Monday, 28 January 2008

Places where I have found sticky patches of marmalade today

  • On the handle of the bread machine bucket
  • On the side of the kettle
  • On the bread board
  • On the hens' food bowls
  • Underneath the kitchen taps
  • On O's clean school shirt, hanging on the drying rack
  • On the biggest leaf of my 10 year old African Violet
I'm so glad seville oranges are only in season for about 3 weeks each year.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Life is good again

The chickens are happy, plump and laying once more.

There are green shoots and buds popping up all over the garden.

And there is apple & cinnamon slice to have with my morning coffee.


Sunday, 20 January 2008


Last night G and I went out for a wonderful meal, to celebrate 11 years of being together, which we washed down with way more wine than we are used to drinking. We are definitely too old now to have hangovers.

O had been asking for pancakes for weeks now, so to soothe our sore heads and appease the children I made them for breakfast this morning.

Good pancake toppings

  • Lemon juice and sugar (this one is by far the best for hangovers too - has a refreshing cleanness to it)
  • maple syrup and creme fraiche
  • runny honey
  • strawberry jam
  • golden syrup
  • chocolate or toffee sauces bought in a moment of weakness when shopping with children
  • sliced banana (perhaps with one of those sauces)

Even the making of pancakes is a nice, gentle job for a tired person. Whisking, pouring, watching and flipping.


Thursday, 17 January 2008

The household of pink cakes

In the first week back at school after the Christmas break, C came back home one day and announced that there was a competition at school to invent a recipe that had at least one ingredient from a can. Before I could start on my regular rant about the iniquities of food mass manufacturers and the benefits of eating fresh green vegetables rather than things from cans, C quickly (he's wise that one) jumped in to say "and I've thought up a recipe already - we're going to make a marble cake using tinned cherries".

I have no idea where his inspiration came from. I don't think I've ever bought tinned cherries in my life. But the vision was there, and really quite fixed. It certainly put a stop to my rant.

It was to be a marble cake - part plain vanilla sponge, and part sponge coloured pink with the cherry juice. There would then be a chocolate icing with tinned cherries decorating the top. I wasn't keen on the chocolate icing part - I explained to C the queasiness I feel for Black Forest Gateau, and suggested to him that a mascarpone icing incorporating chopped cherries might be a more sophisticated option. He rolled his eyes in the way that only 8 year old boys can and said "Who's entering this competition, you or me?" Good point.

So we compromised in the end and settled on a white chocolate and cherry icing with the cherries studded on top.

The Great Canned Cherry Marble Cake

  • 4 eggs
  • 275g butter at room temperature
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 275g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 can of cherries
  • a few good shakes of icing sugar
  • half a large bar of white chocolate

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add 1 egg and a quarter of the flour and beat in well. Repeat with the rest of the eggs and flour until all is used up. Divide the cake mixture into two bowls. Add the vanilla to one bowl and mix to incorporate. Add 2 tablespoons of cherry juice to the other bowl and mix.


Grease and line with baking parchment either two sandwich tins or one 20cm springform tin (We went for the latter as C was adamant that the icing had to be on the top not in the middle; like I said, he had a vision). Put dollops of both colours of cake mixture into the tin and mix gently with the blade of a knife.


Put in the oven at gas mark 6 for 25 minutes if using sandwich tins, or 45 minutes if using the springform tin. Check the cake is cooked through by stabbing with a cocktail stick and checking if the cocktail stick is clean (NB: good task for an 8 year old).


To make the icing, put a good shake of icing sugar into a wire sieve and sift into a large bowl. Add cherry juice to the icing sugar and beat well until you have a thick spooning consistency. Put the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and when melted stir into the icing. Spread the icing over the top of the cake and decorate with cherries.


It looks and smells amazing, but I am not allowed to eat any this evening because C wants to have the first slice in his lunchbox tomorrow. I daren't disobey.

Fortunately I did a little baking of my own two days ago, so I don't feel too much the sous chef in my own kitchen.


I made these rose cupcakes (or pinkie cupcakes if you will!) to take in to my colleagues at work. The cupcakes are made using the basic recipe that Nigella gives on page 40 of her How To Be A Domestic Goddess book). I then made a batch of icing using a few drops of rose water and a couple of tiny drops of pink food colouring and finished off by decorating the cupcakes with crystallised rose petals.


They went down a treat at work, all twelve vanishing in less than 20 minutes!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Other people's cleverness

There has been no time recently to do anything creative. I am so looking forward to a day in the kitchen, at the sewing machine, or in the garden. Without the doing of nice things, everything feels a bit pointless and drab.

But there is not much longer to go - the worst of the work is coming to an end, I finally have a weekend off coming up, and there is a whole pile of fabric pieces cut out and waiting to be stitched into a quilt.

In the meantime, there are very many creative people around me, whose works of art are keeping me happy and inspired.

Anna made me this beautiful necklace for Christmas. It is strung on magic wire (there may be a more technical term for it...) that will let you twist it around your neck - it doesn't have any fasteners. Blue is my favourite colour so it goes with almost everything in my wardrobe. I've been wearing it to work a lot this month, and am getting plenty of admiring comments about it. Isn't it pretty?

Then my friend Ann - whom I rarely get to see because she lives in America, but whose friendship I treasure so much - put together this fantastic digital scrapbook page of all my feet photos from 2007. I love it! You can see more of her scrapbook pictures in her online gallery. Thank you Ann!


After a day round at Gill's before the start of term, O decided to spend the last of her Christmas money on this kit to make your own fairy people. With only very minimal help from me with the wire cutters, she made four wonderful fairies last week. I think Gill must have taught her well. Here they are in the fruit bowl. They tend to make random appearances around the house - like proper fairies possibly?

And then most excitingly, since our trip to Liberty's fabric and wool department in December, I have been egging my mother on to knit some socks. Everyone seems to be at it lately - these blogs have been particularly inspiring. Mum bought two lots of sock wool and has just finished the first pair for herself - aren't they wonderful? They look so warm and soft, and the self patterning wool is extremely clever. She has now made a start on a pair for me....

Keep up the good work, chaps! I will post some pictures of the quilt once it is underway.


As if the necklace wasn't enough, last night Anna gave me this blog award - thank you!

I am meant to nominate people in turn and then write seven surprising things about myself. All the people I would want to nominate have been given the award already; but as I can't resist a list, here are seven surprising (possibly) things about me:

  • I love eating offal - kidney, liver, tongue, sweetbreads. Most people clap their hands over their mouths in horror when I tell them this.
  • Both my children were born at home rather than in hospital. Both times the registrar at the town hall didn't believe me and had to cross out their entries in the birth register and start again.
  • I have never been to Spain.
  • I can ring Church bells.
  • I still occasionally get G and his twin brother muddled up. As do the children.
  • There was once a warrant issued for my arrest by the American immigration service. On returning to Canada after a day trip to America I forgot to hand in an apparently vital, but completely forgettable small square of paper. The next time I arrived in America there was quite some excitement, I can tell you.
  • My secret crush is on Bruce Parry from the BBC series, Tribe. I am quite a fan.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


Today has been a restorative day off. It has involved the sofa, several cups of coffee, an encyclopedia of chickens, an omelette and a duvet. My brain, which was full of accrued interest, German accounting rules, currency rates and traded assets, has been slowly decluttering and now has some space for recipes and sewing patterns. Which is exactly how it should be.

Here are the contents of my very cluttered handbag when I got home last night.

  • A book
  • A hairbrush
  • A chequebook
  • My iPod
  • Two letters from school (unread)
  • A party invitation for O (to which I rashly promised she could go to before I looked at the date...)
  • My handmade shopping bag
  • Assorted Cath Kidston small bags for make-up
  • A notebook
  • Woollen gloves
  • My camera
  • A letter G had asked me to post
  • My mum's Eve's Pudding recipe
  • Keys
  • A to do list for my days off on a nasty yellow work post-it note
  • A crumpled tissue
  • My wallet
  • Travel card
  • My new phone, which still makes me jump every time it rings

My head felt about as jumbled as the bag, so I streamlined the contents of the bag this morning as well - and feel much better!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Weekend working

January is always hard for me, as I have to work for the first two or three weekends and also put in very long days as the bank puts together its end of year results. I resent every damn minute of it, and each year I make a belated New Year's resolution to find a new job that doesn't require me to start the new year from such a low point. Maybe this year....

So this morning, on a beautifully crisp sunny Sunday, as the rest of the family were still lounging in bed, I was walking to the tube station as the dawn rose.

By the time I came back home this evening the sun had gone down again, and my weekend had vanished.

Various family and friends regularly work one or both days on a weekend, and I really admire their good humour and acceptance. They're not half as grumpy and resentful as I am.

But I don't want to make January unbearable for G, C and O, so my way of getting through it reasonably cheerfully is to make sure I have lots of small things around to lift my mood.
  • bars of posh chocolate - either small bars of milk chocolate studded with hazlenuts from Caffe Nero, bought on my way into the office and savoured with my afternoon cup of tea, or pieces from a large bar of Green & Black's as a restorative pick me up when I get home late in the evening.
  • plans for a new sewing project, to be finished once work calms down a little - this year its going to be a patchwork lap quilt from Amy Butler's In Stitches with nice big pieces, that I will be able to finish in a couple of days.
  • a good book or two on the go - at the moment its The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore and The Savage Garden by Mark Mills - and a pile of even more books waiting to be read.
  • nights out - yesterday I went round to old friends for gossip, champagne cocktails and fancy homemade party food. I gulped down the champagne and G nobly drove me home later in the evening. There is another big evening out being planned for next Saturday as G and I celebrate our 11th anniversary.
  • a holiday booked - we're going to one of these log cabins in February to blow the cobwebs away with a week's hiking and mountain biking.
  • bunches of pretty flowers. I've no idea what the ones below are but I saw them at a florists on Friday and just had to have them - they look like paper flowers, all tightly bunched up. So lovely!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year's Day

Even when I was a 20-nothing person who went clubbing and on wild nights out involving cocktails and handsome men, I hated New Year's Eve.
Anywhere I would usually go would be twice as expensive and four times as busy for that night only. There always seemed to be a forced jolliness and a rather grim determination to see the New Year in with style, that usually left me with a flat feeling of failed expectations the next morning. Or a hangover.

During 1999, millennium madness gripped the country and I remember people planning their New Year's Eve for pretty much the whole year in advance. Whoever you spoke to would ask where you were going to see in the millennium - on Sydney Harbour bridge? Up the Eiffel Tower? In a Gothic Scottish Castle? In Central London at the biggest rave ever imagined? No plan was too elaborate or ambitious.

But by October 1999 I was a mother for the first time, and in a dark fog of utter exhaustion and bad post-natal depression. I could barely put a sentence together, let alone take my millennium baby to an all-night, alcohol fuelled party of dance and excitement.

Then G had a wonderful idea. He suggested that as we were waking before dawn every morning anyhow, why didn't we get up when C woke, and take him up to Hampstead Heath where we would watch the dawn come up on the new year, century and millennium, looking down over London.

So that is what we did. I had expected it to be peaceful but in fact half of London had also headed up to Hampstead Heath after their night out, to watch the sun rise. G and I were the only sober people up there. I remember people cooing over C in his pushchair and toasting him with cans of beer. "Its a baby!!!" exclaimed one young woman. The picture above was taken that morning - he looks fairly bewildered by it all!

G and I sat on a bench with C and all three of us rather blearily watched the dawn of the new millennium. London looked beautiful, crisp and clean in the morning light (and from such a distance!). We went home and invited all our friends over for some champagne to ease their New Year's Day hangovers. I was the happiest I had been in months, and so pleased that at last I had realised the best way to celebrate a new year, is on January 1st rather than December 31st.


Today I continued my tradition and celebrated the start of 2008 by going shoe shopping with O to get her these fabulous party shoes, and then going on to see The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House together with O, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.


Thank you J, A and O for a really lovely start to my year.