Sunday, 31 January 2021

Frost and Oranges

The appearance of Seville oranges in the shops in January lifts my spirits like not a lot else - especially during this never ending month - heralding as it does Marmalade Making Time. We love marmalade in this household and eat quite a lot of it (just as well, really) and it has become one of the preserves I make every year. Filling your kitchen with the warmth and scent of boiling oranges is one of the best antidotes to the bleakest, greyest, wettest of midwinter days. 

I follow a recipe in the wonderful book Notes from the Jam Cupboard, which was given to me years ago and who's pages are now splattered and sticky with regular use, but this one is very similar. I make a double batch and even in my biggest stock pot the boiling situation has to be closely monitored otherwise you have burnt oranges and sugar stuck to your hob like glue. I know this from experience. But the sight of twelve jars of golden orange preserve, lined up and glowing on the kitchen windowsill, makes me very happy and always feels like a promise of future sunshine in a jam jar.

Labeling them with gold Dymo tape just adds to the fun.

Imagine, then, my excitement when I spotted paper-wrapped Seville oranges in Waitrose yesterday! Like giant boiled sweets, waiting to be unpeeled. I'd already made my marmalade last weekend, but bought a few for their juice and zest so that I could make Nigel Slater's marmalade cake, another January tradition.

We woke to "snow" last Sunday morning.

Not very impressive. Despite the snow flurries it didn't settle and soon turned to icy sleet, and then rain, which stayed for the rest of the week.

We have, however, had some spectacular hard frosts, where everything is crunchy underfoot and my waterlogged succulent bowl on the outside table froze completely solid.

When it's this frosty, you can often see the sun melting the ice crystals on the fence and watch the steam rising from it.

Those crisp blue skied winter days are wonderful though - they make such a huge difference to my mood, energy levels and productivity. 

Sourdough bread making continues weekly. I am trying to improve my scoring, so that the pattern I draw with a razor before the bread goes into the oven is still there when I take it out. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes it just just creates its own as it rises in the oven. It's always fun to see what it looks like. I use this recipe for my sourdough. 

There is some creativity outside of the kitchen, although not much time for it at the moment. I have been between crochet projects for a while so have picked up my patchwork quilt and been working on this in the evenings in front of the TV.  
I have created a corner and feel like I'm starting to get a sense of how it will look, although I don't think it's even a quarter big enough yet. Angus asked me this week when it would be finished. In a couple of years, I told him. I think it's important to be realistic.....


I have just received delivery of the yarn I need to make this jumper, in mustard yellow and I'm looking forward to starting that. I've also discovered this crochet designer and really want to make this jumper or perhaps this one, which is very similar but with a more slouchy, oversized fit. Finally it feels like designers are producing patterns for crochet clothes that aren't overly fussy and lacy, but are actually wearable and it seems that handmade woolen clothes are no longer the domain of the knitter. 

There is just one more thing I've started, perhaps a little ambitiously - a stitch a day project. This 12 " embroidery hoop has been divided into the months of the year and will filled as the year goes by. 

Sometimes I sew it on the day but more often I keep a list of things I want to rememeber on my phone and sew seven at the weekend. It is a mixture of seasonal, topical and personal, just things that are happening in my life at the moment. I remembered how good some daily crafting was for my mental health in the first lockdown, and so tried to find something more achievable that I could do on a regular basis. 

The biggest challenge with the sewing is the size of each motif. They are mostly under 1 cm in length and so quite fiddly and it is hard to very precise or tidy with the stitches sometimes. I am also following a gentle colour wheel as the months progress, so that the first two months of the year will be purple, the next two blue, then green etc.



School has been extremely busy for the last four weeks and now I have two weeks "off". When I say off, I mean two weeks of university lectures and seminars, which all have to be delivered via Zoom and Teams and recorded powerpoint sessions, and then for fun I have a 4000 assignment to write which is due in over half term. It's all go here. I'll leave you with a picture of a rainbow: sometimes, with the vaccinations and knowledge that spring will come, I think it is ok to allow in some feelings of hope. 

Sunday, 17 January 2021


Time feels strange at the moment. So much has happened since I last posted (hello Lockdown 3.0) despite the fact that it was only two weeks ago, but the world within these four walls does not feel wildly different to how it would in any other January. Christmas feels like a very long time ago, and everything is so busy at school; teachers are scrambling around trying to teach both the children of key workers who are attending school and those at home learning remotely at the same time and it's pretty stressful. Bella and Angus are adapting to new ways of learning (again), John is grappling with working from home, I remain swamped with university and school work, and most of our social interaction takes place via a screen.

And yet, it is not all doom and gloom. We have been doing our usual January things, trying to enjoy our precious weekends, trying to enjoy the season and this quiet time of year.

Our cooking has definitely shifted from holiday excess to normal weekly routines - lots of batch cooking and lunchbox fillers.

My weekly sourdough loaf is back, and I have been making soup with things that need eating up from the bottom of the fridge. Leek and potato plus a bunch of kale that was past its best. Broccoli and stilton plus a bit of brie, both of which have been stinking out the fridge for the last three weeks.

Angus and I tried chocolate porridge to liven up our weekday breakfasts. It's your normal porridge recipe (around 40 g oats plus water and milk - I don't know how much because I measure it by eye) with a mashed banana and a teaspoon of cocoa. I really wanted to like it but it was too much - too bitter I think - and I will stick with my usual topping of demerara sugar and dried fruit.

No more gingerbread houses here - it's all breakfast bars and flapjacks, anything filling to keep the cold out and tummies full until the next meal.

Sunday night dinners are our usual winter tray bakes and slow cooker stews again. I have been tentatively dipping my toe into some of the cookery books I got for Christmas and will report back.

I have bought seville oranges, two boxes, and set next weekend aside as Marmalade Time.

I love marmalade, both making and eating it, and always look forward to this day in the middle of winter when the kitchen is full of steam and the smell of oranges.  

It's also a boost to see spring flowers appearing in the supermarket. I haven't bought any fresh flowers for months, probably since last September, so I've been treating myself to tulips for the kitchen table and pots of tete-a-tetes and hyacinths to dot around the house. Fresh flowers are one of those little things that bring so much joy and we need a lot of that at the moment. 

We invested in another warm, brushed cotton duvet cover. I think that brushed cotton is the best winter bedding ever especially when it's very cold, as it has been this month, and you like to sleep with the bedroom window open. 

Sad as I am to take down the Christmas tree, every year I enjoy the January feeling of light and space. Everywhere gets a good clean, furniture and plants get moved around, and this purposeful feeling of renewal helps combat the gloom.

We have not had snow, but we had a bitterly cold week at the start of January, and we've had sun and fog and some spectacular frosts. 

There is also so much mud. Every dog walk at this time of year involves wellies. I am thankful for a dog with short hair and long legs when the weather is like this - we can often get away with not showering him and just rub him down with a towel.

Today the sun shone and we went to the beach for fresh air and vitamin D.

It was glorious 

I haven't been able to settle to a new crochet project for a while, but I've just bought this pattern and am excited to get started on it. I just need to decide what colour yarn to use and order it.

I hope you are all well and staying safe. This is really hard work, isn't it? Try and focus on the things that make you happy and bring you any comfort and joy, however small. I joke that I got through 2020 by watching reruns of Midsomer Murders, the ultimate comfort TV, and it's not a complete lie. Whatever makes you feel relaxed: getting outside, baking, gardening, a jigsaw, crafting....we just need to get through the next few months until spring comes.