Friday, 23 October 2009

It's autumn now

London has such a mild climate. With this year's long, sunny September it seemed as if every last drop was being eked out of summer and autumn was never going to come. I love autumn the best of all the seasons, and this year it has arrived with us in London very gently and subtly - over the last week. Just in time for the clocks to go back on Sunday.

Here's how I know that it is now autumn.
  • The leaves are just beginning to change colour and drop. I need to start sweeping the back yard.
  • It is cool enough in the mornings to wear my pashmina and a woollen hat (but no coat yet).

  • My veg box had the first of this year's parsnips in it this week.
  • The autumn germs have arrived in our house - and we've run out of sore throat sweets.
  • The light from the bright autumn sunshine, streaming through the windows onto my knitting, is just beautiful.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

My weekend in numbers

Wow - what a weekend.

  • candles blown out - 17
  • sandwiches made - about 42
  • balloons blown up - 12
  • balloons later popped - 12
  • exciting middle of the night text messages recieved - 2
  • new nephews born - 1
  • bottles of cider drunk - 1 large one
  • tombstone cakes baked and iced - 1
  • cupcakes baked and iced - 16
  • amount of chocolate consumed by my children - I just dread to think
  • times we sang Happy Birthday - 2
  • party bags given out - 11
  • black bin bags filled with paper plates, wrapping paper and half eaten biscuits - 3
  • hugs and kisses - loads

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Year of the Cushion

2009 has been the Year of the Cushion here. I've been sewing cushions for loved ones all year, and getting steadily better at it the more I do. I started with this orange and blue log-cabin one for G, back in the spring.

Because every man needs a log cabin cushion with a watery-fruity theme, no?

And then I made a summery, flowery one for my Mum's birthday which I blogged about here. That one was all about using the vintage French doily I bought in the summer and my love of suffolk puffs.

And this week I've made two more. These ones are also embroidered, which just seems to me the perfect meeting of two crafts which I enjoy doing. I don't know why I didn't think of doing this before.

The pink one is for O's 7th birthday - just a week away now - and the blue one is for a dear friend who has recently moved to the other end of the country to start a new life with her man. Both a birthday and the beginning of a new family life seemed to warrant some labelling of the cushions.

For O's cushion I used some fabric from two of her all time favourite skirts which she really can't fit into any more - no matter how much she tries. Both skirts - a Boden strawberry patterned one, and an H&M pink, paisley one - were very faded. But this meant that both fabrics are also beautifully soft and I think will hold memories for O for years to come. I cut around one of the gathered pockets in the H&M skirt and used that piece as one of the panels. I just know that when O is given the cushion that little, tiny pocket will immediately be filled with secret, random 7-year old treasures like marbles, Barbie shoes, stickers, go-gos and hair bobbles.

My friend Janine's cushion is embroidered with all the names of her new, enlarged family. And I sneaked in a teeny-tiny satin-stitched heart as well. Because I'm sentimental like that.

For each cushion I pieced the top, then pressed it and embroidered it, and finally sewed the back pieces onto the top to finish the cushion cover. Using, as always, the envelope back method from Sew It Up, which has revolutionised cushion cover construction for me.
Each of these cushions was made - from start to embroidered, photographed finish - in a day. Which is very pleasing. The family had better watch out - I may have just discovered a quick and easy, handmade answer to presents.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Far Eastern colour in the East End of London

On a wet, gloomy, autumn weekend in East London, what better way to brighten things up than with a trip to the Asian ribbon shop at Walthamstow market?

I was extremely (and quite uncharacteristically) restrained and merely came away with four metres of ribbon, a spool of silk embroidery thread and an armful of brown ricrac.

And I spent less than four pounds.

I am now looking around for some plain denim or linen to embellish with these happy, vibrant colours. Just the thing to brighten up autumn a little bit.

Thank you all so much for your wonderful suggestions regarding American food in the comments on my last post. How could I have forgotten the fish I ate in America? The soft-shelled crabs, the clam chowder, the shrimp! All so very good.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

There's more to American food than corn dogs

It all started with corn dogs. C had been reading the Wimpy Kid books and wanted to know what corn dogs were. I described them and told him that they used to serve them sometimes at the cafeteria at the college I went to in America. He thought they sounded like his kind of food.

He went to look through my American cookbooks, and was very disappointed to find out that not one of them had a recipe for corn dogs. Not even the fabulous White Trash Cooking. Undeterred, he went onto Google and found me a wide selection of recipes for corn dogs. But all involved deep frying and ingredients hard to source in the East End of London.

"I SO want to go to America," he said plaintively. "I would LOVE American junk food."

No doubt he would.

"But there is so much more to American food than junk food!" I exclaimed.
He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah - I know. You tell us that ALL the time."

A small exaggeration.

But it made me think I should cook more American recipes. The year I spent at college there, and the business trips I took there, all have so many good food memories for me. And I know I bang on about it to the children all the time, but there is so much more to great American cooking than hamburgers - very good though they are. I've loved watching the new series of Jamie Oliver's cullinary adventures. The episode where he travelled through the southern states brought back so many good memories - recipes for buttermilk biscuits, collard greens, proper barbequed pork and grits all had me shouting excitedly at the tele. I remember those!

So Friday night's supper became an American supper.

  • Maple roast chicken from Nigella Express
  • Corn on the cob
  • Home fries
  • Freshly baked buttermilk biscuits to mop up all the good maple syrup gravy from the chicken.

Buttermilk biscuits are a plain, savoury scone, made with buttermilk, and served as an accompaniment to savoury dishes. They are the perfect match to a plateful of gravy! The recipe I use is from Sheila Lukin's USA Cookbook.

Sheila Lukin's Buttermilk Biscuits

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I use Trex)
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I usually use half a cup of plain yogurt mixed with half a cup of milk)

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and add to the bowl. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Pour in the buttermilk and toss the ingredients together with your fingers until they can be gathered up into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead very briefly (not more than 12 strokes). Pat the dough out to about 2cm thick. Using a sharp, round biscuit cutter cut out rounds, gathering up the scraps and re-patting out as necessary. You should get between 8 and 12 biscuits, depending on the size of your cutter. Put on a baking sheet and bake at Gas 7 for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot, split open and slathered with good butter or dunked in some gravy.

And for some more inspiration, these are the American cookbooks I own. I recommend them all.

We also love to eat blueberry pancakes, sloppy joe, burritos and homemade burgers. What American dishes or cookbooks do you enjoy? I'd love to get some more ideas. But maybe not corn dogs.