Wednesday, 31 October 2012

52 Weeks of Happy...3/52

Hello there! Thanks for all your comments on my last post - it made me so happy to share the party with you and know that you would "get" it.

Joining in with Jen over at little birdie, here are this weeks happies from our house...

Bella and I carved a pumpkin. She scooped, I wielded the knife and lit the candles. The expression on her little face was priceless and made me think that I may have to up my game for Halloween next year. She is fascinated by "trickle treating" (Sweets! And more sweets" And dressing up!!!) and knows that all her friends are doing it...and so it starts.

And tying in with the Halloween theme, this treacle tin just made me smile. I so love some seasonal packaging.

I haven't tired of admiring, collecting or photographing leaves yet this autumn. Sorry. Angus loves to collect a big, fat handful then throw them up in the air and watch them fall.

And finally, this welcoming and very pretty guest bed. I love it when you stay at someone's house and so much care has been taken to make your stay comfortable; a dressing gown hanging on the back of the door, clock and bottle of water on the bedside table, lots of feather pillows. My mother in law is a very warm host.


I am very much hoping that my bloggy friends on the East Coast of America are staying safe and have not been too badly affected by Hurricane Sandy (or Superstorm Sandy, as I heard one news channel call it today. Honestly.) The wreckage wrought by that storm has been dominating the news here and it looks pretty shocking. It's especially eerie to see NYC so quiet.

Have a happy Halloween and thank you, as always, for reading. It is pretty cold here in Durham and we are staying toasty warm by the fire. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Little Autumn Party

It was one of those occasions when I was talked into something by a persuasive small child then, a few days before the party, kicked myself for being so weak. So much to do, so many lists to write. It's not like I don't have ten other things to be getting on with. But when this afternoon came I was so glad that I'd put the effort into the planning and making and baking. It was totally worth it, of course it was.

Bella made invitations decorated with leaf stickers. Both kids and I baked gingerbread leaves and we purchased many, many bags of sweets so that the leaves could be gaudily iced by our guests, and groan under the weight of dolly mixture and icing before being eaten. They did some crafting and colouring, and apple bobbing, and playing, and a lot of shrieking and running around. I made toffee apples for our little guests to take away with them. It was my first attempt and I think the toffee may be quite hard. The girls were all proudly showing me their wobbly teeth or gaps where teeth had recently fallen out. I fear that my toffee apples may hasten the arrival of the tooth fairy in a few households tonight.

Not a Halloween party, no. That is for another time. But a little autumn play date with seven of Bella's school friends and it was really, really nice. 

My ears are still ringing from the shrieking.

Sunday, 28 October 2012


I love being a tourist in London. I no longer care about the cool, tucked away places but unashamedly head for the bright lights of the West End; I want shops, restaurants, museums, galleries and more shops. Yesterday I met up with one of my oldest and best friends for a day of chatter and culture and eating.

I was up bright and early and on the train at 7 am in the cold dark. I was accompanied by two magazines, a coffee, an almond croissant, a bag of crochet and many hours of Radio 4 podcasts on John's iPod. I wanted to make the absolute most of my two and a half hours of time to myself.

I saw snow around Lincolnshire as the sun was rising.

I admired the new and improved Kings Cross Station - what a difference. A light space that you want to linger in, rather than the previous dark, oppressive space that made me want to run away.

We had a late breakfast at The Delaunay. I think there is something so decadent abut going out for breakfast. This was everything we hoped it would be; lovingly cooked, beautifully presented and very, very tasty.

To Tate Britain next as we had tickets for the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition. Despite being held in an overcrowded and overheated room, the works were luminous, exquisitely rendered and looked as though they were lit from within. 

Then the rain came so we went to John Lewis on Oxford Street (to shelter, you understand).

Then on to Islington to visit the knitting shop Loop. I had (overly) high hopes and was expecting something really special but found it disappointing...untidy, badly lit, terrible access for pushchairs and pregnant ladies, confusing signage, no prices on so many things. All my years in retail kicked in and I found myself desperate to give the whole shop a jolly good sort out. It's not a patch on my local yarn shop, Baa Ram Ewe. It's comforting to know that not everything is bigger and better in London. After the shock of Loop we had to go to The Hummingbird Bakery for overpriced cupcakes and a cup of tea.

Then dinner, followed by a mad tube dash (so many escalators, so little time!) to Kings Cross station for my train back to Leeds, caught with only minutes to spare. 

A fun and memorable day. I am still tired. We spent today with some old friends and their two small boys. We ate homemade bread and soup for lunch and had hoped for a walk in the afternoon but it was raining. Instead, we lazed on the sofa and watched television and drank tea and read magazines and crocheted. I commented to John on how very relaxed we are with these friends, how no-one feels the need to entertain anyone, and John pointed out that we were all at university together, so we are all quite adept at sitting around and drinking tea in each other's company. Then John made pie and mash for tea and I made sticky toffee pudding. We ate it as it got dark outside.

Autumn is here.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I'm sorry - I have not been around here much lately. Very remiss of me, I know. Life has just been so busy this last few weeks, it really has. I know life is always busy, and it's that way for everyone, but it has felt extra hectic lately. But today the schools break up for the half term holiday so next week will be easier. Less too-ing and fro-ing all day long. Well, it will be easier after Tuesday. Tomorrow I am going to London, on Sunday we have friends coming for the day so there will be much cooking, on Monday morning I have to bake two cakes for Free Cakes For Kids and on Monday afternoon seven of Bella's school friends are coming round for a little Autumn themed play date. I don't know in which weak moment I agreed to this, but before I knew it we were making invitations and I was ordering toffee apple sticks and leaf shaped cookie cutters from the internet. Foolish woman! I've also been busy making things for Christmas stalls, stitching away every evening, and I will have something to show you soon. Oh, and I am training for the Leeds Abbey Dash which is only three weeks away too. But Tuesday, oh on Tuesday...we are going to stay with John's family in Durham for a few nights...crochet by the wood burning stove, relaxing, walks, eating and drinking...I can't wait.


Anyway, to today's business. Pumpkin cupcakes. We don't really do much for Halloween in this house. It's not that I particularly dislike Halloween, but it's often the way that the traditions we create for our own families stem from the ones we knew as children, and for Halloween I don't really have any point of reference. Neither John or I celebrated Halloween as children - some people would have pumpkins or go trick or treating, but it wasn't really the norm. This has changed a lot in the last twenty years and dressing up for trick or treating and carving a pumpkin is very common now. In my childhood, the main autumnal excitement was reserved for Bonfire Night...fireworks, food, parties, lots of fun. I still love Bonfire Night so much and get much more excited about it than Halloween.

But one thing I do like to do at this time of year is make pumpkin cupcakes. These little cakes are so delicious. This recipe requires a tin of Libby's pumpkin puree, (very tricky to get hold of, let me tell you) which I believe is imported from America. Well, I like to think it's American as it makes me think of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving and other autumn traditions from the US which fascinate me and lend an air of excitement to the whole affair.

You can find the whole recipe here. The recipe for a dozen cupcakes requires only half the tin of pureed pumpkin, so I baked double quantities. After filling the cupcake cases, I put the rest of the batter into two small round sandwich tins and made a sort of pumpkin layer cake that way. It didn't rise that much, but it was deliciously moist and tender. They are topped with cream cheese icing and sprinkled with orange sugar crystals and cinnamon. They are so good. They need to be eaten with a fork, as they are messy, but they are a little slice of autumnal cake heaven, and all the more special as I only make them at this time of year.


What Halloween traditions do you have in your house? Do you carve a pumpkin? I've noticed on a lot of American blogs that it's traditional to go and choose your pumpkin, and that this outing is part of the fun and ritual of Halloween celebrations, similar to the way we make an afternoon of selecting our Christmas tree. I'll leave you with a photo of a carved pumpkin which did make me giggle, it's so silly. Thank you for being here and for reading and commenting, you have no idea how much pleasure this brings me.

Source: Pinterest

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

52 Week of Happy...2/52

Joining in with Jen over at little birdie, here are four things that are bringing smiles or laughter to me this week.

This drawing of Bob Marley that Bella did at school yesterday (It is Black History month and they are learning about Jamaica). I love it. It made me laugh out loud when she gave it to me in the playground. I have framed it.

Angus the chef - such careful chopping!

Heinz (and it has to be Heinz) tomato soup with cheese on toast - the perfect comfort food lunch for a cold and wet day.

And finally, the current series of The Thick of It. Pure comedy genius. Very dark political satire, sometimes uncomfortable, but so well written and always very, very funny. The most recent episode had John and I in stitches last night. If only all television was as good as this.

Peter Capaldi playing spin doctor Malcolm Tucker. Source:

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Postcard from Germany

Picture the scene if you will: it is Monday morning. It is raining and cold and gloomy. I am tired and have a headache that may be fatigue, or it may be the lingering after effects of too much indulgence over the weekend. I have just returned from dropping off Bella at school and Angus at nursery and I'm trying very hard to get motivated about the chores I need to do.

But wait! What is this on my doormat? A parcel with a pretty handwritten label, so it's definitely something interesting. It is the most delightful collection of gifts from my blogging friend Elizabeth at Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse. Elizabeth recently returned from a trip to Cologne and, as well as sending us her wonderful Postkarten aus Koln posts, she brought back all manner of treats and goodies which she very generously shared with her readers in a giveaway. Opening that parcel and watching the numerous wrapped gifts come tumbling out - well, it was like the sun came out. 

A length of thick felt trim. I am very taken with this. This almost falls into the "too nice to cut up" category and I must make sure I actually use it, rather than save it for ever and ever.

Some foil wrapped sweets, Smarties in disguise, in the cutest packaging. They are too nice to open. I will give these to Bella as I know she'll be as enchanted as me by the presentation.

And some Christmas decorations...a set of little wooden rocking horses...

...a big red felt star which I forgot to photograph and then this, my favourite thing of all...

I very much like this cheerful little fella with his jaunty pink jacket and gold hat (crown?). All this festive cheer makes me wish advent would hurry up and arrive so that I can decorate the house with these little treasures. Thank you very much Elizabeth!


I hope you are all coping with the fact that it is Monday. Thanks for all your comments about the "ponting" (I still can't say it with a straight face) and thoughts on why we craft. Of course, it is for the enjoyment it brings us and others. I think I forgot that for a while. Also, I can report that the rabbit was very delicious. But the star of the show was the dessert - plums roasted in port and orange with homemade orange and cardamon ice cream...oh, it was the best thing ever. Friends with benefits for me are friends who can cook!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ponting (Mollie Makes Magazine)

Yes, that's right. Ponting. It is a cross between a pompom and bunting. The Mollie Makes challenge (make one thing from each monthly magazine) continues. I have to admit that I came a bit unstuck with this issue. All the patterns and tutorials looked very difficult and very time consuming. So I chose the "ponting" because it looked quick and easy and cheerful. And it was all of these things - I made this yesterday afternoon in an hour after school in the kitchen, in between washing out lunchboxes, making the tea and tidying up.

While I made this, I kept hearing a voice in my head (a voice I am hearing a lot lately) saying - seriously, what is the point of these? What is the point of making pretty but ultimately useless things for the house? They are just simple lengths of wool snipped into balls, threaded onto yarn and hung about the place. What, exactly, do they do?

Well, the point of them is this; I enjoyed making them. I enjoyed selecting the colours, looping and tying the yarn, fluffing up those little balls. I enjoyed seeing leftover scraps of yarn from here used in a satisfying way. I enjoyed watching Bella and Angus play with the finished result, dragging it around the house, giggling. I enjoyed hanging it in Angus's bedroom and arranging it over his shelf and pictures, taking pleasure in the way the colours picked out the green and purple in his room. The planning, process and finished result are all equally important to me. I just enjoy making things; for me, for the children, for John, for the house, for gifts, and I think that is enough. I don't think it needs to be any more than that.


Well now that I've got that off my chest, I hope you are all well and enjoying your Saturday. I am very much looking forward to going out tonight with John. I have ironed my dress and painted my nails and purchased Prosecco and Pinot Noir. We are going to the house of some really good friends for a meal with some others and it promises to be lots of fun. Friends, wine, food (rabbit apparently - I've never eaten rabbit!) music and hopefully lots of chat and laughing. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Moo and Blue Pie

Or Steak and Stilton Pie, as it should really be called. John made this last Sunday. He does as much cooking as I do but while I am happiest baking, he would much rather cook a big Sunday dinner. A roast, a stew or pie, or a big pot of chilli or ragu sauce. This is how he relaxes. Half the pleasure for him, and for me, is in the thinking of a meal; consulting recipe books, checking the cupboards, writing lists, planning a trip to the butchers. I do love autumn and winter Sundays when our day revolves around the planning, cooking and anticipation of a family meal.

You can't taste the Stilton cheese that strongly when it is cooked (if you could, I doubt Bella and Angus would have eaten it) but it just adds a wonderful richness and intensity to the flavour of the beef.

You will need:

500 g/1 lb beef stewing or braising steak
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 onions
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 glass red wine
2 bay leaves
500 ml/1 pint beef stock
200 g/7 oz Stilton cheese
1 pack ready made puff pastry*
1 egg

  • Peel and chop the vegetables. Put them in a large oven proof dish and soften them in the oil and butter for ten minutes, the add the garlic, cooking for a little while longer.
  • Turn up the heat and add the meat, browning it with the flour and mustard powder (1).
  • Pour in the wine and stir.
  • Add the bay leaves and stock, stir, and season.
  • Put a lid on the dish and pop it in the oven for around 2 hours at 160°C/320°F.
  • When the filling is cooked (2), transfer to a pie dish and leave to cool for half an hour or so.
  • Crumble the Stilton on top of the pie mixture (3).
  • Roll out your puff pastry and cover the top of the pie, sealing the edges with beaten egg. Cut a couple of holes in the top to let out the steam and brush the beaten egg over the pastry (4).
  • Bake for around 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pie filling is piping hot and the pastry is cooked.
It serves four nicely. We ate ours with mustard mash and veggies. I am sorry these photos are a bit rubbish. It's really hard to take a nice picture of food in a gloomy kitchen and with fading afternoon light. Also, when it was cooked, we just really wanted to eat it!


*I know, I know, we used ready made puff pastry. The shame. If you want to make your own, knock yourself out, but I'd rather aim my culinary efforts and energy at making a pudding.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

52 Weeks of Happy...1/52

Thanks for all your comments about jeans! They did make me smile. I'm glad I'm not alone in my quest to find the perfect demin trousers. I've had some great suggestions ranging from Sainsbury's to 7 For All Mankind. Next time I have a child free couple of hours, I'm going shopping. Also, just to clarify, those pairs I cleared out of my wardrobe did not go in the bin, but to the local charity shops. I would never throw perfectly good clothes away! 


My fellow Leeds blogger Jen at little birdie, has started a weekly celebration of four simple things that are making her smile called 52 Weeks of Happy. I think it is inspired and love the idea of acknowledging and giving thanks for the little things that bring happiness.

So, joining in with Jen, my first today is...tonight's final of The Great British Bake Off. I'm so excited! I love this show; a simple concept perfectly executed. And I LOVE that Mary Berry is one of the presenters. How rarely we see a woman older than 50 presenting anything on television anymore, and yet here Mary is, 77 and fabulous.

And in honour of Mary, a carrot cake cupcake with orange cream cheese frosting...

A bunch of gladioli from the supermarket, reduced to £1.27.

And finally, a new magazine.

What's making you happy today?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Some Thoughts on Denim and Other Things

We went into Leeds on Saturday morning* with a list of things to buy. One of the items on the list was new jeans for me. I hate buying new jeans. They are never long enough. They never have my size. The ones I like cost £180. The cheap ones always seem to be super tight when you try them on but loose and baggy after one wearing. I live in my jeans and need them to be right. Also, I really hate they way shops display them in neatly folded piles. Yes, it looks tidy and it's very convenient for the staff, but when you're a customer with a three year old in tow and you're already holding a shopping bag and another item on a hanger that you might want to buy, how are you supposed to check the size of the pair of jeans at the bottom of the pile? Should you headbutt them and then pick them up with your teeth? I like to mess those piles up on purpose. I was actually scrabbling around on the floor in The Gap yesterday, searching the bottom shelf hoping that they would have my size in ANYTHING with a straight leg (they didn't) and I thought, this is ridiculous. I came home very grumpy indeed. And, in a sulk, I ruthlessly went through every pair of jeans in my wardrobe, hoping there would be one magical long-forgotten pair hiding at the back, but of course there was not. And so I threw out seven pairs that are too short/too old/too boot cut/too worn out including one very expensive pair I bought in Bloomingdales 8 years ago when our suitcases were delayed in New York.

I had to do some crochet just to calm down. 

In other news, I have been sewing like crazy to make things to sell on stalls in November and December. More on that another day. The weather has been glorious this weekend, blue-skied autumn perfection. We went to Kirkstall Abbey this morning. It's one of my favourite places in Leeds as it feels so peaceful and like you could be in the countryside, and the kids love climbing over the ruins. They rode their bikes and scooters around while John and I regretted not wearing coats and stamped our feet to keep warm. I went for a run this afternoon then watched Strictly Come Dancing with the kids on the sofa. I LOVE this programme. Bella loves the pretty dresses and Angus does some hilarious free-style dancing in front of the television while watching it. Then John cooked a steak and Stliton pie for tea. It was incredible. I will post the recipe later in the week. So, a better Sunday than Saturday.


Do you remember that Cath Kidston room in a shoe box competition Bella And I entered? Well, we didn't win, but you can see the two winning entries on their website here - honestly, they are so wonderful! And if you follow that link and go to their facebook page you will see our little kitchen in their collection of favourite shoe boxes (we are number 38 - how exciting!) Plans are now under way for a shoe box bedroom...

Thanks for reading everyone and hello to new visitors, you are very welcome! I hope you all had happy weekends whatever you were up to.


* Oh, when will we ever learn?? Leeds city centre is no place to shop with children. Each time we all come home, grumpy, tired and dissatisfied, but then (like childbirth) we forget how awful it was and, a few weeks later, one of us innocently says "Shall we go into town on Saturday? Maybe have lunch out?" NOOO! It's just not possible.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Felt Ball Garland

Hello there! I hope you're all having a good week. I'm feeling very crafty at the moment (Autumn always does this to me) and have been busy on various makes all week. Operation Add Colour To The Living Room continues, with a cheap* and cheerful decoration for the mantle piece. And so easy! I could make these all day long. A few weeks ago I ordered some felt balls from Etsy. I picked a seller which let me choose the individual colours rather than a random selection, aiming for colours which would sort of go with the the grey in our living room, without being too matchy-matchy. 

These little balls are so tactile - they feel light but dense at the same time. I couldn't stop touching them and weighing them in my hand. The kids and I had lots of fun rolling them around. I did leave them in this bowl on the coffee table for a week or so and just admired them.

I like the way the balls pick out the colours and tones in my crochet cushion.

To make the garland, I simply threaded a needle with some pale cotton thread and pushed the needle through the middle of the felt ball from one side to the other. You do need to make sure your needle is longer than the ball before you start though, in case it gets lost in the middle.

Keep threading the balls onto the thread in your chosen order, then tie a little knot very close to the first and last ball, to stop them sliding around everywhere.

Then hang from where ever your heart desires; mantle piece, bed, wall, shelf. Just think of the colour combinations you could choose! Oranges, browns and black to tie in with Halloween, red and white and green for Christmas, a pastel Spring much fun to be had. I'm excited just thinking about it! They remind me of my Cable and Cotton lights, except the bulbs wont go in my felt ball garland.

Wouldn't an all white and grey garland made from the smallest balls make the most gorgeous Christmas tree decoration?  A modern take on tinsel. In fact, once October (or Broke-tober as we are calling it in this house) ends and John gets paid, I may have to order some more...

Cheap, colourful and easy-peasy, you can't say fairer than that! Have a lovely weekend everyone. x

* Total cost (including postage) was £9.68 or $15.