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Creating Space

creating space

Sometimes you can hear a phrase many times, and speak that phrase over many years, and yet not realise the fullness of it. But there comes a moment when the words of that phrase reach out to demand your attention in a new way. And you see it in a different light. It happened to me this week, and the phrase which was leaping about and waving its arms to attract my notice was ‘creating space’.

Actually, it was only waving one arm. The ‘space’ bit of the phrase I’m familiar with. That’s the bit I’ve always focused on. Creating SPACE. It was the ‘creating’ bit that had to grab me by the scruff of the neck and slap me about the face.

Our recent house move has left our little cottage stacked to the ceiling with towers of boxes. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes. Everywhere you turn, boxes (actually, you can’t turn…...for the boxes). After a while, you just get used to edging around them. They sort of become a fixture; an accepted inconvenience. And there always seems to be something far more interesting to do than to unpack boring boxes. Like making stuff. Far more creative. Making chocolates, making music, writing this blog, making a mess!

But then, for some reason, the ‘creating’ word leapt out at me and it was as if I was hearing the phrase for the first time. Only this time, instead of being about ‘creating SPACE’, it was about ‘CREATING space’. Of course! Space has to be created. Any artist will tell you about negative space and how important it is to a composition. It applies to painting, to music, to interior design and to countless other artistic disciplines. And defining that negative space is very much an act of creativity. Creating space is intrinsically creative. As opposed to dull and boring.

So, I’m turning back to my boxes with a renewed vigour. I’m planning to be extremely creative over the next few weeks; and, at the end of that time, I hope to have precisely…..nothing to show for my efforts. Nothing but space.

The Kindness of a Stranger

kindness of a stranger

I hesitate to admit it, but cleaning is rarely high on my list of priorities. However, whilst living in the States for the last three years, the task has been made infinitely more enjoyable by Mrs. Meyer. I've never before waxed lyrical about a bottle of detergent, but Mrs. Meyer's lavender cleaner is definitely something a girl can get excited about. (If you live in America you may already know the joys of this fabulously-scented range of natural concoctions. If not, RUSH OUT AND BUY A BOTTLE at the first opportunity!)

Sadly, Mrs. Meyer has yet to travel to England. Which leaves me with less incentive than ever to clean the house - a fact which may not have gone unnoticed by the man with whom I share the said house. Because when an American colleague, who was flying to Britain this week, asked my husband if there was anything particular that we missed and would like to have brought across the Atlantic, the first thing that sprang to his lips was 'Mrs. Meyer's'!

And so this man, who is a complete stranger to me, kindly carried two full bottles of soapy solution more than four thousand miles in his suitcase. Just so that I can have a smile on my face as I rinse and scrub and wipe. If that isn't incentive enough to get my mop out, I don't know what is.

So should you ever, dear stranger, chance upon this humble blog, please know that I am deeply grateful for your kind gesture, and that I shall be thinking of you every time I clean the kitchen least until the bottles run out.

The Colour Purple

colour purple

I seem to be going through a purple phase.  Odd, because purple's certainly not my favourite colour.  Maybe I could call it an elderberry-plum-aubergine phase.  Those shades appeal much more.  Probably because they're edible.  :)

It all began with Emma's wedding*.  Purple is definitely Emma's favourite colour.  We dyed yards and yards of cotton drill (purple, naturally) to drape the walls of the barn where the wedding party would take place.  Painted the woodwork purple.  Ordered purple tablecovers and purple sashes for the chairs.  I dressed the jam jar vases with lilac gingham ribbon, and the pots of bilberry jam to be given as wedding favours were given heather-sprigged mop caps.  I decorated the cakes with aubergine sugar roses and stems of lavender, and used deepest plum gladioli and vibrant purple lisianthus in the flower arrangements.  I stitched 175 yards of purple-hued bunting to hang from the barn's rafters.  I even bought a purple dress for the occasion and wore a big lilac hat.

My purple phase continued throughout August whilst the heather bloomed and turned the moors into a sea of mauve as far as the eye could see.  And it's continued through September as foraged blackberries have stained my fingers a rich, dark heliotrope.  Now it's October and, as the nights draw in and the elderberries ripen, purple still feels right for the season.

* Emma is my......well, the closest I can get is honorary half sister-in-law!

Chocolates for the Postman

I love making chocolates.  It's one of my favourite things to do - even though I can't eat them.  Good job, then, that there are people in my life willing to take on the onerous task.

This box was for our postman, David.  He's great - goes the extra mile.  Sticky mitts belong to Emma, my apprentice in the chocolate factory.

chocolates for the postmanAnd here's a top-secret recipe from the Dixon Hill kitchen just for you:

Coffee Cups

(The Postman's Favourites)

Melt 125g (4oz) of white chocolate.  Using the back of a teaspoon, evenly coat the insides of 12 sweet cases (or however many the chocolate will stretch to).  Chill until set.

Now melt 50g (2oz) of best quality dark chocolate (the higher the percentage of cocoa solids the better).  Once melted, stir in 4 tbsp double cream (heavy whipping cream), 2 tsp Tia Maria, 1 tsp instant coffee granules and 1 tsp water.  Keep stirring like mad until mixed and shiny and rather gorgeous.

Now pour the ganache (that's what you just made) into the cases, stopping just short of the top so that you can still see the pretty white rim.  Easiest to do this with a spoon.  Now chill the chocolates until the filling firms up a little but is still soft.  Gently press a chocolate-covered coffee bean into the top of each one, then return to the fridge to firm completely.

Once properly set, I like to peel away the paper casing (VERY carefully) and pop the chocolates into fresh cases.

And now you can serve, give away or eat yourself (always supposing you've held out this long).

Note: Coffee Cups are pictured bottom right above.

Season of Berries

season of berries

There's an abundance of berries in the hedgerows at present.  Laced among the last of the bindweed and the rosebay willowherb, the fruit positively glows.

I've become a blackberry connoisseur over the last few days.  Out walking with Joss, I've paused to forage frequently.  But I never before realised just how varied the black berries can taste.  In one small stretch of lane, I've found blackberries that taste of honey, of figs, of vanilla.  I even found one bush that yielded berries with strong overtones of sasparilla.  The snack trolley on the Hogwarts Express could serve Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Berries - no magic required.

Pick blackberries when they slide into your fingers willingly.  If they show the slightest reluctance to be parted from their stem, then chances are they'll taste slightly tart.  But if they allow you to take them without a hint of complaint......well, then you're in for a treat.