Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Changing footwear
Changing footwear, in the car park

Gill and I took a break from our usual routines to meet back up in Epping Forest for a lunchtime walk and picnic.  Oh, we have missed this - so much.

Trees and grass in Epping Forest

We were surrounded by green - oak trees and beech trees, thick grass, nettles, caterpillars and brambles.  Epping Forest is lush, thick and sumptuous at this time of year.

Dappled shade in Epping Forest

Connaught Water

Trees and skies in Epping Forest

Bank of pinky purple flowers

We strolled, chatted, laughed, ate lunch, compared sunburn, reminisced and swapped stories.  And when we left we both promised each other we would do this again - very soon.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lunchtime in Southwark

I love London
Gazing over to St Paul's from outside the Globe Theatre

Seen and overheard at Bankside in the sunshine today:
  • two German teenage girls wearing gladiator sandals and heavy backpacks, doubled up with hysterical laughter
  • a school party, neat in pale blue and grey uniforms, walking in an impressively ordered crocodile
  • a tall, fair, curly-headed man going for his lunchtime run - with a long, lolloping stride like a labrador
  • a young man on a pink Brompton bike, weaving in and out of the crowds
  • a middle-aged woman with red, round-toed shoes, speaking to someone precious on the phone: "Oh you darling girl! I've been so very worried about you."
  • office workers in suits without jackets, turning their faces towards the blue skies and drinking in the sun
  • a lady wearing a buttercup yellow shirt, sucking deeply on her iced coffee
  • an American woman running after an elderly man striding purposefully towards the pier, calling after him, "Dad, please let me pay for this - you've done so much already."
  • a young woman easing off her shoe and wincing as she examined a blister on her heel
  • two young men chatting enthusiastically about the step class they'd just been to
Heading back to the office

Friday, 25 May 2012

The French spring green shawl

Yesterday evening, as the temperature hovered somewhere around 29 degrees, I finished knitting this very thick, heavy, textured shawl. 

Spring green shawl finished

I have called it my French spring green shawl, because I bought the yarn in France at Easter (and wrote about it here) just as the vivid green oak leaves in Tarn-et-Garonne were coming out.  I used all the yarn I had, and have a sumptuous shawl for my shoulders now.  I love it.

My hair doesn't really look this terrible...does it?

All the details on Ravelry, here.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


I've never known a year when I've thought more about the weather, talked more about the weather, or watched the weather forecasts more closely, than 2012.  Everything about the weather has seemed so extreme this year - in a part of the country, and indeed the world, that generally has such very unremarkable middle-of-the-road weather.

After a dry, bitingly cold winter which triggered an official drought, we moved into record-breaking high temperatures in March, followed by some of the most persistant and heavy rain I have ever experienced in April.  May started off very cold indeed; just last week I still had the central heating on once a day, and Olivia was going to school in thick black tights and her winter uniform.

Gorse in the snow

And now...now it seems to be set fair.  There is sunshine all day long, and the temperatures are soaring towards the high 20s.  Olivia is wearing summer dresses to school and the hens lie panting in their dust baths.  The flowers in the garden are burning with colour.

Bee lavender
Bee lavender

It is these prolonged extremes of weather that I find so un-British.  Most of the time in East London we bumble along with mild, dry-ish weather, punctuated by occasional scorching days in summer and icy days in winter.  The distinct, and extreme, phases to the weather that we've had this year feel new. 

Mostly I suspect that these extremes are the result of climate change.  But then I look at the children, and they just don't care about the weather in the same way I do.  Cam moans when it's hot and his hayfever is bad, and Olivia likes being able to wear hats that Granny has knitted her when it's cold - but mostly they just ignore it.  Could it be that rather than climate change I am just getting middle-aged and like nothing more than a good chat about the weather?

Set fair
Set fair

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Appeasement cakes

I put too much smoked paprika in the bean and squash stew.

Buns cooling, butter softening, squash & bean casserole simmering
Cakes cooling, butter softening and stew simmering

I know that come tea time tonight, the paprika will be even more pungent and the children will moan and sigh because they do not like spicy food.  And then I will moan and sigh because I do like spicy food, and I cooked it for tea, and so please just eat it without complaining, just this once.  You know how it goes.

So I decided that it might be a good tactic to make something more crowd-pleasing for pudding.  I made some fairy cakes.  You can see the production line above: cakes cooling, butter softening to make the icing, and spicy stew simmering very gently.

I iced the cakes with rosewater buttercream, and decorated them with pink chocolate buttons.  Double pink appeasement cakes; hidden away in a tin for now, until everyone has eaten their veg.

Pink rosewater buns
Pink crowd pleasers

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sunday evening

By Sunday evening I'm reflecting on a full and happy weekend. 

I made cheese scones for supper, and we dunked them into bowls of hot tomato soup. Then I curled up on the sofa for some relaxation:
All is well.

Sunday evening
View from the sofa - Sunday evening

Saturday evening

We went to Party on the Pitch - a local concert to celebrate the Olympics, in the Leyton Orient stadium, only about 5 minutes walk from where we live.

We jumped around, sang, danced, chatted to friends, drank beers and cokes and screamed our appreciation for the artists.

Party on the Pitch :: Scouting for Girls

Party on the Pitch :: Leyton Orient Stadium full of local music fans

Cam and coke

I spent most of the evening dancing with Olivia on my back.  I can hardly move this morning.

Party on the Pitch :: Dancing to Alexandra Burke with a 9 year old on my back

And I've lost my voice.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday evening

It is Friday evening, and I am in a contemplative mood.  The no-man's land between the end of the week and the start of the weekend does that to me.

I bought four thick slices of pork belly earlier in the week, and then realised that I've never cooked pork belly before.  I'm not a great fan of eating slabs of meat, so I rarely cook them.  This became an exercise in winging it.  I put the pork in a bowl of fennel seeds and apple juice for two days, while I looked up recipes.  If in doubt, apple and fennel always work well with pork.

Friday night :: pork belly slices

I didn't find a recipe I liked so in the end I took the pork out of its appley bath, patted it dry and just roasted it.  I used the soaking liquid to make apple and onion gravy.

While I pottered around the kitchen sorting out the meat, listening to podcasts and laying the table, I opened one of the bottles of wine we brought back from France and I poured myself a glass.  This enhanced the reflective nature of my Friday evening.

It has been a hard week; but then I looked out of the kitchen doors onto the garden and I realised that it wasn't raining, the pork was smelling very good, the gravy was looking magnificent, and the children had finished their homework already.  I decided we would have cake for pudding.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Summer sundress minus the summer

I finished the second of my summer blue tops last night, and this morning balanced precariously on another chair in front of another mirror to take photos.

Summer dress for when the summer finally arrives

This is made from the same pattern as my last top, but at full length.  This version has lovely deep pockets, and a sweet A-line shape which I adore.

There's still nor much sign of summer warmth here in London, so it will be a while before I can wear it without a pashmina around my shoulders and leggings and a jersey top underneath.

Pastel sundress

 *A special Thank You to my friend Kristina, for so generously giving me the fabric, which is a really calming Amy Butler print from a few years back. I am delighted to find it matches my favourite blue pashmina so perfectly! xx*

Monday, 14 May 2012

Three blue tops - one of which is red

I'm making new tops for the summer - because I fancied doing some sewing over the weekend and also because I yearned to see something different in my wardrobe.

New top for summer
Pattern adapted from Trapeze sundress in Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross

This red spotty top should have been navy blue and floral.  The fabric which I used as the trim, should have been the main fabric and the red spots should have been the trim.  But as I pinned and cut the beautiful blue fabric so enthusiastically, I failed to notice that I had pinned the front piece with the wrong edge against the fold.  When I unfolded it I realised what I'd done and that I had wrecked the whole metre of fabric.

I stared at what I'd done, willing the fabric to knit itself back together as if by magic and present me with a whole, uncut piece again.  But I don't have those sort of powers, and the blue fabric remained ruined.

New blue top - that ended up red and spotty

Fortunately I had plenty of the red spotty fabric, so I switched things around and it became red with blue trim rather than blue with red.  I like it, and I've cheered up now.  I will wear this all summer - it looks great with jeans and I have cardigans and long sleeved tops which match it.

But...it still should have been blue.

I'm taking MUCH more care over the cutting out of my other blue tops-in-progress.

New blue dress - cut up and ready to sew

The pastel, scalloped fabric in the picture above is going to become a summery sundress with nice big pockets.

New blue top being planned

This very precious, and strokably lovely, Anna Maria Horner voile is going to become a floaty, raglan-sleeved top.  I will check about ninety-five times before I cut it out that the pieces are on the right way round. 

I will also remember to add seam allowances before I start cutting, because I will be using an Ottobre pattern where the seam allowances are not included.

I WILL remember.  I will.  Definitely.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Welcome to London

"No visitor in his right mind comes to London expecting to be able to wallow in the kind of gay night life so familiar in Paris, New York and other cities.  That sort of thing is simply not among the attractions of our town, most of which, from an entertainment point of view, go to sleep before midnight.

Restrictions of what may be charged for a meal are mainly responsible for this state of affairs, because proprietors can no longer afford the luxury of cabarets or floor-shows which, at least, were available in happier days."

The 1948 London Olympic Games Programme, Olympic, World's and British Records: and useful visitor's Guide to London [With illustrations] by S. Evelyn Thomas, pub. 1948.

Welcome to London
Giant Olympic rings at St Pancras welcome visitors arriving in London on the Eurostar from France or Belgium

Things are a little less gloomy this time around.  London is getting ready to welcome people from all over the world, and colourful displays of Olympic rings are popping up all over the city.  These ones under St Pancras's enormous arcing roof are my favourites.

I'm pretty sure that a good night life will be available for any visitors and Londoners who go looking for it this summer - and I daresay maybe even a cabaret or floor-show too.

Friday, 11 May 2012


I showed my children this post on the excellent Offbeat Home website, and it made them smile.

I thought that was it, but then I started to notice eyes appearing around the house.

Eye bombed kettle
On the kettle which lives on Graham's bedside table

Eye bombed banister
On the banister

Eye bombed portrait of Daisy
Notice something funny about this portrait of my hen, Daisy?

Eye bombed portrait of my chicken
Yep, Daisy's been eye bombed too

Eye bombed door
The door has eyes

Eye bombed dishwasher
The dishwasher now smiles at me
They are now both dedicated fans of eyebombing, but they've run out of eyes, so until I can get to Hobbycraft, their plans are on hold for now.  We are wondering if we might indulge in a little public eye bombing one we've restocked....

Keep your eyes open for us!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

In the fridge today

Sometimes the fridge has not much more in it than a couple of bottles of milk, a few more bottles of wine and a tired looking half-lemon.  But mostly it is a good place - full of possibilities and tasty tidbits.
Inside the fridge

This morning it has the following in it:
  • beef mince (uncooked)
  • smoked streaky bacon (uncooked)
  • three quarters of a roast chicken
  • one portion of stewed fruit (blueberries and plums)
  • 1 litre homemade chicken stock
  • a box of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large pots homemade natural yogurt - one full and one nearly finished
  • 5 sticks of rhubarb
  • 4 leeks
  • a bowl of leftover curried potatoes and onions
  • a box of leftover chicken curry and spicy rice, for Graham's lunch tomorrow
  • a head of celery
  • a box of mushrooms
  • 6 peppers
  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • a box of rocket
  • 100g homemade shortcrust pastry
  • 8 carrots
  • 1 packet of feta cheese
  • half a goat's cheese
  • butter - 2 boxes of lurpak spreadable, and 2 blocks of the real thing
  • 2 blocks of mature cheddar cheese
  • 4 pints of milk
  • half a tired looking lemon
  • no wine
I am menu planning today - rummaging through my favourite recipe books and being inspired.  There's going to be a big pan of chilli-con-carne made tomorrow, and a rhubarb crumble baked at some point over the weekend.  I'm still undecided about what to do with the chicken stock and roast chicken - there are too many tempting possibilities to choose from.

And I need to buy some wine.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Madeleines for everyone

Silicone Madeleine bun tins

I have some silicone madeleine tins, which are among my favourite pieces of kitchen kit.  The sweet shell shape of madeleines, and their perfect one mouthful size (or two mouthfuls if you are being super polite) is appealing to everyone.  The silicone means that you don't need to use any cake-release or grease on the tins, and the madeleines just pop out perfectly every time.

Today I made some savoury madeleines, and then Cam made some sweet ones.  The process of making madeleines is so quick and easy, that it can become slightly addictive.  Almost as addictive as eating them.

My savoury ones were adapted from a recipe in the lastest issue of Marie Claire Idées, and are made from goats cheese and thyme.

A dish of goats cheese & thyme madeleines

Goats Cheese and Thyme Madeleines
Makes 15.
  • 30g butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • Half a small goats cheese  - approx. 50g, but no need to be particularly accurate here.
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme
  • a big pinch of ground black pepper
In a large bowl, mash together the softened butter and olive oil with a fork.  Add the eggs and beat vigorously until slightly frothy.  Then stir in the remaining ingredients and mix gently until combined.

Spoon the mixture into madeleine tins and bake at Gas 6 for fifteen minutes, but start checking after 10.  Nothing dreadful will happen to the madeleines if you open the oven door and inspect them a few times.  They are ready when they are firm to the touch and lightly golden around the edges.  Remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack.

Savoury madeleines

We'll be having these as nibbles this evening with some slices of saucisson and a glass of white wine.  We brought several saucissons back from France, and they are currently hanging from my saucepan rack, giving a nice garlicky aroma to the kitchen.

Saucisson and garlic, hanging up with the pans
Saucissons and garlic, hanging with the pans in my kitchen

These savoury madeleines can be made with garlicky boursin, instead of goats cheese.  As you can see, I also have a string of French garlic hanging up with my saucissons - we are all big fans of garlic here as well.

Once Cam realised I had the madeleine tins out, he wanted to get in on the act too.  He had a recipe for Nutella madeleines which he wanted to try.  They are as divine as they sound.

Nutella madeleines

Nutella Madeleines
Makes 36.
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 large, heaped tablespoon of Nutella, plus extra for dolloping.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until pale and slightly frothy.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix gently but thoroughly.  Spoon the mixture into the madeleine tins - unless you have loads of tins, you will probably have to do this in two batches.  Finally, add small dollops (roughly half a teaspoon) of nutella to each madeleine.

Bake at Gas 6 for 15 minutes, then check to see if they are firm to the touch and lightly browned.  If not return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so.  Remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack.


My silicone madeleine tins were a birthday present from my Mum, and she bought them from her local supermarket in France.  However, if you don't have a French supermarket handy you can also buy them from Amazon.  Lakeland sell non-stick ones, which get great reviews, but I personally think silicone is even better than non-stick for madeleines, because you can pop them out so easily.

Cam's recipe came from this wonderful French recipe book I bought for him this Easter.

Cam's Nutella cookbook

Nigella has a recipe for rosewater madeleines in her Domestic Goddess book, which is delicious too.  However, in general, I find that few English recipe books have madeleine recipes - I still think of them as particularly French delicacies, despite being able to buy the tins in Britain.

The Cook the Perfect series on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, had a feature on, and a recipe for, madeleines which you can read about and listen to here.  However, I do think that the chef in this episode makes them sound far too complicated - I don't rest the batter for an hour, nor do I use beurre noisette - they're almost foolproof in my experience, and part of their charm lies in the fact that you can whip up a batch from start to finish in less than half an hour.

Sweet and savoury madeleines
Savoury and sweet - perfect with a chilled white wine, or a nice cup of tea
Happy times!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Outrageous flirting

Flirty peacock

In Kew Gardens this morning, this peacock was doing some outrageous flirting.  I couldn't see any peahens in the area, so maybe it was all for my benefit? (more likely he was keeping the other males in the area away from his territory). 

It was a damp and gloomy day in West London today, and this peacock was a welcome splash of colour. I inched towards him, as close as I dared, and he shimmied his behind to shake out his tail feathers just a little bit more.  I'm sure he was posing for the camera.  He turned this way and that, and let me take more than a dozen pictures.

And then, when he'd had enough of me, he just turned around and strutted away.  I think I like his tail even more from behind, as a black, white and sepia version of the more common front view.

Flirty peacock from behind!

Some harmless flirting is always enjoyable - thank you Mr Peacock, for making me smile on a grey day.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

10 things

  • I went to a fancy dress party with a theme of Icons from the 1980s, as a ZX Spectrum.  I like to retain an air of dignity as much as I can, so I rejected my family's suggestions that I dress up as Madonna or Anneka Rice, and went for an inanimate object instead. A black dress and a homemade badge was all I needed.
  • ZX Spectrum
  • Naturally, the children couldn't quite believe that the latest home computer thirty years ago, was lauded for games like Elite and Manic Miner.  They live in another world, and can't quite get their heads around how we moved from the ZX Spectrum to Xbox Live in one generation.
  • As I applied eye-shadow for the first time in years, I realised that I didn't wear any make-up at my wedding last year.  That seems very odd, but also kind of cool.
  • I have some new earrings, which are making me smile.
  • New earrings
  • My saxophone is down from the loft, so that I can accompany O on her new french horn and give her a middle C to tune to.  She has to do all the tuning with her mouth, for each note she plays, and this is by far the trickiest thing for her at the moment.
  • Once I'd played a few notes, I remembered how much fun it is playing an instrument. I dug out some music, reminded myself of the fingering chart and had a play around.
  • Playing
  • My saxophone is even louder than O's french horn.
  • I've got the bug now. My saxophone is going into our local music shop for a service later this week and then I'm going to save up for some refresher lessons and investigate local orchestras and wind bands.
  • Amazon sells tenor saxophone reeds, and even cork grease.  Is there anything they don't sell?
  • Olympic preparations have come to our street.  Because we live so close to the Olympic Park, we are having residents' parking restrictions put in for the duration of the summer.  This is our side of the street this morning, waiting for the contractors to arrive.  I've never seen our street without cars; it looks lovely.
Olympic parking plans