Bowl. This simple supper can be prepared and cooked in a jiffy and is truly delicious! taken from “Cut The Carbs!” by Tori Haschka. I estimate it’s a 10 minute prep’ time (as long as you have a good sharp knife to try and tackle the super hard sweet potato). Then it needs in total forty minutes to cook in the oven. Time enough to enjoy a glass of red and enjoy a spot of relaxation before the weekend begins.

For vegetarians the chorizo could be omitted and I think some cubed roasted halloumi would work well.

And the 1846 supper? I have finally made a start on transcribing an original 1846 recipe book. I bought it in St Peter’s St Peter’s Hospice shop in Cotham a few years ago, and it is truly one of the items i’d want to save if we ever had a fire (more likely a flood with a brook at the bottom of the garden!) I think it’s going to be an amazing, historical adventure with unknown ingredients, unfamiliar measurements and cooking methods. This little book with 141 recipe packed pages formed the basis of my daughter Sorrel’s university dissertation and it took her on a journey through the kitchens and dining in the 1800’s. It was fascinating.

The first recipe in this beautifully handwritten book has already had me foxed, simply deciphering the title. The internet has helped with being able to put in various permutations, and thus I think this first recipe is Frumenty. It is asserted that this is England’s oldest dish. Made from cracked wheat and milk it was sometimes served with meat, fish or venison. It formed part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal and was often eaten on Mother’s Day. Servants were allowed to journey back to see their mothers on Mothering Sunday and were commonly served this dish to celebrate, and to sustain them on their journey back to their workplaces. In Victorian times it was served to Workhouse residents.

Frumenty features in Thomas Hardy’s “Mayor of Casterbridge” and also mentioned in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”. Carroll wrote that frumenty was the food that snapdragon flies lived on- how romantic!

This first recipe is anything but cooked in a jiffy and involves wheat being beaten for several hours to remove the tough outer husks! We don’t know how lucky we are. I am looking forward to finding lots of hidden gems in this book, and wonder how many recipes I will actually want to try.

Whatever you are doing this weekend I hope it’s a lovely one and happy cooking!

Carb' Bible, Rocking Dog

Carb’ Bible

1834 Recipe Book, Rocking Dog

1834 Recipe Book

No Calorie Cakes

The No Calorie Doughnut, Rocking Dog

The No Calorie Doughnut

Yes NO calories, but completely tasteless and completely knitted! The fridge is cleared of almost everything naughty and the plan is to try and be good.

However, it is Andyman’s Birthday at the weekend and we have a lovely gift of money to spend on a meal. SO we are heading to “The Pig” near Bath, and yes we probably are going to be greedy little piglets! The food is really yummy as is the decor (sorry to be so superficial, for me that’s almost as important). It will be lovely to see “The Pig” in daylight, apparently the grounds are beautiful. There’s a kitchen garden, smokery, greenhouse and hens. I love the fork to plate ethos.

Back to knitted cakes. They, at grey times of the year brighten my kitchen under various glass domes. Bought in different places some cakes are hand knitted whilst others are store finds. Also pictured is a lead chocolate (a fudge perhaps?), an old shop display item. Definitely not one the Milk Tray Man drops in with!

Trying to be good I can definitely recommend one book “Cut The Carbs!” by Tori Haschka. Gorgeous recipes which are generally quick to prepare and cook, and are very flavoursome. I particularly love the Chicken San Choi Bow (page 96) and Black Bean, Chorizo, Sweet Potato and Coconut Bowl (page 82)

The Dryathlon continues in our household and the tempting Christmas bottle of Baileys remains untouched.

Cake Assortment, Rocking Dog

Cake Assortment

Knitted Wedge, Rocking Dog

Knitted Wedge

Lead Fudge, Rocking Dog

Lead Fudge

Carb' Bible, Rocking Dog

Carb’ Bible

You’ve Got Mail!

Quick Cards, Rocking Dog

Quick Cards

I have been running up some quick thank you cards, I know it’s old fashioned but it’s still lovely to get snail mail! It makes a pleasant change from bank statements (especially this time of year) utility bills and mail shots for takeaway pizza. I remember visiting an elderly lady in the village who had piles of correspondence tied up with ribbon in amongst a cornucopia of antique china and cut glass, it felt very Miss Haversham. My biggest regret was that I never had the courage to say to her that her house was worthy of being in “World of Interiors” and encouraging her to have it featured. Now the house has been “sanitised” by a new owner and Mrs B is no longer. An opportunity missed for this amazing house’s cluttered beauty to be photographed for prosterity.

Back to my cards. Apart from hoarding Christmas decorations, I hoard all manner of other things! In a file code named “embellishments” I keep a selection of stuff to frou presents, cards and labels. These particular cards have been made using salvaged pictures from back issues of “Country Living” and “World of Interiors”. I have a session every now and again where I pull my magazines apart for recipes, home and garden ideas and for pictures that I can use to make cheap- skate labels and cards. I usually try to use a paper cutter (guillotine) to get some good straight edges, my eyes and my scissors (blunt ironically because they have been used to cut paper) aint what they used to be!

I hoard the salvaged pictures away in a plastic A4 folder in my file until I need to make cards etc…I have in this instance used some recycled brown card blanks (and matching envelopes), some pretty paper scraps, a brown luggage label, some ribbon, ink pad and stamp, and Pritt for gluing. Very simple and less than 10p a card.

Other ideas for decorating cards include using old cigarette cards,chopped up calendars, pretty stamps,vintage fabrics and pictures from unwanted books and comics.Recently I bought an old medical book for 50p in a charity shop to make rather mawkish get well cards, but then I decided to keep the book whole because I loved the illustrations so much. Thus, another pretty useless book to hang onto until another programme of mass culling lures me to part with it!

Happy Card Making!

Luggage Label Card, Rocking Dog

Luggage Label Card

Lovely Stamp, Rocking Dog

Lovely Stamp

Close Up, Rocking Dog

Close Up

Going, Going…….

Really Gone! Rocking Dog

Really Gone!

Yes Siree! The decorations really have GONE- ready for the final journey into our rather cobwebby attic. Am I the only one who looks around in dismay at the level of dust and general grot which has accumulated since the house was festooned? I have vowed that it will be one tree next year and nothing else….however, I simply know I won’t be able to keep my vow of Christmas decoration chastity!

Even sadder is the fact that every last person has GONE, so it’s Andyman and I, together with a very forlorn fridge! Though very quiet with the offspring having flown, I am looking forward to a little bit of normality returning, and making plans for the year ahead.

Actually I have made one cunning plan, and that is to return to the “Makery” in Bath in February to do a little calligraphy session. When I looked on Saturday night there was one place remaining – so I decisively pressed the button! A year or two ago I did a Roman Blind making session there and it was brilliant. Whereas I had seriously considered having some blinds made, a £40 workshop equipped me and most importantly gave me the confidence to tackle the blinds myself, at a fraction of the cost. It was fun, well paced, social,friendly and informative. Have a look at the workshops they run, or give someone you love a Makery Voucher.

Hope your week of returning to “normal” goes well.

Swedish Frieze, Rocking Dog

Swedish Frieze

Awaiting A Box, Rocking Dog

Awaiting A Box

Eclectic Nativity, Rocking Dog

Eclectic Nativity

Boxed To Go! Rocking Dog

Boxed To Go!

Monogrammed Noel, Rocking Dog

Monogrammed Noel

Glass Dome Doggy, Rocking Dog

Glass Dome Doggy

Rocking Dog Sews For Spring

Vintage Lace, Rocking Dog

Vintage Lace

Rocking Dog is beginning to think of projects to embrace the forthcoming spring.
With a gorgeous stash of vintage lace and frou I am looking forward to make pretty things to entice those with beautiful boudoirs or with nuptials to celebrate.

With my son’s recent engagement I have yet to be given my orders regarding what they would like me to “run up”. It’s early days and I hope the lovestruck couple enjoy the planning of their special day. I am sure it will be very unique and meaningful, and maybe I need to sew some lace edged handkerchiefs for the day!

Until then I can make lovely things for other brides and grooms. I am very happy to work with couples and make bespoke decor and additionally can help with wedding styling. How I love frouing!

My advice to anyone planning a wedding is to delegate with a capital D! It is very tempting to try and do everything as a small family group but ….here’s a stark warning! We as a family sourced and did all the food, marquee flowers, setting up, made 1000’s miles bunting, sourced and bought 120 sets vintage china and Babycham glasses, baked and decorated the cake, decorated the chapel, sourced and bought all the booze, did all the wedding stationery, made night lanterns etc….etc..for lovely daughters wedding and …..felt totally wrecked! I had three hours sleep, literally had ten minutes to get ready, and had none of those tender proud parent moments as I was too busy ferreting in the fridge for 120 Panna Cotta’s and the evenings Pieminister pies! Meanwhile, Andyman was still in a towel when the white Cadillac arrived! It was mad! Though in a somewhat trance like state it was a great wedding, but I do wish I’d just been able to let my control freak nature to let go just a little and I think that goes for the bride too and we’d… DELEGATE!

On the very plus side we have some very lovely vintage china in our cellar which we have been able to use for charity events, loan to friends and groups. Rocking Dog hopes to host a charity pop up vintage afternoon tea later this year. Please contact me if you would like me to send you an invite.

Looking forward to finally putting Christmas to bed, with decorations boxed, fridge cleared of naughtiness and thank you letters written. Then I can make lovely Rocking Dog things, and watch for the first signs of spring.

Vintage Frou, Rocking Dog

Vintage Frou

Wedding Pudding Box, Rocking Dog

Wedding Pudding Box

DIY Wedding, Rocking Dog

DIY Wedding

First Frost

frozen bird food, rocking dog

Frozen Bird Food

We awoke on Monday morning to the first savage frost of the winter.
Clothed in white, the garden looked spectacularly inviting. The frost stayed all day and reminded me of my favourite childrens’ book The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. ‘Spring has forgotten this garden,’ they cried, ‘so we will live here all the year round.’ The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down.” Very thankfully the North Wind didn’t visit our garden, so it was quiet and still, sparkling and cold.

Frosted Wreath, Rocking Dog

Frosted Wreath

Frost Clad Catkins, Rocking Dog

Frost Clad Catkins

Brook At Our Garden's End, Rocking Dog

Brook At Our Garden’s End