Monday, 19 March 2018

A Succulent in a Hoop

I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes, a magazine I've not bought for some years. Back when it first came out, around the time I started blogging, I used to really love it. I think I had a subscription for it, and I remember making one project a month from it for a year. That was fun. But I started to enjoy it less and less over time; the projects didn't grab me so much, and perhaps my children started to reach an age where I didn't want to make quite so much for them, and I certainly have much less time now than I ever did before, both to read magazines and to make things. 

But the most recent issue, with it's spring like colours and plant-themed projects, really grabbed me and I spent a long time in the supermarket (once I'd removed all that ridiculous plastic wrapping) flicking through it. I was especially taken with this Boho Botanical supplement, full of gorgeous ideas and really right up my street.

This project, a piece of hoop art designed by Helen Wilde of Ovo Bloom, grabbed me straight away. I loved the colours and the contrast between the silky embroidered and spiky crepe paper leaves.

I always find satin stitch harder than it looks. It couldn't replicate the perfectly smooth, even texture in the pattern but I did my best. It looks ok.

The French knots for the soil were much easier to stitch. I do love a French knot. 

To create the spiky succulent leaves, you cut small strips of crepe paper, twist them into bows, glue the two leaves together then cut into a leaf shape. Then you slowly layer them onto a small disc of cardboard, about the size of a two pence piece (or wine bottle lid, that's what I used), gluing them down as you go, until you are left with a beautiful, tactile little object. Paper craft isn't something I've ever really experimented with but I can see the appeal.

Then the small cardboard disc is glued onto the linen fabric. So simple but very effective.

 I absolutely love it. It feels like spring might finally come when I look at this. 

I've hung it in an awkwardly shaped corner in the dining room, next to the book shelves, and I think I'm going to create a hoop wall there. I already have a little pile I've been collecting for a while, piled up there on the bookcase.

That will be a lovely job. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Early Spring Days

After the cold weather the ground is slowly warming up and everywhere around are signs of spring. Green and yellow tones fill the woods and our garden, our home and our kitchen and I've felt a renewed energy for cooking, gardening and crafting which can only come with the longer days and hopeful glimpses of warmer weather. 

£1 bunches of daffodils fill jugs on the kitchen table for as long as they are in the shops. I love the way they look like paintbrushes before they unfurl their vivid yellow petals.

I am delighted with my new string of hearts plant.  The muted green leaves tangle together in such a beautiful way and it looks really good in my copper hanging planter.

Bored with bread for lunch every day, I made a large batch of salad at the weekend and have been taking it to work instead of my usual sandwich. 

I've been eating lots more fruit, vegetables and eggs, not deliberately, but isn't it funny how our bodies and appetites want different sort of foods as the seasons change. I want cake year round though, and these lemon bars from Making Winter were delicious, with a sweet biscuit base filled with a lemon curd style topping.

Something about lemon - I don't know if it's the colour or the scent - makes me think of Easter. 

I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes (issue 90), my first purchase of that magazine in about three years. This was the first one I'd seen in ages that actually grabbed me and filled me with enthusiasm, largely because of this little project, an embroidery hoop project designed by Ovo Bloom. I love houseplants and I love embroidery, so it stands to reason that I'd love this design too.

Thanks to a bargain job-lot of vintage Observer books from eBay, and a couple that my parents found for me in a charity shop recently, my little collection is growing. Angus likes to sit in the chair next to this bookcase and read them. I recently found him engrossed in the Dogs volume.

Outside in the garden, things are starting to wake up. It's still a muddy, squelchy wasteland, of course, but there is hope. The large wooden planter is filled with as many daffodil bulbs as I could fit into it, and they are just starting to open up. 

The tulips are a little further behind, but soon I will move these pots to the front door step.

We had a couple of really nice walks in the woods over the weekend. I love being around the trees at all times of year but especially in the spring and autumn, and I'm already thinking of my favourite places to go locally for bluebells later in the spring. 

There weren't that many buds or leaves on the trees yet, but the forest floor was full of growth and green shoots. 

Of course, now that I am in spring mode, now that I am full of plans for the garden and itching to get to work out there, the weather is predicted to take a sharp and wintry turn this weekend, with snow even forecast in some places.

I don't think we'll get any but the icy winds will be a shock after the 15°C temperatures and sunny days we've enjoyed lately. I'm not complaining though, it's an excuse to light the fire and do some embroidery. 

Friday, 9 March 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge

Hello! Once again I'm joining in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge, in which each month I choose a different cookery book from my shelves - usually a title that I've previously overlooked but not been able to part with - and try a couple of new recipes. Should you fancy taking part, you can read more about it at Penny's blog The Homemade Heart

For February, I chose Easy Meals by Rachel Allen, a book I can't remember buying so I think it may have been a gift. The jacket screams "TV series tie-in" and the book contains as many photos of the author as of the recipes, but it's a really good solid book which is why I've never parted with it. I liked lots of elements of the book including the ribbon bookmark (essential!), the clear text and of course the recipes themselves, but a few more photos of the finished dishes would have been nice. I really struggle to imagine how a finished dish might taste based on the title alone, and ideally I like a photo as well. I don't know if this means that I am a very visual person, or a very lazy and unimaginative one.

Our first choice was Thai Steamed Fish, a very easy assembly job of a recipe and one John and I ate one Saturday night when the kids were in bed. First you mix together the sauce, which consists of garlic, ginger, lemon juice, fish sauce and coriander, my favourite flavours. 

Then you place your fish, salmon in our case, in the steamer or in a foil lined sieve on top of a saucepan if you don't have a steamer, like us.  Add the pak choi and drizzle the sauce over the top before clamping on the lid and steaming.

Not having a proper steamer (I knew I shouldn't have thrown it out!) meant that the fish took a little longer to cook than the recipe said, but it worked fine. We ate it with plain boiled rice and, while there wasn't that much sauce, what remained was packed with intense flavour. I absolutely loved this dish - light, fragrant, fishy, zingy - and could eat this kind of food every day, but John was less impressed. He said it was "alright". 

Our second meal was Chicken and Chorizo with Rice. I had high hopes for this dish, since chicken, chorizo and rice and three things that every single person in this house really likes. 

You start by frying the chorizo until it releases it's oils, then remove it and set aside.

Next you add the chicken thighs, followed by the onions, garlic and chorizo.

Finally add rice, wine and stock and let the rice cook in the stock and juices from the meat before serving with chopped parsley.

I like one pot dinners like this, where you can carry the dish straight to the table and there is minimal washing up. Unfortunately this wasn't the crowd pleaser that I'd hoped for; John and I loved the fragrant, sticky rice, full of the flavours of the chorizo and wine, and the chicken was so tender, but Bella and Angus were less impressed. Angus protested loudly about the weird rice that wasn't plain, boiled like was expecting, and pouted throughout.

John and I have started to adopt a slightly more no nonsense approach to our family meals of late. When we eat all together, which is four or five nights a week, we both tend to cook things that we know the children will enjoy and eat - it just makes life easier that way. But it also limits what we eat. So, our new policy it to cook things which we know they might not enjoy - butternut squash risotto for example - as well as meals we know they like, and they can eat it or not. I'm hoping we can eat more widely and adventurously as a result. 

Finally, continuing with the (unintentional) rice theme, I made caramel rice pudding. You begin, not surprisingly, by making caramel before pouring in a lot of cold milk. Instantly, the caramel sets to stone and there was a heart stopping moment when I though I might have to throw out my favourite copper saucepan, but as the milk heats up the caramel softens and dissolves into the milk. 

Then you add what seems like an unfeasibly small amount of rice before simmering for about half an hour. I've never cooked rice pudding on top of the stove before, and for ages it just seemed to be grains of rice swimming around in too much milk, but suddenly it all came together. 

Honestly, you couldn't really taste the caramel, but it was sweet and delicious and one rice dish that all of us enjoyed. Plus the stove top, frequent stirring method of cooking meant no awful, revolting skin which pleased me enormously. 

I'm not sure what March's book will be. I received a couple of new books for Christmas and my birthday which I haven't really delved into yet, so I might choose one of those.

Right. It's Friday night and I've had a bit of a week so I'm going to make myself a martini. Have a fabulous weekend everyone. 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow Day

On Thursday afternoon the snow arrived. School closed at lunchtime as the first flakes started to fall and by the time we were home later in the afternoon everywhere was covered. Our school, like most locally and probably many others across the country, decided not to open the following day and a snow day was suddenly a reality. I was so happy. I still am! John's day off fell on Friday too and, since he has been working this weekend, it was the most wonderful and unexpected family day, made even more special by the weather. I had such a sense of anticipation and excitement on Thursday night as I wondered whether it would snow more, and ran through all the lovely things we could do tomorrow with this gift of a day.

I started sensibly with a lie in. 

Those bitterly cold, strong Eastern winds had blown the snow all over the place, so that there was none in some places that were sheltered by the house and drifts in others.

It was such a treat to substitute the usual weekday breakfast of porridge for a more relaxed meal of toasted sourdough and a pot of coffee while we talked about, well, the snow of course. 

We decided to take Ziggy out for a walk first. I love the way the snow transforms everything, so that a road you might walk down every day suddenly looks different.

We went down to our local woods, somewhere we often go, but I've never seen them covered in snow before.

I just love the way the snow lies on the boughs of the tree.

 I took my new camera with me and had a lot of fun playing around with it.

Of course there was a snowball fight.

When we got home I made homemade rolls and leek and potato soup for lunch. 

I cobbled together a made up recipe with some strong white bread flour and dark rye flour, and hoped for the best. I'm of the opinion that if you put enough butter on something and dip it in hot soup then it's probably going to taste nice. 

But what a treat to have that extra time to make bread and soup. I can't remember when I last bothered to do that. 

After lunch, and in danger of falling into a little snoozy slump, we went sledging. It was only Angus who wanted to go, to be honest, we were all quite happy staying cosy indoors, but it was worth it just to see the look of total joy on his face. He loved the snow, much more than Bella, and was outside playing in it at every opportunity. He was so sad that it all melted yesterday bless him, as was I. The other member of this household who very much enjoyed the snow was Ziggy - he was so skittish and playful in it, and had twice the energy he usually has (and he usually has a lot....).

Back home again we lit the stove, snuggled under blankets, watched the snow fall again outside, made hot chocolates that were towering with whipped cream and marshmallows, and I knitted a little. 

It was a pretty perfect day, and it's not often you can say that, is it? And I'm glad I took all these photos and that I have this blog to record days such as this one because this afternoon on the beach, with 9°c temperatures and no wind, with such warming sun that the kids took their coats off, it was hard to imagine that it ever even snowed. 


I do realise that I am incredibly lucky to have been able to enjoy the snow, rather than have been stuck on a motorway for hours, or properly snowed in as some have in other parts of the UK. It's one thing to be able to enjoy it falling thickly outside from the safety of a warm home, quite another to be out in it, and we only had a little down here on the south coast compared to other regions where it caused real chaos. And hats off to all those essential workers, those people who work in hospitals or for emergency services who cannot enjoy the luxury of a snow day and have to get to work regardless, no matter how hazardous their journey. Thank you.


Writing this post sparked off a little meander down memory lane for me, as I remembered our snow falls when we lived in Leeds, especially this one in March 2013 and this really big one in January 2013, and this one in February 2012, right at the start of my blogging journey when the children were so small, only two and a half and five years old. How time flies.