Sunday, 9 November 2008


Apparently November is almost always the rainiest month of the year in England.

I read that in The Guardian a couple of days ago, and it would seem that the weather gods are right on schedule. Today the wind has blown, the rain has come down, and all sensible creatures have stayed indoors.

I've mostly stayed indoors -- and certainly would have been entirely sensible if I were a more organized person. Since I'm not very organized, though, I had to make the windswept trek to Sainsbury's to buy the Big Meat which is de rigueur for English Sunday lunch. Usually, I feed my family "girl" food -- pasta, salad, soup and cookies. It is not unknown for the girls and I to eat popcorn and apples for dinner. However, because it was Remembrance Day, and dark and wet to boot, I felt that red meat was somehow called for.

Our house is a converted barn, and the long, low roof means that the light is dim on dark days. The huge oak beams are mostly salvaged from the old timbers of ships. When the wind blows mightily, the timbers creak and one feels strange, swirling drafts. There are times when our house seems to rock ever so slightly, and I have a whimsical notion that this tempered wood holds memories of the wild, tossing sea. Inevitably, these same drafts remind Sigmund to nag me about getting in someone to plug the many cracks between wood and plaster.

An iron ring, for tying up cattle one assumes, still hangs off the beam above my kitchen sink. Like the dumb cow, I often feel tethered to the kitchen on bad weather weekends. On the positive side, when the oven is baking hot and I've got at least two of the burners aflame and crackling with gas, the kitchen is the warmest room in the house. It's also nice to have the Sunday papers handy when everything is simmering.

I'm certainly grateful that I didn't have to keep running outdoors for wood, because I kept my stove going for the better part of the day. I made biscuits, and wheat bread, and a slow-cooking casserole, and an apple and walnut cake. I also made red pepper soup for "starters," so my family had the most unusual experience of having a three course meal at home. It was a lot of up-front effort, but tomorrow the menu is all about left-overs.

I'm really more "reader" than chef, but elaborating on the coq au vin I made Friday night, I braised some lamb shanks with many of the same good things: mushrooms, shallots, bacon and lots of red wine. Served over mashed potatoes, it was warming, comforting and filling. This dish made me wish for a big dog, though, because there were such nice meaty bones left on the plates. (Can you give chickens lamb shanks?)

Speaking of chickens, one of the downsides of being a chicken owner is that they want to eat, too -- even on horrid days. Unfortunately, it was also change-the-straw day . . . and my youngest daughter drew the short stick. I wish that I had charged up my brand-new camera (!), because the sight of my daughter kitted out for her outdoors chores really deserved a visual. Believe me, none of Shackleton's men were better prepared -- although West Berkshire is hardly the South Pole, even on the most Novemberish day. In addition to the usual jean, jacket and wellies combo, she added a fake fur ski cap, a scarf, mittens and goggles! Even if I had had the camera at the ready, her anonymity would have been easily preserved.

The wind is still howling, but I've got clean sheets, a new book, and a human-sized water bottle to cuddle up with. I'm reading A London Child of the 1870s right now, and the cozy reminiscences suit my mood perfectly. I suppose it's because I associate the era with dark fog, but Victorian novels always seem right for Novemberish days.


Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, you make a rainy day sound cozy. It's fitting that your home would have so much character. Landscape and climate have their effect on literature and it would appear the same is so on blogging.

Brave Sir Robin said...


You never cease to amaze me. I feel like I could be there. What a perfectly wonderful post.

Although I've got my AC on, and it almost 80 degrees outside, I want to curl up with a book and a blanket and a steaming mug. (Alas, I will be sans hot water bottle, human sized or other, and my cat is not of the cuddling temperament)

The lamb shanks sound heavenly. Longing as I am for the chill of an early fall, I made a nice soup yesterday, (details to come soon) but it isn't quite the same when one is nursing a bit of a sunburn from yard work, is it?

I really truly loved this post, the thought of your house timbers yearning for the sea, puts me in a poetic mood. Alas, as I traveled all day and am quite exhausted, I think I shall read some rather than write.

Bundle up, stay warm, and continue to bless us with your words.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I love your whimsical notion! You have an artist's mind. That's for sure.

Glad to hear that you got a new camera! Now put it to good use and show us your converted barn. I would love to live in a place like that.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

On Saturday, I made a pot of Carraba's sausage and lentil soup and Homesick Texan's Wacky Apple Cake. My friend took Roxi and her daughter to see Wicked (AGAIN!) on Saturday afternoon, so I packed up half of our dinner and gave it to her as a prize. Anyone who is willing to go out in that cold and wet deserves to have someone make dinner for her!

Wish I could have seen your little explorer. She must have been darling :-)

PS I tried out my hot water bottle last week. Boy does that thing make the bed WARM! Really, I had no idea!

JaneyV said...

Bee - what a wonderfully evocative post. As I listened to the wind howl and the roof creak last night I was thinking that I should write a post about it too. However without the addition of the fabulous food descriptions and the house that yearns to be at sea I fear it would look like a pale imitation. There is a 'November' feeling isn't there - something that makes you withdraw inwards. I think that's why the celts celebrated Halloween just before November - a recognition that the doors were about to close and people would retreat to their hearth as soon as the November rain came.

And I laughed at the description of your daughter mucking out the chickens. It's days like that you should be glad you don't have a dog - de-pooping the lawn and walking every day, regardless, are the two downsides!

Bee said...

Sarah - yes, a rainy day is rather cozy . . . if you can stay inside! We are still going for the "rainiest month of the year" title this morning, though, and the school run wasn't so fun.

BSR - it is a little difficult to imagine 80 degrees and a sunburn right now! I do remember that longing for more wintry weather. I will do my best to give you a vicarious experience . . . and even better, you won't have muddy shoes to scrape off and polish.

Alyson - yes, I'm going to read the instruction booklet on my new camera any day now. :) Our house is wonderfully eccentric; lots of character, for sure. I'm sure that more pics will be forthcoming.

JAPRA - Wicked, again? Roxi could sub for that show! Your Saturday menu sounds yummy. Sausage and lentil soup is really ideal for this weather. How did your Wacky Cake turn out? (I should have made that! I forgot that it used apples.)

I wish that you could have seen my youngest daughter! What a character. Speaking of characters, she went as "Elle Woods" (from Legally Blonde) to a birthday party on Saturday night. She looked hilarious.

JaneyV - I'm glad that you think that I did our Novemberish weather justice! We have a cat instead of a dog, and in bad weather he quite sensibly prefers to curl up underneath the radiator all day. Who gets to walk the dog on bad weather days?

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Yes, Wicked again. She really could stand in for any of the roles--she has that musical down pat! The reason they went again is they wanted to see Alexia Khadime as Elphaba. Roxi says Alexia has perfect pitch but she still prefers Kerri Ellis. I know you got to see the amazing Idina Menzel--so lucky!!

BTW, forgot to ask... what kind of camera did you get?

The wacky cake was good. Pretty moist and a bit chewy, not unlike an "English pudding". And yes, it was lovely for breakfast :-)

Elizabeth said...

Dear Bee,
This all sounds most domestic and lovely.
Nothing so nice as being home and safe while all is wet and wild outside.
On nasty November days when I was at school, we were made to run up the Malvern Hills instead of playing lacrosse and ruining the games pitches.
I digress. So glad you discovered the Persephone books. They just sent me a new catalogue and I'm having the delicious task of choosing which ones for Claudia to bring me for Xmas.
Re-reading your book list, I could say "snap".
Hope your weather improves.

Cindy said...

Hooray for leftovers! Your weekend meals sound delicious and there is nothing better than the smells of good cooking on a cold and rainy day. We had one yesterday as well. I baked up some rice pudding and it made the whole house smell yummy all night. I think I will have to make custards more often now.

PG said...

Oh yes, welcome to grim November (I have barely left the cottage for a few weeks). You chose the best way round it though, cooking through the wind and rain. I have a very cosy image of your day in my head - and the cow tether.

Anil P said...

I quite like the idea of the oak beams holding memories 'of the wild, tossing sea'. If only they could speak!

For all the sunshine, sunless days surprisingly exude a certain charm by themselves.

Anne said...

Add my name to the list of those who can't wait to see pictures of your house. I'm such a fool for houses that are full to the rafters with character, and it sounds like I would adore your house. I love the bit about the timbers!

Bustling about the kitchen is one of my favorite ways to spend a chilly, rainy day--second only to curling up on the couch with a book, a cat, and a warm blanket. It sounds like you made some delicious food this weekend! Did the smell of bread baking bolster you against some of the chill and dreariness?

Shauna said...

popcorn and apples for dinner!

I thought my kiddos are the only ones who like that. :)

Stay dry and warm!

Debski Beat said...


We have had a lovely couple of days at home in windy wet conditions, this is of course my voice and not The Bearded One who is suffering from a terrible case of SADS ... sadly he applies it at the same level as 'man flu' ( no offense please gents ).

I have beams, cut and marked in Portsmouth and carried to my home in Sussex, the marks are still on the beams for the cutting and measuring circa 1760's, also a hook as you have Bee, mine hangs over the cooker, I have never been brave enough to use it for drying as central heating might not make this safe generally but it is so nice to see modern day and the past living together.

Bee, PLEASE could we go back a blog or two and may I respectfully request the recipe for spaghetti chicken, I have looked on Epicurious, Saveur and in my U.S cookbooks and still cannot find it, also as I am in requesting mode .... many years ago I went to Ohio and had a marvalous deep dish pecan pie really deep about 2" custard, any ideas on that one please.

Kate said...

So have you started a novel, Bee?
Please write one. You would be my favorite writer!
This post soothes me in a way I can't really articulate. Your description makes me yearn for such a rainy November day ...
wooly socks and a pot of stew on the stove and a cat on my lap and something delicious to read ... ah, divine!

Bee said...

JAPRA - ah, the camera. It is a Lumix, with 12.2 megapixels, and a Leica lens. Is this the kind of info that you want? When you and the camera buff start talking about lenses I lose you. :)

Elizabeth - I mentioned in one of my comments about Persephone, but I guess that you didn't see it. I'm going to write more about MY NEW FAVORITE BOOKSTORE. Also, about those Malvern Hills drenched with November rain . . . we are going to look at Malvern College (for oldest daughters's Sixth Form) next week!

Cindy - I love rice pudding and other kinds of "nursery" food, as they call it here. The good, warming smells are certainly a fantastic byproduct!

PG - Well, it does provide an excuse for cooking and reading (in my case) and art (in yours)! The garden in May and June is very distracting.

Anil - Do you get many sunless days? Silly as it is, I always think of India bathed in sunshine.

Anne - We have one very nice timber which has "1622" carved into the side. I will take a picture, soon, of my little study with its sloping roof, and beams, and dormer window. Not to mention a cat curled up at my feet!

Shauna - Popcorn and apples is a family tradition here. It is an idiosyncracy handed down through my paternal grandmother to my father and now me to my children.

Debski - I was hoping to lob the chicken spaghetti ball into BSR's court . . . because I want his recipe, too! Sadly, I don't have a great pecan pie recipe, either. I will work on this one for you. (Are you going to celebrate Thanksgiving? Or do you just like doing the pie?)

Bee said...

Kate - I am turning over an idea in my mind . . . BUT. (Is this just a pipe dream?) Reading all of the wonderful writing of my blog-friends is really inspiring, and your kind words warm my heart. If you want some cozy writing, read anything by Laurie Colwin -- her cookbooks in particular. I just turned JAPRA on to her. P.S. I've sent you some lemon curd! How's that for cozy?

Anil P said...

On the West Coast, monsoons stretch for close to four months, and sunless days are many, often stretching weeks.

However the story is different in Central India.

Dick said...

The wholly unprecedented shock of rainy November! Brits have such a strange perception of UK weather: a sort of febrile sense of grievance when it doesn't do what we would like it to do. In spite of our constant disappointment, we have no reason to expect anything other than what we get with absolute regularity - brief bursts of sunshine punctuated by lowering cloud, drizzle, prolonged heavy rain and blustery wind. Then there's the winter..!

willow said...

The skies in central Ohio are heavy with a thick cloud covering almost every day in November. And today is one of those typical days.

Your home sounds very historical and cozy!

sylvia said...

Wow, what a scene. I almost feel as if I were there. I saw a comment you left elsewhere and clicked through to read and immediately felt drawn in. Great stuff.

marja-leena said...

Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. I've just had a lovely visit here, and recall that I've seen you over at Lucy's. This is a lovely post, a November much like ours, and such a cozy kitchen and lovely home. I also nodded in agreement as I read the previous post on Obama's election.

Barrie said...

I want an invitation to your house for dinner. In the rain. but I don't want to feed the chickens. What a cozy post.

Bee said...

Dick - November has only one redeeming quality in my mind: the justification of comfort food!

Willow - Our house is very cozy (and historical, too; although old barns are a dime a dozen around here) but I'm awfully glad that we have a good heating system. Raw November days are only bearable when there is a nice contrast in the home environment!

Sylvia - Thank you so much for visiting me! Are you in Spain on a permanent basis, or is it just an expat lark? (I had a look at your family website; what a good idea!)

Marja-leena - Maybe it's your distinctive name, or the quality of your comments, but I always notice you at Lucy's. I'm very glad to make your acquaintance, and thank you for your kind words.

Barrie - When you tire of the California sun, you are most welcome to visit me for dinner. I will make you a nice stew. (My daughter was complaining last night that I've used the Le Creuset three times this week.) Oh, and we never make our guests feed the chickens!

Brave Sir Robin said...

Oh, and we never make our guests feed the chickens!

But what Ralph and Lauren want to know, is will the chickens ever feed the guests??

Debski Beat said...


BSR seems very concerned for the chickens and their welfare, could it be that he planning to give us his chicken spaghetti recipe and therefore concerned for R&L or is it that he will not hand over the recipe for the same reason, please could you put all minds to rest that BSR cannot be held responsible for the bird's demise and thereby encourage him to hand over his trusty recipe :)

Bee said...

BSR - Please! We aren't farmers, you know. Our chickens are moderately expensive pets that allow me to play "country girl" in a Marie Antoinette-ish way.

Debski - BSR has handed over the Chicken Spaghetti recipe, and it is coming to you tonight! (Chickens sold separately.)

Taffiny said...

beautifully written.

And through all that, is it wrong that I sit here taking comfort in the notion that you sometimes have apples and popcorn for dinner?
(something I can relate to)

Fortunately my husband and son are getting better at cooking, and I am ever hopeful that any moment they will take it completely over. Only thing is...they never make girl food. They do things with MEAT, potatoes, pizza. I wish they would take up cooking with spinach and mushrooms, and....

Sandi McBride said...

I would bet your home is beautiful. I always fancied living in a renovated old barn or old church...with a thatched roof would have been ideal. COngrats on Post of the Day mention

Maggie May said...

I always hated November, but you have made it sound cozy!
Came over from David's POTD.

lmerie said...

Over from David's . . .

It is sunny but cold here today, but you make a rainy England day sound wonderful! (not that I have been across the big pond too know!) :)

Bee said...

Sandy, Maggie May, and Imerie,

Thanks so much for visiting me! (But who is David?)