Monday, 31 January 2011

Close Knit

Gosh I've been having fun crocheting characters and rummaging about in my button box.

It's almost as good as baking and doesn't come with the attendent hip swelling problem. Also, I can listen to music as I do it.

The family currently looks like this:

The whole bunch: you can just see in the foreground the, as yet unformed, new baby.

Bianca: my current favourite, I will shed a tear as I seal her into a padded envelope. Don't be fooled by the bright colours and big shades, she is still working out her true nature. Like Victoria Beckham she will find what she loves and what she's good at.

Olive: she is sweet and kind and works hard to keep harmony. Especially between Kit and Bianca, because Bianca is always trying to squeeze into Kit's best dresses and has burst a few seams.

Kit: the lady, she was a bit wild in her youth always hanging about the bins in back alleys. But she found her focus and is now a strict piscatarian who writes books on all things fish, and delivers mentoring workshops around the world.

Hool: the only boy, he is a little shy but if you happen to hit on his favourite subject – town planning – he'll come into his own.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


I love the whole sharing thing about blogging. We share ideas, values, passions, ideals, stories, poems, interests and more. Mostly (but not always, thank you Parsnip) this sharing is cognitive. Though it can translate to the material, for example when someone shares a recipe. But now here, via Titus, is an actual physical bloggy share-fest. I had to join in because she is making things out of boiled wool and I couldn't resist a thing made out of boiled wool. So:

I promise to send something I make myself to the first 5 people who leave a comment on this post and who, in turn, promise to make the same offer on their blog. The rules are that you need to make the items personally and send them to your 5 folks within 2011.

Got that?

With this in mind I have begun crocheting things out of scraps of old wool and thus far have:

Kit and Hool.

Hool detail.

A Kit close up.

I thought I'd also offer a cake or cookies to anyone who lives close enough for them not to be spoiled by mailing. So, if you fancy a critter crocheted by my own arthritic hands, or a sweet treat baked by them (I promise to ensure they're spotlessly clean!) join in and pledge to make five things yourself.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Share the Joy Thursday: Experimentation

There is nothing so joyous as an experiment that yields unexpectedly good results. I have had this

Pashmina for a good ten years. It's gloriously soft and warm but recently whenever I put it on I think: 'nah.' It had become faded and slightly yellow round the edges, and, as you can see from the picture had picked up some pink spots. Rather than stylish and insouciant it made me look pale and grubby.

I'd been thinking I should give it to a worthy cause, but then the other day as I was trying to rearrange the scullery I spotted

the grey dye I'd bought months ago to deal with

my too pink hat. It never got used because it turned out to be unsuitable for the hat's less than natural fibre content. I wondered if I should try it on the scarf. The instructions on the packet didn't bode well: not suitable for wool (pashmina - a type of cashmere - is wool, isn't it?); for use in the washing machine, on the 40 degree programme (would the fabric withstand that?). But I realised I was never going to wear it again, so the risk wasn't, really. I chucked the hat in too for good measure.•

Pah-da! It looks new again, I can't wait to go out now.

For more joy click here.

•This part of the experiment wasn't quite so successful.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

ABC Wednesday: Butter

Butter, it's the only thing my best friend and me disagree on: she hates it. I love its cool, creamy paleness and culinary versatility. And this is my very favourite sort:

The wrapper alone would sell it to me, did the first time I bought it, but there is something very special about this butter. Too expensive for daily use, I have it only as a rare treat* it makes pastry taste the way it used to, transforms plain cakes (oh the seed cake!), and if there's any left over:

it's worth making jam to go with it on toast.

But the best thing about it is just unwrapping it and sniffing takes me back to the time I first really noticed butter.

I was about fifteen and had been invited to a new friend's house after school. Her mother greeted us and into the kitchen we went. Through a hall twice the length and not far off as wide as our whole house, past semi open doors through which I glimpsed chintzy couches, tables groaning with books, and musical instruments. I'd never been in a house like it, huge and rather seedy, you could imagine Jane Eyre in it.

Anita's mother put the kettle on, some teacakes in the toaster and sent her off to the corner shop for butter: 'Ask for fresh.' She insisted. I hung about on the edge of the kitchen, shyly, and watched as this filmic woman (she was wearing jewelry, eye-liner, and a caftan! (my mother wore slacks)) placed pretty china on a tray:

'Could you put these on the table in the dining room, please Eryl?' Her pink painted lips asked.

When Anita returned we sat at the table. She poured the tea:
'Milk and sugar?'
'Just milk, please.'
Her mother buttered the hot teacakes, and passed them around. One bite and I was lost. The taste was better than anything I'd ever eaten, new yet strangely familiar. Salty and creamy it was the equivalent of a long soak in a warm bath for the palate. As I walked home later I remembered that before my father died my mother baked bread for weekend breakfasts which we ate with strawberry jam. Between the bread and the jam we spread real butter. I remembered, too, rolling small lumps of it in the sugar bowl, while no one was looking, and crunching. Those days were long gone. Now we could only afford margarine with its odd flaky texture and face-cream taste.

In the days that followed I raved about the butter so much that my mother baked a loaf and bought a packet to go with. We all sat in the kitchen and stuffed ourselves. Later my brother told me when he grows up he'll have butter everyday, and I told him I would too.

And while I probably don't, I do use it a lot: in cakes, pastries, certain types of icing (frosting for you Americans), egg dishes, mashed potato, and goodness know what all else. Here's a selection of my recent buttery doings:

Fuel, with crackers, cheese and pickle, for when work goes on late into the night.

A chicken for roasting: thyme, onions, half a lemon (up its bottom), white wine and a good application of butter.

Cayenne pepper, dark muscovado sugar, chopped rosemary, sea-salt and melted butter, for spicing up some lightly toasted nuts.

A rather large tattie scone, made with tonight's leftover mashed potato, cooks in a butter smeared pan.

All through the health scares when oil derived spreads were fashionable I held out and stuck to butter. So I'm rather glad to hear it's been found far healthier than those nasty augmented substitutes. Goodness knows what they do to make olive oil solid!

*at all other times I use a french brand I can get locally

For other ABC Wednesday posts click.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


It was the fourth birthday of this blog yesterday. There seems to be rather a lot of stuff being said about how the internet brings out the worst in people at the moment. I agree it can do, you have only to read some of the snarky comments on the Sartorialist to see that. But it can show, and bring out, the best in people too. So rather than write a gushing post about how great blogging is and how many wonderful friends I've made (lots!) since I started, I thought I'd share with you a couple of examples of the positive side of blogging and the internet as a whole.

The first, I discovered only on Thursday as a result of Meri's joy sharing. It is: The Rug Project and a joy indeed! A group of women in a small Mexican village are trying to save their way of life by brining the rugs they make to the attention of the wider world. Oh man, you should see them, here are a few of my favourites but there are tons more.

And better than just looking at them on a computer screen you can win one. If you click on the link above you will be able to see all the rugs and the women who make them, read the full story, and enter into a raffle. All you need do is send a US dollar. I have three, thanks to Bob, to send off first thing tomorrow.

The second: a young woman inspired to raise funds for the NSPCC has developed the 18before18 project. This is a set of eighteen challenges that she and a group of other seventeen year olds have set themselves before they turn 18. Click on the link to find out more, and read about the tasks they intend to perform. I've promised her a recipe for fried pig's ears for one challenge, which I must now look out.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Share the Joy Thursday: Delayed Gratification

How could I not take part in something called Share the Joy?! Thank you camera fiend Meri for the opportunity.

I first had Lemon Polenta cake about fifteen years ago in one of my favourite places: Valvona & Crolla which is a wonderful Italian deli and cafe in Edinburgh. The cake was like sunshine dipped in syrup: lemony, crumbly and moist. It reminded me of the lemon meringue pie my mother used to make, in terms of flavour at least. I looked for a recipe but couldn't find one. It didn't matter so much at the time because we were earning then and I could, and did, go to Edinburgh often. And when I did I always went in to V&C for coffee and lemon polenta cake. Then we stopped earning, enough for frequent city trips and indulgent coffee breaks anyway, so I began to look again for a recipe. I bought several Italian cookbooks including one written by the owner of the deli itself, but no recipe.

I experimented and though I got something near, I didn't get it quite as I remembered. So, imagine my joy when in my Christmas gift cookbook (Nigella's Kitchen in case you've forgotten) there was a recipe for the very cake. I tried it a couple of days ago, and oh my, it's perfect:

The nose: so moist you'd almost call it damp.

The edge: sticky and, almost, friable. Each crumb is an individual in its own right.

Taste test.

It was well worth waiting fifteen years for this. But it gets better: when I was a child my favourite cake that my mother used to bake was Devil's Food Cake. It was dark and velvety and intense with chocolate. I loved it so much she made it for my birthday every year. And sometimes, just because she could, she'd make it for no reason at all. I'd get home from school, tired and grumpy, fumble about for my key, open the door and be instantly revived by a chocolate hit to the nostrils:
"You've made Devil's Food Cake!" I'd almost squeal, running into the kitchen.
"Yes, I have." She'd smile.
"Who's it for?"
"Me, but why?"
"You like it, don't you?"
"Yes! But it's not my birthday."
"I had a few hours to kill," she'd say, "you know I don't like sitting about?"
That's how I knew my mother loved me. She never said it, she didn't need to.

I've found lots of recipes for Devil's Food cake over the years but none have ever tasted quite like my mother'. Now I find Nigella has a recipe in this book, and with her track record I'm pretty sure it will be the recipe I've been waiting for. I'm going to wait a while before making it, though, wait and enjoy the possibility; the knowledge that it's there and I can make it any time I want. That feeling is almost as good as cake itself.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

ABC Wednesday

I discovered ABC Wednesday last week, when they were on Z of round seven. This week round eight has begun and as it feels like my kinda game I thought I'd play. It's simple enough: each week you have to post something to do with whichever letter has come around. As this is the start of a new round the letter is A. I've had a little look to see what others are doing and it seems there are stories, poems, artworks, photographs and more. Good, I like a remit that's not too strict.

For my first attempt here is something to charm you with,

okay, maybe charm wasn't quite the word. Alienate. A is for alienating armadillo.

I'm not quite sure what went wrong on the day we saw this in a junk shop, but it came home with us. After having the hideous thing on display for a while I wrapped it up in a plastic bag and hid it in a drawer in the attic. It stayed there for years, then sometime last year I noticed it had been found, and put back on the hearth. No problem, husband uses the sitting room as an office at the moment so I never go in there. If he ever gets a proper office he can take the damn thing with him. Meanwhile I'll share it with you in the spirit of: 'a problem shared is a problem halved'.

on its back.


Detail with ear.

Why would you want this in your house?

A mummy and baby in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (Glasgow).

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hunting for Treasure

When Alesa made this post about how she and her girlfriend like to go out on photo safaris my instant reaction was: "I wanna play!" And they said I could. How generous is that? So we set a date, each chose a theme, and the hunt was on. Here are the results, can you guess whose shot is whose? Extra bonus points if you can guess who chose which theme, too.



Life is a Stage

Pocket Change


Mundane Munch


A Mundane Bulb


The Vital Elixir

Mirror of Life?


Update: now if you place you mouse over a photo it will tell you who it was taken by. I have Alesa to thank for showing me how to do this, and you can have no idea how thrilled I am! Also, to let you know who chose the themes: Change = Alesa, Mundane = F, and, well done Titus for guessing this, Vital = me.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Tyranny of Abundance

No doubt dreaming of leisurely weekend breakfasts Stevie brought home a large plastic box of supermarket croissants two Saturdays ago. He didn't eat them, Bob didn't eat them, they sat sweating on the counter for a couple of days until a Greek chorus started up in my head: "Waste not, want not!" By Tuesday I could stand it no longer and toasted one, as I ate half of it the chorus divided: "You will be rewarded for this with enormous hips," wailed one section: "Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful!" the second section worked itself into a frenzy. I clutched myself and threw the rest of the croissant into the bin. I hate throwing food away. I hate throwing anything away. But I hate feeling full more, and it's possible I have an irrational fear of being overweight (I put on four stone when I was pregnant, and still remember the difficulty I had climbing stairs, I never want to feel too heavy for my legs again).

A few days later he brought home a large ciabatta loaf: "You like this ciabatta, don't you?" I do. I rustled up something moppably oily for supper. We ate half the bread with it. The rest joined the croissants in a corner of the kitchen. By Sunday I couldn't even think about the kitchen without the chorus starting up. It sounded like a thousand Kate Bushes singing 'waste not want not' over and over to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody (remember that?), as a mob swept broken glass with barbed wire brooms. I had to do something and that something could not be me eating half a loaf of brick stale bread and five croissants by myself, they had to be made into something the others would be glad of. But what? At the eleventh hour, just as I was about to throw myself from the tower, in she rode:

My hero, Ms L.

I got her latest for Christmas and have since read it from cover to cover. It's bursting with recipes I'm desperate to try, and it has a whole section on dealing with leftovers, including a recipe for chocolate bread pudding. I decided to make a version of this with the croissants. So after checking them for mold, or general mankiness

and finding them fine (which is in itself alarming given that they were over a week old, but I was able to disable that particular bell), I got to work.

I sliced them into fat rounds, as if they were salamis. Decided against chocolate and smeared them with butter and jam instead (I quite like the idea of finding the odd jam-free one in the dish so proceeded accordingly).

Squished them into a pie dish. Made some custard by whisking together in a jug: three eggs, a couple of teaspoons vanilla extract, 200mls double (heavy) cream, 400mls full fat milk and about a quarter cup of caster sugar.

Poured the custard over the jammy croissant discs and left them to become one for about half an hour. Into a medium low (gas mark 3) oven it went for an hour's baking,

after which it was crisply burnished on top

and moistly custardy within. Delicious. The raspberry jam and vanilla custard seemed to work particularly well together with the slightly salty croissants.

To offset the calories I made

a light supper of chicken Caesar salad. This not only made me feel less heavy, it dealt with the stale bread. That silenced the bastard chorus.