05 December 2012

positive mental appetite

At 57 degrees of northerly latitude it's dark a lot just now. When the sun does shine it is brief and blinding. But mostly it's dark. And then, last night, the snow arrived. In an effort to stay sane I am trying to see it through the shiny eyes of a five year old who cannot remember the last time she saw snow. They're very shiny eyes.

I am trying not to see it through the eyes of a car-less woman who has to push about 20kg of fully loaded pram a mile up a snowy hill to school before nine o'clock in the morning. Those eyes are not shining.

But when I got home from the Arctic expedition school run this morning, I found the perfect prescription for any weather woes. Meaghan Smith's It Snowed blaring out of the computer, all the gifts and wrapping stuff laid out on the table, happy baby in his bouncer, and a plate piled high with buttered toast. (It really doesn't work without the toast.) I predict the warm fuzzy feeling lasting until we need to tackle the hill again at 3pm.

The recent cold snap has accelerated progress on my current knitting, because this jumper/dress looks like it is going to be so comfortable and warm that I can't wait to finish. Just the sleeves left to do. The Boss has grown out of her jeans, but I think I might have to go and find a cheap pair, because these colours will look great with denim.

Bulle in Araucania Toconao Multy

Where books are concerned, I've been indulging in Nigella Christmas - it's such a great way to start feeling excited about all the catering that the next few weeks promise, rather than being daunted by it. On Saturday, a brunch party at our house is followed by a kids' party at a friend's, so what better day to delve into Nigella Christmas? Chestnut soup, mince pies and Christmas morning muffins beckon for brunch, and Parma ham bundles should transport easily to the party (dates stuffed with goat's cheese and wrapped in ham).

It's important to lay down reserves for those daily Arctic adventures after all.

28 November 2012

yarn along :: in brief

There aren't enough hours in the day at the moment. And I know that it'll only get more frantic next month. In lieu of a well-considered, pithy and thought-provoking yarn along post (still working on those things), here's one of this year's projects in use this morning.

In short; I'm knitting an age seven Bulle, using this wool, and I'm really excited about it. So far it feels like the best quality garment I've ever made. Which might be because I'm taking my time and doing it properly, swatching for gauge, alternating my skeins and everything. Also, I'm totally engrossed in reading this amazing story. Recommended by a member of our book group (apparently the author is a friend of a friend of a friend or something) the jacket blurb made me think no, this is not up my strasse at all. But I went for it anyway, and I'm enjoying the long lazy 4am nursing sessions with my wee Kindle light on more than I can tell you. It's awesome.

27 November 2012

you say flapjack, I say flapjack

Everybody knows that in America biscuits are called cookies. And I'm led to believe that they call scones* biscuits. And by scones, I mean scones, not what sassanachs refer to as drop scones. Drop scones are pancakes. By which I mean pancakes, and not what the French call crepes or what the Americans have for breakfast. And then I heard that Americans sometimes call pancakes flapjacks.

So what do Americans call flapjacks?

Confused yet? Let's not even get started on macaroons...

The Boss' new best friend was coming over for tea after school, and I had no shopping in. What to do? The answer was flapjacks. Because every Scottish household has porridge oats, and everything else can be cobbled together.

While I knew the principles, I'd never actually made flapjacks before. So it might have been a bit of a risk to allow the quantities to be dictated by what I had left in various packets. But they turned out pretty good.

They are so quick too. I put the Dragon Baby in his bed at noon, and the flapjacks were in the oven with the dishwasher loaded twenty minutes later.

It might have been beginners luck. Meaning that I'll have to make these many more times. Just to be absolutely sure.

spiced seed flapjacks
makes 20
200g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons runny honey
6 generous tablespoons golden syrup
325g porridge oats
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
generous pinch ground nutmeg

- preheat oven to 180*C
- roughly line a tin of some kind with parchment (mine is... hang on let me go and measure it... a 20cm x 26cm rectangle. A touch smaller might be better because the flapjacks will be thicker.)
- oil your tablespoon measure (this prevents the syrup and honey sticking to your spoon)
- put butter, honey and syrup in a pan to melt
- mix the dry ingredients together and pour into the pan with the liquids
- mix together and press into the lined tin
- bake for 20 minutes
- let your tea steep while you cut the flapjack into squares in the tin
- let them cool on a wire rack (except the warm one that you have with your tea)

*Scone rhymes with gone in my house btw. When scone rhymes with phone my skin crawls. No idea why.

26 November 2012

the countdown's on :: gifts for stationery lovers

My name is little macaroon and I am a stationery addict. There I've said it. I can't always spell it (I have to look it up every single time, ary? ery? whatevs) but I LOVE it. I might love it more than flowers and chocolate and puppies. More even than flowery chocolate puppies.

I love stationery so much that, for five years (while working a full-time job and then quitting to have a baby work another full-time job), I made elaborate wedding stationery for dozens of friends and relatives... for free! Some of it was rather nice even if I say so myself.

do you think anyone is allowed to help themselves to the contents of these drawers? I think not.

All of which brings us (now that our American friends have got Thanksgiving out of their systems) to the C word. I think it's time we talked about Christmas. About the wee baby Jesus. About peace on earth. And about gifts.

Come on, you know you want to. 

So, combining my twin loves of stationery and gifts with a magic sprinkle of Christmas fairy dust, I have to share some of these brilliant new things with you - just in case there's a hoarder of tissue-lined envelopes and pretty sticky tape in your family. And if there is one of that breed in your brood, you need to take note (on a nice pad, using a lovely pen, natch). Now make yourself comfortable, here goes:

Living in Singapore was very very bad for my stationery addiction. Those red dotters do paper shops well. And there are few better than Prints, the Scandi/Sing collaborative daddy of them all. Notebooks, calendars, diaries, files. In plastic, fabric, leather, card. Covering every colour of the rainbow (and more) and embossed with flowers, checks... I could go on. And on. And on. You won't believe the beautiful quality and, as special stationery goes, it's really affordable. (And they've just launched an international online shop, Hallelujah!)

Look at this little beauty! Under a tenner from Prints

Now when was the last time you used an eraser? Hmm, me neither. But that isn't the point. Just look at this lovely, lovely thing from the Design Museum. I would thoroughly enjoy making many mistakes in my homework if I had one of these. In fact, I promise to write all my thank you letters in pencil... with my left hand.

Eraser pot, just £16.50 earth pounds from the Design Museum shop. Yum.

Regular readers may notice that I have a bit of a thing for kikki.K, an Australian brand with a Scandinavian lineage, and another dangerous weakness that I cultivated in Singapore. Their "My organising" binder series has revolutionised my filthy old shambles of a recipe folder, and I would love to extend those powers to the rest of my chaotic life. Probably in the form of this fabulous new product... I think I would even manage to do my tax return on time if I had one of these. It's not cheap, but they do seem to have free standard delivery over US$150, which could justify it. Especially if it saves me a fine on my tax return.

Santa Baby, slip these binders under the tree, for me! 189SGD from kikki.K

Brothers and sisters-in-law are always tricky aren't they? What to give to people who must be given to, but who you don't see that often. I decided upon a Christmas hamper. And on further inspection found them to be largely filled with marmalade, coffee, stilton and wine. My brother doesn't like marmalade, coffee, stilton or wine. And my sister-in-law is a divinely glamorous size zero (at a generous estimate), so I'm guessing she doesn't eat all that much of anything at all. Therefore, Christmas hamper = crappy unimaginative cop out idea. Until...

The brilliant company I buy coloured envelopes from for all those weddings sent me a Christmas catalogue containing (deep breath now) STATIONERY HAMPERS! (The Hallelujah chorus is now coursing through my veins.)

And because good gift giving is buying something you really love and giving it (ungrudgingly, ahem) to someone else (right?), big bro and his lady love will be given all colours of gorgeousness in the form of this and this and a couple of these. Yes, yes, I have mailed off my application for sister of the year. And while we're here, let me just share this with you. A stationery hamper worth £350. Don't drool now.

tiny picture, fabulously ginormous price tag, from bureau direct

Sit still at the back, we're nearly done. And this last one's a real cracker. Urban Cottage Industries is a family of small businesses doing totally genius stuff. I could wax lyrical about the personalised letterpress birthday card I got this year. I could gush about the MoleskinePress, CardPress, and PencilPress. And that's before even getting on to the clever things they do with lighting. But what I'd really love to share is Kornflake - business and greetings cards, letterpress printed onto recycled cereal boxes. Their Christmas cards look hard to beat, and I want all my business cards made of old packets of coco pops.

I want that hard. I'll just have to think up a business first.

You're welcome stationery lovers. Now where's my 12-step programme.

snowflake cards made of Frosties packets, they're grrrrrreat! from Kornflake

17 November 2012

the award for 'dinner least attractive to children' goes to...

Embarking on my random recipe at 5pm on a weekday night, with The Boss bouncing off the walls and The Dragon Baby babbling on his mat, was not a recipe for domestic harmony.

The rules for this month's challenge found me randomly selecting page 117 of Nigella Lawson's How To Eat, and a recipe for aubergine moussaka. But, as she points out "This is a Lebanese version, very different from the traditional Greek". It's basically aubergine stew.

While I use it now and again, I'm not a huge fan of How To Eat. This might have something to do with the complete lack of photography (which in this case is probably just as well, because a photo of aubergine stew isn't bonny). I'm not wild about the prose style either, because sometimes you have to work quite hard to find the actual recipe. But, gripes aside...

I couldn't buy baby aubergines or pomegranate molasses, and I couldn't be arsed soaking pulses. So I used big aubergines and canned chickpeas. Oh, and since we do actually still seem to be griping, I didn't peel the aubergines "to look like like Edwardian circus tents". (Really Nigella? Really? Give me strength.)

Bugger it, ground-level babbling has turned to wimpering, but we're too far in to stop now. Dance my love, dance to amuse your brother, dance like a dervish!

She says the aubergines smell like a grocery shop. I know what she means.

Bugger it again. Nigella wants the tomatoes rinsed, peeled, seeded and quartered. Not. on. your. life. They'll be roughly chopped if you're lucky. (And isn't all the flavour in the seed jelly and skin anyway? Why on earth would you chuck them?)

The wimpering has turned into wailing. Sing sweetie, sing to him like our lives depend on it!

It's all getting a bit fraught, and rather noisy, but here's the bit I was looking forward to: adding the cinnamon and allspice. Nice festive smells will make it all better.

But hang about, the combination of vegetal grocer aroma and Christmassy spices equals... what is it? It's very familiar... YES! It's that gag-worthy section just before the checkout at the garden centre where houseplants and artificially scented candles combine to form a collective speech bubble above everyone's heads saying "why the hell is all this odourous tat in a garden centre when all I wanted was a bag of compost?".

I don't really want to eat the stew-formerly-known-as-moussaka. And very forcefully, neither does The Boss. She says it's too brown (pronounced 'braaaaan' invoking her cockney sparrow heritage) and it's hard to disagree. I end up having to make a more child-friendly alternative. While the poor Dragon Baby cries himself hoarse.

It tastes absolutely fine, with couscous and yoghurt, but I'm too scarred by the whole experience to ever consider it again. And there are many, many better things to do with cinnamon and allspice at this time of year. Just please don't put them in a frakking candle.

liebkuchen, my contribution for my first visit to a local baking club last night, and a much better way to use cinnamon

14 November 2012

our lives in stripes

The Puerperium (below left)
The first two tiny weeks. I'm a sack of spuds high on adrenaline. Waddling rather than walking, whilst substantially and absorbantly padded. Afterbirth pains - nobody told me about those. Breastfeeding agony - I knew all about that. He is staggering and beautiful and perfect.

The first Beyond Puerperium (below centre)
Walking is back to normal. Astonishing Pammy A sized ta-tas. Visits to the bathroom no longer feel like a violation. He continues to be divine, gaining a pound per week. But my decreasing adrenaline is inversely proportional to increasing tiredness, reaching a perfect storm around week six, during which things may be said and later regretted. Mummy, what does "flipping" mean?... Why did you call Mr Funny Bunny "that flipping stinky rabbit?"

The following week brings some personal progress, and a routine begins to emerge. And baby giggles. Lots and lots of giggles.

The second Beyond Puerperium (below right)
Who knows what the next phase will bring, but those colours spell Christmas...

Joining in with Yarn Along this week - though I'm afraid there's been no time for reading round these parts. Must try harder...

13 November 2012

the five-day lipstick fix

The day the Dragon Baby turned six weeks old I had a haircut. Not a fan of going to the hairdresser (low boredom threshold) I only go about twice a year when I absolutely have to. So as I sat there, being quizzed about my non-existent holidays by a heavily made-up local lovely, I got to thinking how unfair it is that some people always seem to have such great hair, while mine always looks like utter shit.

Lightbulb moment: they don't just magically have lovely hair, they go to the hairdresser more than twice a year. Duffer. Hang about, that means people aren't born magically well-dressed, naturally fragrant or genetically glossy either. Those people are that way because they makeabitofaneffort.

Six weeks of night feeds, nappies and walking to school in the rain is not conducive to effort. I look and feel like a shambles and it's time to do something about that. The haircut is a good start. Well, it's a mediocre start to be honest but at least my hair got washed before it walked off by itself.

I book my next appointment before leaving the salon and capitalise on this newfound cleanliness with a squirt of their perfume tester on the way out. Mmmm, feeling more like J-Lo by the minute.

the five-day lipstick fix

Day 1: Friday
Most of the really well-put-together people I can think of do the following: red lipstick, statement glasses and headwear (not necessarily all at the same time). A 61cm head rules out most hat options for me, statement glasses involve shopping (not up to that yet), but red lipstick? Can.

Vow to wear it all week.

I dig a tube of dark red lipstick out of the bowels of an old makeup bag. With a smear of tinted moisturiser and a smudge of grey eyeliner, two minutes effort does make a remarkable difference. Teamed with tracksuit bottoms, a stretched old t-shirt and snow boots, remarkable really is the only word for this get up.

Day 2: Saturday
Something's got to be done about these clothes, and there's a voucher kicking around in a drawer somewhere for a shop that's w-a-y too young and trendy for me. On close examination, none of their tops are suitable for breastfeeding (surprise surprise), except perhaps a soft flannel girly lumberjack-ish shirt. By some minor miracle, the larger size is too big. Flattery will get them everywhere, the deal is done and the medium-sized shirt is mine.

Decide to unzip the vac-packed bag of dreams that is my pre-baby wardrobe. Wasn't going to do so 'til Christmas (too soon = tears) but the shirt success breeds contempt for the rules...

WHOA cowgirl, step away from the skinny jeans. Technically they do "fit" (the fly will close) but dove grey drainpipes are a tough look at the best of times. The dark blue bootcut ones are more forgiving, despite having cashed in their fashion credits long before the recession. There's still an astonishing muffin top though, testament to overindulging in its namesake during the pregnant months.

Day 3: Sunday
No more cheating on the diet - this week will be exemplary. The weight is falling off pretty quickly (thanks to constant breastfeeding), but there's a lot more to go. Plan: weighed portion of All Bran with raisins for breakfast, ham salad sandwich and a clementine for lunch, moderate portion of usual family dinner. Nothing to eat in between. NOTHING. Most diet plans seem to advocate eating little and often, trouble is eating a little bit too much a little too often gets you nowhere.

Absolutely starving by the time the children are in bed. Amend my plan: a couple of dates and a handful of walnuts are preferable to eating one's own fist during the night feeds.

Day 4: Monday
The red lipstick thing is a weird one. The other mums at the school gate have only known me heavily pregnant (grey-faced, massive and exhausted) or during the infant phase (grey-faced, massive and exhausted). They're gonna think there's some kind of bizarre nervous breakdown going on behind these lips. Well, get used to it ladies, because today is diy home manicure day. Naturally the baby wakes up just before the varnish is completely dry so will have to take the whole smudged lot off later on. At least I tried.

Day 5: Tuesday
Back at the school gates with my lippy on. And my jeans. In the pouring rain. Fleetingly long for my comfy old leggings or tracksuit bottoms. But lipstick and stretch waistbands together do not go, so the jeans it is. The trip to school is a kilometre each way, so between drop off and pick up I'm striding out 4km per day at least. That's got to be good for the muffin top, the saddle bags and the love handles, especially as there's a big hill involved. However, on sunny days I could push the buggy further and decide to invest in a cheap pedometre to help with goal setting.

The grand old age of seven weeks approaches, and I'm on the road to recovery. I'm getting used to how my face looks with red lipstick on, and I know those grey jeans will look good again one day. The Dragon Baby has his first official check up with the doctor tomorrow, and in order to avoid the appearance of an angry skin condition (on account of Revlon smooches), I'll need to leave off the lipstick in the morning.

I might even miss it.

That's progress right there.


31 October 2012

but baby it's cold out inside

Having only paid fleeting visits to freezing climes over the past few years (each time singing "yah boo sucks frosticles, we're catching the next SQ flight back the poolside" over our shoulders at the top of our lungs) we've forgotten what Winter is like.

Turns out it's like this:
1. Bloody cold outside the house.
2. Can't afford carpet on the ground floor. Artic breezes sweep up through the exposed floorboards.
3. Ergo, bloody cold inside the house as well.
And the worst bit? You know that thing where your sock wrinkles down inside your welly boot and ends up snarled around your toes, and it only ever happens on one foot which almost makes it more annoying? You know that thing? Yeh well, that never happened in Singapore.

We're starting to miss the sunshine a lot, and there are reminders everywhere. The Boss' new best friends at school are Malaysian and Indonesian. I've been reading the beautiful Booker nominated Garden of evening mists by Tan Twan Eng, and I'm craving a fatty bowl of mee with deep fried wonton from my favourite hawker. (Those last two aren't related in any way.)

So in an effort to avoid "grass-is-always-greener" syndrome (something in which I'm prone to wallow like the grumpy hippo that I am), let's focus on the great things about being at home in the cold. Because there are lots of them (and secretly we're thoroughly enjoying this autumnal babymoon).

The best things are, in no particular order:
1. There are no cockroaches or poisonous snakes.
2. My Mum can come to stay without spending a grand.
3. I can have beautiful discontinued wool like Araucania Toconao in my hands within two days.
Isn't this sweater (inspired by Ginny's one) going to look awsomesauce in that wool?

Joining in with Yarn Along and once again seeking your help: Does anyone know a mail order source of Araucania Toconao Multy in shade 406? (AKA the most beautiful yarn ever made what were they THINKING discontinuing it?) And what did Araucania replace Toconao with in their range? I can only order online and I can't be sure what comes up similar to the Toconao. Thanks for any hints  x

29 October 2012

oranges and lemons :: a healthy halloween snack

Him: Why have you bought ten organic lemons... and dare I ask about the vodka?
Me: To make limoncello for Christmas gifts... obviously.
You mean the stuff that everyone brings back from their first Italian holiday only to sit at the back the in-laws' booze cupboard for the next twenty years?
The stuff we didn't even drink in that place in Naples where they kept trying to hand it out for free?
It's for putting in all those pretty blue beer bottles you got through a few months ago.
No-one in the history of the world actually likes limoncello...
But they might from a pretty blue bottle. Maybe?
...because even the stuff made by actual professionals in actual Italy with actual lemon trees tastes like mosquito repellent.
Well, okay, so he might have a point. I hate the stuff too.

But that's not really relevant where homemade Christmas gifts are concerned. They're about forcing your friends and relations to rave about "how fabulous it is to get something homemade darling", and "oh aren't you sweet, how did you know I love blue glass!" Before shoving them at the back of their drink cupboards for the next twenty years.

And a few of my friends don't even drink.

Making stuff I hate seems to have been the theme for this October holiday. Because at the end of the day, it was more about keeping my five year old's hands busy while I nursed the dragon baby for two solid weeks. The end products of all our industry were, like homemade limoncello, frequently irrelevant. Mixing and casting tiny clay bricks with which to build a tiny brick house was a particular low point for me. (No, I am not even kidding. I now have a renewed respect for Lego.)

And Halloween forced me into my least favourite activity. AGAIN. Namely, sewing eyesight-sapping black fabric together with black thread in what's left of the failing autumnal daylight and 10 minutes before we have to leave for the party. This year it was in aid of a bat costume. Next year it's going to be a white ghost suit and a trip to the optician, not necessarily in that order.

But in the (ahem) "spirit" of Halloween (yes, that's right, I'm allowed to snarl and you won't even know if I'm hating on Halloween or just being scary), here's a last-minute party snack idea if you need one before the big night. Now I know that Halloween is an exercise in stuffing kids so full of refined sugar that they vomit on the neighbours' carpets (I've done Halloween "American-style" once before and it was simply terrifying) but this has the advantage of being a snack that children are attracted to while remaining sugar-free and fruit-based. Just call me Scrooge... sorta.

Orange jellies
makes 24

6 oranges
two packets of jelly powder (I used Hartleys sugar-free sachets in Strawberry and Blackcurrant)

very sharp knife
ice cream scoop
large bowl
two 6-hole muffin trays
- half the oranges
- scoop out the flesh into your bowl (I found an ice cream scoop ideal for this) and juice the pulp roughly (just squeeze it with your hands)
- balance the half skins in the muffin trays
- make up a slightly-stronger-that-usual mix of jelly (you want it to be firm enough to cut well: I used 200ml boiling water to dissolve the jelly powder and then topped up to 350ml with orange juice from the pulp)
- pour into the orange skins and refrigerate overnight   
- once thoroughly set, place flat side down on a chopping board and slice in half with your sharpest knife
I'm already having ideas about using this technique for other holidays - little sparkly clementines for Christmas perhaps, or fuchsia dragonfruit for Chinese New Year?

Of course it goes without saying: I hate jelly. So I have no idea how this tastes. Can't be any worse than limoncello though. Can it?

07 October 2012

crumbling resolve :: a random recipe

It's not often that Dom, our Random Recipe Host with the Most, allows us to positively select a recipe (normally our methods must err towards random selection). But this month it is a store cupboard ingredient that must be randomly selected - how we cook with it is up to us.

Dom's plan is for us to unearth a back-of-the-cupboard gem. But the combination of my new kitchen and this week's primary school harvest thanksgiving collection (Hurrah! Palm off all our old cans of random tat to the local elderly so that they can stuff them, cursing, to the back of their larders.) means that my cupboard is unusually bare of geriatric dried goods and crusty out-of-date jars.

So instead I closed my eyes and ran my finger over my "spice rack": more accurately described as a narrow shelf filled with a decade's worth of Bonne Maman jam jars. Their contents are varied (birthdays candles, baking beans, toothpicks, star anise, cupcake sprinkles - you name it) and, when I've failed to write on the lid, frequently a mystery.

My finger landed on half a jar of something crumbly and beige. Hmmmm. Too soft for sugar, too irregular for flour. Faintly foosty-smelling, but too mild to be a spice, and tastes of nothing. Ground almonds was my best guess. And if that were the case I knew immediately what I was going to do with them, having cut something perfect out of the paper a few weeks ago.

The preamble to the recipe read: "...we're now in the midst of a rather agreeable seasonal crossfire – the waning of summer and the waxing of autumn. This is a time of rich culinary potential, as the tapering off of some fine sunshine crops overlaps with the nascence of many others that come to fruition in the shortening days." Gah, to be able to write like that. I think it's just super lovely. Though, having not experienced Autumn since 2009, my susceptibility to romance is high and my resistance is low.

HFW* was talking there about the lovely few days when the berries overlap with the apples, and I've been waiting for that magical moment in my own garden. Yesterday it arrived, and I got seven James Grieve apples and about 200g of juicy raspberries from my little plot.

And so, while a contented little baby with a full tummy snoozed on his Daddy's chest, and on the radio someone played Tchaikovsky on a Stradavarius from the Usher Hall, I spent a Friday night making pastry. Because the state of the bathroom floor can wait, and the four piles of unwashed laundry will still be there in the morning, and (even though my scales say there's 10kg to lose) the calories simply don't count if you've grown all the fruit yourself... right?

By the way, I still have no idea if they were ground almonds or not, but the tart tastes lovely.


...and after, the apple and raspberry crumble tart

*Now, as an aside, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am being paid by Mr H Fearnley-Whittingstall, because I seem to make so many of his recipes. I only wish that I were. (I want to be his friend. Big time.) Despite living on a small island, he's lucky we genuinely couldn't live further apart without getting wet, or I might become a stalker groupie. But the truth is, when I said a few months ago that I learned how to cook from the Guardian/Observer newspaper columns, I really wasn't kidding, and they remain my main inspiration. Hence his constant presence here.

03 October 2012

ladies, get a hold of your uteri...

...because there's some serious cute coming up.

Not many words for Yarn Along today, as I have my hands rather full. But I wanted to show you that the eight extra days I was kept waiting for the little dragon (or 'xiao long' if my grasp of preschool mandarin/the Din Tai Fung menu is anything to go by) were not wasted days.

(Please excuse the phone photos.)
Stylecraft luxury merino in Mulberry and Cafe

I took inspiration from Anushka's lovely Pompom Papoose, and then completely changed it. I changed the shape (from a simple rectangle to a tapered foot-end), added a button band, and improvised a little leafy autumnal ornamentation. In fact, I haven't even got around to the pompom bit yet, and might omit it altogether, or perhaps make some leaves instead.

So, my hands were not idle. But here's the question: how much does a pattern have to change (and this one was changed utterly) for it to become a new pattern? I'd love to write all the details down and share it with you some time, but wouldn't want to step on any toes.

snug as a bug in a ... papoose

I have read almost nothing during the past week, but have been dipping in and out of the first edition of this new magazine that my friend brought me. It's rather beautiful and references a lot of blogs that I already follow and shops that I already use/lust after. So I'm excited to see that issue two is out tomorrow!

Got to go and address a small nappy now. Happy days!

01 October 2012

little water dragon

It only comes around once every sixty years, the year of the water dragon. All my Chinese Singaporean friends keep emphasising the importance of this, especially now that we have a son. His start in life simply could not be more promising, if you pay heed to that sort of thing. I'm not prone to dabble in astrology, but after two years in Singapore, the mysticism does start to infiltrate the old nerve endings. And what can I say, I'll cite it when it suits me.

Scotland is a funny old place in the year of the water dragon. We have a homegrown champion tennis player and the best Disney princess in yonks. The word "bake" has morphed into a widely-accepted noun (thanks - I think - to a hilariously eccentric tv show) and K-pop is at the top of the charts and set to become mainstream. (Who saw THAT coming? I think it's fabulous, we've been missing out on the joys of J-pop for decades.)

But childbirth is famously the great leveller, and some things about it remain resolute nearly six years after I last experienced it. The toe-curling agony that is the commencement of breastfeeding, the miraculous pain-relieving properties of infacol, the irrational disappointment that one still looks six months pregnant, the peachy-soft skin and the tiny toes... 

And so I introduce you to the little dragon. Thanks for all the lovely comments as I went stir crazy out of my mind while my due date came and went! Eventually he put in a very speedy appearance eight days after his due date. And I mean SPEEDY. I timed my first proper contraction at home at 2.17am on 27th September, and he was in my arms at the midwife unit of the local hospital by 3.50am. Phew, that was one roller-coaster of a car journey, let me tell you.

We managed to escape the post-natal ward and get home the very same day, and have been languishing in the newborn rosy haze of round-the-clock snoozing and feeding ever since.

he came, he saw, he conked out

He looks ever so handsome in all his tie-dyes and handknits, and I hope to have something new and very cute to show you Yarn Alongers on Wednesday - providing I get a few moments with my hands free before then. Ta ta for now.

inundated with beautiful flowers

24 September 2012

late cake

If you're always at least 10 minutes early for everything, ALWAYS, does that make you obsessively punctual, or not? Either way, avoiding being actively late is something I inherit from my father. I am almost NEVER late, and if something makes me late I get ludicrously, blood-vessel-burstingly cross.

There was a perfect description of this in a novel I've just finished: 
I have a crushing fear of lateness. I would rather be an hour early than cause someone a minute's wait. Dev would always say, 'We're not late until we're late.' I knew what he meant and it was technically true, but it never worked for me. Knowing I'll be late is always bad enough. The least I can do is get the worrying in early.
(from Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace)

This is EXACTLY how I feel about being on time.

Which is probably why this baby being nearly a week late is so stressful for me. My last baby's labour kicked off at 9am on her due date. Very businesslike and precisely on time, I hadn't anticipated anything less. So what on earth has happened, why has my scrupulous timekeeping deserted me, what am I doing wrong this time around?

So I'm still filling the days with baking, and then writing about it for you here. Oh, and scarfing it down like a pig of course. Knitting aside, there's nothing better to take my mind off things. To that end, here is a recipe for the most sublime cake in my repertoire. It's the (ahem... late!) Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's favourite cake.*

Queen Mother's Cake
6oz sugar
2oz butter
6oz plain flour
1tspn baking powder
2oz chopped walnuts
1 egg
1tspn vanilla essence
1/2 tspn salt
4oz chopped dates
large pinch bicarbonated soda
  • cover the dates with one cup of boiling water with a pinch of bicarb and set to one side
  • preheat your oven to 180*C and line your cake tin
  • mix all the other ingredients together in the usual way (ie use a hand whisk or wooden spoon to cream butter and sugar, add egg, vanilla and sifted dry ingredients)
  • add the dates, their juice and the chopped walnuts and mix well (it's sloppy, don't worry)
  • bake for 35 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean.
5 tbspns soft light brown sugar
2 tbspns single cream or full fat milk
2 tbspns butter
  • Melt together and boil (constantly stirring) for 5-8 minutes before spreading on the cooled cake and decorating with leftover walnuts.
Unlike my Granny's carrot cake recipe, this one must have it's icing. It is literally the icing on the cake, and turns a date and walnut sponge into a bird of paradise in full plumage. This icing, on this cake, is the sensory distillation of my childhood.

My midwife was surprised (though not concerned) to find trace amounts of glucose in my samples this morning. I wasn't. I think taking the photos alone was enough to have caused that.

* I have no idea if this really was her favourite cake, or even where the recipe originally came from. I remember copying the list of ingredients from my Granny's book (a badly printed spiral bound charity pamphlet I think) at least 25 years ago. So if you own the copyright to this, perhaps you can forgive my lack of credit. And if you happen to know that Ma'am preferred another cake more, well, I'm past caring. In my house, this is Queen Mum's Cake, end of discussion.

19 September 2012

yarn along :: stuff that shouldn't be happening today

Picking the first and only sweet peas of the year... in September? That's just bizarre.

I shouldn't have had time to finish the raspberry Rubble sweater.

I wish I hadn't heard the words "it's discontinued" this morning, with respect to my most favourite wool EVER. Especially at a time when I can't afford to bulk buy all the remaining stock in the local craft shop.

I shouldn't have had time to start a Pompom Papoose in the aforementioned favourite fantastic wool (inspired by lovely Anoushka's version).

I wish I hadn't spent so much time searching through hunnerds of photos (of our recent sandy recreation of DunBroch Castle) for all the porpoises that were frolicking in the background... didn't manage to catch a single one on 'film' sadly.

I shouldn't have needed to recharge and replenish the hospital bag Kindle already, without it ever having been near the hospital bag (now stocked with some Alexander McCall Smith and Chris Cleave btw).

: : :

I should be having a baby today. I don't seem to be doing that. It's bloody annoying.


    18 September 2012

    random recipe :: savoury scones for tea

    I had no intention of taking part in the Random Recipe Challenge for September. Because September wasn't supposed to turn out this way. I had predicted days (if not weeks) already of swaddle-wrestling a posset-stained howler monkey, shuffling around as if kicked in the nethers by a Shire horse and leaking copiously into a nursing top full of mysteriously-placed gaping seams. I know, dreaming the glam dream, right?

    But it hasn't happened, so I thought I'd try to invoke Lou's labour jinx... again.

    This month's challenge is linking with a combination of delightful blogs (which you can read about here via Belleau Kitchen) and focuses on tea time. Something that has become more important than ever since The Boss started school, arriving home after 3pm, ravenous.

    I don't have a recipe book specifically on baking, but I do have a plastic file devoted entirely to the subject, stuffed full of clippings and scribbles for recipes both sweet and savoury. With the help of random.org, I was delighted to select a clipping that I haven't made before, that is available for you to read online here, and that opens with the phrase "Irresistible slathered with butter and served for tea". Surely the stars are all aligned for this Random Recipe!

    So, while listening to Nigel Slater on the radio, extolling the virtues of savouring even the humblest piece of fruit at the table with a napkin and cutlery, I mixed up a batch of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Cheddar, Onion and Herb Wholemeal Scones. Very therapeutic it was too. I used up my spelt flour in place of the light brown in his recipe, rosemary from the garden, and included a few chunks of applewood smoked cheddar as well as the regular stuff I had in the fridge.

    Looks good right? Tastes good too, beautifully soft, salty and savoury, and crunchy round the edges. I scoffed my slice before even getting round to butter... or tea. Oh, and it's only mid-morning. Certainly there was no napkin, table or cutlery. (It took very few moments to forget Nigel's advice on treating food with the respect it deserves - oops.)

    Once again, Lou's labour jinx hasn't worked today, the buzzer went off and I'm still the shape of my gym ball. But never fear, I have more baking on my to-do list. My inherited, hand-written copy of The Queen Mother's Favourite Cake is next up...

    10 September 2012

    treacle, caraway and apple muffins :: it's officially autumn

    I have this lovely friend (you can see just how lovely here) who probably won't mind me telling you that she went into a fast, furious labour with her first child while a cake was in the oven. I remember listening, hand clamped over mouth in horror, as she explained that she was fine when the batter went in, but had to crawl across the floor in a painful rescue operation by the time the beeper went off. Her birth story actually got more and more dramatic (and slightly hilarious in the recounting!) as the evening progressed, but that's not what I'm here to share.

    I am desperate for this bubba to arrive. DESPERATE. Despite there being officially a few days left on the clock, we're thoroughly cheesed off waiting. So I thought I'd do some baking and see if I could tempt Lou's jinx.

    The marvellous Dan Lepard wrote a recipe in the Guardian magazine a few weeks ago that called for some slightly obscure ingredients (spelt flour and caraway seeds) as well as three small apples. Not only did I happen to have the spelt and caraway in the cupboard, but for the first time in its short life my adolescent apple tree was positively dripping with small and nearly ripe apples.

    Daily I have wandered around the tree, checking the largest fruits with a gentle twist of the wrist. All the while wondering which would come first: ripe apples for muffins or a tiny baby.

    Well, today I got my answer. 

    This muffin recipe is as delicious as it looks, it's Autumn on a plate and I thoroughly recommend it to you. But evidently, the beeper has rung and I didn't have to commando crawl across the floor to rescue them. Turns out my second born won't be named after you Dan, sorry.



    04 September 2012

    yarn along :: new

    Posting a little early for Wednesday's Yarn Along, just in case...

    The enormous new blanket that won't fit the dragon baby's bed 'til it's three is finished (dimensions = 97cm x 123cm in the end).

    four colours of Rowan wool cotton striped together
    (nearly... ahem... 16 balls of the stuff. Please don't tell)

    I've invested in new slippers in preparation for my first Scottish Winter in three years, and the amazing Mr Breadwinner shocked me with a final, surprise constituent for our hospital bag: a Kindle. With a beautiful cover that matches my phone perfectly - so chic. I love my new toy. So does our bookshelf. If I could've jumped up and down with excitement I would've. Sadly that'll have to wait a while.

    currently reading "Charlotte Street" by Danny Wallace and "Simplicity Parenting" by KJ Payne.
    "The Gift of Rain" by Tan Twan Eng is queued for those first weeks of endless infant feeding.

    Meanwhile I treated myself to some Cascade 220 for The Boss' new winter jumper (thank you for all your recommendations last week). We consciously keep pink in moderation, and I can confirm that being mindful of princessification during the first formative five years of my daughter's life has worked so far, pink isn't an overbearing issue in our house. But this looked soft and pretty and cosy, and we wouldn't dream of banning the colour altogether. (We're not total bampots.) A pink jumper will be something new, both for me to make and for her to wear.

    details: 3 skeins Cascade 220 Heathers in Framboise, destined to be an age 6 Rubble,
    using a ChiaoGoo 60cm 4.5mm circular needle (my favourite needles of all time)

    So, come on new baby. We're SO ready for your close up now.

    31 August 2012

    trowel to table in three short hours

    Four posts in one week? Yes, I'm staying rather close to home and need something to take my mind off impending labour. I thought last night might have been the night. Turned out it wasn't. Can't be far off.

    So, let me share something tasty and seasonal with you instead.

    A little over a year ago, my second ever blogpost was only read by one person I think (and she kinda had to, she's one of my best friends). A mawkish piece of navel gazing that we won't dwell on. But the subject matter, carrot cake, is very important and deserves to be revisited.

    Yesterday, The Boss and I pulled up all of our remaining crop of Chantenay carrots, amounting to about 1.5lb. Actually, she pulled them up, and did the comedy falling over backwards thing when they popped out of the soil. That's why I left it to her, it's funnier on a leggy kid than a massively pregnant heifer. She bounces.

    And so, here's a revisit of the yummiest carrot cake recipe I know (even better with homegrown carrots rather than jumbo imported Australian ones that we had to use in Singapore). Details follow the photos.

    It's so delicious that I actually think icing slightly ruins it. And it's perfect for making with kids because a whisk and spoon suffices: no need for electronic gadgets with scary finger-chopping potential. (Though I do use the grater attachment on the food processor these days, turning the tedious carrot-grating bit into the work of mere moments.)

    with homegrown raspberries - therefore virtually a health food

    Carrot cake
    6 oz wholemeal flour
    3 oz self-raising flour
    6 oz muscavado sugar
    6 oz soft brown sugar
    3 large eggs
    6 floz sunflower oil
    55ml sour cream
    2 tspn vanilla essence
    1 tspn grated nutmeg
    2 tspn cinnamon
    1 tspn bicarbonated soda
    ½ tspn salt
    11 oz grated carrot
    3 oz dessicated coconut

    Bowl 1: Eggs, oil, vanilla, sour cream. Mix the wet ingredients together (by hand is fine, no need to whip it into a frenzy) and then sieve in sugars.

    Bowl 2: Sieve the flours, nutmeg, cinnamon, soda, baking powder and salt together.

    Fold the dry mix into the wet mix.

    Fold in the carrot and coconut.

    Bake in a large tin at 150C for 90-120 minutes. (I find 90 long enough, but test with a skewer.)

    These James Grieve apples that are ripening so beautifully had better watch out. I've got treacle-y plans for them next... but in the meantime, I'm off to eat some cake.

    almost impossible to believe these colours are straight out of camera!

    Post Script:
    So strangely it seems that today is THE day for blogging about carrot cake. What can I say, great minds thinking alike?! Here's a gluten-free version from the Domestic Sluts, and for something completely different, here's Shu Han's Singaporean carrot cake (warning: this stuff is seriously delicious).

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