Sunday, 17 February 2019

February Happies

 Making me happy this month....

:: Days where there is the scent of spring in the air and it's still light when I walk the dog after work.

 :: Mandarins which are still wearing their waxy, dark green leaves.

:: Hyacinth bulbs, bought in the supermarket and repotted into favourite bowls.

:: Bella learning how to make Rocky Road bars.

:: Snowdrops.

:: This dog, always greeting me with more joy and delight than any human in this house, his tail banging against everything as it wags furiously, circling my legs. We're still working on Not Jumping Up.

:: Hot pink stalks of early forced rhubarb.

:: Rhubarb and custard cake, cooling on the kitchen windowsill. 

:: The biggest, squishiest ball of yarn, made up of six strands of DK wound together and destined to become a throw. The colours remind me of liquorice allsorts. 

:: And today, a lovely day out at Petworth House with friends and the fact that tomorrow is half term so no Sunday night feeling!

Thank you very much for your comments on my jumper. I have worn it three times already this week, a sure sign that it's going to become a favourite. Now that I've finished such a long term project I feel like I can start thinking about my next one, and have ordered wool for one, bought fabric for two more, and am in the middle of making a set of tiny clothes for my niece's favourite rabbit. I'm having so much fun with it, I will show you the results soon. Wishing you all a happy week ahead. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Goldenrod Sweater

For a long time I held the opinion that, when it came to woollen clothes, knitting had the edge on crochet. I thought that crochet, that yarn-eater of a craft, was better suited to warm blankets and scarves, or open, lacy shawls, and it seemed that most of the crocheted jumpers, cardigans and tops I saw on Ravelry were not something I would ever want to make or wear. But thankfully that seems to be changing as more and more crochet designers are producing patterns for garments that don't look like they were made from scratchy yarn in 1987, and are actually photographed and styled in such a way that they are appealing. 

Via Instagram, that goldmine of crafting inspiration and my favourite time-wasting activity, I stumbled upon Eleven Handmade and her Goldenrod sweater, and fell instantly in love. 

I bought the pattern on holiday in Devon last year, while browsing Etsy on my phone in bed (funny how I remember that) and, impatient to be started, ordered the yarn at the same time so that it would be ready to start when I got home. However life got in the way and I didn't actually begin the project until October when I got as far as the shoulders, before putting it to one side as Christmas gifts took precedence. I picked it up again in early January and have been steadily working on it a little most nights since then, a few rows here, a few there. 

The pattern is made up of trebles and puff stitches, with a little front and back post stitch at the cuffs and hems. It starts at the neck and works its way downwards until you stop at the arms, leaving two holes to join the arms later, and continuing down the rest of the body.

It's crocheted in the round, with a subtle seam marking the beginning and end of each row, just visible at the back.

The front and back post stitches create a ribbed effect and give a neat, tight finish to the ends of the arms and body.

I really like it and know that it will definitely be something I wear a lot. I prefer to wear block colours over pattern, and favour blue, grey, black and mustard in my wardrobe (as well as a lot of striped tops) so this jumper will go well with my clothes, especially my black and grey jeans which I wear to work a lot. Here I'm wearing it with a denim shirt underneath in the left hand picture, but it works with a crisp white shirt, long sleeved t-shirt or just a vest too, as in the right hand picture.

The pattern specified fingering/2 ply weight yarn, but all the ones I found seemed expensive, so I chose Drops Fabel which is a 4 ply/sport weight yarn that is well priced and machine washable. (I like Drops wool a lot and am using it more and more.) The pattern stated 600g of yarn, so I bought twelve 50g balls in Rust, but actually only used nine. I'm not worried about the three leftover balls, they will make a great shawl. So, with the cost of the pattern, the whole thing came in at under £28 which I think is fantastic, given that a good wool jumper costs upwards of £40 or £50. It came out a little baggier than I was expecting and, if I make another, I will go down a hook size from 4.5mm to 4mm for a slightly tighter stitch definition. 


Thank you so much for all your suggestions for what to watch on TV. What did we ever do without Netflix? We've just finished The Ted Bundy Tapes and they were alternately fascinating and sickening, as you'd imagine. I feel like something a little more upbeat now. Life is busy here at the moment but good - it's half term next week so we are counting down the days until then. 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

A Dusting

It's funny, how soon after the snow melts that it seems like it was never actually there at all. When it's only lying on the ground for less than twenty four hours, you don't really have time to get used to it, to adjust to it. We had a little at the end of last week, but sadly not enough for the longed-for Snow Day and school closure that the children were hoping for. But it was enough to feel like it had snowed, and the kids had a chance to play in it before it melted. 

The weekend was cold and sunny, with a bitter wind blowing. On Sunday afternoon we decided to drive to a large country park near us - it's seven miles away, inland, and up on a hill. Well, you'd think it was in another country, the amount of snow that still laid on the ground up there, three days after it had fallen.

Enough to crunch underfoot and for the children to throw snowballs at each other.

Enough for the dog to go completely mad and skittish, racing around everywhere, sniffing, digging, eating the snow.

He loves the snow, does Ziggy; like sand dunes and long grass, the texture sends him a bit mad and he doesn't know what to do with himself except dash around madly.

When we weren't in the snow, we were doing things to keep warm: making sweet potato soup, crocheting, sitting in front of the wood burning stove.  I found in the vegetable rack a couple of old sweet potatoes, and in the fridge half a butternut squash and an long-opened jar of Thai curry paste. Throw in an onion, some stock and a tin of coconut milk, and you've got a very warming, spicy soup. 

My Goldenrod Sweater is almost there. I've been diligently working on this project for the last month and now have just the second sleeve to do, and then it's ready to be blocked and worn. I have my eye on this one next, although it does look a bit daunting. 

We just finished watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, a drama I had to psyche myself up for. It's so scary (lots of jump moments!) but so sad, and so incredibly compelling too. I loved it and felt unsettled by it at the same time. We've now moved on to the equally cheery Conversations with a Killer. We know how to have a laugh in this house. Any Netflix recommendations for us?

I feel like I've been quite happily living in a winter bubble since Christmas, avoiding the news, keeping our weekends as free and quiet as possible, cooking, reading, not going out. It's been lovely but can't go on forever and I'm starting to look out for the tentative peeks of spring when I'm out and about, starting to feel my energy levels creep up as I wake up a bit and make plans for the coming months. 

Saturday, 2 February 2019

January's Cookery Book

Well, I decided to continue with the Cookery Calendar Challenge for another year. Started by Penny of The Homemade Heart a couple of years ago, the idea is that you choose one title a month, often a book which isn't much used, and try a couple of new recipes. I have enjoyed this challenge so much over the last couple of years, and it has really made me revisit and reread old recipe books and look at them afresh, rather than buying new ones. I am a sucker for a cookery book, I really am, and find them hard to resist.

My choice for January was A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, the first of her three cookery books and published in 2014. It's actually a book I use a lot, but always going back to the same four or five recipes again and again, so I felt it deserved a bit more attention. It's a vegetarian cookery book, with vegan options for most recipes, but I don't think of it as a "vegetarian cookery book", just another really good title in my little much-loved collection. It's superb, by the way, one of the best food books I've ever bought, and I would really recommend it to anyone, vegetarian or not. It's well written, the production, design and photography are all beautifully styled, and each recipe starts with a little introduction as she talks about the idea or story behind that particular recipe, why and when it works, and suggesting variations. Chapters include "what gets me up in the morning", "food for filling a gap" and "hearty dinner and food to feed a crowd", but my most used section is "cakes, bread and a few other things" which includes some really excellent, reliable baking recipes. Meals are seasonal but not slavishly so, and almost always feel achievable and possible. 

But the real test, and the reason I chose it this month, was to see how my harshest critics, Bella and Angus, got on with some new recipes that used more grains and pulses than meat, and might challenge their suspicious taste buds a bit. This came in the form of Proper Chilli, which uses lentils, bulgar wheat, quinoa and haricot beans as it's base, rather than our usual minced beef and kidney beans. The cumin, ginger and chipotle paste gave it a smokey warmth rather than a searing heat, and the variation in texture was really good.

It took about an hour to prepare and cook, making it an achievable week night dinner, and a very economical one too.

Anticipating a food battle, I served this with tacos not rice, as the kids love tacos - they are basically giant crisps, after all - and I think we can call this a success. Bella said it was "really good" (her actual words) and while not full of praise, Angus ate it all and didn't moan. 

I tried the Crispy Sweet Potato Fries as a side with barbecue pulled pork and they were fantastic, with a sprinkling of polenta to give them extra crunch.

For John and I, as I felt this might be a bit of a stretch for the kids, I made Dhal with Crispy Sweet Potato and Quick Coconut Chutney, which sounds like a lot more effort than it is. You make a dhal (and it's a good one, one of the best I've eaten) and while it's cooking chop and bake some sweet potatoes. 

While they are cooking, you make a quick coconut chutney from rehydrated desiccated coconut, chilli and herbs and sprinkle this on top when you serve.

It's fantastically good. The recipe was supposed to serve four but we managed to eat enough for three between the two of us, and John took the leftovers to work the next day. This is what Anna Jones is really good at: she takes what might look like a pretty ordinary recipe and through solid flavour and the addition of some kind of relish, gremolata or even just a squirt of lemon juice at the end, raises it to the level of total deliciousness.

For dessert, we tried Melting Maple Chocolate Puddings, sweet little flourless chocolate pots served in individual ramekins with vanilla ice cream for the kids and natural yogurt for us. The only thing I would say about these is that the maple syrup flavour didn't really come through enough for me to warrant using such an expensive ingredient. Next time I'll just use golden syrup or sugar, and save the maple syrup for pancakes.

Finally, I made Lemon Maple Granola for myself. No-one else likes granola in this house which suits me just fine, as I get to enjoy it all myself without going to the jar and wondering why there is none left.

Granola is granola, but the addition of lemon zest makes the whole thing taste a little lighter and fresher, while bringing out the earthier flavours of the nuts, seeds and oats.

I ate it with stewed apple and Greek yogurt at the weekend, and then just with yogurt on weekday mornings.

In other news, we had a little snow; not a lot, and it's mostly gone now, but it was nice while it was there and I took lots of photos which I will bore you with soon. I hope you are all keeping safe and warm in this extremely cold weather, wherever you are.