A Pillow Book

I wanted a blog to reflect my life and, as with most people, I do and am many things, decided to create a Pillow Book. It will have thoughts, ideas, observations and little snippets of my day to day life. So, thank you Empress Consort Teishi....... I bow to you and your great work and hope, in some small way, mine might be great too.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

La tavola della famiglia

I rarely watch television, I am a radio fiend. I can do something else and listen at the same time, watching the television makes me fidget, or fall asleep. But last week I started to watch a new programme called Two Greedy Italians with Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. These two men, old friends, are set to travel through Italy in search of the country of their youth. The Italy where divorce was illegal, women stayed at home and recipes were passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.... There was a certain melancholy surrounding Antonio, a longing for family and eating together..... He was saddened by the apparent rejection of cooking by the young Italian women he met, again and again he tried to persuade them to cook...... But this is modern life and I must say it leaves me feeling sad too.  Not so much a sadness for the lack of cooking but a sadness for the loss of 'la tavola della famiglia' or 'the family table'. It made me recall all the tables of my life, big small, simply or lavishly laid, lunch, Sunday breakfasts, celebratory meals, wobbly campsite tables, Christmas feasts or a simple pot of tea and cake. The joy of sitting with someone at a table is indeed a joy to behold. We all, hopefully, have memories of such times. I look back over the years and may not recall the meals we ate but I do recall love, laughter and conversations, people come and gone and thoughts of those that are yet to arrive. I know this for certain, every home of mine will always have its ' tavola della famiglia' and hopefully someone to sit and share a meal with, because as Antonio Carluccio said, he may have fame and fortune but in his heart he longs to share his table with another.............I hope he finds his dream.

A post script to this on the day of Antonio's death, a life that gave much to many, I hope he finds a place at a table and peace. x


Friday, 30 August 2013

Daring to dream....

 I have, for much of my life, known the name Martin Luther King Jr. I got to know much  more when my eldest children  studied the American Civil Rights movement for their History 'A' levels. There is not much I can say that hasn't already been said about the injustices  that black Americans endured. Unbelievable really, a country that welcomed people from all corners of the world, that fought for freedom for the downtrodden across the planet could allow, within its own borders, segregation, injustice, apartheid.

The BBC has broadcast several programs this week, the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington. Still, so many years later the words are just as powerful, heartfelt, emotive. People power is astonishing, the film footage of ordinary folk, dressed in their Sunday best getting up in the early hours, travelling for many miles to make a difference, to be there, to witness change. They stood in peace, side by side, old, young, black, white, and listened to history being made, their country would change, their lives forever different. And now America has it's first African American president,  his path to the White House started that very day, as the historian Professor Clayborne Carson said when we dare to dream, to take action "things that were not possible become possible". 

There is much in this world that needs changing, still many injustices, children starving, dying of curable diseases, living in slums, having no education. Where are their rights? Who is marching for them? We live on a very small planet of which we are all citizens, we should believe that the 'not possible becomes possible' for all not just those of us who can march, who can vote and speak out. Where is their dream? 

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 
― Mother Teresa

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

And finally summer has arrived....

Yes, finally summer is here....

My youngest daughter sang before she could really talk, she hummed along and gurgled in her cot, I used to put her in the garden and she would sing to the bees...she has sung daily her whole life. When she left middle school she sang to a backing tape, Your Song,  brave and alone, the hall was silent and her voice filled the space, she made her year head cry and was then asked to sing at the  final assembly, more weeping. At the big school there has been little chance to sing, sadly,  she was in the choir for a while, but it is mainly populated by older students. We talked at length about how to get her singing in public, it was decided that learning an instrument would be the best thing, a guitar most likely. I mentioned it to a dear friend, a friend who married a folk singer a few years ago, conversations were had and friend's lovely husband volunteered to teach my daughter. So last week, on a fine summer's evening, we visited their little cottage by the side of an old railway track. The warmth of the day was still in the air and heady scents enveloped us. My friend and I decided to go in search of elderflower whilst leaving daughter and husband to their lesson, too much of an audience is no good thing at the start of learning to play an instrument. Off we walked along the old track an abundance of blooms all around, sadly many out of reach, but finally we were able to fill our bags. Summer evening walks are one of my most favourite things, conversations of life, love, family and stories recalled from shared events..... We walked back up the lane and could hear a guitar being strummed, a voice carrying on the still night air....Tea was made, cake cut and we all sang. Then just my daughter, oh what a wonderful sound, an old song from the year I was born, Catch The Wind, having never heard it before she sang it in her own way, goodness how my heart grew....what a truly beautiful sound...

So, promises were made of much practise and a tuner to be purchased.  Off we went into the summer night, a bag full of elderflower, guitar and music in hand...

The next morning on waking my whole house was filled with the heady scent of elderflower..summer in a bowl, that evening after purchasing some citric acid from the village pharmacy " making elderflower cordial?" I was asked..a conversation of best method, of how much needed and whether to try making champagne ensued. Then back home to grate lemons and oranges and steep flower heads for a day...with little effort two good bottles of elderflower cordial made. I know each time I pour some into a glass and top with fizzy water or maybe some prosecco I shall be transported back to a summer evening when scents and songs were caught on the wind.....

Elderflower Cordial

I have read many recipes and this seems as good as any and like most, I did add citric acid but didn't have unwaxed fruit  I just scrubbed lemons and orange in hot water then dried them off.

  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest.
Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using). 

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a
couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles
with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ― Ray BradburyDandelion Wine

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Random acts of kindness....

I have always believed that intrinsically people are good, that an act of kindness is always repaid ten fold and that the best times are ones that don't cost a bean. So, I was heartened to hear of a new phenomena that is growing at the moment called 'Suspended Coffee' or 'Caffe Sospeso'. This charitable act started in the working class areas of Naples over 100 years ago. When someone had good fortune they would pay for two coffees and leave one for someone less fortunate than themselves, as a little thanks and to share their luck. It is a delightful tradition but one that sadly in more recent prosperous times went out of favour. But, in 2008, the Italian writer  Luciano De Crescenzo wrote a piece about Cafe Sospeso and soon a global movement began. Cafes in Quebec, Melbourn, Russia, Holland and Bulgaria have for the past few years allowed customers to purchase two coffees, one for them and one to be left for a homeless or destitute person. In the UK Starbucks has launched a campaign encouraging customers to leave a suspended beverage. Now the cynic in me questions why at just this moment in time Starbucks has chosen to launch its very own Suspended Coffee movement, I am sure the words tax evasion have nothing whatsoever to do with it, but the fact that they are matching the cost of the coffees as a donation to the charity Oasis Trust can be no bad thing. 

Now, I don't frequent coffee shops, and I feel £6 for many people is quite a lot to spend too often so I have researched other possible random acts of kindness. An American woman Robyn Bomar wrote a blog post about her 38 acts of kindness to celebrate her 38th birthday. She  did things such as leaving cookies for her postman, helping people with their shopping, placing restaurant vouchers on the tables of families and just walking away. From this beginning she started The Birthday Project. The idea being on your birthday doing something for someone else. I applaud her spirit and it has most certainly made me think. On Saturday mornings I listen to Saturday Live, each week they have a short section where people call in and say 'thank you' to someone in their lives who has shown them an act of kindness, most often it was a stranger who had gone out of their way to be kind and caring. This morning's two were a man who, after travelling back to England by ferry penniless, had unsuccessfully tried to hitch a lift home, late at night in the pouring rain he decided to knock on the door of a house that still had lights on, the couple fed him, washed and dried his clothes, gave him a bed, breakfast and in the morning he set off home.  Another was a man who, tearfully, recounted having to travel to St Lucia after his son had been badly hurt in an accident. The family of the man in the next bed showed him and his son great kindness by bringing food for them every day.Every week I listen and think how wonderful people really are. An act of kindness need not cost very much, just effort and time,your motives may well be questioned but do it anyway.  Try it out and see, I am quite sure it will be addictive, give joy to you and the recipient at best and can do no harm at worst....

Links to the blogs mentioned.

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. 
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Dolce Far Niente....

Delicious idleness is something northern Europeans find hard to achieve. Is it the climate? Or protestant work ethic that makes the very concept of sweet doing nothing so alien to us? I would say the same of our North American cousins. But travel south, and the closer to the Equator anywhere in the world dolce far niente is a daily occurence.

As a child I can recall frequently lying in the sun, with nothing to do, just watching an ant crawl up a blade of grass. Or on a beach, trickling the sand through my fingers, listening to the shingle move with the waves. But now I feel guilty if I sit and do nothing. But is that nothing not restorative and good for our total well being?

I attended my Aunty Jean's funeral last week. It was a Humanist Ceremony, a celebration of a life, poetry and letters shared and favourite music played, there was time for us to sit and think, recall or to really listen to the music. My Aunt loved the arts and was a great letter writer but the one thing that struck me was my cousin telling of how, when he was a small boy, on trips to London after lunch they would visit an art gallery. There he would be sent off to look at whatever he wished whilst my Aunt would sit in front of a favourite painting for some time and just look, say nothing but take in all that was in front of her. I am sad I never knew she did this, and sadder still that I never had the chance to sit alongside her and just look too. But I do know that she,  in her heart, understood la dolce far niente.

I was lucky enough to  spend an afternoon of delicious idleness last week, I sat in a pub garden, in a beautiful English village, with the surprising warmth of the sun on my back and a special friend beside me. We spoke of life, of love, of grief, and sometimes we just sat and listened to the sounds of children playing, or watched two robins hopping about in the sunshine. A rare time of stillness for us both, but a perfect gift to each in busy lives. This week has made me stop and consider, and I have promised to myself that I shall find, as often as possible, time for nothing, time for really listening to favourite music, time for really looking at paintings or the flowers in the garden, or maybe the faces of those that I love. Because this I know, moments of still contemplation give us time to take order reflect and go on with surety and strength, they are not moments wasted but moments that make us whole.

So, listen to I what say, have some sweet doing nothing time this week and know  you will be all the better for it, that, I most certainly know.....

Sunday, 24 March 2013


"Marmalade in the morning has the same effect on taste buds as a cold shower has on the body" Jeanine Larmouth

Marmalade is a very adult thing. As a child I used to have a spoonful of my Grannie's Roses Lime Marmalade,the one that she favoured. It was bright green and very sweet, and not really very marmalade like at all, as I  now know.  I loved breakfast at Gran's house, she would lay the table the night before. Grapenuts, uncut white bread or a small Hovis loaf, that she would slice wafer thin with the bread on its end, using a straight  bladed knife that my dad would sharpen for her. Never have I  seen anyone slice bread in this way, or so evenly. In fact I don't think she ever bought a sliced loaf in her life, I wish now I had asked her why she did it this way, but as a child you just take things for granted and question little. Side plates,Lurpak butter and warm milk on the cereal. Granny had a system for milk, the creamy top in one small jug, just for cereal, the rest in another jug for tea. Radio 4 on for the news, fully dressed never in nightwear, a ceremonial start to the day. And always, always the green marmalade. It was, I am sure, a secret pleasure for her to buy a jar.  She had spent her lifetime making do and mending, sharing what little she had with siblings then her own children. I now wonder why she liked it, she had very adult tastes, dark chocolate, ginger, fruitcake, oh and brandy in her bedtime milk..... since then, whenever I see the distinctively shaped jars and the vivid green, I am taken back to her breakfast table.

Over the years I have grown to love marmalade, along with good coffee and olives. It is now my Sunday morning ritual to make coffee and have homemade marmalade on toast. I have been making it for years, friends will call and tell me when the Seville oranges are in stock locally. I have tried many methods and many recipes, all producing a wide variety of colours and tastes, on occasions going badly wrong, one year's unctuous thick product finding its way into the bin, sadly.  Dark and strong for cold winter days bright and vibrant amber for summer mornings when I might venture into the garden and feel the warmth of the sun and listen to the birds. Marmalade is not suitable for quick weekday breakfasts, it takes time to prepare, time to slice peel and boil away, time to linger is only right, the flavours are intense and should be savoured.

 This year I chose a Nigel Slater recipe, with lemon and ginger as fine additions to the oranges. It worked well, the recipe is a keeper. I implore you to have a go at making some, you can choose the thickness of the peel and what flavours to add, a little whisky, a little spice. All work well and you can experiment to your hearts delight. A tip I have learned, don't use sugar with pectin, marmalade should be soft not jelly like. Oh and never squeeze the bag with the pips in, otherwise you will have a clouded amber that hides the glistening bright orange slivers of peel. 

Bought marmalade? Oh dear, I call that very feeble.” 
― Julian FellowesGosford Park: The Shooting Script

Orange, lemon and ginger marmalade

Makes about 4 x 500ml jars
Seville oranges 1 kg
lemons 4
granulated sugar 2 kg
fresh ginger 100g
Using a small sharp knife score the skin of each orange and lemon deeply into four from top to bottom. Remove the peel, it should come away easily in four pieces, then slice into thin strips. My preference is for pieces no thicker than a matchstick, but the texture of marmalade is a very personal thing.
Squeeze the juice, with your hands, into a bowl then place the pulp and pips into a muslin bag. Pour 2 litres of cold water into the juice. Push the bag of pulp, and the shredded peel, into the juice and leave overnight. (Their pectin will help the marmalade to set.)
The next day, tip into a large stainless-steel pan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, add the ginger, peeled and cut into shreds, then, keeping the liquid at a jolly simmer leave to cook for about 50-60 minutes until the peel is translucent. Remove the bag of pips and pulp and leave until it is cool enough to handle.
Add the sugar to the juice and bring to the boil, squeeze all the juice from the muslin bag into the pan. As the liquid boils, scrape every bit of froth that appears on the surface. This is crucial for a clear finish. Boil hard for 15 minutes then start testing for set. Remove a tablespoon of the jam, put it on a cold plate or saucer and put it in the fridge for a few minutes. If a thick skin forms on the surface it is ready. If not, then keep boiling and retest.
Ladle into sterilised jars and label.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

In praise of yellow...

amber, ash blond, aureate, aurulent, blonde, canary, champagne, chrysal, citrine, citron, cream, fallow, flavescent, flavicomous, flavous, fulvid, fulvous, gold, goldenrod, honey, jaundiced, lemon, lutescent, oatmeal, primrose, sallow, straw, sulfur, sunshine, tawny, xanthic, xanthodont, xanthous, yellow, yellow as a crow's foot, yellow as a guinea, yellow as a quince.......
daffodil, and sunflowers and the middle of daisies, pansies and party dresses, the back of a soft bristled baby brush, chicks, egg yolks.....Advocat....bananas...and did I mention sunshine?
I will not allow this to become a list of all things yellow but it has, you must agree,  been a dark and dismal winter, if you have been in England that is, if you are one of my Thai readers then you will wonder what I am on about. I failed to plant the pots by my back door in the Autumn because, well because, IT NEVER STOPPED RAINING......but this week finally a glimpse of sunshine. The feeling of warmth on my back made me determined to plant a splash of colour by the doors to my house. At my local market I was able to purchase fifteen canary yellow primroses for a very small amount... I then spent an extremely happy afternoon digging and planting. Now when I return home the gloriousness that is yellow greets me, when washing up the nodding of stems can be seen in the window box as the breeze catches the petals...my beautiful pale blue front door looks fresher for the splash of yellow and I can't help but grin...for there is no colour greater than yellow for making you feel happy. I could never wear yellow (wrong skin tone) have not decorated with yellow since the 90's when non gender nurseries were required...but yellow flowers are always to be found in my winter garden...and maybe if I am brave and take note of the weekend fashion press you may well see a little splash of citrine about my person in the months to come.

It has been half term here and I have spent the most delightful of weeks, pottering and making things, painting some old chairs, making cake and catching up with friends. I have collected many moments  and have vowed to never leave it 20 years between visits (one old friend) and to always say yes when asked on a walk....because dust only ever comes back, there is always laundry to be done, but who knows how many times we will be able to walk to the top of the hill....

Haiku (The low yellow...)

The low yellow
moon above the
Quiet lamplit house.