31 October 2012

but baby it's cold out inside

Having only paid fleeting visits to freezing climes over the past few years (each time singing "yah boo sucks frosticles, we're catching the next SQ flight back the poolside" over our shoulders at the top of our lungs) we've forgotten what Winter is like.

Turns out it's like this:
1. Bloody cold outside the house.
2. Can't afford carpet on the ground floor. Artic breezes sweep up through the exposed floorboards.
3. Ergo, bloody cold inside the house as well.
And the worst bit? You know that thing where your sock wrinkles down inside your welly boot and ends up snarled around your toes, and it only ever happens on one foot which almost makes it more annoying? You know that thing? Yeh well, that never happened in Singapore.

We're starting to miss the sunshine a lot, and there are reminders everywhere. The Boss' new best friends at school are Malaysian and Indonesian. I've been reading the beautiful Booker nominated Garden of evening mists by Tan Twan Eng, and I'm craving a fatty bowl of mee with deep fried wonton from my favourite hawker. (Those last two aren't related in any way.)

So in an effort to avoid "grass-is-always-greener" syndrome (something in which I'm prone to wallow like the grumpy hippo that I am), let's focus on the great things about being at home in the cold. Because there are lots of them (and secretly we're thoroughly enjoying this autumnal babymoon).

The best things are, in no particular order:
1. There are no cockroaches or poisonous snakes.
2. My Mum can come to stay without spending a grand.
3. I can have beautiful discontinued wool like Araucania Toconao in my hands within two days.
Isn't this sweater (inspired by Ginny's one) going to look awsomesauce in that wool?

Joining in with Yarn Along and once again seeking your help: Does anyone know a mail order source of Araucania Toconao Multy in shade 406? (AKA the most beautiful yarn ever made what were they THINKING discontinuing it?) And what did Araucania replace Toconao with in their range? I can only order online and I can't be sure what comes up similar to the Toconao. Thanks for any hints  x

29 October 2012

oranges and lemons :: a healthy halloween snack

Him: Why have you bought ten organic lemons... and dare I ask about the vodka?
Me: To make limoncello for Christmas gifts... obviously.
You mean the stuff that everyone brings back from their first Italian holiday only to sit at the back the in-laws' booze cupboard for the next twenty years?
The stuff we didn't even drink in that place in Naples where they kept trying to hand it out for free?
It's for putting in all those pretty blue beer bottles you got through a few months ago.
No-one in the history of the world actually likes limoncello...
But they might from a pretty blue bottle. Maybe?
...because even the stuff made by actual professionals in actual Italy with actual lemon trees tastes like mosquito repellent.
Well, okay, so he might have a point. I hate the stuff too.

But that's not really relevant where homemade Christmas gifts are concerned. They're about forcing your friends and relations to rave about "how fabulous it is to get something homemade darling", and "oh aren't you sweet, how did you know I love blue glass!" Before shoving them at the back of their drink cupboards for the next twenty years.

And a few of my friends don't even drink.

Making stuff I hate seems to have been the theme for this October holiday. Because at the end of the day, it was more about keeping my five year old's hands busy while I nursed the dragon baby for two solid weeks. The end products of all our industry were, like homemade limoncello, frequently irrelevant. Mixing and casting tiny clay bricks with which to build a tiny brick house was a particular low point for me. (No, I am not even kidding. I now have a renewed respect for Lego.)

And Halloween forced me into my least favourite activity. AGAIN. Namely, sewing eyesight-sapping black fabric together with black thread in what's left of the failing autumnal daylight and 10 minutes before we have to leave for the party. This year it was in aid of a bat costume. Next year it's going to be a white ghost suit and a trip to the optician, not necessarily in that order.

But in the (ahem) "spirit" of Halloween (yes, that's right, I'm allowed to snarl and you won't even know if I'm hating on Halloween or just being scary), here's a last-minute party snack idea if you need one before the big night. Now I know that Halloween is an exercise in stuffing kids so full of refined sugar that they vomit on the neighbours' carpets (I've done Halloween "American-style" once before and it was simply terrifying) but this has the advantage of being a snack that children are attracted to while remaining sugar-free and fruit-based. Just call me Scrooge... sorta.

Orange jellies
makes 24

6 oranges
two packets of jelly powder (I used Hartleys sugar-free sachets in Strawberry and Blackcurrant)

very sharp knife
ice cream scoop
large bowl
two 6-hole muffin trays
- half the oranges
- scoop out the flesh into your bowl (I found an ice cream scoop ideal for this) and juice the pulp roughly (just squeeze it with your hands)
- balance the half skins in the muffin trays
- make up a slightly-stronger-that-usual mix of jelly (you want it to be firm enough to cut well: I used 200ml boiling water to dissolve the jelly powder and then topped up to 350ml with orange juice from the pulp)
- pour into the orange skins and refrigerate overnight   
- once thoroughly set, place flat side down on a chopping board and slice in half with your sharpest knife
I'm already having ideas about using this technique for other holidays - little sparkly clementines for Christmas perhaps, or fuchsia dragonfruit for Chinese New Year?

Of course it goes without saying: I hate jelly. So I have no idea how this tastes. Can't be any worse than limoncello though. Can it?

07 October 2012

crumbling resolve :: a random recipe

It's not often that Dom, our Random Recipe Host with the Most, allows us to positively select a recipe (normally our methods must err towards random selection). But this month it is a store cupboard ingredient that must be randomly selected - how we cook with it is up to us.

Dom's plan is for us to unearth a back-of-the-cupboard gem. But the combination of my new kitchen and this week's primary school harvest thanksgiving collection (Hurrah! Palm off all our old cans of random tat to the local elderly so that they can stuff them, cursing, to the back of their larders.) means that my cupboard is unusually bare of geriatric dried goods and crusty out-of-date jars.

So instead I closed my eyes and ran my finger over my "spice rack": more accurately described as a narrow shelf filled with a decade's worth of Bonne Maman jam jars. Their contents are varied (birthdays candles, baking beans, toothpicks, star anise, cupcake sprinkles - you name it) and, when I've failed to write on the lid, frequently a mystery.

My finger landed on half a jar of something crumbly and beige. Hmmmm. Too soft for sugar, too irregular for flour. Faintly foosty-smelling, but too mild to be a spice, and tastes of nothing. Ground almonds was my best guess. And if that were the case I knew immediately what I was going to do with them, having cut something perfect out of the paper a few weeks ago.

The preamble to the recipe read: "...we're now in the midst of a rather agreeable seasonal crossfire – the waning of summer and the waxing of autumn. This is a time of rich culinary potential, as the tapering off of some fine sunshine crops overlaps with the nascence of many others that come to fruition in the shortening days." Gah, to be able to write like that. I think it's just super lovely. Though, having not experienced Autumn since 2009, my susceptibility to romance is high and my resistance is low.

HFW* was talking there about the lovely few days when the berries overlap with the apples, and I've been waiting for that magical moment in my own garden. Yesterday it arrived, and I got seven James Grieve apples and about 200g of juicy raspberries from my little plot.

And so, while a contented little baby with a full tummy snoozed on his Daddy's chest, and on the radio someone played Tchaikovsky on a Stradavarius from the Usher Hall, I spent a Friday night making pastry. Because the state of the bathroom floor can wait, and the four piles of unwashed laundry will still be there in the morning, and (even though my scales say there's 10kg to lose) the calories simply don't count if you've grown all the fruit yourself... right?

By the way, I still have no idea if they were ground almonds or not, but the tart tastes lovely.


...and after, the apple and raspberry crumble tart

*Now, as an aside, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am being paid by Mr H Fearnley-Whittingstall, because I seem to make so many of his recipes. I only wish that I were. (I want to be his friend. Big time.) Despite living on a small island, he's lucky we genuinely couldn't live further apart without getting wet, or I might become a stalker groupie. But the truth is, when I said a few months ago that I learned how to cook from the Guardian/Observer newspaper columns, I really wasn't kidding, and they remain my main inspiration. Hence his constant presence here.

03 October 2012

ladies, get a hold of your uteri...

...because there's some serious cute coming up.

Not many words for Yarn Along today, as I have my hands rather full. But I wanted to show you that the eight extra days I was kept waiting for the little dragon (or 'xiao long' if my grasp of preschool mandarin/the Din Tai Fung menu is anything to go by) were not wasted days.

(Please excuse the phone photos.)
Stylecraft luxury merino in Mulberry and Cafe

I took inspiration from Anushka's lovely Pompom Papoose, and then completely changed it. I changed the shape (from a simple rectangle to a tapered foot-end), added a button band, and improvised a little leafy autumnal ornamentation. In fact, I haven't even got around to the pompom bit yet, and might omit it altogether, or perhaps make some leaves instead.

So, my hands were not idle. But here's the question: how much does a pattern have to change (and this one was changed utterly) for it to become a new pattern? I'd love to write all the details down and share it with you some time, but wouldn't want to step on any toes.

snug as a bug in a ... papoose

I have read almost nothing during the past week, but have been dipping in and out of the first edition of this new magazine that my friend brought me. It's rather beautiful and references a lot of blogs that I already follow and shops that I already use/lust after. So I'm excited to see that issue two is out tomorrow!

Got to go and address a small nappy now. Happy days!

01 October 2012

little water dragon

It only comes around once every sixty years, the year of the water dragon. All my Chinese Singaporean friends keep emphasising the importance of this, especially now that we have a son. His start in life simply could not be more promising, if you pay heed to that sort of thing. I'm not prone to dabble in astrology, but after two years in Singapore, the mysticism does start to infiltrate the old nerve endings. And what can I say, I'll cite it when it suits me.

Scotland is a funny old place in the year of the water dragon. We have a homegrown champion tennis player and the best Disney princess in yonks. The word "bake" has morphed into a widely-accepted noun (thanks - I think - to a hilariously eccentric tv show) and K-pop is at the top of the charts and set to become mainstream. (Who saw THAT coming? I think it's fabulous, we've been missing out on the joys of J-pop for decades.)

But childbirth is famously the great leveller, and some things about it remain resolute nearly six years after I last experienced it. The toe-curling agony that is the commencement of breastfeeding, the miraculous pain-relieving properties of infacol, the irrational disappointment that one still looks six months pregnant, the peachy-soft skin and the tiny toes... 

And so I introduce you to the little dragon. Thanks for all the lovely comments as I went stir crazy out of my mind while my due date came and went! Eventually he put in a very speedy appearance eight days after his due date. And I mean SPEEDY. I timed my first proper contraction at home at 2.17am on 27th September, and he was in my arms at the midwife unit of the local hospital by 3.50am. Phew, that was one roller-coaster of a car journey, let me tell you.

We managed to escape the post-natal ward and get home the very same day, and have been languishing in the newborn rosy haze of round-the-clock snoozing and feeding ever since.

he came, he saw, he conked out

He looks ever so handsome in all his tie-dyes and handknits, and I hope to have something new and very cute to show you Yarn Alongers on Wednesday - providing I get a few moments with my hands free before then. Ta ta for now.

inundated with beautiful flowers

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