Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Making Winter - Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble

Crumble is my perfect winter pudding. At first I thought it was a bit obvious, but then it is obvious because it is so perfect. 

It's quick to make, economical, versatile. You need the minimum of kitchen kit to make it, and you can change the fruit and spices depending on the time of year. Apple and pear with cinnamon and brown sugar in the autumn. Mincemeat with orange zest for a Christmas crumble. Peach and strawberry for a summery crumble to eat with vanilla ice cream. 

Today I have chosen rhubarb crumble because rhubarb is in season at the moment, and also because it is John's favourite.This recipe is my contribution to the excellent Making Winter Project on the lovely silverpebble blog.

The crumble topping recipe is my Mum's. It was given to me in imperial but I've included metric weights too. 

You need:

rhubarb (I used three large sticks but the amount depends on the size and shape of the dish you use)
1 tsp ground ginger (or you could grate some fresh ginger if you have some)
5 ox/150g sugar (plus some extra to sprinkle on top of the fruit)
4 oz/110g plain flour
4 oz/110g oats
4 oz/110g butter

The recipe is very approximate. You could use more flour and less oats if you don't like oats in your crumble topping. I mix this with my fingers and add ingredients depending on how wet or dry the mixture feels.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Wash the rhubarb and chop into 1 inch or 3 cm chunks. 

Sprinkle with sugar (I used two generous tablespoons as rhubarb is very tart, but I would use less, or none, for other fruits). 

Cook the rhubarb for a few minutes to soften in the microwave or on the hob. Make the crumble mixture by combining the flour, oats, sugar and butter in a bowl by hand, or in a food mixer if you prefer, until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Put the fruit into the oven dish. Sprinkle over half the ground ginger, and put the rest in the crumble mixture. Cover the fruit with the crumble and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.

Serve with custard, cream or vanilla ice cream.

We ate ours with custard. I had intended to make my own custard but life and an ill two year old got in the way.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Little Things

Hello there! Well, it was a long weekend to follow a long week. Tales from a Tired and Ill House would be more appropriate today.

But some little things did make me happy over the weekend.

Hearing how much Angus's speech is improving. He is a late talker. Recently he started calling his beloved bunny "bubby" and he delights in this new word that we can recognise, saying it over and over again.

Daffodils and Narcissi in a pretty jug. I spent most of our last holiday in Devon searching for one of these Cornishware jugs, and came home empty handed. But then I received two for Christmas. Hurrah!

Starting a little craft project with Bella.

A brand new soap in my brand new soap dish. (I did say little things) And the soap is Pears, my favourite soap in the world, the smell reminds me of my childhood.

Let's all pretend we haven't seen the very dusty blind behind the soap dish.


Watching Angus line up his toy animals. I'm not sure why he does this - I don't know if they are getting ready to stampede or if he just really likes lining things up.

And finding Bella's Playmobile figures all over the house in the unlikliest places. Here, Upsy Daisy is giving a lesson to the Campervan family.

Those are John's books. They form part of the "unread" section of our bookcase.

Angus devouring the eggy bread I made him for lunch today (Bella took one bite and spat it out).

And, best of all, pizza and wine on Sunday night.

Like I said, little things. Here's hoping we have a better week. How was your weekend?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Abigail's Tea Loaf

We are a household full of coughs, colds and high temperatures this week. I have not felt well since Monday, Bella was off school again yesterday and today, John feels a cold coming on...we just need Angus to catch it now so that we can all look forward to a weekend of no sleep.

All this illness and the fact that it's STILL January calls for a lot of sitting on the sofa, drinking tea and eating cake. I am slightly obsessed with this tea loaf at the moment. I think I've made four in the last couple of weeks. It is very easy (that seems to be a bit of a reoccurring theme in my kitchen - no difficult recipes thank you very much).

The recipe is from my best friend Abigail and she was given it by a family member. I just love the fact that it's all in imperial measurements. It makes it feel more handed down somehow. All the recipes my Mum gives me are in imperial as that is how she cooks, whereas I think in metric when I'm cooking. But since most scales show both measurements it's not a problem.

You need: 

12 fluid ounces of cold tea
12 ounces mixed dried fruit (I use whatever is in the cupboard)
10 ounces self raising flour
7 ounces soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

Soak the dried fruit in the tea, ideally overnight, but for at least a couple of hours. 

Pre heat the oven to 130 degrees C. Add the flour, sugar and beaten egg to the fruit and tea, mix it well, then bake in a loaf tin for around an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. I usually start checking it after an hour as my oven incinerates things.

When it's cool slice it and and eat it with butter. And a cup of tea.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Baby Mobile

Good morning. I didn't intend to write another sewing post so soon, but I seem to be in the middle of a sewing frenzy.

My friend Clarissa had a baby boy on Saturday and I have made this mobile as a present for baby Spencer. I am going to meet him this morning. I was hoping for new baby cuddles but I will admire him from afar as I have a horrible cold.

I started the mobile on Sunday. It took a couple of hours to cut out and machine sew the birds, then two evenings in front of the tv to sew on the wings, stuff them and attach the buttons for eyes. It cost £2.50 for the embroidery hoop plus the tiny and difficult to quantify cost of fabric scraps, thread, buttons and stuffing. So the whole mobile probably cost around £5 in total.

The bird template is from the Cath Kidston Sew book. I altered it slightly and made the wings from crafting felt so that they didn't need hemming, and hung the birds from an embroidery hoop, something I've seen done in many crafting books. I quite like it.

I saw another very pregnant friend earlier this week (we are having a bit of a baby boom round here at the moment) who is due next week and knows that she is having a girl, so now it looks as though I will be making one in pink. Which pleases me no end I as I have some lovely new fabric in different shades of pink which hasn't been used yet and I'm dying to get crafty with it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Good morning. It's mild and sunny today and if feels as if Spring might not be so far away. I made pesto last night. Basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil. We actually had all those ingredients either in the fridge or on the kitchen windowsill and so it was destined to be pasta pesto for tea. 

Broken mugs make useful pots for supermarket herbs. I don't have a very good record with these mugs. Maybe I should stop letting Angus help me empty the dishwasher. 

I didn't really follow a recipe, just threw what we had into the blender. I think it needed more basil. If anyone has a tried and tested pesto recipe I would love to hear it. We had it on the rest of the fancy pasta left over from the weekend and it was good. I took a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from pouring it into the jam jar. I do love filling a jam jar with something I've made. Roll on summer fruits season and jam making!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

How to Applique

I mended my duvet cover using a sewing method called applique, which is to patch or "apply" something to the original piece of fabric. I do love a bit of applique. It's uses are many and varied and you can work on a project as big or small as you want. It's particularly good if, like me, you like hand sewing, as I find appliqueing small things tricky to do on a sewing machine, and much more rewarding done by hand (in front of the tv). It's also great if you want to make an expensive piece of fabric go a really long way. I quite often buy the kids really cheap plain supermarket Tshirts and then applique on a dog/car/apple/flower in a way that frankly Mini-Boden would be proud of. (like I said before, I have spare time but not spare money)

So here is a brief guide to applique. This is how I do it - I'm sure there are many variations, but this way works for me. I am thinking in particular of my lovely sister Anna while I write this. She lives much, much too far away from me and she recently had an applique "mishap" (quelle horreur!). I so wished I lived near enough to pop over for a cup of tea and an evening of crafting. But I can't, so I hope this is useful.

1. Decide what design or pattern or image you want to use. I sketched mine on to paper using some images on the internet as the basis for the design. but I often trace them from templates in books.

2. Next, you need a product called BondawebIt looks like tracing paper but one side is smooth, one rough. You buy it by the metre in haberdasheries, Hobbycraft, on the internet. I'm sure other products are available but this is the one I see in stock everywhere and buy. On the smooth side of the Bondaweb trace or draw the image you want to use. You will be ironing your image onto the REVERSE of the fabric so make sure your image is reversed when you draw it on the Bondawed. (This is only really important if you're appliqeuing on letters or numbers). There is no reason why you couldn't just draw free hand onto the Bondaweb. I don't because I'm not that good at drawing.

3. Roughly cut around the shape and then lay it onto the back of the fabric you have chosen as your patch/applique. Iron it on, making sure you iron onto the smooth, papery side of the Bondaweb. The rough side is coated with glue, and the heat from the iron sticks it to the back of the fabric. If you iron the gluey bit, your iron will be a hot nasty mess and need a good scrub...let's just say I learnt the hard way.

4.  Now cut carefully around the pencil outline and then peel away the papery layer. The glue will now be on the back of the piece of fabric.

5. Position your pieces of fabric wherever you want them on the item you are appliqueing with the right side facing you and the gluey side facing the fabric. Iron them on. Delicate fabrics or crafting felt may need to be ironed through a tea towel so that the iron doesn't scorch them.

 6. Now you'll have a real sense of what the finished piece will look like. Next, the patches need to be stitched around the edges. Essentially, the Bondaweb holds the patch in place and stops it fraying until it has been sewn on. I usually use straight stitch but running or blanket stitch look good too. Use whatever colour thread you like depending on what you're working on.

And that's it really.

It's VERY addictive. You can go to town with layers of fabric, embellish with buttons and beads, but I kept this simple because I wanted it to be easy to wash. I am working on some applique cushions for gifts which I will show you soon.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Make Do and Mend

I was changing the bed sheets the another day and while putting the clean duvet cover on I discovered two big, ugly holes in the waffle pattern. (I think the culprit was one of my bras - I am always unhooking bras from this duvet cover when I pull it out of the washing machine).

I was cross. The bed linen was from The White Company and, although I bought it on sale, it was not cheap. Other than the holes it is fine, and it's really god quality cotton, so I decided to patch it and then hopefully get many more years of use from it. I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away, and I really can't afford to go and spend another £50 on a replacement.

I thought about patches. Not a square - too Amish. Not a circle, star or heart - too nursery-ish. John showed his interest with a combination of shrugging and a frightened please-don't-ask-me-my-opinion-about-this expression while he backed away from me. So I decided on bird shaped patches in shades of blue to match the walls in our bedroom. I used scraps of fabric I already had from Liberty, Cath Kidston and Ebay.

I added a few more all over the duvet cover so it looked a bit more like a pattern rather than Look At Me, I'm A Random Patch! I got a bit carried away and before I knew it I was sewing on thirteen birds.

Tricky to take a good picture in our rather sunny bedroom.

I found this little project quite satisfying. Years ago (pre children and reduced income) I would've thrown it away and bought another without a moment's thought. But since I now have more time than money this was a good solution.

I'm pleased with it. And I will never wash this bedding with my underwear again.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Morning After

6.00 Start tidying away toys and persuade the kids to go upstairs for a bath.
6.20 Actually get them upstairs and start the long "Can you get undressed please...I've asked you three times..." performance.
6.30 Kids finally in the bath.
6.40 Teeth brushed, pyjamas on and into bed for stories. I leave John to do this while I run around flapping.
7.00 After many long and drawn out stories and drinks of milk the kids are officially in bed. Angus takes a painfully long time to drink his milk, slurp by slurp, smirking at us over his cup. He is fully aware that John and I are waiting, tapping our feet, and he's loving it.
7.05 I start getting changed but Bella, aware that something is afoot, calls me back in to her room four times " I need a wee...I need another cuddle...what are you wearing?"
7.20 Wine. Breathe.
7.25 Lay the table, faff around in the kitchen a bit. The cheap flowers look pretty in mason jars.

Runner - £1.99 in the H&M sale. Bargain!)
My Grandma's beautiful silver cutlery. I adore it but it can't go in the dishwasher so doesn't get used all that often, understandably.

7.30 Worry that the dessert does not look how I thought it would but realise it's too late to do anything about it.

Our friends arrive. We have a very lovely evening. Probably too wine was drunk. And now I am off to a birthday party with a bit of a hangover so that is my punishment. Happy Saturday and thank you for your comments :-)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Busy Friday

We have friends coming over for dinner tonight and today is a busy day. There will be cooking, shopping, tidying, cleaning and hiding the evidence of small people. It's been a full week, lots of errands, appointments and mopping up sick. The kind of week that puts me in awe of my friends who work...where do they find the time? But there has also been shopping (new fabric purchased in John Lewis - woo hoo!) time with the kids (we've done a lot of jigsaws) and catching up with friends.

I've nearly finished a little craft project  - I will show you the finished result as soon as it is complete.

I'm half way through making a lemon tart for dessert tonight. You need four eggs for the pastry and ten (TEN!) for the filling. That's a lot of eggs. Why does mine look so burnt? The nicest thing I can say about it is that it looks rustic. It certainly does not look like Heston Blumenthal's version.

A trip to Waitrose was made for expensive linguini and cheap flowers.

John has made a rich and meaty ragu sauce. We are basically serving a deluxe spaghetti bolognese.

Later I will hunt out the silver cutlery, lay the table, light the candles and wait for that magic few minutes of calm...the best bit about having people over for dinner. Those peaceful moments when the kids are in bed, the house looks pretty, the food is under control and I have a large glass of wine in my hand. I wait for my friends to arrive and think about the evening ahead.

I will tell you all about it. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a lovely weekend whatever you may be doing.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Meal Drop

Round here, when someone has a baby, we cook them a meal.

A not great photo of Cottage Pie, Tea Loaf, and a little gift for Baby Tobias.

When Bella was born I joined my local branch of the NCT and started attending their weekly coffee mornings. I met a group of women who had babies of a similar age, almost all of us first time mothers and with no family nearby. Now Bella is at school and Angus is two and a half, we don't go any more. But the friendships remain and we see those same women (and their partners, and other children) regularly. Those ladies mean a great deal to me.

The Meal Drop idea came from a friend of mine who's church dropped off a meal every night for two weeks when her first child was born. They had a rota and a different person cooked each day. We adopted this and every time a friend had a new baby (or moved house, or suffered a bereavement) we volunteered to cook for them. When Angus was born, we had twelve meals delivered...lamb orzotto, mousaka, cottage pie, lasagne, quiche, curries. Sometimes people made a dessert (one friend who claimed she couldn't cook made a lemon meringue pie from scratch. She's busted.) Sometimes a bar of chocolate or a bottle of wine in the bag as well. It is the nicest thing to have someone turn up on your doorstep and drop off some food they have made for you. All you have to do is put it in the oven and go back to round-the-clock feeds. It made me feel cared for, and made the fact that my family live so far away a little easier to bear.

Today was my turn to cook for Emily and I made cottage pie (easy, adults and kids like it, you can hide vegetables in it) and a tea loaf. I love tea loaf at the  moment. A warming January meal. I had a quick cuddle with the delicious new baby and then said goodbye and drove home, the tiredness on my friend's face reminding why we are stopping at two.

Bella is home from school again today. Yesterday involved a lot of lying on the sofa watching DVDs while cuddling her bunny.

But by the afternoon she had perked up enough to make some bear-sized beds out of shoe boxes with Angus.

But this morning she was sick again so it's another day off school today.