Summery Treats

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Glorious Knickerbocker Glory (we shared!) from The Parlour at Fortnum and Mason, before their recent makeover, the treats are still as good as ever though!

June, in our family, is the time of year to indulge in ice-creamy treats. Strawberries and cream for Wimbeldon? Yes, indeed, but even better to my way of thinking is a Strawberry Sundae made extra delicious with fresh English strawberries drizzled with a dollop of Cointreau, meringuey crumbs layered in between the fruit and the heavenly strawberry gelato in a takeaway tub from Slice of Ice in Hampstead – all topped with freshly whipped heavy cream. That’s the sort of sundae you can eat whilst watching James Garner fix a milkshake for Sally Fields in the sweet eighties film, Murphy’s Romance.

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Time to rinse out the tall sundae glasses (tucked away up high) and dig to the back of the drawer for the long spoons and aim for Sundaes on Sunny Sundays whether at home or out and about. Fresh gooseberries, topped and tailed, stewed and generously sweetened, good vanilla ice-cream, with elderflower jelly (an old favourite is to use 6 tbsps St Germain, half a bottle of sparkling wine and 2 sachets of gelatine) and whipped cream on top is pretty delicious too. 

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Inviting Us Home

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All images from Heather Benning’s site here

I loved this article in the Daily Mail Online yesterday about Heather Benning’s The Dollhouse. Heather, whilst acting as an Artist in Residence for Redvers, Saskatchewan, found this abandoned, derelict farmhouse nearby and realised it held the seeds for a powerful artistic project of her own making.

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As Heather found it

She would gradually transform the derelict building into a dollhouse to capture the late sixties when it had last been inhabited. In Heather’s vision, it’s a life-sized dollhouse that evokes our awareness and memories of a not-too distant past, landscape and way of life. One which of course we can never go back to, but calls to all of us of childhood and sense of home.

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Kitchen before, and

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Kitchen in Heather’s realisation: the period furniture, the wall phone, all so perfectly sixties

She obviously worked incredibly hard to realise her vision, and The Dollhouse has been featured in exhibitions across Canada and is now situated for any who wish to see it alongside Highway 2 in Manitoba, near the Saskatchewan border. I would love to be able to walk right up to it and peer through the plexiglass back at the suspended life inside. There is so much that is evocative here.

Heather’s sister Sheri has written movingly about their childhood in rural Saskatchewan and the genesis of The Dollhouse here:

Whenever she’s asked why she embarked on the Dollhouse, Heather’s modest reply is that she wants people to think about these abandoned homes. She excavated layers of dwelling to render visible for us all those unthought potencies that engender a deep sense of place. From the grid road the exterior of the house looks abandoned, but walk through the overgrown rhubarb plants to the back of the
house and laid bare behind the plexiglass is a worn cooking pot on the kitchen stove, starched lace curtains, children’s books stacked on a windowsill, a blue-boy figurine atop a bedroom bureau, skates hanging in the entrance, a nightshirt on a bedframe post. And for a moment, as we view Heather’s Dollhouse, we become-child. Heather’s Dollhouse invites us home, asks us to take our shoes off at the door, have a cup of tea at the formica kitchen table. One evening, just after dusk, Heather and I lit the house with a borrowed generator. The rooms filled with lamplight and shadows cast by these gathered remnants of domesticity. Though we didn’t speakit, the refrain ‘holiness’ came to mind.

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Nearing completion

My deeply felt connection with this piece of work comes, I believe, from my own family history. My father, staying in England after his service with the RCAF in WW2, grew up on what must have been a typical prairie wheat farm in the 20s and 30s near Kipling, Saskatchewan. When we first visited as a family in 1966, I was only just 4 years old, but I do remember being taken to see the old homestead out on the prairie. Another family lived in it then. My grandparents were already retired, and the children who had remained in Saskatchewan to farm had their own land and farmsteads. Indeed, by the time my family left England to emigrate to Canada in 1977, all the family had “got out” of farming, and I never remember us driving out that way again even when my Dad was still alive. Still, on that first visit, my father and his siblings were eager to see “the old place” and lots of stories were told of their childhood with my overall impression being that my father’s childhood had been a very hard and dangerous time.

The interior must have looked a lot like the one Heather imagined in her inspired choice of 60s furnishings. Our old homestead was bigger and had numerous additions and porches. I think every time another child was born my grandfather built on another room. There were eventually 10 children who survived childhood.

As I’ve said, I haven’t been back there since, but I imagine the house has long been abandoned and left to tumble down like so many others. I think my grandparents would have built their first home around 1906 as newly-weds. My father always said when his father first arrived in Saskatchewan, as a German speaking immigrant from Russia in the 1890s, his first home was built of stone and mud topped with a sod roof (very Laura Ingalls Wilderish!). Even then, impermanent as it proved, the typical timber farmstead with its shingled roof must have been a huge step up in the business of homesteading. Now, in Heather’s vision anyway, it just looks beautiful.

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Finished glory

Sun, earth and sea

The sun shone this morning, and I picked The Land Beneath My Feet to write to a friend and realised again how much joy this artist’s cards give me. They’re a true bargain at £21 for 14 different cards, including p & p.

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Print, Durdle Door by talented Dorset artist, Liz Somerville

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Truthfully, this tote by Susannah Hunter is more of a “bag to last you many years” purchase, but what a joy it would be to own. I love all of her more typical floral designs as well, but am especially taken by this one. The colours in real life just pop, and it’s oh so strokeable. There’s a lovely Susannah Hunter shop in Bloomsbury right down the road from The People’s Supermarket (cakes worth carrying home), Persephone Books, The French House (local source for the wonderful Poterie du Don earthenware), Ben Penreath (great source for covetable gifts, wrapping paper and prints) and Bea’s (neighbourhood cafe to have your cake, eat it too and admire your purchases/read your latest Persephone Book. Their iced lattes in summer are just right).

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Taboule, Poterie du Don, ovenproof dish, available at The French House and also beautiful in blued gauze

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Print of Eric Ravilious’ Chalk Figure Near Weymouth, available at Ben Penreath’s

Poem for Tuesday

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Gustave Caillebotte’s Garten in Trouville. Image from here. From the collection of Caillebotte paintings at the Wallraf- Richartz Museum and Foundation in Cologne.

THE OLD DUTCH WOMAN by GARY SNYDER

The old Dutch woman would spend half a day
Pacing the backyard where I lived
in a fixed-up shed
What did she see.
Wet leaves, the rotten tilted-over
over-heavy heads
Of domesticated flowers.
I knew Indian Paintbrush
Thought nature meant mountains,
Snowfields, glaciers and cliffs,
White granite waves underfoot.

Heian ladies
Trained to the world of the garden,
poetry,
lovers slippt in with at night—

My grandmother standing wordless
fifteen minutes
Between rows of loganberries,
clippers poised in her hand.

New leaves on the climbing rose
Planted last fall.
–tiny bugs eating the green—

Like once watching
mountaingoats:
Far over a valley
Half into the
shade of the headwall,
Pick their way over the snow.

from The Back Country by Gary Snyder

 

Bringing Bread

Last April I went with Kristina and Miranda to see the Wallace Collection. I had never been before, but have gone back a couple of times already. As I remember it, the weather was far warmer than this June, but no matter the weather it’s such a lovely museum to explore. This Pieter de Hooch is one of my very favourites there. I can almost smell the bread in the basket and wonder how the boy resisted nibbling off some of that crust. 

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Image from here

With all the cold and rain today, it seemed right to make a big pot of beef and barley soup and text Miranda to stop for bread at Gail’s on the way home to go with it. Hope they have some of their crusty sourdough left. 

Sunday Lunch for 2

My daughter’s flat lacks an oven so it can be a real challenge to make a Sunday Lunch that feels different from every other meal. Let’s face it the Sunday Roast of Beef is out unless we pop to one of the excellent pubs in Hampstead. 

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On Sundays she tends to position her George Foreman “Lean Mean Grilling Machine” in all 10″ sq. of counter space, and we grill a cut of meat. I spent many years in Canada and am a fan of “The Best of Bridge” range of cookbooks. This is a recipe that always works, can easily be halved and doesn’t need a huge list of ingredients. Also it isn’t a fussy recipe: if I don’t have fresh ginger, I substitute some ground; no rice vinegar? white wine vinegar or even lemon juice will work just as well. I do prefer a sweet chili sauce to a hot one here (Sharwoods or Stokes are both good) and find it keeps in the fridge well and can then be popped into a chicken stir fry or mixed with greek yoghurt for a dip in the week. You can pop the steak in the marinade any time the day before or first thing Sunday morning. I like a campari and fresh grapefruit juice over ice whilst I fiddle about getting it together. Happy Sunday and bon app. everyone!

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ImageRecipe and Photo from here

Sew Fun

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Freddie, Aga and Miranda

I had a lovely afternoon yesterday in spite of the rain, rain and more rain as Miranda, Aga with her adorable Freddie to keep his Mum on her toes, Kristina and I all met at Petersham Nurseries Teahouse for tea/coffee and chat. How nice to have three of my favourite bloggers all together, and Miranda was also glad to be able to show Kristina the dress I had made from a piece of Liberty fabric she had very kindly given her. A lovely teahouse with delicious cakes, Petersham has the advantage of its greenhouse seating areas. Even with the cold and damp, we were cosy and the smell of jasmine was heavenly.

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Sewing something practical is a great project to speed recuperation as there’s only so much sitting about and reading I can bear before I start getting fidgety, and the last dress I made for Miranda must have been at least 16 years ago. High time to see if dressmaking is like riding a bike!

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Perhaps, in retrospect, starting out with an old Very Easy, Very Vogue pattern (hah Very Easy hmmm! fully lined,16 darts in total and a zipper) might have added more challenge than I’d really anticipated, and of course I’d forgotten as much as I’d remembered: carefully shortening the bodice and length to allow for my daughter’s petiteness and then forgetting that would mean a shorter zipper (made do with the one we had in the end) and a rather high slit at the back that had to be hastily sewed up again. Never mind I muddled through, and Miranda was so pleased we’re already talking about what she’d like next. Fabric was Liberty’s Coral Toria Tana Cotton Lawn. Liberty fabric has a wonderful silky feel – such a treat to sew with. 

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