Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Madeleines, and how to lose weight while still baking obsessively.

Since we moved away from London, I have had to drive everywhere, up to three hours a day, and this has made me fat. Now that I'm working locally I am spending a lot less time in the car and all day long on my feet in a hot kitchen, so it's about time I sorted myself out.

I have joined Weightwatchers and I have a copy of this book, which is fantastic. I was very sceptical of recipes that use low fat spread instead of butter but I've made tons of stuff, from banana muffins to chocolate brownies (the brownies use applesauce instead of butter, genius!) and everything has turned out yummy and not at all diet-tasting.

The above photo is my latest effort, some lemon madeleines using my lovely new madeleine tin from Lakeland that I bought the other day while we were in Stratford upon Avon (very pretty place, you must go for a visit). They are much prettier in real life.

Anyway cakes aside, I've really neglected my poor blog again. I really must make more effort.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

I made a quilt!

Well, it's only five inches square and some of the stitching is in the wrong place, but it's still a quilt. It's got batting in the middle and a binding and everything! I like the little boat pattern. It's supposed to be a mug coaster, but I like it too much to spill coffee on it. My lovely neighbour took me to her patchwork class and taught me the basic techniques, it was great fun and now I want to make more quilty things.

Oh, I also made a little hat for an egg. Here it is. I saw the pattern here, and added a little scallop edging. I don't really eat boiled eggs, but this makes me want to eat them just so I can use the cozy with its bright colours. I made it from embroidery floss!

It's a busy few months for me. Every day for three months, my little car Jim is driving me forty miles to Gloucester so I can learn to be a chef. Today is only day four and I'm enjoying it so far but I suspect I'll be exhausted by the end of it! Plus I have Portuguese exams in less than a month... So if I fall behind and don't post for a while, you'll know the reason why not.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Yes, I am eating your bonsai.

Do you want to make something of it?

(Sorry for the poor photo, it was taken sneakily through a window and heavily cropped so the perpetrator didn't have time to run away.)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Lucky duck

When I was a kid, if you got something good like a present or a new toy, my neighbour Jonathan used to say you were a "lucky duck". I always liked that expression :-) Well today I was a lucky duck. I won a contest on Hilary's blog, Let Her Bake Cake, which is gorgeous and which always makes me feel hungry after reading her latest post. Go and visit her and try out some of her recipes - the latest one for rice crispie squares looks fab.

Anyway my package from Hilary arrived this morning and I was pleased as punch with my little haul! She sent me the most gorgeous book about bread, The New Family Bread Book by Ursula Ferrigno, as well as two bags of Allinson flour and a tub of yeast. She also included a gorgeous tea towel which hopefully you can see in the photo, but it's too nice to use for drying dishes so I think I'll turn it into something lovely. Maybe an apron, but if you have any better ideas please let me know!

Naturally I wanted to get stuck in and make something from the book immediately if not sooner, and I was tempted to try a fougasse, but then I was distracted by a recipe for Irish brown soda bread and had to make that instead for a little taste of home. Here it is in progress (look at my kitchen tiles, aren't they hideous?!):

The recipe wanted you to shape it into a round on a baking tray, in the traditional manner, but I thought I'd be clever and stick it in a silicone loaf tin so it'd be sliceable.

Unfortunately the silicone is so flimsy that the dough forced the sides of the tin to splay out and the loaf kind of rose outwards instead of just upwards, but at least I know for the next time to do it in a proper metal tin. And I'm going to scoff some of it right now with some lentil soup I made the other day, and a lump of Bowland cheese!

Oh and I did put the yeast to work straight away too, here's a sneak peak of a milk loaf rising away happily.

Thanks again Hilary, I'm so happy with my new book and can't wait to work my way through all those pizza recipes next!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Late to the granny square party (and other crochet bits)

Image above from Emma Lamb's blog, here.

In the last few years, crochet seems to have really taken off again, and in particular granny squares. I've seen some gorgeous things on various blogs, Etsy and in the Cath Kidston catalogue, but the person whose work I have really fallen in love with is Emma Lamb. There is nothing in her Etsy shop that I wouldn't like to own, and it's traditional and contemporary at the same time which really appeals to me.

Anyway, back in September when we first moved to this house, I bought some cushion pads with the intention of knitting some covers for them. Of course that never happened and they've been languishing in the spare bedroom ever since. So the other day when I came across some sparkly wine and gold yarn that I'd bought in Lidl, I thought I'd add some cream yarn and turn it into some granny square cushions for a previously cushion-less chair in our living room.

One is just a giant granny square, and the other is four squares joined with double crochet. They're lined and backed with beige linen because I couldn't be bothered to crochet the backs - yes I know I'm lazy. And I hadn't used my sewing machine for so long that it took me a while to remember how to sew in a zip, which is shameful. You can't see in the photo (and my camera battery died right after I snapped this so I couldn't take another shot) but the wine and gold yarns are actually sparkly.

Next I have to replace the cushion on my computer chair, which I've had to throw away because Elvis threw up the world's biggest hairball all over my Chinese satin cushion. I discovered this when, having just woken up and being not quite awake, I stumbled into my computer room and sat on the chair and got a big streak of wet hairball right across my backside. I was not pleased, I can tell you. I've started a purple and cream chevron pattern cushion, inspired by one in Erika Knight's Simple Crochet. If you're in London and fancy learning to do something similar, my fabulous crochet teacher Bee is running a chevron cushion workshop as part of her new venture Make Do Mend. Sigh... I do miss the vast array of classes in London.

Image above from makedomend here.

Finally here are some flowers from 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet, which my mum in law bought me for Christmas. The pattern for the pansy didn't seem to work out, as the back petals came out with big gaps between the stitches, so I just sort of made them up as I went along rather than sticking to the pattern. The one with the pom pom wasn't supposed to have a pom pom (I think it was a dahlia) but I was in a pom pom kind of mood.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Bread, and the awesomeness thereof.

Well I fell off the Thing A Day bandwagon - surprise surprise - but only because my last couple of weeks at work were just too busy and exhausting and I was getting home, having a bite to eat and going straight to bed. But now I'm a happy housewife, for a little while anyway, and am filling my days with domestic things like cooking and sorting out our wilderness of a garden until my course starts. (Incidentally, there's a chance they might not get the numbers to run the course I really want to do, so if anyone is near Gloucester and wants to train to be a chef in three months, you should come along and make up the numbers!)

Anyway, I'd like to share with you one of the newest obsessions in my life. Since I've had a bit more time on my hands, I've discovered the joys of baking bread by hand. People always say it's therapeutic and they are completely right - kneading dough is like squidging the world's best stress ball, and the results are far nicer than anything you buy in Tesco (those awful plastic white sliced loaves... yeeeuch). We bought a bread machine last year and used it constantly, but it's now confined to the cupboard while I get my hands messy.

And like any baking, it's a bit like alchemy. Take random ingredients, mix them together, throw them in an oven, and they turn into something completely different. It's fantastic. You don't even need a recipe once you get the hang of baker's percentages.

This is my latest loaf. The top is a little darker than it would be normally, due to me forgetting to move the oven shelf down a bit, but it doesn't taste burnt and it made for very yummy toast once I'd spread cherry jam on it :)

Go on, give it a try, I promise it's easier than you think. If you're tempted, pick up a copy of the
River Cottage Bread Handbook, which is gorgeous and I've taken to carrying it around in my handbag. Is that a bit weird?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Thing #10 - blueberry muffins

I haven't actually fallen by the wayside, I just haven't posted for a few reasons. One is that the internet connection seems to be up and down, which is very annoying. Another is that it's been a weird few days and my head is a bit all over the place. I finally got to the point where I couldn't cope with my commute to and from work any longer, so I've resigned. I'm leaving at the end of the month, and while I'm very sad to leave because my workmates are so lovely, I won't miss the travelling, constant exhaustion, lack of a social life because I'm always tired, forking out £160 a month for petrol and the awful, awful traffic. I'm also thinking about a complete career change and retraining to become some sort of baker or chef (the former being my dream job), but it's a big decision that needs a lot of thought so I'm not rushing into it.

Aaaaanyway. Sorry for rambling. I have made something, or part of something, every day in February and some of it wasn't edible so I'll try and catch up over the weekend, but the photo above is what I made today. Blueberry muffins, and the recipe is

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Thing #3 - mutant muffin

I promise I'm not turning this into a food blog. But the fact is, I like food and I like cooking.

I fancied some lemon and poppy seed muffins like the ones I used to get in Starbucks when I worked in London, so I made a batch of these. The recipe is from this book (which is excellent, by the way). This one got dislodged from its place in the tin in the oven and turned out a bit... odd. Almost as if it had a nose.

It was still yummy though!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Thing #2 - a fabric flower

Yesterday on Thing A Day, bittyandbunny posted some gorgeous fabric flowers. When I saw them I immediately wanted one for myself, so tonight I set about making one. Here it is. I want to make another one, a huge oversized black one.

The fabric was some nasty polyester lining that I was never going to find a use for - nice to figure out a way to make it into something I like.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thing 1 - Oatmeal biscuits (or cookies if you're American)

This is my old weighing scale. I've had it for about six years, and prior to that, when I lived in Ireland, I had a very similar but less pink one. It's always served me well. I dump a few ounces of flour and sugar and so on into the bowl, mix it up by hand or with the aid of an electronic implement, throw it in the oven and it turns into scones, biscuits, cakes, pastry or whatever.

Unfortunately, pounds and ounces have recently become extinct and all my newer cookery books give the measurements in metric only. My mind doesn't think in metric, and apparently my eyes don't see in metric either because the metric measurements on my old pink scale are impossible to see. I made some blueberry muffins yesterday from a Nigella cookbook and they turned out lovely but I ended up with terrible eyestrain from trying to see where 125g was on the dial.

There were two solutions to this problem - either I sat down with a calculator and a pencil and converted all the recipes back to imperial, or I bought a new scale with a big, easy to see display designed for the (nearly) blind. I went for option two. Here's my new scale which I bought yesterday.

Obviously I had to try it out, so I made some oatmeal biscuits tonight. Yum yum. They're from the Be-Ro cookbook, and if you'd like to try them (and I strongly recommend you do) the recipe is here.

So here's my first Thing for February. Oatmeal biscuits. And now I'm off to make a cuppa.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

How I will get my mojo back.

Thing a day is starting again! Registration opens on 24 January and I will be signing up. Last year I managed to post something every single day in February apart from one and it really kept me motivated so this year I hope it'll help me get my inspiration back. Are you signing up this year?

I thought I'd show you a Thing I made recently - a crochet garland. It was really for Christmas, and I made it with sparkly yarn from Lidl in gold and dark red, but I liked it so much that it's staying up all year! Also see the snow? It was much worse than this. I had five (!) days off work when I couldn't get out because of snow or ice.

And see my little bonsai on the windowsill? It doesn't have a lot of growth yet, but it's developed some new leaves since I got it. I've always been fascinated by bonsai and I just signed up for a day-long beginner class next month and I can't wait. Watch this space, I'm sure it'll be one of my Things next month because bonsai are definitely creative.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

I'm still alive and here's what I've been doing.

Oh dear, it has been a long time, hasn't it? Every week I keep thinking "this week I'll definitely post something" but it just hasn't happened. It's been a busy and strange few months. We've moved from London to Wiltshire in search of a new life away from city stresses... except it hasn't really worked out like that. First I struggled to find a job, and got rejection after rejection for jobs I was qualified for and had relevant experience in, and to be honest receiving so many rejections is absolutely soul-destroying after a while so I felt really rather poo. Then I did find a job, but it was in Oxford, which is about an hour's drive away through the most horrible traffic imaginable. Most days it's absolute gridlock. And I don't get home till around 7pm by which time I'm too exhausted to do very much.

So basically I sit in front of the TV knitting socks (which I'm churning out like a one-woman production line, by the way). About the only thing I seem to have any energy for is cooking, which I've been doing in copious and unhealthy amounts, hence my expanding waistline, but the recipe for the muffins in the photo above actually came from a Weightwatchers recipe book and I'll have to make sure I make more recipes like that if I don't want to end up the size of the house.

I seem to have lost my mojo for drawing and painting. Has anyone seen it anywhere? Please send it back if you do find it because I really miss it. I'm determined that one of these days I'll pick up a pencil again.
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