Thursday, 30 June 2011

Weekday walk #14

I didn't have my usual walking companion with me today, but instead I had C and O who have had a bonus day off school because of the teachers' strikes.  It is also my birthday today, and as a special birthday treat they agreed to come on a weekday walk with me, be cheerful and not moan once!

I wanted to do a walk from this excellent book which I received as a present this morning.  I really love this series of Ordnance Survey Pathfinder books and have loads for other parts of the country I've visited.  The walks are accurately described, interesting and varied.  There are excerpts of Ordnance Survey maps within each walk so that you don't need to carry a separate map too.

We started at Parliament Square, where the police had closed most of the roads and were setting up security barriers ready for the protest march.  This is a part of London I don't know well at all, and I loved having a good nose around while the roads were all closed to traffic.

Big Ben
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Police horses and policemen by the Cabinet War Rooms
Police horsebox in front of the Cabinet War Rooms
We headed away from Parliament Square and our walk took us on a meandering route through all the Royal Parks to Kensington.  We saw deckchairs in St James's Park and Hyde Park, and Guardsmen outside St James's Palace - trying to keep a straight face while all the tourists stood next to them and posed for photos.  Each time someone took a picture they would quickly switch their bayoneted machine gun from one shoulder to the other and make everyone jump!

Deckchairs in St James's Park

Guardsman by St James's Palace

We larked about under the big trees in Hyde Park and enjoyed the wide open spaces by the Serpentine as we headed for Kensington Palace.

In Green Park

By the Serpentine

It has been such a treat to walk with the children today.  I've got plenty more walks planned with them during the school summer holidays.  Just a few more weeks to go - I can't wait.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Two good salads

At this time of year, it is useful to have some salad recipes that don't involve lettuce (again) or couscous (again).  I am so bored with lettuce and couscous by the end of June.  I love tomato salads - tomatoes with mozzarella, or avocado, or cress, or capers, or basil...or pretty much anything.  But sadly, and annoyingly, neither of my children will entertain the idea of eating a fresh tomato. 

They're missing out, but until I can persuade them otherwise I have to turn elsewhere for my non-lettuce and non-couscous salads.

Two non-lettuce salads

These two salads are the ones I make most often at this time of year.

Sour Carrot Salad
  • 4 nice carrots
  • 1 large handful sunflower seeds
  • 1 large handful linseeds
  • 1 large handful sultanas
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
Grate the carrots coarsly into a big bowl.  Put the sunflower seeds and linseeds into a dry frying pan over a medium heat and stir until toasted and the linseeds start popping.  Tip them into the bowl of carrots.  Add the sultanas, vinegar and oil to the bowl as well.  Mix well and serve.

Carrot salad

Broad bean, pea and mint salad
  • broad beans - about 20 pods or whatever you have
  • frozen peas - about a cereal bowl full
  • zest and juice of half a lemon
  • a slug of olive oil
  • a large handful of mint leaves, chopped
Pod the broad beans, boil for about 4 minutes, cool under running water and pop the bitter skins off.  Tip into a nice serving dish, add the remaining ingredients, stir well and leave at room temperature for about an hour until the peas have defrosted and the flavours well mingled.

Pea, mint & broad bean salad

I like both these salads because they can be made well ahead of time.  The carrot salad travels particularly well and so is great for picnics or camping.

They both use ingredients that I always have in the house (apart from broad beans, which are a seasonal treat, but actually the recipe still works well without them).  I buy linseeds at Waitrose, but I think most of the big supermarkets sell them too, and Holland & Barrett certainly do.

Both the salads have strong flavours which really appeal to my children.  Now they are older they are far more likely to moan at bland flavours than strong ones, so I am exploiting this for all it's worth.  Tonight I chucked anchovies and loads of chilli into the pasta sauce and they both wolfed it down and asked for more.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Exuberant baking

On Friday, O had a friend round after school.  They had baking plans.

O:   "We'd like to make some buns."
Me: "Okay - that's a good plan.  What sort of buns?"
F:   "Nutella buns."
Me: "Sounds good - plain buns with nutella inside?"
O:   "No - chocolate buns with nutella inside!"
F:   "And chocolate icing too!"
O:  "Yes!  And sprinkles!"
F:   "Lots of sprinkles."

Well, why not?  Subtlety is not really where it's at when you're 8.

Olivia and Florence's Extremely Chocolatey Chocolate and Nutella Buns, With Lots of Sprinkles
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 115g butter or marg
  • 115g caster sugar
  • half teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • splash of milk
  • 2 heaped dessert spoons cocoa powder
Put all the ingredients in a mixer or a large bowl and mix together thoroughly.  Put 18 paper cases into a bun tin and put a heaped teaspoon of mixture into each case.  Then put a teaspoon of nutella on top of each blob of mixture.  Finally put one more heaped teaspoon of bun mixture into each case.  Bake in the centre of the oven at Gas 5 for about 20 minutes.

Nutella buns, waiting for chocolate buttercream to be piled on top

For the icing, mix together:
  • 100g softened butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2 heaped dessert spoons cocoa powder
When the buns are completely cool, spread with the icing and decorate with lots of sprinkles.

Livvy & Florence's nutella buns

This recipe was easy enough for the girls to do by themselves, and involved enough to keep them occupied and absorbed for ages.  They made 24 buns with this mixture, by making them a bit smaller than usual and scraping out the bowl very thoroughly indeed. 

They are the perfect small, sweet treat with a cup of espresso.  Thanks, girls!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The rhythm of the week ~ Sunday

Sundays begin on Saturday evenings these days. 

The race bike comes down from its bed of blankets in the loft and is loaded with snickers bars and sports gels ready for a 6am start on Sunday morning.

Carbon in the garden

Ironman nutrition

With just four weeks until his ironman race, G is at absolute peak fitness and spends his Sundays out on a 6 or 7 hour bike ride followed immediately by an hour's run.  I am in awe that anyone can do this amount of exercise and still vaguely function at the end of it.

He comes back with odd tan marks (from cycling gloves paired with a sleeveless tri-suit), and sits contentedly in the garden, soaking up the evening sunshine and telling me how fast he cycled (very fast). 

Weird tan marks from the bike gloves

We're missing him while he's doing all this training, but so proud of him for all his hard work and dedication.  Only four weeks left.

Back from a day's cycling and running

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Weekday walk #13

It has been nearly a month since our last walk, and today we were both really in the mood for a good yomp through the forest to blow the cobwebs away and give us back some energy. 

Yomping through the forest

We started at the Epping Forest Visitor Centre, set off vaguely northwards, and immediately got lost.  Epping Forest is not well endowed with signposts and the OS map for this area does not have a great deal of detail.  But the lovely thing about Epping Forest is that it doesn't matter - there are always paths, and there is always something to see. 

When we found ourselves back at the Visitor Centre five minutes after we left it, we started again and managed much better second time around.  We headed north-east, towards Theydon Bois, and found plenty of hills, mud puddles, tall nettles and piles of horse poo to navigate our way around. 

Squelchy mud

At this time of year Epping Forest is gloriously lush, with waist-high drifts of ferns, winding brambles and general greenery everywhere.

Epping Forest, lush in the summer


I love all the old mutant-style beech and oak trees dotted around the forest.  They are this weird shape because many, many years ago they used to be pollarded to obtain a crop of wood.  The City of London, who manage Epping Forest, describe pollarding like this:

Pollarding is a traditional tree management technique that was common place in England and regularly carried out in Epping Forest until around 200 years ago. A crop of wood was obtained from the trees by removing branches but not felling the tree, but animals were able to graze underneath without damaging the branches. One consequence was that the trees cut regularly live longer than normal and it is their great age that makes them so important for biodiversity and heritage. Pollarding stopped when other fuels became more widely available but these ‘lapsed’ pollards, those not cut for many years, have many problems because the branches are now very heavy and the trees are splitting and falling over.

Some of these old trees look like they should have a starring role in a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film.

Old pollarded oak

Gnarled old tree

Gnarled though pollarding

I love them, and whenever I walk amongst them I can't help but pat their fat trunks as I go past.   For centuries before us, other friends will have walked here, chatting amiably and enjoying the quiet sounds of the forest.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sunshine baking on a grey day

The endless sunshine we had a month ago has become a little more elusive over the past ten days.  But on a grey morning there is sunshine in the kitchen, as I bake and bake in order to try and tame the abundance of eggs.

Sunshine baking on a grey day

This morning I've made lemon buns, which will be topped later with lemon icing, and cheese gougères (little savoury choux pastry puffs, flavoured with strong cheese and mustard).  I managed to use up four eggs altogether, but the hens have laid three this morning, so my glut has only decreased by one.

The gougères come out of the oven beautifully puffed up and smelling incredible, but they deflate very quickly, like soufflés.  If you want to photograph them in their full glory, you have to be quick!

Puffed up cheese gougeres
Cheese gougères, straight from the oven. Recipe from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen

The buns and the gougères are both destined for packed lunches and after-school snacks for C and O this week.  Little, easy things to eat, and sometimes share with friends.  The last time O had an iced bun in her lunchbox she managed to trade the empty bun case (for scraping off with a fingernail) for one whole finger of a twix, which I think was a very unequal trade indeed.

Lemon buns, ready to bake

Monday, 20 June 2011

The rhythm of the week ~ Monday

Monday mornings have a reassuring rhythm to them. 

Patio pots

After the lovely, laid-back relaxation of the weekend, with all of us at home, reading, watching tv, listening to music, chatting and cooking...on Monday mornings the house suddenly empties as the children go back to school and G goes back to work.  The binmen come, which always feels appropriate - emptying the rubbish from the almost empty house, so that we can start the week afresh and fill up the bins again. 

I dash around the house  - motivated by the emptiness and quietness - tidying up the remains of the weekend. 

Monday morning is when I do the gardening.  The lawn is mown, the pots watered, the hens cleaned out, and the patio swept.  If the sun is shining I hang out the washing.  There is always G's sports kit drying on the line on a Monday morning.  Today there was a school dress too, because she got paint on it before she even left for school - surely some kind of record?

Monday morning washing

When the garden is tidy I come back inside and make my lists for the week: 
  • the menu plan
  • trips to the High Street that need to be made (the Post Office, bank, greengrocers and library this week)
  • paperwork that needs completing
  • sewing and knitting plans
This week I have also made a list of Good Things To Do With Eggs.  I have 19 eggs this morning and the hens are laying 3 more every day.

Egg crisis

This week we shall mostly be eating quiche, pancakes, chocolate cake and egg salad sandwiches.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Late at the Library

I first heard this album in his tiny bedroom in a shared house in Brixton.  The curtains were pale yellow, thin and floaty.  We couldn't sleep, so we stayed up all night kissing and listening to music.

I listened to it in the recording studios in Soho, where he used to work.  The top quality, professional sound system made the bass sound as if it were coming from all the walls around me.
In our first rented house together I played the album while I was studying for my accountancy exams.  I have never studied harder or more conscientiously for anything.  I set up a desk in the spare room, sprinkled lemon and rosemary oils around, and listened to the dreamy, pulsing music while I learnt about coefficients, probability curves, balance sheets and throughput calculations.

The midwife said I might want to have some music I liked for the birth, so G played the album over and over again for me while I was in labour.  Just before C was born the album finished and someone switched on Radio 4 instead, so he was born to the arguments of John Humphrys on the Today programme, but with O the album was still playing as she was born.  I listened, exhausted, to the last few tracks as she was cleaned and weighed and then handed back to me.

And now, nearly fifteen years after I first heard it, I still listen to the album all the time.  When I am sewing, when I am alone, when G and I are reading on the sofa late in the evening, on Sunday afternoons when I am baking bread, in the car, on my iPod on the tube, and when I am writing blog posts.  This album has always been right at the centre of my adult life, and of mine and G's relationship.

We found out a couple of days ago that Global Communications would be playing this album live, for the first time in fifteen years, as part of The British Library's science fiction season, Out of This World.  We went last night, stood right at the front, fizzing with excitement, and danced and danced.  It was magical.

Happy and dancing

With ENORMOUS thanks to Auntie Alison and Uncle Richard who looked after the children for us at very short notice.  Without them, we could not have gone.  There are loads more photos of the night, and some videos of dancing aliens, in my Flickr set here. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

An eclectic list of small happinesses

It is still the small things which are delighting me this week.
  • Progress - at last - from the Foreign Office, who have been slowly preparing important certificates for me and G, so that we can get married in France.  G's certificate is finally here, and mine is on its way.  The deadline for handing them in to the Mairie is next week, so I can breathe a little easier now.
Wedding preparations
  • By contrast, the officicial translators we've used have been a model of efficiency and speed.  We have to get all our birth certificates translated into French by a traducteur assermenté (official translator) and we used Bond Street Translators, who have been incredibly quick and helpful.  Should you ever need anything official translating into French, these are your people.
  • C has been awaded Young Runner of the Year by our local Park Run, and we are so proud of him!  He came home from this morning's run with a big box of chocolates, a fancy certificate and a big grin on his face.
Cam's won an award!
  • The garden has had a proper drenching from the weird, stormy weather we've been having all week.  It really needed it, and now all my busy lizzies and geraniums are dazzlingly bright and producing new buds.
  • I made a cotton summer dress for one of O's friends, using the Japanese pattern book I blogged about here.  The fabric is what makes this dress so special - a metre length of printed cotton from Ikea.  Ikea always have a few properly stunning fabrics in stock, and if you live close to one it is well worth popping in regularly to see what you can find.  Many fabrics have print that is a little too big for dressmaking but every now and then you hit the jackpot, like with this bird one.
Girl's Japanese style dress in bird fabric
  • I saw photos of my nephews and niece having fun on holiday in Norfolk.  The picture of my 18 month old nephew looking very solemn, in a wetsuit, was too sweet for words.  He looks so much more a part of the family now that he is big enough to run around the beach with his older brother and sister.
  • I made fresh strawberry and vanilla muffins for brunch this morning.  They taste and smell of summer.
  • G has headed off to Snowdonia with his bike, wetsuit and other triathlon clobber for a half-ironman race tomorrow.  He's well rested, filled with carbs and optimistic for a good time and straightforward race.  Or at least he was until he saw the latest weather forecast.
  • While G is away, secret plans are afoot for Father's Day next week. Sshhh!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A simple bag

Very often the simplest things are the nicest.

Simple denim bag

This is a denim tote bag with boxed corners, sewn last night using instructions from Bend-The-Rules SewingI made it for O to give to a friend for her birthday this weekend.  Who doesn't love a bit of denim and red polka dot?

Suffolk puffs on a denim bag

Simple pleasures.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Pancake skillet

I've had a few comments and questions on the skillet, which is sitting over the campfire in one of my photos in the last post.  It is called a muurikka, and you can buy them at specialist camping or outdoor shops, including here

Cath cooked us pancakes and bacon for breakfast on it.  You can see a video of her cooking pancakes, and get her pancake recipe, on her and Math's blog, here.

After breakfast
After the pancakes

Camping in numbers

Our camping weekend in numbers.
  • Adults: 17
  • Children: 20
  • Tents: 11
  • Fires: 1 big one
  • Campfire
  • Cakes eaten: 4
  • Water pistols wielded by the children: approx 6
  • Dens built: 2 (1 by the boys, 1 by the girls)
  • Bottles of sparkling wine consumed: 12
  • It was a great night
  • Bottles of suncream smeared all over a tent floor by one of the toddlers: 1
  • Eggs used to make pancakes: approx 12
  • Pancakes and bacon for breakfast
  • Trangias: 2
  • Garlands of bunting: 5
  • Boxes of glowsticks: 2
  • Glowsticks
  • Bags of marshmallows: at least 12, and we ran out quite quickly
  • Girls who had melted marshmallow in their hair: 2
  • Games of Magic played: 6
  • Number of head torches: at least 5
  • New books admired: 1

The Art of Camping by Matthew De Abaitua

There was also much laughter, chatter, catching up, yawning and sitting in the sunshine.  A properly glorious weekend to mark the start of summer.

Happy times

Chatting in the sunshine

Thursday, 2 June 2011

10 things

  • I am very excited to be going camping this weekend.  Old, dear friends, sunshine, good food, celebratory drinks and all the children running wild in the woods.  It will be an excellent weekend.
  • Another old, dear friend has started a blog.  Since she moved up north I very rarely get to see her, so I love that I can keep up with what she's been doing and cooking more easily now.  Check out the malteser cupcakes and her Mum's wonderful bread pudding (which I made last weekend and went down a storm with the whole family).
  • I am late to the party, but listening to Adele's 21 album at the moment.  It is fantastic.
  • I find that I very rarely get sentimental about the passing of a stage in the children's development.  I am always ready for the next stage.  No more crawling?  I just loved that they were walking.  Sad to pack away the cot? No - just loving how sweet they looked in the big bed.  And so suddenly I find I'm excited about C starting High School and the soon-to-be teenage years.  Bring it on.
  • In this spirit I made him some new curtains - bye bye to the curtains printed with baby giraffes that I made when I was pregnant with him, and hello to bright, funky, green, abstract curtains.
  • Teenage lair
  • G is cycling 180km to Cambridge and back today - the same distance that he will have to do in his Ironman race this summer.  I still find it hard to get my head around the distances involved.  In the actual race he'll already have done a long swim, and when he gets off his bike he'll then run a marathon for the last leg.
  • I am still a couple of years off 40, but I suddenly find myself seeing the point of gardening for the very first time.  This feels like some kind of middle-aged enlightenment.  When I turn 40 will I want to get myself one of those kneeler pads?
  • I'm baking a great deal of soda bread.  Mainly because it's so quick and easy. Weigh ingredients, stir, plonk on baking sheet, bake.  All done in 50 minutes.
  • Soda bread
  • I've also been making these onion bread rolls, which are delicious - especially with a couple of rashers of bacon and  a squirt of ketchup inside for breakfast.
  • How did it get to be June already?