Thursday 29 January 2015

More Snow, More Fashion

Not long ago, I couldn't help bragging about the wonderful legwarmers my Mum made for me. She has now decided to offer a pair very similar to mine (same type of wool, just different colours) on her Etsy Shop. You can reach her shop directly from here; just click on the picture(s) to the left. 

Just to give you another example of an outfit with legwarmers I wore this month:

It's been everything from around 10 Celsius and sun to just below freezing point and snow these past couple of weeks. One morning a week or so ago, there was a dense fog, and it was freezing. The fog was so dense and it was so cold that the humidity formed a thin  glittery layer of frost on every surface outside. When the sun finally made it through the clouds around lunch time, it made for a beautiful view from my kitchen window:

One afternoon, some days later. This did not last long.

I'd very much like spring to begin soon, but I suppose I'll first have to get round to wearing all my wintery clothes before it'll be time to bring out the nice dresses. Never mind, there's plenty more where all this came from!

An outfit I wore to the office this week, and on two or three occasions before that. The knit fabric has a very nice, soft and warm feel to it, although this was not at all expensive and does not contain any cashmere (my favourite).

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Read in 2015 - 3: The Poetry of Architecture

"The Poetry of Architecture" was my reading companion on the train trips to and from work for several weeks. This collection of papers by John Ruskin was first published in 1838.

Although the free copy I downloaded from Amazon’s kindle shop came without illustrations, I was able to picture quite well most of what the author so vividly describes.
Apart from being vivid, at times his descriptions are also amusing; for instance when he says that
“…nothing can be more absurd than the humor prevailing at the present day among many of our peaceable old gentlemen, who never smelt powder in their lives, to eat their morning muffin in a savage-looking round tower, and admit quiet old ladies to a tea-party under the range of twenty-six cannon, which—it is lucky for the china—are all wooden ones,—as they are, in all probability, accurately and awfully pointed into the drawing-room windows.”
The book is split in two major parts, one about The Cottage and the other about The Villa. Cottages and villas in different countries are examined, and Ruskin explains in detail why certain ways of composing a building will look perfectly harmonious in one country or one situation, but won’t work at all anywhere else. He tells the reader at length about what blue, green and brown country means, and what sort of building will look and feel right in each. He severely warns against trying to imitate a different country’s style as well as against using too much or badly executed decorative elements. Some of his reasoning may appear curious to a 21st century reader, but keeping in mind the times when these papers were compiled makes for an interesting glimpse into the way people of intellectual rank (and with a certain standing in society) were thinking.

In an online version of this book, I found all the illustrations. I understand that the sketches were made by the author. Here is a picture of what is described as “The Highest House in England” (at Malham); to Ruskin, the ideal of a mountain cottage:

He has a lot to say about chimneys, of which he gives 18 different examples, describing and comparing them at length:

According to wikipedia, Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era. He is called “hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century”. Admittedly, I’d not heard of him until reading this book, but he appears to have been a multi-faceted and –talented person whose many other works may well be worth reading. His personal life, as described there, sounds rather sad and strange. I do not want to go into any detail here, but if you want to know more, you will easily find out for yourselves.

I don’t say this book would work as an architect’s handbook of today. But it certainly was worth reading, even though some sentences were so long that they nearly covered an entire “page” on my kindle, and it satisfied my recurring want for non-fiction reads.

Friday 23 January 2015

Mysterious "Eggs"

The other day, I told you about the rice dish I made for a party, and how I had to take home with me most of it and took some of it to my upstairs and downstairs neighbours in the house.
When my upstairs neighbours returned the bowl to me, there was something in it:

The family upstairs are originally from Turkey. The elderly lady hardly speaks any German; her husband can make himself understood well enough for us to talk about everyday matters, just nothing complicated - for such occasions, we need one of their sons to help.

I forgot to ask what these "eggs" are called, but my neighbour told me to heat them in the microwave before eating. Since until now every food I was ever given from this family in the 11+ years I've been living in this flat was really good, I had no doubts I was going to enjoy these, no matter what they were.

Turns out they were filled with nicely spiced minced meat, and the crust around it was nice and spicy as well, with little bits of pepper. To me, it appeared as if a Scotch Egg has fallen in love with Sicilian Arrancini, and they have had twins together :-)
I ate it with - surprise, surprise! - more rice. That rice was actually left over from before making the party dish, unspiced and unmixed, so I fried some fresh mushrooms with it and added bits of mozzarella to the pan and an egg. Altogether, it was a very filling "Making Do" meal, and finally, all rice is gone! I doubt I'll want rice anytime soon again!

Saturday 17 January 2015

The Return Of The...


Do you remember them? They were very popular in the 1980s, when this lady introduced them to a (nearly) worldwide audience:

Of course, I owned a pair of legwarmers back then, too; although mine were different in that a) they did not have the bit underneath like a sock, b) I did not wear them for sports but as part of outdoors outfits on cold days, and c) mine came in a dark green, matching the flared "baby"-corduroy mini skirt I loved wearing for a couple of years in the early 1980s, when I was about 14. 

Now they are back!

We had a few cold days in December (which was very mild overall), and one day when I was wearing a pair of skinny trousers but no boots, I thought it would be nice to have something warmer on my legs. Now, I hate wearing tights underneath trousers, and so the only other way to add something warm is to add that layer from the outside, right? I thought of legwarmers, and mentioned to my Mum (who is a self-professed knitting maniac) that I'd like to have a pair.

What shall I say - they were there for me under the Christmas tree!

On Monday, I wore them for the first time:

It's a shame the sunlight was so bright you can't really see the colours. I have a woolly hat (also made by my Mum, of course) from the same wool. 
We're apparently in for a cold spell next week, so I may get to wear them more often now. They really are very cosy. Thank you, Mum!

Friday 16 January 2015

Way Too Much...

...was what I made for someone's birthday party the other day. Does that happen to you, too? You prepare a dish or two for your own party or to bring to someone else's, and have to take nearly all of it home with you? 
In this case I think the problem was that, when I offered to bring not only my habitual Tiramisu but also a savoury dish, I didn't know the hostess was going to prepare so much food herself already. Also, I had expected people to eat more - but it is very difficult to jugdge how much people will actually eat at a party, and what will be the most popular dish (mine usually are not). I know just one thing for sure: Never again! Next time I am to bring along something to someone's party, I shall make just a small dish, family-size instead of party-size - but that can of course come across as being cheap and mean instead of generous, when it really only is sensible.

This rice salad is based on a recipe my Mum and I got from an ex-colleague (yes, another Librarian) more than 20 years ago. The original recipe calls for ham as well, but since the hostess is vegetarian, I left it out this time.

Here is what is needed:
Rice (the one I used was a basmati, but you can use any kind you prfer), sliced or chopped almonds, canned tangerines, cream, vinegar, salt, sour cream, and curry spice.

Boil the rice as you would do for any rice dish. Mix the other ingredients in a separate bowl. I was careful not to use too much curry spice because some people are not fond of spicy food, but I think I could have used more; the marinade should actually be of a much more intense yellow colour, not this pale vanilla-like shade.

When the boiled rice has cooled down a bit, mix the marinade in thoroughly. Cover and leave in a cool place for at least four hours (I made this in the morning for a party the same evening).

Well, I did distribute to my neighbours (upstairs AND downstairs - it really was that much!) what I took home with me after the party. The remainder made a nice side dish with the loup-de-mer and brokkoli RJ and I had for dinner the next day. I simply heated it up in a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil to prvent sticking.
Still, as I said above, never again!

Thursday 8 January 2015

January Sun

Work started again this year for me yesterday, so I had plenty of time to enjoy the sun and blue sky I woke up to on Monday. I went for a walk in the early afternoon, revisiting a place I'd not been to in a while. 
Between my town and the next, there is a small area of woodland; too large to be called a copse but too small for a forest. One part of it is quite popular with people to walk their dogs or to go for a run, but the other part is not as well frequented. The two parts are divided by the motorway. I walked in both parts, and here are the pictures I took.

The view from my kitchen window around lunch time, shortly before I set off: 

In the woods. There was nobody about but me - and many birds. I could hear them and see them, and, rare for this time of the year, there was even a buzzard circling above and crying his heartstring-tugging cry.

This ruined building is part of a structure scattered throughout this part of the woodland. It was originally erected around the end or just after WWI, as shooting practice grounds for the military. German military used these structures, which were enlarged and modernized in the 1930s before the start of WWII, until the end of that war, when the US military took over and used part of the area for storage buildings and other purposes.

Such abandoned places have an almost irresistible attraction for me. In this case. what got my attention more than anything was the hole in the wall I could just about see through the bare trees. Zoomed in with the camera, the hole looked like this:

After leaving this part, crossing the motorway on a bridge and walking through the second part of the woods, the path leads out towards the fields through an orchard. There was more sun there, and  people.

I walked for about two hours altogether, including photo stops. A chat over a cup of coffee and the very last Christmas cookies at my Mum's were my last stop before going home.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Read in 2015 - 2: Evelina's Garden

Too long for a short story, too short for a novel, this book first published in 1899 can probably be best described as a novelette. It deals with the old question “Love or Wealth”.

The reader first meets Evelina when she is already an elderly lady, living as a recluse on the outskirts of a small New England town. She holds herself separate from the rest of the world by means of a high hedge and has not left her house and garden for forty years. All she seems to care for is her garden, and it is such a beautiful garden that the children (and some adults, too) cannot resist making small openings in the hedge to sneak a secret look every now and then.

Some older people still remember Evelina from when she was young and very beautiful and would still attend religious meetings every week. There is, of course, a hint of an unhappy love story being at the heart of Evelina’s retreat from the world, but nobody knows anything for sure.

One day, a young woman appears at Meeting – named Evelina, too, and strongly resembling the young Evelina of old. This new Evelina is a niece of the old Evelina and has come to live with her elderly aunt after the death of her father and the lack of means to support herself. Soon, a member of the community discovers his feelings for her, and even manages to speak to the young woman. But Evelina is almost as shy and reclusive as her aunt, and at first it looks as if the young man will never get a chance to speak to the girl properly.

Finally, the couple can declare their love for each other, but then the old Evelina dies and leaves her house and garden to her niece on the condition that she never marries.

How will Evelina decide? Her young man is not wealthy, and she does love the garden nearly like her aunt did. Will she forfeit wealth for love, or the other way round?

The outcome of the story was not hard to guess. Still, this book was a very nice read, of a gentle, faded elegance you don’t find in modern works. There are some half-hidden humorous bits, too, as if a good-natured and polite lady was softly laughing behind the cover of her slender hand. I found this – surprise, surprise! – as a free ebook on Amazon’s Kindle store and read it in less than two hours one snowy afternoon last weekend.

About the author: Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman is another one of those amazingly prolific writers who were popular and well-known in their day but are as good as forgotten now. She lived from 1852 to 1930, married at age 50 and was the first recipient of a Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, according to Wikipedia. An interesting biographical sketch can be found here.

Monday 5 January 2015

A Snowy Weekend

Last night, I returned from a long weekend spent with my sister at our Uncle's and Aunt's place. They live in a big old house in a picturesque village about 1 1/2 hours by train from here. The house originally belonged to a baron but then changed hands (and inhabitants) several times, until my Uncle bought it some years ago. Restoring it to its former glory plus allowing for all mod cons has been their task ever since - successfully, I may add, although it is the kind of work that is never really finished.

The village is by the way the same one mentioned on my blog here and here; the house you'll see in a few pictures now, which was the view from my window, is the one where Ruth Ozan's Aunt Sofie (mentioned in her book "Forget-me-not") used to live until she died a few years ago.

On the day we travelled there, much of the snow had already gone in our home town, but there was still quite a lot left out in the country, as you can see in this view from my room:

My room:

Can you spot what I saw when I looked out of my window on Saturday morning?
It's Mauz, one of three cats living with my Uncle and Aunt.

We went for a walk on top of the hill behind the house you see in the second picture. About half way up, you come across the former school house (today the village hall) and the rectory.

On top of the hill is a small church, built in the 19th century on the site of an 11th-century one. 

The church is surrounded by the village's cemetery, enclosed by a wall. On the wall, his back facing the beautiful view across the countryside, sits a hooded figure:

He represents Death, of course - but although the skeleton legs and arms may appear scary to some, he is actually a very touching character. His upturned head (with no face inside the folds of his hood, just a deep golden shine of polished bronze) is supposed to mean that the souls of all dead go "upwards", and nobody really needs to fear him.

Come inside now:

Two Christmas trees, a huge nativity scene spreading all across the floor, and angels in the air above it all - you could tell this place means a lot to the community from this village and the surrounding hamlets.

Do you remember that I posted about, quite by chance, having come across part of St. James' Way? (That post is here.) Well, El Camino de Santiago leads through this village, too, and the church is an important stop for pilgrims. This shell, the symbol of St. James, is in the middle of the floor between the nave and the altar:

A house next to the church is dedicated to pilgrims, who can stay the night there. Going down the hill on a narrow path behind the church, this is what you find:

But that is not all. Climbing down the steps to the pond and turning round, you find yourself in front of a "Lourdes grotto", built in 1886 as a shrine to Mary. I was never Catholic, but I remember well how fascinated I was of this pond and the grotto when I first saw it as a child, on a summer's day when my cousin showed me what looked to me like a secret, overgrown path into the shadowy dark green forest, and sparkling shiny bits of glass worked into the grotto's walls. Now, with the eyes of an adult, I must admit I find it rather ghastly.

The forest is as beautiful in the snow as it is in summer:

Not a tomb in the woods, but - I think - a marker for those who come this way for religious reasons.

Walking back down the hill, I found a frozen rosebud too beautiful to pass without taking a picture. The Christmas tree stands in front of the village shop.

You can see the church on top of the hill as we made our circular way around the bottom of the hill until we reached the house again, and saw the church from the other side.

In the afternoon, it started to snow again. Our Uncle took us to the nearest town (about 10 km away) to visit a museum. On the way there, the roads were still clear. When we had been inside the museum for a while and happened to look out of the window, we could hardly believe what we saw: everything was white again!
Thankfully, our Uncle is a very good driver, and took us home safely in spite of the world having become all white, with nearly no distinction possible between roads and fields, ground and sky.
I took this picture from my room as soon as we arrived:

We were seriously thinking about what we'd do if it was going to keep snowing at this pace; maybe we could not get into town the next day to take our train home. But when I woke up the next morning, this is what I saw:

It was no problem to get to the train station, and now I can look back at this cosy, snowy weekend with delicious (and plenty of) food, interesting stories, two museum visits and some walks.