Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Yellow dandruff and a lovely walk . . .

My dear friend Deb suggested a walk today.  I needed a break from painting the kitchen so I joined her up on the mynydd above Pontardulais.  Isn't it beautiful?

We have another walk planned along this bridleway half way up the side of this hill - and a further one along the TOP of it!  I can't wait.  As you can see, the sun came out for us and it was SO warm for December.

Up on the top, looking across at the little homesteads spread out in the landscape.  There will be LOTS more photos tomorrow, but meanwhile I shall leave you with the current state of play in the kitchen - which has jackets abandoned on every chair, (mostly my husband's!), cat towels on all the chairs as they keep bringing their muddy paws in, and chaos everywhere.  One more wall to do now.

See what I mean?!  The painting is the reason for the yellow dandruff!!

There will be an "AFTER" picture . . .

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmas is coming . . .

It has been frosty this week, but now has warmed up quite a bit and I think rain is forecast.  Here (before I forget which folder they were in) is another frosty picture to start things off.  From 2014 - a Copper Beech near Allt-y-Gog, Whitemill.

As you can see, I had another weak moment in TK-Maxx and this little chap came home to help make Christmas special in our household.  A nice Torquay pottery tray to his right, and my favourite beautifully-decorated big vase (Torquay or possibly Exeter Pottery) behind him.

We have been standing at the Militaria Fair at Brecon today.  On the way home we stopped for some Festive Cheer at Trecastle Antiques Centre.  Whilst my OH had a cup of tea, I nursed a rather large glass of alcoholic punch (yummy it was) and we munched mince pies and looked round at what was on offer.  The green of this lovely 1930s  jelly mould caught my eye (I am having a Green Moment in my kitchen at the moment, for ceramics and enamel items).  It doesn't all match exactly but most of the shades are near enough, when not under direct light or flash . . .  I just HAD to have this mould because . . .

it was made by Bovey Pottery.  Now, Bovey Tracey is where my dad grew up, so of course, I couldn't leave this lovely piece in the shop.  I intend to use it regularly as it is ready to go, as they say, and will give a lovely design to the jelly.

This is Phil Rickman writing in 2001 as Will Kingdom.  The main characters in this book are the same as in The Cold Calling, which is the book of his I downloaded to my Kindle and read at top speed last week.  It is good to see DI Bobby Maiden, the American Grayle Underwood,  Marcus Bacton who runs an ailing paranormal journal and the end-of-the-pier entertainer Cindy Mars-Lewis back in action again.

I blew the dust off some of my Christmas cookery magazines yesterday.  Somewhat baking-orientated, as you can see.  I keep these magazines for years and years and dust them off annually.

Finally, a first for Ynyswen - outside Christmas lights - they were reduced in Tesco yesterday to half price (£7.50), so I thought I would invest in these frosted berry lights.  If nothing else, they help light the way to the car when it is pitch black and we have an early start . . .

So, another fair under our belt, and it was good to catch up with old friends again.  On the way home, the shadows were lengthening across the fields, and the mountains smudged by mist although the road home was still bathed in sunshine.  The last bit of narrow lanes down our valley side held the last sunlight as it sank behind the trees and the mossy central stripe down the lane was emerald and orange, just as it had been white with frost a few evenings earlier as we made our way homewards.

It is nearly the shortest day now and already I have spotted catkins on a small hazel bush at the top of our yard.  Think positive, after winter comes the spring!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Chocolate Chip Apple Cake (and Choc. Blackberry Brownies later)


1 cup butter, softened (8 oz/225 g)
1/2 cup (4 oz/100 g) white sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water (standard breakfast cup)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups  (12 oz/ 300 g) all purpose (plain) flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups apples, peeled cored and finely diced 
1 cup (6 oz/ 175 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips


1.  Preheat the oven to 325 deg. F (165 deg C).  Grease and flour a nine or ten        inch tube pan (I used an 8"? cake tin).

2.  In a large bowl cream the butter (or margarine) with the sugar.  Beat in the        eggs then add the water and the vanilla (I found this curdled readily, so            added a few spoonfuls of sifted flour.)

3.  Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg        together.  (I sifted this all first).  Beat this mixture into the creamed mixture.      Stir in the chopped apples and the chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the        prepared pan.  (I never buy ready made choc. chips but chop up the                  requisite amount of bar chocolate - Lidls' usually.)

4.  Bake at 325 deg. F (165 deg. C) for 1 hour and 15 mins or until cake tests          done when prodded with a sharp knife near centre.  Transfer to a rack to            cool.  Makes about 16 servings.

This will freeze well (where mine is destined any minute).

Back later with the recipe for the Chocolate Blackberry Brownies.  Now I need to move vast quantities of china and wield my paintbrush.

I couldn't read the recipe beneath, so I will add it at the bottom.

3 eggs
175 g (6 oz) 3/4 cup superfine (caster) sugar
175 g (6 oz) 1 cup plain (semi-sweet) chocolate - I use Lidl's raspberry
150 g (5 oz) 1/2 cup plus 2 tblspns sunflower margarine
100 g (4 oz) 1 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
225 g (8 oz) 1 1/2 cups ripe blackberries, hulled (I use mine from frozen)
100 g (4 oz) 2/3 cup chocolate chips

Grease a 40 cm (16 inch) square tin.  Beat the eggs with the sugar in a bowl.  Melt the chocolate and margarine in a bowl over a pan of hot water or in a microwave oven.  Mix the egg and chocolate mixtures together.  stir in the flour and beat thoroughly.  Mix in the blackberries and chocolate chips.  Put this mixture into the prepared tin.  (Frozen blackberries will make it quite stiff).

Bake in the oven at 180 deg C (350 deg F) Gas mark 4 for 25 - 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and cut into squares.  Remove from the tin when completely cold.  Makes 16.

Note: just as nice if raspberries are substituted for the blackberries.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Notes from a failed Christmas shopper

Yes, I know, it's now December and really I should have got all my Christmas shopping done, the presents wrapped etc.  I did at least write all the Christmas cards 3 weeks ago when I was on the steroids and couldn't sleep.  Money has been in short supply recently and so I haven't done much Christmas shopping yet.  I went out today with the intention of getting a few more things, but ended up with two things for ME and one present.  Then I found something else that "would do" as a gift, so it evened the score up a bit.

Now, in my defence, I just COULDN'T resist this wee Christmas lassie . . .  She wasn't expensive.  Hands up who would have weakened too. . .

Snowflake biscuit cutters - these just had to come home with me too as they will help with the Christmas Present Problem . . .

Then two presents got bought . . .

Then I spotted this book in a charity shop, and having just read and enjoyed a book of Pamela Hartshorne, bought this as well.

The mobile library arrived today.  I got three books for my husband to read and these three for me.  Hope I can find time in the run up to Christmas.

Now it's winter, the cats are cwtching up indoors as much as they can.  Little Whale gave me his best advice on present-buying - "Make sure any present has FISH in it" was his opinion.  Mmmm.  I'm still pondering over that . . .

This afternoon I have been baking - a batch of Chocolate Blackberry Brownies to be handed round at our next Fair, and a Chocolate Chip Apple Cake for the freezer.  Photo and recipe tomorrow.

I don't do cold . . .

Another bitterly cold totally frosty morning out there.  I still haven't warmed up since I went out at barely light to top up the bird feeders, as we were back after dark last night and no point in doing them then.  The birds are queuing up in the apple tree above the front feeders, and I have counted 20 blackbirds making the most of the fallen apples which were surplus to requirements but perfect for keeping them alive in such bitter weather.

We spent yesterday doing our monthly stint at Llandovery Antiques where we man the fort for a day in return for a reduction in rent, as do the other traders there.  It was NOT warm, despite heaters, and we could see our breath all day . . .

I went out for a walk, just up to the bridge over the River Towy, and this bit which was in the shade never thawed at all.  As we were driving home, the headlights showed a glittering frost already on the verges and the weedy strips down our narrow one-track lanes.

The view upstream.  Llyn Brianne reservoir, which we visited recently, is behind these range of hills (though a fair few miles beyond them).

The stump of a tree which, from memory, is something like 8 or 900 years old.  Now a home for various brambles, ivy, moss etc.

View of the church across the fields.  Now that the Fieldfares and Redwings are here, I dare say the berries on that Hawthorn will soon be gone.

One last view.

Now my husband has got a tablet to use, this has freed up the Kindle and at last I can start to read the books I have downloaded to it.  I got two new ones this week - a Phil Rickman I hadn't come across before : The Cold Calling, and the first of Ann Cleeve's Shetland novels, Raven Black.  The Phil Rickman is unputdownable of course . . .

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Starry starry night - and Hay Winter Festival.

The past two days we have been out before first light and back as the last glimmer has settled on the horizon, with stars at either end of the day.  I found myself humming Starry Starry Night as we drove home from Hay this evening, after a very enjoyable and worthwhile day with our Fleamarket stall, in the grounds of the castle.

Each evening, the moment we arrived back we were greeted by five hungry cats, demanding their supper - NOW.  Each evening, I have hurriedly doled out cat biscuits and then refilled the bird feeders with barely enough light to find them on the trees - tonight especially when we were back at past 5 p.m.  A thin sliver of marzipan light was just melting behind the hills to the West, with an angry rolling purple-edged cloud above our heads, but behind us was stygian darkness.  Then I flung together a scratch tea - my husband quite happy to have cheese on toast, whilst I opened a freezer container which had a label saying Mince 'n' Rice and two happy smiley faces - to indicate it was one of my more successful concoctions.  Well, it might have been before it got frozen and before I had this cold, but tonight it tasted of absolutely nothing at all and so I mostly ate the few spoonfuls of baked beans I had slung on the plate to keep it company.

A part of our stand at Hay today.  I was gratified that several pieces I had bought because they were interesting and unusual were bought by folk passing through (and it was busy there today). Sometimes I wonder if I am going wrong because people don't even LOOK at what I have on display, but just wander past . . .

I had several wanders round the town centre as there was a small Food Festival there.  Here is the Onion Johnnie - a rare beast these days.  I can remember them coming over from France on the ferry, riding their bikes all over Southampton selling onions.  If I hadn't recently bought a sack of onions myself, I would have had some of his.

Here is where I got my lunch.  The stall on the left had a really good selection of pies, and I plumped for the Boozy Beef :Pie, which was delicious, with wonderful pastry.  Earlier I had some Spicy Lentil Soup from the stall on the right, and also a Chicken Samosa.  All were really good.

I was very disappointed (but not surprised) when my husband has his usual bacon roll and refused point blank to let me get anything for him to try - even a lovely pork pie, or some hand-made sausages.  He is highly suspicious of any food bought when out, in case it might have "stuff" in it - by this I mean dangerous spices, onion, GARLIC (which would poison him!) or even herbs.

Inside the long markquee were lots more stalls, selling various produce, like these tasty muffins - this end of the table had savoury ones, and as you went towards the other end there were lots of different chocolate mixtures and brownies.  I was very tempted by the After Eight one, but as I had made and brought cake, I stayed my hand.  It was bad enough that I had a samosa AND a pie!

A look around Festive Hay now - in the shop selling maps, a lovely Map Man.


Above and below, the good old traditional (and excellent) butchers.  It's a while since I've seen Game hung outside a butchers like this, although the (equally traditional and excellent) butchers in Newport, Pembs, does the same at this time of year.

Above, Henry VII overlooks the town, and has a big Christmas Bow to keep him company.

There were a variety of entertainments throughout the day - a couple of Choirs (I had to walk away when the Male Voice Choir were singing, beautifully I might add, as I always get choked when I hear them.  If they had sung Myfanwy I would have been in pieces.

Here, Brecon Concert Band were playing to a captive audience.

People-watching . . .

I think that Ben Fogle was turning on the Hay Christmas Lights, but we had an hour and a half's journey, so couldn't stay to watch him.

Right, two down and one to go.  Tomorrow morning we are up at 5 a.m. and away to Carmarthen Fleamarket shortly after 6 a.m.  I hope I can find the Hereford Hop cheese I bought today for my lunch tomorrow - it is SOMEWHERE in the back of the car . . .

Friday, 25 November 2016

Snow on the mountains

There was still some snow on the Brecon Beacons as we drove past today on our way to Hay-on-Wye.  These are old photos, but better than nothing.  There was snow in the gulleys on Hay Bluff too - so they must have had a good coating last week.

As we were driving home today, the sun was out and it was beautiful.  The trees which still have leaves really light up the landscape.  Amongst a thicket of bare branches grew what is probably a Spindle Tree - anyway, it still had a shimmer of pale golden leaves and looked absolutely stunning against the dark backdrop.  I was driving or I might have been tempted to try and pull over and get a photo - but then, I've just looked to my right and seen my camera here at home, so that would have been a total waste of time!

The Field Maples still have a mass of stunning deep gold leaves, and surprisingly several Weeping Willows along the way still have their full compliment too, but one good frost and they will lose them.

Tomorrow we are back at Hay for the Winter Festival, and a little band of us will be setting up our stalls within the castle grounds (just within the walls by the little car park by the war memorial, where there are books with an honesty box).  Hopefully there will be lots of people about, wanting to part with some cash, as there is a Food Festival too (and I am planning an Alternative Lunch to the Pastrami salad roll I normally have).

Then on Sunday we have yet another Fair, the big Fleamarket on Carmarthen Showground, so roll on Monday morning when we can have a lie-in (bet we wake early!)

Oh, and as you may have guessed, the madness of Black Friday has totally passed us by.  Not much of that on display in Hay!!