The carnival is over

After an end to August that was bathed in glorious sunshine, Autumn has arrived under a bit of a cloud – literally. For several days now I have been pricking my ears at the sound of rain spattering on the kitchen skylight and have been caught in a few unexpected downpours (only to find myself sweating it out in my mac when the clouds lift ten minutes later). Suddenly layers – and umbrellas – are the things I need to be thinking about.

I was walking back from East Finchley on Monday afternoon – the sky drab with cloud and the air heavy with humidity – and decided to pop into Long Lane Pasture.

It’s been two months since I first discovered it during a geocaching exploit with stepmum-B. On a warm summer day back in July, we had plodded curiously along the grassy pathways, stopping to admire a bright flower, taste some small golden plums or wonder at an unusual plant. Profusions of ripening blackberries, just a few short weeks from plump purple readiness, lined the paths and we had been delighted to find a patch of cool relief under a draping willow tree by the railway fence.

LLP July montage

Since then, the blackberries have all but gone and with things having been mowed and generally tidied, it was clear that the volunteers had been hard at work.

LLP Sept (3)

LLP Sept (4)

LLP Sept (2)

This grass circle (above left) contains 17 different species of native grass which, apart from being hand-weeded, are left to grow wild.

And speaking of native, the middle picture below is a Guelder Rose (viburnum opulus), native to the British Isles and named for Gelderland, a Dutch province. It grows in hedgerows and still grows wild in the London Borough of Barnet although this particular shrub was planted in the Pasture. Birds love the berries but they are acidic and slightly poisonous for people.

LLP Sept (1)

I also got a gander at some rose hips (above left) – which I’d only ever experienced during my childhood as ‘jelly-in-a-jar’ – and all to the accompaniment of bees buzzing away industriously. On the way out I put some coins in the donation box by the gate to support the efforts of the volunteers who tend this little patch for the community.

I continued on towards home and as I passed Victoria Park, I noticed something unusual on the grass.

Victoria Park

No, the aliens have not landed. Rather over the last ten days, the park has been playing host to a kiddies’ carnival – rides, bouncy castles, you know the sort of thing I mean. I’d grown used to it on my morning walks. But on Monday it had vanished leaving nothing but the marked grass as testament to their stay. With the rain, it will no doubt green up even more quickly than usual but I was astonished at how much of an impact the ten days had made.

And speaking of astonished, the garden at Gidday HQ continues to surprise and delight, particularly given the absence of green-coloured-thumbs. Small sprays of roses keep bursting forth, the insects continue to buzz busily and a flourish of striking red poppies has cropped up along the garden fence.

ChezGiddayFlowers Sept17

I did not plant any of these but most days I wander out to visit them, enjoying their delicate freshness and vigour and wondering what other surprises might be in store. I’m also flabbergasted at their undaunted survival and the unequivocal claim they have made at the home of one so horticulturally-challenged.

Nature is a marvellous thing isn’t it?


As I type this, my feet are tucked into my cosy sheepskin slippers. The lounge room is noticeably darker without the sun streaming in and while the desk lamp illuminates the keyboard under my fingers, the floor lamp in the corner behind me casts soft light across the room. The days are already feeling shorter.

Yes peeps, the carnival is definitely over. Long summer days are already yielding to brisk autumn nights. The kids are back at school and daily commutes are crowded with the busy and the anxious again. The steady march of annual comfort telly – the flurry of The Great British Bake Off and the flounce of Strictly Come Dancing – has begun.

Nevertheless I’m hoping that it’s not quite over yet. A bit like the roses at Gidday HQ, just when I think they have finished their annual flowering, their scented petals burst forth again, enchanting me one last time.

Peach roses.JPG

So if you are looking for me, I’ll be the one still smelling the roses…and keeping my eyes peeled for a late burst of summer.

Favourite things: Returning home

I’ve been back home in London for a few days now. The weather is about 30 degrees (celsius) cooler than when I left Melbourne on Sunday and while I love the sun and heat, I have been enjoying feeling the brisk air on my face when outdoors followed by that cosy rush of warmth when I venture inside again. The real test will come tomorrow with temperatures forecast to get down below zero overnight and remain that way for the next week. I’m guessing there will be little opportunity to show off my holiday tan.

Speaking of holidays, I am due a post about my month away – an indulgent week in a Thai resort followed by two and a half weeks in Melbourne with family – and there’s a whole lot of stuff milling around inside my head but it’s resisting taking shape right now. But rest assured that something will appear soon…in some form or other.

But right now, I am battling the jet lag and indulging in some cocoon-like time at home enjoying some of my favourite things to do.

Sleeping

I love a good night’s sleep and I haven’t slept through the night since my return. I went to my first yoga session in a month yesterday – which no doubt will hurt quite a bit tomorrow – and then managed about five and a half hours sleeping straight through last night so it’s all going in the right direction. I am trying to be patient with myself / this but I wish it would all just hurry up.

Reading

After an absolute glut of Kindle reading at the end of 2016, I returned home inspired to read some of the stuff that’s been on my bookshelf for a while. At the moment I am really enjoying Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay before I see him interviewed next week.

imag6535-407x640

Catch-up telly

My mid-December departure meant that I missed the final episode in season two of the sci-fi series Humans – which has had me glued to my TV screen each Sunday night – and the Strictly Come Dancing Grand Final. Both have been addressed and enjoyed with equal fervor. I also saw that the first episodes of two new shows – The Voice and Let It Shine – had aired so have gotten these under my belt too. My particular jury’s out on these but may return with a more positive verdict in the coming weeks.

Cooking

The thing that I’ve loved the most since being back at home is cooking. I ate so many fabulous meals during my trip but after a month, I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and cook for myself. It was with much excitement that I got my grocery order delivered on Tuesday and made a quick trip to my local fruit and veg shop to fill the fridge again.

imag6531-1-640x360

I’ve been planning different meals each night and in my pottering in the kitchen, have managed to try some new things as well.

The day that I returned, I was so pleased to find a portion of my vegetable and chilli mince in the freezer and so I stirred that through some spaghetti for one of my favourite comfort meals.

I’ve also baked some beetroot, a tip I picked up from Mum’s partner Mr Licensed-To-Grill who BBQ’ed these scrumptious suckers while I was Down Under. It was lovely with my crumbed chicken breast and steamed greens. And I’ve been mindful of getting my leafy greens quota up again by stir-frying some chard with onion, garlic, ginger and chilli to have with my Thai salmon fishcake last night. Tonight’s plan is a roasted butternut squash and turkey bacon pasta with a cube of my kale and walnut pesto stirred in…and I can’t wait.

The funny thing about all this is that when I left Australia almost thirteen years ago, my family and friends would never have said that I was great in the kitchen. Oh I could whip up a basic tuna pasta but I was a competent compiler of platters and carpet picnics and the fridge was generally used for wine, cheese and little else. But a penchant for pottering about among the pots and pans has definitely snuck up on me and it was with some surprise that I found myself pining for it.

So until I sort the holiday stories into some semblance of interesting reading, I will be sleeping, reading and wielding my spatula with enthusiasm…and wondering at how Julie Andrews’ trilling about bright copper kettles as one of her favourite things became one of mine.

Happy telly

There has been much excitement at Gidday HQ today. Yes peeps, the ultimate in happy telly – the Great British Bake Off – is back. That’s ten whole weeks of signatures bakes, technical challenges and showstoppers to look forward to.

Yippee!!

So this afternoon I raced home from work, got two loads of washing on and with dinner done and dusted, I curled up on the comfy couch just in time to enjoy the opening sequence, the white peaks of the marquee sweeping into view amidst swathes of green and accompanied by the familiar tinkling of the GBBO theme tune.

Week one was Cake Week and the twelve contestants (I always think that thirteen i.e. a baker’s dozen, would be more appropriate) whipped – and in a lot of cases rewhipped – their way to a drizzle cake, produced a passable batch of Jaffa cakes and showcased the art of mirror glaze.

There were winners and grinners, triers and even a few fliers with Candice piffing her genoise sponge across the tent. The first Star Baker was announced and someone else’s spatula was despatched to the back of the GBBO cupboard. It seems that a nice weekend in the countryside (albeit a rainy one in what amounts to a big tent with nineteen strangers plus a film crew) and a judge’s nod to being one of the top twelve bakers in the nation pales quite a bit against the ignominy of being the first one to leave.

It’s probably a little early to be laying claim to my favourites but cool Selasi (could he be any more laid back?), pragmatic Jane and brave Benjamina were the ones that won my heart this week. How did they fare? Well there is a strict no spoilers policy here at Gidday from the UK so my lips are sealed. Unless of course there’s cake involved.

Speaking of cake, I pushed the boat out for a birthday bake earlier this month. A forage through the pages of my More Secrets From The Beechworth Bakery cookbook unearthed a recipe for Dutch Apple Cake so I set forth, wielding my spatula and turned out a veritable treat…

IMAG5200 (640x640)

My delicious Dutch Apple Cake: full of sugar and spice and all things nice and fattening!

…which was rapidly demolished by my workmates the next day.

Just when I was thinking my hips were safe again, there has been talk of an Office Bake Off. And next week the Great British Bake Off brings us Biscuit Week.

Hmmmm. Shame that.

The Great British Boast Off

You might think that the British are a modest bunch. Not for them the brash competitiveness of the Americans, the super-styled ‘look at me’ of the Italians, the colourful flamboyance of the Brazilians or the voluble national pride of the Indians. No, Brits are self-effacing, stoic types who enjoy a moan through their stiff upper lip much more than a me-moment.

Or do they?

The proliferation of ‘Great British’ television shows might suggest otherwise and whilst singing contests for warbling amateurs demonstrating their vocal chops have long been a fixture of reality TV, a range of more everyday pursuits have found their way into our living rooms.

To my mind, this spate of TV DIY-ness began with The Great British Bake Off.

For the uninitiated, a group of home bakers compete in a flurry of flour, butter, eggs and sugar to win the title of Britain’s Best Amateur Baker. The series began on BBC2 in 2010, when Britain’s recession forced wallets closed and people indoors. Five series on, GBBO has reached both BBC1 and an average viewership of more than 10 million (up from 2.7 million in Series 1). It has spawned spin-offs such as Junior Bake Off, The Great Comic Relief/Sports Relief Bake Off (2 series of each so far – the Comic Relief version is running at the moment) and segued jauntily into 15 other countries – I’m thinking that Denmark’s The Great Baking Joust (Den Store Bagedyst) sounds like quite a competitive arena versus the British Bake Off tent that I know and love. Series 4 attracted more than 10,000 applicants and 2014’s Series 5 was accompanied by An Extra Slice where the latest departures could lament the justice of their elimination.

The series has been credited with reigniting the public’s love of baking and I count myself amongst this number. During said recession, finding a relatively low cost hobby to keep my hands busy and my mind off the financial challenges my circumstances had brought to bear provided many moments of simple and joyful accomplishment. And I find nothing more enjoyable (well, maybe a gutsy red wine with some great cheese) than curling up on the comfy couch after a hard day at the office for a little armchair judgement of a dozen spatula-wielding amateurs.

It would seem that success breeds….well copycats. And every time I turn on the telly, there appears to be yet another amateur home-challenge to be taken on.

2015 has already given us the third series of The Great British Sewing Bee. It’s a similar format to GBBO with ten sewers (yes that’s what they are called – an unfortunate homographic coincidence and should be pronounced so-er) judged by experts from The Women’s Institute and from Savile Row for their worthiness to the claim of Britain’s Best Home Sewer (now remember the pronunciation peeps). Contestants stitch their way through three challenges – Pattern, Alteration and Made-to-Measure – to produce, among other things, necklines, patch pockets, men’s shirts and evening dresses. It appears to be gathering momentum with the number of episodes doubling to eight for Series 3.

Then there’s The Big Allotment Challenge, again from the Beeb. Series 2 has just concluded with nine budding horticulturists taking on six weeks of Grow, Make and Eat challenges in the heart of the English countryside. This enterprise takes a bit more long term planning for the chosen green-fingers-and-thumbs (4 months) – even I know that it takes longer than a few episodes to grow a bounty – and as a bonus, throughout the series you could download each contestant’s plot layouts if you felt particularly inspired to ‘allot’ for yourself. In case you are wondering, I did not, despite my efforts to cultivate a little self-sufficiency with a Gidday HQ patch at a previous time and location.

And then The Big Painting Challenge starts tonight with week one’s theme – landscapes – to be painted at Hogwarts (aka Alnwick Castle, Northumberland). Ten amateurs will pit their paintbrushes against each other to be crowned Britain’s Best Amateur Painter where the glory of winning  the title seems to hold significant appeal. Consider this: the show attracted more than 6,000 applicants against the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year (previously Portrait Artist of the Year)  which offered the winner a £10,000 commission (and which is added to the National Trust‘s permanent collection) and a previous show, BBC2’s defunct Show Me The Monet, giving the winning artist the chance to sell their works in a London gallery.

So despite the self-effacing stereotypes that abound, these shows suggest that the Brits do like a contest and that the glory of a title is enough to encourage them off their couches and into their kitchens, sewing rooms and the great outdoors. This may not be surprising when you consider that titles still ‘matter’ here and ‘lordship’ is bestowed on those not born to it on what seems to be a pretty regular basis.

Rumour has it that the next in the BBC’s arsenal of challenges is one for the angler – travelling around the world to prove themselves across a range of fishing locations and techniques. It just might be worth watching this – after all what could be more entertaining than to see who will be crowned…

…The Big Fish?