Winter Crochet

Snowflakesand stars
some 3-D crochet (the perfect sphere, apparently)cf02674c3b4711e2914322000a1f984e_6Pattern constructing (with inspiration from instagram – more later)IMG_5394and a little bit of blanket making.and some baby shoes, but they are a gift so ‘under wraps’ at the moment.

Happy days.

I just wish there were more hours in them.

One More Christmassy Thing

Made by Mum comes from a long line of crafty (should that be ‘crafting’) women. Today I want to show you the handy work of my Aunt as there is a bit of a family story connected with her latest project, these cute little Christmas gloves.

When they were unwrapped on Christmas day I thought there was something familiar about the way they were made. I think it was the way the thumb and little finger had their own hole but the middle fingers were made like a mitten. There was so much going on that I didn’t give it any more thought until a few days later when one of my friends (who is also very crafty) was visiting and commented on how much she would like to make some. Fortunately, my Mum was also around so I found out about the pattern.

She told me that originally it belonged to my maternal Grandma, who made a pair of Punch and Judy puppets with it. When she said that, I could vaguely remember playing with those gloves as a child. Mr Punch had a bell on him as I recall.

Somehow, after Grandma’s house was cleared, the pattern was kept and ended up with my Aunt, in Canada. Being the clever person that she is, she adapted it to create Father Christmas mits. Grandma would have appreciated the modern technology that allowed me to instantly email a request for the pattern. Not only that, I received an electronic reply, with the pattern in no time at all. A far cry from when my Aunt first emigrated in the 60’s and a letter took weeks to arrive.

In Grandma’s day, patterns would have been shared among family and friends but I suppose they would have to either borrow the original or write a copy out. Amazing to think how far we have come. We can share so much online and yet we are still enjoying doing these simple crafts. My Mum says learning to knit and sew has been a gift from her mother that she has come to appreciate more as the years have gone on. I wonder, will my children be thinking the same thing in 50 years time?

Some things do go out of fashion though – Golliwog gloves anyone? No, I didn’t think so

MadebyMum’s Mum and I had a skype session tonight and it turns out that the pattern has been residing in Canada for the last 40 years or so, a lot longer than we realised. MadebyMum’s Mum also came across the original Punch and Judy puppet mittens today. It was lovely to see them after all this time. They were in remarkably good condition considering they are over 50 years old! Mr Punch needs a new bell on his hat and a bit of darning wouldn’t go amiss in places but it was quite a treat to see them again. Now all I need to do is take a matching photo of Middle Miss wearing them.

Christmas Round Up

The holidays were officially over for us yesterday as the school term started. Technically, we are still within the twelve days of Christmas, so I thought I could post a little about what the holidays were all about in my family. I realise that some of these pictures may not show up as well as I would like. Particularly the first one which is a pencil drawing of Father Christmas in his sleigh. Son Number One’s drawing skills have suddenly gone up a level.

Two weeks went by very fast. We were very lucky that they were filled with happy times, a lot of friends and family. I hope you enjoyed your holidays. Only eleven months until we raid the loft for the decorations again….

Soup, it’s as easy as pie

Hi there folks, now that term has started again I am back into my proper routines. Heck, I’ve even been cooking today. I feel like I have been out of the kitchen for a few weeks because I tend to leave the Christmas stuff to the Husband. Don’t feel too sorry for him, he was a chef in a previous lifetime and actually misses getting his hands dirty. May I say, he did sterling work over Christmas, much better than I could.

Today, I decided that some soup was in order. There were several reasons for this.

Reason 1: I have ‘over veged’ in my shopping. I was a bit out of the loop with what food we had in the house, what with Husband doing the cooking and having been away for a few days. I didn’t realise how much of my Mum’s bargain (think 4p a bag), pre-Christmas veg was still around and in good condition.

Reason 2: After the feasting of Christmas, my system is crying out for some nice, simple, veg based food.

Reason 3: After the spending of Christmas, my bank account is crying our for some nice, cheap, veg based food.

Reason 4: Babykins has been living off jars of pre-made baby food lately. I’m not keen on that stuff and it is an expensive way to feed a child. However, he does seem to have quite a penchant for soft, mushy stuff at the moment and wolfed down the veg soup that Husband knocked up on Boxing day.

If, like me, you are feeling the pinch, either in the waistline or in the purse, soup is a godsend.

Here is my recipe for Carrot, Lentil and Cumin Soup and/or Baby Food:

275 of carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

100g of dried, red lentils

2 tsp of ground cumin

1 vegetable stock cube or equivalent

small slosh of vegetable oil

Serves 2 or 3 adults

See, I told you the veg was 4p

Sturdy, sharp knives. No kitchen should be without them

Any veg stock will do. I just happen to like this one

Er, it doesn’t say anything about carrots

I had to slip a macro picture in somewhere

By the way, did you know that lentils are a good source of protein and iron? When served with rice, all essential amino acids are present. The iron in lentils is slightly harder to absorb than the iron in red meat. Whatever the source, vitamin C is required for the body to absorb iron. The carrots in this soup will provide some (though they are better known as a source of vitamin A) but you could finish your lunch with an orange, just to hedge your bets.

Gently frying the onion and celery

As you can see from the pictures, the veg was chopped fairly roughly. Since I always planned to blitz this soup, the size of the chunks wasn’t critical. Of course the more uniform they are, the more easy it will be to cook them without burning. If you are prepared to keep stirring at the frying stage it shouldn’t be a major problem.

After the veg has been prepared, gently fry the onion and celery in the oil in a medium sized pan. When it has softened a bit, add the cumin and stir for a few more minutes. Add the carrots, lentils, stock cube and enough boiling water to cover everything and then a bit more. If you are in doubt go for less water, you can always add more later. The lentils will soak some up during cooking. If you intend to use your soup predominantly as baby food, I would suggest using less water as you will obviously end up with a thicker result. You could also add a little rice (really, just a little, no more than two tablespoons), or more lentils. More on that later. Here is what mine looked like:

Let everything simmer away for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrot and lentils are cooked. If you’ve never cooked lentils before, they should be soft and broken up, with only a little bit of ‘bite’.

Finally, blitz your soup in whatever way you see fit. I tend to use a simple stick blender because it is easy to use and easy to clean. If you are at the stage in life where you are preparing a lot of baby food, it is a great tool to have in the kitchen.

At this stage you should really taste your soup and decide if you want it to have salt and pepper, a touch more stock or water or maybe, if you are feeling decadent, a bit of cream. I was happy with mine just as it was.

Now, for the baby food part. There are different schools of thought on this. If you are an advocate of baby-led weaning, you will need to make your soup quite thick as your baby will be feeding it to him or herself on a spoon (see here if you don’t believe this is possible). If you are happy to shovel it in yourself, you can make it as thick as you think necessary. I’m afraid at the moment we are having a ‘shovel  it in’ phase, despite my best intentions. I let my soup down a bit with some milk, to make it a little milder and then thickened it with baby rice. If you made your soup thick in the first place you may not need to do this. Baby rice is a bit of a cheat. It’s relatively expensive but it thickens things quickly and easily.

I’m sure in a proper, fancy recipe book they would finish this soup off with a sprinking of toasted cumin seeds, a drizzle of ‘good’ olive oil, a blob of creme fraiche and a herby garnish. I just ate mine as it was and enjoyed it very much.

I’m pleased to say Babykins did too.

I tried to get a shot with him opening his mouth. Have you ever tried to get ‘that’ picture with a phone camera and feed a baby at the same time? I’d like to see your results.  

Give us a twirl then

If you’ve read the posts at the start of this blog you will know that one of the first projects I aired here was a twirly-wirly scarf. It was started quite some time ago and forgotten until I stumbled across Attic 24 and was inspired to take up my crochet hook again. I had seen some yarn in Boyes that I really liked the colour of but wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and buy it. Was I being too indulgent? If I bought it would I turn it into a scarf in time to give it as a Christmas present? Crikey, you would think I was spending a million pounds, not five.

Thanks to some encouragement from Pam at hippy hat – take it from here (her blog) I decided to take the plunge.

Here is the start. I just HATE doing the first row after making the chains. It’s really tricky and although I love this yarn, the mixture of colours in it made it a bit tricky to find the right spot to put the hook into.

It’s worth persevering though because it soon starts to do it’s twirly, wirly thing.

Mmmmmm, love those colours.

Well, after sneaking in a bit of hooking here and there I did manage to finish it in time for Christmas. Not only that but I also whipped up a matching hat and had about 10 inches of yarn left at the end. How about that for good luck. Alas, I didn’t remember to take a picture of the finished articles so you’ll just have to trust me. At that point I was so behind with the Christmas wrapping that I didn’t have a moment to indulge in fancy photography.

I’ve just been to visit my Godmother, the recipient of the scarf and hat combo. What do you know, she’s only knitting Aunty Betty a sweater in the exact same yarn that she chose independently, before Christmas. Great minds think alike.

No Fail Muffins

This muffin recipe was given to me when I worked as a teaching assistant in a secondary school ‘food technology’ department. The head of department told me she’d tried lots of different muffin recipes and this one had never let her down. I have to agree with her, it’s never let me down either. I’ve made it many, many times and in many different flavours, usually in a hurry. It has no fancy ingredients and you can jazz it up with whatever you have around. When I was teaching antenatal yoga, this was what I used to give to the attendees after class. I’m sure quite a few of my clients only kept coming for the cake at the end.

Muffins are one of the easiest things you can bake. There is no creaming of butter and sugar; no gradually adding egg, being careful to avoid curdling; no gently folding in flour. Muffins are straightforward: Mix your dry ingredients, mix your wet ingredients, mix both wet and dry together until sloppy, plop into paper cases and bake. That’s it.

This is what you need according to my original basic recipe:

275g self raising flour

100g caster sugar

125ml vegetable/sunflower oil/melted margarine or butter

175ml milk

1 egg, beaten

Flavouring: 2 apples or bananas, chopped or 125g blueberries or other berries such as raspberries or 100g of chocolate chips, vanilla essence. Really the possibilities are endless here. You don’t have to be too fastidious about the quantities either.

Here is how I made  Spiced Cranberry and Orange Muffins, the method is the same for any other flavours:

Preheat your oven to between 160 degrees C (fan) to 180 degrees C (conventional)

Prepare your muffin tray or small cake tray by adding the paper cases. This will make 12 standard fairy cake size cakes or 9-10 muffin size cakes.

Sieve 275g of SR flour into a large bowl, add 50g of caster sugar, 50g of soft dark brown sugar and two teaspoons of mixed spice.

Add about 100g sweetened, dried cranberries and mix everything up (I must confess, I didn’t weigh these, it’s not critical). The picture below shows them in a cereal bowl. I would have weighed them for you now but my scales have just gone on the blink. This would also be nice with juicy mixed fruit such as sultanas and raisins, just like a Christmas cake.

Mmmmmm, shall we take a closer look (turns on macro setting on camera)…

Measure 125ml of oil or butter into a jug.

Zest an orange or two and add the zest to the dry mixture. Squeeze the juice from one orange and add it to the jug with the oil.

Top up the liquid in the jug with milk until it reaches 300ml. I still love how oil and water mixtures separate. This is a good opportunity for a kitchen science lesson if you are baking with children. Of course you all know that they separate because of their different densities, oil being less dense than milk or orange juice.

Whisk an egg and add it to the jug with the milk, orange juice and oil. Okay, Okay, I whisked after I’d plopped it into the wet mixture, it really doesn’t matter unless you get unlucky and crack a rotten egg into your lovely oily/milky/juicy jug.

Give your jug of wet ingredients one more good mix up and then slosh it into the bowl of dry ingredients. More science coming up – look how you have now formed an emulsion by mixing the oil, milk and juice together. The oil is now in little droplets throughout the mixture.

Start mixing straight away.

Mix some more.

Keep mixing until all the wet and dry ingredients are mixed into a batter that is fairly sloppy, as below.

Fill up your paper cases. You can be pretty generous with how you fill them. The original recipe said fill them to the top. I probably would if I was using standard size fairy cake cases but I leave a little gap with muffin cases. As I said, it usually makes 9 to 10 muffins, depending on how chunky your flavouring is.

Bake for 15 minutes for smaller paper cases 20 to 25 minutes for muffins. In any case, they are done when risen, nicely browned and springy to touch.

Cool on a wire rack.

That’s it – now eat. You must eat them when they are fresh. They really do not keep well at all.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to ask the children if the baking causes a chemical or physical change to occur (little hint in the italics if you’re not sure). For littlies, just ask them if it is a reversible or non-reversible change, though perhaps you need language a bit more simple than that. You know, “Could we change the cakes back into the starting ingredients?”. “Not without a time machine” they may reply…..

Now – a topping. When I made them for the teachers I was running out of time and ingredients. I made a little icing by mixing a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar with a small drizzle of orange juice. You need to add the orange juice just a teeny tiny bit at a time or you will get a mixture that is WAY too runny. I decided to drizzle mine across in lines so it needed to be a bit more runny than I would usually make it.

They were finished off with a cranberry, a piece of dried, candied peel and a silver ball.

Now I’m wondering about some sort of orangey, buttery type of topping? I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.

Happy baking. Happy Science. Happy Eating. Happy Christmas



It’s a Nog Blog

Mmmm, treat time.

A few years ago, (well two actually) we bought a pre-Christmas festive edition of the Sunday Times. I’ve got a feeling Son Number One was in hospital otherwise no one would have had time to read it. Since Husband did most of the hospital stays, he must have entertained himself in the evening with reading it. The magazine section was largely devoted to Christmas tips and recipes from leading chefs and gastronomes.

What took his eye was a recipe for eggnog. It has since become an established part of our Christmas traditions. I’m afraid I even sampled a little bit last Christmas despite it having both alcohol and raw egg in it. I was soooo pregnant that I figured a teeny tiny bit couldn’t hurt, could it? (Don’t try this at home folks).

We had my Mother in Law and her sister visiting this weekend. We won’t see them again until after Christmas so a bit of getting into the festive spirit was in order. As we were getting ready on Friday night, Husband discovered we had run out of rum for the eggnogg. Thank goodness we have a late night corner shop. He toddled off for a new bottle, plus the other key ingredients: eggs and double cream. Soon he was filling up an old gin bottle with a good litre of lovely ‘nog.

Here he is. As you can see, by teatime half the bottle had gone and there was a smile on his face.

I might even have had a bit myself….

I’d like to put the recipe here but I don’t think it’s the done thing to pinch something quite so shamelessly. You can get it if you want to subscribe to The Times Online and search for Allegra McEvedy and Eggnog. Alternatively, Waitrose have a similar version on their website. We don’t separate the eggs and you can modify the amount of nutmeg, vanilla and rum to your taste. You can find it here.