Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Strawberry Loaf with Pink Cream Cheese Frosting

It seems that I’ve been on a bit of a strawberry buying frenzy. It’s that time of year. We’ve been munching them all weekend, even instead of popcorn while we watched a film on Sunday night, and yet I’m left with a punnet of slightly squishy strawberries at the bottom of the fridge.
That calls for a Strawberry Loaf. Unfortunately it didn’t stay in one piece for very long after it was finished, so please excuse the photos of a half eaten cake.

This recipe I’ve had scribbled down for ages – it’s one of the tried and tested that has made it into the hardbacked notebook I copy selected recipes into. It's fantastic as it iss adaptable for any soft fruits that need using up, plus I usually have all the other necessary ingredients on hand.

225g Plain Flour
2tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
225g sugar (caster, golden caster sugar or light brown sugar)
½ cup of either sour cream, buttermilk or yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
120ml flavourless oil (I usually use sunflower oil)
About a pint of chopped strawberries or other soft fruit
Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients except the fruit and mix until incorporated. Fold in fruit. Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes until turning golden brown on top.
I made a cream cheese frosting for mine, coloured a pale strawberry pink, but it’s just as good without.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lost in Translation

On the last full day we spent in France I dragged City Boy to a couple of yarn shops I’d spotted in Eperany to buy some yarn, ostensibly as a souvenir. I’m fully aware that this is not the entire truth, and the yarn hunting expedition was actually due to the fact that I will grab any opportunity to justify the purchase, to both myself and City Boy, of yet more yarn.
I didn’t have any knitting plans in mind, so I was just looking for some sock yarn. However, after I realised that my French sock knitting vocabulary was limited to “ummm...Chausettes?”, which didn’t appear to be understood by the shop owner, I gave up on that idea and let her sell me some unusual looking yarn which came with a leaflet to make a scarf.
It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I realised exactly how unusual, and why a ball of yarn needed to come with 2 sides of instructions.

You have to poke the needle through the holes rather than cast on properly, and then sort of knit one edge of the ‘net’ to another edge, and layer it up back and forth. There’s not much you can do with this except a garter stitch scarf. The technique was much easier than I’ve made it sound, and in fact was quite a fun, easy project that didn’t require too much concentration and in about four hours I had made a scarf.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about the finished object. It’s not something I would wear, but my mum likes unusual accessories and she has a birthday coming up next month, so I think I’ll add it in as an extra little pressie. Besides, she’s my mum so she has to like anything I make for her – it’s in the mum rule book.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Gardener's World, Here I come

We moved into the Littlest House in May last year. After spending a few weeks unpacking and painting we remembered that we had a garden, but it was a little too late in the season to achieve much. We made sure we could reach the barbeque and left it alone for the rest of the summer. So I was excited this year to start work on it.
I’m a complete novice when it comes to gardening and go about it with much more enthusiasm than skill, so it’s been a steep learning curve. Today I’d like to record for posterity the lessons learned so far this spring, to offer some advice to my future self next year.

Lesson 1
Homegrown organic lettuce tastes awesome. Slugs and snails think so too so make sure you grow enough to share.

Lesson 2
Nasturtiums are incredibly easy to grow, fill all the gaps and are edible.

Lesson 3
Sweet peas are also easy to grow.  Probably easier just to pop the seeds in where I want the plants to end up. 

Lesson 4
The biggest pests in the garden are not slugs or snails but four legged creatures that wear a furry coat and whiskers. They like to play in seed trays. This is why you have varying successes with the herbs this year. Sow herbs straight into the pots rather than faffing around with transplanting seedlings. Get over feeling sorry for the little plants so you’re able to thin them out.

Lesson 5
You don’t seem to be able to grow chillis bigger than 2 inches. Buy a chilli plant from the Garden Centre.

Lesson 6
It’s looking less and less likely that your strawberry plants will produce strawberries this year. It seems they take a little while to grow.

Lesson 7
Courgettes can surprise you. Just when you’d given up on anything ever growing two enormous leaves may pop up after some rain.

Lesson 8
Don’t plant all the seeds in the packet. You probably don’t need two hundred tomato plants and you’ll feel too sorry for them to throw any away. Also, deal with your tendency to anthropomorphise plants.

Lesson 9
Lesson 8 applies to Sweet Williams as well. Particularly as you learned after sowing them that they apparently won’t give you flowers until next year and you now have a teeny tiny garden.

You can always let someone with more garden space grow these for you and they look very pretty in a vintage milk glass vase.
Lesson 10
Don’t let City Boy loose with secateurs unsupervised. You weren’t aware until very recently that it was a climbing hydrangea growing over the shed because last year he hacked all the buds off before they opened.

Lesson 11
They sell baby plants at the farmers market. You don’t have to grow them all yourself from seeds. Added bonus: You can buy exactly the number you require rather than end up with 380 seedlings you don’t know what to do with.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Learning to let it slide

Before I lived with City Boy I shared a flat with two other girls. I used to churn out quilts, knitted garments and make lots of clothes, and made most of the Christmas and birthday gifts I gave. Other people would tell me that they don’t know where I found the time to do all this. I’d respond that I don’t have kids and I rarely watch TV, so if I have an evening at home I’m free to spend it at the sewing machine. Secretly, I suspected that if a lot of these people stopped watching Coronation Street they might have time too.

Now I know the truth. They were all doing housework. When I lived with the girls, there were three people working reasonable hours to share the housework. We rarely managed to eat dinner together due to busy social lives so I was free just to grab cheese on toast for dinner rather than cook properly. Now I eat with another person I feel like I can’t just serve up a piece of semi-stale cake and call dinner done. City Boy does do a lot round the house and cooks a few times a week, but he works much longer hours than me, so the bulk of it falls on me.

 Recently I’ve been starting to feel like the amount of housework I do is way out of proportion to the amount of time I spend in the house. I haven’t picked up my knitting needles in weeks, quilts I’ve started are languishing in the bottom of the basket and ideas noted down aren’t coming to fruition. I’m clearly doing something wrong, because I should be able to find at least few hours a week at home to create something. Either I’m too slow at getting the chores done or my expectations are unrealistic. It’s also a question of priorities I think – whilst I enjoy lovingly preparing delicious home cooked meals in the evening, I have to face the fact that I don’t have time to do this and do the other things I want to.  

This week I’ve had a lesson in letting go of the housework. I’m currently immobilised due to a back injury. In the last few days I’ve had x-rays, physiotherapy and I’m currently lying flat all taped up. I’m sure I’ll mend, it’s just one of those things that is going to take a little time and physio.

So City Boy has been looking after me, the house and the cats this week and he’s been fantastic. He works long hours and then comes home to cook me dinner, which is very welcome after a lunch that consists of whatever’s in the biscuit jar. He washes my hair for me and brings me yellow roses.

So no complaints there. But it’s incredibly frustrating, because I won’t ask him to do anymore than he currently is after a twelve hour day at work, and there’s seedlings that need planting out, laundry piling up and dust collecting in corners. And I just have to lie down and look at it. I can’t imagine what it is like for people that have to permanently rely on a carer. It’s driving me up the wall having to rely on City Boy to do just a few things for me for a limited period.
What’s the problem with lying around all day?
And yet the house is still standing. People and animals are still getting fed healthy meals and (at least for a little while longer) we have clean clothes to wear. The cat hair on the sofa is making my left eye twitch, but I’m thinking that if we can still function when I’ve done no housework for a week, perhaps when I’m mobile again we’ll be ok if I just let it go a few evenings a week and that we’ll survive if I just stick a couple of potatoes in the oven for dinner occasionally. Besides, it appears that once the floors reach a certain level of dust and cat hair they don’t seem to get any worse.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

New Toys

Meet Poppy, my new love.

We picked her up a few weekends ago – she’s old but in good condition. I have to admit to being a fair weather cyclist, and I’m not about to start commuting by bike from South to North London and back every day, so I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a flashy bike which would sit in a shed for half the year.
The most important thing, of course, is that we bought her a wicker basket.

It detaches and has a handle so I can do my shopping. This makes me very happy and I took Poppy for a completely unnecessary shopping excursion on the afternoon we bought her home. I found myself with yoghurt and mozzarella in my basket, so I justified the trip by making pizza and frozen yoghurt that evening.

I had a conversation with my colleague upon telling her I had a new bike which made me laugh:
Colleague: Fantastic, what's the name?
Me: Poppy
Colleague: I take it that's the model, which make is that?
Me: ummm, no, her name is Poppy
Colleague: Oh, I see....[silence]

Doesn't everyone name their bikes?
I’m day dreaming of cycling along the river this summer with a picnic in my basket and a picnic blanket on the back rack.
I just need a bell now to get pedestrians to move off the cycle path when I’m cycling through the park at world record breaking speeds.  

Friday, 6 May 2011

Missing all the Fun?

I’ve been reading about how much everyone enjoyed the Royal Wedding. The stunning dresses, the moving ceremony, the incredible community spirit. I’m afraid to say that City Boy and I were not imbued with this sense of community spirit and national pride, and instead fled the country. We decided to get out of London for the week immediately preceding the wedding, thus escaping all the mayhem, and hopped on a ferry over to France.
It was just what I needed after working since January. Pain au chocolat and cafe au lait sitting outside on a pavement every morning, baguettes and brie on a picnic blanket in the sun for lunch and delicious bistro meals with plenty of wine every evening. But it wasn’t just about eating – honest! We stayed in the Loire valley for four days, and visited fairytale chateaux, wandered through local markets and cycled down the Loire river through the beautiful countryside.

We then stopped over in Burgundy for one night, staying on a working vineyard by a canal and tasting their delicious wine, before heading up to Champagne via Chablis (my favourite. The wine I mean, although the place is nice too). Yes, we did indeed partake of the regional drink whilst staying in Champagne– would have been rude not to!

We brought approximately seventy-six various bottles home with us from the various vineyards we visited and tastings we did throughout the week, and I’m now struggling with where to put them in the Littlest House. The wine rack is full and the rest are currently sitting on top of the dishwasher and in boxes under the kitchen table.  I think the simplest solution is probably to get drinking.