Monday, October 10, 2011


Well, with one thing or another, I missed posting for a whole month there. Turns out that working a busy job, having a family, a few hobbies, remnants of a social life and the odd holiday takes up pretty much all my time. Oh, and sleeping. Or not sleeping, as the case may be. Anyway, I'm still here, I have many, many blog posts in my head, and intentions of sometime maybe actually posting them. In the meantime, there are new cyclamen in my house, which can only be good. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blackcurrant cordial

I like cordial, but not really the bought kind. And I like making stuff, but really I have enough jam already. So I decided to make some blackcurrant cordial. Last year I made elderberry cordial, and it worked fine - I'm still drinking it! So I decided to wing it with the blackcurrants and did this:
Brought my blackcurrants to the boil with a dash of water, then simmered for a few minutes until they all burst. Then I pushed this through a sieve (you could drain them in a muslin), and measured this in a jug. I then added as much water again, and half as much sugar, brought this to the boil for a few minutes, then put into sterile bottles and kept this in the fridge. I'm sure it wouldn't last for ever, but it lasted at least 5 weeks until I had drunk it all! I'd definately do this again with other fruits - raspberries, elderberries, maybe blueberries too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Redressing the gender imbalance

 A few weekends ago, we went and collected three new additions to our brood...
Meet Bat (a Nera), Butter (an Oxford Brown) and Mrs Bogey (an Oxford Blue). This is what happend when you let your two year old name your chooks. It took me a full week to realise we had named one of them Butter Chicken.
They are quite lovely, and very messy. They let B pat them, eat everything that comes their way, and dig up all my plants. They also poo everywhere, and escape from every attempt to pen them in to one corner of the garden. They give us three lovely little eggs every day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Big boy quilt

 Over the past few weeks, I have managed to turn this:

into this:
 A new quilt top for my big boy, who is soon to progress to a big boy bed and clearly needed a quilt for it.
Fabric is Wee Woodland by Keiki (Moda fabrics), from Fabricworm. I used this zigzag quilt tutorial as a guide. Its flannel, so its a lovely big warm thing. The plan now is to store it away until I hit the Festival of Quilts, where I can hopefully find some good backing fabric, then turn it into a useable quilt over winter. It turned out a little Christmas-ey, but otherwise I think its ok, and B likes it (for the moment), which is really the main thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer vest

 So it turns out that in England, you need a summer vest for your baby. Who would have thought? Luckily, I had planned ahead by cleverly knitting almost all of a vest in early spring. Hmmm. Why did I knit almost all of a vest? Because I ran out of yarn. It was a gallant effort to use up some of my larger scraps of yarn, but on this occasion, I juuuust underestimated. So the top sixth of the back is a slightly different shade of yellow. And then once I finished the actual vest, I couldn't face doing the bands. Because I didn't like the different shade of yellow, and it was all a bit blah. Then the warm weather stopped, and he really needed a vest. And it became very evident that if I didn't finish it now, he would be way too big for it. So I grabbed the nearest yarn - my first attempt at handdyeing yarn - and knit it on. Yep, its DK and the vest is sport weight. But you know what? It doesn't matter. It fits (for another week maybe!), it is warm, it stays on, and the yellow is so gorgeous and soft that I pat him even more than usual.
Yay for finally finishing things, even in a really mediocre way!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Little Green Courgette...

So Mootthings asked if I had any courgette recipes (its getting to glut time here in the UK). And why yes, of course. Whilst they are called zucchini where I'm from, they still proliferate in great numbers in the garden.
Currently, I love them done Italian-style, like this: Slice your courgettes into 1cm wide circles/slices. Cook a little garlic in a decent amount of olive oil in a pan. Add the courgettes and some assorted italian-style herbs (dried or fresh, although I think dry oregano is the bees for this recipe). Let them brown just slightly then put the lid on and cook for around 10 minutes or so, until they start to look softened in the centres. Shake them around a bit while they are cooking. Then to finish them off, make a little space in the centre of a pan and fry an anchovy until it is soft and melty, stir it in and then squeeze over some lemon juice. Its yummy as a side, I serve it with Gnocchi alla Romana. I have a feeling the recipe originally came from Jamie Oliver. Its great for using up respectable amounts of courgette/zucchini.
Or you can go a little crazy and try zucchini bread. This is delicious (although it is moist and won't keep for ever if the weather is hot).
Beat 3 eggs until foamy, blend in 1 cup of oil, 1.5 cup sugar, 2 cup grated zucchini, and some vanilla essence. Sift 3 cup SR flour & a little salt into the mix and stir. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts, put into 2 prepared tins (I tend to use loaf tins) and cook in a mod oven for around an hour. You can halve this ok, either using 2 small eggs or 1 large one, and it is still ok. I expect the cake would freeze fine too, so you could make two and have one for later (if there is room in your freezer, I'm not the kind of person who has room in their freezer for a cake).
I also saw this recipe for courgette risotto (which surely should be zucchini risotto?) by Angela Hartnett in the guardian, and intend to have a go shortly - I'll let you know how it goes (or you could let me know if you get round to it sooner).
And if you want more inspiration, have a look here. Yummy ideas...

(PS, sorry about the tacky title, but it brings to my mind such wonderful images of Prince as allotmenteer that I couldn't help myself. Of course, stranger things have happened...)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Loving it...

This week I have been loving...
...broad bean and pea dip (I know! Broad beans - how I dislike thee)
...Louise cake made with damson jam (I know, mum, its really called raspberry shortcake, but I think Louise cake is prettier).
...Oxford Kitchen Yarns beautiful floor quilt
...starting new projects
...foxy fabric
...Felix's meta pinterest board

Hope you all had a great weekend

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Climbing the walls

 When we moved into our place a year ago (!), we spent considerable amounts of resources (temporal and financial) acquiring furniture that we actually liked, would remain functional after more than 6 months and look the part in this 1930's semi. We largely solved that problem. However, the blank walls were crying out for some decoration, and turns out that frames are about as expensive as furniture. So I bought a two lovely pieces of screenprinting from Helen Rawlinson on Etsy. She has lovely stuff, and works out of London. The pieces turned up so quickly, and I got some canvases and glued them on. The ABC one didn't fit a standard canvas size, so I sewed a little linen bias binding on two edges, which looks ok I think. So now the big boy's room is a bit brighter...
 and our room is a little less empty looking.

I also decided we needed a new duvet cover. I had a lovely piece of blue and white fabric in my stash, enormous and bought for a song second-hand a few years ago. But it wasn't quite enough, so I found a lovely piece of 'very vintage' Irish linen online.
 I know, it just looks like a sheet in this picture. Trust me, it is gorgeous. Cool, smooth, clearly used as it is lovely and soft. It has a hand stitched seam up the centre that is done with the most minute stitches, and the hems are so beautifully sewn, all by hand. Someone spent a lot of time on this piece of fabric. It also had a weavers mark on it:
One day I'll remember to take a picture of the finished duvet cover, but I managed to keep the centre seam and some of the hems. It had a few tiny pieces of wear, but these were easy enough to fix. I also have enough left to make some cushion/pillow covers (one day!). I love having this treasured old piece as my treasured new thing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

summer meals

So with the veg box and the veg garden both providing us with assorted delicious things, we occasionally end up with significant amounts of veg. For example, spinach/chard/cavalo nero/leafy greens. I have always loved the idea of spinach & feta pie/tart, but I am the first to admit that they can be bland, mushy old things. So I started on a quest to make my perfect S&F tart. It took several goes, but I think I'm nearly there. And, surprise!, S likes it too. So here it is - my Spinach & Feta tart recipe. Well, its not really a recipe, more like broad guidelines. See what you think.
1. Leaves: you need a lot of leaves. As much as you can get your hands on really. The best tarts come from a blend of chard and spinach, I think, but you can really use almost anything. Baby spinach leaves from the supermarket will do, but they are the least tasty (maybe better for those spinach-shy folks). Anyway, chop some shallots, fry them off gently, add some garlic if you like, then put your leaves in, turn the heat right down and put the lid on. Turn them over a few times, until they wilt down. I usually add them in a few goes, to fit them into the frypan. It is essential that you squeeze your spinach out as much as possible before you put it in the pie - you want as little liquid in the pie as possible.
2. White sauce: You need a small amount of white sauce, made to be quite thick (butter, flour, milk). You can put cheese in if you like, or some mustard, or something else, or nothing.
3. Feta: the better your feta, the better your tart. Have a taste of it before you finish the filling as it seems to vary a lot in saltiness and you might need to adjust your seasoning.
4. Flavours: Here you can be flexible, but I think it really needs the following - herbs (ideally fresh dill and parsley), a little grated lemon zest, and pine nuts. You could also add almost any 'soft' herb, really - basil, oregano, new thyme leaves, chives, and things like capers and olives are also good.

So mix all your components together, except the pine nuts if you're using them.
roll out some pastry. I used to make my own, but actually \I prefer shop puff pastry for this. Half a block is fine. Roll it into a square. Put your filling in the middle, in a sort of flat lump. Sprinkle over your pine nuts. In the picture above I just folded the two edges over, but it works better if you pull the four sides up, with corners out, then fold the corners in. This makes it almost sealed, but not quite. Juices stay in, but it allows some evaporation without the filling getting too dry. Sesame seeds on top is nice too.

So thats it. Nice with a little pinot grigio.
If you are a 'nap cooker' like me (as in, while the kids are having a nap you get most of your dinner cooked so that at 5pm witching hour you can focus on children not sustaining injuries, rather than the evening meal), then this is great - just make as much or as little of it up until you roll out the pastry, then finish it off and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes when you have a few seconds.

Friday, June 03, 2011


While we were on holiday, the garden kept growing. And blooming. Turns out those scrappy old leaves I'd been wondering about, dotted around the garden, were irises. Out of focus irises, but still pretty :) And the roses are turning out to be pleasantly old fashioned and wonderfully smelly.

This is my favourite view from inside at the moment. The pot is fresias, but I think the leaves are rather lovely. Outside is the mock orange, which is carpeting the grass in white. Its all very crisp and springy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More holidays

 After our week in Cornwall, we all headed off to Lucca, in Tuscany, for a week. Lucca is a walled medieval city, and the walls are incredibly thick and fortified. You can walk or cycle around the top of the wall around the entire city (4km). Or you can take a horse and carriage. And stop the bicycle-gelati guy for a gelati on the way.
 The Guinigi tower is a bit of an icon of Italy, and it is a spectacular view. The trees that grow on the top are really quite large.
 The garden at Palazzo Pfanner. We really enjoyed both the garden and the palazzo, well worth the visit.
This walled garden was just around the corner from our apartment. It was lovely and private, with its windows looking out to the street. From the street, it just looked like any other building.
Lucca was a fabulous place to spend a week. Our apartment was expansive and lovely, there were playgrounds nearby, the kids had a great time and were fussed over everywhere, the food was spectacular (as always). I learned more about the intricacies of ordering coffee by visiting the local cafe every day, and indulged in a holiday favourite of cakes for breakfast. When can I go again?!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On holiday

We've been on holiday. The first week was spent at Tintagel, exploring some of the nearby Cornish villages.

Highlights for adults - seafood, local pubs, coast walks.

Highlights for kids - tractors towing boats, crab pots and dragon poo (don't ask).
Visually, the place was inspiring: herringbone stone walls, tapestried wildflower cliffs, monochrome quilted beaches.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Zoo Pants

We've had warm weather here in the UK, which highlighted a distinct lack of suitable attire for a trip to the zoo for a friend's 2nd birthday party. However, this significant problem was soon remedied thanks to my generic (but rapidly becoming too small) pants pattern and some lovely fabric from Laurie Wisbrun Urban Circus (Giraffe's Earth and Pachyderm Dot Earth on the trim).
And yes, we saw giraffes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Spiral Cabbage

Spiral Cabbage fabric by Helen Klebesadel on Spoonflower. Check out her spectacular botanical paintings here.

Aiming to eat seasonally where possible is all well and good, but if you live in England it can be a bit dull for some of the year. Our veg boxes to date have very often included cabbages. Its not that I don't like cabbage...but I'm not sure I really like it. I guess I have eaten so little of it I'm not really sure of what to do with it. But I've had to try harder in recent weeks, and we now have two favourite cabbage-inclusive meals added to our repertoire.
The first is like a winter coleslaw-type salad. Just shred cabbage, carrots, celery and apple. You can include most anything you like, but those basics are good. Then top with smoked mackerel, torn into chunks. The dressing is some creme fraiche and lemon juice with a good dollop of horseradish, but you can't add it until the last minute as the salad just drinks it up. I make twice as much as I think I'll need, and we always use it up. This isn't a very kid-friendly salad (except for the mackerel, which our kid likes), but it is yummy and light and at least makes a stab at looking forward to spring.
The second is Jamie Oliver's Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup with Sage Butter. Really, the name says it all, except it is only just a soup. I have made it with too-fresh shop bread, and its ok, but it really shines with stale, crusty, ciabatta-style bread, which in this house means planning an extra loaf earlier in the week (I can't get fontina cheese at my local supermarket, so I used gouda and it was fine). But it is worth it, and the left-overs are even more delicious so make heaps. And its kid-accessible.
So for those heading into more wintery months, I would highly recommend both meals (although I can understand that the mackerel salad might be an acquired taste). And it looks like, on this side of the planet, that the cabbage experiments are giving way to asparagus I love an early spring!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring greens

I started this top at the start of spring in 2010. It always seemed slightly too big, and I was worried. So when I became a bit too pregnant to try it on properly, I stopped knitting. I picked it up again at the end of this winter, when it is so grey and dull outside that the only sensible thing to do is knit in the brightest, best green you can find. I finished it in a week or two. While it is a bit larger than I would like, I still really love it. The cotton is a bit heavy, and it pulls down over my shoulders a bit, but I adore the colour and the pattern is very sweet. I would definately knit this again, although maybe in something a bit lighter.

Pattern: Peasy
Yarn: RYC Luxury Cotton DK in Cabbage.

Please forgive the not-so-brilliant pictures. I'll try to get a few that give a better idea of the yarn and colour, but this is probably all you'll see of it on me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The garden is just bursting into life. There are a few flowers scattered around, but most of the drama is coming from the leaves. The rhubarb astonishes me daily; obviously neglected when we moved in, with the most cursory care it has made a triumphant comeback.

Some of the roses have joined in, opening beautifully coloured new leaves. And almost every day I find a new rose that has been strimmered to the ground, or buried under rotting apples or a mound of climber, and has sent out a few wobbly shoots. I'm sure some won't make it, but others look like they'll give it a go.

Yesterday's discovery: violets! Tiny, stunted, neglected things but now I know they are there I can help out a bit.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tastes of times past

Nothing tastes to me more like childhood than pikelets. Our babysitters made pikelets for us after school. Later, I made pikelets for my brother after school. I entered them in the local show (I think I may have won the odd third prize. My pikelets were never perfectly oval, which I seem to remember was the goal. I did better with the miniature garden category). And now I get to make them for my hungry boys. Turns out they are a perfect pre- and post-swimming snack, and conveniently sized for a two year old. And a great excuse for a sit-down morning tea on a sunny spring day.
My pikelet recipe:
Beat an egg, 2oz sugar, 1/2 oz butter and 5 tblspn milk together. Stir in 4oz SR flour and some nutmeg (or not, if you have a nutmeg-hating family member). Drop spoonfuls into a hot pan (despite using nonstick pans I still use a smear of butter in the pan, or they don't taste quite right). Flip when they start to bubble, serve warm (with butter if you're feeling decadent). Delicious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


With all this spring in the air, I feel the need to get new projects started and to tidy up a bit. Using up some yarn in my stash seemed to fit both bills. The only jumper-quantity of yarn I had was some Jamieson and Smith 2-ply jumper weight yarn in the lovely colour of FC54. I love the colour, but the yarn put me off - a bit scratchy in that shetland way, and thin. But its all I had - so I swatched. And you know what? It is so beautiful. It is very hard to capture the colour - this picture is a bit light, but you get the idea - gorgeous heathered pinks and grey-blues. A bit crunchy, but it is softening as I knit. The swatch went so well that I cast on the next night for a cardigan. Now the big question - do I have enough yarn?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mellow Yellow

Our garden is currently green (grass, weeds & moss pretending to be lawn), brown (trees and bushes about to have leaves) and yellow (daffodils and forsythia). I'm hoping that this trend won't last and that there will be a lot more green and additional colours in the coming months, but right now its kinda cool. It keeps drawing me outside, promising spring. And these duck bootees keep making me laugh (thanks mum!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Later than belated

A friend and neighbour had a lovely little girl last year. Yep. Last year. And not even at the end of last year, like I did, but in the middle of last year. Which is fine, except about 3 months before she was born I said that I would make a quilt and cushion covers for her room. Her mother had chosen some fabric and had been quoted a totally outrageous amount of money to have them made (the quilt in particular was ludicrously priced - and it wasn't even a quilt, just a single piece of fabric, front and back, with a single quilted seam about 3 inches in from the edge as a border). So I finished the quilt a month or two after she was born, and felt guilty about the delay. But then I started on the cushion covers - and got the heebie jeebies about them. The ones that I was copying (made for her first child) had a zip closure at the side seam, and piping. How hard could it be? Well, I wasn't sure and I didn't want to find out! Despite buying plenty of fabric (it is Elephant and Castle Blossom and Lafayette Peony from Designers Guild), I had a paranoia about wasting any and not making them to a professional level (like I would ever be able to!). Finally, guilt overcame my paralysing self-doubt, and I got started. This is the first one, and the second one was finished yesterday. You know what? They look great!! They aren't perfect, but they are pretty good considering my sewing skills, and they are handmade with love and care. I'm now inspired to make some for me :)
(my apologies - for some unknown reason Blogger is rotating my pictures for me today. Just tip your head to the right for the time being)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The other day I won a blog contest on Made by Rae's Celebrate the Boy month - 3 yards of fabric from Fabricworm, from the Circa 60 Beach Mod collection by Monaluna. And it has arrived already! It is organic cotton, and is a bit lighter and smoother than regular quilting weight cotton, but it is glorious and makes me think of sunny days and holidays and shorts. And even shirts (especially the caravan print) - I know I said I would never make another one, but it seems that sewing shirts for boys is something like labour - after a while you forget about the process and focus on the wonderful outcome :)

I thought I would order the spots and the ducks as contrast trim, but they aren't quite right. However they are gorgeous in their own right (although I wish I hadn't chosen the spots - I have so many already!) and I think I'll have enough in those half-yard sections to make something for the littlest boy. But there are a few other projects to finish before I can cut into these beauties.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pink poppies

I love having two little boys, and sewing and knitting for them. But there are so many pretty girl patterns out there that sometimes I just have to have a go. And luckily I have friends and family with gorgeous little girls to be recipients. I found a ball of Sublime Yarns cashmere merino silk in my stash, in a pretty pink colourway and cast on for the sweet Poppy hat. And guess what? It was finished the next night! Its a lovely and interesting pattern that knits up quickly, and looks cute even on my two year old boy (he quite likes pink, so he was happy to model). This photo somehow shows up the short-row wraps more than in real life, but its still cute (and my girl-knitting urge has been temporarily sated).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Delicious deliveries

In my efforts to avoid going to the supermarket with two small children, we have begun ordering veg boxes. It has turned out to be good fun and definately perked up my interest in food. I don't know about anyone else, but I seem to get into ruts with cooking - I suddenly notice that I have cooked the same five meals with minor variations for months. Usually I've tried to deal with this by using new cookbooks, but this time the veg box has done it for me. We still struggle to use up a whole cabbage every week, and we clearly eat less carrots than other people, but surprises like the red kale above have been fun and usually delicious.
One of the side effects of having a box of fruit and veg delivered every week that you don't specifically choose is that meals need to be planned a bit more. I really dislike the idea of scheduling meals - what if I don't want to cook that thing on that day (or eat it)? So instead I have come up with a system where I write down at least eight meals that could be made with the ingredients I've bought for the week, and then we cook from that. I love this new system - so often, the major problem I have is deciding what to cook - now half the work is done for me, and I really enjoy the time when I sit and go through books and blogs deciding what to put on the list.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Good mornings

I love pancakes for breakfast, especially good, big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes. But recently, I had some buttermilk that needed to be used and no great desire to eat pancakes (I know, I must have been ill). However, in my favourite cookbook (this one by Rachel Allen), just a page or two on from the pancake recipe was one for rhubarb muffins with buttermilk. They were quick to whip up (with pear instead of rhubarb) and so delicious. And of course what boy doesn't love cake for breakfast?