16 December 2011

2011: over and out

Merry Christmas and a happy Hogmanay everyone. Here's to a wonderful 2012... SlĂ inte.

door decorations courtesy of the tutorial by Stitch & Purl

the Boss has been a-decorating

tapestry stockings designed by great granny each year, the trusty marimekko teatowel advent calendar, and our perennially tasteless tree

great granny's bunting, i vaguely remember a chair upholstered in this '80s chintz
peace, love and matryoshka

08 December 2011

word of the day: bokeh

I keep reading this word: bokeh. It means nothing to me and I don't even know how to pronounce it. I see that people often use it when they're praising a nature photograph ("that bokeh is stunning!")... maybe it's some kind of foliage plant? And then Darcy at my3boybarians launched a Holiday bokeh party. Hmm, okay, probably not foliage then. So, for anyone else in the dark, here's what wiki says:
In photography, bokeh is the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or "the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light"... /... Bokeh occurs for parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field. Photographers sometimes deliberately use a shallow focus technique to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions
Okaaaay, I think I'm with you. But take it slowly, I'm a novice. Oh, and apparently, you pronounce it either like a "bow-kay" of flowers or like a questionable Scottish heave (a boke eh?).

So I got my camera out yesterday to try and learn about bokeh. My aim was to try and make some appropriately tropical Christmas pictures if possible. I tried for some bokeh caused (at least in part) by the brightness of the sun (as opposed to lights/candles), and I also aimed to capture some uniquely contrasting hot weather aspects of Christmas (eg strelizia against shopping mall window backdrop... still working on that one). After more than 100 weird attempts, I think I got some bokeh.

my coffee table: long-distance cards and sun-bathing baubles
ice creams all round while out to see the Christmas lights - not a scarf or a mince pie in sight

So there you go, new word for the day: bokeh. I'm going to have to keep working on it (obviously!).

And if like me, you're totally clueless, I've distilled some of the tutorials I've read into the following:
  • set your aperture as wide open as it'll go
  • focus on a relatively close up object
  • make sure there's something all a-sparkle and a-glitter in the distance
  • repeat at least a hundred times on random varying settings to see what comes out nice
  • acknowledge that it's likely much more complicated than this to get a great shot, but accept that it'll do for now, and friendly peeps might leave me more hints and tips below...
Go over to Darcy's amazing website on December the 8th to see how the real pros do holiday bokeh - I just know it's going to be STUNNING.
holiday lights bokeh party my3boybarians.com

07 December 2011


At this critical point in the year, I am in uncharacteristic meltdown. Some relatives arrived rather by accident (long story). With every minute that passes I get the feeling that we're realising how utterly baffled we all are by one another, as we travel a well-worn path to cranky anarchy. Our typical day follows this pattern.
me (searching for common ground): did you know black is black?
them: black is black you say? Really? I've never considered it before, but let me tell you categorically, from a very confident point of view that actually, I think you'll find it's white
rest of day: debate the bleeding obvious
them: did you read in "the paper" that two plus two equals five these days?
me: erm... I'm no expert but I'd take that with a pinch of salt if I was you
rest of day: debate the bleeding obvious
It gets old. We all get chippy. It's been this way as long as I can remember. So the two weeks leading up to our flight home for Christmas won't be filled with mince pies, secret wrapping and smiles in soft-focus. They'll be filled with, well, that stuff up there.

I haven't had much time to knit, but I've finished the cap sleeved vest for my little one, and started I don't know how she does it by Allison Pearson. The vest is cute, but isn't going to last five minutes in the unstretchy string-wool. The book is easy to read but I don't buy into it, the central character is not realistic in any sense. Not necessarily a problem in fiction, except if you're trying to win the hearts and minds of your female readership by virtue of being a realistic empathy figure. I could go on and on, but I have living, breathing people to bore in the very same apartment as me.

I guess, reluctantly, this might have to be it for Yarn Along 2011... the highs and lows of a family Christmas spanning two continents, three weeks and eight time zones awaits. If you need to know where I am, I'll be in the bathroom with my forehead against the mirror glass.

Linking in with the Yarn Alongers for the last time this year. They're an awful nice lot.

02 December 2011

food bloggers unplugged!

Lovely Shu Han tagged me in this food bloggers unplugged thingummy, which is kind of annoying actually, because she's one of my favourite food bloggers and I would definitely have tagged her back given the chance. Go and see her site if you need some tropical spicy food in your life (and who doesn't?). Anyhoo, this is the first time I've done something like this, so here goes... (bearing in mind that I don't consider myself a food blogger, I just happen to eat rather a lot, so food has found itself being one of my main topics of conversation).

1. What, or who, inspired you to start a blog?
A few things.
  • feeling a need to document our Expat adventure while fully aware that I cannot stick with a written diary for more than two weeks
  • my friend at PDNFTA who told me it was fun
  • smart-arsed vanity and a liking for words
  • the "opt-in" social networking option as opposed to the people-I-knew-at-school-and-didn't-much-care-for-then-and-haven't-seen-for-twenty-years-ramming-it-down-yer-neck "opt-out" variety. If you know what I mean.
2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wins hands down. Man's a genius.

3. Your greasiest, batter-splattered food/drink book is?
A plastic lever-arch file containing all my clippings and notes that I'm in the (long drawn-out) process of sorting out. I use it as much as all my other cookbooks put together.

4. Tell us about the best thing you have eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
A bowl of noodles in Kyoto last Christmas (near the corner of the road that leads up to Kiyumizu-dera Temple). The restaurant (whose name I didn't even know at the time, since it wasn't written in English) had one long table, about a dozen seats, and about six items on the menu. I had udon in soup with wild greens and two pieces of inari sushi. It was sublime. 

5. Another food blogger's table you'd like to eat at?
Easy one, Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost is a legend in our household. He guides our culinary journey through what must be the most complex and extraordinary foodie country in the world. I'd ask him to give me a roti prata-making lesson, and then I'd ask him approximately three gazillion other questions about Singaporean food.

6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
I'd do (almost) anything for a Kitchenaid countertop mixer. But I'd settle for a Dualit hand mixer. I've heard tell of a mysterious and marvellous new invention recently too - an induction hob with a hollowed out area for your wok - GENIUS! I think I would spend a lot of time stroking it.

7. Who taught you how to cook?
The Guardian/Observer newspaper columns circa 2000-2010. Possibly my Mum instilled a few basic skills before that.

8. I'm coming to you for dinner, what is your signature dish?
In Singapore, nothing. We're going out because you'd be crazy to want to eat at home. In Scotland, I'd probably make you green masala chicken and stuffed peppers (recipes from the Guardian columns by Vicky Bhogal who is amazeballs). With a bit of dhal.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
I could probably eat my own body weight in marshmallows.

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I can't poach an egg to save my life. I don't drive on principle... and because I'm really crap at it. I've done many things to earn an honest wage, from busking to root canal therapy. One of the most painful things I've ever done was, many years ago, to spend a day dressed as a maiko (apprentice geisha). Those girls are hard as nails.

And now, to tag 5 others!
Okay, apologies to these here listed if they've already taken part in this event (or decided to pass on it - that's okay too). Here are some food bloggers I really like:

30 November 2011

tax (return) evasion

I always aim to file my tax return by my birthday in October. And then I promise myself it really will get done by Christmas. Inevitably I end up filing at the very last minute in January (oops). It's the absolute prime example of my worst habit - crashing procrastination - and it's the sole reason I get so productively engrossed in other things at around about this time of year.

So October came and went, predictably. And now with Christmas looming I'm knitting prodigiously all of a sudden, the latest finished item being the Christmas Zooey for The Boss. Super cute.

It was supposed to have some sort of ruffles up the front, but by the time I had added the button bands, hidden about two dozen tails, and added the buttons, I felt like the fabric had been tortured enough. Do you ever feel that way? That you've made beautiful soft sections, blocked them to razor-edged perfection, but then when it comes to the finishing it feels like torturing and contorting your lovely fabric into bumpy seams and knotty lumps under the armpits? No? Ah well, just me and my ham fists.

Anyway, moving swiftly on (so that I don't have time to think about, far less fill out, the forms for you-know-what). I've so admired Ginny's little girls in their cap-sleeved tops that I've decided to see if I can get one of those finished for the Christmas break too, using some yarn that should have everything going for it. Rowan Purelife Revive in Pink Granite is speckled, textured, made from recycled garments, and is all-round gorgeous. Unfortunately it's hand-achingly awful to knit with due to it being a lot like pretty string. But I've got four balls that cost a fortune about two years ago and I'm determined to use them up (more items have been started and frogged in this dreadful, gorgeous stuff than I care to admit), so the cap-sleeved sweater is it. I've never knitted anything in the round before and can't stand the string... what could possibly go wrong? Well I've just cast on for the fourth time. Watch this space...

Regarding books for Yarn Along this week, I'm still struggling with Jefferey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot and its lack of chapters. But someone in my book group back in Scotland just chose I don't know how she does it by Allison Pearson, which looks like a nice bit of light (hopefully chapter-full) holiday reading. I think I'd better save it for the airplane, because I've really got to get this tax return done.

Happy St Andrew's Day quines.

25 November 2011

small chocolate nemesis

An affirming sort of thing happened this week.

One rainy afternoon, while twiddling about on the computer instead of paying my daughter the undivided attention she deserves, some music started to play. I was wrapped up in woeful confusion at not understanding a word of this blog tutorial, when I realised that The Boss (not normally a spontaneous dancer) was twirling, swirling and pogo-ing around the room to the soundtrack. She asked me to play it again and again and again. Dancing to YouTube was on the agenda the following day, and the next. Pretty soon, we were all at it.

Unable to find the tracks on iTunes, I figured there'd be no harm in emailing the musician to see if he could help me out. And within 48 hours he had replied, attaching ten of his songs to a generous and genuine email. In his words "I share all this in the hopes that (if you dig it, of course), you'll share it with others."

This ranked pretty highly on my random-act-of-kindness scale, higher still because it was a kindness directed towards my progeny, and all parents have a fondness for that. So, in the spirit of spreading the warmth I urge you to go over and check out Allen Cote's website and buy a few of his lovely tracks (some are on iTunes with more to follow I'm sure). His will be the soundtrack to our winter.

And so it was the soundtrack to our latest self-imposed random recipe evening (our official random recipe post for November is here, but we're nerds and try to cook randomly more often than Dom requests, because it's fun). My husband instigated another bizarre and unfathomable system for selecting the recipe. Somehow it involved me choosing lots of numbers (I still don't know how they featured in the selection process) and him hiding recipe books in loads of drawers. Don't ask.

The recipe in question needs a little introduction: years ago, in the halcyon days of lissome youth (aka the early 2000s), when we worked too hard to enjoy life as much as we should have, there was a recipe. A recipe that filled domestic hearts with fear, and newspaper columns with adjectives like unfeasible, infamous and disastrous. It was the River Cafe's Chocolate Nemesis from the River Cafe Cookbook. The stir it caused is described in this article by Julian Barnes much better that I ever could  (hardly surprising, him being the Booker prize winner an' a'thing). And as a (further) aside, if you're looking for a stocking filler for the man in your life, Julian Barnes' The Pedant in the Kitchen is a great little book if you can find it.

Anyway, the recipe is the Easy Small Nemesis, from the River Cafe Cookbook Easy (emphasis on the easy, see?). If you're not familiar with the River Cafe, it's probably suffice to say that it was the culinary training ground for Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall amongst others. Small Nemesis contains a whole packet of butter, five eggs, four large bars of chocolate and a heap of sugar. It's still not exactly easy (only because at numerous points we felt sure we were headed for a cowpat and that's a bit stressful) but this version of the recipe does actually work.

It's definitely a "grown-up" pudding, so densely rich that the tiniest slice beat me (and I'm blessed with a snout and trotters). And it's certainly a restaurant-y pudding, for reasons that I can't explain in any way other than it doesn't feel like something you'd normally eat at someone's home - certainly not in my home. If you're from a family of fruit-pud haters it would be a seriously impressive alternative at Christmas, especially for nut-/gluten-free households. It ticks all the rich, indulgent, over-the-top boxes that a good Chrissie pud should. And this small version could easily feed twelve. Our neighbours have just moved out, so quite what we're going to do with the remaining ten slices of ours is anyone's guess.

And so, here it is: our nemesis. Because there's nothing like getting a headstart on your Christmas weight gain while dancing to the strains of a distant ukelele.

shades of autumn: finale

All good things must come to an end. The beautiful blogs Bumbles & Light, Live & Love Out Loud and Project Alicia have been hosting a photography challenge based around the shades of autumn. As I've said every week for the past couple of months, at only 70-ish miles from the equator there's no traditional northern hemisphere change in the seasons here in Singapore. I thought this might be an interesting exercise in sharing the shades of a tropical Asian autumn; lush, vibrant and dripping with sweat colour...

And while I haven't been able to indulge in the sumptuous, cosy, enveloping autumn of blazing leaves, pumpkin patches or first frosts, it has certainly been fun showing you around autumn in this part of the world. I've loved the enthusiastic feedback, and I'm so proud to have had a picture chosen each week for the Shades of Autumn Pinterest board. Okay, so I'll admit that I don't really understand Pinterest, but to have been "pinned" feels pretty cool (no... yes... maybe? Fill me in!). What I do know is that the SoA Pinterest board is a seriously beautiful place that I go to often. I commend it to you.

So what to do for the last week of the project? Well, I'll start with my personal challenge winner: this sweet shot, taken at the Marina Barrage here in Singapore, was selected by Rebecca, Alicia and Kristi as one of their top pics of the week for "red" at the end of October.

Now I LOVE that this was recognised by our wonderful hosts, despite its flaws, not least because it's the only photo I included of The Boss during the whole project.

But, maternal pride aside, I think one of my favourite shots of the season was taken back in week one: green week. A torrential thunderstorm had just ended, hence the fallen, dripping frangipane flower. (Yup, it's the one I've tried to make it into a banner; but I know I've still a little work to do there. Hey, I'm no designer... oh, you can tell huh!?)

This flower and these colours and that rain captures Singapore in a nutshell: beautiful, vibrant, and usually wet. It perfectly illustrates this two-year adventure of ours that will soon draw to a close.

Since this project has helped me to see what a beautiful rainbow-coloured city I live in, lets see if we can't make a SoA paint chart for finale week...

And, last but not least, I wanted to show you a sooc picture that didn't fit into any of the colour categories (some of you have seen it before, soz!). Strictly speaking this wasn't taken during the autumn, but I was amazed to have it printed in the October issue of a glossy magazine as a competition runner up - so a photographic success of autumn rather than a shade of autumn! I didn't win a prize or anything like that but it was a major creative ego boost, and I love showing it to anyone who'll sit still for long enough.


I'm itching to see what everyone else posts for SoA Finale Week. And in the meantime, for many, many more pictures, drop by my green, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown & white posts from previous weeks!

Thanks for a wonderful project Rebecca, Alicia and Kristi, I've enjoyed every. last. minute. xx

Shades of Autumn Photo Challenge Photobucket

23 November 2011

fred and ginger

It's been while since I last knitted a "garment". I haven't been knitting for long, maybe three years on and off, and I'm still big on things that are flat. Simple projects that I don't have to gauge, measure or generally fret over. Rowan Kids' Zooey has reminded me why.

I liken knitting the front panels of a cardigan to learning circus skills. For starters you have to knit your basic pattern. Let's call this the unicycle-riding element. Then the pattern tells you to start shaping an arm hole (keeping your pattern correct). So we've added basic plate spinning while you're up on that unicycle. Now while you're shaping that armhole and keeping your pattern correct, you'll want to make sure you're also creating a beautiful neckline decrease. Because plate spinning on a unicycle is nothing unless you're simultaneously singing mio bambino caro. Oh, and by the way, remember that the basic pattern includes a twenty-stitch lace panel (ie this version of mio bambino caro is in Cantonese).

'Kay? Got that? Feeling fantastically clever after muddling through the left-hand panel? Well, don't get too smug because the edited essence of the next line of instructions reads: 
RIGHT FRONT - Same as left front in reverse.
Let's just pause to contemplate that for a moment... (while I head for the hills, arms waggling and tongue lolling from corner of mouth). It reminds me of a bumper sticker that I saw years ago on a beaten up old Mini in Glasgow. It said something along the lines of "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels".

Anyway, after some imaginative cursing and more than a little unpicking, I have all the components of Zooey ready for finishing. She's now wet blocking on the spare bed (precisely following these fabulous instructions from The Yarn Harlot). Phew.

I haven't made much reading progress this week. I have two excuses reasons. The Marriage Plot by Jefferey Eugenides is good so far, but with one pretty significant flaw (in my opinion): a lack of chapters. I don't know if this affects his writing style or my reading style more, but it definitely affects something, and it means I'm getting nowhere fast. The first section is over 100 trade paperback pages long. Blugh, can't be bothered.

Also I've been waiting until after my husband goes to bed to work on his Christmas gifts - a pair of iPhoto hardback albums. The process is totally addictive and so I've been falling into bed long after midnight all week. But I've just pressed the order button on them, and have 5 days to wait for the results... fingers crossed they come out beautifully!

Linking in with the lovely Yarn Alongers once again.

21 November 2011


I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mum. I get to spend all the time in the world with my girl - something that I know many women aren't able to do. I chose this, and I try to value it every day. I have a very generous 15hrs a week to "get stuff done" thanks to a divine local nursery school. But once the daily grocery shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning are finished, that doesn't seem to amount to all that much.

Just occasionally I wish that - by virtue of a paid job, nearby relative, or live-in maid domestic helper (lets not even get into that debate just now) - I could, just once, throw my hands up in the air and sod off to go and do my own thing without a backward glance (...or a quick look down at my watch for the ever-looming school run/babysitter deadline).

I realised last week that there have only been two nights in nearly five years where I have slept away from my daughter. On the one hand, how incredibly lucky am I? (And this hand is definitely the winning hand, I know it holds the top trumps.) But on the other, I felt the need to scream for my lost independence.

But I can't do that because I live in a block of flats and it would've woken the neighbours. How bloody frustrating.

If you've ever felt this way, and you're the parent of a preschooler, I've found a sort-of short-term solution. It's simpler than you would ever have imagined. I can't magic up a childminding granny, a full-time Mrs Mop, or an undemanding morning job in a divine local boutique (aaah dreamy)... I don't have the cash or the work permit to make any of those things happen.

But I can do buttons.

Seriously, if you don't have a tin of buttons, go to your local cheapo craft shop and buy the biggest mixed bargain bag they have. They induce remarkably long periods of contented, educational quiet time, during which I retreat to my room to knit and read. Knitting and reading isn't exactly asserting my independence to the world, but sometimes a bit of peace and quiet is all I need to restore perspective.

And when I start to crave her company again, I can always go and join in with the colour sorting, the threading, the adding, the size grading, the tiddlywinking, the endless mesmerising possibilities...


They've been known to save my day.

18 November 2011

shades of autumn: white

The beautiful blogs Bumbles & Light, Live & Love Out Loud and Project Alicia are hosting a photography challenge based around the shades of autumn. You can find out all the details by clicking on the button below.
Shades of Autumn Photo Challenge

At only 70-ish miles from the equator there's no traditional northern hemisphere change in the seasons here in Singapore. I thought this might be an interesting exercise in sharing the shades of a tropical Asian autumn; lush, vibrant and dripping with sweat colour...

...except for this week. Which is white week. Warning: there will be no snow, no frost, no ice in my photos. But there is white EVERYWHERE in this rainbow city. Perhaps it's all the white that makes the colours stand out all the more vibrantly. I'm afraid I have gone a little overboard on the number of pics this week - sorry - I did rather enjoy white, and it is the penultimate week after all! I found white an interesting challenge and quickly realised that, for me, it was important to have colour in each shot, even just a damp patch on a wall or the stamen of a flower. The flash of colour tells my brain that I'm looking at a white colour photo rather than a B&W.

This whole SoA project forced me to acknowledge a few things, the first being what an incredibly beautiful place I live in. I knew that before, but I didn't go searching for it in the way that have been this autumn. And the second thing is how much I love buildings. I'm completely mesmerised by them. Too bad I'm too old to follow in my Dad's architect footsteps (seven years at uni - pfff, seriously!).

So here are some of the whites to be found in Singapore this autumn. Kicking off, as usual, with some buildings.

living here has taught me, above all, that conservation needn't be conservative
(oops - that kindof suggests I live actually HERE, which I don't! Probably about $20million SGD short!)

say what you like about the colonialists, they knew a thing or two about decorative plasterwork

the modern city is pretty spectacular too

holland village even has its own windmill

when out and about with a camera, I've learnt to always look up

I've also discovered a real passion for overexposed white heat. The photos which follow are hard to look at for too long, and you can't really make out the details... EXACTLY like a sunny day here in Singapore. They make you want to dive into the nearest shady corner. I know that technically I've forced my camera to take "bad" photos here, but the feeling I get from looking at these pictures is viscerally evocative. (Can something be viscerally evocative?)

faded neon

sizzling hot in Haji Lane

the Sultan Mosque dazzling in the sun

what a lovely wall

And a few randoms others...

you see, without a flash of colour, it's hard to believe this is a colour photo, right?
He's one of the wonderful lions outside the Bank of China - I love these guys!

I can't explain why I love this picture so much. It's a water carrier hanging up outside Papa Palheta coffee house.

more lovely textures at Papa Palheta

And finally, some flowers.

the spider lilies outside our back door, in flower all year round

ooh I like my new macro attachment (need to work on the lighting though!)

look what happens when you put Picnik's cinema filter on a macro of a white flower!

See my green, yellow, orange, red, purple and brown photos from previous weeks here!

15 November 2011

thirty-nine days to go... bah humbug, I'll be knitting

Having to negotiate the vagaries of international postage for virtually every Christmas card and gift is a bit of a chore. You know that pile of air mail cards and parcels that you get ready earlier than the rest, intend to take to the post office before the end of November, accidentally forget to do until it's definitely going to be too late, and then have to pay through the nose for stamps when you know fo sho they won't arrive 'til mid-January? Picture that scenario for every card you need to send. It requires serious pre-advent organisation and it's expensive.

And I am not going to do it this year.

Why? Because every year we design, make, write and post 150 Christmas cards. Sometimes they're a bit crap, but sometimes they're good (even if I say so myself, 2009 was a pleasing vintage) and they've always had a lot of time and effort put into them. Last year we had them ready at the beginning of October so that, in a nod to philatelic economy, my Mum could haul them all the way home to post in the UK. And after all that (and a fifty quid charge for overweight luggage - oops), many thousands of miles from home for the first Christmas in our lives, we received six in return.


Talk about out of sight and out of mind. To say I was hurt doesn't even come close. Naturally cards do need to be sent, tendrils of friendship do need to be extended, even just as a reminder that we're still here. But this year they'll be largely shop-bought, ready-made and, the way things are going, they are quite likely to be late. If others can't fork out a stamp for us then who cares?

Well actually, I care. Keeping in touch matters to me. And I always feel that a home-made Christmas card, or a couple of lines of a personal message, or a scribble by the kids, embodies the spirit of the season. Particularly compared with a supermarket multipack card marked "love from X, Y and Z", but with no indication who it was intended for (ie anonymous production-line card-writing). Or worse still, the dreaded photocopied round robin (shudder).

[Apologies if you're a round robin writer, but I find even the most amusing ones (which are precious few) faintly cringe-y. Sorry. Delete the paragraph explaining my scorn for holiday letters. I know it's heartless of me to admit that said missives aren't always received in the spirit that they were intended. But trust me, I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE. Holiday letters are a perfect example of the rule that says that making something "one size fits all" simply guarantees that it will actually fit nobody properly. And I'm pretty sure some of the people who sneer at the 'holiday letter' then go on to write one themselves anyway, labouring under the illusion that theirs is better. Seriously, unless you're a newspaper columnist, it's probably not.]

By the way you can start calling me Scrooge any time around about... now. And if you were about to point out that that last paragraph highlights a possible reason why we only got half a dozen Christmas cards last year... well, fair enough. Maybe every cloud has a silver lining; fewer cards means fewer round robins. Bah humbug.

Part of me wants to maintain the higher ground with the Christmas card situation, make our own and carry on regardless. I've had some designs sketched out since August. But the coming month is going to be busy, and there comes a point when you've got to prioritise. I don't mean to sound self-pitying (even though I know that I TOTALLY do!) I've just decided to invest time and creative energy elsewhere this year, safe in the knowledge that the sentiment would have gone largely unreturned anyway. Perhaps normal service will be resumed next year.

On a more positive note, one parcel is already winging its way across the oceans to my dear friend in time for Christmas. The stash-buster scarf is finished, and I'm super duper pleased with it. Not only did it completely use up the odds and ends that it was intended to, but by sheer luck I think it's probably the most useful and wearable thing I've ever made. It's about 6'2", there are 600+ rows of K1P1, and it was pure meditation to make. This is going to be a tricky Christmas for her, but I hope this shows how much I've been thinking of her. A kiss in every stitch and all that.

modelled by my glamorous assistant!

On completing it I realised that since July (and since starting this blog) I've made only shawls and scarfs, nothing else. Time to stretch my brain cells with a last-minute Christmas knit for my little poppet. This is going to be a Zooey cardigan from Rowan kids, using Rowan Extra Fine DK Merino that has been sitting in my box since April 2010. Such a perfect Christmas colour in squishy soft merino - I hope I get it finished in time!

Where books are concerned, I've just finished the Booker prize winner, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Everything I've ever read by him is so carefully written, and this is no exception. You can just sense that every sentence has been considered at length so that it says precisely what it needs to. Nothing more, nothing less. So despite being a short book, it took me a couple of weeks to read, in small slow chunks. I enjoyed it a lot, I find his style very interesting. Next on the list is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I thought that Middlesex was phenomenal, so I hope this doesn't disappoint.

Joining in with the inspirational Ginny and her weekly Yarn Along on Wednesday. Do nip over to see what others are making and reading, they'd all love you to join in. And I'm pretty sure they're all feeling more benevolent with their Christmas spirit too!

12 November 2011

duffer and cardamom soup(...ish)

Well, our dedication to the randomness of the random recipe challenge slightly backfired this month with a boring recipe.

But do keep reading anyway, you might learn something yet. (So bossy.)

This month, the wonderful Dominic teamed up with a lady called Jac from Tinned Tomatoes, combining their challenges into "Random Recipes does No Croutons Required". Baffled yet? I'm not 100% clear so I'll quote Dom to disguise my ignorance:
Jac has been running the excellent No Crouton's Required challenge with Lisa's Kitchen, since the internet began back in the 1950's... or something like that... and it's a very successful and genius challenge, asking bloggers to create a vegetarian soup or salad with a different theme each month... and so to shake it up a bit, this month she will ask her bloggers to pick their soup or salad randomly... and i'm asking all of you to do the same...
So, Mr Macaroon and I randomly picked a book off the shelf, turned to the index and he picked a number between one and ten (the number of soup recipes it contained). The recipe in question (Spring vegetable and bean since you ask) comprises vegetables, a tin of canned beans, and stock. It's the kind of thing that any of you could make on a camping stove. In a gale. With a blindfold on and your leg in plaster. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just that as recipes go, this one's not very interesting. It's from Jamie's Ministry of Food.

We decided to call it idiot duffer soup.

We pimped it a little by using homemade duck stock from last month's random recipe challenge (defrosted, clarified and strained through a muslin). Oops to the vegetarian part of the challenge, but the stock was too good to ignore! That's about all there was to it. Celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, beans, garlic. Healthy, hearty and undeniably tasty (although, like the solid northern Europeans that we are, we did debate whether a potato or two would have improved the texture).

Actually I must admit, it was delicious. But the whole experience lacked the general razzmatazz and pizzazz (and other words with lots of zzzzzs) required for the esteemed random recipe challenge, so I couldn't leave it at that.

I'm intrigued as to whether anyone will manage to come up with a bona fide sweet soup for the challenge. Disclaimer: what follows is NOT a bona fide sweet soup, and neither was it picked at random, but it's a dessert that some of you might not have heard of. It's not soup, but it's soup...ish.

Kheer is a sago pudding that comes in a tiny dish as part of an Indian vegetarian thali. Indeed, in my opinion, no thali is complete without kheer. While searching online some time ago for a good kheer recipe, I found lots of basmati rice pudding recipes sweetened with condensed milk. Ignore those. The kheer at our favourite cafe is much lighter than that, and sloppier, more like a gloopy sweet soup. It's so simple that after a few tweaks I think I've managed to come up with my own way of making it. And listen, as a martyr to my art I've eaten many, many bowls of kheer, so while this certainly isn't a genuine Indian recipe I promise you that it tastes pretty close. (And if anyone can give me more authentic instructions I'd be tickled squint. There's nothing I like more than recipes that start with "when my Granny used to make this..."!) 
65g pearl sago/tapioca

100ml water
1litre semi skimmed milk
6-8 cardamom pods
6-10 strands of saffron
4tbsp soft brown sugar
2tbsp raisins
2tbsp slivered almonds
ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg (a few pinches/to your own taste)
  • measure the milk into a jug. Slit the sides of the cardamom pods to expose the seeds, put the whole pods into the milk and back into the fridge for a couple of hours to infuse.
  • wash the sago thoroughly in a seive. Put the rinsed sago and 100ml water into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for a couple of hours at room temp. The pearls should puff up.
  • once the wait is up, pour your milk (pods and all) into a pan and bring to the boil. Stir for 10 minutes or so at a rolling boil.
  • remove the cardamom pods, and add the softened sago pearls and all the other ingredients. Stir for a couple of minutes to dissolve the sugar. Switch off the heat and leave to stand.
The pearls will become translucent and thicken the milk as it cools, and the saffron will gently colour the mixture. Try to resist eating this hot though, the best temperature is when it has cooled to about the point where you know that it has been hot at some ill-defined time in the past. No? Too obscure? Luke warm isn't specific enough, and who the heck is Luke anyway.

Obviously this recipe is just my own approximation and you can apply your own bucket chemistry to it. If you don't like a starchy rice pudding texture, half the amount of sago. If you want it stronger, tinker with the flavourings and use more cardamom. More colourful? Add more saffron or add it earlier. For the crunchy element you could use pistachios, toasted pumpkin seeds, anything really. I've even seen a version with crystallised rose petals sprinkled over the top!

So that's the closest I could come to inventing a sweet soup. I'm anticipating at least one of the RR group creating something seriously sinful, sweet and soupy before the end of the month, so do check in with Belleau Kitchen around about St Andrew's day to find out. In the meantime I'm rather tempted to see if I can make kheer with less refined ingredients; freshly squeezed coconut milk rather than semi-skimmed cow, and gula melaka rather than sugar. I don't know whether it'll work as I'm sure the coconut milk will behave differently when heated, but I'm interested to give it a try.

Thanks Dom and Jac for another fun challenge - I look forward to finding out what December has in store!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...