Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Mendiants

This is a quick recipe that makes a pretty gift, and comes from the French Kitchen by Joanne Harris - this is a sumptuous book, highly recommended. She gives an interesting story of how they get their name - apparently they represent the robe colours of various orders of monks. They're rather like tiny little Fruit & Nut drops but look a bit better wrapped up than a bar of broken Cadbury's.

You need:

Decent chocolate - I used milk, white & plain Green & Blacks (is it me or does it taste a bit different these days?)
Dried fruit and/or nuts

Melt the chocolate, then drop teaspoonfuls onto Bake-o-Glide, or something similar - it needs to be flexible enough to peel them off later.

Arrange fruit and nuts on the top and leave to set - not in the fridge or you end up with odd white mottling which doesn't affect the taste but doesn't look so good. Try not to eat them all, before you have given away the ones you need to give away ...


I suspect it would be better for the finished appearance to temper the chocolate first but I didn't have time, or a suitable thermometer and the idea scared me a bit! It didn't stop us eating them, anyway.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Thank you Postie!


Mr Postman has been busy bringing us some lovely things this week. First came presents from the lovely Alison as part of the Pay It Forward swap:


My pictures don't do these justice, and you can't smell the wafts of lavender that came as I opened the package, fending off small fingers with all my might. Those same small fingers couldn't resist modelling the hearts and strawberries.


Thank you Alison! These are now adorning the handles of a chest of drawers upstairs.

The other package was delicious fabric I order from Cia's palette. Caroline kindly pointed me at a really useful article from Manda at Treefall designs about how to order fabric painlessly from the US - and look what I ended up with:


Yes, those really are garden gnomes on the top piece.


I love this, and I don't know why.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Knitted cupcakes

A couple of Elsie's little friends turned 5 recently and so we were in need of special presents to give. I've had my eye on Julie's knitted cupcakes pattern for a while now, and of course I had the delicious cupcake fabric Caroline kindly sent me so I put the two together into a modified and miniaturised Lotta Jansdotter backpack:


These are lined and have an internal pocket in chocolatey cupcake material (I didn't manage to get a picture of that).


I like her ideas but I have to say she does make things far more complicated than they need to be. Maybe I should say these are inspired by hers because by the time I had changed the instructions, changed the dimensions, lined it and pocketed it about the only original feature left was the attachment of the straps. And I'm planning to change that next time too!

I can see more of these in my future - both my two are asking for them and I have two more lined up as gifts for next week ...

Monday, 23 July 2007

Ballet and broomsticks

We've had a whirlwind weekend. School ended on Friday, but that didn't signal an end to the madness, oh no - we had Elsie's dance school show on Friday night and Saturday. It was actually really good fun. Lots of very cute little people dances - ducks, sandcastles, extracts from Annie - and only one dance with some of the older teenage girls dressed, shall we say, provocatively. Unfortunately it opened the second half and I think a few of the dads may have choked on their lemonade.

Elsie's class danced to one of the songs from the Lion King and it was very well done - they didn't forget their steps, no-one fell over and no-one went the wrong way. And they all looked like they were having a blast - not a fake smile to be seen! Millie adored it all - she kept standing on our laps and at the end of each dance looked very seriously at me and said "There is another one, Mama?" I painted her a nose and whiskers with lipstick to match Elsie (mistake - I don't think it's going to wash off my shirt) and she is very excited to be in her own dance when she's bigger.

After that we headed off to my father-in-law's house in Hampshire. It was a lovely restful visit, and the chance to read the new Harry Potter - we had 2 2-hour car journeys and you can demolish a lot of JK Rowling in 2 hours. I finished it last night and very much enjoyed it , though I nearly had to bash Bear on the head with it - he tried to turn out the bedside light when I had 4 pages to go. I know it's meant for kids, but to be honest after having two of them there's so little left of my brain it suits me down to the ground.

It does mean I'm a bit late getting started on my Pay It Forward gifts - but fear not ladies (you know who you are by now): the stitching starts tonight ...

Friday, 20 July 2007

Pay it forward gift swap

I've been watching this doing the rounds of lots of blogs I visit, but I always seem to get there too late. I finally managed to catch it on Alison's gorgeous Foxgloves and managed to get into the first three - hurrah!


So, here is what is happening (text shamelessly ripped from Alison/Tracy/wherever it started off):

I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog
requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet
and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week… LOL… but you will receive it
within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is
pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.


I don't yet know exactly what it will be - almost certainly a keyring, quite likely some buttons, and possibly something I have yet to decide on.

So, if there's anyone out there, and you'd like to join in, please do!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

An excess of berries


The shelves in the local supermarket are finally groaning under the weight of British soft fruit (but still beans from Kenya and Gambia, hmmmm) and we are scarfing down punnet after punnet. Most of the time I'm happy to have nothing but greek yogurt or maybe a meringue or two with them, but sometimes I feel the need to go a bit posh, and then this is my favourite thing to make. It's based on a recipe from Gordon Ramsay out of Just Desserts ie before the media overexposure. He might be a bit too sweary, and he really ought to keep his shirt on, but the man is a culinary genius. This looks very impressive but is extremely easy to make;
I can't stand summer pudding made with bread, but I love this one.

Summer pudding - for 2-3 greedy people

1/2 brioche loaf (obviously big G uses home made. Equally obviously, I don't)
About 150g blackcurrants and/or redcurrants (hi Tracy!)
About 200g mixed soft fruit - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
6 Tbsp caster sugar
1 sprig mint

Top and tail the black/redcurrants. Simmer with the 6Tbsp caster sugar, the mint and 6Tbsp water until the currants are soft. Pass through a sieve and set aside.


Slice the brioche about 1cm thick. Stamp out 3 circles of brioche per person; I use a cutter of about 8 cm diameter.


Prepare the fruit for the filling by slicing the strawberries or halving the blackberries and raspberries.


Now for the fun bit. Put down a piece of baking parchment/greaseproof paper and put the cutter on top. Soak one brioche round in the blackcurrant coulis and place it inside the cutter.


Top with a layer of strawberries. Add another layer of dipped brioche, then a mixture of blackberries and blueberries. Finish with a third round of dipped brioche.


Press down lightly to firm, then put a fish slice underneath and slide the stack onto a plate. Carefully slide off the ring. Top with extra coulis/raspberries/caster sugar/cream/all of the above.


Scoff the lot. It's full of fruit, so clearly it is health food ;-)

I plan to try this with other soft fruits - I have some peac hes and plums downstairs so I may even give it a go tonight. I'll let you know ...

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Apples for the teachers

It's hard to believe Elsie has nearly finished her first year at school. It has flown by, and she has grown and changed so much; photos of her from this time last year show a very little girl in a too-big uniform who could just about write her name, and now she is reading and swimming and drawing and spelling ... She has had two really wonderful teachers and two teaching assistants and I wanted to give them something to say thank you for all the hard work they've put in. I decided that book bags would be something I'd like to make that they might find useful. I dug through my stash and bought a few extra bits and pieces and based these on the tote bag from Lotta Jansdotter's book.



I added lining and an inside pocket, and made some personalised keyrings that I attached with a little button loop.



For the TAs I made pencil rolls from the same book; I had some little pencil shaped buttons that I couldn't resist using even though they'd have been better in lilac.

It is inspirational to sit in the room and watch these women work with the children, and they have taught me masses, let alone the children! I really hope they like these ...

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Other people's gardens

Once every year some of the big-name colleges in Cambridge open their gardens to the public for the NGS. Usually they are only open to the college fellows and the rest of us plebs can gaze enviously through the gates and wish we could go in and explore. You read about these gardens and how beautiful they are so when we realised Kings and Clare Colleges were opening theirs last Sunday we decided we had to go along since the weather was absolutely glorious. As usual we had underestimated how long it would take us to get from the house into town, and by the time we arrived we only had time to visit one, so we went for Clare (sorry, I forgot the camera, so here's a link to someone else's photos).

And I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. Yes, the planting was beautiful, and everything was immaculately maintained but somehow it lacked the passion and sense of love you get from visiting people's real gardens. Later that afternoon we went to a friend's allotment - we are sharing some of the weeding and a chunk of the space - and watching the children making mudpies and squishing their feet in wet earth, watering, digging, planting tatty little seedlings and just pootling about, it made me realise that to me all gardening needs to be is fun, otherwise what's the point?

Incy Wincy

Elsie's school play was on this week. They did the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and all the reception children were rats. Once I got over my initial indignation - what are you saying about my child?! - I looked at the costume requirements and realised I was in big trouble - black or brown trousers and T-shirt. Now, I have the pinkest children on the planet; I even got comments about their girliness from passers by on the street in Cambridge this weekend - well we were sat on the steps of the Senate House eating chips at the time. They hardly own a pair of trousers between them, let alone wear them. You know those twins from Big Brother (yes, I know, I'm sorry, I'm a bad person)? I have nightmares about my two ending up that pink and fluffy.

Anyway, have you ever tried to find a plain black shirt at this time of year? I found the trousers in the Back To School section of Tesco (don't get me started on Back to School sales in July) but the only black T-shirts were patterned. So there was nothing for it than to crack out the Dylon at 6.30 on Sunday morning. Other people do sensible things like sleep, or have cups of tea in the early morning sun. We ended up with a couple of sort of mottled blue-black shirts, and I decided that rather than let the black goop go to waste we would make some cobweb fabric - I can surely find a use for this at Halloween if I add some silver sequins or fabric paint.


I do wish I'd heeded the instructions to wear gloves though - all the little cuts on my fingers have gone black too!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Felty fun

I've been a bit rubbish at posting anything recently - not just because I *am* quite rubbish at keeping on top of everything I want/need to do, but also because I have been without my trusty laptop for a few days. About 3 weeks ago it took a child-assisted nosedive to the floor and sadly the power cable did not survive - given how bent out of shape it was I am more than a bit surprised the laptop made it through relatively unscathed, but it has meant that instead of having a power supply at home and one at work I have had to try to remember always to pack the one remaining cable up and carry it around. This is, of course, a recipe for distaster and last week I forgot to bring it home so was without power for nearly 5 days - tragedy!


Anyway, it did give me some time to catch up on sewing and gardening (though sadly not housework). One thing I've been working on is some keyrings to organise my silly numbers of keys for different things. These are really fun to do, and I'll be doing more with different patterns on them for gifts and so on. I have been making bookbags for Elsie's teachers and her childminder and am planning to incorporate a personalised keyring - but more on that another day.


I've also made some more embroidered buttons - one of these days I'll post some pictures of how I've done them but they really are easy (asuming you have access to a shop that sells the components). I've got all sorts of ideas for other designs too - they're a bit addictive.

These ones are metal based buttons that are very easy to put together:


These are ever useful plain fabric buttons, made from plastic bases. I didn't like these nearly as much and ended up forcing the backs on with my teeth (!). It was a satisfying bite, but does mean I can't really use them on projects for anyone else ...





Someone's been casting spells ...

I can't explain it otherwise. I think we can all agree (at least those of us in the UK) that the weather has been pretty disgusting for the the last few weeks. Except for 2 Sundays, we haven't had a dry weekend in June. And somehow, our PTFA managed to schedule events for both those Sundays. Blimey.

The first was the fete of the infamous Pringle tubes, which raised just over £1500 (not the Pringles alone, you understand). Then this last weekend we had the village Garden Safari where 11 brave souls opened their gardens and allowed people to trample on their soggy lawns and tried not to look too upset when children trampled on their flower beds.


It was good fun but for a tiny village we certainly did a lot of walking - and in fact the girls had to be taken home halfway round. I headed to the school to do my stint serving teas, and selling these little beauties which I made from the Magnolia bakery cupcake recipe posted by Flibbertygibbet.


Yum yum, gobble, snarfle. All gone.


Monday, 2 July 2007

Look away if you're on a diet

I found a recipe in the Cranks Bible (my favourite cookbook) for rosewater and fig ice cream, but when it came to it last night I couldn't face making custard, or whipping it out of the freezer every hour to beat it, so I turned back to an old favourite Nigella recipe and messed with it. Gordon Ramsey it is not but if you love rosewater ohhhh it's good!

Easy rosewater and fig ice cream

300 ml double cream
90g icing sugar
1 tbsp rosewater (or less if you are not a rose freak)
a handful of soft dried figs, chopped small.

Whip the cream with the sugar and rosewater till it holds soft peaks. Stir in the chopped figs. Pour into a plastic box and stick it in the freezer.

Ideally ripen it in the fridge for about 10 mins before eating, but I've just scraped out a spoonful and it's fine by me just from the freezer.

Warning: You will gain at least 3 pounds just by looking at this.