February Sampler


Sunday, 28 February 2010

It's been quite a busy month. A month of celebrations. First there was Candlemas, then my younger son turned 13, next came St Valentine followed by Shrove Tuesday, then our 15th wedding anniversary and today my dad's birthday. Not bad for the shortest month.

The special days of the year are like the decorations on the Christmas tree. The tree is the year and we hang festivals and birthdays upon it to make it sparkle.

One of the lovely things about blogging and reading blogs is being able to see what other people are doing to celebrate the year's special days. There are so many creative souls in blogland sharing their ideas and inspiring us to make the everyday special, or indeed showing us that the everyday is special in itself.

The Quince Tree in February


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Just a quickie today. C has the day off as it is our wedding anniversary. We have been out for lunch and are feeling rather full and sleepy.

I just wanted to post a pic of the quince tree one month on from the last one. I thought I'd take one on the 25th of each month just to see its progress through the year. I shall probably forget in December. Anyway here she is, just as drab as in January really, but she will improve I promise.

Feeling blue....


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

but in a happy way.

I've started a new crochet project. Yes, I know I've got my little circles scarf thingy to finish but I'm a bit stuck with the joining. I'll work out something that pleases me eventually but for now I'm rippling. Following Lucy's tutorial I'm making a small blanket to throw over an armchair. I found I had quite a few blues and purples in my yarn bag so I added a few more during a shopping trip to my local Hobby Craft.

Rippling is a lot easier than it looks. Try it!

: :
I was tempted by bunches of ranunculus at Waitrose on Monday but they were very expensive and only a few stems to a bunch so I went for some potted hyacinths instead, a pound off too! They smell gorgeous and look how blue they are.



Friday, 19 February 2010

Yesterday my children were all bored, really BORED. I don't see it as part my job as a mother to solve boredom. I don't entertain my children either, school holidays are not spent going on endless outings. Boredom is not life threatening and in my opinion should be solved by the sufferer. So I ignore all complaints of boredom beyond the obvious suggestions of doing homework and tidying their rooms.

My daughter announced she was bored about six times during yesterday morning before finally coming up with a plan to combat it. 'I am going to sew a cushion' she said. Luckily she is well-stocked with craft supplies and is old enough to get on with things by herself.

I hadn't realised how many goodies she had in her craft box. I was wanting some buttons only the other day...

Here's how she made her little cushion.

Stitch the sides remembering to leave one side open for stuffing.

Add a face made from buttons and a glued on mouth.

Finally stuff with cotton wool and sew up the side.

She's busy making another one now- a monster in green felt. She has modified her original method a little. This time she is sewing the face before sewing up the sides as it was a little tricky to fasten off the buttons from the inside of the cushion. Learning from experience.

After the crafting was finished the snow came and boredom was well and truly conquered.

: :

Another cushion finished
Look, stitching so fast her hands are a blur!

And now we're ensconced on the sofa ready to watch Nanny McPhee, suggested by me because if I remember rightly it includes some rather lovely crocheted blankets (and the rather lovely Colin Firth) :o)
Have a wonderful weekend everybody.

Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool


Thursday, 18 February 2010

One of my favourite cookery books is Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool by Jenny Baker. It is out of print but paperback copies can be had for very little. If you like lots of colourful photographs then this is not the book for you. No photos at all, just a few pen and ink illustrations.

In the introduction the author describes how whilst researching the cookery of northern France she began to see similarities with the dishes she remembered eating in England as a child. Dishes that relied on 'good, fresh produce: aromatic spices and sweet garden herbs, fresh vegetables from the garden, fish caught around our shores, seasonal game. Fruit came from local orchards and meat and dairy produce from rich grazing pastures. Lots of dishes were cooked in wine or cider. Even occasionally garlic!'

I love the way the book is organised.

Here's a taster of some of the recipes; ginger cream, London Particular, Berkshire jugged steak, syllabub, duck with peas, apple dumplings, West Country wassail, Roman mussels, rabbit with cider and prunes and pan haggerty

One of my favourites is likky tart. It's what I made for supper last night.

You can read a review of Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool here.

Chocolate heaven without the chocolate


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

 I have tried many brownie recipes over the years, recipes from the likes of Nigel and Nigella, Hugh F-W et al. Without exception they've all needed a lot of chocolate- 375 g from Nigella (that's 4 bars woman!), and it has to be good quality chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids doesn't it? Remember when a bar of Bournville was considered sophisticated and extravagant? Goodness I remember my mum using Scotchbloc for her cakes! Sometimes I think we've become so sophisticated in our food choices, especially if you are like me and read a lot of cookery writing, that we have forgotten that simple can be good too.

These cocoa brownies are just that- simple and good. Not only much more economical to make than chocolate brownies they are, I think, more delicious. They taste chocolatey but not so much that you have to lie down after a couple of bites. They are exactly the right texture-dense and fudgey, squidgey but not gooey. They are also a doddle to make, simply melt the butter and stir in everything else. No chocolate to melt means less washing up. I used a little less cocoa than specified simply because there wasn't as much in the tin as I'd thought and they still turned out beautifully. I also gave them a little more time- 10 mins, my oven seems to be underbaking a lot of things lately. 

Do try them, Jules' recipe is very clear and ingredients are listed in cups, imperial and metric (very helpful).

Domestic Bliss


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Three things making my day blissful
First cake.

Second flowers. My Valentine roses are looking gorgeous but smelling of nothing.

Third books. I've been enjoying reading these three today.The top two are recent purchases and the other a favourite source of inspiration.

Jane Brocket's book The Gentle Art of Domesticity is well known in blogland. It is a beautiful celebration of the domestic arts of baking, cake decorating, gardening, embroidery, knitting and quilting. For me it is  justification for a life spent pottering around the kitchen.

 I come from a generation of girls who were actively discouraged from wanting a simple life of homemaking. Such an ambition was considered a waste of intelligence and opportunity. I always felt this attitude to be unfair and short-sighted. I followed the university and career route for as long as necessary before the birth of my first child gave me the chance of freedom in the home.

 A life of domestic drudgery  is surely to be despised. Cleaning, laundering and tidying do not thrill me, they are merely necessary tasks to be accomplished in order for the home to run smoothly. Such tasks can be delegated to other family members (teenagers are good for this) leaving time for more creative and soul-satisfying activities. Nothing makes me happier than a morning spent alone in my kitchen listening to an audio book, or an afternoon spent with my crochet and a Powell and Pressburger film (A Canterbury Tale for preference). I am truly grateful to my husband for making this possible which is why I never expect him to do any household tasks. Except fixing the computer. Believe me I know how lucky I am.

Hearts and Flowers


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Valentine's Day to you all. A few hearts and flowers are just what is needed to cheer up winter. The Quince Tree has had its share.

To be honest these shortbread biscuits would have been much much nicer without the icing and jelly beans. The kids didn't care, although teenage boys think it's not cool to be seen eating pink hearts.

 C gave me some roses because I told him to.

And I gave him some chocolates because I wanted to photograph them (and eat them). We're all about spontaneous romantic gestures here.

Have a lovely heart-filled Valentine's Day.

Proper Shops


Thursday, 11 February 2010

The only supermarket I enjoy shopping in is Waitrose. That's either because I'm a snob or because I like spacious aisles, uncluttered checkouts, staff who are both helpful and well-informed, excellent choice of homegrown produce (much of it local) and quality food.

But really I'd much prefer to shop at proper shops. My nearest shop is a Tesco Express and my next nearest shop is a big Tesco (which smells of drains). What I'd really like is a handy high street with a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer, a chemist, a bookshop, a post office an ironmonger and a fishmonger. I do use a traditional butcher but he's a drive away, and the local farmshops are good but again they're a car journey away. I wouldn't mind shopping every day if I had some proper shops handy.

I grew up with just such a high street round the corner. It's still there although most of the independent shops have gone. The high street I remember looked exactly like the one in this Ladybird book. OK, the clothes were a little different, I was small in the late sixties and this book was published in 1958. I must have owned it though because when I found this copy in an Oxfam shop I recognised it immediately.

Aren't the pictures fab? So colourful and so full of detail and so nostalgic. And don't you always wear your best suit, spiffy green shoes and hat when you go shopping? Actually I do wear a hat at the moment but that's because it's so blooming cold.

If you want a closer look at the pictures just click on them and they'll open in another window a lot bigger.

Look at that, live eels! When was the last time you saw those at Tesco?

 I liked seeing my name in a book . I remember a draper's shop just like this one.  Does anyone still use the word 'draper'?

Buying flowers for Mummy.. 


....and a hammer for Daddy. My Dad had a lawn mower just like that one.

Look at the books in the toyshop window. The Farm was another Ladybird favourite of mine.

What a lot of shopping we have done!
and all for 2/6..... that's how much the book cost in 1958

I've uploaded pictures of the whole book on flickr if you'd care to have a look.

Little Circles


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Hello! It's a bright sunshiney day in my part of the world (still very cold though) and I thought some bright sunshiney crochet would be nice. What do you think?

Little circles. Easy peasy and fast to make. The plan is to make them into a scarf. My wardrobe needs an injection of colour. I went clothes shopping yesterday and came back from M&S with several comfortable, practical and reasonably priced garments. Unfortunately they are also D U double L.

Oh, how I hate clothes shopping. I can never find clothes I like that like me back. My shopping trip was a necessary one. The four garments I was living in (two charity shop tops and two pairs of jeans) were literally wearing thin. I am the only person I know who wears clothes until they wear out. So I have had to spend the money I had earmarked for yarn on boring clothes (and petrol -even more boring). To cheer myself and my clothes up I'm making a little scarf.

I'm not sure how I will join them yet or whether to make a single chain of circles or a more random arrangement. Any suggestions would be welcome :o) Here's how to make them.

Little Circles
Chain 5, ss to make a ring.
Chain 3 (to count as first treble), treble 15 into the ring space.
Change colour tying new colour tightly to the tail of first colour.
Chain 3 into first chain space, 1 treble into same space.
2 trebles into each chain space.
Fasten off.

Dreaming of Spring


Friday, 5 February 2010

 It may be cold and rainy outside but inside my house smells of spring.

Stocktaking and a Spicy Stew


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

I really love food shopping. For me it is one of life's little pleasures. Ambling along the wide, spacious aisles of my local Waitrose, I love looking at the bounty that's on offer. There is so much one can buy these days. I suppose that is why I've reached a point when I don't actually need to buy any more food for a good while. I'll need milk, butter, eggs, cheese and fresh fruit and veg. I also like to have some bacon or other cured meat like chorizo or ham in the fridge always. I get through about 3kg of bread flour a week so that's a regular purchase. But, when it comes to protein, carbs and spices and seasonings, well, I'm stocked up.

I made an inventory of the contents of my freezer and cupboards today.

If you want to see my lists in more detail they should open in another window if you click on them.

From these lists I should be able to plan at least three week's meals. I made a start this evening by cooking one of our favourite storecupboard meals - Spicy Vegetable Stew with Chickpeas and Chorizo.

Here's what you need (quantities are loose).
A carton of passata, chickpeas, a carrot, squash or pumpkin, a red pepper, chopped onion (I use finely chopped onion, celery, carrot and leek which I make in quantity in the food processor and freeze -great time saver), smoked paprika, chorizo and stock-this is homemade chicken stock.

The vegetables can be whatever you like or have lying around. They should be firm, meaty-type veg rather than leafy ones. Other pulses can be swapped for the chickpeas and the chorizo is entirely optional.

Soften the onion and garlic or veg hash in a little olive oil, add the paprika.

Add the chopped veg.

Add the chickpeas, chorizo, stock and passata. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover. Let it bubble away for about half an hour.

I served this with bulghar, but rice, couscous, potatoes or bread would be good. Add a bit more liquid and you have soup. That's what I'll do with the leftovers.

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