Archives for category: this and that


What fantastic colours pumpkins are – their glowing fiery orange is perfect for a winter garden. I am so excited by my eight pumpkins that have been ripening. But how was I to know when to pick them? I scuttled back to my computer to do a search and this is what I discovered:

  1. They need to be a deep rich colour
  2. When you tap them they must ring hollow
  3. Their skin must be tough enough to resist a finger nail poking into them

Once the pumpkins had passed those three steps, I placed them in the green house to ‘cure’ for a week. And now they are being stored in the garage (a cool dry area) and should be able to keep for upto six months. We’ll gobble them up before then though as I plan to make delicious soup.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
700g of pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced (approx half a small pumpkin)
2 apples (peeled & diced)
5 – 10ml mild curry powder
pinch of nutmeg
3 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups milk
Juice and grated skin of 1 orange
Salt, pepper, pinch of sugar
Chopped parsley
Yogurt or cream to swirl in when serving

Sauté onions, add pumpkin & apple. Sauté for 3 minutes to develop flavours. Add curry powder, nutmeg, and stir. Add stock, orange rind & juice. Simmer for 20 – 30 mins. Stir regularly as it can stick to the pot. Liquidise, add salt, pepper, sugar, milk. If you wish, add a little more curry powder or even a touch of cayenne pepper for a more spicy favour.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt swirled into it and chopped parsley or fresh coriander sprinkled on top. Serves 6 decent helpings or 8 delicate ones.

Pumpkins always bring back happy memories as I think back 10 years when my big boy was a delicious two-year old and posed with a pumpkin in Beatrix Potter’s garden. He will always be my little red-headed pumpkin no matter how old he is!




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We have a new house sign and finally after three months in our new home we can consign our nasty old sign to the bin. I wanted a hand-painted sign (but not hand-painted by me – too wobbly) and found Osbourne Signs by doing an internet search. I gave him a brief including size, colour and an example of the type of sign I was looking for. I was very unhappy with the first result as the spaces between the letters was awkward and the serifs too thick. It is always hard to express disappointment to a supplier, but I did so as diplomatically as possible and I also created a full size printout using font and spacing that I preferred. His hand is remarkably steady and the final sign is painted beautifully. I was delighted with Take Two. The old sign and in fact the even earlier sign which was still lurking in the garage can now be relegated for good – too niche to ebay! Old sign2 lr

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Visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is always a treat, and this was no exception. It holds one of the world’s finest collections of anthropology from around the world and I always spot something new in this treasure trove of the unusual, interesting and macabre (think shrunken heads). This time I spotted a ‘witch’s ladder’ which was a twisted rope pierced with cockerel’s feathers and was used as a spell to sour milk or kill old folk. It was found in the wardrobe of an old woman in 1911 – was she the victim or the perpetrator? There was also a delicate little flea trap made of bamboo that was worn in clothing to catch itchy fleas.

We caught our breath in the gallery cafe of the Natural History Museum adjoining the Pitt Rivers. The lighting and recently restored neo-Gothic architecture was fabulous and I was frustrated not to have my camera with me. I did what I could with my i-Phone and am rather pleased with the result above.


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I was recently involved in arranging a farewell party for our pastor who was retiring. With approximately 100 guests, a school hall to decorate and a shoe string budget, I had to be very creative and innovative. But challenges like this are fun and it is amazing what can be achieved.

It is always easier to create an atmosphere if you hang it on a theme so I decided to choose red as it is a warm cheerful colour on a cold day. Mike likes France and speaks excellent  French so it was to be a Red French Café. The fact that I could borrow loads of red checked table cloths sealed it!

We decorated the hall with bunting and red balloons. The décor on the table was glass bottles from my collection with sticks, red tulips, fairy lights and hundreds of tea lights. Message tags were hung from the sticks so friends could write a message or a memory for Mike and Liz. We had red napkins and the cutlery was placed in silver tins. French café music played in the background and everyone was asked to wear a touch of red in their clothing whether it was a tie, a rose, shoes, handbag, hat or even a waistcoat.

As Mike has travelled far and wide during his time in ministry, we decided to give him a hamper of ‘Food from Around the World’. Everyone chose one of the 20 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe and brought an item for the hamper.

Laughter, memories and a few tears were shed as we celebrated Mike’s retirement and sent him and Liz on their way. What an inspiring couple they are and it is a privilege to have them as part of our lives.

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The bleak midwinter is the season for Seville oranges and there is nothing more satisfying on an icy day than working in a steamy kitchen making marmalade to be eaten on hot buttered toast. My sister has a blog which she ‘overshares’ her cooking tips so I thought I’d take leaf from her book and overshare how to make marmalade which I’m tempted to say is fool-proof.

Seville orange marmalade: makes about 2kgs (or 8 jars)

1 kg Seville oranges
1 lemon
2 litres water
2 kg preserving sugar
200 g dark muscovado sugar
75 ml whisky


Removing the mebranes and juices.


If you feel lazy, cut the peels coarsely (but it doesn’t taste as good).

•    Wash and dry the fruit, and cut in halves or quarters.
•    Set a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin. Over the sieve, juice the fruit, scouring the peels as you go, and dropping the pips, squeezed flesh and membranes into the cloth. Use a teaspoon to pick up a strip of membrane large enough to grip,then tear out the rest with your fingers.
•    Reserve the juice squeezed from the fruit.
•    Tie all the residue into a loose bag and put it into the preserving pan with the water.
•    Shred the skin as finely as you like and add the peel to the pan.


I chop in the evening and can then continue the next day once it has soaked overnight.

•    Leave it to soak overnight.


You can see how much liquid has evaporated.

•    Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the peel is tender and the liquid has reduced by half – about 2 hours. Cover the pan if too much evaporation is occurring before the peel is tender. If you need to stop at this stage, you can let the liquid cool down completely and continue much later in the day.
•    Remove the bag of pips and squeeze the liquid out and into the pan. Discard the residue.


Lots of sugar!


You can see the granules of sugar on the side – every single one needs to melt.

•    Add the sugar to the pan, plus the reserved juice.


The sugar has finally all melted which takes about 20 minutes of continual stirring on a low heat.

•    Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely.


It should boil hard for 10 minutes before testing for setting point.

•   Raise the heat and boil hard until setting point is reached.


Whisky is not an essential ingredient – but gives it a fabulous flavour.

•    Skim off any froth, allow it to cool and thicken a little, then stir to redistribute the peel, before potting.
•    Add the whisky just before potting to increase the flavour but don’t worry about consuming spirits at breakfast time – the heat of the marmalade evaporates the alcohol, leaving the flavour.


Pot up once it has cooled a little.

A bit of technique
•    When the sugar goes in, stir the mixture over a low heat until every grain has melted before turning up the heat. Take your time – undissolved sugar means crystallizing marmalade.
•    If you don’t have a preserving pan, use a very big, deep saucepan instead.
•    NEVER leave the pan once you have added the sugar especially if you have children – hot sticky jam is lethal.


This batch needed an extra 6 minutes after its initial 10 minutes.

•    Judging setting point takes attention and skill so don’t hurry. Chill a stack of plates in the freezer and heat a tray of scrupulously clean jars in a low oven. Bring the marmalade to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Let it boil for about 10 minutes then take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the marmalade on a chilled plate. Leave it for a minute then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it will set. If it stays runny, return the pan to the boil for another two minutes then test again. It should not be more than 20 minutes in total.


Only add lids once the jam is completely cold.

•    Ladle the cooled marmalade into the warm jars and cover with wax paper discs. Add lids only once completely cold to avoid condensation which encourages mould to form.
•    Enjoy your marmalade for the year and bask in compliments!

Recipe originally from Country Living, February 2009

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Feel like you would love to declutter your house? My first item would be the half-a-bird in the photo above. A glittery decoration which lost its other half somewhere over Christmas. Here is a fab way to detox your home that I heard about from a friend. On the first day of the month, you throw away one item, on the second day you throw away two items, on the third day you throw away three items so on the last day you will throw away thirty items. By the end of the month you will have thrown away about 400 items! They can be recycled, given to charity shops, sold on eBay or chucked. You may choose to sort out a shed, a sock drawer, a stationery box or a nightmare cupboard in the kitchen.

There is also the 20 – 20 rule which you use to decide about an item. If you haven’t used the item for about 6 months and don’t know if you ever use it again, and it costs under £20 and can be bought in under 20 minutes then throw it out.

We’ve got so excited about the idea that we have a ‘detox box’ with items ready to throw away from the 1st February. The half-a-bird will be rehomed to a tree on our route to school so we can still wave hello to it. Let me know if you plan to declutter with me this February.

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Wishing you a very merry Christmas and may next year be a creative and fruitful year. Thank you for your support and for following my blog over the past years.

With best wishes Tessa

2014 was the year that…

R:   We had pizza at the Vatican and enjoyed stunning architecture around every corner in Rome.

T:   I moved jobs, had a fabulous freelance job designing the Landmark Trust handbook and walked up Vesuvius which surpassed my expectations.

N:  I will always remember my first day at secondary school.

I:    I played in the water fountains in Rome.

H: I turned six and got penguin toys for my birthday.

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Linoprint Angels by Harriet

Swedish Ginger Biscuits Recipe

Nothing beats the evocative smell of ginger biscuits. The recipe below is Swedish and makes the best biscuits I have come across. After baking and allowing them to cool, we have a family decorating session with plenty of icing and silver balls while Christmas carols are belted out. Later I use a needle to thread a loop on them and we hang them on the Christmas tree as they keep for weeks – that is if the children (mice?) don’t nibble them!

300g butter
450 castor sugar
6 tbsps. golden syrup
2 tbsps. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsps. cardamom
200ml water
900g plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar and syrup and beat in the flavouring – cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger, cardamom and bicarbonate of soda. Add the water and work in the flour, kneading well on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into the fridge and allow it to rest for 24 hours. Roll out the dough and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 200°C – 225°C for 4 – 5 minutes.
(I tend to halve the ingredients as it make a lot of dough. If too sticky, add extra flour.)

After reading the post about Norah, my uncle Martin who has researched the family tree sent me an interesting email with more information about Norah which also corrects dates and facts especially that she left for Canada not America and it was before World War One. It reassured me that Betty went to family, just not blood relations. But it also raised questions about a mysterious Joyce who no one had spoken about. Norah had another daughter who was older than Betty. Was she not spoken about because she was born out-of-wedlock? Was her father Fred Newman (Norah’s husband) or someone else? What happened to Joyce – had she died as a child or did she remain in Canada? Martin doesn’t know what happened to Joyce as his mother (my granny) never mentioned her at all, and Norah’s sister (my great-granny) was very secretive about certain things.

Ethel Norah Ellery was born in 1891. Her name is on a school register near Milton Keynes. He mother died in February 1898 and in April she was bundled off from Dorset to this location. In the 1901 census she and her siblings are shown to be staying with the woman who was to become their step-mother while their father was working in the South Wales coalfields.

According to the 1911 census she was working as a kitchen maid for a doctor and his family who lived in Dinton, Wiltshire (about 5 miles SW of Stonehenge). Her age was given as 20. According to the 1921 Canadian census, she was married to Frederick Alfred Newman and had a daughter aged 6 called Joyce. Her age (and her husband’s age) was given as 32. The census also gave the year of her arrival in Canada as 1911. Fred Newman’s age was also given as 32 and he too arrived in Canada 1911. The Quebec marriage registers show that they were married in 1917 with Fred’s occupation given as ‘Private in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’.

I understand from Granny Mom that Fred was gassed during WWI so when Betty came over, he was not a well man. I believe that Betty was born in 1922, the same year as Granny Mom. I have not found Joyce’s birth certificate, nor have I found the birth certificate of Betty nor have I have found death certificates for anybody, either in British, Canadian or Australian records. Granny Mom’s cousin Betty married a Thomas Cousins in 1944. They emigrated to Australia where, in about 1962, she died of cancer, aged 40, leaving a husband and five children. According to Granny Mom, the ‘family friend’ was great-grandad’s brother and sister-in-law (Granny Mom’s Uncle Harry) who had five sons and who always wanted a daughter. (Norah was great-granny’s niece by blood, not great-grandad’s niece).

Somehow Norah aged 12 years between 1911 and 1921! It is well-known that some women ‘forget’  birthdays, but gaining two is pretty rare. I suspect that when she ran away to Canada, she lied about her age, adding two years so that she did not need parental consent. Great-Granny always told me that Norah was born in 1889, keeping up the pretence.

Author: Martin Vlietstra

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Betty gmom's cousin

Norah’s daughter, Betty

Looking at old photos reminds me of Norah’s story that my grandmother told me. Norah was also affected by World War One and her story is a sad one where you see the ripple effects of the war down the generations.

My grandmother’s aunt was Norah Ellery and she is the eldest child in the photo on the previous post. Norah ran away to America after World War One and left a letter saying that by the time it was being read, she would be on a ship to America. She met her husband-to-be on the ship – was it a ship romance? They married and had a daughter called Betty and Norah worked as a housekeeper or a cook in America. Eight years later, Norah returned to England to visit with Betty who was seven years old. Norah caught a cold and pneumonia most likely on the ship and died ten days after arriving in England in 1926 and was buried in Bridport aged 37. My grandmother was a little girl of about 3 or 4 and remembered her aunt being unwell and asking her for a glass of water.

The problem was what to do with Betty, a girl of seven in a ‘foreign’ country. These days the obvious solution would have been to send her back to her father in America. However a policeman said although he couldn’t advise them what to do, he know what he would do… implying it would be best for the child to remain in England. My grandmother’s mother couldn’t keep her niece as she already had three children and was expecting her fourth. However, a family friend who had five sons said that she would be delighted to take Betty as a ‘ready made daughter’.

I was quite shocked that Betty didn’t go back to her father in America who had now lost his wife and daughter in one foul swoop. But America would have seemed very far away and I understood that the father had suffered from shell-shock and was in and out of hospital. The marriage was also perhaps not that strong. I wonder if Norah ever planned to return herself…

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When I mentioned my great great-uncle, John Ellery, in the previous post I got up from my desk to check his date of death. I found a school project that my son had done about his ancestors and a letter that he and I had written to my great-aunt Lyla four years ago. Lyla had taken much trouble to reply to Nicholas about her uncle John although she had never known him herself. I found it moving to reread her letter and to think about that young man who died so long ago. Below are extracts from Lyla’s letter.

22 November 2010
“Dear Nicholas,
Thank you for your letter and I will try to help you with a few of my memories passed on to me by my father and mother. They were both living in Bridport during the war (WW1) but were married after the war ended. My father was not conscripted into the army as he wasn’t fit enough. My mother was living with her father and her step-mother. Her brother Jack (John) was in the army serving as a regular soldier and joined the army when he was 15 or 16 in about 1911. His regiment was the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. Jack was in France in 1915 and sent his father a postcard from Rouen. Jack was a part of the fighting force in France and sadly he was killed in battle in 1916 at the age of 22.

When I was growing up I didn’t hear my parents talk about the war. I know my mother was very sad when she talked about her brother Jack. I realised many years later, after the 1939/45 war, how terrible it must have been for my mother to have lost her only brother.

With love, and I hope your project is successful.
Aunty Lyla”
(Lyla was my grandmother’s sister and died in January 2012)

The photos that Lyla included with her letter where very poignant especially the one of the 3 little children. This is of John, Norah and the youngest girl, Elizabeth (my great-grandmother) which was taken on the day of their mother’s funeral!

Monetlr Monet2lrDavidlrblue figurelrMy boy1lr My boy2lrBrick artlrLego…what’s not to like? So when I heard that Nathan Sawaya was exhibiting over 85 sculptures made from Lego, we headed into London to see ‘The Art of the Brick’. The exhibition was in Brick Lane – how cool is that? Nathan has interpreted some of the most famous artworks such as Michelangelo’s David and some of Monet’s paintings out of Lego. He has also created Lego figures that take your breath away.

But is it art? I struggle to call it art or sculpture not because of the medium but because somehow I didn’t feel they pushed conceptual boundaries or encouraged one to reconsider accepted ideas or create an emotional response. I found it difficult walking around wanting it to be art but actually considered it high-class entertainment. There were possibly two pieces that I would call art. One was called ‘My Boy’ and was inspired by a sad story told by a parent. In this piece, I felt the sheer agony a parent experiences when their child is ill or worse, dies. The other powerful piece was a short film by another artist using Nathan’s pieces as props. In the film, an old man creates a wife and daughter from Lego and when they are complete, they become real. Did they really become flesh or was it a lonely’s man’s imagination? The film explores the way our imagination makes things real for us or perhaps it was a fairytale and in the film’s reality they became human – in a similar way to Pinocchio.

Final word? Brilliant family fun, not cheap, but an excellent day out. (And definitely go to trendy Spitalfields Market for lunch).

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About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington
June – On Form exhibition
July – Crossing Borders
August – David in Florence
September – The Vale & Downland museum
My mother and sister have recently completed a superb collaborative project. Megan Kerr wrote Rope of Words over a period of five years, most of which it spent in the drawer, in various stages of disrepair. She finished it in 2012, when it won the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. Lin Kerr used the story to create an illustrated book with 14 watercolours of models drawn from life and then stylised. She also designed a font called Elva which you can see on the book cover.

The story is about a woman and her lover who collected words. The Woman lost both her words and her lover and spends the rest of the story looking for them (vowing never to cut her hair until a reunion). She had to find her words to get back to her lover. If you love words, illustrations and beautifully printed books, then put Rope of Words on your Christmas list, or even better treat yourself now.

It is being sold as a limited first edition of 600 copies, numbered and signed by the author and the artist and has full-colour artwork printed on fine paper and is hand bound. The price is £15 and can be bought from Rope of Words Website.

“With some customers she bartered for hours, word for word; others would pop in for a quick word in the lunchtime rush and never consider the cost. She even sold misspellings in a bargain bucket – wikkid, lite, fink, alrite – which the teenagers bought until someone from advertising came in and snapped up the lot.

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This year’s autumn lasagna ingredients

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Layer 1 – Tulip bulbs

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Layer 2 – Narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs

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Layer 3 – Crocus bulbs

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Top with winter flowering pansies

I have been working incredibly hard on various design projects and decided it was time to take a break and grow a lasagna. Inspired when off to buy chicken food at my local garden centre, I bought 3 different types of bulbs and wintering pansies.

A pot and compost
20 x crocus bulbs
12 x narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs
10 x tulips bulbs
6 x winter flowering pansies

Place gravel at the base of the pot
Fill the pot halfway with compost
Place the tulip bulbs on the surface and cover with compost
Place the tete-a-tete bulbs on the compost and cover
Place the crocus bulbs and cover over with compost
The final layer is the winter flowering pansies. In the past, I have also used ornamental cabbages which look fabulous and amusing although they can smell a bit… cabbagy.

The beauty of this lasagna is as each layer dies, the next will appear in a blaze of glory taking you all the way to April. And I feel very pleased as normally I’m shivering in November and trying to poke frozen soil forcing daffodil bulbs into the ground – too little too late. Go on… and cook your own floral lasagna.

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On our backpacking holiday, we allowed ourselves one luxury item each. Mine was my camera and my son, Nicholas, brought Brick. An intrepid Lego man who experienced Italy from a new perspective – from BIG pizzas to the scary heights at the Duomo. Brick borrowed my Vespa on the Spanish Steps and peeked into Vesuvius – luckily he wasn’t lost, dropped or stolen on his travels.

I enjoyed taking my own photos of Brick – a quirky take on Italy and Nicholas loved creating Brick’s blog – go visit it on