Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Room Tour: The Bathroom

I'm not sure a room without a bath can really be called a bathroom, so perhaps shower room is more accurate. But, last weekend, we finally did the last few lingering DIY jobs like painting the door, sealing the floor and hanging a toilet roll holder, and declared it finished.

I am absolutely thrilled with how it has turned out. It's a small, dark room in which every inch of space has to work hard, so it was a challenge at times, but I think we've made the best of it.

Directly opposite the door to the hall is the sink and newly enlarged window. I think this might be the best thing we did to the room, as the difference in light levels - even on gloomy days - is really something. 

The drawers under the sink are deceptively spacious and hold cleaning things, toiletries, medicines - everything we would normally have out on display - while the basket holds hand towels, flannels and face cloths.

To the left of the door, where the bath was, is a long shower tray partially enclosed by a glass screen. We deliberately avoided a shower door (something else that is tricky to clean!) and I love how simple the glass is. 

We chose an overhead rainfall-style shower with an adjustable head underneath, very useful for the dog when he is muddy and me when I want to shower without washing my hair.

At the end of the shower is a lovely wooden peg rail that is perfect for hanging towels and the cotton bags I put the crocheted make up remover pads into before putting them in the washing machine (stops them getting lost).

The toilet is where it was before, tucked away behind the door.

We hung our mirrored cabinet in the same place as before, above the towel rail, and the flooring is the same as we have in the living room, hall and Bella's bedroom downstairs.

It's all very white. I love this, but am aware that is can all look a bit clinical and cold if you're not careful so I've aimed to soften the room with natural materials like woven baskets and terracotta plant pots, as well as handmade items and pretty towels. 

I may yet paint the walls. A blush pink, or a soft duck egg blue perhaps. Or leave them as they are. It's just lovely to walk into a room that isn't gloomy, mouldy and covered in beige tiles.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

A Calm Blanket

I have crocheted a baby blanket for my friend and colleague Lucy, who has just had her first baby, such a special time. A few months ago, I showed her lots of photos of different kinds of blanket (granny square, ripple, zigzag, stripe) in varying styles (vintage, colourful, modern, colour block etc) and this was the one she loved the most, and I really love it too. 

The pattern is the Reese Blanket by Lakeside Loops. It's a great design in that it's one large repeated area of pattern, so it can be adapted easily. It gives instructions for Baby, Small, Medium and Large, and you can also make it into a scarf. Really clever. I chose to make the "small" size, which was a mistake as it was much bigger than I thought it would be and took ages - I started this at the end of October and have been working on it steadily ever since. I should have chosen the "baby" size which would have been perfect for a pram or crib, but never mind. The pattern is all trebles with chain stitches to create gaps, so while easy it does require careful counting. 

I especially like the border at the top and bottom. It is just rows of half trebles but crocheted into the back loop, to create a ribbed effect, like a cuff. I really like the contrast of the crisp while against the grey.

I like the way the absence of colour makes the pattern stand out more, and think I'd quite like to crochet one of these for myself. You may have noticed a certain photo bomber in these photos, a grey and white whippet who likes to snooze on the bed in the sun during the day when the door is left open...

I used Stylecraft Special Aran yarn in Silver and White with a 5 mm hook. I think it's the calmest blanket I've ever crocheted - here's hoping some of that calm rubs off onto the new baby.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

November's Cookery Book

In hindsight, this was perhaps not the best book to choose for a Cookery Calendar Challenge post, in that the title is "Feast", not "Easy Dinners That Will Take No Time To Prepare And Everyone Will Eat". It's a wonderful book but, as the title suggests, one for special occasions rather than everyday cooking. Beginning with a huge "Christmas and Thanksgiving" chapter, is goes through the seasons and different holidays, covering specific occasions like Valentines Day, Easter, Passover and Halloween, as well as more general chapters around hosting parties, cooking for children and baking. The "Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame" chapter is, like the title suggests, full of different chocolate cake recipes and home to the wonderful chocolate gingerbread (don't knock it till you've tried it) that my mum makes so well whenever a birthday cake is called for.

It was from this chapter that I took the recipe for Chocolate Malteser Cake, which I baked for my mum's recent birthday celebration. It's a fairly standard chocolate cake but contains Horlicks (although I used Ovaltine as that's what I had) in the batter and icing to give that malty flavour which I love so much. 

It got off to a sticky start because I didn't have quite the right size circular baking tins, so I put it all in one larger tin and baked it for longer. Then, when I looked at it, I saw that there was no way it would feed 12 and so baked another one to go on top. 

It was definitely fudgy in the middle. I'm not much good at chocolate cake, either overcooking them to the point of throat-catching dryness, or presenting something sticky as a brownie, and I've yet to find that perfect, fail-safe uber chocolate cake recipe. Anyway, it was well received and kids will eat anything chocolatey so I think I got away with it.

Next, "Andy's Fairfield Granola". I love making granola because it seems to me that you get quite a large amount of domestic satisfaction for quite a small amount of work, and that pleases me no end. 

You mix the dry ingredients (oats, seeds, nuts, spices) with the wet (oil, sugar, honey and apple sauce), then spread out on a couple of trays before baking for 30-40 minutes, turning around the mixture every now and then so it's evenly browned.

Some time after putting this granola in the oven, I remembered that thinking that you've set the timer is not the same as actually setting it, and I opened the oven door to something a lot browner than I wanted. There was smoke and swearing, and I was about to chuck the whole lot in the bin, but some of it was salvageable. 

When it's cool you add the dried fruit (a mixture of sultanas and cranberries as that's what I had open in the cupboard) then store in an airtight container. It's absolutely delicious, I have to say, and no worse for being a little overly browned, although it's quite a bit sweeter than my usual recipes. I thought the addition of apple sauce was a bit odd, but you can absolutely taste it, and it goes so well with the ginger and cinnamon spices.

I struggled to find budget friendly, straightforward dinners in this book, but did really want to try kedgeree risotto, since we love haddock, eggs, curry and risotto. I had high hopes.

The risotto is fairly standard, except that you add the cumin, coriander and turmeric while the rice and onion are cooking at the start, before adding the stock and liquid that the haddock was poached in. When it's ready you add a knob of butter and a little lemon juice, before scattering on the boiled eggs and some chopped parsley.

I know, it sounds delicious, doesn't it? But something about this just didn't work for John and I, with the blending of Anglo-Indian and Italian cooking, and it fell a bit flat.

Don't get me wrong, we ate it, but I think I'd rather have a normal kedgeree next time, and then risotto separately.

That's as far as I got. I was going to try a chicken and sausage tray bake, a potato gratin, and chilli-cinnamon chocolate pudding (actually, I may still cook that one) but time just ran away with me as it does so much lately. I have asked for a few cookery books for Christmas though, so hopefully I'll have a bit more time and inspiration to cook some more over the Christmas holidays. 

Sunday, 1 December 2019

And December is here

There are certain points throughout the year when I swear you can feel the seasons shifting from one to the next. There always comes a point in September  - a smell of wood smoke combined with a chilly evening - when suddenly I feel like autumn has arrived and summer is definitely behind us. Today, there seemed no doubt that we had turned that page from autumn into winter. I don't know if it was the opening of the first day of the advent calendar, or the sudden drop in temperature, but seemingly overnight there were more leaves on the ground than the trees, and the branches were bare against the grey sky, while the light had taken on that blue-ish wintry quality and the shadows were long.

This comes as something of a surprise to me as I do not really know where November went. Surely it was only half term a couple of weeks ago? These last four weeks have raced by at breakneck speed in between work and life and bathroom renovations, and I find myself slightly alarmed that December the first is so abruptly here. I am not ready for Full Christmas just yet (is it me or are people putting their trees up earlier and earlier?) but I did go up into the loft and bring down the advent calendar, the nativity set and a few decorations.

Isn't it funny how quickly certain things can sneak into your own family's Christmas traditions? I bought the little jar below in Tiger a few years ago for about £3 and it has now become the jar which the holds the chocolates and coins for the advent calendar, and I am quite attached to it. I decided not to do any kind of handmade advent calendar this year, but instead bought the kids one of those chocolate-filled cardboard ones from the supermarket. They were absolutely delighted so it was win-win as far as I'm concerned. Pick the things you want to do. You don't have to do everything at this time of year. 

Other Christmas preparations of mine include reading festive books. The pile below are my current reading matter, a mixture of new, second hand and ones I bought last year but didn't have time to read. My copy of The Christmas Chronicles is only one year old but very food-splattered already. 

We had a very happy hour earlier today doing a little crafting while listening to Christmas music. I bought this adorable collection of twelve cardboard houses from Winter's Moon last year but ran out of time to make them. I'd almost forgotten about them, so it was a lovely surprise to find them in the loft yesterday.

 Aren't they lovely? I would like to live in one.

In non-Christmas news, the bathroom is almost finished. We just need to finish laying the floor, paint the door, and put up the mirror, peg rail and toilet roll holder. Then I will take lots of photos and show you. But it is usable and I love it. The sense of light and space is absolutely wonderful. 

The downside to the bathroom, as we know, was the dust. Absolute filth, everywhere. Depressed by cleaning after work when it's dark and I'm tired, I spent quite a few hours yesterday systematically going through every room, wiping, vacuuming, mopping. In the kitchen I took every single cookery book off the shelves and gave it all a scrub before putting them back.

Bored with my books arranged by colour of spine and never being able to find anything, I decided to arrange by topic. Top shelf: books about food from a certain country, then particular types of cooking (vegetarian, preserving etc), next is family cooking, followed by a shelf full of baking, then on the bottom more family/general cookery books. This task, with the radio on in the background, made me very happy as I'm sure you can imagine.

I had a lovely day out in London last weekend with my good friend Debora. We had a long, chatty lunch together (chicken schnitzel and Black Forest gateaux here) then wandered around Kings Cross which is no longer scruffy and to be avoided, but quite nice. We saw a brilliant exhibition on Cold War Cuban art here and pottered around a really nice covered market.

A few treasures came home with me, including this gorgeous candle holder and a new tea towel.

No, I didn't need a new tea towel, but it's linen and has oranges on it and feels rather festive.

Wishing you all a happy week ahead.