Friday, 28 February 2014

Photo Scavenger Hunt: February

Here's my entry for February's Scavenger Hunt with a mixture of photos taken at home and out & about. Thanks once again to Greenthumb at Made with Love for hosting.

F is for... : Fern, in the fernery at Tatton Park.

3pm : Saturday 15th February, working on my quilt.

Grain : Grains of arborio rice.

Lamp : In my living room. The lampshade came with a different base which was the reason I bought it. I didn't even like the shade that much but it seemed a shame not to use it, so it's still here and I've gradually come to be very fond of it.

Clock : A very old kind of clock showing the time as 1pm.

Honey : Lovely, sweet , golden honey.

Fountain : A blast from my past though, in those days, Sherbert Fountains came in a paper tube with a piece of liquorice sticking out the top.

Round : Playground ride outside the Football Museum in Manchester.

Shadow : Curly shadows from this iron gate.

Group : A group of lovely, old-fashioned cloches in the kitchen garden at Tatton Park.

Repurpose : Plastic bottles repurposed into a scarecrow.

Clouds : Another photo taken at Tatton Park.

If you'd like to take part in March's hunt, head over to the Scavenger Hunt page for the new categories :)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Over the last 3 months I've been working on my latest quilt, gradually piecing together squares and rectangles, really taking my time, challenging myself to be as accurate as possible.

With all the blocks completed, I started sewing them together, working hard to make the seams meet, unpicking and resewing any which were out of line.

On Saturday, it had reached the stage where I needed to order the fabric for the sashing. I couldn't remember if the quilt had a border, so I pulled out the pattern to be sure of ordering enough fabric.

Horror! The blocks I'd so carefully sewn together were wrong! I'd joined them all in the same direction when they should have been top to tail (as shown above). No no no!!!

After a few moments of panic and despair, I regrouped. Luckily I'd only sewn 16 of the blocks together so it wouldn't be too much of a problem to unpick and rejoin them. However, there was still a nagging feeling that something else wasn't quite right. And then I saw it. Another error but even worse than before - I'd sewn the wrong components together! The thin rectangle should be in the middle not on the end!

Aaaaaaghhhhhhh! At this point I was glad Chickpea was staying at her boyfriend's as she's still blissfully under the impression I don't swear.

So, what to do? Should I unpick the whole lot and start again? I figured out a way to unpick just one seam of each of the 80 blocks and rejoin them to another but I didn't know whether that would disrupt the colour balance across the quilt. Not that it really matters as I don't even like the damn thing that much by now. <mentally stamps foot>

Deep breath and a rethink. Lots of crawling around on the floor, laying out and rearranging blocks. Sanity and calm returns and eventually a decision. No to unpicking and yes to continuing with how I started. When I looked back at all the 'in progress' photos which helped me decide on the positioning of the fabrics, I noticed that I'd been laying them out 'wrong' all along. A sign? Maybe the wrong way is actually the right way? Maybe my independent streak was rebelling against following a pattern too closely?

Ha! Or maybe there's a simple moral to this story. Even if your mantra is 'measure twice, cut once' it doesn't matter a jot unless you read the pattern right in the first place :)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Spiced coffee cake

Last time I promised you something to go with your morning or afternoon brew. In issue 14 of The Simple Things magazine, there was a recipe for a spice mix which can be added to filter coffee. Chickpea and I fell completely in love at first taste and often have it as a weekend treat.

After a while though, I started to wonder what the spices might taste like in a cake. Given that they're added to coffee, it made sense that the cake should be a coffee cake.

I browsed through my books and magazines for inspiration and quickly decided it should have at least three layers. However, it was the frosting on the cappuccino cake which really caught my eye. I ended up using that recipe as the base on which to add my spices but tweaked both the recipe and the method. One of the alterations was to use more spoonfuls of coffee than specified as a number of people who commented online said the flavour needed to be stronger. Even so, the coffee flavour isn't particularly strong and comes through more in the frosting. Oh, the frosting! The yummy yummy frosting. In fact, forget the cake and just make the frosting!

I was so pleased with how the cake turned out and its gentle spicy warmth. It was really useful reading other people's experiences and tips on making the cappuccino cake recipe so, if you do decide to have a go at my spiced coffee cake, I'd love to know what you think and what you did to add your own twist. xx

Spiced coffee cake

250g unsalted butter
250g light soft brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground to a fine powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 eggs, beaten
150ml very strong black coffee, cooled

500g mascarpone
3-4 tbsp light soft brown sugar
50ml cold strong coffee

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Butter and line 3 x 8" sandwich tins.
2. Beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.
3. Add the flour, eggs and spices and beat until evenly mixed.
4. Fold in 100ml of the coffee. I made mine in a cafetiere with 200ml hot water and 6 tbsp ground coffee.
5. Divide evenly between the 3 prepared tins and bake for 25 minutes or until baked.
6. Leave the cakes in their tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Add the 2 tbsp sugar to the remaining 50ml coffee and brush onto one side of each cake. Leave to cool and then put in the fridge overnight. The cakes will firm up and make it easier to spread the frosting.
7. To make the frosting, put all of the mascarpone in a bowl and beat with the sugar and the coffee. You may want to add more or less coffee and sugar to taste. The mixture will seem liquid at first but keep beating and it will firm up.
8. Spread a layer of frosting over 2 of the cakes and sandwich the 3 sponges together.
9. Spread a thin layer over the whole cake and put the cake back in the fridge to firm up. This is known as 'dirty icing' and will mean you end up with a crumb-free finish at the end.
10. After half an hour or so, spread the remaining frosting over the cake with a palette knife (I had some left but you might be more generous with your frosting!). Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

The cake will keep for a few days in the fridge but is best eaten at room temperature.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Coffee pot cosy

Lately we've been enjoying real coffee again. That is, ground coffee which you make in a cafetiere rather than out of a jar. The only problem in these wintry months is that it starts to go cold while brewing. After wrapping the cafetiere in a towel for a while, I decided it was time to make a cosy.

I wanted to make a jaunty striped cosy and found the pink and green yarn, which came free with a magazine, in my stash: it's Bergere de France Barisienne in shades 'Nerine' (pink) and 'Nil' (green). As you can see it's just a rectangle with ribbed sides. If I made one again, I'd knit the sides as part of the pattern instead of making them separately and sewing on at the end. 

I did puzzle over how to fasten the cosy and experimented with press-stud fastenings before settling on buttons. The loops for the buttons are simple crocheted chains. Initially I was kicking myself for not taking time to knit proper button holes but, actually, I think the loops make it much easier to fasten. Hurrah! No repenting at leisure for acting in haste here :)

Doesn't he look handsome in his woolly jersey? It's been in constant use so has really been worth the small amount of time it took to make. Next time, I'm going to tell you about something which would go very nicely with the coffee from the pot. x

PS The canisters in the background were my Christmas present from Chickpea - I love them and their little birdy handles :)

PPS Thank you for all the lovely comments about the Cookery Book Challenge - glad you're enjoying it as much as we are. xx

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Cookery Book Challenge : weeks 1-4

At the beginning of January, I told you about my Cookery Book Challenge: each week I would make at least one recipe from a cookery book drawn at random. This is the first of my monthly updates to let you know how I'm getting on.

I was ridiculously excited and couldn't wait to make the first draw, imagining all of the interesting titles on my shelves. I reached into the bowl and drew out the first slip. It was....

Week 1: Wok cookery - Suzy Powling

What a disappointment! But then that's the point of the challenge: to use cookery books which would probably never make it off my shelf otherwise. I don't even own a wok now and think the book was bought for me as a present many years ago.

Several recipes were eliminated on the basis of needing to buy more spices (my cupboard already runneth over with those) and others because they were simply unappealing. Eventually I settled on Cashew Chicken.

It won't win any beauty contests but it was surprisingly tasty. Sadly though, I think the book will be heading to the charity shop as I don't think there's enough in it to earn its space on my shelves.

Week 2 : Happy Days with the Naked Chef - Jamie Oliver

With my next draw I was on familiar ground, as I've made several recipes from this and Jamie's other books and generally find his recipes very reliable. What I also like about them is that the recipe title tells you exactly what you're getting!

This time I went through the book and put slips of paper against interesting recipes and then let Chickpea choose. We liked the sound of so many that I ended up making two in the same weekend.

Tray-baked lamb with aubergines, tomatoes, olives, garlic and mint oil.

The lamb was lovely but I thought the aubergines soaked up too much of the fat with being baked in the same tray. If you'd like to make it yourself, you can find the recipe here.

Japanese rolled pork with plums, coriander, soy sauce and spring onions.

The pork in this recipe is steamed which is something I'd never tried before. Next time I'd give it a bit less time as it was probably a little overcooked. It would also be good served with the plum sauce which was only used to spread on the pork before rolling. I would have done it this time but wasn't sure if I'd contaminated it when spooning the sauce on the raw pork. Very tasty though and served with the last of my homegrown carrots.

Week 3 : French Leave - John Burton-Race

Chickpea had been dying to have a go at drawing out the next book, so I let her make the draw and browse through to choose a recipe. Before long she was exclaiming about 'the pompousness of it all' and that it was all 'too posh'! What she meant was that many of the recipes included expensive and difficult to get hold of ingredients. She did enjoy the tales of family life at the beginning of each chapter though.

I went through the book myself and found several to highlight though, admittedly, the majority were desserts. Knowing I was going to be hosting the Burns Night that weekend, I eventually settled on a side dish.

Pommes boulangeres is made of layers of potatoes and onions with thyme and bay leaf cooked in chicken stock. Absolutely yummy! It went down very well at the supper and there wasn't a scrap left at the end. You can find a similar recipe here.

Week 4 : Roast Figs, Sugar Snow - Diana Henry

I adore this book and was so happy when it was drawn out. Of all my cookery books I think this is my favourite aesthetically: the typeface, the photographs, the snippets from poems and stories - it's a complete visual pleasure. The recipes are pretty good too so, as I've tried several over the years, I selected a couple I hadn't made before.

Warm duck and brown rice salad with dried cranberries, pecans and maple-cider vinaigrette.

A festive-sounding recipe with the cranberries and pecans. We love duck but it's not something I cook often as it's on the pricey side. However, it was the dressing which made this so delicious. My favourite of the Challenge so far.

Whisky and maple-glazed spare ribs with caraway coleslaw.

Last but not least, another tasty recipe. I confess I did buy supermarket coleslaw and just added the caraway seeds but we'd have been eating it for weeks if I'd made my own. The ribs were lovely and sweet though I'm not sure what the whisky added. Looking at the plate there needed to be more veg but we did enjoy it and I'd make the ribs again.

So, 4 weeks down on the Challenge and I'm still excited on a Sunday evening when I make the draw. It's also been very successful given that I've ended up making more than one recipe in 2 of the 4 weeks. The downside is that I've probably spent a little more on food than I would usually. I also need to invest in a good thesaurus to find more ways of saying tasty: being a food/book critic is harder than I thought!

Hope you've enjoyed your weekend. I'm off to do some quilting before making the next recipe in the challenge :)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Back to the woods

Sunday dawned into a gloriously sunny day and, to my utter amazement, Chickpea asked if we could go for a walk in the woods again. After picking myself up and checking her head for fever, I realised she was serious. Unable to pass up the chance to take her willingly into the fresh air, off we set in our muddy wellies, sweeties in pockets.

It wasn't long before we spotted a bridge across the brook and steps leading upwards. Being a curious type, I'd found it incredibly hard to resist following all the little paths which lead off the main path on our previous visit, so we decided to see where it would take us. We emerged into a field and a track leading along the edge of the ridge looking down onto the woods.

It was really warm in the sunshine in the shelter of the trees and I was surprised to see this yellow gorse already in flower.

I wasn't surprised to see more fungi after spotting so many varieties last time. Back down in the woods we came across even more.

I particularly loved the bright orange of this one in the sunlight. I'm rapidly becoming a fungi fan!

There were other signs of life appearing under the trees too: daffodils and, I think, bluebells. It's going to look spectacular in a month or so.

And there was also a tree covered in long catkins.

They really glowed golden against that amazing blue sky. Just look at that blue - it could be the middle of summer!

The plants weren't the only kind of nature to be found in the woods though.

Blimey, what's a meerkat doing in deepest Lancashire?! Spotting 'woodland' creatures is one of our new favourite things to do :)

But he wasn't the star of the show. When we visited the woods a couple of weeks ago, the birds stayed well hidden at the tips of the tallest branches. This time, the sun brought them out and we easily spotted blue and great tits and robins. We're also pretty sure it wasn't just our imagination hearing a woodpecker. However, Chickpea, eagle-eyed, spotted this little gem...

A tree creeper! I can't tell you how excited I was! It absolutely made my day and particularly so when I got home and found that I'd managed to get a decent photo after clicking madly and hoping for the best.

It's fairly safe to say we'll be back there again very soon :)

Before I go, I'll leave you with one last photo, taken on Monday morning about 7.30. The lighter mornings are becoming really noticeable now and dawn has been breaking around the time I'm leaving the house for work.

I'll be back at the weekend with the first update on my Cookery Book Challenge. x

Sunday, 2 February 2014

February's fair maids

After making the Remembrance Day poppy and the Tudor rose for Lancashire Day, I thought it would be nice to make a different brooch to mark the changing of the seasons and traditions. It's taken me a while to get around to it but the snowdrops growing in my parents' garden gave me the inspiration.

At first, my plan was to make something 3D in felt which, in my fantasies, would have looked something like these gorgeous examples by CozyFelt (left) and Olga Voloshchenko (right). Sadly though the reality of my skills meant I had to aim for something simpler. I played around with felt and fabric for a while but nothing looked quite right. Back to the drawing board and to cross stitch.

I found a pattern in my magazine stash and settled down last Sunday with a cup of tea and a couple of pieces of Scottish tablet to stitch.

And this was the result! I tried lots of different settings but this simple border of green and white felt worked the best. There's a couched silver thread around the linen to give a touch of sparkle. Not what I envisaged at the start but I'm pretty happy with it.

That wasn't the end of the snowdrops though.

While looking for ideas and patterns, I came across lots of information about snowdrops, including this lovely, little poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Many many welcomes,
February fair-maid,
Ever as of old-time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many many welcomes,
February fair-maid!

I thought it summed up beautifully the hope and anticipation that these first flowers of the year bring.

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie

I also discovered that today is Candlemas Day when a blessing of the church candles for the coming year would have been held. Snowdrops are also known as both Candlemas bells and Mary's tapers. You can see in this photo how they might have come by the latter name as they push their flame-like white tips into the light.

Candlemas marks the midway point between the Winter Solstice (shortest day) and the Spring Equinox (20 March) and coincides with the pagan Celtic feast of Imbolc. As you know, I love a good tradition and don't want to miss an excuse for feasting, so I thought it would be fitting to mark the occasion with something to eat.

It wasn't hard to find inspiration in that humble staple, milk. Imbolc translates as 'ewe's milk' and the scientific name for snowdrops, Galanthus, comes from the Greek for milk (gala) and flower (anthos). As I've had a bit of a poorly tummy this week, a warm milky pudding sounded just the thing. I did consider making galatopita (being Greek and milky) but instead settled on that English classic, rice pudding, laced with a splash of amaretto.

Who would have thought that the simple little snowdrop could provide so much inspiration?

Before I go , I have one last traditional saying.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will take another flight.
If Candlemas Day be cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

I don't know what it's been like in your corner of the world today, but here it's been a beautiful sunny day. Looks like we're in for a long winter :(


Do you ever find that some posts come together really easily and others you have to labour over? This is definitely the latter. I had such a mix of ideas and inspiration it was hard to bring that muddled mass together. I hope I got there in the end. x