There’s an invisible element of love worked into handmade items created for family or friends. Perhaps you can only really understand that if you’ve ever made such an item. All the thoughts and hopes you have in the hours you spend on it, the devotion and patience you put in when the pattern gets dull or something has to be ripped out and reworked, I’m convinced it somehow works its way into the fibres. Maybe that’s what makes certain handmade items- like the blanket in the picture above- last so long; used, loved and handed on.
The ‘season’ section of the children’s magnetic calendar says ‘Spring’. I write this with sunshine streaming through the window. However, as anyone who ventured outside during the Easter weekend will know, Spring really hasn’t sprung very enthusiastically yet. Undaunted, we nevertheless managed a family weekend of Easter fun. This included a Friday morning walk up Orrest Head above Windermere- a little longer than anticipated for those with littler legs and the iciest wind you can imagine when we got to the top, but the residual patches of snow were thoroughly enjoyed by certain members of the party and the views were spectacular.
With that chilly air still fresh in our minds, if not on our faces, I spent much of the weekend preparing ways to keep warm, as well as the all-important food, for the Easter Egg hunt we had planned on the Monday. The venue was a beautiful little patch of woodland recently bought by a friend’s mum about half an hour’s drive from us and the plan was to meet for egg hunting, food and a fire for as long as we could take the weather.
While our boy runs hot, my little girl takes after me and really feels the cold. I had layered her up with as many clothes as possible without her losing the ability to bend her limbs, but she nevertheless punctuated her forays around the woods looking for eggs, waving bubble wands, throwing dry leaves about and shouting with spells spent by the fire, wrapped in the Grandma blanket. This had been thrown into the car as an automatic reaction, just as it has been for picnics, beach and camping trips so many times before. Not just with the current configuration of the family either, because the ‘Grandma’ who made this simple, stash busting crochet blanket forty, maybe fifty or more years ago wasn’t my children’s Grandma, or even mine, but my mother’s. So technically M should call it the ‘Great-Great-Grandma Blanket’. I know how much love and thought and hope for endurance goes into making items like this, but nevertheless it’s hard to imagine Great Grandma saw her blanket still being in more or less daily use all this time later.
Yes, the wind blew cold and M wasn’t the only one seeking the comfort of the fire and the blanket. But we hunted eggs and we feasted- on barbecued sausages, homemade flatbreads, irresistable Cambodian Wedding Day dip (from River Cottage Veg Everyday), grilled courguettes in minted Greek yogurt, maple syrup popcorn (based on this recipe from Soulemama), Simnel Cake and toasted marshmallows. As we drove home, deliciously tired and scented with woodsmoke, the views included the snow-capped splendour of the Lake District peaks touched by decidedly Spring-like sunshine.
>The unfamiliar first…This is the view from the saddle of my lovely old bike. Yep, that’s right, me, sworn off cycling for life due to the unspeakable horrors of any kind of incline has actually started to ride voluntarily and even (gasp!) enjoy it. Even with hills. Wonders will never cease.
Not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but they can acquire new old treasure. This is another find from the farm (a seemingly endless trove of undiscovered goodies). Like the jam pan and chest of drawers before it, my Father in Law was quite happy for me to have this, which he would term ‘kelter’ (junk to the non-Lancastrian famers among us) on permanent loan. The only proviso was a share of the cakes I’m going to create with it. There’s a reason Kenwood has the good reputation it does, as this old Chef may have been grubby with years of neglect and maybe shows its age in the styling department but switch it on and it still goes- whether whisking, mixing, dough hooking or liquidising. I’m delighted.
New new treasure arrived in the post this week, in the form of this heavenly bundle of Manos Wool Clasica in ‘Ganges’. Mindful of my habit of running out of yarn before the end of a project I bought all nine skeins that were in the sale at Meadow Yarn . At the moment it looks like I’ll be using it to make a grown up version of Queen Bess but we’ll see.
Finally, new and unfamiliar yet somehow old too…M had some chunky coloured pencils among her birthday present and today she had her first try with them. Seeing her being so grown up is new and unfamiliar, yet babies picking up the tools of other family members and copying what they’ve seen is surely as old as the human race.
I’m not exactly what you’d call a shopaholic these days. That’s not to say I didn’t spend a good proportion of my younger days trolling around the shops, but our location and lifstyle don’t really fit with that anymore. Apart from anything else, there aren’t usually the funds for it. This has made it even more pleasurable over the last few days to do a bit of guilt-free shopping. Why no guilt? Because I was spending Christmas present book tokens and birthday present money. Hooray!
First, the books. Since we love and get so much use from the River Cottage Family Cookbook we thought we’d add the Everyday Cookbook to our collection, having enjoyed the recent TV series. We’ve already tried making versions of its digestive biscuits, honey roasted root veg and ‘Tupperware Chorizo’ all with great success. We’ve also invested in the River Cottage ‘Veg Patch’ Handbook, which is lovely for it’s textured cover and neat little format alone, but is also inspiring us with all sorts of ideas for what we hope will be our first real venture in ‘grow your own’ this year. Finally, we’ve bought a DIY book because with this house there’s lots to ‘Do’ and noone else to ‘Do’ it for us! As we were using Book Tokens we decided to get all of these from a local independent bookstore. This meant we didn’t get any of the money saving offers we might have done from a chain store, but fits with our ethos of trying to support local businesses. Also when there was an issue with a stitching fault in our first copy of ‘Veg Patch’ it was an easy and pleasant experience getting it replaced.
Next up, I took advantage of only having one tiddler with me this morning to go on a bit of a charity shop trawl. As always I ignored the clothing in favour of homewares and textiles- my favourite charity shop buy is home-embroidered linen tablecloths but alas no joy on that front today. Instead I found this lovely little teapot- cheap, charity shop and using birthday money…perfect, basically! I originally thought it would be destined for the Folksy Shop, but I think I’ve rather fallen in love with it, so it’s probably going to become our regular small teapot. The plainer Brown Betty we’ve been using can go to the shop when I get around to some more knitting- I think some Union Jack teacosies in time for the upcoming Royal Wedding would make sense, and would be really cute as a smaller version.
Last but by no means least, behold our new dining room ‘gubbinet’. Never heard of a gubbinet? Well, it’s a cabinet for all the gubbins that end up lying around downstairs- envelopes, sticky tape and other posting stuff, phone chargers, table linens etcetera. As I write, C is (carefully I hope!) drilling some holes in the back of the top bit so that the stereo can be hidden away, rather than overhanging a shelf as it currently does. I think it’s probably from the first half of the 20th century, as it has curved edges that look a bit 30′s and is pretty solidly made from wood. I don’t really mind to be honest, as it suits our dining room really well and fits the space on one side of the chimney breast just perfectly. Found hidden under some boxes and behind a chair at the back of a vintage shop in Ulverston it was pretty cheap to buy with more birthday money. The only hairy bit was getting it home. I’d taken M shopping with me and couldn’t put her seat in the front due to the airbag, so we couldn’t put the seats down. Of course, when we tried to heft my purchase into the hatchback, it was about 6 inches too long. The only plan we could come up with, apart from coming back another day, was to tie the boot shut with string and for me to drive home ‘not too fast’. Eek! There’s nothing like a large piece of furniture held into your boot with string to make you notice just how many hills there are to go up to get home! Actually, put me on a bicycle and I’ll tell you about every hill, but that’s another story. Anyhow, we made it, I love it and our new (old) house has its first custom bought new (old) piece of furniture. Happy days.
I know everyone says this, but I don’t really ‘do’ New Year’s Resolutions. However, this year, we have decided to try and reduce our reliance on supermarket shopping. It’s for a lot of reasons, including environmental and political ones, which I may or may not expand on at another time.
There’ll be more on how we’re trying to do this later in the week, but basically it’s a quiet revolution because most of the measures are things we’ve done before over the last few years, on and off. So it’s a question of trying to do them all at the same time.
Home-baking is obviously already a regular fixture in our house, but nonetheless we’d slipped into buying quite a lot of ready-made stuff recently, including bread, breadsticks (P’s snack of choice) and M’s weaning baby-mush (known as ‘goo’ in our house).
This week is the ‘start as we mean to go on’ week, so therefore I duly made bread and used some leftover pizza dough and a little pesto (not homemade, I admit!) to make some breadsticks. I then cooked up two carrots, an apple and four tinned prunes to make some goo. Carrots take forever to cook, so I went off and built Duplo houses with P….and burned the goo. Believe me, burned carrot, apple and prune does not smell nice. Nor is it easy to remove from pans.
However, if I gave up that easily I might as well just go to Tesco right now, so I had another attempt and made sure I stayed by the stove this time. An initial whizz with the handheld mixer followed by blending in the liquidiser and we finally had a good approximation of one of M’s favourite bought ‘goo in a pouch’ numbers. What’s more she ate it. So far so goo(d).
Happy New Year! I’m not a fan of the New Year celebrations, but unlike some I really like this time of year. I enjoy the urge to purge and tidy, to return things to normal, fling out unwanted stuff (or rather Ebay, Freecycle or donate in most cases) and generally start as I’d like to go on.
I’ve decreed that as far as crafts go, the first quarter of this year is going to be all about homemaking, rather than clothes. As a result I have a huge list of projects including curtains, bags, rugs and wall hangings that is likely to last me until about October but will allow me to make use of some exciting Christmas presents which I may show and tell about later in the week.
Inevitably, since no knitter can really cope with empty needles, I have one more clothing project on the go before I kick into an idea for knit/felt cushions. The Pirate Sweater has been fully frogged and restarted, with a new idea for the neckline partly inspired by reading Elizabeth Zimmerman’s ‘Knitting Without Tears’; a smaller needle size resulting in firmer stitches and a neater looking design on the pocket; larger armholes and a general resolve for it to be even better second time around. There is good chance that my junior fashion critic will still declare his dislike for it and refuse to wear it, but as I’m recording the pattern as I go with a view to publishing it I will not accept it being a wasted effort.
Anyhoo, none of this has anything to do with the soup mentioned in the title. I know I’m not alone in feeling that after the scrumptious excesses of Christmas I really need some simple, nutritious food. This soup has twin inspirations- the Cream of Petit Pois in Nadine Abensur’s ‘Crank’s Fast Food’ and a ready made fresh soup we had recently. The latter included spinach and mint as well as peas and was good, but pricey. I was sure I could recreate something like it and did so like this:
GOOD GREEN SOUP
1. Finely chop half an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. Soften in a pan with some veg oil for five minutes or so.
2. Add a pint/500ml of veg stock, with a couple of mugfuls (about 300g?) of frozen peas and about three of those little bricks of frozen spinach.
3. Bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes.
4. Add a glug of cream or a dollop of cream cheese or creme fraiche. Tear up a handful of mint leaves and throw them in too.
5. Take pan off heat and blitz with a handheld blender or liquidise.
6. Season to taste and serve with bread.
It doesn’t have too many naughty ingredients- you could even leave out the cream- and actually has lots of good ones. Something about the sweetness and velvety texture the peas give the soup make it really satisfying so you don’t feel like you’re being too frugal and wholesome, even if you’re being healthy.
A little more apple cookery today- only one product, but after finely chopping 1.5kg of apples can you blame me?! The product in question is Apple, Cinnamon and Raisin Compote from The Women’s Institute Book of Preserves and although it doesn’t look terribly tempting, it tastes yummy. Yesterday’s Blackberry and Apple jam set fine, by the way.
Little bit more work done on the ‘High Tea’ collection of teacosies for my Folksy shop- finished one and begun another, but I’m going to keep them more or less under wraps for now. I also took a deep breath today and braved putting one of my teacosy designs up as a free download on Ravelry. The Union Jack cosy was one of the first ones I did for the Folksy shop and was the first one I sold- it led to a couple more on commission and I got very sick of intarsia as a result! It’s scary to think that other people will be trying to follow the instructions I wrote, even though its a pretty simple pattern. Last time I looked it had been added as a favourite by quite a few people, with a few also downloading it or adding it to their queue- eep! If you’re interested, you can find it here.
We asked if we might have a few apples the next time grandparents were visiting from the farm…we got a sackload! Apple processing has therefore been on my to-do list for at least a week and today I got around to some, at least. Blackberry and Apple jam gave me my perennial problem of not seeming to achieve a set (I wonder whether I ought to just shell out on a jam thermometer and do it that way, rather than the cold plate test) but looks yummy and I think it will be an okay consistency in the end. I also par-cooked some apples for future pies/crumbles etc to put in our new spare freezer- this was a bonus find, left behind in the utility room by the previous owner of our house. Why ‘Apple Day 1′? Because we still have a half a sackload left, so apple processing remains on the to-do list for another occasion!
In preparation for our impending move, we have adopted a “10% out” policy to try and avoid shifting a lot of stuff we don’t need to our new home. The idea is that rather than taking on whole rooms with a vague ‘we need to get rid of stuff’ idea, we look at categories of stuff, e.g. fiction books, clothes, cooking equipment etc. and try to find 10% of each category that we can sell, give away, donate to charity, recycle or otherwise shed from our lives. It’s amazing how easily this can be done once you get going, and often we’ve found ourselves ditching a lot more than 10%.
Obviously, while we’re going through this, the idea isn’t really to acquire more stuff, however desirable. That said, just wanted to share a couple of bookshelf treasures I very much covet at the moment.
I love Anna Maria Horner’s fabrics, although I’ve yet to find a project to justify getting some (maybe if baby #2 is a girl?). Her new book Handmade Beginnings looks heavenly though, and could be just the thing to tempt me into more sewing adventures to build on my limited experience. Read a really interesting interview with Anna Maria on the Sew Liberated blog.
I saw the author of The Italian Cookery Course on a TV cooking programme recently and my ears pricked up. It seems that this hefty tome is meant to be a step-by-step guide to authentic Italian cooking. I love Italian food, for its flavours and the way recipes tend to use a relatively small number of high quality ingredients. However, beyond tomato sauce, pizza and pesto I don’t really have a repetoire of dishes I can make. I bought book of Italian recipes with vouchers earlier this year, but it was a bit of a let down to be honest. This one looks far more promising, and having recently watched Julie and Julia on DVD I’m rather taken with the idea of working my way through the fundamentals of Italian cuisine. And yes, I know this sounds a bit crazy coming from a very pregnant mother of a toddler, but what could be more authentic than filling my kitchen with the scent of basil, tomatoes, garlic etc. with two bambinos running around my feet?!?
I’m posting this at the risk of spoiling the surprise, but in the hope that a dodgy internet connection means the intended recipient won’t be reading this. It’s either a birthday cake or, if there are too many of those about, an Easter cake. Whatever the official designation, it’s a big lot of chocolate yumminess!
I used Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake recipe from Nigella Bites. I halved the ingredients as, despite her claims that if dumped you could eat this yourself in one sitting, in my experience, the full monty feeds a lot of people. I also substituted the dark chocolate in the frosting for white chocolate, partly to ring the changes, but mainly to achieve the correct colouring for the sheep. A little extra melted white chocolate for the legs and to stick the sugar flowers on and some dark chocolate for the face completed the effect.