Saturday, 12 November 2011

Seasonal Nostalgia

I love living in London but when the season turns to Autumn I miss the countryside. I grew up with the smell of woodsmoke, with crunchy leaves and frosted grass underfoot, with the warm breath of ponies hanging in the crisp, still air.

I remember vividly coming home when the light is dimming and leaving wellies, scarves and gloves in the hall, to sit with toes as close to the log fire as we dared.

Living in the city you only get a muted version of Autumn. We're lucky enough to have a large green wooded area close by, but it's not the same as watching the deer nibble frosty grass from your bedroom window and collecting chestnuts at the end of the lane to roast on the fire.

Today was one of those days where I longed for the countryside. So I baked. Enough for many more people than live in this house.


Banana bread

Seeded sourdough loaves.

I then prepared an enormous Indian meal for City Boy and I to gorge ourselves on: poppadoms with chutney and raita, chana dal, spicy roasted aubergine, prawn coconut curry, rice and naan. Needless to say, we'll be eating it for the next week.

So, full and satisfied, I'm off to tuck myself up with a hot water bottle and a good book. Wild Saturday nights round here. I'm using the excuse of going on holiday on Wednesday to justify a lazy weekend.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Captivated by Colour

I haven't been here for a while. I've been busy knitting.

Knitting colourwork. Such fun!

I can't stop, I'm like a woman posessed.

I will do a show and tell soon, when I can drag myself away from the knitting needles.

Until then, I can be found on the sofa in front of the fire, surrounded by balls of yarn in various colours.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Weekend De-Brief

I've mislaid my camera charger. That's why there's only been dodgy iPhone photos on here for the last few weeks. I must find it before our impending trip to New York.

This weekend I refused to leave the house. I cleaned, I baked, I knit, I gardened, I was in bed by ten p.m. Oh, except for Friday. Friday evening I met City Boy in town after work. We cosied up in a pub with scrubbed pine tables, then ate tapas and drank too much sangria.

In the garden I sowed mizuna, pak choi and perpetual spinach under cloches. We'll see how they go - it's a little late but our garden's very sheltered so I thought I'd chance it. The kale that made it through the snail attack in September is doing well and will be featuring in a meal shortly. I stripped one chili plant of green chillies to freeze and brought the other in to ripen for red chillies to dry. Only two plants made it this year.

I have spent a few weeks feeling very uninspired in the kitchen, but now the weather's turned cooler I find myself cooking proper, hearty meals. This weekend I turned all the veggies hanging out at the bottom of the fridge and the last of the ripened tomatoes and basil from the garden into a golden, bubbling, cheesy lasagne. Served with homemade garlic focaccia which was sooooo good and so easy. Will be doing that again soon.

Not only do I want to cook, I want to eat. I want to make and scoff all the seasonal goodies that I'm craving now London has turned chilly. Hot blackberry crumbles with custard. Figs, quartered and eaten with strong, sharp cheese. Roasted butternut squash pureed to a rich, smooth soup. Roasted beetroot. Apples and brown sugar. I want to eat it all, and I'm supposed to be calorie counting for a few weeks.

On Sunday evening I made sweetcorn chowder flavoured with lemon thyme from the garden and baked seeded wholemeal bread to dunk in it. As suggested in my River Cottage bread book, I used a ladle of the sourdough starter I've been cultivating for a week. I couldn't tell much difference between these loaves and our usual recipe, but I'm excited to try to bake a proper sourdough loaf at some point.

I'm quite enamoured with my sourdough starter. I've fed it every day for a week and made City Boy smell it frequently. He may or may not have caught me talking to it the other day.

But my weekend wasn't entirely about food - honest. This was the scene on the coffee table this morning.

The beginnings of a little fair isle slouchy hat in tweedy English wool. Actually intended for a Christmas present, but I'll have to see whether I can bear to part with it. I'm currently captivated by the pattern slowly emerging - I seem to have a lot of patience for this sort of slow and intricate knitting at the moment, which isn't always the case.

Yes, it is something new on the needles. No, I haven't finished the orange cardi. But, in my defence, I did get a little closer to the end of it this weekend (I'm now 2 rows round the sleeve away), and I did finish up two other projects.

First, I give you Catkin, a sweet little cape.

I don't yet know if I'm a cape wearer. I hope so. I imagined myself skipping through Autumn leaves with my boots and my cape on. I'm not entirely sure where or when this cape-wearing skipping might occur.

It's knitted in Rowan Scottish Tweed 4ply, which I believe is now discontinued, picked it up in a sale at some point. Blue and grey. It's nice and springy and thick and tweedy for a warm cape, yet light enough that it doesn't drag downwards. The wooden toggles were ordered on eBay - for some reason I knew from the beginning that it would have toggles.

It was a really fun and easy knit - the slipped stitch pattern is great. So much so that I want to cast on another one immediately. Must finish the orange cardi...Must finish the orange cardi...

Friday, 7 October 2011

Baby Alpaca for Baby

I can't get over how cute this is. It makes me want to squeel, and I'm not really a squeeling kind of girl.

I made a baby hat!

Although when I showed it to City Boy I took great delight in telling him it was for our baby, just for the fun of making his blood run cold, it is in fact for the baby of a friend, who's due to make an appearance any time now. She doesn't know what she's having, so I picked green, thinking it was unisex. It actually looks more boyish, so I'll have to make another one if a girl pops out. That's fine, I'm itching to make a few more anyway, but City Boy tells me that's weird. I think he's just concerned I might get broody.

I should have included something in the photos for reference to show how teeny it is. 80 stitches cast on to 3.25mm needles in fingering weight baby alpaca. Knitted in one evening. I had to phone my mum to check babies' heads really are that small. I'm reliably informed that they are, a fact for which I'm told I may be grateful for one day. Hmmm, they're not that small.

I'm wondering whether it needs a pompom or if that would be too much cute?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

An Autumn Evening

Brrrrr, it's cold outside tonight. I just walked home from the station in the dusk, hurrying because I didn't think to take a coat after all the unseasonal warmth we've been having. On Sunday I was swimming in the sea, and this evening I've lit the first fire of the season.

Mia Cat is most perturbed by this development. Last winter, when she was a baby cat she managed to singe her whiskers. She clearly remembers because she shot out the room when I put the fire on. She's back now, but sitting next to me eyeing the fire with suspicion.

The other cat has just wandered in and barely glanced at the fire. Hopefully he doesn't need to learn the same lesson that Mia did last winter. I'm tucked up with my slippers on and my knitting, feeling very autumnul. I'm hoping to cast off on this tonight, but that may be a little ambitious.

Dinner's in the oven - falafels from mixture made earlier and defrosted today - to be devoured in pittas with yoghurt and salad. Roll on autumn - I'm ready now.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Right now I am...

Eating a delicious homemade beetroot and green lentil salad...

Slightly nervous about being the new girl at a pilates class in the morning...

Wearing new cosy thick cabled tights...

browsing for recipes involving nectarines to make this weekend...

Looking forward to seeing comedy tonight with a good friend...

Feeling proud that not only did I manage to drag a brush through my hair this morning, i also took the time to do a fishtail braid...

Most of all looking forward to an incredibly relaxing weekend after three 16-hour days this week...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

An Autumn Morning

It's a wonderful sunny early Autumn morning here in London town. And it's the weekend! I'm up before everyone else, enjoying a cup of tea and a bit of knitting whilst reading the paper -multitasking! Of course I've got helpers with the paper reading and knitting.

And I have beautiful yellow roses brought home for me by city boy last night to start the weekend.

The blue thing on the needles in the photo above is something new, which is a source of shame seeing as the rust coloured cardi just needs an inch worth's of ribbing on one sleeve. Disgraceful.

I don't know why I can't quite bring myself to just get it done - it will only take an hour or so to finish and weave in the ends. I WILL do it this weekend. I have so many projects in the final stages that just need a bit of time - a quilt that just needs binding, a scarf that just needs the ends weaving in, a glove that needs a pair. My eye keeps getting turned by all the lovely patterns out there and feeling that I want them all to wear before the weather turns cold!

This weekend we're mostly pottering at home, although we may pop to a concert this afternoon. Tomorrow we're doing dog walking duties for friend, so there'll be a brisk autumnul walk across the common with a pub lunch. Fingers crossed that this weather stays!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Perfect Blouse

I've been looking for a particular pattern for a while. A sleeveless blouse that could quickly be put together in a variety of fabrics. A loose, casual fit, able to be worn with jeans and a cardi or tucked into a skirt with a jacket over it for work. It had to be unfussy to make with no zips or buttons and easily adaptable for slight variations.

I tried the Pendrell Blouse by Sewaholic, but it was, although a sweet pattern, a little more complicated than I was looking for. My ideal blouse didn't have princess seams and wasn't quite so tailored. Also, I cut the wrong pattern size out and gave up in disgust when it looked like me and a friend were going to be able to fit in it.

I was mulling ideas over for drafting my own pattern, when I came across the Collete pattern for the Sorbetto Blouse, available free. It certainly ticked the boxes for simple enough - 2 pattern pieces, a couple of darts and finish the neck and arm holes. Loose fitting blouse done.

So on Sunday afternoon, while City Boy was watching sport, I sat and taped together the printed pattern pieces and dug out some drapey fabric I'd had forever. A couple of hours later it was done, exactly what I was looking for (please ignore the fact that it's unironed in the photo).

I didn't finish the neck and armholes using the suggested method, but otherwise there's not many ways to deviate from the instructions. Once constructed it's endlessly customisable - lace trimming, buttons, collars.

I'm already planning another couple - one in a printed cotton voile and one in a sheer chiffon, to layer over a vest top. I was so impressed with the sizing, easy construction and fantastic instructions that I've been eyeing up some of the other Collette patterns - they have some gorgeous dresses that look drafted with us busty ladies in mind.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Focaccia and Feminism

This weekend we had two birthdays; City Boy's friend on Friday, for which we ventured to a pub in Borough, and a barbeque at one of my best friends' house on Saturday evening. We were very English and stoically babequed through torrential rain showers, sheltering under a gazebo.

I had brought along tomatoes from the garden and baked a rosemary and sea salt focaccia. I also brought along a jar of the vanilla honey peach butter I made last week and freshly baked oat chocolate chip cookies because they're the birthday girl's favourite. I had knitted a hot water bottle cover for a birthday gift.

When the other girls complimented my homemade efforts I shrugged them off, saying that I'd spent the last few months on the sofa with not a lot else to do with my time (why women, including myself, so often dismiss their efforts in this way is a whole other post). But when I left, a girl who I hadn't seen in a few months, who is in fact very lovely, said something that has stuck in my mind ever since:

"I hope your back gets better soon, so you can stop all this domesticity shit and go back to work and use your brain again - otherwise soon you'll open your law books and not be able to understand a word."

She didn't mean to be nasty in anyway at all, and yet this comment has been bothering me. Perhaps not so much on my own behalf - I bake and cook because I enjoy it, because I like to eat and feed my loved ones good food. I sew and knit in my spare time because I find it relaxing, fun and because I can have custom fit clothes and hand knit scarves and gloves to wear. Because I can't sit in front of the tv without some yarn and needles in my hands. Because my job leaves little room for creativity, so I choose to fulfil that need at home. Because, despite what well-meaning friends may think, deciphering a lace chart or drafting a pattern for cabled gloves can be mentally stimulating. I can do all this and be proud of my professional acheivements.

But what about those women who don't have a professional life? The women whose life's work is raising children and homemaking. Do other women, including my successful, independent friend, value this work done in the home so little? Is her passing comment indicative of a wider view?

This is clearly a much wider topic than I intend to give room to here. Feminism and domesticity have always been uneasy bedfellows and it's been discussed many times before, far more eloquently than any thoughts that I have to offer. I was reminded of the controversy stirred up by Jane Brockett's book a few years ago.

I've always been interested in feminist theory and in fact completed my masters dissertation on feminist legal theory, but I'm not sure that I've ever been so directly forced to consider my own choices and the notion that I may be hindering rather than helping the feminist cause.

The easiest argument for homemakers to fall back on is that feminism allows women to choose how they spend their life, and they can choose to spend it in the home. This is partly true, in that feminism has opened paths that were not previously available to women, but just because a choice is now available to women does not mean it's a helpful one to make. Being female certainly doesn't make mean you are automatically a card carrying feminist. I also think the argument that it's all a big sisterhood and women should stick together and respect each other's choices rings false - I'm afraid I'm not going to hold back on criticism simply because someone has boobs.

I think, ultimately, valuing the work women do in the home is more complicated than being solely a feminist issue. As a society we will always hold some jobs in higher esteem than others and I'm not sure that many parents of my generation would wish for their child to grow up and stay at home. But we don't necessarily value jobs by the salary they command: someone who works for charity for a pittance is perhaps held in higher esteem than a solicitor, a teacher deemed more worthy than an estate agent, so why do some  people view the role of a homemaker, who works for no salary, as less worthwhile than a job in the city?

I think people don't like to see wasted potential, which is why parents strive to give their children the best education possible. But if someone who could have been a successful career politician chooses to stay home to bring up their children instead are they squandering their potential? And even if you can answer yes to that question, does it matter if it means they are happier? Do women have some sort of duty to put the feminist cause above their own wishes?

I do think that women have to be mindful that the choices they make have the capacity to affect other women and I feel that the current vogue for domesticity should be approached with caution. It certainly makes me a little uncomfortable when women who have grown up as beneficiaries of the women's movement proudly proclaim that they are content to stay home and make it pretty. It touches on issues of class and privilege as well; I am yet to read a blog espousing the virtues of snuggling under a homemade quilt in a clean warm house by someone who has to support their family through paid domestic labour every day. There are more than a few women out there writing from a  position of privilege, supported financially by men, who hold up their way of life as an ideal.

Women certainly haven't won the fight for equality yet, and we can't afford to lose the ground gained at this point. Neither can we afford to take those battles hard won by past generations for granted. I do find it distasteful that so many clever and articulate women seem to want to play at being fifties housewives when our grandmothers and great grandmothers fought so hard to be valued outside of the home. I don't feel that women who are simply lucky enough to have the time and money to make beautiful homes and raise well-dressed children should be held up as role models. There are far more important things that women have to offer. But there are also many talented, inventive, smart women out there who make beautiful things and whose work shouldn't be devalued just because it's traditionally done within the home.

I am finding it incredibly difficult to come down on one side of the argument or the other. I think, like so many other things, the trick is finding a balance that you're comfortable with and I don't think that a life can be lived based on a point of principle. I enjoy cooking an elaborate meal from scratch but I expect City Boy to load the dishwasher after. I often yearn for a few quiet hours at home with my knitting needles but I need the stimulation of the work place as a counter point. I can ice a cupcake but I can also hold my own in the board room. Where the balance lies is a personal decision for every woman, but I think we have to make that decision thoughtfully and not neglect our own ambitions in favour of those of our partners and children, which women seem to do all too easily.

As for tonight, I'm going to finally knit the inch and a half of ribbing on the sleeve of this orange cardi so I can start knitting what I really want to be knitting.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Visitors and Intruders

I may have given up on the sun but I'm still clinging to the summer in terms of the food we've been eating. We're picking tomatoes from the garden every day, and have a bounty of sweetcorn, salads and broadbeans from the farmer's market for this week.

This weeknd was all about the soft fruit. This pile of plums disappeared in two days.

I came across this recipe for Vanilla Honey Peach Butter and couldn't resist giving it a try.

It's pretty good, and 4 punnets of peaches gave me 7 medium sized jars so I've been sending every visitor, of which we've had a few this weekend, home with a jar.

We ate it on freshly baked blueberry and lemon scones with thick cream when my parents came to visit. This type of thing may have something to do with why I'm struggling to fit into last summer's dresses.

My parents were visiting so that my dad could help us solve a little problem we've been having recently. A big black cat has been coming in the cat flap to have a munch at the buffet laid out for our two. He's quite bold - last time I found him in the kitchen he took a long look at me, ate a few more mouthfuls of biscuits and sauntered out. You'd think that my two would be able to deal with the situation, seeing as it's two against one and everything, but apparently not. Mia Cat hides under the bed and stripey cat wanders the house dramtatically yowling for an hour after the intruder leaves.

Fortunately we're not the first cat owners to have unwanted visitors and a solution exists. This cat flap scans the microchip and only lets those cats that are programmed in through the flap. It has all sorts of other fancy functions that I don't know how to work, like locking everyone in after it gets dark.

To eliminate the possibilty that authorised cats will be followed through the cat flap by an unauthorised cat, it only unlocks for a specified period of time after scanning the cat, after which it locks again. Fine in theory, except my two appear to require longer than the maximum time period allowed to determine that the new door, which beeps and has flashing lights, is safe to go through.

Consequently much of my weekend has been spent going back and forth to the back door to let cats in. They're on their own today, so they have to either speed up their decision making process or spend the day in the rain. And according to stripey cat, getting wet is even worse than big scary intruders.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Giving Up

I've given in. A little earlier than usual this year. I'm wearing tights to work today. It's no use pretending, the weather is rubbish. I've decided to stop hanging on to the feeble rays of hope that Summer might finally come to London and instead call it done and embrace Autumn.

To this end I've put a quilt on the bed and have started the annual stock check of coats and hats. I'm knitting something very orange.

I had a little cry at work yesterday. I'm meant to be easing myself back into the world of work after my operation, testing it out in the shallows. Instead I've been thrown in the deep end. I was feeling tired after thirteen hour days, infuriated after dealing with someone being deliberately obtuse and I shed a few tears of frustration, which just made me feel cross with myself as well as every other person I came across yesterday afternoon. This morning I put on an extra bright and cheerful skirt and grabbed a large coffee on my way in, both of which make me feel more equipped to face today.

I seem to be craving bright colours at the moment, perhaps a direct reflection of the dreary weather. I'm normally all about flattering black.

I'm most definitely looking forward to this week being over. Even though it's been a short one with the bank holiday it's feeling like it's lasted a month already. I think it's always worse going back to work following a lovely weekend - this one included a visit to an otter sanctuary.

I tried to persuade City Boy that this little one could live in our bath, but to no avail.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Break-up Cupcakes

Earlier this week the couple next door parted ways. Whilst treading the fine line between not wanting to look like I was prying and still getting all the gossip to pass on to City Boy, I managed to ascertain that their relationship had suffered a long, drawn-out demise and that he was finally moving out of their shared flat. What do you say in such a situation? I have no idea, so instead I baked goodbye, cheer-up, all-the-best, plenty-more-fish cupcakes to send off with him and all his wordly posessions.

I felt that if any humble cupcake could convey all that it would be red velvet with cream cheese icing.

I did try and explain that I hadn't made cupcakes because I thought him leaving was a celebratory occasion, but rather that baking is my instinctive reaction to many and varied circumstances. I think he understood.

I had intended to insert some photos into the above text, but remembered my intention only after I had sent the final remaining cupcakes off to work with City Boy.

We're currently up North, originally for a wedding on Friday, and currently spending a couple of days in the beautiful Peak District, dodging the showers by hiding in country pubs. When you emerge to a sight like this it's difficult to mind the rain too much.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Testing, testing

I've been incredibly slack about getting around to writing all the posts I want to. Even though I've spent the last four months sitting on the sofa. After some consideration I reached the conclusion that this was perhaps due to the fact that every time I want to put a post together I have to drag out the laptop, find the camera and the cable, edit photos, load to flickr and write the post. So this evening I downloaded a couple of apps that should, at least in theory, mean I can do all this from my iPhone. I understand that I will even be able to draft posts on the tube, so there should be no excuse now.

City Boy is out this evening, so with our resident fish-phobic catered for elsewhere, the cats and I could have haddock for dinner. Mine in the form of fresh, spicy kedgeree, made with tomatoes picked from the garden ten minutes earlier.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

August Garden Update

Where has the sun gone?! I took these pictures yesterday, and meant to quickly write something to accompany them this morning, but it's a very different view from the back door this morning. It's been raining since I woke up at 7 - that's English summertime I guess!

My little garden is turning into a jungle. I can't do anything about it at the moment other than ineffectually poke at things with a crutch, so I'm just going to let nature take its course and enjoy it as it is.

Last night I picked baby courgettes about five inches long straight from the plant, sliced them in half and grilled them on the barbeque. We also barbequed whole red peppers (not home-grown unfortunately) and halloumi and ate it all in french bread with onion chutney. Delicious, and even more so for being eaten outside on a balmy evening. I can't wait for the tomatoes to ripen, hopefully they'll get a move on now we've finally got some sunshine.

I have nasturtiums growing like crazy all over the place.

They're currently dropping these large seed-pods all over the garden - I'll have to find out if there's anyway of drying them out to use next year.

The sweet peas have more blooms everyday. I've already had two vases full and they just keep coming.  I went for subtle colours this year - these are 'Champane Bubbles' and are delicate peaches and cream colours. I've already made a mental note to go bright next year. These are pretty, but they get a little lost amongst all the other colours crammed into the garden.

The cats had turned semi-feral in this wonderful weather. If I didn't feed them inside they'd never have come in to the house. Of course it's a different story now it's raining and they want to sit on my lap with wet muddy paws.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Benefits of Neurosurgery

 As far as I can tell...

...there are only two good things...

...about needing surgery on your spine.

The first is that people bring you...

...a ton of flowers...


The second that you are allowed, in fact instructed... spend the afternoon like this:


(Glass of wine probably not actually recommended in conjunction with the painkillers. Would anyone believe me if I pretended it was apple juice?)