Little autumn feasts

We're properly on the verge of winter now and I am working my fingers off making new things for a local Christmas fair, But sometimes it's good to get out, so Joe took me to Squirrel Park, where I was promised - well, squirrels.

And there they were, looking ridiculously seasonal and doing proper squirrel things with nuts.

Bounding about with enviable energy.

Not only burying nuts, but finding hidden stashes...

...and having an early nibble.

Although we hadn't done any bounding about, the wind was getting up and the afternoon darkening. So as I was in need of a little sustenance myself, we headed over to Patisserie Valerie (again), where Joe treated us to  hot chocolate brownies and double chocolate gateaux. Because winter needs cake. Or nuts, if you're a squirrel. 


Pressing matters

I've been carting this old Adana Quarto flat bed press around for about eighteen years. It's always been knackered and the roller perished before I was born, I think. It's hard to find out much about this type of Adana, but my persistent foraging in Google convinced me that it was an early model, probably from the 1930s.

Being in need of funds and something to flog,  I dragged it out of the shed. Brian-next-door came round with his tools and inexhaustible knowledge of all things mechanical. It was gradually taken apart. 

Uncovered, the metal looked even worse. But Brian was quite sanguine about it. 'Soon clear that up' he said.

We saved the bits carefully.

I plonked myself on the drive and cleaned the small stuff. 

Brian got busy with a drill and wire brush attachment.

 It was quite astonishing how well it came up. Brian, of course, was right.

Every bit was cleaned, but not overly so; I wanted it to retain its history and life scars. We all wear patinas as we get older.

Then it was mostly  put back together.

 Looking as if it had a new lease of life.

There was a problem with the roller mechanism, which was so jammed up even Brian couldn't immediately undo it. But he took it to his magic shed and after some work, dismantled, cleaned and oiled it so that it will be more user friendly for the next owner.

The wooden top was sanded lightly and soaked in woodworm treatment, just to be on the safe side and I beeswaxed it. Then it was ready for the final assemblage. Which we did in the kitchen, Shropshire style.

We tried to remember what screws went where. Brian confessed that his memory is not what it used to be and what I know about nuts and bolts can be scratched on the head of a pin. (And there would still be space).

But between us we managed to work it out.

And eventually, the final screw went back in.

So this neglected old press went from this - 

- to this. It's now on eBay, as sadly, I need to sell it. So on the off chance that anyone knows anyone who is looking for a simple flat bed printing press, it is on auction on the UK eBay site here until Tuesday 17th November. Keep your collective fingers crossed for me please!


Cake Heaven at Patisserie Valerie

Treat of the week was a trip to the recently opened Patisserie Valerie

A new experience for both of us; coffee and cake is always good, but this takes it to a whole new level.

It is, quite simply, a beautiful experience. Stylishly laid out with comfortable red leather and Art Nouveau d├ęcor, Patisserie Valerie was jam packed with all kinds of everyone. And so nice to see the younger generation enjoying proper afternoon tea. 

The staff were absolutely charming - friendly, polite and attentive. Despite a short wait, due to the abundance of customers, we were given wonderful service, starting with huge mocha coffees (which were excellent and the right balance of bitter sweetness) and there were many apologies for the short wait. 

But the delay was barely noticed, as there was so much gorgeous cakiness  to look at and admire. I had asked permission to take photos, which was freely given, and snapped away happily. 

Our waiter was charm itself and soon our cakes arrived.

The cake portions are properly generous and almost too exquisite to eat. Joe opted for cheesecake, adorned with a small piece of modern sculpture.

I went with the double chocolate gateau, with a fat, sticky profiterole nestling on top. Both were perfection to look at - and eat. My chocolate paradise was densely cocoa flavoured without being over rich, with a light, moist sponge and a rich, oozing filling. We exchanged forkfuls, but not many words. Cake eating is a serious business.

Afterwards, with happy sighs, we laid down our sticky forks and sat back. It was a complete meal in itself. We watched people coming and going, some queuing for tables, some popping in for take away portions. All the time, there was a constant crowd of people peering in at the window, admiring the pretty display.

We agreed that this has to be a regular event. And best of all, there are not only branches across the UK, but one has recently opened in my patch, Shrewsbury. So there will still be cake at Patisserie Valerie, even when Joe moves down to the cottage.

Sometimes you look forward to something, only to be slightly let down by the actual experience. This exceeded expectation and we are now loyal customers. It only took one cake each and superb customer service. 


Toadstools and cake

The last two weeks have been rather full on with work. A deadline for a new needle felt pattern, which is the largest thing I've designed instructions for. And because of a workshop happening up in the middle of that, a lightening 48 hour trip back down to Bampton, to my favourite haunt, Folly Fabrics.

Sharon (lovely shop owner and my host that night) took me on a little scenic walk around the village, where I snapped the 'Downton Abbey' church. Again.

And took touristy photos of pretty cottages and houses. I still miss the Cotswolds, despite loving Shropshire. And despite the fact that I could never afford to live here. 

One of the things I miss most, is the combination of mellow light on Cotswold stone, against a darkening sky. It brings out a horribly poignant homesickness. 'The Land of Lost Content' indeed.  

The Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman ('A Shopshire Lad')

I  am sure that many of us have those places. I do find it painfully ironic that this particular excerpt comes, of course, from A.E Housmans 'A Shropshire Lad' - and that one of my favourite musical collections by Ralph Vaughan Williams is 'On Wenlock Edge' - which I now find almost impossible to listen to.  

'On Wenlock Edge' is, as you may know, based around 'A Shropshire Lad'. The real Wenlock Edge - in Shropshire of course - is also close to the ancient green woodlands where Andy rests. All of these interwoven strands combine to make a tangled knot of intense sorrow and melancholia, which I try not to dwell on too much.

So let's not. Let's have a photograph of Sharon taking a photograph of wildflowers. As you do.

She was collecting autumn inspiration colours, and these 'Fox and Cubs' (as I know them) are the most gorgeous fiery blood orange.  

That night, a cake was decorated for the workshop. They are always themed to fit whatever we are making.

And there everyone was, the next day, with the usual combination of chatter and concentration. 

It's always lovely when people come back to my workshops and this time, four out of the nine places had been taken up by people I'd taught before. 

Teatime and the traditional toadstool dance around the cake. 

I never cease to feel so rewarded at the end of a session, when everyone has worked hard, ploughed through any difficulties and gone home with something they love.

I returned home to Shropshire that night (via train as usual), a little shattered, to find a box of macarons waiting for me; a present through the post from Joe. So sweet and so pretty; the only thing to do was to Instagram them. And then eat them. And feel lucky that I have a man who sends cake through the post.

The rest of the week was spent getting on with my pattern deadline, which was all business as usual; it will be published by Christmas, and it's my favourite one yet - I can't wait to show it off!