Friday, 31 January 2014

Photo Scavenger Hunt: January

The first Scavenger Hunt of 2014 and thanks once again to Greenthumb of Made with Love for hosting it. I struggled with a couple of the words but got there in the end. Here's my entry:

J is for...? : Well, it couldn't be anything else could it? I've had this bracelet since primary school but only recently rediscovered it.

1pm : We wept with laughter watching the celebrities and their baking attempts in Bake Off.

Measurement : Measuring ingredients for a Woo Woo cocktail (vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice).

Colour : Carousel horses.

A corner : Of a modern building.

Hats : Woolly bob hats in the sale.

Stamp : When I was younger, you could buy packets of stamps at the newsagents to put inside your collectors album. These from Hungary were by far my favourites: the artwork on them is just stunning.

Looking down : At my weed and moss-covered patio. It's not all bad as there are alchemilla mollis and campanula seedlings here too.

Crowd : Ducks, geese, swans, seagulls - all crowding round in a confused tangle for bread. The swan got just a little too close so we made a sharp exit as soon as this photo was taken!

Natural : There's no question this is natural.

Fruit : And vegetables in a wooden trug.

Roof : A very ramshackle one!

If you've been inspired to take part, the list for February is no available at the Scavenger Hunt site. x


Finally, a quick but warm 'hello and welcome' to my new followers and commenters :)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Burns Night 2014

Last night I hosted a Burns Night supper for our friends, Sue and Gordon and their son. If you've been reading this blog a while, you'll know I did the same last year. It was a real success and, as Sue has mentioned it several times over the last 12 months, I invited them over again.

I did suggest doing 'Burns Night Lite' but no, it had to be exactly the same. Well, exactly the same would be a bit dull so I kept the traditional running order but changed some of the entertainment.

One of my new elements was the decoration. I bought a metre of tartan fabric to make a tablecloth and added the purple and silver accessories which I already owned.

On arrival, the adults were served my version of a Loch Ness Mystery cocktail (whisky, apricot brandy, lemon juice, orange juice and lime juice).

Then onto the main festivities, starting with the Piping in of the Guests to the sound of bagpipes and a marching band.

The Selkirk Grace

Before the arrival of the food, a short prayer was offered, in best Scottish accent.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Piping in of the Haggis

The haggis was brought in to the sound of the national anthem, Scotland the Brave, and paraded around the table.

Address to the Haggis

Sue read the Burns poem, Address to a Haggis, and Gordon plunged in the knife at these immortal words,

Cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright

The meal

As well as the haggis, I served the traditional accompaniment of neeps and tatties: potatoes with honey and pepper roasted white turnip and chantenay carrots. There'll be more information about the potato dish in due course as the recipe was part of my Cookery Book Challenge.

Entertainment and Dessert

Before dessert it was time for some entertainment. Of course there had to be a reading of a poem by Burns (John Anderson, my Jo) and music with a Scottish flavour. 

With a 7 year old present, I was really pleased to find Kilts and Stilts from Veggie Tales. And we all laughed and sang along to Ye Canny Shove Yer Granny Aff a Bus before a rousing rendition of the traditional Skye Boat Song, which I remember learning at school. Finally, by popular demand from last year, we finished with Doon in the wee room.

Dessert was another traditional offering, cranachan.

Auld Lang Syne

Last but not least, with words by Robert Burns we held hands and sang along tunelessly to Auld Lang Syne, backed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus.

And thus concluded our Burns Supper. 

The meal over, we headed out to the garden to wave around a few sparklers, before retreating to the living room for the DVD of Brave.

We had such a good time that Sue is now planning an English evening for St George's Day and I already had in mind something Welsh for an event later in the year. I think this is the start of a trend!

Yesterday I noticed that Shortbread and Ginger is hosting a Big Bloggy Burns Supper so I'm linking up with all those celebrating around the world :)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A trifling display

Well, it's almost a month since Christmas and here I am still mentioning it. I have this one last thing to share and then it's time to move on, honest!

Having made a table centrepiece for Christmas last year, I really wanted to make something again. I'd already decided on a design, which I'd seen on Pinterest, and planned to use my cylinder vase. But then, I spotted a trifle bowl in the special buys at Aldi.

It's a really simple idea but so effective. Natural and glass pebbles in the bottom. Tendrils of ivy leaves winding up the sides. Fill with water and float cranberries and candles on the top.

So pretty when the candles are lit.

I loved how they glowed from underneath too.

One thing I would say about floating candles though, is that there's an awful lot of waste, so I now have a bag full of white wax to melt down to make more teacup candles.

It stayed looking lovely the whole of Christmas until New Year's Eve, when I dismantled it and made a smaller version in the cylinder vase. I needed the trifle bowl for my New Year's Day dinner.

As the now proud owner of a trifle bowl, it seemed a good idea to try it out with the dessert for which it was made. I grew up with the kind of trifle which has a layer of jelly at the bottom. Sometimes the jelly would include tinned fruit (peaches or fruit cocktail - very '70s) but never, ever, ever with sponge. Ughh! Jelly, yes. Sponge, yes. But the two together - no, no, no! *

In any case, for only my second ever trip into trifle-making, I wanted to make one of those posh, chef-y trifles which doesn't include jelly at all. **

As you'll know, trifles are made up of layers. The bottom layer was slices of raspberry swiss roll sprinkled with homemade blackberry liqueur. Next came a layer of raspberries and blueberries, cooked and strained to remove excess liquid. Then custard (supermarket to save time). Finally, a row of raspberries and blueberries around the edges before adding whipped double cream.

Ta-dah! I made up the decoration as I went along and wish I'd planned it a bit more. However, it tasted great and that's the main thing. One of my guests asked for a small piece as he isn't much of a dessert person and ended up having thirds! I call that a success.

So, having found two uses for my trifle bowl, I'm wondering what else? We're hosting another Burns Night supper on Saturday and I could use it for punch (non-alcoholic, unfortunately, with under-10s present). Any other ideas? Like courgettes, is there potential for a book, '101 ways with a trifle bowl'? An intriguing thought, I'm off to Pinterest to investigate :)

*I feel the same way about jam and butter.

**'Posh' is generally applied to anything which my family didn't do while I was growing up, as posh we most definitely are not. Another example would be cutting toast into triangles rather than squares.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Walk in the woods

After being cooped up at work all week, leaving and arriving home in the dark, I'm usually desperate for fresh air by the weekend. Last Sunday we decided to go for a walk in the local woods. Chickpea is really not the fresh air and mud type but she does love trees so it wasn't too hard to persuade her.

Despite it being only a mile or so from our house, I was probably school age the last time I visited and I'm really not sure why. Maybe it's because you tend to forget about places close to home or think they can't be as interesting as those further away? I don't know. But, anyway, off we set to explore.

There's a well-marked path through the woods following the meanderings of the brook along the valley. In lots of places, other streams flowed down the slopes into the brook.

The sides of the valley are quite steep in places, with the exposed roots of trees clinging onto the sides.

We amused ourselves looking out for patterns in nature.

The twists and spirals of this log reminded me of strands of yarn.

Some patterns were more obviously man-made. We were curious as to why there were a few steps up to a large log. I'd spotted some fungus I wanted to photograph but it was only as I got closer that I realised someone had carved creatures into the wood.

My favourite was the ladybird who looks like she's about to take a bite from the fungus.

I really must buy a book on identifying fungus as we spotted lots of different kinds. The red one was particularly striking and I've since found out goes under the wonderful name of Scarlet elf cup.

The fungus growing on this log seemed to create a face. Well, I thought so but Chickpea wasn't convinced. What do you think? To me, a mystical woodland creature was waking and pushing its way out of the earth... Well, we were getting tired and hungry by this point!

The woods seemed so bare at first glance but there was so much to discover. It looks deserted in this photo but we passed lots of other people enjoying the air and walking dogs. We were particularly struck by how many nodded and said 'good morning' - it was really lovely, 'just like it must have been in the old days' said Chickpea.

We're looking forward to going back through the year to see how it changes, especially as I discovered that it's one of our increasingly rare scraps of ancient woodland. Hopefully the birds will be more obliging next time too and come down from their perches at the tips of the tallest branches. x

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Festive making & baking

Christmas already seems so long ago that it feels strange to still be looking back. However, I wanted to show you what I'd been up to before continuing to move forward with the new year.

One of the things I most enjoyed over the Christmas break was having time to spend making and baking. The luxury of actually being able to plan to do some crafting and to do it at a leisurely pace, rather than squeezing it into increasingly fewer spare moments. If I was to make another resolution for 2014, it would be to find more of that kind of time rather than trying to cram in as much as possible. I really felt much better for slowing down, resting and feeding my creative side. Luckily, I don't make resolutions though because it would already have been broken.

But anyway, what making and baking did I get up to?

Starry lebkuchen biscuits with some dough I found lurking at the back of the freezer (and it was no worse from having been there since the previous year!).

I also ventured into baking with yeast for the first time with an apricot, chocolate and cardamom panettone. How exciting is it watching bread rise?! Why have I never tried this before? Bread making is definitely something I'll be coming back to when I can plan an 'at home' day.

The panettone should probably have been smaller and taller but I only realised at the last minute that I had the wrong size tin. Not that it made any difference to the taste. We ate it toasted for breakfast on Christmas morning with shop-bought Christmas tree crumpets and starry waffles.

This was a tree of a different kind made from a polystyrene cone. As you can see from the photos, I cut circles of Christmas fabrics with pinking shears and pinned them in layers to cover the cone. The idea came from the free Cloth, Paper, Scissors e-newsletter.

I also worked on my Father Christmas cross stitch which, I'm embarrassed to admit, has been on the go at least 5 years. All that remains to do is the outline stitching and more of the swirly snow. I've been in two minds whether to crack on and finish it or whether to keep it as a project to pull out each Christmas. I have another cross stitch project in mind though and I'm not sure if I have another frame so it looks like it will have to be finished.

No photos for this one but I've been working on my quilt too, transferring rectangles from piles of unsewn to sewn - a slow but therapeutic process.

And I wasn't the only one crafting for Christmas. Chickpea made this beautiful decopatch treasure chest as a gift for a friend. I was so proud of her: she worked so hard and really took time over all the details. Watching her enjoy crafting was one of my highlights of last year and something I love to encourage. This year, therefore, I'm going to continue being a craftlete, trying different crafts and hopefully finding others which she'll enjoy.


Thanks for the comments about the cookery book challenge. I was ridiculously excited making my first draw this week, quivering with anticipation of which of my lovely books I'd be using. Was I still excited afterwards? Well, you'll have to wait until my first update to find out :)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Cookery book challenge

This Christmas, another cookery book was added to my collection when Mum and Dad gave me A suitcase and a spatula (which they chose because it's written by a fellow blogger). Although I love it, it did remind me that I still haven't made anything from the book I received last Christmas. In fact, I own a couple of shelves worth of cookery books which barely ever see the light of day.

I do occasionally browse through them but, mostly, I fall back on my file of recipes ripped from magazines. It's so much easier and less time consuming to flick through the folder and just take out the pages I need.

However, it seems such a waste not to use all of these lovely books. I'm not really one for new year's resolutions but, this year, I'm setting myself a cookery book challenge: to make at least one recipe from one of my books each week.

I've typed out a list of 49 titles on my shelves and put the slips of paper in a bowl. Each week I'll draw out one slip and choose a recipe from the book. That slip will then be thrown away so that each book will have its chance in the spotlight. The only books I haven't included are ones which are mainly about cakes - much as I'd like to, woman cannot live on cake alone!

I'm not going to be too strict though and will be excused from the challenge if I've already used my books for another reason. That's what happened this weekend as I had the New Year ham to use up.

On Saturday we had leek and ham risotto using a recipe from Rice, risotto, pilaff and paella by Christine Ingram. The ham had been cooked in coca cola (well, Aldi's cola) and I also used the stock. Although there was no remains of a coca cola flavour, the stock did make the risotto strangely sweet which we weren't particularly keen on.

On Sunday we had ham, eggs and sweetcorn pudding. The pudding recipe is from Rose Elliot's Complete vegetarian cookbook though I was once again inspired by seeing something similar by Nigella. I hadn't tried the pudding before but would definitely make it again and the three together was a perfect combination of salty and sweet (a good sweet this time!).

So, I'm off to a start with using my cookery books and will be posting regular updates so that you can see how I'm getting on, with links to the recipes if I can find them. I'm going to do the first draw later this week and feel quite excited about it! Let the challenge begin!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Twelfth Night

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of chocolate and almonds
Where a piece of macaroni's the sport here.

Begin then to choose
This night as ye use
Who shall for those present's delight,
Be Twelfth-day queen on this night.

Next crown a bowl full
With slices of apple mulled:
Add cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger,
With a bottle of cider too;
And if ye should do
T'will make the wassail a swinger.

And so part I from ye hence
As free from offence
As when we did innocent meet here.


With sincere apologies to Robert Herrick and his poem, Twelfth Night :)

Recipe for Twelfth Night King Cake from The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake: the Perfect Victoria Sponge and other Baking Secrets.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Back soon. x