Sunday, 27 February 2011

Washing on the line

Along with the first bunches of daffodils, the first few times each year that I hang the washing on the line outside tell me that spring has arrived.

Today is a gloriously light, bright sunny day and I was up early to hang washing on the line.  I wish I could say that the washing was pretty - Cath Kidston tea towels maybe, or vintage handkerchiefs, or delightful homemade floral dresses... but in fact it was a heap of 100% pure nylon sports kit belonging to G and C.

Washing on the line

The very feel of it sets my teeth on edge, and I struggle to peg it - slippery and damp - onto the line.  It is all one of three colours - white (yet mudstained - you cannot get mud stains out of 100% pure dri-fit nylon), black or dark blue.  No pinks or reds, no Liberty-like florals, no faded chintzes.  Such disappointing washing to hang up on a beautiful spring day.

But my peg bag lifts my spirits, and in the sunny corner of the garden there are daffodils, beaming in the sunshine.

Daffs in the garden

Peg bag

There are currently two peg bags similar to mine listed in my Etsy shop.  If you also find yourself with sad, black, nylon washing on a beautiful spring day, then consider buying one to inject a bit of femininity and floral, cotton charm back into the laundry.

I console myself with the thought that at least all this horrid functional sportswear will smell gorgeous after hanging on the line all morning.  Until it is taken out for a run in the forest and covered in mud and sweat once again....

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday morning brunch

I have been thinking a great deal lately about how our family routines have evolved as the children have grown older.  Evening mealtimes have changed the most - from high tea for the children at about four o'clock when they were very small, and a later evening meal for me and G, to late afternoon family teas when C and O started school, to an after-school snack and then a proper evening meal all together nowadays.

The latest big change to our family mealtimes started last autumn.  Graham began his ironman training, C started doing the local Park Run each Saturday morning and O was bought tickets to a matinee at the ballet once a month.  Suddenly I found myself on a Saturday getting breakfast ready for everyone at completely different times and yet eating mine by myself, getting started on lunch as soon as the last breakfast was eaten, ferrying children around instead of baking a nice cake, and moaning at certain ironmen when they wolfed down two bananas and the last of the bread after a bike ride, and were then too full to eat supper.  I felt like I spent the whole day cooking for three permanently hungry, busy people, and not doing anything nice for myself.

So we started Saturday morning brunch.  Brunch is usually eaten at around 10 o'clock - after the early morning runs, but before the bike rides, ballet shows, swims and essential shopping trips to the yarn shop that must all happen during the rest of the day.

I potter around the kitchen peacefully for a couple of hours, with a cup of coffee, Saturday Live on Radio 4 and nobody to disturb me.  It has come to be one of my favourite parts of the weekend.  Graham and C are usually out running, and O is stretched out full length on the sofa in the front room, like a cat, in sole charge of the remote for once.

I always cook something hot and savoury, some muffins or buns, and something fruity, and make sure there is bread for toast too.  This morning we had diced potatoes, onions and sausage, baked in the oven and then liberally seasoned with black pepper and parsley.  I also made my favourite bran and buttermilk muffins, and there was granary toast and some gorgeously ripe pears on offer as well.

After all that I don't make any lunch, but there are leftover muffins and pieces of fruit for people to nibble on during the day if they are hungry.  I cook us a big, hearty family supper for the evening and we catch up on what we've all been doing during the day.

Set for brunch
The table set for brunch

Bread and bran muffins for brunch
Granary loaf and bran & buttermilk muffins

Multi tasking
Diced potatoes and a muffin recipe

Cook's treat
Cook's treat

Bran and buttermilk muffins
O likes muffins

Good spreads
We always need Lurpak and Marmite

Other successful brunch dishes we've had over the last few months have included:
  • slow roasted tomatoes with garlic and chilli
  • apple spice muffins
  • omelettes
  • cinnamon rolls
  • pancakes
  • scrambled eggs with chorizo and coriander
  • bacon butties
  • burritos
  • diced potatoes and green pepper, roasted in the oven
  • stewed rhubarb and yogurt
  • banana muffins
  • bagels
  • devilled mushrooms on toast
  • Welsh rarebit
  • baked eggs
  • freshly made soda bread
  • carrot muffins
I also have plans for kedgeree, kippers, devilled kidneys and cornbread (not altogether).  My muffin recipes all come from this brilliant little book, and other recipes are usually from Hugh F-W's River Cottage Everyday, BBC Good Food magazine, various Rachel Allen books or just out of my head.

Then after a chatty, satisfying, filling brunch we are all free to go about our days in our own ways - whether that is reading the Saturday papers and doing a little bit of knitting in a sunny spot in the sitting room, or cleaning mud off your trainers and going on a four hour bike ride.

The boys have been running

You know which one's me, right?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

10 things

Ten things I'm loving this week:
  • Half-term lie-ins followed by long, lazy days at home, all of us pottering around quietly doing our own thing - busy but mellow.
  • The first bunch of daffodils of the season.
First daffs of the year
  • C selling some of his old trading cards on eBay to raise money to buy things for his new excitement - Warhammer. It clears his bedroom AND raises money.
  • The US version of the Moleskine website, where I can print out extra pages to stick in my diary and notebooks.  I'm particularly pleased with the 2011 Favourites pages - I can write lists of my favourite new dishes, books and places of 2011.  Found via Angry Chicken.
  • Cooking with my new Le Creuset shallow casserole dish - a very kind anniversary present from my mum.  Perfect for baked risottos, or thick bean stews finished off in the oven with a cheesy crumb topping. Yum.
Wonderful anniversary present
  • Two excellent books by Jane Robinson.  I've just finished Bluestockings, and am now on Unsuitable for Ladies.  They're both fascinating and very readable social histories.  Bluestockings is about women's fight for higher education in the UK, and Unsuitable for Ladies is an anthology of travel writing from early women travellers.  Both brilliant and higly recommended.
  • Sewing secret presents for yet more February birthdays. One has a spinach theme - oh yes.
  • The children tried on their walking boots, and THEY STILL FITTED!  We bought them last spring and last used them in Switzerland over the summer. I thought for sure I'd have to buy more, but apparently I did well last year and bought them with plenty of room for growth thick socks.
  • Tickets arriving for an evening of fun and feminism with the brilliant Sandi Toksvig and Sue Perkins at the Southbank next month.
  • The drawing, cutting, sticking and writing that goes on at her desk all day long.  It's what school holidays are made for.
Drawing at her desk

Monday, 21 February 2011

Felt lavender toys

The bag of felt monsters that I made for one of my baby nephews for Christmas was a hit.  He loved taking them all out of the bag, and then posting them back in.  He could happily squish and chew them too.  Since then, I've been thinking about making something similar for my Etsy shop, but with some lavender stuffing.  Everybody who saw the monsters asked if they were filled with lavender, and each time I explained that they weren't, I thought to myself what a good idea.

So after much thinking and a few experiments, I made these felt lavender toys at the weekend.

Felt toys

Their bodies are filled with toy stuffing, and the fabric circles on their tummies are filled with lavender.  The children are enchanted with them, but I'm not so sure.

Felt toy with lavender

I find their faces a little creepy - embroidered faces are difficult to get exactly the way I had imagined. I'd planned to leave the edge of the fabric circle raw and unfinished, but when I finished them, I thought it looked a bit messy.

Felt lavender toy

This purple one had a different mouth to the other two.  I prefer this big smiley mouth, but the children said it looked wrong.

The combination of toy stuffing and lavender stuffing is good though.  They smell strong, because the fabric containing the lavender is just thin cotton; but they are still soft and squishy to hold.  C and O love them, and have put them in bed, next to their pillows.  That's a pretty good recommendation.

Felt lavender softie

I think I'm nearly there - perhaps just a few more experiments with embroidered faces are required.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Wednesday walk #4

We're only on number 4, but already these walks have become such an important part of my week that I would reschedule anything to make sure they happen.

When we started this I was focusing a January plan for more exercise and fresh air.  Even though our walks are getting longer and more energetic, it turns out that is the easy chat and the friendship which is transforming my world.  I couldn't even tell you what we talk about, but by the end of the day the world is set to rights and I am motivated, free of frustrations and full of plans.

This week we walked from Kings Cross to Mile End, and clocked up about ten miles - our longest walk yet.  We made an early stop at the heart wrenching Threads of Feeling exhibition at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury and marvelled at the emotion that such old, faded scraps of fabric can evoke.  We carried on south through Holborn to Aldwych and then turned east down Fleet Street to walk towards the City.  We ate lunch in my favourite spot - the rose garden at the back of St Paul's Cathedral - and then left the City through Aldgate and immediately felt that we were back on our home turf of the East End.

Outside The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury

The Royal Courts of Justice

Beautiful owl-like tiles at Lloyd's Bank in the Strand

The very old Cock Tavern in Fleet Street - it dates from 1549
St Bride's Church in Fleet Street

The gherkin at St Mary Axe

The East India Arms in Fenchurch Street

"In recognition of a benevolent life" - what a wonderful epitaph

Leaving The City at Aldgate

Beautiful frocks in a dress shop at Whitechapel

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Air ambulance taking off from the Royal London Hospital
The air ambulance taking off from the Royal London Hospital

Trinity Almshouses down the Mile End Road
Trinity Green almshouses down the Mile End Road

Next week is half term and the children will all be coming along on our walk - there are already mutterings of discontent from the three pre-teen boys we have between us, but we are ignoring them because we are older and wiser than them and we know they'll enjoy their day out as much as we will!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Exploring by bike

I've been exploring East London again - but this time by bike.  G has taken a few days off work for his birthday, and when he was making plans I suggested that perhaps we could use one of those days to go on a long bike ride together, while the children were at school. 
As soon as the words left my mouth, I realised what a daft suggestion this was.  He's training for an ironman race for goodness sake - the cycle leg alone of the ironman is 112 miles, and there's swimming and running too.  My idea of a long bike ride is VERY different, and involves frequent stops by picturesque wooden benches to take photos and eat kitkats.  However, G assured me that he would behave like a complete gentleman and recalibrate his concept of 'a long way' to something manageable by me.

We decided to explore a section of the Lea Valley Park - from the Olympic Park in Hackney, northwards to Picketts Lock in Edmonton.  Lea Valley Park is something I'm aware of, and I sometimes look at it on a map, but in fifteen years of living in this part of East London I have never been for an explore.  That's shameful because it passes within a mile or so of our house.

Some of our cycle route went along the Lea Valley Walk, which is open to both cyclists and pedestrians

Excellent graffiti on the flood relief channel along the edge of Hackney Marshes

More beautiful graffiti on Hackney Marshes- this time a kingfisher

Walthamstow Marshes - green and full of wildlife and just a couple of miles from my house - who knew?

The first section of our ride took us across Hackney Marshes and then Walthamstow Marshes.  Wide open sections of grassy marshland filled with bird hides, waterways, willow trees and some seriously muddy puddles.  I'm planning on coming back to this section to explore more by foot over the next couple of months.  There is a nature reserve and there are some really interesting-looking marked walking trails.

Sign in the nature reserves at Walthamstow Marshes
After the marshes, our route took us along the wide towpath next to the River Lea.  We passed a marina, some really beautiful appartments and many photogenic barges and narrowboats, some with woodsmoke curling out of their stumpy little chimneys, like the ones Gill and I saw down Regent's Canal.

Narrowboats moored near Springfield Marina

Wait for me!  Graham, in the far distance, at the other end of a bridge by Springfield Marina

A barge chasing some swans, in Tottenham

A barge with fancy velux roof windows near Stonebridge Lock 

Barges along the River Lea at Tottenham

Pretty riverside appartments at Tottenham

We stopped for coffee and a nice sit-down at the amazing Lee Valley Athletics Centre at Picketts Lock in Edmonton.  This facility has only been here for four years but is now used by the UK Athletics Squad for indoor and outdoor training every weekday morning, and they were there when we arrived all hot and sweaty and in need of a cup of coffee today.  I felt very starstruck as we watched the athletes and coaches all training hard - without exception, they all have verrrry long, bendy and springy legs!  We saw the sprinters, hurdlers, long jumpers and triple jumpers in action.  We weren't allowed to take photos, but I did sneak in this picture of a Team GB backpack on a racing wheelchair - the disabled UK athletes train there too.

After we'd admired the athletes and their prowess we got back on our bikes and headed for home, feeling very creaky and middle-aged indeed.  Our round trip was 18 miles in total, and G lived up to his promise of gentlemanly behaviour and didn't cycle too fast for me, although I'm sure he must have wanted to at times.

Exciting information boards in Haringey

Come on, Nancy! Keep pedalling!

Obviously, as G is now 40 and I am still several a few years off that landmark, there is no need for me to admit to him how incredibly tired and wobbly my legs are this evening....


You may have noticed that there are two spellings of the River Lea or Lee and its valley.  Both seem to be used interchangeably by all the various councils and community groups that operate along it.  We sometimes even saw both versions on one sign.

Monday, 14 February 2011

I do like a nice plastic wallet

Since I finished the quilt last week I'm back on the knitting again, and remembering all the knitterly things that I love:
  • slim dpns - they make me feel very clever and dextrous
  • yarn - so tactile and squishy
  • Ravelry - I can waste entire evenings rummaging around its pattern library
  • portability - I tuck my knitting into my satchel and sneak in a couple of rows when I am on the tube, sitting in the playground or waiting at ballet.
This last point has been helped considerably by the purchase of one of these plastic zip-up wallets from Muji.

I have the A4 size, which is big enough to hold one or two small projects on dpns, some photocopied patterns, my tape measure and a little pair of scissors.  When it is zipped shut, I can tuck the wallet into my satchel and it is ready for whenever I have a spare 5 minutes.

I love the ghostliness of the wallet when it is shut

The wallet in my satchel - no more pulling out my umbrella and having a whole ball of precious Debbie Bliss cashmerino come too

I'm knitting things for the children.  When I asked O what she'd like she declared legwarmers would be just the thing.  I am knitting her a pair of these Easy Peasy Leg Warmers (pattern from The Witty Knitter blog).  The pattern is for a 10 to 12 year old girl, and uses thick worsted weight yarn.  So I am knitting it in much finer Debbie Bliss cashmerino to get a better fit on those skinny 8 year old legs my girl has.  It is a super easy pattern - and coming together gratifyingly quickly.  You can see more details on my Ravelry page for them here.

C wanted socks.  He is a (young) man after my own heart and likes nothing better than handknit socks.  I quite agree with him that they are one of the nicest things that can be knit.  For these I'm using the reliable, free, Kaffe Fassett sock knitting pattern that I picked up in John Lewis years ago. They yarn I am using is also by Regia - a deliciously bright primary coloured one called World Circus.  Again you can find more details on Ravelry.

I think I may be a little odd in being so motivated to knit because I have a nice plastic wallet to keep everything in...but perhaps not.  Muji must be onto something - everything in that shop just makes me feel like a small child again, wanting to spend ALL my pocket money on rubbers, glue, notebooks, pencils, folders, storage tins and felt-tips.  That small child is still in most of us I think judging by the crowds of middle aged people sighing over the plastic wallets and hex pens every time I go into the shop - just like me.