Monday, 30 November 2015

Wonderful Whitby

The River Esk flows all the way into Whitby alongside the railway, so you witness the river's joyful arrival. The bubbling waters become more stately and  the gulls swoop and glide calling out in welcome as the river widens and then majestically joins the sea.

You can see at once how hard the river has worked to create a steep sided valley and on the top of the far side are the magnificent ruins of Whitby abbey, a Benedictine abbey founded in 651 AD. Whitby was called Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), then, and it was in those days (664 AD) that an important synod took place there, when that King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona.

As you step outside the station you feel ten years old again. It is like entering a child's story book. Dotted about on the water there is an amazing variety of sea craft. Rowing boats, tug boats, pirate ships, fishing boats, all jostling for attention and inviting you to take a trip around the bay.

Anyone who grew up before the arrival of package holidays will feel they have stepped back in time as all around are the well-loved attractions of an English sea side resort, amusement arcades with their lights flashing and enticing you to get rid of your spare cash, fortune tellers inviting you to sort your life out, sticks of rock in old fashioned sweet shops to take home for friends, tea rooms, souvenir shops, lovely cottages to rent, beaches to romp on when the tide is out, and all the time the swooping and the calling of the gulls.

We crossed the swing bridge enthralled by all the activity of the boats on the estuary below and on through pretty, narrow streets towards the steps that lead up to the abbey.

It's then that you start to wish you were hungry and hadn't had so much breakfast because here they make the very best fish and chips in the world . Relish in the sight of everyone sitting in the sun, holding their fish and chips parcels with reverence, licking the salt off their fingers, their faces with a blissful expression.
Simple pleasures are so precious, fish and chips in the sun by the sea in Whitby.

Hold on though maybe we can fit in a cup of coffee and a scone, and maybe jam and cream too. Then we can discuss whether it is better to put on the jam or the cream first and we have to have two so we can decide...

Luckily we are about to embark on a climb up to the abbey to work off the scones.

There are one hundred and ninety-nine steps and you might hear the swish of a long Victorian gentlewoman's skirt, or the heavy stomp of a Norman soldier as you pant your way to the top. Here the view is breathtaking. Fill your lungs with the sea air and scan the horizon.

The view as you start to climb the 199 steps
At the top of the steps is a church called St. Mary's and it's worth a look round. Again you are aware of history, of the past, of all the people who have sat and admired the view and found inspiration in the words that were spoken in the church. The wife of one of the Victorian preachers was deaf but so keen to hear her husband's sermons that she had enormous hearing aids that look like trumpets and are still hanging there today.

Even on a sunny day it is not hard to imagine that Bram Stoker found his inspiration for his novel 'Dracula' here. This is where he is meant to have met Lucy. For the brave there are spooky tours and Dracula walks.

After exploring the abbey ruins it is time to walk back down away from the wind.

On the other side of the town, across the estuary of the River Esk, is a monument to Captain James Cook. He was born in Middlesborough in 1728 and when he was 17 he went to Whitby to join the Navy.
In 1769 Capt.Cook was chosen as commander of the ship HMS Endeavour and sent to observe the planet Venus pass in front of the sun in the southern hemisphere in Tahiti. He then went on to discover New South Wales. Around the foot of the monument is an inscription from the people of Australia thanking him for founding their nation.

Near Captain Cook's monument are two enormous whale rib bones because Whitby used to be a whaling station.

Whitby isn't very big, you can walk around it quite easily but the depth and variety of its' history is astounding. Dracula, the discovery of Australia, Whitby abbey, Celts, Anglo Saxons, Normans, have all trod here. Oh yes and Lewis Carroll found inspiration here to write 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'. There is a feeling of past, present and future, of people enjoying life and loving their town and happy to live here.

There are many shops selling jewellery made from jet, which is similar to coal but much harder and can be made into shiny stones and beads. Crystals and minerals have been used for healing and protection from primitive times, the Romans used them extensively and believed in their properties.

The jet in Whitby might not seem very appealing, being black and among all the spooky stuff about Dracula and Halloween but it is considered to be a stone of protection that carries wonderful healing properties. Carry some jet around in your pocket to ward off negativity and protect you.

Certainly after our day in Whitby I felt very positive and renewed, maybe it was the sea air, the wonderful friends, the momentary glimpse into the intriguing history of this lovely sea side town, the scones and cream and maybe all the minerals in the earth do radiate positive energy too.

The estuary of the River Esk and the coastline

The Victorian development of Whitby

Captain Cook

The view of the abbey from the Capt. Cook monument

Whale bones

Friday, 27 November 2015

Snowmen Biscuits, get ready for Winter

When I saw a recipe for  Snowman biscuits I couldn't wait to make them with my grandchildren. They are such a delight wearing their aprons, rolling away with their rolling pins with intense expressions on their faces. So off I went to buy the ingredients., and  a great time was had by all. Just the thing to keep the little ones busy on a winter's afternoon.

Snowman biscuits.

For the biscuits

300g flour
130g butter, cut into pieces
50g sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg and 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten.

Heat the oven to 180

Rub the butter into the flour.
Stir in the sugar and add the egg mixture to bind.
Form a ball and put it into the fridge for 15 minutes, covered with clingfilm.
Roll the dough out and cut out about twelve rounds.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and cool on a wire tray.

For the snowmen

white marshmallows
smarties or m and ms
icing made with white icing sugar and water to a spreading consistency.

Put the cooled biscuits on a plate and spread with a little of the icing.. Place a marshmallow on the top. Add the smarties as buttons and then draw in eyes and arms with a tube of chocolate icing.
The decorating can be done entirely by the children,  it's amazing how a two year old can colour coordinate.

Ready to go in the oven

Everything ready to make the snowmen

Let the biscuits cool before topping with icing

One is ready

Snowman family, yum

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Let's go to Whitby!

Last month we went to stay with friends in Yorkshire.
 My visions of Yorkshire always seemed to be a cross between Postman Pat and Wuthering Heights.
I knew about the War of the Roses and that it's the biggest county in England and I knew my friends deeply loved their home county. I also knew that they had taken some friends on a David Hockney Tour of Yorkshire to see the landmarks made famous in his paintings. I knew they loved going to Scarborough to see plays by Alan Aykeborne, to Harrogate, to Ripon where Lewis Carroll sat in a church where rabbits were carved into the pews and found his inspiration for 'Alice in Wonderland'.
I was totally unprepared for the incredible beauty of this amazing county, for the sights that nature has gifted to the area, for the interesting and fascinating history that is all around. You are treading in the footsteps of kings, of warriors, of Vikings, Romans of great industrialists, of miners. Stories from long ago are whispered on the wind. the past, present and future are beside you all the time.

My friend had often told me of the wonderful traditions she upholds, Christmas shopping in Whitby, train rides over the moors on New Year's Day, coffee and cakes in Betty's teashop, walking along the Cleveland way, day trips to the sea, to the dales, to Castle Howard. Such were the powers of her description that part of me felt as though I'd already been there and joined in all the fun. She had been a District Nurse in the dales and in the industrial towns. She had experienced life through the eyes of Yorkshire farmers and of people on the margins of society. She has loved and cared for them all.

When my friend asked what we'd like to see in Yorkshire I asked her if we could go on the steam train that she had talked about so much and could we go to the sea. I love going to the sea, it's always magical for me. Little did I know that this journey was going to be one of the most magical of all.

We drove over the moors to the little village station. We were told that we had just missed the purple heather, that it was a spectacle to behold in August and September, but the moors looked powerful and majestic all the same.

At the little station we seemed to enter a parallel world. The station was like the one used in Harry Potter, the Hogwart's express could have arrived any minute. the waiting room and the little shop seemed  unchanged since Stephenson had invented his steam engine. grown men became boy's again as they posed in front of the engines.

We set off on the train and stopped almost immediately on a little bridge. I looked down into a beautiful, sparkling stream and saw a salmon leap. Could it be so? I thought they only did that in Ireland and Scotland. Our friends told us that we were looking at the River Esk,  I put that in a part of my brain for crossword puzzles that ask for a river with three letters. They said that indeed salmon do leap about in the River Esk, so do trout and Freshwater pearl mussels.

Believe me, going along by train in the valley of the River Esk is like entering a magical kingdom. You almost expect to see fairies and elves popping up.

The River Esk rises at the Esklets on Westerdale Moor in the North Yorkshire Moors and flows through Westerdale. It  flows through a narrow steep sided valley with the intriguing name of Crunkly Glyhll and then runs east through the valley Eskdale and into the North Sea at Whitby.  Not even Tolkien could find nicer names than these.

You can have coffee and tea on the train, and look out of the window and breathe in the charm and fascination of the places you pass. Some of the place names have unexpected pronunciation, Ruswarp is Russop, and Sleights rhymes with heights.

All the time you are aware of how people appreciate and enjoy this beautiful county, young people in canoes, older people walking along the footpath that runs parallel to the railway line, the families in the train glued to the window, the volunteers that collect the tickets just for the sheer pleasure of admiring their home county. All this and we haven't even got to Whitby yet.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

What should we teach our children?

All parents listening to this lovely song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young will have their own ideas on what they should be teaching their children. Families are all different or as my dad used to say, 'all families are odd.' What is acceptable to one family may be sacrilege to another. While listening to this song  though you will realize that one thing is certain that a family is the most likely place to find unconditional love. When you don't have parents any more you know you have lost the people who will love you no matter what.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Songs that send shivers down your spine

My dad was great at surprising us all with a special treat. A box of chocolates and flowers for my mum, one of those much derided fake leather covers for our weekly copy of the Radio Times, a frilly tissue box holder, a parrot. Well you get the idea, he was a very interesting and exceptionally fun dad, one of a kind.
One day he brought home two Lps for my brother and me. One was by Billy J.Kramer and the Dakotas. My brother being older got to have first choice and he made a grab for that.
We both loved stacking up our vinyl records on our record player and bopping around the living room. We'd spin each other round in our revolving armchair to see who felt sick first, we'd perform our version of 'the waggle bottom dance', exaggerating the swaying hip movements of the girls in their tight pencil skirts, causing my mum to raise her eyebrows and roll her eyes.
So on went Billy J.Kramer and off we went round and round, shaking ourselves about and ending up in a heap of giggles.

The other Lp that my dad brought home that day was by an umknown band, called 'The Beatle'. That was mine, the one with the cover where they're all dressed in black, I've still got it and I know the songs by heart.
This track, 'Do you want to know a secret,' was written by Lennon-McCartney, but Billy J.Kramer was more famous than them at the time. Now put your hands up who has heard of Bill J.Kramer? Just goes to show, doesn't it?

Some of you reading this might want to know about the parrot or the Radio Times cover or the tissue box thing, and a whole lot more besides, or not. I'm going to tell you later.
Have a great Saturday and enjoy Billy J.Kramer,  a real oldies but goldies.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Easy peasy Super Soups

It's always a nice feeling to come home on a cold winter's evening and just have to heat up something you have already made like a stew or a minestrone.
Here is a recipe for a really nutritious soup, ideal for vegetarians that can be made in advance and will keep, covered, in the fridge for two to three days.

Cannellini Bean Soup

Serves 4

I white onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 450g tins of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
500ml of vegetable stock
celery leaves to decorate
croutons to serve

Cook the chopped onions and chopped celery in some olive oil, very slowly over a low heat fro about 15 minutes. Make sure they don't go brown or the finished soup will have an unattractive colour.
Add the cannellini beans and the stock and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.
Puree with a hand blender . Add the parsley and whizz again. This will give a speckled appearance and make it look nicer.
Check the seasoning.
Serve with croutons and decorate with some of the celery leaves.

If making the soup in advance do not add the parsley until ready to serve.

One Perfect Rose ,Poem for the day

In the language of flowers the rose is the one that represents love. To be given a red rose is a sure sign that someone is interested in you. What can be more romantic than that ?
Dorothy Parker  (1893 - 1967) didn't seem to e so impressed by being given a single rose though in her poem.

One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet,
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the flowers;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet.
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

A tribute to roses

Roses are arguably the most popular of flowers exalted for their scent and beauty. The red rose is the symbol of love and what woman doesn't go weak at the knees when presented with a red rose from her companion.
Roses have been movingly portrayed in paintings and literature for centuries.
From Shakespeare writing in Romeo and Juliet
'What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet' there are hundreds of quotations from which to choose.

Here are a few of my favourites

Won't you come into the garden?
I would like my rose to meet you.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

On Richmond Hill there lived a lass
More bright than May-day morn,
Whose smiles all other maids surpass,
A rose without a thorn.
Leonard McNally

The lily has an air,
And the snowdrop a grace,
And the sweet pea a way,
And the heart's ease a face, -
Yet there's nothing like the rose
When she blows.
Christina G. Rossetti

Rose trees either side the door were
Growing lithe and growing tall,
Each one set a summer warder
For the keeping of the hall, -
With a red rose and a white rose
Leaning, nodding at the wall.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Poem for the day

Children are often told to learn a poem off by heart for homework. It is good for us to memorize poems and it is easier if they have a certain bounce to them and every so often they rhyme. Here is a lovely one from Percy Bysshe Shelley that contains lots of my favourite words, sunlight, love, flower, kiss, sweet, emotion, moonbeams, mingle, fountains, rivers, oceans, sea.

Love's Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river
And the river with the Ocean.
The winds of Heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion.
Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother,
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me'

Get with the beat, put rhythm in your life

Monday, 16 November 2015

Bring Colour into your Life

When it rains look for a rainbow. When it is dark look for the stars.
So on a dull November day make sure you put colour on your plate. We are always being advised to eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit every day. they have to be as varied as possible and all different. No point in eating two bananas, that would still only be one portion.

Today I made Roasted red pepper soup and spinach pie, so managed to have green, red, orange and white. Only purple was missing. just the thing to brighten up the day and sure enough the sun came out.

Roasted Red Pepper soup and Spinach Pie

2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tin of tomatoes or passata
chopped basil
salt and pepper

Wash the peppers and then cut them into quarters removing the white bits. Put them in a roasting pan and bake in a hot oven 180 for about ten minutes until the skin comes away.
Transfer them to a dish and cover with cling film to make it easier to remove the skins and then chop them. A friend of mine from the south of Italy wraps them in newspaper to make it easier to take off the skins.

Put the pastry base into the hot oven to dry it out while you prepare the filling.
Cook and drain the spinach then mix with two eggs and beat well. Add any cheese you have on hand and season well with salt and pepper and nutmeg.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes and then sprinkle with pine nuts and put I t back in the oven for another ten minutes.

Meanwhile put the carrots, onion and garlic in a saucepan and cover with water, about one litre. Bring to the boil and season with a stock cube or salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook until the carrots are soft.  Add the roasted peppers and whizz with a hand held blender. Check the seasoning and sprinkle with basil.
If liked you can add cream to serve.

Listen to Donovan sing about colours while you are cooking. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Feeling at one with Nature on an Inspirational Autumn day

Like Spring, Autumn days are alive with vibrant colour. In Spring the blossom gives the promise of the wonderful fruits to follow, apples, cherries, peaches and apricots. In Autumn the fruit is there among the leaves that are gradually changing colour, apples, grapes, berries.

What joy it was as a child to go on a Nature walk from Primary school into the nearby wood on an Autumn day. There we would find hidden treasures to be carefully collected, taken back to school and displayed on a table, rose hips, conkers, chestnuts, hazelnuts and leaves with stunning colours.

Being close to nature is good for us, and we must make time to smell the leaves, admire the colours of the trees, walk in woods, along beaches, up hills. Then we feel the intensity and aliveness of nature. Fill your lungs with clean air, feast you eyes on  rich foliage, stunning panoramas from the top of a hill, feel the leaves scrunch under your feet, bite into crunchy apples, pick berries with jewel like colours, store away walnuts and hazelnuts, whatever you can find.

Here are my photos from an inspirational Autumn day, hope you enjoy them.

The hills are alive ... a beautiful view from The Ridgeway

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What makes a friend?

James Taylor's beautiful song is a wonderful tribute to friendship.

Make friends, make friends,
Never, ever break friends.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.   How wonderful it is when you are feeling down to meet a friend that likes you so much and they want to be with you and cheer you up. The friend could be a member of your family, like a daughter or a son say, the best way to have a life long friend. Unconditional love with laughs thrown in for free.
Husbands and partners can also be great friends.
So what makes a great friend?
 Mutual affection is at the top of the list, without that a relationship will get halted in its' tracks.
Recently I went to a wedding and the bride had lovingly embroidered the seating arrangements. Each table had been assigned a quality that she rightly considered to be an essential ingredient for a relationship.


My table was 'Trust'. The bride and groom were on 'Adore'.
Once you've decided there is enough affection, love or whatever then the other qualities are team players. They need to work together.

There is a lot of talk these days of toxic relationships, cutting people out of your life that hurt you, but is that a good thing? I'm not sure. Maybe the toxic ones make you appreciate the healthy ones more. Maybe you can heal the toxic ones and make things better.
One thing wasn't on the bride's list that is important is 'Communication'. Text messages and emails can be cold and distant, a relationship won't survive long with those unless there is a good deal of affection behind them.

Adore, love, cherish, charity, honour, respect, joy, trust,hope

Monday, 9 November 2015

Greetings and Farewells

You know that feeling you get when you're about to see someone you care about? A well of happiness fizzes up inside you and you want to jump up and down, then when you catch sight of them and run towards them and wrap them up in a big hug. Of course not everyone makes you feel like that and you might not have the confidence to show such physical affection to some people you care about. Small children have no such qualms, they just run towards you with their arms outstretched and wrap their arms around you and squeeze. What a wonderful sensation that is, one of the best in the world surely, to be hugged by a child.
There are lots of social conventions about greetings: -shaking hands and kissing, then should you kiss both cheeks or just one and then should you kiss the air or the actual cheek and which side should you go for first?
With family and friends the best sort of displays of affection are the spontaneous sort for me. That moment when someone's face lights up when they see you and then the hugging can begin.
Greetings are usually nicer than farewells, no doubt about it. Farewells have there own rules too. Some people put a lot of importance on tooting and waving when they go off in their car, others do not give even a backward glance.

The way people greet you or wave you off says a lot about their feelings for you. Who wants a cool hello and then an enthusiastic goodbye?
Hello, goodbye, we say them all the time.

Make your greetings warm and always part on good terms.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

It's Party time

One of the first party recipes I remember being taught was melting chocolate and mixing it with cornflakes and then dropping spoonfuls of the mixture into paper cups then letting it set. No party was complete without them. A friend of mine has been teaching her grandson to make these age old favourites and it is comforting to know that children today are as happy with them as we were.

in Italy the equivalent party favourite is made using Mars bars. These were once advertised as being good for you. A mars a day, helps you work, rest and play. A happy woman running around eating a mars bar and then straight after there might be an advert showing a harassed housewife who then sat down and Relaxed with a Woodbines.

I found it interesting when I was told that people who worked in chocolate factories could eat as many chocolate bars as they liked, but not so in the cigarette factory. Just goes to show that some things that are bad for you can make you feel as though you've had enough, others not so.

At our school we had a Tuck Shop, which was actually just a desk with cardboard boxes of sweets on it. usually I chose a Wagon wheel, but every so often a Mars Bar which was always shared, being too much for me.

Back to my Italian party recipe. It is great when there are a lot of you, especially children and is a colourful contribution to take along to a party.
So here it is.

Rice Krispie and Mars party bites

6 or 7 Mars Bars
150g butter
half a box of Rice Krispies
Colourful sweets and marshmallows to decorate
Lots of people

Melt the butter and mars bars over a low heat and then beat well.
Add the Rice Krispies and mix thoroughly but gently
Line a baking tin with greaseproof paper and scatter over the sweets.
Spoon the Rice Krispie mixture over the top and press down gently with a metal spoon.
Leave until set and then cut into small squares.
Many happy returns to childhood.