Sunday, 28 July 2013

My Last Summer Rose

 "Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls,
Come hither, the dances are done,
In gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls,
Queen lily and rose in one;
Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls,
To the flowers, and be their sun."

Extract from Alfred Tennyson's Song From Maud

Choosing among summer flowers may be like choosing among children; each has its delights.  But if I were to describe my own unique paradise it would be brimming with roses waiting to be caressed and inhaled in the cool, early morning light.  What a display my rose garden would be: an explosion of pink flowers, a bright spectrum of colours, rearranging their blankets of colour each day, as some blooms fade and others open.  Some open simply, others are intricate and ruffled, and all sport a glorious name.  Perhaps, in some sense, every rose is like a child; wearing a carefully picked name and worthy of love.  Each rose and rosebud has a face, after all.  Which flowers would you fill your corner of paradise with, I wonder?
Frederick Childe Hassam, Gathering Flowers in a French Garden, 1888
Whilst on holiday this summer I will be sure to read Colette's My Mother's House and Sido; a book which has been patiently waiting on my dusty bedside shelf.  Colette's tribute to her mother and childhood garden is touching in its simplicity.  One can almost imagine walking alongside her on the dew-drenched lawn, kissing the roses, and talking to the flowers aligned in their terracotta pots.

And here is my last summer mouse and perhaps even my last mouse of this kind (except for a couple which have been requested as customer orders, of course).  I am hoping to make something new, something different on our return from holiday, although I will be continuing, with great pleasure, to create more hares.  Mademoiselle Rosebud has been partly inspired by one of my favourite blogs; Bateaux de papier, Amélie's diary to her daughter Elsa.  Her most recent post is a tribute to the roses in her garden and is delightful.  Please take a moment to enjoy her poetic pictures which always leave me with food for thought and a smile of pleasure.
 If pink Indian silk, French rosebud-patterned fabric and antique lace and rose-trimmed vintage ribbon are your thing then you may find Mademoiselle Rosebud here.
This is, I think, a shorter post than usual.  Late nights drinking sangria by the Loire, bicycle rides and children eagerly waiting to be taken to the outdoors swimming pool are making time more precious still.  And that is how it should be.  I wish you all a glorious summery Sunday and week ahead.
A bientôt,

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Battenberg Cake (And The Necessity Of Making Apricot Jam)

Dear readers,

The frivolous and whimsical Battenberg Cake never made it on my mother's shopping list when I was little (Mr Kipling's 'Exceedingly Good Cakes' would never grace a French woman's pantry shelves, I can tell you) and so, I'm afraid, it turned into something of a childhood fantasy.*  Nowadays, each time I catch sight of a picture of a Battenberg Cake I start to smile uncontrollably.  There's something about those pink and yellow squares which conjures up images of tea with Alice at the Madhatter's or a little girl serving cake to her teddy bears on her doll's teaset.  And the marzipan which neatly wraps it up?  Well that transports me back to my mother's Christmas cake, of course, and stealing small slabs of it from beneath her nose to share with my best friend!  Yes, I must confess, I was a gluttonous child. 
 The recipe above from one of my favourite cake books, Fiona Cairns' Bake & Decorate, (it really is an aesthetic joy with some glorious tea time recipes) has been calling out to me for a while now and I do believe the moment has come to make it: what better time than a heatwave for baking a cake, right?  But first I had to satisfy an odd urge.  Can you imagine wearing a knitted version of the retro Battenberg Cake?
Well here it is!  A very different version of this shawl made last month: Dani Sunshine's beautiful Vintage Bouquet.

I think this shawl is a lot healthier for me than a thick slice of Battenberg cake but it is, for the knitter and the wearer, much more of a treat.  The pink yarn you see is Artisan Yarns Silk And Baby Camel Fingering (with a luxurious 65% silk content).  I combined it with the creamy-coloured, merino Madelinetosh Sock.  Aside from its tantalizing colourways I noticed how many have lauded the Silk and Baby Camel's softness but its sheen and lightweight texture after blocking is worthy of any fairy tale!  I think it is probably much more addictive than Battenberg Cake too :-)
My Ravelry notes, for those who are interested, are here. I'm not one to brag (really not)but I'm delighted to see that in a few short hours this shawl has earned ninety four hearts and some very sweet words too over on Ravelry.  What a wonderful community of generous-hearted people it is!
Before I turn to making this childhood fantasy cake of mine I need to fill seven pots with the apricot jam my children helped me make today (it was only 35°C today, after all).  Five kilos of sweetly-scented, blushing French apricots were split and sorted by Angélique.  I believe she also threw the sugar in and a split vanilla pod for good measure.  Dear Tristan performed his usual magical bout of stirring.  In all honesty, as I stood over the copper pot and breathed in the simmering jam, I decided there is NO smell more divine and more French than apricot jam. 
So now I have the required apricot jam to glue the Battenberg cake together.
And now I won't let you leave before you share with me which sweet treat transports you back to your childhood! 
 A bientôt,
* Is the Battenberg Cake a purely British culinary tradition?  Are my readers in America, etc. familiar with it?

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Verity Damson

Dear readers,
With every passing year I am learning to be more Proustian in my alertness to the look and feel of my surroundings.  It's a skill which requires being present in the instant with niggling worries locked away and a slow, steady heartbeat.   I still haven't mastered the art of standing still for long: my mother has been teaching me the philosophy behind Chi Kung and so far I cannot stand like a tree for longer than five minutes.  I prefer instead to be in motion and find my senses to be more alert to my surroundings when walking.
Now that the sweet cherry season has finished I am scouring our beautiful countryside for damson trees.  I know the fruit will be ready to pick mid-August once we have returned from our holiday and I want to make the most of them as soon as they are ripe.  Damsons, the close sibling of the garden plum, are both generous and inviting, weighing down their brittle branches like great purple gems. As long as you have plenty of sugar in store they make glorious crumbles and cobblers and a rich dark-coloured jam.  There is, of course, the famous damson cheese which Monty Don mentions in The Ivington Diaries; an intense and superb conserve to be enjoyed with game, lamb, and a good strong cheese.
 Aside from its rich, deep flavour the damson is a true aesthetic charm.  One of my favourite descriptions of its beauty comes from The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift.

'I have never left the damsons so late on the tree, and their emerald felsh is succulent and sweet beneath their blue-black coats.  When I later turn them out on to the kitchen table, the heap of shining black fruit with their matt powder-blue overlay is flecked with narrow pale gold leaves.  What a colour scheme for a room!  My little study perhaps?  How lovely to paint one's rooms the colours of the fruit in the garden.'

I may not be able, for the time being, to paint our home's walls the same shades as apples, plums and pears (just wait until we buy own house) but I was able to create a doll dressed in rich purple.  Let me introduce you to Miss Verity Damson whose heart belongs to late summer when the damson plums ripen and glisten on the old plum tree in her garden.  She loves to make damson crumble or to top a rich buttery cake with plums and sugar.  She also loves, as you may have noticed, the colour purple. I had so much fun sewing this doll who reminds me of the Kate Greenaway illustrations I relished as a child. She wears pantaloons stitched from 1900s hand-embroidered tulle and trimmed with antique creamy lace and I have embroidered little violets on her Liberty fabric bonnet.
 The damsons may not be ready to pick yet but, believe me, I spent many an hour dreaming of them in the presence of this little lady.  I think, perhaps, I should make some more friends for Verity to bring to fruition more of my dreams.
Happy, beautiful summer to you all!
A bientôt,
ps Verity Damson has flown to a new home in England.

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