Thursday, June 27, 2013

Elderflower cordial

The hedgerows are full of the beautiful, frothy creamy-white flowers of the Elder tree at the moment.  They are later than usual and making an extra special display this year to make up for their late appearance.

Here's my time-honoured recipe for the perfect elderflower cordial.  It came from my mum from an old magazine (Woman and Home I think) and was originally in pounds and ounces so I've converted into metric measures :


Approx 20 heads of elderflowers - they come in many different sizes so if one is teeny-weeny just add an extra one.

2 lemons (preferably unwaxed but if you can't find them just scrub the peel gently before use)  
1.8kg sugar (granulated or caster but not the golden versions as it spoils the delicate flavour)

1.2 litres water
75g citric acid (this is necessary as otherwise the cordial doesn't last very long and goes mouldy).  You can buy it online or at a Chemists but make sure it is 'food grade'.

This will make about 1.5 litres of cordial.  I make double quantity as not only do we drink it, I use it in the kitchen (see below).


Shake the elderflowers gently as you snip them to remove any insects hiding in their delicate petals.

Elder flowerheads

Add the sugar to the water and bring to the boil slowly, stirring frequently to make sure the sugar is all dissolved.

While the sugar/water mixture is heating up, pare the zest of 2 lemons into wide strips and add them to a large metal pan or bowl (I use my maslin, or jam-makling, pan).  Cut the ends off the lemons and discard them (for the compost heap of course) then slice the lemons and add them to the pan.

Lemon zest strips and slices
When the sugar has fully dissolved you can turn the heat up until the mixture boils then pour it over the elderflowers and lemons.  Take care as the pan will be heavy!

Give it a good stir round and then add the citric acid and stir again.  Cover it with a teatowel and leave the mixture to steep overnight.

The next day strain the mixture through a fine sieve, lined with muslin if you have any as there are very fine bits that can spoil the effect of the cordial.  I get my muslin from  Lakeland but any good kitchen shop will stock it.

Then pour it into clean bottles and it's ready to use!  I use a measuring jug to scoop it out of the pan as I find lifting the pan too awkward and heavy.


You can dilute the cordial with water, still or sparkling, make it into a white wine spritzer with sparkling water and wine.  Some people add mint leaves or a slice of lemon.  I just like it with plain water as it's so refreshing.

It goes brilliantly with gooseberries in a fool and indeed the elderflowers make a fabulous jam when combined with gooseberries - check out my recipe for Elderflower and Gooseberry jam which seems to be getting a lot of hits at the moment.  It truly is delicious and well worth the effort.

I sometimes pour it neat over ice-cream and we like it added to stewed apple in a crumble.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The naughty bunny and a crochet update

First it's the naughty bunny.  There I was, standing in the dining room with my cup of coffee, surveying the gravel garden through the window when I spotted some movement in the middle of the bed.

Out he hopped.  Hippety-hop, bold as brass across the gravel, jumped up onto the rock border and proceeded to nibble away in the herbaceous bed!

I banged on the window and he scuttled off, no doubt to return as soon as my back was turned.  Such is life in the country.

When I'd finished my coffee I headed out to inspect the damage:

Nibbled stalks of my beautiful Trifolium repens (a relative of clover)
My poor Leontodon, a relative of our native Hawkbit, minus his gorgeous yellow flower heads.  Here's what  the flowers looked like before the munching.

As I muttered to myself I wondered just why they will happily nibble away at the cultivated versions yet don't touch their wild relatives.  Only the bunnies can answer that!

Here's a photo of our native Hawkbit that I took on my run today and 2 of our wild forms of clover  from our meadow.  Such happy little flowers.

Our native Hawkbit
White clover - it prefers to grow in short grass
Red clover which prefers to grow in the long grass
On the crochet front I've completed another month's worth of patterns. The first motif is absolutely massive and has more rounds added in an other update!  Its measures 34 cms across.  I love the turquoise beads against the dark blue centre.  There were 2 of these to make.

One of the massive 'whirl around' motifs
Whirl around detail

The remaining motifs were simple star shapes with beads around the inner wheel.  The blue ones have surface crochet added afterwards in the dark blue.
3 stars

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Lab

Yesterday I headed off into London for an exciting day.  In the afternoon I had a meeting with representatives from ARUK and fellow Champions to discuss ways of encouraging people to engage with the research community.  

I'd taken these cute little owls, crocheted using the pattern from Bunny Mummy, for Dione and her daughters Beth and Ellie.  It is such a quick and easy pattern that I only took just over an hour to crochet all three of them.

Cute crocheted owls

Sadly though,  Dione was poorly and unable to make it so I shall have to post them to her.  I'd asked her what their favourite colours were so they each have their own unique colour combos.

In the end there were only 2 Champions there; myself and Mick, who I last saw at the Badminton horse trials.  Mick's wife Elaine sadly passed away on March 6th having developed early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52.  It was good having the 2 different perspectives and we bounced ideas off each other well.

In the evening we headed off to a reception at the Royal College of Physicians.

The modernist building looks a bit out of place alongside the beautiful buildings overlooking Regent's Park
Here's Mick looking as if he's doing a routine from Saturday Night Fever!  He's talking to Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development for ARUK

This was a launch party for  The Lab, a virtual tour of a laboratory to help people understand what researchers do to try to understand the disease.  There is lots of information to explore and there are interviews with lots of different people, including me.

I'd already looked at and commented upon it during the development stage and I think it's a fantastic thing and I really hope people will explore it.

This is Laura who helped develop the project

Here's Tim, head of Communications & Public Affairs, looking as if he's doing a karaoke song!
It was exceedingly hot in the room and I was glad to get out into the fresh air to head home.  It was a long walk from the venue to Charing Cross station and I had to walk really fast in order to catch my train.

I had a bit of an accident en-route when I was trying avoid a drunken man and I tripped on an uneven paving slab, fell flat on my face, grazing my elbows and hurting both knees in the process.  Ironically it was the drunken man who rushed over to check I was OK!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


My 111 day 'Running Streak' for Alzheimer's Research UK

Today is my 56th birthday which marks the halfway point of my running streak and so I have just got another 55 days to go.

To celebrate I decided to run a local 10k race I've never done before.  My chest is feeling particularly gunky with asthma at the moment so I didn't really have any expectations but I ran well and got a shiny new pb in the process - 53:41 by my watch.  I even managed a negative split; which means that I ran the second half faster than the first.

I ran .5 mile to warm up then 6.22 miles in the race so my total for today was 6.72 and the total miles for my streak so far is 354.79.  My total mileage for the year to date is 802.29 which is slightly higher than last year at this stage.  It will be interesting to see what my total is at the end of the year.


For anyone reading who suffers from asthma I must mention that I am still getting crippling night cramps in my legs even though I have been using the Turbohaler for 12 months now.  

Last night I woke up at 4am screaming in agony as my right calf muscle felt as if someone was crushing it with an iron rod.  It took Mike ages of pressing against it before it settled down and I could still feel it the next day, although it didn't cause me any problems whilst I was running (thank goodness!).

I've mentioned it to the doctor and to the nurse in the asthma clinic and they both say the cramps are unrelated to the medication.  As I have never suffered from them before taking the medication and it is mentioned in the turbohaler blurb as a possible side-effect I find this rather strange!

Crocheting along

I've got back into my crochet club stuff and have completed 2 of the Bandi triangles and 2 of these pretty Mosaic squares.  I enjoy using beads in crochet and I liked all the colour changes.  They still have to be blocked but I think they'll be the right size.

Love the colours!
Bead detail
For the next few days I will be taking a break from this as I have another secret project to crochet before Thursday.  Actually, Thursday itself is an exciting day but I can't write about it yet.

Baby birds

Everywhere I look at the moment I see birds too-ing and fro-ing either to a nest full of baby birds or with the fledglings in tow, mouths open, demanding food non-stop!

I knew there was a nest in then barn as the blue tits nest in there every year, usually at the back.  This year though they built their nest at the front and the babies have been so noisy.  The poor parents must be exhausted keeping them well fed and happy.

Last night I spotted 3 little faces at the hole in the eaves and they even squeal at me whenever I go near the barn!

3 little faces

On my run the other day I encountered a rook fledgling sitting in the middle of the lane.  His parent was shouting at him from up in a tree but he just sat there.

As I got nearer he started walking quickly and then ran a bit flapping his wings.  He managed to take off for about 3 feet but then landed and just stood there again, bless him.

I haven't quite mastered the flying part yet you know

Eventually he hopped into the hedgerow where I think he would have been safe until he learnt to use his wings effectively.

Back home the whole garden is full of rooks, crows and jackdaws, all with young in tow.  They do a good job of getting rid of the leatherjackets in the grass so are most welcome.  Leatherjackets are the larvae of the Crane Fly (aka Daddy Longlegs) and the damp conditions have really favoured them so we are going to be overrun with them soon.

Mum and 2 babies
Feed me!
A young rook exploring his new world

The ducklings are both growing well and Quackers' wings are quite well developed now.  Even Titch is showing tiny stumps.

Tiny wings developing
Last but not least we have the ducks queueing to drink from the watering can.  We were sitting on the sun-loungers the other evening as it was really warm and they were pottering around as usual and then they just waddled over the patio and formed a queue by the water butt!

Me next, me next!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mostly Flora and Fauna (with some running and crochet for good measure)

Catching up on crochet

Now all my baby knitting and crochet is out of the way (except for the cuddle cocoon) I thought I'd better get back to my crochet club project.

So yesterday evening we sat outside and I lost myself in crochet whilst Mike read a book.  The birds provided our music and various other garden visitors kept us amused.

Running streak update (with a sweety)

I can hardly believe it but I'm nearly halfway through my 111 running challenge.  Yesterday was day 50 and so far I've run 325.85 miles just during those days.  I must look up my total for the year to date as it must be a bit higher than usual - since I started running marathons 8 years ago my annual total has been around 1500 miles each year so it will be interesting to see if it's more or less this year.

I'm still feeling OK (touch wood!) and at the weekend it will change from a minimum of 5.5 miles a day to 5.6 miles a day as I'll be 56.

So why is there a photo of a sweety in my hand?

The other day I took a run up to the beautiful gardens of Great Dixter.  Not to see the gardens but just because it's a nice cross-country route up a hill and back down again.

Whilst I was there I decided to have a mooch around their plant nursery to see if there was anything of interest, which there usually is.  As we are now in the main tourist season there were coach loads of people milling around and I did get some strange looks because of my attire - doesn't everybody walk around in a charity vest and lycra shorts?!!!!

Anyway, I heard someone say "Alzheimer's, can you take my father with you?" and I turned round to see a middle-aged man and an elderly gentleman who must have been his father.  We spoke for a few moments and the elderly gentleman was very placid and smiley, although he didn't speak at all.  Finally I shook hands with his son/carer and I touched his father gently on his arm to say good-bye whereupon he reached into his pocket and gave me a sweety.  I was so touched by this simple little gesture and I really had to fight back the tears.

Wildlife in the garden

We've had lots of sunshine over the last few days and so I have been up with the lark and spending as much time as possible in the garden.  Everything is growing so quickly and it's a joy so potter around amidst the wildlife.

Baby bunny by the garage
Mrs Duck with Titch and Quackers (anyone else remember them?)
I disturbed this lovely spider when I was digging and she held her egg sack so tightly I just had to help her find a new hidey-hole
This spider's web in the grass sparkled in the early morning sunlight
Look at the colours on this beautiful Demoiselle in the grass by the pond

Flora in close-up

At the moment I am obsessed with looking into the centre of flowers in the garden and am increasingly excited by the beautiful shapes and patterns I find therein.  Here are a few of the beauties I've spotted:

Pink Hawthorn
White Hawthorn - I love the smell of this but some people hate it.    There are 2 chemicals involved; Amygdalin (which smell of marzipan) attracts the bees but the other smells like rotting flesh (I can't remember what that's called) to attract flies to help in pollination
Very similar to Hawthorn flowers aren't they, but this is the blossom of an Acer (see the leaves below) but I don't know which one it is.

Some form of Acer.  We have several of these trees growing near one of the ponds so it may be an introduced variety rather than an English native tree such as Acer Campestre which you find in many hedgerows
Allium schoenoprasum (aka Chives)
Allium Globemaster has a massive pompom made up of these beautiful star-shaped flowers
Vibrant poppy with papery petals
A bit out of focus, but this is what the top of the seedpod looks like when the petals have dropped
Laurus Nobilis (aka Bay)
A magnificent species tree peony (it has beautiful seed pods later in the year too)
The speckly flowers of Saxifraga 'Southside Seedling' ( I have several different plants which must have hybridised as each bears different flowers)

Well done to anyone who knows what this one is (it's the inside of Nectaroscordum Siculum aka the ornamental onion) whose flowers hang down so you don't really see much of the inside
The fluffy seedheads of the dandelion whose seeds are dispersed by the wind
Pulsatilla (aka the Pasque flower), one of our native wildflowers
Beautiful seedheads of the Pulsatilla
Inside a tulip flower

Last but not least here's a little vase of flowers I pruned from a variegated weigela that I was prettifying before I took it to a plant sale in aid of our village church.  They were just too pretty to throw straight onto the compost heap!