Monday, 15 August 2011

More Lavender for your senses

As you enjoy the pictures (below), you can also listen to a song that will sound very familiar, performed by English folk singer Jackie Oates at Gloucester Cathedral.  

  • Isn't her voice enchanting? It shows what you can do with a simple melody. I wonder if Jane Austen used to wander around as a child in the Surrey lavender fields and hum this melody to herself?
  • Now that both vision and hearing have been stimulated, let's move on to the olfactory buds that are clamoring for attention.  
  • Here's a recipe for Lavender Shortbread Biscuits (Cookies) that someone recommended to me. I've loved shortbread biscuits since I learned how to make them at school. My favorite part of making shortbread was the magical moment when the dough finally turned into breadcrumbs. It gave me a sense of remarkable achievement. I thought of myself as an artist, a creator, transforming clay into something else. Never mind that the "breadcrumbs" themselves weren't much to look at!
  • I like the fact that the recipe calls for both mint and lavender. I love both, which makes the recipe especially appealing. 
  • Let me know if you try them before I do.

from Maryeileen
  • 350g butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 4 tablespoons sifted icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 325g plain flour
  • 65g cornflour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, caster sugar and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the lavender, mint and lemon zest. Combine the flour, cornflour and salt; mix into the butter and sugar mixture until well blended. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and flatten to about 2.5cm thick. Refrigerate until firm, about 1hour.
Preheat the oven to 170 C / Gas mark 3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 6mm in thickness. Cut into shapes with scone or biscuit cutters. Biscuit stamps will work well on these too. Place on baking trays.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, just until biscuits begin to brown at the edges. Cool for a few minutes on the baking trays then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Click on the image below to go to the website of Mayfield farms and read the fascinating story of how the field was revived. 
Are you fond of lavender, as Jane Austen's friend Martha Lloyd was? What do you use it for?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Lavender Fields Forever

It's the height of the lavender season and what a relief it is to spot a sea of flowing blue-purple on an undulating hillside not too far from Croydon, which achieved notoriety in the news this week as fires raged and looting and rioting became the order of the day. 

The Surrey Downs (the foothills, not the real downs) are an ocean of calm after the nervous tension of the week. There is something hypnotic and heady about walking about with lavender surrounding me as far as my eye can see. A magnificent calm descends over me. Sight and aroma combine to cast a much needed soothing spell, smoothing away the jitters. I weave in and out of the neat rows, smiling at others who clearly feel the same.  
This is one of the charms of the English countryside (even if this field is more urban than country). A sign points to the field with the words Public Footpath (or it could have been Bridleway, same thing, since I don't ride). This means, ultimately, that you're allowed to ramble all over the place.
There's some comfort, too, in knowing that lavender grew in the same location through the 18th and 19th century right until the late Victorian era. In fact large segments of the area I live in were once swathed with lavender fields. What a sight it must have been!
My gran's knitted hanger w/lavender. Her own lacework
Unfortunately, with the growth of the perfume industry, the simple aroma of lavender was rejected as too homegrown and simple. It came to be associated with the Victorians (and the Edwardians) and times past, conjuring  images of old fashioned cupboards, knitted hangers with lavendar bags. Or posies and handkerchiefs sprinkled in lavender to cover the rank smell of sewage when heavy rain flooded the streets of the old industrial cities. My grandmother -- who died last year at the grand old age of almost 101 -- certainly used them to ward off moths. 

As civilization grew more complex and sophisticated, simple perfumes like lavender were regarded with contempt. With advertisements hawking expensive perfumes to stimulate your sexual appeal , poor lavender with its association as a moth repellent (even more old-fashioned than moth balls) didn't stand a chance. Lavender was consigned to a dusty and forgotten attic. The lavender fields all but disappeared into the history books.

Luckily, a very few persisted, indifferent to the coming and going of fashions, and a few were revived. Mayfield is one, as is the Carshalton Lavender Project, which is working to bring back Carshalton Lavender to its former glory. Carshalton Lavender is considered once of the finest lavenders in the world.

Which is why I was able to take a friend visiting from the US to see the glorious (and organic) Mayfields, lying in a blaze of purple on a small hillside.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Perspectives on Mr. Darcy

Click on image above to visit the Extravaganza
As part of the month-long Austenesque Extravagnaza over at Austenesque Reviews, I've written a post for Spotlight Saturday along with a small challenge for those of you who like to see Mr. Darcy from different points of view. I'd be very happy to see you there -- I'm sure you can contribute a great deal to the discussion.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Return of the Native -- I'm back!

There's something to be said about coming home.

Of course, I haven't left my wonderful friends at Austen Authors behind. On the contrary. After almost a year together I couldn't do without them. You can still find me there, but I'll be travelling hither and thither, dipping a big toe here, a big toe there (and some little ones, too).

Not much of a landscape
I haven't chosen my toes metaphor randomly. In fact, toes are rather important to me at the moment, since I broke my leg and had it suspended in a cast right in front of me for a long time. This gave me time to contemplate the universe and the nature of toes. It was the first time I wondered why we have toenails (other than for something to paint), and why they didn't disappear some time during our evolution, since we hardly hang by our toenails any more. Nor do we use them to fight (like claws), to dig the ground for grub, or make holes to bury our cache of nuts. You'd think nature would have done away with them by now. After all, if our tails -- which were considerably bigger -- could drop off, why not our toenails?
Not my toes, alas!

I suppose they may function as protection. Remember the last time you dropped that hammer on your toes? Lucky you had toenails or it would have been a lot worse.

Still, they weren't any use when I broke my leg, so we're back to the original question.

As you can see, during my absence I have been engaged in extremely profound reflections.