Saturday, 26 January 2019

Paper Bags, Green Shoots and Oranges

It's been so cold here this last week, real mid-winter weather with frost covered mornings and bitter evenings where we've needed to light the wood burner. I love these cold, bright days, but found I could no longer resist the allure of a few potted tete-a-tete bulbs in the supermarket last week. I haven't bought myself any cut flowers for absolutely months and these little green shoots just needed to come home with me to brighten up the house a little. 

Marmalade fever continues here. The dark, thick-cut version I made with muscovado sugar is a-mazing. I think it's the nicest marmalade I've ever made, and the five jars will be gone in no time, I know. We are marmalade fiends here in this house. I am already wondering if I have time to make another batch while Seville oranges are in season. 

The orange and lemon version I made is lighter and fresher with a slightly softer set, and just as glorious. I used some in Nigel Slater's Frosted Marmalade Cake which I've just taken out of the oven.

I went to boot camp* again this morning. It was the hardest yet, and I know that everything will ache tomorrow, but I am enjoying it, in a begrudging sort of way, and will be sorry when it ends next week. Despite having a job where I am on my feet and moving around pretty much all day, I know that I do not do enough exercise that gets my heart rate up. Brisk dog walks are great, but I miss running. It's that lame old excuse though, isn't it: I'm just really busy. And exercise and sleep are the two things I cut back on when there aren't enough hours in the day which is pretty stupid when you think about it, from a self-care point of view. Is it the same for you? Anyway, I ate this for a late breakfast after boot camp this morning and it was perfect. 

 I've been faffing with pictures in the house lately, rearranging displays and trying old prints in new places. The result was an unintentional mountain theme on the picture ledge above our bed. 

I like it. Those peaked ridges combined with the wool granny square blanket underneath make me wish for snow. I am always wishing for snow, truth be told. Just one snow fall this winter would be lovely (especially if school closes and we all get a bonus day off!).

My indoor houseplant collection is ever growing and recently I have really struggled to find nice, water tight, indoor plants pots which aren't expensive. Once your plant gets to a certain size (ie. quite big) it's hard to fit them in a little basket. After a lot of research I finally stumbled upon these heavy duty, washable paper bags. They come in all different colours, sizes and patterns and are brilliant not just for plants but toys, recycling, yarn, whatever. 

I got mine from this Etsy shop as they seemed to have more of the really big ones than other places, and the dispatch and delivery was really quick too.

I also bought this paper bag below to hold our all reusable shopping bags. We must have about twenty but I never seem to have one with me when I need one, so am always cramming a basket's worth of food shopping into my poor, groaning, battered old handbag. This is helping me remember to actually take one with me when I go out. 

I should keep a few in my handbag too, I know that. I just forget. My head can only hold so much information and sometimes it feels like it's a one in, one out situation up there. More sleep and exercise would probably help with that but for now a cup of tea and slice of cake will have to suffice.

Happy weekend friends.

* Boot camp is an exercise and training programme, usually outdoors somewhere like a park, often using body weight exercise with running etc and quite high intensity. I am guessing the name comes from the US military style training programmes.

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.