Friday, 31 August 2012

Falling for Autumn

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Been thinking a lot about the sadness I feel at summer fading away, and the things I love about autumn. Thank you for such lovely suggestions in the comments of my last post - you sparked my imagination and here's a list of the things I'm looking forward to.

:: My favourite fashion combo - dress, cardigan, tights, boots
:: A new coat
:: A wood-burning stove 
:: Finding decent slow cooker recipes - tips please!
:: Watching telly under a blanket
:: Talking of which, Mad Men series 5 out on DVD in October
:: A mums' weekend away - whoop!
:: Wearing my Donna Wilson fox scarf
:: Crumble and custard - my all-time favourite pud
:: Half term with these people
:: Stocking up for winter and planning for Christmas (dare I mention it?)

There's been a distinct nip in the air today. We warmed our tums with this broccoli dal recipe - perfect if you have brassicas to eat up and fancy a bit of spice.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Snapshot: Rainy days and Mondays

This late summer bank holiday weekend has felt like more than three days. Friends came to stay, we ate and drank and talked late into the night. It felt restorative and necessary. The kids giggled and refused sleep, as is traditional for a sleepover.

Later, we had some time away from the kids, who went to stay at their grandma's. We drank tea, ate cake, and read the paper, cover to cover, for the first time in YEARS. We ate out with friends.

Then Sunday we hopped in the car and headed for Longleat Safari Park. In the sunshine. On bank holiday Sunday. Madness. But the boys loved it, especially those naughty monkeys scrambling all over the car.

And now we're planning rainy day activities to stop us going stir crazy in the house. Been waiting for the right time to make bath bombs and I think today is the day.

Summer's over, isn't it? I have mixed feelings about the past couple of months - the first proper school hols we've had, really. It's been a lot of fun, but also a little bickery and tense at times.

I've started an Autumn board on Pinterest to remind me of the good things to come, as I can't help feeling a little gloomy about the impending months (it is a little sparse right now). What do you love about Autumn? Remind me.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Wrapped in a rainbow

I remember going to one of these when I was a child - Ashton Court, 1980-something - and I absolutely loved it. It's been popping up every so often in various locations at various points in my life (I have some brilliant pics of me and Ben in one at Hyde Park when we were about 19 or 20), so when it came to the Holburne in Bath and a friend suggested going, we couldn't resist.

The thing itself - a kind of inflatable coloured bouncy castle that you go in rather than on - was originally called Dreamspace, designed by a sculptor called Maurice Agis in 1980. Here's the official interpretation from an archived web page:
Maurice Agis's art spaces are the result of his quest for an spatial language based on human proportion and size.  They inspire a magical fascination in their participants through classic art principals (form, colour and line), and physical phenomena (light, space, sound and movement). They are public, urban, accessible, interactive, temporary, mobile and ephemera.

The one at the Holburne is called Colourscape and seems to be the work of a different artist, Peter Jones, in the early seventies. Whoever was behind the piece, the kids loved it as much as I remember loving it. We all donned capes in bright primaries, took off our shoes and ran from place to place, enjoying the futuristic experience. The different coloured areas had such different effects on our moods and on what we could see - my pink nail varnish changed from neon to pale to almost orange, and the bright red area made us all a little bit angsty. It was fascinating.

There was one area filled with all sorts of strange musical instruments that the kids played with, and it reminded me of the video by Pulp for their song 'Lipgloss', filmed inside one of these rainbow structures. Here it is - nothing like a bit of nineties nostalgia. Have a lovely weekend!


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Turning two

It was a while back, when we were in France, that T technically turned two. He woke that morning and came down saying 'My birthday! My birthday!' and singing Happy Birthday to himself. We had no cards or presents to give him that day, instead just a little pink cake decorated like a pig and topped with two candles. He seemed happy enough.

But we felt bad. It's a cliche we're living out here, every so often saying 'oh, poor T, remember what we did for A when he was that age?' and realising T has just a tiny percentage of the attention we gave our firstborn. Sure, he gets lots of other things A never had, like a big brother to look up to, a constant playmate, oodles of non-age appropriate toys to destroy, but that also means he spends most of his time with bigger kids.

So we threw him a party - toddlers only - and he loved it. No theme, just fun and sweet and small - five tiny friends. The sun shone. We passed that parcel. A neighbour left out a toy tractor on the street and we nabbed it. We gave him a vintage Fisher Price record player (and tried not to sob at 'Edelweiss'). I dip-dyed marshmallows, for heaven's sake. Play dough was pummeled. We messed about with a giant 2-shaped helium balloon. Kids ate a lot of sugar. Then went to bed grubby, over-tired, and very, very contented.
My photographs: 1-3, 5
Alice Hendy's photographs: 4, 6-13

Monday, 20 August 2012

Snapshot: A sublimely ridiculous weekend

Golly. Monday and I'm completely exhausted. Aren't weekends supposed to be a chance to recharge batteries? Not these days.

An ongoing quest to find antique doors led us to a reclamation yard on Saturday, the last place on earth you'd want to take a whirlwind two-year-old. A was desperate to buy a beautiful old rowing boat, saying it reminded him of 'Lost & Found' by Oliver Jeffers, one of our very favourite stories. Instead, we found what we've been looking for - lovely old doors to be fitted between the living room and what used to be the dining room, now destined to become a playroom/den for the boys. As a child I could never understand why some of my friends' parents had grown-up rooms, sometimes locked, that we were never allowed to enter. Seemed really mean. Now I get it, and long for a space free of toys, plastic, toast crumbs and orange peel, a space that is guaranteed to calm and relax after the small people are in bed. Most of all, a space where my beloved sofa will remain clean, comfy, and free of spills. Not long now...

From there we went on to IKEA (from the sublime to the ridiculous indeed) which involved bumping the buggy down all those steps. Our mission was to buy a desk, a new sheepskin, and a few other bits and bobs. I also fell in love with a Hirst-esque bed linen set and a kitchen trolley. We ended up there for hours which meant ice creams and lunch were also in order, and I was so proud of A who spotted Smaland (the free IKEA creche) and asked to go in. I explained that we couldn't go with him, and Ted was too young, so he'd have to go it alone. Nevertheless, he wanted in and had a brilliant time.

Saturday night we cooked for friends, had one of those lovely evenings you never want to end. Ottolenghi is a total genius - the trademark broccoli recipe is truly good, and the roast chicken with saffron, honey and nuts is a work of alchemy. But we drank far too much, stayed up too late, and paid the price on Sunday morning.

The best part of our weekend was Sunday afternoon, when we headed into the woods for a party to celebrate one of our friends turning 3. The kids made crowns from leaves and other forest findings, ran wild, hunted wolves, flew foam gliders, skipped, played, while the grown ups barbecued sausages for a hot-dogs-and-cake supper, drank beer and chatted.

Magic happened that day. It was one of those moments in time to be remembered forever. More beautiful photographs (by Alice Hendy) here - like something from a dream.

Friday, 17 August 2012

French holiday love

A few last snaps of our French holiday, the memory of which is now fading fast.

As a family, we went to France most years for childhood holidays. Each time we return I recall those same differences that thrilled me as a child...

The unfamiliarly flavoured syrups in tins - grenadine, menthe, citron.
Disbelief at driving past swimming pool shops with their enormous liners on display.
Beautiful handwritten signs - do all French schoolchildren learn the same elaborate calligraphy?
The heat of a car journey followed by the relief at running from car to pool and diving straight in.
Strips of sweets sold on the ferry, that only added to our excitement and inability to sleep.
The creak of antique shutters.
Those little change saucers that are a feature of all shops but appear unused by all but the very ancient.
The patisserie and boulangerie - like nothing I'd ever seen in British shops.

All this is evoked, like a spell, whenever I set food on gallic soil. Je suis une Francophile and proud.


It'll be a while before we holiday across the channel again, which has reminded me it's time to think closer to home - Devon holidays I think.  

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Some enchanted evening

A couple of weeks back, Malago WI spent an enchanted evening at The Ethicurean, one of my very favourite places. Set in a Victorian walled garden, this cafe/restaurant is still green in that it's only been open a couple of years but is already making waves in the world of food and won Best Ethical Restaurant at the Observer Food Monthly Awards last year.

We were lucky enough to nab an evening booking (The Ethicurean is usually open during the day only) and could not have been luckier with the weather. It was that hot week, you remember the one, back at the end of July, and 50 Malago women caught a stuffy coach out to Wrington. Emerging to that view of the Somerset hills on such a sultry evening was like stumbling into a secret garden. The owners invited us to potter about in the garden for a while, and we wandered down the formal paths out towards the polytunnels and came across Mark, the gardener, who answered our urban questions with aplomb. It was wonderful to hear his enthusiasm for a rare heirloom beetroot, to see the joy and the care he takes tending this enormous plot single-handed. The weather has caused a six-week delay to some crops, while others have been ruined by the torrential rain including some rather sad looking garlic that ought to have been giant fat cloves by now.

As we made our way back up the hill the glasshouse was waiting for us, set with beautiful mismatched tea sets and cake a-plenty. I have a well-documented love of all things juniper, and tried a Sipsmith gin and tonic with cucumber - definitely to be recommended, especially as a sundowner in such a tranquil setting. It was mixed by Jack, one of the talented and very friendly owners of The Ethicurean, who also gave us a talk about the history of the garden as well as the origins of their business. Paula, another co-owner, chipped in with some of the details, as did Matthew, one of two brother chefs who make up the four owners.

Writing this now is making me yearn to go back, being as it's such a world away from inner city Bristol which can feel so close and claustrophobic sometimes. Next year, Ebury Press will publish The Ethicurean cookbook, photographed by one of the very talented guests I met at Lia and Juliet's Supper Club a few weeks ago. I can't wait.
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