The importance of sisters

I’m an only child. I’m also in possession of an overactive imagination and spent many of my early years hoping for older brothers and not entirely understanding why this wasn’t going to be possible.

Instead I got an older sister.

My earliest memory of her is finding a woman (and she was very definitely a “woman” to me) hunched over the very large, very plastic, PC in the spare room of our house surrounded by towers of thick books festooned with post-it notes. I must have met her previously, but I don’t remember anything before the afternoon after school when I walked up the stairs and was greeted by this image. Knowing her now as well as I do this memory couldn’t have been a more perfect introduction, and in my minds eye this is still how she appears, in a grey Cambridge hoodie, hair scraped back into a messy short ponytail, determined look on her face, long elegant fingers frantically typing.

Debs came into my life in a flurry of books and literary arguments and has become one of my closest friends and biggest inspirations. I know now that she was one of my father’s students, that my mother always not-so-secretly would have liked to adopt her, and that this memory is from a period when she was writing her dissertation.

Since then my, my sista from anotha mista as she styles herself, has been there and guided me through all my exams (yup, I still have the lucky pants she bought me when I did my GCSEs!), let me stay in her flat whilst writing my own essays, picked me up after breakups and fed me a diet of ice cream and Sex and the City. We’ve attended each other’s weddings and I’ve baked cakes with her daughter. She’s taught me all the valuable things big sisters are supposed to, such as to embrace your love of Britney, that a proper pair of running shoes are worth the money and to stand up for yourself no matter what.

I mention all this because today her first novel, My Husband’s Son, has just been published in ebook form (the paperback is out in Oct). You can pick it up for an absolute steal on Amazon at the moment and I think you should. I know I’m biased, but I think I have a right to be. I’ve seen the dedication of this women to the pursuit of writing, I’ve watched her mind at work and been in awe of it since I first met her all those years ago, and am so proud I could burst to know that tomorrow when I get on the train to Falmouth I’ll be reading her novel all the way.

So please, treat yourself to a new book by my wonderful (sorta) big sister. my husbands son

 

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I like Pie.

Every time I mention the inkling to make pie there comes the inevitable and resounding chorus of “I like pie!” This comes from a Flight of the Conchords song (1.14m if you don’t want to watch it all) and is sung in exactly that tone at the point of which the steaming dish is presented from the oven.

We do love pie, but it’s not something I make very often. I’m not sure why, but fruit in this house tends to find it’s way into jams and chutney before I think to wrap it in a delicious coating of crisp pastry. Silly really as it isn’t hard to make (as long as you’re not hung up on perfect pie crust presentation) and the filling options and combinations are near limitless. IMG_5964This week three entirely coincidental happenings resulted in the ideal pie making opportunity and so I had no excuse. Rolling pin and G&T in hand (because baking without refreshment is a dangerous business, you gotta stay hydrated people), pie dish and cherries at the ready, I set to work.

The three things? A friend arriving to meet me for coffee laden with cherries from her rapidly defrosting freezer, the publication of my new recipe in PomPom Magazine, and the return of the husband from his business trip hankering for home cooking and treats.

I like pie! Just as much as I like a series of happy happenstance.

Adulthood

There are times when being an adult can be a real drag. Like when you have to get up for work at 6am everyday, or when those bills come through the letterbox, or you’re cleaning up an ex-mouse from outside the bedroom door that the cat thought you’d appreciate while the aforementioned animal excitedly tries to trip you down the stairs and kill you. 

But to balance those things are the moments, like this afternoon, when you realise that it’s total legit to enjoy a cocktail in the garden at 4pm on a Friday afternoon with some completely inappropriate appetite-for-dinner-destroying carb-y snacks, just because it’s Friday and the sun is shining and you fancy it. 

Cheers everyone! Happy Friday! 

Almost there

I’m sitting in the garden (for the first time in 2016, yay!) and procrastinating. I’ve just poured a second cup of coffee so that I can take refuge out here a little longer and enjoy the gentle chirping of the birds and scent of cherry blossom wafting across the grass.

I’m hiding out here because on the dining room table there is a pile of notes, a stack of flashcards, a textbook, workbook and numerous powerpoint print outs that remind me that tomorrow is my WSET Level 3 exam and there’s no way of getting out of it.

IMG_5819I ought to be revising soil types, studying region maps and winemaking flowcharts. But instead I’d like to sit here for a little longer, in denial, and enjoy the peace and quiet before the panic sets in.

I finished my first big fairisle project of the year and think it might be time to cast on some socks don’t you think? In fact, why don’t I do that right now…IMG_5684

Admitting defeat

Last week I made a conscious decision to try and get all my wips (work in progress) finished before casting on something new. “Startitis” is legendary in the knitting world and has a tendency to strike in times such as the new year when you’re done with all the gift knitting, might have received yarn during the festivities, and everything else just feels so last year.

I was determined not to fall into that trap and suddenly find myself with ten things on the needles rather than five, so I dutifully totted up the floundering projects and set to work.

Top of the list was “the tent” I have been knitting this project since September. It was supposed to be finished for our holiday in January. It wasn’t. The waves and waves of 4ply linen in dark grey seemed to defeat me every time I picked it up. It never seemed to grow and so I stopped and strangely it didn’t grow in the slightest whilst sitting in the knitting basket. With some cheerleading in the background from my mum I made it my priority, knit on and on, round and round, kept track of decreases, learned how to box pleat and suddenly it was done!

I excitedly blocked it, dried it and then pulled it on. I dashed to the mirror and it looked…meh. I was completely and utterly underwhelmed. The pleats looked like they were too far down my shoulders, the drape wasn’t actually very drapey and quite frankly it didn’t suit me.

It’s remarkable just how many projects I have like this in my chest of knitwear. I think all knitters have them; things that didn’t quite turn out as expected or hoped for. In the past I have simply left them in the box, reluctantly wearing them every so often to try and justify all the time and effort I put into them. Today I’ve decided that needs to change. I am going to admit defeat, accept that this was the wrong project for me, rip it out, re-wind the yarn and use it for something else. I feel liberated by this decision. It’s only knitting, I can rip it out and start again!

Excuse me while I dream of unravelling all those floundering projects and lose myself on Ravelry searching for new exciting things.

Little things

An ongoing list of small intentions I have for 2016.

  • Taste more, drink less. I have a comfort zone. One I am very happy occupying, whether it’s with a glass of Italian red wine, a well crafted Manhattan or a Spanish gin. This year as part of my ongoing education I want to try more things, confound my expectations and generally expand my tastes. And I want to do all this whilst cutting back on that habitual glass of wine that inevitably turns into two or three on a Monday evening.
  • Learn. I want to invest in myself both personally and professionally by pushing myself to learn more both in terms of gaining knowledge and new skills. In career terms this will begin in February when I embark on my next qualification (eek!) and personally I hope to attend workshops and courses to keep my mind and hands nimble.
  • Get out more. I have a natural inclination towards hibernation. Not just in winter, but all year round! As a result I unintentionally forget to make time for friends, and suddenly a year has gone past and I’ve only been out and about a dozen times. This year I want that to change. I will make sure I see not only more people, but more exhibitions, concerts and other such interesting things.
  • Make meals not fuel. My new work hours threw us for a loop last year. I get home much later than I ever have before, work more weekends etc. and have found it hard to motivate myself to cook when I get home. This year I want to figure out how to make the most of my days off, plan and cook ahead more and generally be prepared for that 8.45pm hangry desperation before it hits.
  • Switch off. I am beginning to come to the realisation that I am not very good at relaxing unless forced to. My “weekends” often fall mid-week due to my work schedule, and yet if I’m home during the week I feel as if I should be doing a million things because I still have it ingrained in me that a Monday or a Wednesday is a “work”day. Last year that left me feeling burnt out and resentful. I am not going to allow myself to be that person in 2016. I will take proper time off off and indulge.
  • Switch off. Literally. I recently read a blog post (I’m sorry, I forgot where) about a family who have a “no technology” evening one day a week. No phones, no television, no laptops. When we go away we always stay in places with no tv or wifi and fill our time with music, books and board games. It makes us more relaxed so it’s time to bring that habit home with us.
  • Write. As evidenced by this space which remained blank for months last year, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like. I want to get back into the habit of popping in and jotting down my thoughts and experiences. I also want to write more letters. I often write postcards or cards, but a letter is a wonderful thing. My husband gave me a beautiful set of writing paper for our anniversary last year. It’s about time I used. it.

Work in progress

Almost halfway through the month and I’ve suddenly realised that I was supposed to have made resolutions, goals, objectives for the year ahead. Oops!

Last year I made two rather large goals. The first, to cut myself some slack, the second was to spend some time figuring stuff out. Well, 2015 certainly stepped up to greet my challenge. It was definitely a “game of two halves” as the saying goes. In the first six months I had three different jobs, the first I left due to choice, the second due to redundancy. Fortunately I’m still in the third and it’s been a total game changer.

When I was made redundant (the second time around for me), I decided it was time for some serious regime change. I needed to do the two things I’d promised myself in January. Cut myself some slack about the situation, and then really, seriously sit down and consider what I wanted. Not just in the next few months, but long term. I spent over a week just in thought about what was next, and more importantly, why it would be next. Taking that time was one of the best things I did last year. As a result I’m now in a job that I genuinely love and am working toward the future I want both professionally and personally. Like I said, game changer.

When I saw this post by Tracy I was struck by the third photo in particular, as it sums up so well how this year and last year fit together. Last year I had expectations, and this year I’m going to continue to build the foundations. As a result all my “intentions” for this year will be small. Little things that fit together to be the building blocks to solidify the bigger picture.

All I have to do now is figure out what those things will be!

66, 42 and 1.

If my grandparents were still alive they’ve have celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary this week.

Last month my parents marked 42 years together in their usual understated wonderful way.

This weekend we’re enjoying a well earned break from work and the 1st anniversary of our wedding.

Pictures from the Wedding of Rebecca and Nathan in Montepulciano, Tuscany

This last 12 months has certainly put us through our paces. It’s shown us plenty of what life can throw, but also how as a team we’re pretty good at catching. I’ve come to understand the importance of an institution I was never entirely convinced I needed. Married life agrees with me. I just hope my husband would say the same thing!.

Peaks and troughs

I don’t often talk about work on here, (unless it’s to commiserate about having once again found myself out of a job!) but I had a day last week which I found rather amusing, and thought would illustrate a bit of truth about working in the wine industry.

I should have know that this day would be unlike any other as it started with an hour of in-depth cigar training. Not something I ever thought my career would give me, and not something I have any experience off, except a brief visit to a cigar museum whilst in Cuba when I was actually counting down the minutes until we could start drinking rum in their bar, rather than paying attention to the different sizes, strengths and smoke lengths. IMG_3908

As we were packing up from this session a colleague rocked up proudly toting four bottles that he had enjoyed the previous evening. Very kindly he’d saved a small portion of each bottle for us to try and I was incredibly excited. Tasting wine never gets old for me, and working in an industry that is constantly changing and evolving you can never know everything. So it’s taste, taste, taste to learn, learn, learn. Your palate is a muscle and it needs practice to be at its best. Already I’m discovering that my palate is vastly improved from when I started out, but that it has a long way to go. Which is why I’ll never turn down the opportunity for a taste of something new. (Perhaps one day I’ll talk about the difference between tasting and drinking, there is a difference, honest!).

I sipped and sloshed, and spat my way through the four wines, desperately trying to commit them to my sense memory and fighting to pick out the nuances of each. It’s not everyday that you get to try such exclusive and expensive wines. It was a wonderful start to the day.

But it was all downhill from there!

It’s not all cigar training and tasting impressive wine. I continued my morning by washing up around 100 tasting glasses from the weekend. Whilst I rinsed and polished my way through a mountain of ISOs, another colleague unearthed a selection of samples that had been conveniently forgotten about. IMG_3906

These were the antithesis of our mornings offering. Foil-topped plastic glasses with detachable stems in “white” “rose” and “red”. Just peeling back the tops made us nervous despite the rep having assured us that they were “actually very good” (the “actually” says it all I think.) Duty bound we poured a small amount of the white into tasting glasses, and begin the swirl. We soon stopped as the smell wafted towards us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a collection of wine professionals spit so quickly.  Although the red did elicit the high praise of “well, that’s borderline below average” I can say with certainty that these particular wines won’t be on offer to our customers.

And so my glamourous wine life is revealed. Whilst those hundred pound bottles do appear from time to time, it’s mostly washing glasses, shifting boxes and tasting things that are “borderline below average.” When I got my new job I went out and bought three new dresses to bring some glitz to my everyday life. So far I’ve only worn one and I very nearly ruined it when a colleague smashed a bottle of rosé in my vicinity! The reality is that you need comfortable smart casual clothing, shoes that won’t hurt your feet after 12 hours of standing, and a sense of humour for when you’re shown the plastic glasses with foil lids!

Making the best of it.

It’s been wet and gloomy here the last couple of days. The rain is desperately needed with soil and water butts alike dry and dusty. However the warmth and moisture has lured all the slimey munching beasties above ground and I live in fear of my crops that last week were looking thirsty but intact, and this week may end up quenched and gobbled.

IMG_3774All of which is making me even more smug about having had the forethought to frantically pick our soft fruit and preserve it. From mid-summer often until late November I spend most of my free time ferrying  between the garden and kitchen furiously trying to make the most of the harvests we’ve been patiently tending since January. This time of year is an odd one, with some plants giving up their bounty almost too readily, whilst others seem painfully far away from giving us anything at all.

Whilst I try to keep my eyes from the cucumbers (a watched cucurbit never crops) and pretend I don’t care about tomatoes, the loganberry is at it’s showy best. Having been established now for almost two years and growing at an alarming rate it is producing berries left, right and centre. We’re three harvests into it’s year and have had over 4kg of fruit already with plenty more on the plant. As a result we’ve not only eaten mounds of them slathered in whipped cream and sweetened with chunks of meringue, but also had enough to make my favourite summer preserve, loganberry jam.

IMG_3781Loganberry jam is easy to make and produces the most beautiful, rich, wine-coloured preserve that intensifies the complex flavour of the berry that is a hybrid of a blackberry and raspberry. I make mine with as little sugar as I can get away with, and it keeps us going until well into the winter providing a well needed splash of colour on toast, in yoghurt and even between a sponge cake.

Loganberry jam – makes approx 6 x 240g (1/2 lb) jars

1kg loganberries

500g sugar

Juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 140C (280F) and rinse your jars in hot water and place on a baking tray on a middle shelf whilst you make the jam to sterilise. Place the caps in bowl and pour boiling water over then to do the same. Place a small plate in the freezer for testing set.

Rinse the loganberries well and place in a large wide saucepan. Cook gently, stirring occasionally until soft and they’ve released all their juices. The add the lemon juice and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. The bring up to a roiling boil and watch as over around 7 minutes the bubbles change from small and liquid to large and glassy. Try not to stir if possible as this lower the temperature and means it will take longer to set. Remove the jam from the heat and place a small amount on the plate from the freezer, place into the fridge for a couple of minutes to cool. Push your finger into the pool of jam and if it wrinkles it’s set, if not re-boil for a couple of minutes and repeat.

Pot into hot jars and seal immediately. Jam should keep for around 6 months in a cool dark place, and once opened needs to be placed in the fridge and eaten within a month.