Sunday, 24 February 2008

Family fruit cake

This past week at the cabins has been a lovely family time. It felt as though we were in a little magical world of our own. We didn't really see or speak to anyone else, other than polite chit chat at the bakery each morning when we bought our pies and bread in Thornton Le Dale.

The weather was freezing! For all but our last day the temperature didn't rise above minus six. That was quite a shock to our soft London ways. We spent our mornings going for long bike rides and hikes through the narnia landscape, and our afternoons playing
Settlers of Catan, Magic: The Gathering and Carcassonne and drinking hot chocolate and cups of tea.

Tomorrow we all go back to work and school and I feel as though we are going back into our separate lives once again. We'll each be working at our own things and evenings will be a catch up of what we have all done, rather than a reflection of a day spent together.

So this morning I decided to bake a family fruit cake to mark the end of our lovely, intimate week. I use my Grandmother's cake tin to bake this in, which just adds another wholesome dimension of family-ness to the whole thing. We will each take big squares of this to work and school this week. It is a very forgiving cake and will withstand being hurled about within an 8 year old's lunchbox very well.

The recipe is very loosely based on one in Margaret Costa's Four Seasons Cookery Book. I detest candied peel more than almost anything else in the whole world, so I started by swapping chopped, dried apricots for the peel in Margaret Costa's recipe and then made a whole load more changes. Here is my version.

Family Fruit Cake
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 175g butter or marg
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 1 dessertspoon honey
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 350g raisins and sultanas
  • 25g halved glace cherries
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • large handful flaked almonds

Line the base of a large loaf tin or deep square 18cm tin with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugar together and beat in the honey. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and adding the occasional spoonful from the flour if the mixture looks like curdling. Lightly fold in the rest of the flour. Stir in the fruit and lemon rind.

Turn the batter into the prepared tin and scatter the almonds on top of it. Bake at gas mark 4 for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to gas mark 3 and bake for a further 45 minutes, covering the top with foil towards the end if it is browning too much.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

I'm going to the forest

Tomorrow morning we're setting off for a forest in North Yorkshire where we are going to stay in one of these log cabins.

I will be taking my half finished quilt with me and stitching in the evenings. I may think that my childhood dream of living the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House In The Big Woods is finally complete.


Other things I will be doing:

  • walking
  • mountain biking
  • enjoyiong the local food. Especially pies.
  • reading
  • enjoying the sunshine
  • looking for treasure
  • not answering my phone

I will see you next week.

Friday, 15 February 2008

The nurse

I nearly becamse a nurse instead of an accountant. When I finished university I applied for training posts in both careers and the only reason I became an accountant is that I was offered a job by an accountancy firm first. Funny how close we come to taking wildly different paths in life.

I worked out last week why I had always wanted to be a nurse. It is this book from the 1960s, which is being republished as part of a box set by Ladybird.

I used to pore over this book for hours, gazing at the pictures. I think I wanted to be a nurse mainly because of the magnificent cloaks they wore in this picture.

The nurses who looked after O on Wednesday were wonderful. Well, they looked after all of us really - G and I as well as O. And they even made hospital bracelets for O's twin bears that she has had since she was a newborn.


O calls them Charlotte and Harriet and until now she was the only one who could tell them apart....


But we are confused no longer!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

My heart is full

One of the strangest things about parenting is the sudden understanding you have about how skills, talents and interests are passed down the generations. Having children made me remember my own childhood more, and made me want to recreate things for my own children, that my parents did for me. Things like:
  • making jam
  • summer trips to the PYO farm
  • a love of walking
  • lazy pub lunches
  • a delight in trying new foods
  • the pleasures of singing or playing an instrument with others
  • keeping chickens as pets

Some I have succeeded in and others are at more of a work-in-progress stage.

When I see my children doing things I enjoyed at their age it fills my heart: reading books I loved (Milly Molly Mandy, Swallows & Amazons, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and so many others), climbing trees, feeding the chickens, making strange 'machines' from old cereal boxes, milk bottle tops and way too much glue. So satisfying.

Yesterday O had a small operation and this morning she opened a parcel that my mother had sent her as a get well present. Inside was a little sewing kit. O could not have been more delighted, and exclaimed those words that filled my heart: "Look! Now I can sew things just like you!"


Friday, 8 February 2008

Rhubarb and other nice things

I saw large packets of new season forced rhubarb in Waitrose this week. How could I resist - just look at this colour!

When it came to cook it I had originally planned to make a rhubarb and apple crumble, but in the end I didn't want to dilute or cover up the mad pinkness of it all. So I made plain, stewed rhubarb with the juice of a blood orange. The blood oranges are very sweet and the early rhubarb is not particularly sour so you don't need any additional sugar for this.

Chop a large armful of early forced rhubarb into pieces about 2cm long. Put in a pan with the juice from one blood orange. It looks like you need more liquid but you really don't - the rhubarb gives off a lot of liquid as it cooks. Simmer over a gentle heat, stirring every now and then, for about 15 mintes until the rhubarb is soft. Serve in glass bowls to show off the amazing colour.

There are small bubbles in the last picture because I couldn't wait to take the photo and the stewed rhubarb was still very hot. The bubbles go as it cools to room temperature. I served this for pudding with natural yogurt and the children went slightly beserk, licking out their bowls and demanding to know why there wasn't any more, and when was I going to the shops again? I don't think it will be long!

Other nice things that have marked this week:
  • Seeing a great exhibition about Grace Higgens at the British Library yesterday. Then coming home on the tube listening to a Woman's Hour podcast about that very same exhibition.
  • Sunshine.
  • The purchase of bright yellow fabric for the binding of my quilt, and the steady progress of the hand quilting. I am hoping to finish it all by the end of this month.
  • The booking of part of our summer holiday. A week at one of these cool farm tents in August.
  • The booking of tickets for G and I to go to this music festival in July.
  • Eating Anna's amazing blackberry jam for breakfast (generously and not too begrudgingly shared by O who definitely knows it is HER jam...).
  • More sunshine.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Oh, what have I started?

I am finding it very hard to think about anything other than quilts at the moment. Mainly my quilt, which is now pieced, layered, pinned and about half hand quilted.

I didn't really believe Carol when she said that hand quilting such a large quilt would probably be easier than machine quilting it. But that's clearly why she owns a quilt shop, becasue she was right.

I am enjoying the hand quilting process so much. I mark the line I want to quilt with tailors chalk, get comfy on the sofa with thread, needles, thimble and scissors close to hand, spread the quilt over my lap and start stitching. It just needs a simple, fairly large, running stitch and I completely loose myself in the gentle rhythm of the stitching. It requires enough concentration that I can't sit and fret about work or anything else annoying, but not so much concentration that I can't enjoy an episode of ER while I stitch. I haven't watched so much tele in nearly 10 years I think!

I think about quilting while I cook. I think about quilting while I am at work. I think about quilting when I should be listening to my boyfriend. I think about quilting when I am testing C on his spellings. And you know what? I am planning my next quilt! There is going to be no end to this madness!

But this weekend, as well as stitching several acres of quilt and dreaming of fabric printed with purple pansies and creeping ivy, I did manage to squeeze in a new and very exciting hobby , a Sunday stroll and a very tasty and relaxing lunch with lovely friends.

And now I'm off to do some more quilting.