Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 - some best bits

A challenge to myself and to my usually gloomy outlook: to find and write about some best bits or favourite things from the past year.

I think the project of the year has to be Dad's Fair Isle jumper, I'm just coming to the end of the first sleeve, so it will not be finished this year, but it is the knitting I am most proud of.  The Jamieson Spindrift I am knitting the jumper in is undoubtedly my favourite yarn find of the year, I never thought I would be saying how soft Shetland yarn is but it has really grown on me.


Additionally I am pleased I managed to get my Pomme de Pin cardigan finished, it was another epic knit, but one I wear a lot, very snug and soft and warm despite its light lacy fabric.

Bumblebee on sunflower in my garden 1st September 2013 in Croydon

The recipe of the year has to be the apple and fruit cake I made for Dad's birthday, it was so, so moist and so simple and clever.  Again it was a recipe from Aunt Daisy dating back to the late 1940s; her books contain a rich seam of recipes to continue trying.  As a recipe it suited my energy levels and needing to pace myself because I could make the apple purée one day and the cake the next, a good while ahead of the party itself so that the cake could mature.  No need like a sponge to cook it that day or at most the day before.

Here is the recipe as it appears in the book, I baked it in a 23cm round tin, the cups are English although it would probably work in American cups and just be a slightly larger cake.  A moderate oven is around 180C though I may have used a slightly lower temperature as our oven can be a bit fierce.  It came out perfectly flat on top without so much as a dip.  When you first bake the cake it does look a bit dry and uninspiring, hold your nerve, wrap it up and pop it into a tin for at least two weeks and your patience will be rewarded.

Apple fruit cake – delicious
Do not cut this cake for a fortnight. Have ready 1 ½ cups stewed apple, sweetened with ½ cup sugar and with 1 tablespoon butter melted into it. Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa; 1 dessertspoon spice; ½ teaspoon baking soda; 2 large cups flour; lemon peel and dried fruit to taste (about 1 ½ to 2 cups). Add the apple mixture and a little milk if necessary. Line tin with greased paper. Bake in a moderate oven for about 1 ½ hours.


After much thought I think my album of the year has to be Seven Stars by Chris Haines.  It is a quiet, peaceful album soaked in the Bible and the past of the church.  Of all the songs the one that I love the most is "Strangers", about our true home, it is a peaceful, hopeful song that helps to put all the worries of today into perspective, speaking of the "colours undiscovered", the "sweet aromas" of heaven and how we will be home soon.  Throughout the year this song has helped me in times of despair or panic to find my bearings again and remember that this life is not forever, that a better life is forever.  You can listen to the album here on bandcamp and read the lyrics here.

Rend Collective Experiment's album Campfire has probably been my other album of the year, full of life and energy.  I am so looking forward to their new album.

My garden find of the year: Southover Grange in Lewes

Elizabeth Jane Howard was my book find of the year.  Radio 4's dramatisation of her Cazalet novels caught my attention and I started by reading her autobiography, Slipstream, in January; a tremendous work, lively and honest, one of the best autobiographies I have ever read.  After this I moved onto the Cazalet novels themselves and devoured them, I was so completely in their world and found myself, in the intervals of reading the world insists in inserting, wondering what was going to happen, utterly caught up in the lives of the characters.  They are more than the usual "family saga" novels, all the characters are real and engaging, no mean feat in a novel sequence about such a large family and there is a strong sense of place.


My reading has also branched out, inspired by Katherine Swift's Morville Hours, a book about the creation of a garden and so much more besides, don't just take my word for it, go and read it, now, go on!  So I have read more garden and countryside books, ideal if you cannot get out that much, to go to other places in books.  I have read my way through most of the Penguin English Journeys books, particular favourites were the volumes by Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville West on gardening and I plan to read more of both their books in the new year.  Some of Gertrude Jekyll's books are out of copyright and so available on line for free which is particularly handy.  The extracts from James Lees-Milne's diaries were amusing too and he has been added to the ever increasing list of books to read, along with more of Elizabeth Taylor's novels.

robin crop

Tomorrow I shall do some thinking on goals for the coming year as is traditional.


  1. I love the Fair Isle - it's looking great. And I really enjoyed the Morville Hours, it managed both to combine my job with one of my interests!

  2. Oh you punch far above my weight in the knitty stuff but reckon I need to give Aunty Daisy's apple cake a whirl. YUM.

    1. I hope the cake goes well and you beat me hands down at lots of other crafty pursuits like sewing

  3. That fair isle jumper is stupendous! Think how amazing it will be when it's finished. My experience with Shetland wool is that it softens a great deal after the first wash.

    Your photos are lovely (though the second one with the bee didn't appear?) That garden in Lewes looks like a wonderful place to just sit and enjoy life.

    And how interesting to read about your reading. I have a Vita Sackville-West gardening book on my bedside table, yet to be cracked open. I've never read Gertrude Jekyll, and didn't realise you still could. I heard that Elizabeth Jane Howard died recently, but am I right in thinking she had just finished one last book?

    Wishing you many more happy moments in 2014, Stephanie.

    1. Thank you, the swatch that I washed is nice and soft so I'm looking forward to seeing the whole jumper come together.

      I think you'll enjoy the V Sackville-West book, she writes in a light, humorous style and is prepared to admit her mistakes or where experiments go wrong. Elizabeth Jane Howard did die recently but her last book was published last November and pleasingly she lived long enough to see its success. There are some of Gertrude Jekyll's books available for free, here: and in this awesome Biodiversity Heritage Library here: