Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Rose Hip Syrup

I made my first ever homemade rose hip syrup last autumn. It was dead easy. But first a bit of background.

The Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson, came out in 1972, apparently. I remember seeing it with a then boyfriend. We were both fairly inspired by the film, he perhaps even more than I. A few years later we went our separate ways, but I've always been slightly astounded that said boyfriend named his only child Jeremiah, with a middle name equally as Biblical. I always felt rather bad for the kid, but perhaps he has thrived in spite of his name and ... all. 

Anyhow, at some point I found a book that purported to be the foundation for this film's screenplay: Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher. I read it several times over several years and it eventually also went a separate way, but one thing in it always stuck with me: rose hips. In the book the main character picks rose hips and does something with them because of their vitamin C. I remember at the time, in the Dark Ages Before Internet, wondering what on earth was a rose hip?

To my knowledge, I never set eyes on one in all the 39 years I lived in the US, but then I didn't get out a lot then and we didn't have 'hedgerows' along 'public footpaths'. I was rather excited when Bill identified a rose hip for me on one of our walks. Bill told me that as a child, in post-war (WWII) Britain, he and other children were encouraged to pick rose hips and take them to school, where they would be paid for them. The rose hips were then made into rose hip syrup which was given to school children - again, because of their vitamin C content. This was just after food rationing ended, so there must still have been concern about children's nutritional needs being met. 

My friend, Vivien, heard me witter on about rose hip syrup for so long she bought me a small bottle one year, for Christmas or a birthday. It was lovely but I was sure it cost more than I was prepared to pay for something I could make at home.

So, (we're getting to the real point) this autumn Bill and I noticed that foraging was particularly good. We found a small wild tree with a few green apples, we picked quite a few blackberries, a friend from my crafting group told me where to find a vast number of damson trees, we found a few sloes and quite a few rose hips. In the midst of starting various other fruit alcohols and crisps I found a rose hip syrup recipe and had a go. This is the one I used, and it couldn't be easier.

I think I spent a few minutes cutting off the stems and ends, but I'm not even sure that was necessary before setting them to boil in a prescribed amount of water. When it came time to strain the solution (twice) I used two very stained linen tea towels, saved for use as strainers.  I remember Simon asking me if rose hips were the things with 'itchy powder' in them and Bill said yes. Their really isn't a lot of 'meat' on rosehips and the inside has what looks like a lot of very tiny needles in. You really don't want to be dealing with those, hence the double strain. So as with crab apples you just boil them, filter the liquid and add sugar, heating til the sugar dissolves. I filled almost three empty gin bottles with the syrup from one afternoon's harvest. The ladies at my craft group wanted to know where all that gin went. They seemed almost disappointed when I said it was in the loft with damsons and sugar added. We used the partial bottle right away, the other two went into the freezer until closer to Christmas when I decanted the syrup into small wine bottles (Bill and I drank the wine) for gifts. 

Bill loves this stuff and I'm pretty fond of it myself. It's fairly sweet, of course, but has a rich kind of flavour Bill says takes him back to his childhood. We've been using it on breakfast cereal instead of sugar or honey.

One of the Christmas presents I got Bill was membership in a local foraging class, Wild North Discovery, with several meetings scheduled over the year. Of course I joined myself as well, to make it an activity we could share. I'm looking forward to learning what else we can pick up around here to eat!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Looking Back

If you've never read The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Jim Boyd, I can recommend it. Perhaps I should warn British readers it may smack of self-help. It's been a while but from what I recall, it is full of quizzes to help decide if you mainly (mentally/emotionally) live in the past, in the future or in the present (the latter being a rather hedonistic group, I think).  I'm thinking they recommended a bit of all three.  Note to self to re-read it.

Anyhow, I would suggest if you are busy planning all the things you want to do in 2018, it might be good it remember all you did in 2017. I don't think most of us give ourselves credit for all that we do. I jotted some brief notes for 2017, as I try to do at the end of each year; no doubt other things will come to mind when this is published, but here is my list:

  • I 'lost' 12 pounds. Mind I 'found' a few over the holidays but am confident they will fall off again, once all the junk food is gone (AKA eaten). The only thing I did was to stop buying or making bread, buying cheese or crackers. Well, the other thing was to make my own lunch of yogurt, fruit and nuts instead of having Bill make (delicious but sometimes fattening) lunch. We eat together at breakfast and usually dinner, but go our own ways at lunch.
  • Made two new friends that I see semi-regularly.  These are two ladies I met at the WI that I decided I want to know better. I have a list of friends I want to keep up with and I cycle through their names, making dates to get together.
  • Went to dressmaking classes and made myself three t-shirts and two button-down shirts. 
  • Re-arranged my new sewing room after redecorating (new paint & carpet). It doesn't look how I'd like, but it looks how it looks. Further transformation is likely a rest-of-my-life task, but it works well for me as it is. It isn't as good as a guest room since everything isn't hidden behind a closet door anymore, but we have overnight guests maybe 3-4 times a year, so it will have to do for now.
  • Adopted the clean house habits from Zen Habits. Bill has signed on for most of this as well and  though neither of us is perfect we have enjoyed a much tidier house this past year. I've only recently attempted the 15-minute a day un-clutter and in the run up to Christmas I was amazed at the mountains that got shifted. 
  • Attended all my WI (Women's Institute) and WI Book Group meetings when we were in town.  
  • Boycotted Amazon (other than I bought two books I couldn't get otherwise in time for my Book Group and got two books as Christmas gifts). Expect I saved at least a hundred pounds.
  • Read 57 books.
  • Published 53 blog posts.
  • Joined the YMCA gym with Bill; attended Zumba Gold classes regularly at Linskill Community Centre.
  • Posted notices in community centres about yarn for our knitting group.
  • Had holidays in Switzerland (a new place) and France (revisited familiar places). 
  • Found gardening workshops and a foraging (for free food!) club
  • Attended a lecture on the history of jewellery in Harrogate.
  • Made a coptic stitch notebook on my own (well, with a video)
  • Started Bullet Journalling
  • Made rosehip syrup (a post is forthcoming)
  • Donated an enormous pile of clothing from the attic, keeping only natural fibre / dye-able / biodegradable cloth.
  • Wrapped all our Christmas gifts in re-cycled paper from last year and with re-cycled and/or handmade bows.
None of these is earth-shaking and there are loads of other even smaller items I could possibly add. However ordinary these 'achievements', they all help shape the life I have long wanted to make for myself.

What did you do in 2017?

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

This Year's Stack

So, it's a different picture this year as I decided to boycott Amazon for 

a) selling Trump family products 
b) having a reputation as a miserable place to work
c) threatening small businesses worldwide 
d) changing the culture with 24-hour delivery 

I was torn, as the owner of Amazon also owns the Washington Post but at the end of the day, I decided
e) I don't need to help Jeff Bezos get any richer

I've been doing business with Wordery and Book Depository. They aren't necessarily the cheapest option, but Bill discovered that Book Depository would do free delivery where Amazon charged a large fee. If you know of other book sources, I'd love to hear about them.

So, I gave Bill and each of the step-kids a wishlist with links to alternative sources. I didn't include books as I'm still having a book clear out. Also, I know at least two of them have an umbilical cord attached to Prime and are assimilated into the cult of instant gratification. I hasten to add I'm still fond of them and am not aware either are struggling with debt. I just love book shops and want to see them survive.

As it happens Sarah was super organised and had her shopping completed before the first of December. It was around then that I made my Amazon wishlist private and sent the wish list around. 

Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin:
I had already read this book from the library but wanted a copy to mark up, annotate, etc. It has a lot of useful information I'm planning to use. Funny enough, our WI book group read one of her other books, Happier at Home, and pretty much all the Brits really hated it. Self-help stuff is not part of British culture, as one lady I really like said, "Why doesn't she stop saying 'Be Gretchen' and just get on with it?" I loved that remark as so essentially British and yet I still like Gretchen Ruben's books even though I'm not sure I would like her as a person. The Brits saw her as incredibly self-indulgent, even though she is combining her personal wish for growth with a very lucrative writing career. 

I sort of see what they mean, but I think she is very much a 'reader's writer' in that her books are full of quotes, research and references. I never read one of her books without finding out there are several other books she mentions that I want to get hold of. 

If you can bear the idea of improving yourself (and in this case, forming better habits that make your life easier) then I really do recommend this book.

Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore, Terry Newman:
I read this through quickly on Christmas Day, as Bill was in bed with a cold (we opened presents on Boxing Day). Can't say I knew of all the authors, so there may be something to learn from this. Otherwise, it was generally underwhelming. I was hoping for something more than it delivered somehow. It's reminded me to copy my Amazon wishlist and visit the library first. Still, I will probably re-read it to see if I overlooked the bits that might have provided more satisfaction. I remember reading 20th Century Characters, by Duncan Fallowell and commenting here that it was rather boring. It turned out that when I re-read it a couple of years later I found it quite fascinating, mainly because I knew more about who those characters were and how they fitted into my mental puzzle of the inter-war years. So I'm prepared to give Newman's book another go. 

Instead of books this year I got some perfume (Chanel No. 5), some bath and skin products, a couple of magazine subscriptions (No Serial Number and Reclaim), some peacock feathers, all on my list; also some surprises: chocolate, wine and sloe gin.

Did you get a stack of books for Christmas?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Black-Eyed Peas!

I have a whole raft* of ideas for traditions, old and new, in 2018. The first is to honour my Southern roots in the US by eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day to bring good luck in the coming year. I hated them as a child and negotiated with Mom down to three: she thought eating three black-eyed peas might just be enough to save me. 

I love them now. We had a large ham over Christmas and I saved the fat from it to flavour my beans. We buy dried beans -  some of every kind they have at the Asian grocery in Brighton Grove - and a large bag of polenta (corn meal) about every 2-3 years. It takes that long for us to finish them off. The beans soak for about 24 hours and cook in the crock pot for a few hours on high. I generally cook about three cups of dried beans at a time and freeze the cooked beans in smaller portions. Nothing suits beans and ham like some hot buttered cornbread. That was Mom's comfort food and it has become mine as well.

Here in Britain black-eyed peas are sometimes known as cow-peas, which is perhaps too close in my mind to 'cow patty' to sound attractive, but I can see why one might think they bear markings similar to a cow, mmm perhaps a British White?

...there is nothing so easy to create as a tradition.
                                                     Sir Walter Scott

*How is it we use the word 'raft' to refer to a large collection of things when it is clearly a flat wooden thing for floating on water? Turns out that went from the North part of Britain over to the US:

 Do you have a tradition you observe for the New Year?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Cousins of Some Fame

Do you have any film-related Christmas traditions? We have faithfully watched Hogfather every Christmas for about a decade. Or rather Bill has, it tends to put me to sleep for some reason. Anyhow, I fought back by obtaining White Christmas.  (Also, I finally got him to watch Love Actually and he Actually decided he Loved it, which was a nice surprise.)

Anyhow, I thought I spotted the name Robert Altman in the White Christmas credits. As Hogfather (part I) began I grabbed my laptop and tried to find out how Robert Altman (of M.A.S.H. and Gosford Park fame) was involved with White Christmas.  Turned out he wasn't, the name was in fact Alton, not Altman, and I lost interest.

But then I Googled Vera Ellen, given that Mom was always a major fan and it sort of rubbed off on me. I was electrified to read that the first husband of Vera Ellen was named Robert Hightower. It was also moderately interesting that her second husband was Victor Rothschild of the Jewish Banking Family Rothschild. Only moderately because I'm not related to the Rothschild's, so far as I know, chance would be a fine thing... I am, however, a Hightower, or rather my great-grandmother was. 

It is generally agreed amongst Hightower genealogists that all the Hightowers in the US descend from a Joshua Hightower who left England for the Virginia colony in the mid-1600's. I looked at people who were DNA matches for me and/or four other maternal cousins who are Hightowers. There were 300-some DNA matches who had the name Hightower in their family tree. I could trace - in a rough & ready sort of way using other people's family trees - them all back to Joshua. So I'm ready to claim any Hightower as a cousin (even if it is 11th Cousin or something silly). 

So who was this Robert Hightower who was married to Vera Ellen? I can show you a photo of him on his second marriage (to yet another dancer).  I'm still researching what I can document about his life and there are some rather sad stories (I've never claimed to have a 'normal' family). However, it seems that he also had a brother and a sister who were successful dancers, though not on the scale of Vera Ellen.  More about them later.

And then, looking for one Hightower dancer, I found yet another, one I should have known about as she was from Oklahoma. If you wish, you can watch Rosella Hightower dancing. I think she is absolute magic!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017


I found this photo I snapped on our last day in Basel last May. I think it was a big motivator for finding a dressmaking class. Although I like fairly plain clothing, there is something special about a hidden detail - the collar band or under collar, a pocket or coat lining - that can make a garment feel really special. None of the pieces I've made so far has been anything but straightforward, but I can see a day when I indulge myself.

We (re) watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them last night. If J.K. Rowling's imagination, Eddie Redmayne's perfect awkwardness or the spectacular creatures weren't enough, consider that the film is set in 1926 in New York and the clothes are to die for. I fell in love with the leather collar band on Newt Scamander's coat in practically the first scene and was captivated by the costumes ever after. I'm not the only one taken with that coat. 

There are entire Pinterest groups based on just figuring out how to make this coat. I'm not telling Bill I found a place where you can buy them in 'adult' men's sizes...