Tuesday 29 November 2011

A baby's cosy red bag

Another reason that I loved the Handball at the weekend, was that it provided me with four uninterrupted hours of knitting.  Despite very strict security procedures I successfully smuggled in my knitting (wooden needles don't get picked up by metal scanners, and dpns look just like pencils on the x-ray machines...), and I managed to finish off all but the last centimetre of this red baby kicking bag, while I was cheering on the Angolan team.

Miss Bourke's cosy red kicking bag

This one is destined for my sister's new baby - a little girl - who is due early in 2012.  She will be a winter baby and will surely appreciate a little sleeping bag to snuggle up in.

I've knitted this pattern twice before.  Here are two of my nephews modelling theirs.

Ben, just a couple of days old, snuggled up in his kicking bag

Leo modelling his kicking bag

Aren't they snuggly?  This is such a great pattern - simple to knit, and practical to receive.  It is a free pattern - you can download the details and see other people's versions of it here.

I do so love finishing knitting projects.  Mainly because it gives me license to start something new.  I have a second sock to finish for C before Christmas, but I think I should also have something else on the needles too.

Maybe some baby mittens to match this kicking bag?  Maybe a new shawl for me?  Maybe some armwarmers for O?  Maybe all three!

Monday 28 November 2011

Olympic Preparations

Excellent Olympic lights
Hugely spectacular lights at the Olympic Park

The buildings on the Olympic Park are all up.  The landscaping of the Park is done.  The grass is planted, the rivers are flowing freely and the paths have been laid.  The 2012 Games are just 8 months away. 

Crazy walkway on the way to the Handball Arena
Zany path in the Olympic Park

What happens between now and then, as the finishing touches to the Park are put in place, is that the test events are held.  Every Olympic venue and every sport must have a dress rehearsal to make sure that everything is working as it should.  One of the biggest advantages to living in one of the five Host Boroughs is that we get discounted tickets and priority booking for many of these test events.

London Handball Cup

This weekend we went to see the finals of the London Handball Cup, which was held at the square, copper-clad Handball Arena in the Olympic Park.  I knew absolutely nothing about Handball before this weekend, but it is a very easy game to learn and a very exciting and dramatic sport to watch.  As we arrived at the arena we were given brochures which explained the sport and listed all the teams and the players. 

We saw two matches: the bronze medal play off between Angola and China, and the Gold/Silver medal match between Austria and Poland.  Even watching the teams warm up for an hour before each match was great - they leaped about, threw handballs to each other with mind-blowing accuracy and speed, sprinted up and down the court and did stretches that any gymnast would be proud of.

China warming up
Angola and China warming up for their match

Poland warm up
The Polish team practise their drills

Handball is very physical and fast, and there are a great many goals scored in each match.  If I had any kind of hand-eye coordination whatsoever I would love to give it a go.  The atmosphere in the arena was excellent - there was a very good commentator who made sure we all knew what was going on, and by the last few minutes of the gold medal match we were hoarse with screaming, and I leaped out of my seat when Austria scored a game-winning penalty with 4 seconds to go.

You can see some properly excellent photos of the earlier games in the tournament, which give an idea of how physical and fast it is, here.  My compact 8 year old camera just isn't up to live sporting action.

In February we are going back to the Olympic Park to see the finals of the Track Cycling and Diving test events.  Tickets for these events are now sold out, but you can find out more about the other test events coming up at the London Prepares Series website.  I want to try and get tickets for the Synchronised Swimming and the Athletics when they are released.  Tickets are currently on sale (and going fast) for the Swimming test event at the Aquatics Centre (details here).

We walked home through the Park at sunset, and the sense of expectation all around us was palpable.  Just eight more months to go.

The Olympic Stadium and the Anish Kapoor Sculpture at sunset
The Olympic Stadium at sunset

Anish Kapoor spiral sculpture
The Anish Kapoor spiral sculpture - one of my favourite structures in the Olympic Park

Saturday 26 November 2011

Magic seeds

I bake a great deal of bread; several loaves a week for roughly the last ten years.  But this week I added sunflower seeds to soda bread for the first time, and made a new and startling discovery. 

Magic seeds

The children and I got a massive shock when we broke open the just-baked loaf yesterday after school.  We stared at the bread and then at each other.

"What HAPPENED??" asked O, horrified.

"Cool!" shouted C.

Rather than slather butter and jam on to it as we had planned we went rumamging on the internet.  We learnt that if you add sunflower seeds to soda bread, they turn a deep and vivid shade of green because the acid in them reacts with the alkali in the bicarbonate of soda.  The internet also claimed that they were still perfectly safe to eat, so with varying levels of apprehension we slathered butter and jam on, and tucked in anyway.

The internet was right - they are absolutely fine to eat. I was right too, in that sunflower seeds make soda bread even more delicious.  I do find the shade of green (which has turned almost black in the day since I made the loaf) rather unnerving though.  Today I went back to what I know and made a plain wholemeal tin loaf.

Magic seeds

Friday 25 November 2011

The school run

If I do the school run by tube, it takes 20 minutes longer than if I do it by car.

Late afternoon sky at Leytonstone

The car has a powerful heater, blasting warm air in my face and on my feet.  The tube has drafts from the doors which all open at every station.

Doors open at Leytonstone

On the tube, I listen to my music quietly on my headphones and I don't sing out loud at the top of my voice as I do in the car.

Sunset at South Woodford

But if I go by tube I can admire some magnificent sunsets at this time of year.  And O and I get to chat as we walk home from the station; if we are lucky we find some treasure too.

Giant leaf

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Sewing, knitting and Welsh Cakes - it's all good

I've been so productive lately.

Sewing a quilt for a new baby:

A flower fairy quilt for Miss Bourke

Knitting socks AND a baby kicking bag:

Knitting basket

Sewing secret presents for nephews:

Secret Christmas sewing

Christmas sewing for a small nephew

...and neices:

Beautiful selvedge

Making (and eating) Welsh Cakes:

Big stack of welsh cakes

But then it all grinds to a halt as I get distracted by cobwebs and sunsets.

Dewy cobwebs

Friday sunset outside Livvy's school

And a child is sick and off school on the two days I had set aside to sew his Christmas present.  Time to make some more Welsh Cakes and drink a cup of tea I think.

Friday 18 November 2011

Good things in the kitchen

Good things have been happening in our kitchen lately.  Good, sticky, smoky, golden-coloured, slow-cooked, autumnal things. 

Cam's glorious and delicious cheese & onion bread

I find this time of year inspires me to cook more - my pottering-gently-around-the-kitchen-listening-to-Radio 4 approach to cooking suits stews, bread, roasts and cakes, which are what you want to eat at this time of year.  The children have been getting in on the act too.  C made the cheese and onion tear-and-share loaf you can see above.  We gave him the book from the most recent series of Great British Bake Off for his birthday, and he loves it.  So far we've had brandy snaps, hot chocolate fudge pudding and the bread from him.

All this sort of cooking tastes so good because it is made from a few simple ingredients, cooked slowly and with no stress on the part of the cook.  The smells fill the house with warmth and love.

Barbecued beans

We ate C's bread with this barbecued bean stew, which is a fantastic recipe for feeding a family very cheaply in a way which still seems luxurious.

Barbecued bean stew

  • 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, snipped into pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced into half moons
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, plus 1 tin of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 heaped tablespoon treacle or dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider or wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tin of mixed beans in water
Slowly, gently, fry the onion, garlic, celery and bacon in a large casserole dish.  There is no need to add oil, as the bacon will provide enough fat.  Stir absently while listening to the radio.  When the veg is softenend, but not coloured, add all the rest of the ingredients apart from the beans.  Stir, put a lid on the pan and leave to bubble very gently on a low heat for about 30 minutes while you go off and do something more interesting.  Tip in the tin of beans - no need to drain or rinse first - if you've bought them in water it's all good stuff.  Simmer slowly for another 10 minutes with the lid off.

Serve with bread to mop up all the delicious, smoky, barbecue sauce.
I made these beans in my favourite orange shallow casserole dish from Le Creuset.  This is mostly because I like how the orange dish looks with the orange-brown barbecued beans.  But the beans would also work well if you made them in a slow cooker.
I am new to the world of slow cookers.  I have my friend Nina to thank for my introduction to this way of cooking because the other week she tweeted about coming home from work to a chicken and cider casserole cooked in her slow cooker and said it was 'as if somebody else had cooked dinner'.  That short sentence meant I just had to look into this more closely - how often have you come in at the end of the day and wished that for once someone else had cooked dinner?  A very beguiling idea indeed!

Slow cooker with chorizo & sweet potato stew

I bought this model - a whopper with 6 litres capacity.  The shallow amount you can see in the photo above was in fact a chorizo and sweet potato stew which fed five hungry people generously last night.

I am not a great fan of gadgets as I don't have much space in the kitchen, so anything I get is considered carefully and has to be used regularly to earn its place.  But Nina was right, this slow cooker is a great addition to my kitchen. 

I wondered how it would be different to sticking a casserole dish in a low oven for a few hours, which I've been doing for years. The big difference is that the slow cooker is safe to leave on overnight or when I go out, which makes it much more useful than an oven at a low temperature.  It also uses far less electricity than an oven, so is more economical.

Spices and herbs have a more intense flavour cooked this way, so I ease back a little on those but otherwise just stick to my usual stew and casserole recipes.  The only thing that has to be pre-cooked is mince, which clumps together if not fried in a pan first.  Other than that I don't pre-cook anything, just chuck it all in and switch it on.  This means it is simple enough to do first thing in the morning, before I even lay the table for breakfast.

Last weekend I roasted a whole chicken in it.  I made a bed of vegetables: celery sticks, carrots, a quartered onion, six cloves of garlic, a handful of peppercorns and a bay leaf.  I sat the chicken on top, poured in a glass of dry cider and 200ml of vegetable bouillon, and left it on for seven hours.  I came back home to find a beautifully bronzed chicken and half a litre of the most amazingly intense flavoured stock I have ever made.  The chicken and stock were used to make four separate and incredibly delicious meals during the week.

Tomorrow I have plans for a rabbit ragu.  C and I watched Jamie's Great Britain last week and this recipe had both of us shouting excitedly at the tele.  It looked so good, and we all like eating rabbit in this house.  Normally a rabbit from the local butcher costs about £7, but the only one he had left today was an absolute whopper which cost me £14, and will probably make enough bolognese sauce to feed us all until Christmas.  The rabbit and all the other ingredients will go into the slow cooker and we shall see what happens.  I predict great things.

Friday 11 November 2011

Misty interlude

There has been little time for walking or baking this week.

But on the way home from dropping O at school this morning, I stopped at the very innermost bit of Epping Forest, just a mile from home, and got out of the car to chat to the geese and ducks for a couple of minutes.

November morning mist over Hollow Ponds

The mist and shadowy landscape is so beautiful at the moment.  It's still relatively mild.  And the smell of rich, damp earth was intoxicating.  If I could have bottled the smell I would.

Misty morning on the edge of Epping Forest

I only stopped for five minutes, but that's all you need sometimes.

Loving the November bleakness

Sunday 6 November 2011

Amish baked oatmeal

I can't remember where I first came across this idea, but it captivated me right away. 

Amish baked oatmeal

Baked oats and fruit - a sort of solid, fruity, spicy porridge.  Eaten for breakfast, but with echoes of pudding.  All the recipes I found for it are American, and most refer to it as Amish oatmeal. So the recipe has an old fashioned, healthy German-Swiss heritage to it, which really appeals to me.

Amish baked oatmeal

Oats are mixed with eggs, milk, a little sugar and loads of fruit and then baked in a pie dish the oven.  My final recipe below is an amalgamation of loads of different ones I found online.  I reduced the sugar content to a fraction of the American versions, because I really don't like my food very sweet, and I upped the fruit content to compensate.

Amish baked oatmeal

The whole family adore this, and what should feed about six people disappears between the four of us in about ten minutes flat.  G, C and I like ours with natural yogurt on top and O likes hers plain.  Yesterday both G and O had third helpings.

All gone

Amish baked oatmeal

Dry ingredients:
  • 3 cups porridge oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice 
  • 1 cup chopped fruit or berries (I used blueberries)
Wet ingredients:
  • 1 cup stewed fruit (I used apple)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g butter, melted or vegetable oil
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a big mixing bowl.  Stir all the wet ingredients together in a large jug.  Pour the wet into the dry and mix together until thoroughly combined.  Pour into a large pie dish and bake in the centre of the oven at Gas 4 for 50 minutes to 1 hour.  Check that it is done as you would for a cake: poke the middle with a cocktail stick and make sure that there is no wet mixture left.

This is so easy to make that you could mix it all up while you are half-asleep and then go back to bed with a cup of tea and the new copy of Mollie Makes while it cooks.  For instance.  The smell while it cooks will drive you crazy with desire, and eventually force you out of bed and downstairs so that you can eat great, greedy bowlfuls of it for breakfast, washed down with another cup of tea.

I mean really.  What's not to like about winter when you've got this to get you going in the morning?

Amish baked oatmeal

This would be amazing with any combination of fruit.  I've seen many different permutations online:

  • stewed rhubarb and chopped apple, with ground ginger in place of the cinnamon
  • stewed blueberries and chopped peaches
  • stewed apple and mixed frozen berries (no need to defrost them first)
  • stewed plums and chopped apples
  • stewed apple and chopped pears
You get the picture.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Seen on the Tube

Hammersmith & City Line, Kings Cross to Mile End
  • Nine people listening to music on headphones.
  • A young woman doing card tricks with her paper train tickets.
  • Her boyfriend, wearing very white trainers, anxiously telling her to be careful with the tickets.
  • A jolly, portly man wearing a grey, hand-knitted tank top, offering sections of his Saturday newspaper to those sitting around him.
  • A woman with immaculately painted pink toenails, wearing hareem pants and white sandals.
  • A man with white hair and black gloves, distressed to find himself on the wrong train at Liverpool Street
  • A blushing young man, wearing a blue dog-tooth checked shirt, rummaging in his jacket pocket and then dropping a lip balm and a selection of multi-coloured foil-wrapped condoms all over the floor.
  • A middle-aged woman checking her hair, and pulling out a few white ones.


Friday 4 November 2011

A girl who knows what she wants

I loved MrsM's thoughtful post earlier this week, on the joie de vivre of her daughter.  And of course I then started thinking of how delighted I would be if my own daughter ended up with such an awesome and sassy taste in shoes.

Usually quietly self-contained...but always, always, drawing, dancing or writing...O is a peaceful, gentle presence in our household.  I took some photos of a few of the posters she has made for her bedroom walls and door recently.

My little speech

10 things I like

And when I read all these posters*, I thought to myself that in ten years' time I bet she'll also be strutting her stuff in purple suede 4" heels.  She might be quiet, but she's a young lady who seems to know her own mind.

*There are more of her posters, and notes about them all, on Flickr.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Winter and woollens

I've used Silverpebble's and Thrifty Household's excellent Making Winter project to start something I've been meaning to do for a while: taking time out of my day, every day, to stand or sit outside for ten minutes and drink a cup of tea or coffee.  I think even in the very depths of winter I would get enjoyment from wrapping up warmly, stepping out into the garden and watching what's going on around me as I sip a hot drink and think about what needs to be done with my day.

Cherry tree in November

Today I looked at the lavender bush where I saw Mr Toad back in May.  The lavender bush did pretty well this year but I realised that I still need to cut off the dead flower stalks.

I checked that the hens were happy under their new rain cover.  They get a new one every winter, and I spend each spring and summer looking for perfectly clear shower curtains that I can use.  Gill found this one for me in the Habitat closing down sale.

Hens' winter cover

I marvelled at the amount of cherry leaves that had fallen in just one day since I last cleared them all up.  I love how they look on the green grass, but if I leave them there, we will have no grass next summer...so every week or so I rake them up.

Cherry leaves in the garden

And I drank my cup of tea and rejoiced at my toasty warm shoulders and wrists.  As well as Making Winter, there's something else that has caught my eye this month: Wovember.  This is Kate Davies' and Felicity Ford's campaign and celebration of 100% wool.  I was as appalled as Kate was to discover, when I read her blog last month, that an item of clothing that contains no wool whatsoever can still legally use the word wool or woollen in its description.  Wovember has been set up as a way to highlight this issue, campaign to change it, and at the same time celebrate everything 100% wool.

My shawl is knitted from sock yarn, which is a wool blend of 75% wool and 25% polyamide.  This enables socks and shawls and anything else knitted with it to be subjected to lots of use and regularly chucked in the washing machine.  My armwarmers are 100% wool, from merino sheep, and I just love them to bits.  They are incredibly warm, and perfect for pulling over my hands as I clutch my early morning cup of tea.

Early morning cuppa in the garden

Cup of tea in the garden