It might still be November, but I’ve already started on the mince pies. I blame our local supermarket cafe who are now offering discounted mince pies with any hot drink. Crikey. There goes my diet!
“A mince pie is a sweet pie of British origin, filled with a mixture of dried fruits and spices called “mincemeat”, that is traditionally served during the Christmas season in much of the English-speaking world.” Wikipedia
According to a feature on the TV news, us Brits will consume over 200 million mince pies during the festive season. One of the country’s largest producers have to employ an additional 350 seasonal workers to keep up with the demand for 720 pies a minute at peak production. One look at the supermarket aisles and you can see the whole array of pies now offered, even some with added chocolate, but I admit to preferring the traditional recipe I grew up enjoying.
Apparently, in medieval times mince pies were filled with meat (thank goodness that’s no longer the case, or I’d be sunk – vegetarian here). Soon, cooks started adding sweeteners to the mix and the pies became a kind of status symbol. Spices and dried fruits, such as saffron, figs and dates, had to be imported and were therefore only available to the wealthy. By the twentieth century the meat had given way entirely to the spiced fillings.
The association of mince pies with Christmas seems to date from the 17th Century when the rich liked to demonstrate their wealth at their yuletide parties. Pies made in different shapes like stars and hearts added a further demonstration of wealth and status as it showed that these people were able to afford the best pastry cooks.
A custom from the Middle Ages says that if you eat a mince pie on every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night this will ensure happiness for the year to come. Well, that’s good enough for me. Oh, and tradition says you should make a wish on the first mince pie of the season.
We took advantage of some glorious late summer/early autumn weather this month to grab a few days away on the south coast of England. Sidmouth in Devon has been a favourite spot of ours ever since we moved to the south west area well over thirty years’ ago. The town is considered the gateway to Devon’s Jurassic Coast. Sidmouth has amazing beaches situated at the foot of prehistoric red cliffs and surrounded by the beautiful green hills of the Sid Valley.
During one of our mega walks along the coast we stopped off at Jacob’s Ladder Beach and managed to find enough puff to climb the Ladder itself up to a rather splendid tea shoppe. Afternoon Devon tea served with a huge slab of coffee and walnut cake helped give us the energy to walk back to our hotel.It had some lovely views, too.
The hotel we stayed in was incredibly interesting. Some parts of the hotel date back to the 13th Century and boasts connections with Sir Walter Raleigh and the Prince Regent. It has fabulous gardens where you can sit and enjoy the sunshine under the shade of ancient trees like the one in the photo. The hotel was one of the first buildings in the UK to achieve listed status in 1951. During renovations in the 1970s, archaeologists discovered some of the oldest structures in the town consisting of a spooky network of ancient tunnels and a domed subterranean chamber. Alas, we didn’t experience any spooky goings-on while we were there, just a lovely relaxing and enjoyable break.
Unfortunately, Ms. Vivvy couldn’t join us, although the hotel was incredibly dog-friendly, because she is not the best traveller. But we know how much she’ll love the beaches, so we’re going to dose her up and take her with us when we visit again over Christmas. She was pleased to see us when we got back, and as the autumn chill set in, she snuggled up with me under our furry blanket. The very best welcome home after a great trip away.
So, Autumn has arrived. Here in the UK, it’s arrived with sunny days and fairly warm temps, but I’m not ready to let summer go yet. I’m a summer baby and seem to thrive best with warmer weather and brighter skies. Put me on a beach with a pina colada and I’m a happy woman 🙂
Well, if we have to have autumn (and by extension, winter) it’s currently not all bad. The trees are looking amazing in their burnished glory, and there are some interesting little late-flowering plants popping up in the garden.
Walks with Vivvy are always interesting, but this autumn I’m finding them even more so. A city girl born and bred, I absolutely love living in the country. Around the village where we live there are fabulous walks, and they’re always journeys of discovery.
Recently, I discovered a new walk to the next village a few miles away which took us by acres of what I’ve named the bamboo fields, although I’m sure they’re not (Kit will probably put me right on this). I spent a fun ten minutes playing hide-and-seek with Vivvy, and now, when we go that route, she runs into the bamboo and looks out to me as if to say “come on mum, time to play”.
I also found plump, juicy blackberries growing wild and grabbed a couple of handfuls in an unused poo-bag (sorry) so we had a lovely apple and blackberry crumble at supper that night 🙂 There are copious amounts of sloes at the moment, reminding me that one day I’m going to attempt sloe gin (side note: I spent years thinking the sloes were blueberries – don’t laugh, city girl, right?)
So, all in all, I can’t complain about the demise of summer. At least, not quite yet 🙂
Falmouth – our hotel
Earlier this summer, we took a short break away to Falmouth on the south coast of England. Falmouth is a pretty Cornish town with a deep natural harbour and beautiful award-winning beaches. The weather was so gorgeous that we were able to take advantage of the latter with some lovely swims and walks along the shore, both in the early morning and as the sun went down.
We chose a hotel right on the peninsula, said to be the oldest hotel in Falmouth. Not only did we have a lovely sea view from our fourth-floor room but we also had a dual aspect so we could see right along the coastline from east to west. That meant lovely sunrises and sunsets.
Moon Over Pendennis
From our room we could see Pendennis Castle, a really well-preserved 16th-century fortress built by Henry VIII and now owned by English Heritage (the castle is that blob in the centre of the land mass). The views from the Castle grounds are fabulous, too, especially across the Fal River to lovely St. Mawes which boasts its own castle.
From Pendennis to St Mawes
We took a couple of trips during our stay, one to Truro to see its three-spired cathedral. Building was completed in 1910 and it is a great example of gothic revival architecture. The cathedral is right in the middle of town and is reached by quaint little roads and alleyways. Truro Cathedral has a real community feel and appears very much to be integrated into the town’s activities. There is also a thriving cafe and restaurant in its annexe building where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
Truro with Cathedral
On the way home we took time to enjoy coffee at Jamaica Inn on the edge of the atmospheric Bodmin Moor, with which I have a special affinity, and spent a pleasant hour planning our next trip to Cornwall. Can’t wait.
Recently, while my mum was staying with us (she lives a couple of hours away on the coast), we decided to spend the day in the nearby Georgian city of Bath. The weather was absolutely glorious, so instead of focusing on shopping as we usually do, we decided to act as tourists for the day and take in some of Bath’s major attractions.
First we visited Bath Abbey. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past the Abbey and enjoyed various concerts inside it, but acting the tourist I discovered that it’s one of the most visited places in the south west of England, and one of the largest examples of perpendicular Gothic architecture in the country. It was founded in the 7th Century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th Century, and has been a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. In 973, the first king of England, King Edgar, was crowned here, and the service set the precedent for the coronation of all future Kings and Queens of England.
After admiring the Abbey, we decided to treat ourselves to morning coffee and a Bath bun at the Pump Rooms just across the grounds. Built in 1706, the Pump Rooms form part of the Roman Baths, and still retains some of the original Georgian features. While dining, visitors are treated to music provided by an excellent pianist, and there’s the opportunity to ‘take the waters’ of the hot springs still poured via the original marble vase, now over 200 years old. The waters are said to have curative powers. (sidenote: it tastes foul).
The Pump Rooms were very fashionable amongst 18th Century high society. Jane Austen mentioned it in some of her novels “Every creature in Bath was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours”, and it provided inspiration for other notable authors, namely Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein while staying nearby.
As we wandered around the city, my mum was fascinated by the living statue street performers. But on such a hot day she was very concerned that they were out so long in the sun without a break. Knowing my mum’s caring nature, I had the impression that at any moment we would be heading along to the nearest supermarket to order a supply of water for distribution amongst Bath’s outdoor performing artists! 🙂
We thoroughly enjoyed our day as tourists, but we did manage to get some shopping done, too. Why change the habit of a lifetime?
Smarty Pants … the new nickname AJ awarded Ms. Vivvy after she passed her Kennel Club Good Citizen’s Gold Award last week. She is incredibly pleased with herself, and I swear she knows that she’s done something of note, LOL.
It was quite a gruelling assessment (if not for the dogs, it was for the owners – phew!). We started at 10am and completed at around 11.45am. The tasks included: walking to heel along a busy road and not getting distracted by cars, people, noise and other dogs; A free run on the field where they had to come to an emergency stop when told (Vivvy was brilliant, and stopped immediately even when a swift decided to swoop down across her eye line at precisely the moment I shouted ‘stop’); and to retrieve a toy and bring it back to the owner. It also included being handled by someone unknown to the dog, leaving a bowl of food until given permission (which she’s been trained to do since puppyhood), and weaving in an out of bollards while staying close to heel.
There was also a two minute stay, thirty seconds of which required the owners to go out of sight of their dogs – something we’ve been working on for a while with little success, because usually as soon as I go out of sight she comes to find me, LOL. But bless her, she didn’t move an inch on the day.
So, our golden girl now has the hat-trick: Bronze, Silver and Gold. We’re very proud of her.
Where to now? Well, we’ve been thinking about applying for her to become a P.A.T dog (Pets as Therapy). When my late aunt was in a care home, we took Vivvy and she was absolutely amazing. Lots of the residents wanted to make a fuss of her and she absolutely loved it. She was very calm and it was lovely watching her bring a smile to people’s faces. There is also the opportunity to work with children who have problems reading. It’s been discovered that when children read to dogs their confidence and reading ability greatly improves. So there’s much to think about and many options open to explore.
Whatever she does next, we know she’ll be a little star. We couldn’t be more proud of our Golden Girl.
Taking a well earned rest!
I love napkins/serviettes. Not just the crisp white linen varieties found in restaurants and at formal dinners, but the pretty paper versions. They make me happy. I know that sounds daft but sometimes it’s the small things scattered throughout the day that bring a smile. I tend to pick up packs of paper serviettes while out and about, and almost always bring them home from trips away, both home and abroad.
While at lunch last week, Jane (after looking at me sideways when I admitted my fetish for paper napkins) helped me demonstrate a particularly pretty variety used by our eating establishment. And no, we hadn’t imbibed too much wine 🙂
Napkins/serviettes have been around a long time. The first napkins were used by the ancient Romans who used pocket-sized pieces of fabric to mop their brows while eating. The Spartans used lumps of dough to wipe their hands, a practice which morphed into sliced bread used by the ancient Greeks. Paper napkins came into use after the invention of paper in ancient China during the 2nd century BCE.
The practical soon became an art form, too. Elaborate napkin folding techniques date back to the time of Louis XIV of France and to 16th century Florence. Today, it is not uncommon to find intricate folding designs both in restaurants and at private functions.
Who knew the simple napkin/serviette could have such an interesting history?