Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Morning in the Kitchen

These are the results of my morning spent baking (for the freezer as well as supper tonight):

1 cheesy loaf
2 pizzas
Ratatouille topping for pizza and freezer
Pan vegetable soup
1 blackberry and apple Crumble
2 apple crumbles
1 pear crumble

It makes more sense to have the oven on to cook half a dozen things than just one . . .

Spot the Dipper!

Click on photo to enlarge

I am bread making and pizza making today, and taking photos as I do so, and hopefully there will be a record of this on here later on.

Meanwhile, spring is very reluctantly showing a brave face - trees greening up, bluebells starting to flower, but it still feels more like March than nearly May! The Swallows and Housemartins have finally arrived, and our little Collared Dove has arrived in the garden, but minus his/her mate. I don't know if they mate for life, but the remaining one looks so forlorn.

When I was down by the river the other evening, I was watching our pair of Dippers, who are in residence all year round. The hen Dipper was making overtures towards the male, who kept flying past her. She was dipping up and down on a rock, waggling her tail and the minute he got close, frantically flapping her wings in a "Look at ME" gesture. He had spotted me on the lane, and was more bothered about staying alive than getting a mate, and she was getting progressively more frantic! In the end I had to walk on and leave them in peace for their nuptuals!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Basket Making Course

I have had a great day out today, learning the skill of Basket Making. Or rather, trying to do it, having fun, and needing another lesson to improve on what I learned! Here is the base made and the uprights in place.

My friend Nanny working on her basket. Nanny's husband is the Manager for Lluest Horse and Pony Trust http://www.lluesthorseandponytrust.org.uk/

We were fortunate that one of the Trustees and a friend of hers, who had both travelled from Gloucestershire, were Basket Making experts and shared their knowledge with us. The money raised by this course has gone towards the upkeep of the horses and ponies and it is planned that there will be future craft courses too. Whooppee!

This young lady (Karen I think is is) soon got the hang of things.

Mine with the sides loosely held in place. This willow ring kept slipping, so I ended up with a far more generously-proportioned basket than anyone else!

This is Nanny's stylish basket (got the Champers on chill yet Nanny?)

And this is my effort, decidedly on the wonk! It is big enough to hold my sewing bits and bobs for when I sit down of an evening, so I shan't complain. I hope there will be a follow-up course so I can improve next time.

Goldy's block

Here's the swop patchwork block I have been making recently - this time it's Goldy's and her choice was a camping theme. I hope she likes it!

She is saying, having dug him in the ribs, "Can you hear something?" Double click to enlarge it anyway.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

I know where I'm going . . .

Sorry - I was talking about this on Nancy's blog and suddenly felt the need to share it with blogland. Does anyone else recognize this folk song? I learned it at school and used to sing a version of it as a lullaby to my children when they were tiny:

I know where I'm goin'
and I know who's goin' with me
I know who I love
and my dear knows who I'll marry.

I have stockings of silk
and shoes of bright green leather
Combs to buckle my hair
and a ring for every finger

O' feather beds are soft
and painted rooms are bonnie
But I would give them all
for my handsome winsome Johnny

Some say that he's poor,
but I say that he's bonnie
Fairest of them all
is my handsome winsome Johnny.

I "think" it also had links to a lovely American horse book (the Magnificent Barb by Dana Farella) I had as a child. I'm sure there was an extract of this song in it.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Blaenavon and Stack Square - part 2

(Click on photos to enlarge)

I took so many photos on Wednesday that I could almost illustrate a book with them! It was an interesting site to walk around, and although the social history shown by the cottage interiors was what really took my interest, having read a few of Alexander Cordell's wonderful novels, the industrial history was equally fascinating. Of course, much has been demolished over the years. The dressed stone which once faced all that remains of the blast furnaces was taken to build a church in Blaenavon.

The illustration below gives an idea of how busy and sprawling the site was in its heyday. Stack Square has the most amazing chimney in the centre of it which probably blocked out a lot of natural light. The smoking stacks to the left were the Calcining kilns, where the lumps of raw iron ore were roasted to remove sulphur, moisture and mud. The workers - regardless of age - worked 12 hour shifts - and took the night shift every other week, which meant a 24 hour shift when there was a changeover. This even for children of 7 or 8. The CADW booklet which I bought, mentions an Irish family (the McCarthys), who worked there. The father, Timothy, was a "filler" in 1841, and had two sons helping him, Tim and Tom, who were supposedly 14 and 10 (on official papers) but were probably just 9 and 7 years old. They all worked the same hours . . . poor little mites. The younger had a hernia, and had to wear a home-made truss.

Looking across to the 'mynydd' and the terraced row of miner's cottages. Just out of sight is "Big Pit", a mine which is now a working museum and destination for many a school outing.

Now Forget-me-nots grow in memory of all the people who once slaved here.

Below are the foundry and cast house, still in a good state of repair.

The enormous balance tower dominates the site today. It was an early form of "renewable energy" working, as it did, with the weight of water on one side raising wagons of raw material to the tops of the furnaces, in perpetual motion. It was built in 1839.

This is Engine Row, which formed one side of Stack Square. These cottages faced outwards and have permanently furnished interiors to show how they may have looked in 1790, and then in 1841.

This is the cottage as it may have looked in 1790, and is meant to illustrate the dwelling of an experienced iron worker, who had moved from Shropshire (Ironbridge). The colour of the room is from red ochre pigment (which was used for 'raddling' sheep - hark back to Thomas Hardy here and the Reddleman Diggory Venn in 'Return of the Native'). On the table is a boiled leg of mutton, a jug of caper sauce and a relish of samphire.

A ladder-back chair keeps company with the steens (glazed bowls on the floor) and other earthenware pots and jugs, which were the everyday ware at this time. A few 'cheap' glasses are on the top shelf.

The dresser, with its 'chargers' from Ewenny pottery, pewter plates for dining from and more earthenware jugs and dishes.

This rather splendid quilt decorates a 4 post bed with curtains to keep out the draughts, and which was crammed into a tiny room off the kitchen. Out of sight is a small rocking cradle at the bottom of the bed.
Next door, in the 1841 cottage, the McCarthy family from Co. Cork are now living - 4 adults, 4 children and a baby in the 1841 census returns. Their dresser was more utalitarian. Some of the goods are clearly second hand. The dresser is an Irish one from Co. Clare.

It is washday. The method used is to soak the clothes in a 'buck-basket' and soaked with lye (this is made by water dripping through wood ash). Only cold water was used, the dirt being beaten from the clothes with bats against washboards in tubs. The only soap was made by mixing lye with tallow fat (old candle stubs were often used - there was no waste). After rinsing the clothes were wrung out and hung out to dry. In this cottage, the washing 'lines' were literally just that - pieces of rope hung from beam to beam.

The pantry has rushlight holders (rush lights were made at home), cheap pottery and tinware. There is a sack of replica potatoes - of a variety called Lumpers, popular in Ireland before the dreadful famine, and which were bluish - just like the sorts which are shown in modern Kitchen Garden magazines today! What goes round, comes round, as they say).

The main bedroom with the baby's cradle beside it. The quilt is made of blanket pieces and cloth strips (this particular one has some authentic dirt on it!)

Here is where the children would have slept - a feather mattress and a woven rush pallet on the floor with blankets for bedclothes. I don't doubt a few bed bugs kept them company back in those days too!

Finally, I had a walk around the town of Blaenavon today, and visited the Heritage Museum, which was very impressive. Here is a steep row of pre 1900 terraced houses.

With many thanks to the CADW booklets about the cottage interiors and the Ironworks.

Show and Tell Friday over at Kelli's

Show and Tell

It's Friday again, and time for another lovely Show & Tell over at Kelli's, http://kellishouse.blogspot.com/

where she has some beautiful things on show today - and so have LOTS of other folks. Do check them out.

My Show & Tell is rather obvious! Last night I finally finished the crocheted blanket I began a fortnight ago tomorrow, which is when I first learned properly how to crochet. I am SO thrilled with it and love the way it turned out. The brightest blue is some wool my mum had bought to knit herself a jumper with before she had her Stroke. I'm sure she would be glad to see it being put to good use. Crochet is SO addictive, but by last night it has gotten so big that it took forever to do a "round" and I was glad to finish it. The chair is an old cut-down hoop-back chair - they did such things to "modernize" them. . . We bought it at auction many years ago now. You can see Trixie's back too - that dog gets everywhere!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Blaenavon and Stack Square - part 1

Yesterday I had to unexpectedly take my son to Cardiff for the University Open Day, so I took advantage of being in the general area, and as I am still reading Alexander Cordell's novels, I took myself up through Pontypool to check out Blaenavon, a World Heritage site for its remaining industrial landscape - Big Pit and the site of one of the early and very important ironworks. Stack square is part of the ironworks complex, and some of you may recognize it as where the recent "Coalhouse" programme was filmed. American visitors to my blog may like to visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/coalhouse/
for the background to this programme.

Stack Square as it is today. You'd never know it was so close to reality, from the tv programme!

The interiors have been left as they were for the tv programme - the kitchen.

Mam and da didn't have much room - or privacy. Just about enough room for a bed and to squeeze past into the childrens' bedroom.

One of the kitchens in the other cottages.

You could just walk in and light the range . . .

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Pay It Forward

My dear friend Nancy, over at http://morthanenough.wordpress.com/2008/04/page/2/
has been hosting a PIF over on her blog. I have been fortunate enough to have been chosen to receive a beautiful hand-made gift from her. In return I have promised that:

“I will send a handmade gift to 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I can’t say what that gift will be yet as planning it is half the fun, and you may not receive it in a flash… but I promise you it will arrive! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

So I am inviting 3 of my readers and friends to participate in this PIF. It will be lovely to see who reads my blog, rather than just having a number count each day. I will put your names in a hat and get an unbiased person (probably my son), to draw out three recipients.

In return, all you have to do is post a PAY IT FORWARD invitation on your blogs and be prepared to send out 3 handmade gifts to your first 3 commenters. I look forward to seeing who participates!

Well, it looks like I won't be killed in the rush anyway. So I'll make it the first three names, if we get that far. One down, two to go . . .

The PIF is now closed. Pixiedust, I shall start work on your gift this week, if you could pm me on Creative Living with your address in due course please.

What a shame no-one else entered.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Apple Gingerbread with Cinnamon Icing

This is one of my favourite recipes, and I always make a double batch - one to eat now, and one to freeze. It is scrummy.

Weigh the dry ingredients.

I find it easier to weigh the butter, syrup etc in the pan (less mess), just weigh the empty pan first then add the ingredients.

Peel, core and chop the apples, cook to a pulp with a little water and a spoonful of sugar, and leave to cool.

I had run out of Demerara sugar this time, so I used Muscavado instead. Granulated is fine if that's all you have.

This is all a double mix of ingredients and I was generous with the apples too!


½ lb cooking apples

3oz Demerara sugar

¼ lb golden syrup

3 oz butter

6 oz S-R flour

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

1 egg

Peel and slice apples, and put in a pan with 1 dessertspoonful sugar and just sufficient water to keep them from burning. Stew gently until tender. Mash up and leave to get cold. Put the golden syrup in a pan with the butter, and the remainder of the sugar; dissolve gently, then leave to cool.

Sift the flour into a basin with the ground ginger and ground cloves. Whisk up the egg, add the dissolved syrup and fat etc and whisk together; then add to the flour. Mix well, stir in the apple pulp and beat all together. Turn into a well-greased oblong tin. Bake in a moderate oven, about ½ hour. When cooked, let stand for a little before turning out of tin. The icing is optional.


6 oz icing sugar

2 – 3 dessertspoonfuls water

1 level teaspoonful ground cinnamon

Rub sugar through a sieve and mix with the ground cinnamon. Then stir in sufficient moderately hot water to make a thick coating consistency. Spread on top of gingerbread and leave to set.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Gwyddno Garanhir and The Sunken Land of Cantre'r Gwealod

This is as near as I can get for the appropriate picture, as this is the Cardiganshire coast just below Aberystwyth. Click to enlarge.

Translated into English, this means the Lowland Hundred (though my son insists it literally means "bottom town!" . . . ) I know of it through Welsh legends - it was the land which was beyond the Cardiganshire coast which is now beneath the waves. This legend is connected with Gwyddno Garanhir (Gwyddno Long-Shanks or Crane-Legs), who is supposedly the ancestor of the family who built on the site of our Welsh farmhouse. Their original "Great Hall" either lies beneath the present house, or quite possibly along the line of our driveway, as we have found some enormous boulders (one about the size of our dustbin) still in situ. Here they entertained their guests, including a Bardic poet, Lewis Glyn Cothi.

Gwyddno Garanhir was apparently king of this land, which was protected from the encroaching sea by a dyke called Sarn Badrig (St Patrick's causeway). Unfortunately, one of the princes who was in charge of the sea defences, was known as a drunkard and through his negligence the sea came in through the open floodgates. With my archaeology hat on, I've always wondered whether this wasn't an ancient memory from the Mesolithic, when the glaciers melted and sea-levels rose - rather like the world-wide ancestral memories of the Great Flood. There are apparently signs of natural pebble ridges along the coastline further north in the Barmouth area, and also remains of a fossil forest at Borth. The legend has it that in times of great danger, the bells of the sunken churches of Cantre'r Gwaelod will ring out beneath the waves.

Gwyddno's son Elffin ap Gwyddno was the foster-father of the legendary Welsh poet Taliesin, and to read his story you will have to Google him for the moment, though I shall try and write a piece on him later in the week. Taliesin flourished around 534 - 599 and also has tentative links to "King Arthur" although these links stem from much later Medieval writings.

Gosh, if only I could step into the past . . .

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Arthur - as in King, and Excalibur

I went to an excellent lecture this afternoon, given by T M Charles-Edwards, an Oxford Professor. It was about the Welsh Arthur. That is - a Welsh princeling called Arthur - and one who was probably embroidered into the legendary King Arthur story. In fact, he could be one of several Welsh princelings of that name. It was a wonderful talk and I realized how little I knew about Welsh Saints, the Mabinogion - Welsh legends which appeared in The White Book of Rhydderch, c. 1350 and the Red Book of Hergest (1382 - 1410) and the connections with Irish legends and mythology. So now my brain is spinning with 100 white cattle with red ears - which was apparently an exchange demanded by the Welsh Arthur at one point, knowing they were "other wordly" and exotic - and the romances of Chretien de Troyes and references to places in Wales where this Arthur was connected. These were Cardigan Castle in West Wales, Caerleon in East Wales, and then Carlisle (up on the Scottish border) which was also in Wales, which must have dated back to the time of the Strathclyde British, when what we now know of as Cumbria and indeed right up to Glasgow, was part of this area.

Dinefwr Castle (above) was also mentioned, and they have white Park cattle there to this day, and to think of legends and all sorts happening on my doorstep is mind-blowing! So is the thought that these legends were in part collected by Lady Charlotte Guest and if the name rings a bell, it's because her husband was one of the Merthyr Ironmasters . . .

Which reminds me, how the people who built the house I live in (earliest written records date back to 1486, but we know they were living here in the 12th C, though not in this house, just on this site) claimed to be descended from Gwyddno Garanhir, who has his own history, and I shall tell you about it tomorrow, for he is part of legend too, and connected to Taliesin.

Friday, 18 April 2008


(Click on photos to enlarge)

I've done an awful lot of driving in the past week. First of all down to Dorset for the Forum meet-up last weekend. Then I'd only been back a day when I had to return our middle daughter to her University "oop North". We managed to get some photos of the countryside as we were driving along - you will forgive any which are a bit blurred. The scenery is amazing, and one of these years my husband and I will get that holiday in the Lake District we've always promised ourselves. It was only ever a stopping-off point when we were driving up to Scotland on holiday. Anyway - enjoy the views.

First mid-Wales:

As you can see above, the weather was a little threatening on occasion!

A couple of hours further on - looking across to the fells of what used to be called Westmoreland. Then it all got lumped into "Cumbria".

Slightly blurred view, ditto!

A stretch of the drystone walls which proliferate up here. It is good to see that they are largely maintained. When you think of the man hours which they took to build - and there are 100s of miles of them.

Landscape on the top of the fells.

It's wild up here - raining sheets in the distance.

A general view.

I liked the "crankle" in this wall . . . Perhaps there had been a tree there in the past which they built around.