Friday, June 29, 2012

Elderflower and gooseberry jam

Yesterday I picked my first crop of gooseberries, variety 'Leveller'.

It's only a young bush so I was very happy with a yield of 750g.

As there are still some Elderflower heads in the hedgerows I decided to make Elderflower and Gooseberry jam, which I've never tried before, as I've heard they make a good combination.

So for 750g gooseberries I had 5 heads of Elderflowers.

I topped and tailed the gooseberries, washed the Elderflowers, removed their stalks and tied them up in a piece of muslin.

I added 350ml water and  the gooseberries to a heavy-bottomed pan and placed a small plate into the freezer (more on that later).

Then I tied the muslin bag of Elderflowers and placed it on top of the gooseberries, tying it to the pan handle so it was easy to remove.

I simmered the mixture for about 30 minutes by which time it had reduced by about 1/3.

Whilst it was simmering I warmed 750g sugar (just plain old granulated) and the jam jars.

I removed the pan from the heat, took out the bag of Elderflowers and squeezed the liquid back into the pan.

With the pan still off the heat, I added the warmed sugar to the mixture and stirred it over a low heat until it was dissolved completely.

Then I boiled the mixture rapidly, without stirring,  for about 6 minutes, until it reached the 'jam' temperature on the thermometer.

I removed the pan from the heat whilst I tested to see if was setting.

I tested for 'set' by dropping a spoonful of the mixture onto a cold plate (I'd put it into the freezer when I started making the jam).

The first test wasn't quite ready so I boiled it for another 2 minutes.

The next test showed it was ready - I've tried to show how the mixture wrinkles when you push it with your finger.

The white ring around the mixture is the scum and should be removed before bottling.

I used a metal spoon to skim it off.

I spooned it into jam jars (I have a jam funnel which I put into the neck of the jars which makes it easy) to within .5cm of the top and sealed them with their lids.

There was just a little bit left when I'd filled the jars so I put it into a small bowl for tasting when it had cooled.

I couldn't wait to try it as the smell was absolutely amazing!

As soon as it had set I tasted it and it was wonderful.  The combination works a treat.  

The only thing I would change is I think that when I make it again I might use slightly fewer Elderflowers.  Having said that, when spread thinly on a fruit scone, homemade of course, it was divine.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Intarsia & some skies

To quote the wonderful Rolf Harris "Can you tell what it is yet?"

It's a swatch for a rose idea for the blanket.

I know it can seem tedious to swatch but it really allows you to see what works and what doesn't.

Not only am I experimenting with the shading on the rose, but also it is showing me how it works with the background.  As a start I'm using the shading techniques I'd use in embroidery which may turn out to be overly complicated; we'll see.

Already I can see that the background needs to be darker where it meets the lighter shading on the rose petals.

Also, one of the colours I thought would blend in well with the beige/neutrals is shrieking right at me!  In the photo it appears on the bottom left as a pale greyish blur.

The process has also reminded me how much I don't like purling when doing intarsia - now that can be a real pain!  So now I'm thinking about knitting it lengthways with each row a knit row and perhaps braiding the ends as I go along.  Of course the problem with that would be the massive amount of stitches on my needles which could be prohibitive.  I've already decided I'll be using circulars.

I'm still capturing some beautiful nights skies, each one has it's own character.

This one is from 25th June 2012.

I love the drama of the dark outline of the trees against the shimmering clouds and that dark band through the middle.

We haven't had a dramatic pink/mauve glow for a while now.

This one is from 26th June 2012.

I never tire of watching the sky change as the sun is setting.
Now doesn't this look as if you're seeing into another world?  As if a slit has opened up through which you can just peep for a few moment.

This was from 27th June 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I can still run!  Now that is a relief.  My little 3.5 mile plod went without major incident and I have a bit more confidence again.  Now I've got to build back up gradually as my next marathon is in 9 weeks.

My beautiful Verbascum 'christo's yellow lightning' has been growing daily before my very eyes, its spike around the 6ft mark already.  Yesterday I spotted some of the flowers had started to open but as I went for a closer look something else caught my eye - the brightly coloured caterpillars of the Mullein moth.

Cucullia verbasci
My beautiful plant had 2 enormous flower spikes but one had been chewed off completely by the little blighters, leaving behind a black, oozing stump.

Chewed flower spike
As I don't use pesticides the only thing to do was to pick them off by hand and dispose of them in the green recycling bin.  I might try growing some wild verbascum as a sacrificial plant, which may or may not work.

During the football match last night I started to doodle some ideas for my knitted blanket as I didn't feel like knitting or crochet.  The blanket is for use in another room and will also serve to adorn the back of an armchair which is seen from behind as it faces a picture window, for the view, but looks as bit boring.
Blankie doodles

I want a floral theme.  Big, bold flowers worked in intarsia or even perhaps Fair Isle using Rowan Summer Tweed, a lovely nubbly silk/cotton aran weight yarn.

5 doodles emerged without too much thought and will now be studied and tweaked until I find the one I want to pursue.

1.  A border of large flower heads surrounding a small rectangle in a stripey melange of toning shades, with a crochet  border. 
2.  A large central motif of several flowers and leaves on a stripey background with either a knitted or crocheted border in sold stripes.
3.  A background of toning stripes with more abstract flowers.  With a lacey crochet border.
4.  A landscape scene.  Giant poppies, green hills and a sun that looks like a giant spider!  Solid knitted border.
5.  A mass of flowers, all shapes and sizes.  Solid border in knit or crochet.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Who dunnit?

In our patio there is a hole into which I stick my rotary drier.  There is a rubber cover that fits inside but it blows away so I often don't bother putting it in.  Sometimes when I go outside in the morning there are splashes around it and I've often wondered why.
Hole with splashes
Then I saw the culprits in action.  Here's a clue......

..and here they are - the ducks stick their beaks into it and drink the water!  I wish I could get a photo of them actually doing it as it looks ridiculous.  We have 2 large ponds and 2 drinking troughs nearby so why on earth would they bother sticking their beaks down a tight pipe?   I've also caught them drinking out of the watering cans so I don't know why I was surprised.  I did chuckle when I saw them in action.

The culprits
The other day I spent ages taking photos of the ducklings.  They are so cute.  Mrs Duck has them marching all over the place and she's really anxious and on the look out for danger all the time.  I feel honoured that a wild bird comes so close to me.

Sadly though, despite her vigilance, the 4 have now become 3.  I did notice that one of them was flagging a bit the other day so perhaps he was a weakling and just didn't have the strength to survive.

I'm having a bit of a Bargello moment as a break from knitting and crochet.

This is going to be a sampler cushion based on the colours of our lounge curtains.

I've completed a strip of tiny samples in neutral colours all down one side and am now debating what to place in the large strip down the middle.  I'm fancying a stepped wave pattern in shades of green.  Then the far side will be larger samples in red, blue, green and neutrals.

It's very absorbing.

I can't decide what my next knitting or crochet project should be.  I have so much yarn and too many choices!

I am writing this before I venture out for a run.  I am procrastinating as I am anxious that this run goes well.  Mary Massage Lady has pummelled my right leg to within an inch of its life so I'm hoping it will be better now.  But will my breathing be OK?  I hope so but I am nervous about it.  Fingers crossed anyway.

Monday, June 18, 2012

....and then there were 4

I'd been wondering if Mrs Duck was sitting on her nest as she hadn't been around for a while and sure enough she came marching up to the house to show off her latest brood.

7 little beauties.  Clever girl!
Mrs Duck & her 7 ducklings
We gave them some mixed corn and then she took them back to the pond.  I love the way they're following mowing line where the formal lawn meets the border of the orchard.

Catching flies
It was a lovely warm evening and so we followed them down to the pond and stood watching them scooting around catching flies.  The photo is quite blurred because they move so quickly.

This morning when she came up with them there were just 4 ducklings.  It's so sad and I really hope that she manages to protect the remaining 4.  Her record is 10 hatchlings with 9 reaching maturity.

My palindromic birthday (55 and proud of it!) was last weekend and as a birthday treat we went to visit Denmans gardens in West Sussex.  I can't believe I haven't been there before as it's creator, the garden designer John Brookes, has been a major influence in my garden construction and plantings over the years.

It was really interesting to see how many of the plants grown are amongst my favourites and even Mike, who has no interest in gardening, walked around recognising plants that we grow in our garden.  This photo could sum up my own planting style - the placement of giant cardoons behind that wonderful euphorbia is just divine.

What made it even more special for me was that the man himself was out digging in the garden and we had a lovely chat.  We laughed because I said it must be immensely satisfying to see the garden reaching maturity (he started it 30 years ago) and he said that most visitors he talks too think it must be a chore!  I told him that it felt as if I was wandering around a slightly different design of my own garden as so many of the plants and their placement were familiar and he was visibly pleased to hear that he'd helped me.

I'd noticed masses of Nectaroscordum siculum growing in an unmown area and he said that they just self seed all lover the place.  At home I have a few bulbs planted in my gravel garden which is in full sun and I thought they wouldn't be happy in grass.  He very generously told me to take some seed heads to try in the shadier part of our orchard which I duly did.  The seeds aren't quite mature so we'll have to see if they grow.  As they are from the allium family, my hands stank of onions for the rest of the day!

I had hoped to go and visit Holly Gate cactus nursery which was nearby until I saw this write-up on another blog.  What a sad sight.  It must be about 12 years since I visited there and it was magnificent then.  I hunted around and found another collection at Manor nursery in Angmering so all was not lost.

Manor Wood cacti
The collection was started in 1948 and it is wonderful but I was disappointed that they only had a small selection of cacti for sale and a lot of them were infested with mealy bugs.

Glorious flowers
This little beauty was flowering his heart out.  I love cactus flowers as it's always such a surprise to see such beautiful blooms emerging from a spiky mass.
I've just finished sewing dangly bits onto the Evergreen scarf from Sweet Shawlettes.  The leaves and flower stems still need a bit of light steaming to flatten them out properly so I'll take a proper photo and write about it when that's been done.  It was a quick and easy knit and will be fun to wear too.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marathon 27

Another medal for my collection
Well I did it after all but first I must recount what happened the night before and it is not a happy tale!

I'd been nervous about this anyway and when Mike and I talked about it the main worries were; would my breathing be OK on the really steep ascents (nearly 5000ft of ascents and a couple of them are real lung busters)?, did I feel confident that my right leg was going to go the distance (more on that later)?, did I want to travel a round trip of 5 hours if the weather was as grotty as it had been all week?

So, throughout the day I'd gone from yes to no and round and round in circles.  I'd reasoned that my breathing would probably be OK as when I've run the hills round here it hasn't been any more laboured.  It's just that having a name, ie asthma, associated with how I'm feeling has had a really negative effect on my confidence and that is not good for a marathon runner plus I have another ongoing health issue to worry about.  The travelling, well I've done it before and it's OK on a nice day but not so good on a wet and windy one but the forecast was actually good so I couldn't use that as a valid reason to pull out.

Then there was my right leg.  It's been behaving very strangely of late.  In my last 2 marathons I've been having issues with the hamstring and Mary Massage Lady has done lots of work on my hip flexors etc to sort it out.

Anyway, the night before we'd decided that I'd make my final decision when I got up the next morning.  Then there was the incident.  

We'd both drifted off the sleep when all of a sudden at just after midnight I was awoken by a searing pain in my right calf.  My whole leg was rigid and the calf felt as hard as iron.  I tried to stretch it out but it felt as if someone was twisting a knife into my leg and I screamed in agony.  Poor Mike leapt out of bed and ran around, bashing his ankle on the bed in the process and drawing blood.  He tried bending my foot and pressing on the leg which is what you do with such a cramp but it just didn't relieve it for ages.  After more screaming and stretching it eventually calmed down thank goodness but I hardly slept after that as I was worried it was going to come back.

When the alarm went off at 4am I was not in a good place mentally but Mike helped me make my mind up and I decided to go for it.   The calf felt sore in one particular spot so I was prepared to have to walk more than usual if need-be.

I won't do a blow by blow account of the marathon but some photos of the wonderful views are here from my account of when I ran it in 2007.  Suffice to say that the whole of my right leg was sore all the way and I struggled more with the downhill sections as they really hurt.  Also, I'd forgotten just how steep some of the climbs are - they are unrelenting!

Apart from a naughty leg I had a lovely sociable time and chatted to lots of people en-route, including Carol Ann who I hadn't seen since 2009 when we ran the Abingdon marathon which was her 100th (nutter!).  I could hardly believe it when she said she was intending to do Abingdon again this year as her 200th marathon.  That in itself is an amazing feat but when I tell you that back in 2007 when we both ran the South Downs marathon she had 'only' done 31 marathons you can see that she will have run 169 marathons in 5 years.  Oh my goodness!

The weather was lovely all the way round; sunny but with a gentle wind to cool us off.  There was one worrying moment when we had to run through a field of oil seed rape that was still flowering in part.  It was this horrible crop that caused me to struggle with my breathing several weeks ago and sent me off to see the quack so I was horrified when I saw it.  As luck would have it I had a pair of gloves with me and so I put them over my mouth and breathed through them to stop any pollen getting in.  Thankfully it worked although I probably looked rather strange!

Despite running in a very awkward manner and walking all the really steep hills I still managed to get round in 5:52 which is just 2 minutes slower than 5 years ago.  Technically I should have beaten that time but given the calf/hamstring problems I shall have to be satisfied with that result.

Now I just need to sort out my leg. I feel a trip to the Physio might be required.  At least I've got until 2nd September until my next marathon but I really want to be fully fit and well for that one as I want a pb!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ta da!

I decided I should get Mike to take a photo of the finished item even though I'm not looking my sparkling best - wadd'yamean that was 30 years ago?!!!!  The colours aren't very vibrant in this photo but in real life the deep purple and sharp green combo really zings and I love the brooch as a closure.
The finished shawlette
Next time I wear this I want to be feeling really good.  I've got until I get up at 4am tomorrow to decide whether I'm fit to do the South Downs marathon as I still can't make my mind up.  It's a 2.5 hour drive there as it's a long way away.  I really don't want to let people down by pulling out even though I know I could just reschedule my marathons and do an extra one in the Autumn.  Decisions, decisions.  I'm sure I'll know what to do when the time arrives.

Another moody sky at 8pm last night
When we opened the local paper today we had a laugh as there were photos from all the local Jubilee celebrations and this photo of me appeared with the caption "Every village needs a Princess"!
What an expression!
You can see Mike behind me on the left wearing a grey jacket and carrying an umbrella.  He too was dressed in red, white & blue - red tee under a white shirt and blue trousers.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

May I present Turbohaler

Turbohaler in all his glory
Well, here's a photo I never dreamt I'd be posting, that's for sure!  The previous inhaler I'd been given to help me breath did very little and I've felt really grotty for 2 weeks.  Unable to run up hills I had to run the flat bits and downhill bits of my routes and then walk up the hills as I simply couldn't get my breath at all.

So off I trotted back to the quack who said that although my spirometry test had been inconclusive, my breath-flow chart did suggest that I have asthma.  Deep joy.  Enter Turbohaler, an inhaler containing a delightful  mix of steroid and something to help open my airways.  I also have a follow-up appointment at the asthma management clinic.  Poo.  Although this is a blow it makes sense of some of the breathing problems I've had over the years and have just carried on without worrying.  It's just that now it has a name and I am feeling somewhat under the weather.

Turbohaler is certainly more effective than the previous one and I managed a good run the other day but, and it is a big 'but', I have a marathon scheduled for this weekend.  It is a tough one (why do I always pick tough off-road marathons?!) across the South Downs and there are many hills to traverse.  I would probably walk a lot of the steep uphills anyway but am I in good enough shape to last the distance? - I'm not too sure.  I have 2 more days to make my decision and if I do decide not to do it then I shall have to find another marathon in the autumn to make up my total of 5.

My Harlequin shawlette is finished and I am very pleased with the result.  I've made several modifications to the pattern to suit my yarn and how I wanted it to look.  

Untidy edges

I felt the finished edges looked rather untidy and it's not just because of the yarn I used - I checked out the photos in the book and all the edges look decidedly wavy, even in the thick yarn that was used.

Tidy edges
My solution was simple - a row of double crochet all the way round.  It really has made it so much neater and unified the colours.

My first attempt at entrelac
You will notice that it is not just a rectangle like a scarf as in the pattern.  I wanted a more fitted shape that would sit comfortably on my shoulders.  So I used 5mm needles for the bottom half and then went down to 4.5mm for the rest and it's worked out really well.

Possible fasteners
As a closure, the pattern uses a button with a crocheted loop so I had a rummage in my button collection and found this lovely old  floral button (left).   Although I love it I think I prefer the square brooch on the right.  It's from the 1950s and belonged to my mum and I think it looks good with the squares of the entrelac.  The bonus is it has matching earrings.

I'll take a photo of me wearing it when I'm feeling better as it's so pretty that I want to do it justice.

Allium Christophii
As I wandered round the front garden this morning I couldn't resist snapping this beautiful allium.  The metallic purple star-shaped flowers are so lovely.

Plebejus argus (aka the Silver-studded Blue)
They are also very popular with butterflies and this Silver-studded Blue gave me a wonderful display of the underside of its wings.  I actually thought it was a Common Blue until I checked in my butterfly book.

Sunset 7/6/12
I'm loving the dusky mauves against the apricot glow in this sky photo.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Emergency Crochet

On Friday I looked at the weather forecast for Sunday in dismay - cold, wet and windy.  Not really what we wanted for the day celebrating the Queen's Diamond jubilee!  Nor was it what we wanted for our village meal.

With a theme of red, white and blue I had chosen a long tee shirt dress bedecked with union flags.  This would have been perfect on a lovely sunny day but not so comfortable in the cold and wet.  So I had a mooch around online to find a quick crochet pattern and found this super quick and easy free pattern for Kirsty's Granny Shrug

Jubilee bolero
So I rummaged around in my not inconsiderable collection of yarn and found 4 x 100g balls of dark blue acrylic yarn for the main body of it.  This yarn is the remains of a batch that was given to my mum by a neighbour for her to knit my school cardigan when I started at Grammar school which means it is at least 44 years old.  See how good it can be to hoard?!!!  You never know when things will be of use.

The white yarn is another really old treasure - a really thin, bobbly terylene yarn left over from a summer top I knit.  I had to really search hard for the red though as I don't use it often.  Thankfully there was a full ball of Rowan cotton glace from a Jean Moss intarsia cardigan I knit years ago.

The pattern uses a chunky yarn so I just worked with 3 strands held together.  As I had such a limited supply of red and white I started with a hexagon knit it all three colours and then did the main body in blue.

It's such a simple idea  with simple construction - it's just 2 large, floppy granny hexagons which you fold in half then seam up the top of the sleeves and join in the middle back.
Back view
To finish off I edged all round the bottom, sleeves and neck in double crochet then did 2 rows of trebles on each centre front.  I attached to sets of ties; one at the neck for decoration as I liked the top folded back, and then one at the bust to hold the edges together as it gaped a bit otherwise.

It really was  a quick and easy project (it took no more than 4 hours in total over a couple of evenings) and I'm going to share it at our next knit and natter in the village as one of our group is just learning to crochet and it would be a great project for her to try.  I'll probably donate it to a charity shop because it isn't a colour combo that I wear but I think I will crochet another one in a summery yarn as it's a pretty little cover-up.

Classy hey?!!!
So here's my finished outfit complete with stripey tights and boots (in case the ground was muddy).  Sorry, I don't have the software to turn it round so you'll have to crane your neck to see it.

Young at heart
On the way home we stopped for a swing.  The seats were wet and I so got  wet bottom but I didn't care!

In garden news, I was annoyed to discover that my beautiful prostrate rosemary had been attacked by something.  Half of the foliage was all brown and crispy.

Prostrate Rosemary
Then I spotted this this little beetle nearby on a sage leaf.  The culprit was a Rosemary beetle.

Rosemary beetle
He may look pretty with his metallic body with beautiful stripes but they are a pest that can devastate crops of rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender.  I'd never seen one before although I knew that they had arrived in the UK, specifically London, in the 1990s but obviously they have spread.

Now I know why one of my sage plants died right back last year and why sections of my large rosemary bushes went all brown and crispy last autumn.  I'm now doing a beetle patrol each morning but the grubs are just starting to appear now too and they aren't as easy to spot.

27th May
To finish off, as I haven't posted a sky photo for a while, here's a lovely sunset from the end of May.