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.
Like a lot of families, heck, like a lot of people, we’re finding things tough financially at the moment. It was never really the plan for me not to be working at all while the children were babies (much as I know that’s what some people choose to do) just as it was never really the plan for C to be made redundant, or for us to have to move house, three times within two years, with all the attendant expenses. On top of this there’s the rising cost of living and just as food gets more expensive, we’ve two little people who want to eat more and more of it!
Still, we know we’re still better off than most of the people on the planet so we breathe in and tighten the old belt a few more notches. That said, I refuse to eat dull uninspiring food just because every penny has to be watched at the supermarket. So it’s even more cooking from scratch, more poring over recipe books and more building of skills in making everything go further.
For example, on Sunday we bought a Freedom Farms chicken (we just can’t stretch to organic sadly) and had a family roast. That evening, C stripped and chopped up the carcass so I could make stock, which I then froze in measured portions (the measuring was, I thought, remarkably forward thinking of me!). The next day, keeping some cold chicken aside for lunches in the week, I used the meat and leftover gravy to make pasties, using the River Cottage ‘Everyday’ cookbook for guidance and a rough puff pastry recipe and had enough filling left over to make a few baby meals for M. I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of the River Cottage books, although I do find that ‘Everyday’ is pushing it a bit as a description for a lot of recipes, at least on our budget.
While I was in the baking mood, I also made some olive focaccia bread, from the same recipe book, and some hummus using a recipe my sister-in-law gave me. Today this was added to Tabula Kisir (recipe from guess what? That book again!) which is a lovely tabouleh type thing with bulghar wheat, fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers etc, and made a really rather superior lunch for an otherwise ordinary Tuesday. The bread is all gone, but the hummus and Tabula will do us for the rest of the week I think.
Given that we stayed more or less within our miniscule budget this week, it’s gratifying to have such good eating going on.
“Vile” is the best word I can think of to describe the weather we had this morning. Fine, driving and cold rain blew against the windows until lunchtime, thwarting plans I had to explore the new neighbourhood on foot. Even with waterproofs it would have been miserable. However, the sun put in an appearance by the afternoon and happily I had planned for and bought in food that reflected the weather I’d hoped for, rather than what was forecast! A recipe from Nadine Abensur’s ‘Cranks Fast Food’ which mixes griddled courguettes with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and mint has reinvented that vegetable as far as I’m concerned, putting it on the list for growing next year. Deliciously squeaky halloumi cheese, sprinkled picturesquely with smoked paprika and olive oil, also gets the griddle treatment (and thank goodness the new kitchen has an efficient extractor fan!). Finished off with bulghar wheat, toasted to a biscuity brown in the oven, then soaked in boiling water and a veg stock cube it’s food that tastes of sunshine, even if the heavens don’t provide it.