Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Get Well Soon

This beautiful bunch of flowers arrived yesterday, sent by my parents, with a little note saying "Get Well Soon". When the Interflora man knocked I was quite cross and grumpy and doing some ironing (not exactly a mood elevator) but when I saw the flowers suddenly I felt less irritable and rather chipper. Funny that. Tulips are my favourite flowers in the world. I love their colours - the primary brights and the pastels - their shape; they seem to say "Spring is on it's way".

I have been under the weather for the last two weeks with Labyrinthitis, a horrible viral infection in my inner ear which makes me dizzy, nauseous, anxious, tired and gives me a funny ringing in my ears. It's not much fun. It really peaked on Sunday with lots of shivery flu-like symptoms (probably not helped by the fact that I totally over did it on Saturday).  I just want to sit down and do nothing, which is most unlike me. The nausea reminds be of early pregnancy sickness. I have a long list of jobs and projects I want to crack on with but I'm not feeling up to much. The only thing I feel like doing is my Emily Peacock Kiss Tapestry. Look, I've nearly finished the third letter! Only another hundred hours or so to go...

But today, it feels like it has lifted a very, very little bit. I was able to enjoy a mid-morning hot cross bun and cup of coffee. I took Angus to have his feet measured and bought him some new shoes (he did not take kindly to this and kicked the nice lady quite hard, quite a few times). Every cloud has a silver lining - I've lost some weight and if I'm honest I quite like the reappearance of my hip bones. I don't want any alcohol. I am rather partial to a glass or two of wine when the kids are in bed and I don't think it'll doing me any harm to give it a rest for a month or so. (Look, I'm trying REALLY hard to find the positives here!). So I will just lie low with my tapestry and catch up on my TV viewing and wait for it to pass. Last night I watched three episodes in a row of One Born Every Minute. Does anyone else watch this? I love it. This series was filmed in Leeds General Infirmary, a huge and busy inner city hospital, where my two were born, and I like entertain myself by seeing if I recognise any of the midwives. It makes me 1. broody 2. cry and 3. want to be a midwife. I always hold my breath while waiting for the baby to cry when it's born. 

Right enough rambling. Thank goodness sitting in front of the laptop doesn't set off the vertigo! I'm off to do some more tapestry.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

T-Shirts for Little People

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I've been busy sewing T-shirts for small people. These ones here were all for birthday presents. The owl design is mine and the two white t-shirts are for my nieces (one of whom is two today - Happy Birthday Eleanor!) The car and dog designs are from Cath Kidston's Make book and the dog t shirt is for a lovely little boy we know who celebrated his second birthday on Valentine's Day.

When I photographed them about a month ago it was so VERY cold and grey and about to snow. I wore my ski jacket and hat to go out into the back garden to peg them on the washing line. (I felt like a bit of an idiot if I'm honest and hoped very much that the neighbours weren't looking). The light wasn't great but I had to do it then, as they needed to be wrapped and despatched to their recipients. 

These were inexpensive gifts, but ones that were made carefully with thought and love. I have a lot of little projects like this on the go at the moment which is fortunate because I do get awfully restless without a bit of crafting to keep me out of mischief, and start plotting house moves and new babies and generally worrying John. It's better for all concerned if I am busy. But that darn Kiss tapestry wont sew itself.

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Day Out in The Big Smoke

Oh, what a day I had on Saturday! Abigail and I had a Big Day Out in London. It was heaven. I don't often go to London, and I should go more as it only took two and a half hours to get there. It has changed so much since I last went. Indulge me if you will with this post, a bit of a travelogue from a woman who should probably craft less and get out more.

At 7.05am my train left Leeds and I enjoyed time with a coffee and a magazine and no interruptions. Abigail met me from my train and we walked through the new (well, new to me) swanky St Pancras Station and admired the Olympic Rings.

We walked up to the British Library

and went to the Illuminated Manuscripts Exhibition, which was fascinating and quite awe inspiring. 

Behind those pillars and black frames lives the King's Library Tower, a collection full of rare treasures and not open to the public. I think you practically have to be the Queen to go in there.
After a short taxi ride

Look, a London bus!

we reached The Athenaeum Hotel where we had the honey high tea. The honey comes from bees in Regent's Park and it was utterly delicious.

Now that is a cake trolley.

Then it was time to do a spot of shopping. Laduree for macaroons.

Photographed the next day at home - the lemon one suffered a bit as I bumped all my shopping bags around Regent's Street then home on the train.

Then to Liberty for fabric, among other things. 

and on to Hamleys Toy Shop (which can only be described as a wall of noise) for souvenirs for the kids, then to Oxford Street, which just made me want to run away. All those people. Oxford Circus is crazy.

Then, exhausted, back to St Pancras for an early supper in The Booking Office, a lovely bar which used to be the actual booking office. I remember queueing in there to buy my tickets for the Leicester train when I was a student, many years ago.

And thanks to a copy of Mollie Makes to read on the journey home, I opened the front door at 11.30pm SO tired and broke but happy from a day of friendship and laughing and fun and bursting with new crafting ideas.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Planning Some Colour

This week, the weather has mostly been like this: (where is this mild snap we are supposed to be having?)

And I start thinking about Spring and Summer, and planning little projects to keep me out of mischief and bring some fun and colour into the house.

These jam jars are crying out to be filled. I've only got two pots of jam left from last year and the chutney is long gone. It's a long time till soft fruit season but I feel a spot of rhubarb and ginger jam-making may be happening one weekend soon.

These new plain linen tea towels are waiting to be perked up with some embroidery. I'm thinking of line drawings of fruit, vegetables, bread and cake picked out in different coloured chain stitch.

I don't know if I'll have the patience to wait for the crochet course in April - I may have to find some wool and just dive right in to this gorgeous book with some of my Grandma's old crochet hooks.

It's all a bit grey. I'm really looking forward to adding some colour to everything. Have you got any colourful projects planned for Spring?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Rocky Roads

These win hands down for minimum effort/maximum effect baking. 

Whenever I make Rocky Roads people make a bit of a fuss about them, asking how they are made and what is it in them, and I feel a bit of a fraud to be honest because there is no actual cooking involved. I almost don't want to tell people how easy they are. (Then they'll know that as a stay at home Mum I really DO do nothing all day long...) Melt, stir, put in the fridge. That's it really. I always make them if baking is required for school fairs, bake sales, fundraisers, that sort of thing, as they keep well and sell well. (It has been my experience that anything with icing or chocolate goes down really well at these sort of events, while the delicious but un-iced organic carrot cake lies ignored at the back).

You need:
400g or 14oz chocolate (I use half milk and half dark)
160g or 6oz butter
4 tbsps golden syrup
250g or 9oz rich tea biscuits
100g  or 4 oz marshmallows
50g or 2oz raisins or sultanas
1 tbsp icing sugar

Melt the chocolate, butter and syrup together in a large saucepan. Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and bash to chunks and crumbs with a rolling pin (excellent activity for small children!). Add the broken biscuits, marshmallows and dried fruit to the melted mixture, stir well, then put in a lined 24cm x 24cm (or 9" x 9") square baking tray. Put in the fridge till set, then take out, cut and dust with icing sugar.

You are aiming for a combination of chewy and crunchy. I add the dried fruits because I like them, but you could just use more marshmallows if you prefer. Glace cherries are good in them too, and nuts.

I've been experimenting with a more grown up version containing all dark chocolate, gingernut biscuits and some crystallised ginger... I will share the recipe when they've been very thoroughly taste tested. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Baby Mobile # 2

I've just finished another bird mobile, for a girl this time. My friend Rose had a daughter two weeks ago and I promised I would make her a mobile. It was such fun to use some of my new fabrics and use lots of pinks and make it very girly.

I used the same method as last time:
  • sew two birds templates together
  • turn the right way out 
  • sew on the wings
  • stuff with wadding
  • stitch closed
  • attach the buttons for eyes
  • hang from an embroidery hoop

I'd like to do one in bold rainbow colours now I think, bright and cheerful. I will use this beautiful cloud mobile for inspiration . I just need someone I know to have another baby now...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pancake Day

Today is Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday. So today I will be eating pancakes, as well as finishing a baby mobile, doing the ironing, trying to get hold of the plumber again, going to the bank, and doing some baking.

This is my Mum's recipe. She is hazy about it's patronage but thinks it may be a Delia recipe, or her variation of a Delia recipe. I always ask Mum for recipes for things like pancakes as I suspect she has made many hundreds of them over the years and knows more than I do. (I'm not implying that she's really old - she's not! - but having raised three children she's done a lot of cooking in her time.)

You need:
3 eggs
4 oz or 110g plain flour
7 fl oz or 200ml milk
3 fl oz or 80ml water

Mix together then fry in butter. I would use butter not oil and get it nice and hot and sizzling. I can't flip them so just use a spatula to turn them over till they are golden on each side. I think you'll get eight or ten pancakes from this batter, depending on how thick or thin you like them.

I like my pancakes with sugar and lemon juice, the way we always had them when I was growing up. John likes his with maple syrup. Sometimes Nutella or jam. Bella didn't like them when I last made them but their tastes change so much at five so I am hoping she'll eat the ones I make her after school today. Mum likes her pancakes with apple compote and Calvados.

I just made one for Angus for a mid-morning snack. He took a nibble, said "no like it" then dumped it on the table and got down. Angus! Such rejection! Kids are brutal.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday. My sister, Anna, gave me these jars as an early birthday present on Friday and I have been nibbling on them ever since. Rocky Roads in one jar, Apricot and Almond cookies in the other. Such a lovely present.

And this pretty jug from my sister Katy.

A subscription to Mollie Makes magazine from my best friend Abigail. A day out on a Learn to Crochet course from John (plus unlimited yarn spending money I hope!). But best of all, this from Bella.

And I wish that I could share my birthday cookies with you, my very few but very dear blog readers. If you were local, I would love to sit and have a coffee and chat with you, and talk about cooking and sewing and a million other things. Thank you so much for reading. 

Now, I'm off to ring the plumber as the boiler is on the blink again.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday Lunch

On the menu: Beef and Ale Stew with Dumplings, then Sticky Toffee Pudding.

We had friends over for lunch today. Really old and really good friends who we have known since University (I don't really want to add up the years we've known each other...) We had stew again because we love stew, it is still cold enough to want big, hearty meals, and we have a new cast iron casserole dish we wanted to use.

John did ALL the cooking today. Well done John, pat on the back. I planned the meals, wrote shopping lists, shopped, laid the table... When summoned, I interpreted my handwriting on my poorly written recipes and peered over his shoulder in a manner he finds very annoying, saying things like "Oh, you're doing it like that, are you...? I would've done it the other way...I'm just saying."

For the stew you need:

2 tbsps olive oil
3 onions
3 sticks of celery
4 carrots
1 star anise
2 tbsps plain flour
800g chopped beef stewing steak
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 440ml cans of stout or ale
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato puree

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Roughly chop the vegetables and fry in the olive oil with the star anise for around ten minutes. 

Add the meat and flour, stirring well, then add the tomatoes, ale, tomato puree and bay leaves. Cook for two and a half hours, checking it's not drying out half way through. If you think it looks a little dry, add some water and stir well.

For the dumplings: (thank you Mum for the recipe)

10 oz or 280g self raising flour
5 oz or 140g suet
1 tbsp chopped herbs (we used fresh sage and rosemary)

Combine the flour and suet then slowly add a little water at a time while mixing the dumplings with you hands. It's really hard to say how much water you need - like pastry, you just want enough for the mixture to come together without being sticky. When it is mixed, roll golf-ball sized amounts between your hands and put to one side. John made eleven dumplings from this mixture. 

When you are ready to add the dumplings, take the stew out of the oven and fish out the bay leaves and star anise. The dumplings soak up quite a lot of liquid so you may want to add a cup full of water at this point.  Also, the stew needs to be good and hot and simmering when you add the dumplings, so that they cook properly. Place the dumplings on top and gently push half way under. 

Put the stew back in the oven and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. We ate the stew with mashed potatoes as not all the kids like dumplings (except Oscar, who ate three) and green beans.

And then, because dumplings aren't fattening enough, we had Sticky Toffee Pudding. The recipe is from Nigella Bites and can be found here. I have used it so much that my copy of the book falls open on that flour and grease splattered page. Basically you make a sponge mixture, and put in in an oven dish. Then, pour over boiling water and dot with butter and sprinkle with muscovado sugar. At this point, John said "this just looks wrong".

But have faith, because magic happens in the oven. The sponge rises to the top and bakes, leaving a toffee sauce at the bottom, and it comes out looking like this. 

No need to make a separate sauce. Just eat it, with cream or ice cream or on it's own.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Happy Half Term

We are back in Leeds after a little trip to the south coast to stay with my parents. It was hard to come home. The house felt cold and gloomy and the garden is a real mess (snow you have killed my plants!). I will try to do some gardening tomorrow. In between going to the supermarket, cleaning, cooking and a five years old boy's birthday party.

But it was a good week. The kids were happy and slept well (I still measure how successful a trip was by how much sleep I had - that's what babies do to you). We had lots of time with my two sisters and their children. I took the kids to my sister's houses for playdates and tea and pretended that really we live very near each other and that we do it all the time. It made me happy and sad. Obviously I love my sisters, but I also really like them. We have a lot in common. I could sit on their sofas drinking tea forever, chatting about cooking and crafting and babies and gossiping about the people we grew up with.

Highlights...Sunday lunch at my parents, in particular Mum's dumplings.

Much playing of toys with other little people. That dolls house was made by my Grandpa and belonged to my sisters and I. One day I will show you the ace furniture inside - retro doesn't begin to describe it! A homage to the 1970's.

Keeping warm in front of the fire. How I wish we had one of these beauties!

And this idea I will steal. A tin of buttons which Mum keeps fully stocked and to hand at all times, very useful for bribery/distraction/soothing/rewards... 

I hope you're all having a fun half term. What have you been up to?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Beside the Seaside

There is a bit of a nautical theme to today's post. We had a very lovely day out in Portsmouth  yesterday with the children and my parents. We walked along the seafront and watched the boats come and go. We saw helicopters, ferries, sailing boats, hovercrafts (Bella called them "hobbycrafts"). Portsmouth is not a very pretty or picturesque place, I'll admit. But it has that air of old English seaside which is charming, even in the winter.

I don't know who was more excited when we saw this Naval Destroyer, Angus or my Dad. It was magnificent. The picture doesn't really convey how big she is or how fast she moved, but we all stood, mesmerized, watching her turn into the sun. You could just make out the crew, standing on the deck, saluting.

Then a trip up Spinnaker Tower.

We were so lucky with the weather. Clear and sunny. You could see for miles. Bella said "the world is very big, isn't it."

The tower has a section of reinforced glass floor which you are encouraged to walk on. Under Bella's striped socks is, well, a big drop then some water. I didn't fancy it really.

We had fun. And the children had the opportunity to do and see things that are exciting and different, a world away from land-locked Leeds, without spending us spending a fortune on a half term holiday.