donderdag 23 februari 2017

We ought to bake a sunshine cake

It happens every year around this time. You can't say it's regular as clockwork, as it depends on the kind of weather we've been having. Sometimes the first signs are there near the end of January. This year, however, we were well into February, and I was getting a bit worried.

What a relief, when one day last week I opened the back door and a heady perfume wafted my way.

Winter box or sweet box is a small evergreen, winter-flowering shrub with the tongue twisting botanical name of Sarcococca, which has highly scented flowers.

Throughout the year, it is really just a rather boring little shrub.

What it lacks in looks, however, it makes up in abundance with its divine winter aroma emanating from its diminutive flowers.

For a week or so each year, its perfume, trapped under the glass awning outside our back door, is taking centre stage.

Our neglected little patch isn't much to look at, especially this time of year, but here and there tiny little crocuses, their bulbs planted long ago and left to their own devices, are appearing out of nowhere, almost overnight.

The winter flowering Clematis armandii is full of fat buds, out of which starry almond scented white flowers will soon burst into life.

A dash of yellow is provided by the last of the winter jasmine, soon to be followed by the first of the winter aconites, with their funny little hula skirts.

Oh, I can't wait for spring to begin in earnest!

Last Sunday, with the sun still making an appearance in the morning, we baked a cake, its delicious aroma competing with the winter box outside the kitchen window.

According to the recipe, it's a "scone cake", and it's very easy to make. I actually love baking but I hardly ever seem to find the time to do so.

The cake features apples, orange zest and blueberries, although you can use blackberries when in season, or indeed any other fruit you fancy.

The pinny I'm wearing is a true vintage one I charity shopped for a pittance a couple of years ago. It is well used, with a couple of faded spots, and its former owner really "made do and mended", which makes me love it even more.

Even though there were no disasters, this is the stage when we are starting to have some doubts.

But lo and behold, after 45-50 minutes in the oven, it comes out perfectly formed.

We'd invited over our friends Ingrid and Maurice for a long overdue visit to Dove Cottage, as life had been getting a bit in the way of socializing these last couple of months.

Now it was time for a catch up over cups of coffee and tea, with a piece of yummy home made cake.

While the boys were talking (whatever about, I wonder, they are meeting for a drink every week), the girls went upstairs for a rummage through my stash of surplus clothes, and Ingrid went home with two jackets, two dresses and a blouse.

Here's a collage Ingrid sent me of her trying-on session at home. She got the butterfly brooch as part of her birthday present from us last year.

Ingrid came bearing a gift too.

Instead of real flowers, she crocheted these and put them into a cute little retro vase.

One thing is for sure: they will never wilt!

All too soon, another weekend had gone by, and so had our short-lived taste of spring.

As from Monday, we are back in the doldrums, accompanied by rain and stormy weather, and spring once again seems a long way off.

zondag 19 februari 2017

It might as well be spring

In spite of February being the shortest month of the year, it often feels like it's the longest, especially when the weather's been misbehaving and refuses to let go of its winter cloak.

Traditionally, the month of February should already bring some spring like days. After all, Imbolc, also known as the Feast of Brigid, celebrates the arrival of longer days and the early signs of spring on the First of February.

In the past week, the weather gods finally gave in to our cravings and treated us to a couple of days of sunshine and milder temperatures.

Saturday was such a day, and what a relief it was to be able to pose for outfit photos in our favourite spot without the risk of catching pneumonia.

I chose a short purple dress with a lilac flower pattern, a dropped collar and three self-fabric buttons at the yoke. It was one of my very first vintage dresses.

I accessorized the dress with a little mustard cardigan with purple trim and buttons, mustard opaques, a string of black and white beads, an elephant brooch and a ring with a purple centre stone in a circle of little pearls.

I bought the roomy brown tapestry handbag at Think Twice last month.

The weather was far too good for indoor activities, so we took a picnic to our favourite park, which is conveniently close to a large charity shop, in case said weather gods would suddenly change their fickle minds!

In the end, I'm glad to report that they didn't and that we were able to have our first outdoor picnic of the year! Yay!

It was a picnic with a view too. I know, you've seen this stony water feature before (here, for instance) but it's a view we never get tired of, looking different every time we visit.

The park itself has also featured here many times before. It really is our go-to place if we want to soak up some sunshine at short notice. We also often use it for picnics while on charity shopping trips, usually starting at the shop which is only a five minute walk away.

Nature left us in no doubt that Spring is on its way. Clumps of gently nodding snowdrops were everywhere, there was the odd pink-blossomed shrub and the first of the daffodils were coming into bud.

We walked along the River Nete, which is bordering the park, towards the town of Duffel, and across the bridge to the river's other side, where the towpath runs between the river and a water reservoir.

Recrossing the bridge, we descended into the park again, where a baby stone circle seemed to be growing ...

After practising our silly poses, we continued along the river, until we came to the path leading down to the adjacent Ter Elst park and its evocative moated ruin.

The first sight of the castle, framed by the ancient trees, made my heart sing, the  quality of light making the red brick glow and stand out against the deep blue of the sky.

White gulls, which had drifted up from the river, were circling the castle and vying for a place at the top of the tower, which met its drunken reflection in the rippling water of the moat.

On our way back, we passed a tree which called out for some posing. Split and hollow, it is nevertheless still going strong.

I was reminded of a photo taken of a much younger me, taken in a different park in 1968.

I've always been fascinated by trees, especially of the old and gnarled variety and I can't help wondering about the things they must have witnessed in their lifetimes. Oh, the stories they could tell if they could speak. Unlocking their secrets must be equal to stepping inside a time machine.

Nearby, there was tree with a little hollow of its own, into which a couple of blue tits were moving when we passed. Nesting already, as one of them arrived carrying a beakful of moss.

But be careful, little birds, as it isn't Spring just yet, and Winter might still have a couple of nasty surprises in store ...

"Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter's woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air."
-  William Morris, The Earthly Paradise: A Poem, 1870

woensdag 15 februari 2017

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky

I've no idea how it is that weather forecasters are getting to keep their jobs.

It's one mistake after another with them. Anyone else would get the sack if they made even half of the mistakes these people do.

Yes, I know that even with the latest technology, the weather can still be pretty unpredictable, but then what is the use of pretending that it is and pulling the wool over people's eyes?

We'd been promised a little bit of sunshine all week, but the weekend had come and gone and still we were left high and dry.

Saturday was such a dark and dismal day that we had to resort to taking outfit photos inside the house again.
It was far too cold to take off my coat and show you the dress I was wearing underneath in our usual spot.

I'd chosen a dress I'd forgotten all about until I suddenly remembered it last week.

Only, I couldn't find it anywhere.

Turns out I hadn't hung it up in my wardrobe yet, as I was still deciding whether to keep it or not!

It's made from a rather coarsely woven fabric and just a tad on the big side, but I like its groovy pattern so I'm not going to part with it just yet!

I added my burnt orange tights, a brown cardi to which I'd pinned the orange flower brooch I bought at last weekend's flea market, and a strain of amber beads.

It started snowing lightly when we ventured outside but we wanted to make the most of the available daylight to make the rest of the outfit photos.

Nothing new here: I chose my fake-fur jacket which is light and comfortable to wear while providing me with the necessary warmth at the same time (best buy ever!), my burgundy woolly hat and my purple crocheted scarf.

The buildings with the chimney in the background used to be part of one of our village's breweries - all of them long gone - which were converted to offices and housing many years ago.

Where we were off to should come as no surprise: it was time again for our favourite indoor flea market in nearby Mechelen.

Although there were quite a few treasures to be found, we were very restrained and only made a couple of small purchases.

So, what did we get? Well, several brooches, of course. I bought five in total, four of which, including the celluloid Edelweiss, for € 1 each.

We weren't going to buy any more Lourdes souvenirs, but then I saw this miniature holy water font. With its Art Deco design, and priced at only € 2,50, it would have been quite silly to leave it behind.

These empty metal photographic film canisters, from three different manufacturers, including Gevaert, which was a Belgian company, are interesting little additions to our collection of old cameras and accessories, which I must tell you about some time.

Here's a closer look at the Gevaert one:

Gevaert is a local company, which was renamed Agfa-Gevaert in 1964 after a merger, and I'm passing its factories each day on my way home.

In addition, both my grandfathers spent their entire working lives at Gevaert.

The company has dropped the Gevaert part from its name in the meantime.

How sweet is this vintage Gevaert ad?

Tying in with the photo at the start of this post, this German ad for Gevaert isn't bad either.

I can assure you that the little man living inside our weather house doesn't have a camera, though.

In fact, he is quite a lazy so-and-so, hardly venturing outside his little cottage, and letting his wife do all the work.

Our final purchase was made from a huge pitch full of boxes containing old bottles in all shapes and sizes. While we were admiring the many quirky and colourful inkwells, codd-neck bottles and assorted perfume bottles, the seller told us they had been dug up from landfills, and he filled us in on the the time consuming task of cleaning and sorting them.

I selected this pretty little bottle with a weathered Bakelite stopper, as I liked its flower design.

I'm quite ignorant when it comes to perfumes, especially vintage ones, but as the name Mury was mentioned at the bottom, I soon discovered that it used to contain Narcisse Bleu, which was first introduced in 1925.

In fact, although I found pictures of Narcisse Bleu bottles in various designs, I only came across one or two pictures of mine, and so far I haven't been able to find out its age.

By the time you are reading this, the sun has finally made her long awaited appearance, restoring my belief that Spring is now definitely around the corner, bringing with it the first of the ... daffodils!

zondag 12 februari 2017

This town has dragged me down

Having lived in Antwerp for nearly 15 years and been commuting to it for another 23, has somewhat dulled my senses to the city's charms.

On sunny days, my daily commute can be a small delight, the sunlight spotlighting even the ugliest of buildings, so that I'm itching to take out my camera and start snapping away.

Even the sometimes grating juxtaposition of old and new, the result of years of madness and bad planning, can look charming when the timid morning sunshine is casting its soft glow.

On dark winter days, which are numbing the mind, it's much harder to find charm in my day-to-day surroundings.

The dirty concrete, the endless stream of traffic, the clanging trams and honking cars and the plaintive wailing of emergeny sirens aren't exactly soothing for the soul.

Then, it's a hostile world out there, on which I would like to close the curtains for a day.

But negativity doesn't get one anywhere so, even when the rain is falling down in buckets, I often use my camera as therapy during lunch break.

If you care to look, and look hard enough, there's beauty to be discovered everywhere, even in the most boring of shopping centres.

If I'm having a rubbish day, the next best thing to some vintage shopping is taking my camera and walking around the city streets, playing at being a tourist, trying to see it all as if for the first time.

Never venturing too far away, though, as I only have a 45 minute lunch break!

Just a five minute walk takes me to Antwerp's Gothic cathedral.

Here, I am joining the hordes of tourists admiring the magnificent carvings above the main entrance, depicting the Last Judgment.

Amazingly, they were only added between 1903 and 1906.

A less than ten minute walk in another direction takes me to one of Antwerp's exclusive shopping areas, which is dominated by the Bourla theatre. This neoclassical building was designed in 1827 by city architect Pierre Bourla, its construction finished in 1834.

As I was having a bit of an off-week, I was glad that Friday finally came around. In spite of the weatherman's promise that it would be sunny, the day was as grey as its predecessors, and we were even treated to a light dusting of snow.

But I had the afternoon off, and met my friends Inez and Kris for coffee at our usual haunt, De Lantaren, a cozy coffee shop tucked away in a side street not far from Antwerp's Grote Markt.

After a quick catch-up on each other's lives and a good old-fashioned gossiping session, Inez and I said goodbye to Kris, and continued the afternoon with some vintage shopping.

It was the first day of the sales at Think Twice, our favourite chain of vintage shops, and everything was 30% off.

Nevertheless, I only bought two items: an almost pristine pair of shiny black open heeled shoes, and a short-sleeved green Tricel jumper closing with a zip at the back. Look at those cute little bows on the front!

Here's to hoping for a more sunny outlook next week, and some blue skies outside my office window.

Until then, I seem to be providing the only bit of colour in a sea of grey ...