Saturday 30 September 2017

An Alternative Boxing Day

More than 25 years ago, when we lived in Bexleyheath, a lady came and spoke at our church women's group about the work of the Biggin Hill Romania Group. Romania was in desperate need, following the fall of the awful regime of President Ceaucescu. One of our young Mums was desperately upset by the stories of orphaned babies being left on concrete floors, with nothing to keep them warm. She made an impassioned speech in church, challenging us to knit 100 blankets over the summer. I think we ended up with nearly 150.
Fast forward to 2017 - and I am in a church where there is a cupboard where knitted goods are collected and regularly go to the BHRG [This charity conveniently has a Dorset team in nearby Poole]
UCF is a very generous fellowship - and for a number of years people have prepared shoeboxes for the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child Appeal. However, like many others, we have had growing concerns recently about this organisation, and particularly regarding some statements made by their director, Franklyn Graham. Last year we did not do the SP/OCC boxes as a Church Project.
This year we have decided to do Christmas Shoeboxes again, but they are going out with BHRG instead. It is a much smaller operation, with staff who know the recipients and we are happier about the arrangements. I've just prepared my box...
The instructions we received about contents were helpful, and very clear. I have prepared a box for a boy aged 15+. I put in warm gloves and a pack of socks, toiletries, stationery items and some sweets. We were also asked to include a Christmas card with a photo of ourselves.
I know that many of our members are busy preparing boxes for younger children - one lady has knitted lots of hats etc. and donated them for others to use in their boxes. There is also the option of making up larger 'family boxes'  and some of these too are being sorted out. 
If your group is looking for an alternative shoebox appeal, do check this one out.

Friday 29 September 2017

Audrey- Actress And Ambassador

It's more than 50 years since she portrayed Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and almost 25 years since her death from cancer - but Audrey Hepburn remains an icon of style and beauty.  Steph dressed as HG for a fancy dress party, and since her teens has had the film poster on her wall [a stylish Italian version thereof, bought on holiday in Florence]
Over the next few weeks, Christie's Auction house will be selling off some of AH's possessions. Her two sons have asked that these be in small lots, not large collections. They recognise how much their mother was loved and respected, and so want to make these things accessible to lots of people rather than a few wealthy collectors. I hope this is successful. 
As well as being a gifted actress, she was a loving mother- and for five years, she worked as an Ambassador for Unicef. Audrey herself knew what it was like for children to suffer - born in Belgium to a Dutch mother, she lived through the German occupation of the Low Countries, suffering extreme malnutrition and depression. 
But despite the privations of her childhood, Audrey grew up to be a gracious, graceful woman.
It says in 1 Peter 3:4 "Your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God's sight" 
I think that Audrey's words below reflect the truth of this verse.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Moomin Wimmin

On Tuesday, Oxfam announced the launch of a new campaign, "The Invisible Child"
The world's favourite fictional Finnish family, The Moomins, represented by Moomin Characters Ltd, and Oxfam have formed a new partnership to help women and girls around the world fight inequality and escape poverty for good. Since the majority of people living in poverty are women, the rights of women and girls are at the heart of the charity's work.  Long-held prejudices often mean that they are denied basic rights like education, a fair wage or decent working conditions. Women and girls are also often the worst affected when emergencies strike. But Oxfam knows that the skills, determination and ingenuity of women will win through, and by supporting them poverty can be overcome. 
This partnership centres around The Invisible Child, a short story by Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which will be available to buy from Waterstones, the Moomin Shop Covent Garden and Oxfam shops, with at least £4 from each sale being donated to Oxfam's women's projects worldwide. 
Published as a standalone title for the first time, The Invisible Child is about a little girl who turns invisible after being badly treated by the woman supposedly caring for her. She is given a place to stay at the Moominhouse and, when shown warmth, kindness and respect by the Moomin family, she gradually reappears and regains her place in the world - a right that every woman and girl should have.

Sophia Jansson, niece of Tove Jansson and creative director of Moomin Characters, said: "Tove was a strong and independent woman who lived life the way she wanted to - unlimited by ideas about how a woman should behave or what her role should be - which isn't too surprising considering where she grew up. Finland has always been a leader in women's rights, and was the first European country to give women the vote in 1906. However, not everyone is this fortunate, and I'm sure that Tove would be very glad that her stories are going to help women all across the world escape poverty and find their voices." Sophia visited Rwanda herself, to see first hand the work which Oxfam us doing to empower women - enabling them to find education and employment.
Here's The invisible Child [I love the pink bow 'floating' in her invisible hair!!]

Oxfam's Director of Women's Rights & Gender Justice, Nikki van der Gaag, said: "The values woven into Tove Jansson's wonderful stories - justice, compassion, kindness - perfectly echo what Oxfam represents and fights for every day.  From empowering business ventures like beekeeping and fruit-growing, to rebuilding lives and homes after disaster strikes, we support amazing women all around the world. 
We believe that every woman and every girl deserves the right to be visible and have their voice heard, so we're very proud to partner with Moomin Characters to launch this inspiring Moomins' tale."
As well as the storybook, there will be a tote bag, handkerchief and teatowel in the range. I'm hoping for a hankie!
[Thank you, Liz, for alerting me to this one as soon as you heard about it - I expect Rosie will have her own copy of the book very shortly!]

Wednesday 27 September 2017

In The Sweet By-and-By...

That's the title of a hymn penned 150 years ago by an American called S Fillmore Bennet. It begins thus...
There's a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
It has been recorded by dozens of famous American singers [Johnnie Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Glenn Campbell etc] and is a very popular 'dirge' played at New Orleans jazz funerals. Composer Charles Ives referenced it in several of his works, and Mark Twain mentioned it in 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court'
I have been humming it all week -and I blame Bob and Jon for this. Bob, because he wanted a display for Harvest, and that needed me to source some pigeon peas - and Jon, because when I was in London last week, I asked if he could recommend an ethnic food shop where I might find them. Jon's immediate replay was "Down the Walworth Road, in the by and by" I was slightly taken aback by his turn of phrase, then discovered this was in fact the name of a local African food store!
They were so helpful when I asked about pigeon peas- did I want a can, a small bag or a sackful? I opted for a can and two small bags.
On the side of the can was a recipe for rice'n'peas.
Moro de guandules con coco - which translates to 'Moorish Pigeon Peas with Coconut' is a traditional dish originating in Africa, but it travelled across to the Caribbean with the slave trade, where it is known as rice'n'peas.
I checked out the recipe, and bought a few more items, then served Bob rice'n'peas the other night. We both really enjoyed the meal. I used the can this time, which made it a speedy recipe- in future I shall have to remember to presoak the dried peas. 
1 tablespoonful oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove finely chopped
400g can coconut milk
300g long grain rice
400g can of pigeon peas
400ml vegetable stock
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper

  1. heat the oil, soften the onion and garlic
  2. stir in the rice and milk
  3. stir in the peas and stock
  4. stir in the salt, pepper and thyme
  5. bring to boil, then simmer gently till rice has absorbed the liquid
That's it! [you can add chillies if you must, or use red kidney beans or vary the recipe in other ways - see here] but we were happy with this simple, filling food. Here's Johnnie Cash singing the song...

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Give Peas A Chance

Our Harvest Weekend went really well - lots of people at Saturday's Supper & Quiz Night, the alco-free drinks went down well. Good congregations on Sunday, and lots of stuff for the foodbank. We also took some time to consider this year's Christian Aid Harvest Appeal - this is to help farmers like Frank in Malawi, encouraging them to grow pigeon peas.
Like many farmers in Malawi, Frank is pinning his hopes on a very special crop this Harvest - pigeon peas.This hardy crop is ideal for Malawi’s dry soil. Its deep roots are resistant to drought and can withstand the country’s increasing and destructive flash flooding.
But no matter how hard Frank works on his crops, he can’t escape a life of grinding poverty. Unscrupulous middlemen are exploiting farmers by using illegal buying scales to drive down prices. It’s not enough to be good at farming. To survive, you have to be good at business too. We learned about this Profit From Peas Project, and how relatively small amounts of money can make huge differences to people's lives.

£70 could buy a bicycle so that an experienced farmer can ride to hard-to reach areas and teach other farmers how to make good money from their peas
£100 could help provide a business training session, showing poor farmers how to negotiate higher, fairer prices and reach new markets for their crops
£300 could buy 15 farmers special pea varieties that have the best chance of growing well in Malawi. It could also buy them equipment like fertiliser and farming tools to get their peas off to the best start.
£500 could set up a Farmers’ Club. Farmers join these clubs to help each other out, and to support each other to get fair prices for their peas
Find out more here. Steph visited Malawi with Unicef, in 2008, so I was particularly interested in this year's appeal. I made a display for the back of the church using the Christian Aid materials - and even had bowls of pigeon peas for people to examine. There were plenty of opportunities for Bob to make bad puns during the service - he even suggested at one point that we went Anglican and 'passed the peas'. 
Harvest Prayer 
Source of all life, 
for all who have been sowing seeds, 
cultivating soil, 
and harvesting for many years, 
but still find themselves living in dire poverty, 
we pray. 
Grant wisdom and guidance for improved farming methods. 
Grant farmers ways to profit from their harvests, 
and the opportunity to move from stagnation out of poverty. 
Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

Monday 25 September 2017

Pedal Power

This quote has been attributed to Albert Einstein, but I don't know if that's accurate. But it is a good challenge at the start of another week. Unlike many people, I am busiest from Wednesday night through to Sunday evening. It is sometimes hard for me to get motivated on a Monday. 
This week I am determined to do more cycling, it definitely raises my energy levels, even just a short ride to church, the library or the Post Office. Cycling saves money, improves fitness and doesn't harm the planet. What's not to like? 

Sunday 24 September 2017

A Very Traditional Harvest Thanksgiving

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

He only is the maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey him,
By him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, his children,
He gives our daily bread.

We thank thee then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all thy love imparts,
And what thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all his love.

The top four photos are of the lovely displays prepared at church by my friends Luise and Alison [such talented ladies]. I particularly love the smiling loaves, the huge rhubarb leaves, and the apple-tree lectern.
Most of the produce is going to The Bus Stop Club, which runs our local foodbank. I confidently expect more goods to arrive during the Morning Service. Anything they cannot take will be sold for charity.
The lower two pictures are of the wonderful autumn foliage I spotted in the Car Park in Ringwood, early on Saturday morning. Such vivid colours, they stopped me in my tracks.

Have you been involved in any sort of Harvest Thanksgiving event - and was it modern or trad? [I am looking forward to next Sunday too, when I shall celebrate Harvest in Norfolk]

Saturday 23 September 2017

Call My Bluff

This long running TV panel show was a great favourite in our family, and we learned many fascinating new words. A panellist would read out a word, and there would be three possible definitions - the other team had to guess which of the three was the right definition. I have learned three interesting new words recently - but I am just going to tell you the real meanings , not attempt to bluff you.
Oobleck - this is a Non-Newtonian liquid. I knew about NNLs - these are substances which don't follow the usual rules about liquid, as they become solid under pressure. You can fill a swimming pool with custard and run across it. Yes, you can. Watch this ancient kids programme introduced by Richard Hammond.
What I only recrently discovered is that the popular name for these NNLs is oobleck. The name comes from a Dr Seuss book where a musterious substance is made

My second word is cockaigne - not to be confused with cocaine, the drug, nor yet Elgar's Overture, Cockaigne (in London Town) This is an old English method of preserving fruits in alcohol, usually brandy, similar to the German Rumtopf. I found the recipe in Beryl Wood's book. It is made through the summer, and the jar is sealed at the end of September, not to be opened till Christmas Day. Beryl says the drained liquid is served as a liqueur, and the drained fruit should be served with ice cream, meringues and cream. She adds "This is not a nursery sweet"
My third word is equilux. I knew about equinox - when there are exactly twelve hours between sunrise and sunset, but not equilux. This is when there are 12 hours of light, and twelve of dark [obviously, it starts to get light before the sun rises, and some light remains even after sunset for a while] The days on which the length of day and night are exactly equal, called the equilux, occur a few days before the spring equinox and a few days after the autumn equinox. This date will vary depending on where on Earth you are, and indeed equiluxes do not occur at all close to the equator, whereas the equinox is a fixed instant in time. For us, in the UK, the equilux is early next week.
So there you are- three new words learned this term- but where and when I will get the chance to use them[other than here], I have no idea!

Friday 22 September 2017

When Life Gives You Marrows...

...make Lemon Curd
Yes, I know that is an unexpected response. But we were given a large marrow last week and I wanted to use it up promptly. I'd picked up Beryl Wood's "Let's Preserve It" in the Library when I went to get my replacement ticket. It is a treasure of a book - nearly 600 recipes for jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, curds and 'cheeses'.
And to my surprise, there was a recipe to make Marrow Lemon Curd I imagine this may have started out as thrift cookery in the years of WW2 and Food Rationing.
I peeled, seeded and roughly cut up 400g of marrow, into 2cm chunks. Then I simmered it slowly for 15 minutes till it was soft [the recipe said "Without water" - but I put 1tbsp of cold water in my pan first which helped prevent sticking] Then I liquidised this, along with 100g melted butter, and the grated rind and juice of 2 lemons. This then went into a double boiler with 400g sugar, and I cooked this slowly till everything was melted and well blended. Then I slowly stirred in 3 well beaten eggs, and cooked for a further 15 minutes, till the mixture was thickened. This was then poured into prepared jars - and topped with wax discs and cellophane, before I screwed on the lids. Once cool, the jars went into the fridge. These should be kept there, and consumed within one month.
The three little jars have gone to friends [including the marrow-donor] with careful instructions about storage and use.
I have already enjoyed lemon curd on toast, and used some, plus buttercream, to fill a Genoese sponge. The taste is smooth and very lemony. 

I used some of the remaining marrow to make Saturday's Supper - using Nigel Slater's recipe from a recent weekend Guardian. Her says "The key to a crisp exterior and a juicy inside is to cut the marrow no thicker than 2cm, otherwise the heat will take too long to penetrate and the outside will overcook. The sauce adds substance, making this a light supper dish." I halved the quantities- and as I had one large home-made beefburger left in the freezer, I rolled that into 6 meatballs, which I cooked in a separate pan, and 'stuffed' my marrow rings. I didn't have any fennel seeds - but did have coriander and mustard in the spice rack. It is not particularly hot, but it is flavoursome. 
Serves 4
  • onions 2, medium 
  • olive oil 5 tbsp
  • celery 2 sticks
  • garlic cloves 3
  • plum tomatoes 500g
  • fennel seeds 2 tsp
  • brown mustard seeds 2 tsp
  • coriander seeds 2 tsp
  • parsley (a handful)
  • marrow 600g
  • plain flour 6 tbsp

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Warm 2 tbsp of the oil in a deep pan, then add the onions and cook until soft and pale gold, stirring regularly. Slice the celery and add to the onions, then flatten the garlic cloves with a heavy knife and add them.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and stir them in to the onions. Add the fennel, mustard and coriander seeds and a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper. Let the tomatoes cook down to a soft, stew-like consistency. This should take a good 20 minutes. Remove half of the mixture and process it in a blender to a rough, soupy texture, then return to the pan. Chop the parsley and stir into the sauce.
  3. Slice the marrow in half and remove the seeds and fibres. PEEL IT [NS doesn't say this, and perhaps he should have done] Cut into 1cm thick pieces. Tip the flour on to a plate and season with salt and black pepper. Warm the remaining oil in a shallow pan. Dip the slices of marrow into the flour then fry for 5-6 minutes on each side, until the outside is lightly golden. Drain for a couple of seconds on kitchen paper and serve with the sauce. 
The marrow tasted pretty good,once we had cut off the peel!
One of my relatives would not eat marrow, claiming 'he did not like the feel of it in his mouth'. I imagine it can end up bland and watery sometimes- but these two recipes really make good use of this massive autumnal vegetable.
I wonder how many marrows will be in evidence at our Harvest Festival on Sunday?

Thursday 21 September 2017

Things Hot And Not-So-Hot

I saw this advert on the tube on Tuesday evening, for Bach's Rescue Remedy. Here is an enlarged version of a similar one 

 The thing is, I am a very fast reader. If I follow this advice, I'd be panting away in a most indecorous fashion, not 'calming down' at all. Hot Pants are out of fashion.
I saw lots of other amusing signs on my travels round the metropolis. I pass this sign on my route to and from the station. 
It is for a small establishment offering beauty treatments. He may feel sexy - but I am not sure he looks it! Not 'hot' at all.

My stay with Rosie and Co has been fun. She is walking and talking very well. "No!" being a favourite word. Liz asked for three Where's Wally hats for a fancy dress event with her NCT friends. 
I used this simple pattern chart to make two adult and one toddler-sized warm woolly Wally hats. But I only did a small amount of ribbing, the main part is in stocking stitch. Knitted in DK on 5cm needles, they took less than 3 evenings to make.   It's all stash busting stuff, which is why the stripes are different widths. The hats will probably go to a CS after the party. I am back to sorting out the green Christmas Tree Squares now... 
And I came home with the world's biggest jar of Maille Dijon Originale, which I think Liz found in a Poundshop! This certainly cuts the mustard!


Wednesday 20 September 2017

Still Roadworthy

I have written about Hobbies of Dereham before, and our late friend Ivan Stroulger who kept this wonderful company. One toy Dad built for the girls in 1986 was the Landrover and Caravan set. The roofs came off both pieces, so toys could be put inside.
We had a lot of fun with these, but over the years, they got rather battered and the caravan got lost somewhere along the way. 
Bob decided to refurbish the Landrover for Rosie.
He began by cleaning it up, and making a new roof. The chassis was stripped down, wheels removed - and everything given a new coat of paint, this time in green.

Finally he labelled the base
Made by S.W. Hall 1986
Remade by R.H. Almond 2017

I think my Dad would be so pleased - we're hoping Rosie gets lots of enjoyment with the Landrover too!

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Happy Silver Anniversary my brother Adrian, and his wife Marion - two great people whom I love very much!
Here they are in Southampton exactly two years ago, looking surprisingly serious.
I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to locate a picture of their wedding day - in Dereham Baptist Church, on 19th September 1992 [Liz and Steph were bridesmaids, cousin Julian was pageboy]
Back in 1992, we weren't using digital cameras and 
saving everything to the PC.
Here is a serious looking couple from 1922 - I really think we need a caption competition for this one!

Monday 18 September 2017

Birds in Flocks, Words About Locks

There are lots of birthdays and anniversaries coming up in the next few weeks. I have been making some cards in readiness. Here are just some of them...

I prefer to keep my cards fairly simple, and not over embellished. Too much stuck on and they become too thick for a regular stamp.
I usually write a simple message inside - maybe a bible text, or apposite book quote.  On the subject of quotes, my friend [also called Angela] has been telling me about a family wedding where she was asked to read during the ceremony.
I hadn't come across this piece before. It is from The Bridge across Forever by Richard Bach. He wrote the best-selling Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in 1970 - and many students had it on their bookshelf at Uni [myself included] TBAF came out in 1984 - but obviously passed me by back then. It seems that a new edition of JLS came out in 2014, with extra sections, and this has led to renewed interest in this author. 
Here's the passage Angela read. Have you ever come across any of Richard Bach's work - or heard it read at a wedding ?

Sunday 17 September 2017


My new job is exciting and rewarding, but also challenging and incredibly demanding. The children thrill me when they grasp a new concept, amuse me with their anecdotes- and often sadden me when they share their feelings about their lives. 
My body-clock is still struggling with being awake and alert by 6.30am and out of the house inside 45 minutes, with a 10 mile commute on very busy roads, a long working day, and back home in the rush hour, getting in around 6pm. Fortunately it is only two days a week -but I am not as young as I used to be. Thursday and Friday nights I am utterly drained! Bob has been so supportive, and has the evening meal underway when I get home.  
We try to have a slower start on Saturdays, but often there are things to prepare for church, and usually a few domestic chores. I feel more relaxed if I know that by Saturday night I am prepared for Monday and the week ahead. Even though Sunday has its busy moments, with two church services, I still like to make sure there is time and space for peace and relaxation. As a child, my parents had a 'no schoolwork on a Sunday' rule - and I have endeavoured to keep to that all my life, even when doing 5 days a week in the classroom.
In "The Songlines", Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer, tells of “a white explorer in Africa, who, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up."
Whether or not you are a person of faith, whether or not you attend church - I still believe that a Sabbath, a rest day, is essential to the well-being of every person on the planet. Sunday may not be the day for you [Bob usually takes most of his Sabbath rest on a Tuesday] but I hope that you are able to find time and space each week to enable your body to rest, and your soul to catch up.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Appeeling Ideas From Sicily

Sicily is very 'on trend' right now - Inspector Montelbano has been back on TV on a Saturday night [sadly it was a very brief series, only 4 episodes] and no end of newspapers and magazines have featured arancini recipes lately.
It is almost a year ago that Bob and I had our wonderful holiday on this beautiful island- and we have often talked since about perhaps making another visit one day.

Our San Pellegrino drinks on Tuesday were flavoured with Sicilian oranges. Sicily produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of citrus fruits every year - lemons, oranges, blood oranges... There are groves of fruit trees nestling at the base of Mount Etna - and their crops go around the world, as fruits, but mostly the fruit is juiced before it leaves the island.
But that juicing leaves huge amounts of waste - tonnes and tonnes of peel and pith.
For years, local farmers have made use of some of it as animal feed or fertiliser - but most of the waste, the rind and seeds known as 'pastazzo' used to be just discarded. I was thrilled to discover that in recent years, enterprising people have come up with some brilliant - and very diverse -ideas for using this peel. 
For instance "Orange Fiber" is a company which transforms the cellulose from the peel into a beautiful silky fibre. Salvatore Ferragamo, the fashion house has used the fabric to make high end scarves and other garments
The Coca Cola Corporation has financed a plant which converts pastazzo into biogas- a useful fuel which provides energy all across the island.
Some scientists at the University of Catania have developed a way of turning the pastazzo into flour. It is fat-free and healthy, and the local bakers in Catania have been very pleased at the results obtained when used in cooking and breadmaking. It is also very cheap to produce.
I think it is wonderfully inventive, and very eco-friendly, that all these products are being created from what would otherwise be waste. 
These sunny Sicilian fruits give fuel, flour, and fashion - as well as all that delicious juice!
Learning all this makes me feel I really do want to go back to the island again...