Saturday, 19 January 2019

Not Rushing

Today was a Saturday unusually free of errands. After bootcamp in the park first thing this morning, I came home to coffee and pancakes not made by me, which was rather lovely. By late morning, every other member of the household was occupied in activities elsewhere and I found myself alone in the kitchen. Don't feel sorry for me - this is pretty much my favourite way to spend a weekend - and so I switched on the radio and started pottering around, simmering oranges for marmalade, making pizza dough, planning meals.

I could not let January pass without making some marmalade. I cut the peel quite thick for this batch, and used some muscovado sugar with the normal white granulated. It looked like toffee when it was boiling, and the result is the darkest marmalade I've ever made and has a slight caramel flavour which is lovely with the bitter Seville oranges. It's really good. Tomorrow I'm going to make a lighter orange and lemon version if I have time.

I've been baking, so much baking - marmalde pudding cake, blondies, lemon polenta cake, white chocolate and fig cookies - none of which I managed to photograph as, since it's winter, I can only photography things in daylight at the weekend, and they all got eaten indecently quickly. The Christmas cake is almost finished, with only a couple of slices left.

I'm still slowly and steadily working on my Goldenrod sweater, trying to complete a couple of rows each night. I'm about two thirds through the body and then will need to add the sleeves.

I've been reading a lot. I just finished Another Little Christmas Murder, which is not at all about Christmas, but about a group of strangers who find themselves seeking refuge in an old house during a huge snowstorm, and then someone gets murdered, of course. It was a lot of fun, light and humorous with a slight Famous Five feel to the whole adventure, but enough good plotting to keep me happy, and guessing till the end. I've just started Nora Ephron's Heartburn, and am completely and utterly loving it. It's funny, and sad, acerbic, perceptive and inspiring, and I want to recommend it to all my friends. I can't believe I haven't read it before now. The Donna Leon title is next on my list. Crime fiction is always my favourite kind of comfort reading and her books are so good, particularly her descriptions of Venice, where the Brunetti series is set.

I don't feel like I've seen much daylight this week. I would argue as to whether is actually got light today, or just stayed in a state of perpetual gloom. Thank goodness there was marmalade making to bring some warmth and colour to the day.

Our dog walk this afternoon was cold, damp and so muddy, and it was a real struggle to see the beauty that is there, hiding away. 

I've resisted buying any potted bulbs or bunches of spring flowers so far this year, and I refuse to engage in what is happening in the garden at the moment, which is mainly mud. I find I am quite happily centred in winter for now, making the most of what this time of year has to offer, which is some peace and a little quiet time, and am - for once - not rushing towards spring. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

January Things

I love this time of year so much. I feel like, now that that Christmas and New Year are out of the way, I can really relax and enjoy these slower winter months. I like getting out as often as I can at the weekend, I like the wintry light and bare trees, I love that if you look carefully you can spot so much colour in amongst the monochrome winter palate and subtle signs of spring to come. I like weekends that involve cooking, crafting and walking in the woods or by the sea, and I love the feeling or refresh and reboot that January brings. No ridiculous lifestyle changes, and certainly no Dry January thank you very much (if ever a month called for a glass of red in front of the fire it was this one), but there is a new energy and a sense of anticipation for the coming year. 

I recently finished a crochet shawl, or rather re-finished it. It was - is - the South Bay Shawlette, which I made almost four years ago and, despite thinking I was never a shawl wearer, have probably worn it more than any other thing I made, ever. 

Unfortunately, a couple of months ago, a certain whippet got into a bit of a tangle with my shawl. It's unlike him to go for woollens, preferring as he does shoes and sunglasses, but this lovingly crocheted item ended up with a big hole about a third of the way in. 

I was able to pull back the shawl to just beyond the damaged area, saving most of the yarn as a I went, and then re-crochet it. I'd lost a couple of rows where the hole was so I bought another skein of the lovely yarn but in an off-white and added those at the end as a border. 

The re-used yarn was a little crinkly after spending so long set in crochet stitches and I was worried it might look funny but blocking was, as ever, transformative, and gave the whole shawl the most beautiful drape which it had started to lose through such regular wear.

And now I feel like I have a whole new handmade item of clothing in my wardrobe and I think I love it even more with this white edging than I did before. Thank you Ziggy, but please don't ever chew up my reading glasses again.

I have a renewed focus on this Goldenrod Sweater and have been working on it a little every night. I am determined that this will be a sweater that is not finished at the start of summer, and that I can wear it this winter. Or spring, at least.

After all that Christmas baking, my food cupboards were full of opened and half used packets of dried fruits, nuts, pulses and all sorts besides, and I was getting sick of wondering which badly-sealed packet of seeds was going to fall out on me as I rummaged for something, scattering themselves all over me, the worktop and the floor. So I spent a very pleasant couple of hours at the weekend emptying out these cupboards, wiping the shelves and the bottoms of jars (golden syrup gets everywhere), checking use by dates, and decanting these plastic packets into jam and kilner jars, whatever I could find in the garage. Of course, so that I didn't get my marshmallows muddled up with my lentils, my new toy, a Dymo embosser labeller, was essential. This little thing is the most fun, I want to label absolutely everything with it.

I have recently started making my own kitchen cleaner from vinegar, water and lemon essential oil, and the labels were used here too. I am pretty far from being an eco warrior but I am deeply suspicious of any cleaning spray - kitchen or bathroom - that makes me cough, as so many of them do. I'll let you know how we get on with my homemade cleaner. Incidentally, if you use Instagram and  are interested in reducing your waste and living slightly more simply, I cannot recommend enough this account: Small Sustainable Steps by Amanda (who used to blog as Vintage Sheet Addict many moons ago, some of you may have followed her then). It's full of the most practical and useful advice and suggestions, and I have found it very inspiring, especially her recipes for kitchen and bathroom cleaner and chemical free cleaning. I'm not ready to chuck out the bleach just yet, but baby steps.

Finally, here's a joyful pop of rainbow colour after all those tasteful, muted tones:

I recently made this colourful woven wall hanging for my friend Abigail, lover of rainbows, as a late Christmas present, using lots of small amounts of mulitcoloured roving I bought some time ago.

It reminds me about that roving I bought a couple of weeks ago, and that big old picture frame that I want to re-purpose as a loom....yes, I definitely have that new year feeling. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Cookery Calendar Challenge: December

December's choice and the final title for 2018's Cookery Calendar Challenge was The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater. It was one of those occasions when the book was utterly perfect for the time of year, and I thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of this book throughout November and December. In fact, I think I most enjoyed the chapters that were from Boxing Day onwards and covered things like leftovers, New Year and cooking in January. It's not just a book for Christmas but a book for winter, and I think it may be my favourite of the twelve I've cooked from this year. Like his Kitchen Diaries books, the format is chronological, starting on November 1st and ending in early February, and as much about home, the seasons, tradition, culture and memory as it is about food. 

After a rather indulgent Christmas, I was very taken with the idea of this Spiced Red Lentil Soup, full of warming heat. I liked the simplicity and economy of this frugal vegetarian soup, after a fortnight of too much meat, cheese, cake and wine. I also had an open jar of tamarind paste in the fridge that needed eating up.

You begin by making a spice paste from garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin seeds and then fry it, adding the red lentils, chopped tomatoes and water. 

Once the lentils are cooked, the soup is ready and it just needs to be blended. I always use a stick blender as you can easily control the smoothness of the soup.

It was really thick - I loosened it up with a little water when I reheated it - and a really nourishing, filling and flavour packed soup. I love lentils. It was too spicy for the children but John and I enjoyed it a lot.

We ate the soup with Rye, Linseed and Treacle Bread, a no-knead bread recipe that I thought sounded good. You use half rye and half strong white bread flour, adding oats, linseeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to the dough. The treacle is added to the water and yeast and helps keep the bread fresh for longer, and it definitely does - this loaf lasted far longer than any other homemade one I'd made before. 

The dough is wet and sticky, almost like cake mixture. After mixing the ingredients you leave it to prove for an hour, then turn it straight out onto a warmed baking sheet, roughly shape it into a loaf, and bake. 

The loaf has the dense chewiness that comes from rye but the strong white bread flour keeps it light. It's a serious bread that you can't just cram in, but I like it more for that, it stops me over-eating. It makes excellent toast, too, a solid slice with the right amount of crunch and chew, and it good with honey or really bitter marmalade. Also, the children loved it as much as we did. (If there's one thing I did right with my kids and food, it's that they like and appreciate good bread.)

Finally, we have Mincemeat, Apple and Panettone Pudding, a little dream of a dessert that takes minimal effort and is completely delicious. I had panettone, bought in the sales half price, a third of a jar of mincemeat in the fridge that needed eating up, and some sad, wrinkled looking apples that were languishing in the fruit bowl, ignored in preference of the clementines and tangerines that are so good at the moment. 

You stew a few apples and lightly stir in your mincemeat before topping the mixture in your oven dish with panettone. The recipe said to make bread crumbs, but I just roughly tore the bread/cake into pieces before tossing it with a little melted butter and sprinkling of demerara sugar.

The panettone goes delightfully crispy on top while staying soft and light underneath, perfect with the fruit filling. Some double cream, also left over from Christmas, went perfectly with it. A winning pudding all round, gobbled up by everyone, although Bella and Angus did say that they would have preferred a crumble topping, and I'm thinking that apple and mincemeat crumble might be a very good thing indeed.

Well, that brings me to the end of my Cookery Calendar Challenge. I love the way it makes me try new ideas and lavish a bit of attention on my much-loved but not always much-read collection of cookery books. I am not sure if I'll continue it into 2019, I'll have to give it some thought, but my love of cooking and cookery books remains as strong as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through twelve books last year, and I hope you did too.