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).

29 August 2012

37 weeks expectant acrophobe stands on a chair

A few weeks ago I joked that I was making a baby blanket big enough to swaddle my coffee table. As the accompanying photo proves, this is now a reality

Definitely no longer a baby blanket. You'd lose a baby in that thing.

Anyway, these are the final three balls of yarn, so the epic 99,000-garter stitch project is at last nearing an end. It'll look all kinds of chi chi on the end of the (double!) bed in our spare room, recently painted in fancy schmancy shades of grey.

I'm at that point where I'm pretty sure I'll go in to labour as soon as the final end is woven in (hope I haven't jinxed that now). Mind you, to get this photo I had to stand on a chair (and I consider standing on a chair cause for having my mobile set to 999 even when I'm not at full-term). I shan't be doing that again. Promise. Anyway, hope that explains the slightly out-of-focus squinty photo. Give me a moment while I wipe the beads from my brow...

So, time for a new project for after the baby arrives. It'll have to be something for The Boss. She's pretty nonplussed about all her handknit garments (to a five year old a jumper is a jumper is a jumper after all, blissfully ignorant as they are to those evenings of cursing and frogging) but I need to make something for her just so that I know. Do you get what I mean? If there's a metaphorical kiss in every stitch and all that, then the dragon baby's been hogging a lot of the stitches, and it's not even born yet. So I need to remedy the imbalance for my own state of mind.

Yarn Along saves the day again with Greer's photos of this edible little sweater (and edible little girl) which have completely whelmed me over. In another browser window, I'm searching Loop for just the right shade of worsted yarn as we speak. Quince Lark stock is running low but there is enough of some colours left. Cascade 220 would work out cheaper. Or should I stick with the Brooklyn Tweed stated by the pattern? Tweed isn't always a favourite look for little girls.

I've never used any of them before - any advice?

And for reading, there's another something you can maybe help me with. There's a been a book doing the rounds and mentioned on several Yarn Along posts over the past few months that I am longing to get a hold of. I've commented to that effect on lots of your posts... and then promptly forgotten to write down the details (blame baby brain). It's non-fiction about organising/simplifying family life (I don't mean 7 by Jen Hatmaker, but Tracey's post about that today made me think of it...)

If you have any idea what I'm babbling on about, please let me know.

Oh, and it was Tracey who won my giveaway last week of the lace-weight shawl kit - hurrah! Couldn't go to a nicer lady, and I do so like making brown paper parcels :-)

28 August 2012

the one with the makeover

Don't panic, I haven't spawned yet, but in preparation for the big day it feels like time to get rid of my old strapline "jack of all trades, mother of one". Sadly I'm such a filing div that I can't find the original photoshop file of my old banner, so simply changing it wasn't an option. In the meantime, there's a new banner that rather sums everything up at the moment.

it rains all the time in Scotland... honest

me and Dan Lepard :: two degrees of separation

Only one week in and I'm officially the neglectful mother of the playground pariah.

Quite some achievement in such a short time and all because I telepathically failed to pick up on an unwritten primary school memo stating that: five-year-old children must be encouraged to snack ALL THE TIME, and you must provide said snacks in her homework bag daily, obviously, you cretinous woman.

[Edit: I'd better clarify for some of my readers who have been kind enough to be aghast in their comments, that here I am being belligerent, melodramatic and bad-tempered because an institution has made me feel ignorant. The actual truth is that the kids apparently have snacks for playtime, and I hadn't supplied any. Go on now, make me feel bad for never even having considered giving her a morning snack before in her life. Dare you!]

Internally I veered from the irate (why the hell didn't they tell me this last week?) to the practical (gah, it'll need to be prepackaged and shopbought, because the homework bag is completely flat and full of paper) and back to the irate again (she's at school for barely two and half hours between breakfast and lunch at home, and school gives out free milk and fruit... yet I have to provide MORE food? WTF?).

So, my mission, should I choose to accept it (not that there's any choice about this): Quick, easy for small hands, won't make a mess in the homework bag, and (critically from my point of view) doesn't require any plastic tubbery that I definitely won't get back.

Luckily, Dan Lepard saved the day. Kind of (this is just really an excuse for me to tell you a story - as if you didn't know that already).

There's a lady of elegant maturity who has known me all my life. The kind of person who has sat next to my family in church since long before I was a twinkle in my father's eye. She made tiny cubes of tablet and macaroons to accompany the coffee after my wedding (and not your atas macaroons either, we're talking the Scottish ones made of potatoes). She made huge boxes of pre-sliced gingerbread and custard creams for my puerperial phase five years ago - demonstrating a clear understanding that high-calorie nourishment needs to be accessible with only one hand at that point in a girl's life. She is a baker of serious calibre.

But don't take my word for it. A few years ago, Dan Lepard wrote about her and published one of her recipes in his column for a national newspaper. Yes, she's THAT much of a legend. And, mercifully, the method that was printed, for pancakes, is exactly the same as my Granny's. Which means it is definitely right. Again, we're talking about the Scottish ones -  not crepes, not fluffy American alternatives, not pan scones or drop scones or any of the other names that people give them - these are pancakes, plain and simple. Dan would agree I'm sure.

A large batch of pancakes, frozen individually in sandwich bags and chucked into the homework bag the night before - phew, I think I've found one solution that we're all happy with for the moment.

So if you're making raspberry jam this month (our wet Summer has been great for one crop at least), then I suggest you whip up a quick batch of these pancakes and smother them in butter and jam while they're still warm.

And if you have any other ideas that would fit my tightly-defined remit (small, flat, non-squishy/non-crumbly snack) I'd really love to hear your suggestions. Because I don't know if a plain pancake, no matter how good, will cut it as a playground snack every day for the next seven years...

Black Isle wild raspberries


22 August 2012

yarn along giveaway :: when the going gets tough...

... the cat hits the crack pipe and my thoughts become increasingly haphazard. Don't say you weren't warned.

It seems that if you completely gut much of your house, you also obliterate all of an old cat's pheromone spots (the things she rubs her chin on so happily). If you move her food and litter trays, wash her bed, and put away those deliciously wiffy brogues that have been getting in everyone's way for six months, you're probably just adding insult to injury. The result? Unhappiness. She no longer rubs her chin on anything and cries a lot. At 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am... you get the picture. I know we're awaiting the arrival of a newborn, but this level of preparation is ridiculous. So my stinky old shoes are back under the coffee table, and a pheromone plug-in (aka: the cat crack) has been installed. I hope to God it works.

I tell you all this as a way of (emotionally) fiddling while (my personal) Rome burns.

I now have only 100 minutes left to kill before I'm allowed to go and pick up The Boss from her first day at primary school. Her hand has never been held so tightly as it has been this past week, as I desperately try to cling on to the last few hours of me'n'her.

The 'A' team.

Five-and-a-half years spending most of every day together, just us.

Now there's school and an imminent sibling - surely it can never be quite the same again? Naturally she has responded to all this frantic maternal warmth by being simply adorable, only making the lump in my throat larger with every gulp. Only 95 minutes to go now.

Thank goodness it's Wednesday and there's Yarn Along. The 0-3m cream and ecru puerperium (that I started months ago) is finished, all but the buttons. But the only thing I'm more hopeless at than choosing buttons right now is choosing names, especially the male variety. So my reading material is limited to the boy section of the baby names book for the twentieth time.

On the subject of yarn (and because I want to keep that clock ticking on) I'd really like to give some wool away to a more suitable home. I found a Laughing Hens crochet shawl kit during our recent migration.x.renovation marathon - it was a gift a few years ago from a generous relative who doesn't know the difference between knitting and crochet (and doesn't realise that I cannot crochet to save my life). The kit contains two huge lumps of merino lace yarn (one cream, one teal), a hook and a shawl pattern. I'd much rather spend a few pounds posting it to someone who will value it than stash it away for another few years. There have been so many beautiful lace-weight pieces on the blog circuit this Summer that I figured, even if you don't want to make this particular pattern, perhaps you'll find a use for the wool?

So, if you would like it, do the usual sorta things:
  • You can follow on Google 'friend connect' if you like (though it's not necessary to take part, in real life I don't ask for stuff in return for company so I'm not about to start now).
  • Please do make sure I can contact you directly by email though; either leave your email address in your comment, or make sure I can find it on a 'contact me' blog page or via your blogger profile (in other words: please switch off your noreplyblogger thingummy, even just for the duration of this giveaway. If I can't email you to get your address then I'll choose the next person.)
  • Leave a note in the comments section here saying you'd like to take part before 2200 BST (British Summer Time) on Friday 24th August. I'll pick someone using a random number robot.
Only 90 minutes to go. Instagram will take care of another five...

the ones on the bottom left?

Frill-edged shawl kit giveaway

the reluctant addict

how did this happen?

20 August 2012

random recipes :: money from old rope

There's a talent I admire. It may not be big and it may not be clever, but people who are able to, almost literally, make money from old rope? They deserve the props.

Those designers who charge twice the price for past season jeans with newly incorporated rips? If punters are daft enough to go for it, then why not. The genius who had the idea of putting tiny handfuls of raisins into little matchboxes and flogging them (at a billion times the price of a big bag of raisins + an Ikea tub) to harassed parents labouring under the misapprehension that it's a healthy snack because the box is mostly green? Thoroughly deserving of his or her convertible. It's not that I like the product necessarily* but I admire the gumption. And I really like the word gumption (apparently a Scottish word incidentally).

The recipe book world is full of such examples - cooks and food writers making money out of either a) tweaking recipes so generic that no-one can claim the intellectual property and publishing them between glossy covers for £17.99, or, b) giving you recipes on how to pour boiling water over [a teabag/egg/pasta/rice/insert blithering obvious] and publishing them between glossy covers for £17.99. I'm not criticising it - I just wish I'd thought of it first.

My Random Recipe selection this month is kind of one of those. But in a good way. Having (rather obsessively) numbered all my recipe books last month for Dom's Random Recipe challenge, it was nice and easy to use a random number generator to pick a book for this month. It chose number 6: Jamie's 30 Minute Meals (so we're already getting a meal rather than a recipe for this one) and page 55: spaghetti in tomato sauce, garlic bread, salad and melted chocolate puds (obviously he used fancier words like puttanesca and ganache, but you get the idea).

I had an old friend coming for the weekend, so this would be perfect. We would cook it together on Friday evening. We are both more than capable of making red gloop, garlic bread, salad and melted chocolate without Jamie's assistance, but we followed his instructions anyway (more or less) which naturally meant that it made twice the mess it needed to, took at least three times his estimated 30 minutes, and some vital kitchen equipment perished in the chaos. (My darling friend is a ham-fisted klutz,** but I'm trying to forgive her.)

Like everything I've made from this book, it was very tasty. You simply can't fault him on that. But a plate of quick spaghetti, garlic bread, and homemade version of a Gu pot was never going to exactly set the gastronomic heather on fire. Mind you, the fennel and radish crunchy salad really was a tasty new idea that I wouldn't have had myself.

No wonder JO's a squillionaire though. I own a book in which he tells me how to make garlic bread and melt chocolate. I spent my (husband's) hard-earned on it. I use it. And I tell people how tasty it is. Talk about money for old rope, the man's a genius. Now I'm off to work on my big idea.

To read more random recipes (usually by people who remembered to photograph their plates BEFORE they ate) hop over to Belleau Kitchen at the end of the month.

* Yeh, yeh, naturally I have, in my time, bought both.
** I suppose there is technically no such thing, the ham and the Yiddish and all...

14 August 2012

yarn along :: positive ease

There's a many-hinged creature inside here. Sometimes it hiccups, like a weird internal metronome. And then it flexes all its hinges at once, stretching in every direction over and over and over again, digging its hard corners into my tightly-stretched ones. It always seems to be in a foul temper, desperate to tell me something.

Mr Breadwinner: "It is trying to tell you something: sit down."

But even the small stuff is thwarting me. Everyday tasks become fraught with frustration. Laundry involves numerous dropped socks that take a dog's age and old lady sound-effects to retrieve. Likewise every cup of tea: the spoon, the teabag, the milk top, something is guaranteed to end up on the floor. Every step I take in the slippery shower feels illadvised and high risk. And any attempt to simply 'keep on keeping on' is met with a barrage of taut practice contractions. Not regular, not breathtaking, but sore and impossible to ignore.

Last night reached a new peak. Something had to change.

Him: "How's your knitting going?"
Me: "The blanket's getting there, but I guess you might say it's got positive ease."
Him: "What does that mean?"
Me: "It's enormous, far too big for its intended body."
Him: "Why don't you sit down with it for a while, I'm going to make an apple crumble."

250 stitches
There's some scratchy and experimental Prom concert on the radio. My belly is thrashing painfully from side to side. He chops apples and talks baby names. I'm tearfully uncomfortable in my tight skin.

500 stitches
Him: "I'm going up to the garage to sort some boxes for the charity shop while the crumble cooks. I'll leave you with the oven timer."

750 stitches
Him (returning from the dark garden): "Here, I've brought you a walkie-talkie. I've got the other one in the garage, let's see if they still work."

1000 stitches
The radio is playing Delius now, much smoother. The internal struggling is starting to subside.
Crackle-crackle-fizz: "Don't get up when the oven timer goes off... blip... just tell me and I'll come and get the crumble out... blip... over and out."
I look at The Boss' new pile of new library books and check their return dates. They're due back on September 12th. There's every chance we'll be a family of four by then, and therefore only the slimmest possibility I'll remember to take them back. As the panic rises, I get a couple of thrashing blows to the ribs.  Deep breaths, listen to the Delius.

1250 stitches
beep-beep-beep-beep... beep-beep-beep-beep...
Me: "That's the crumble ready... blip... over and out."
Him: "Roger that"

Sitting on the sofa with bowls of hot apple crumble, the many-hinged creature inside seems to have fallen asleep.

That's what I call positive ease.

Linking in with Ginny's Yarn Along (a day early).

12 August 2012

47th party menu :: happy birthday Singapore

As holiday celebrations go, this may be a bit niche, but please indulge a big ol' heavily pregnant girl for just a few minutes.

Singapore celebrates its birthday on the 9th August every year with National Day. As an outside observer over our past few green-card-holding years, it appeared to be a display of military might (think Edinburgh Military Tattoo x 10), combined with an outpouring of National flag-waving pride (think Queenie's jubilee), and a great excuse for family gatherings that veer dangerously close to woozy schmaltz (think Hogmanay). Singapore's a young nation, with a harrowing twentieth-century history, and a hugely varied population (both in race and religion), so celebrating a common patriotism actually has a critically important role to play. National Day is wonderful.

In addition (for me at least) National Day marks the start of an endless season of festivities. One set of decorations, lights and school projects barely makes way for the next from now until next Easter: mid-autumn (lantern) festival looms, followed by the roaring arrival of the Formula 1, Deepavali, Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year... and many more besides.

And so, thousands of miles away, in a suburban Scottish garden on a warm weekend afternoon, we tried to bring a little bit of the National Day fun home. There were lanterns, Good Morning towels and bags of kopi-O. There were little girls in cheong-sam and sarong kebaya, and little boys in merlion t-shirts. There were henna tattoos and faces painted with the Singapore flag. My hormonal nostalgia levels were cranked up to the max. But naturally, the most important element was the food (and whether my new kitchen would stand its first major test). And since nearly all the food was gleaned from the pages of some most delightful blogs, I thought I'd share some pictures and links with you here.

If you need to cater for 10 adults and 10 grazing kids, this menu works - I've done the test drive so that you don't have to!

Double quantities of these braised pig cheeks from North 19, using divine meat from Donald Russell online. This was an absolute triumph. I wasn't brave enough to attempt genuine cha siu bao, but if there was ever a wonderful, effortless second best, then this is it. 24 hours marinading in the fridge and then four hours in a low oven. With the gravy seeping into a white bread roll, it was simply delicious. Not authentically Singaporean perhaps, but I should've made double the double quantity. This recipe is a keeper.

marinade for the pig cheeks

And on the side? A huge double-quantity sized jar of Shu Han's Nonya achar. Now this really is Singaporean. And it was the absolute winner with the three guests who had actually lived in Singapore - proving that their spice tolerance has been well and truly recalibrated. My husband has been eating the leftovers straight from the jar since the last guests left.

pig cheeks on the left, achar in the yellow bowl

On the BBQ were three times the quantity of this Singaporean satay recipe from Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's website (author of the wonderful "Tiger in the Kitchen" - a beautiful memoir of Singaporean home cooking). Spicy and delicious and served with hacked up cucumbers and red onions.

satay and braised cheeks

A few sausages on the grill, salads brought by friends, platters of watermelon, BBQ pineapple skewers, and cones of Jamie Oliver's frozen mango yoghurt covered all the bases.

Jamie's frozen mango yoghurt, from his 30 minute book

And once everyone had eaten their fill and gone home? We were, in true Straits style, famished! For more food, more festivals, and more Singapore.

Majulah Singapura!

02 August 2012

garden journal :: musing while we walk

Walk with me for a wee bit while it isn't raining. In fact, let's update the garden journal for this month, I'll fill you in on my top 10 random musings while we walk.

one ::
I really hate weeds. Wow, they are everywhere. How my neighbours keep on top of the weed situation is a mystery to me. Oh look, there's Bill, down on his hands and eighty-year-old knees. Huh, fancy that, he's pulling out weeds while they're small, before they explode like bombs all over the place. Jeez, I hate weeds. I wish I could afford a gardener. D'you think Bill would... no, that's just WRONG.

two ::
Oof, this baby is huge. I need a wee sit down.

three ::
I just can't figure out the 3 x 3 rounded corner Photoshop thungummy-jiggy that Project Alicia was giving away the other day. I wish Photoshop didn't make me feel so inadequate. I used to publish magazines in my sleep forchrissakes. But, oh yes, I had a lovely designery type do the Photoshop stuff for me. No, I'm not going to be a drip, I'm gonna email that Alicia girl and see what the heck I'm missing.

four ::
Gosh, aren't there a lot of purple flowers in this garden? Seems I like purple.

five ::
What's the best thing about the Olympics so far? I reckon it's getting a re-run of Wimbledon, with our boy Murray still winning matches. (Either that or Mayor BoJo getting stuck on a zip slide over Vicky Park. What a total plum.)

six ::
I've never been to Russia. Never given the place much thought (I like matryoskas a lot mind you). But the volume of blatant spambotting Russian gitsites that are skewing the stats on my blog are really getting me baity. You get them too huh? What is to be done? Have you heard any good ways to make them go away? It's enough to put you right off your blinis.

seven ::
Better keep walking (excuse the groan while I get up), seeing as how I've now officially reached the maximum weight gain for my height during this pregnancy, and I still have six weeks to go. Ach, I know, I can lose it all again later if I try, but it is not going to be easy.

eight ::
So the veg patch is actually producing things at last. Not enough for actual meals (don't let's get ahead of ourselves) but enough to snack on while we walk. A handful of rasps here, a blankety bed-full of tender broad beans there. Do you think shallots are ready when they look like a cat has sat on them? Or do you think a cat has actually sat on them? Better pull them up anyway because they're bound to rot in all this wet weather if I don't.

nine ::
I wonder if that song that's always on the radio at the moment, Small Bump (who's it by again... Ed something, Ed Sheeran, that's the one, thank you) I wonder if it makes my husband feel any paucity of emotion towards the dragon baby? It certainly does me. I haven't so much as packed a hospital bag or planned a place for this poor little scrap to sleep, let alone penned a multi-squillion selling love song to it. There just hasn't been time. Note to self: must make time to bond with bump. I did try the other day, but I fell asleep.

ten ::
Jeez, I hate weeds.

As you can see, wonderful Alicia showed me how, and I eventually approximated a vague attempt at using her 3 x 3 template. Isn't it pretty? Happy days - thank you Alicia!

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