Friday, 29 February 2008

Rewarding the workers

I've been in major declutter mode recently - a casual visitor might not notice any difference, but I do. There's still a long way to go but sacks and sacks of stuff have already gone to Oxfam - and so far the children have not noticed the toys I have squirreled away in the loft to see if they actually realise they are gone. Their stash of dolly clothes is next on my hit list ...

After a long morning flinging and cleaning, I needed a reward. So, inspired by Ali I made a coat for my coffee pot to match my tea cosy. So easy, I nearly made mug cosies to match. And in the spirit of "use what you have", some apple and apricot cake with a recipe adapted from Apples for Jam to use up odds and ends in the fruitbowl:

150g granulated sugar
150g soft butter
2 eggs
120g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb
1tsp baking powder
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp vanilla extract
apples - I used about 4 eating apples that were past their best
apricots - a handful of the ready to eat ones

Preheat oven to 180C (350F, gas 4)

Cream butter and sugar.
Mix flour, bicarb, baking powder and mixed spice.
Add eggs to creamed mixture, alternating with spoonfuls of flour. Beat well.

Process apricots and apples to small chunks - stop before you get a puree! You could do this by hand but I am far too lazy. Stir into cake mixture.

Line a loaf tin, or indeed a cake tin. I know Delia would be horrified but I usually just use whatever tin I have to hand. Put mixture in, and bake for about 45 minutes until cooked through (test with a skewer). Cover with foil part way through if necessary.

Can I tempt you?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Holy Flying Sycamore Seeds, Batman!

Country Living this month has a feature calling for the return of the nature table into schools - a brilliant idea but I am not about to go suggesting to our already overworked teachers that perhaps they might like to add another thing to look after. I might suggest at the PTA meeting next week that it could be something we could support though.

Anyway, in the meantime we decided to do one of our own and raged around the garden collecting all sorts of bits and pieces. It's also made the walk home from school more intersting as we find leaves and seeds and twigs to bring home. I was particularly pleased with a bit of stick that had lichen on it as apparently that means our air quality is pretty good (although actually this was a crusty lichen so perhaps not quite such a good indicator. Oh well)

We have been replacing things as they wilt, and hopefully we'll keep it up.

Speaking of CL, I was chuffed to see the cottage we are renting this summer featured on page 20 of their giveaway booklet - "Wow, we must be trendsetters at last!" I thought, until I saw the 4 page spread on Featherdown Farm which many of you have already visited and realised that, as usual, we're well behind the times ;-)

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Here's the clutch ...

As promised, photos of the clutch Gina sent to me. Now can you see why I'm nervous about handing over mine?!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Brown paper packages tied up with string

Bloggers are a generous bunch (this is news to no-one, I'm sure). When Gina found out I had missed the signup for Lucy Locket's Valentine's swappage, she volunteered to do an unofficial version of the same swap with me as well as with her real swap partner - how kind is that? My package is waiting for her return from parts foreign, but she was very organised and sent hers to me early - lookie lookie!

She made this book herself. Gosh.

You can just see the corner of a very pretty little clutch, which I spectacularly failed to get any decent shots of - will try again tonight, because it's gorgeous and you *have* to see it. Inside was a beautiful brooch, machine embellished with tiny beads (and my horrible photo does not do it justice.) It will be a long time before I let Gina see my embroidery ...

And lots of chocolate (sadly all gone) and a big package for stash enhancement. Thank you Gina - it was lovely being your partner. Tea when you get back?

Then last week came another parcel from Charlie, creature crocheter extarordinaire.

Who's in that box?

Why, Mr Pigeon-017 of course!

And he even brought his passport, which made me squeal and my husband laugh. I had bought him as a gift for a pigeon-mad friend but how can I possibly send him off? Well, I can't, and I'm not. Sorry Sarah (she doesn't read this so she'll never know, bwahahaha)

But that's not all. Nestled snugly in the tissue were sweeties for the girls (very much to their approval) and this little fellow:

I had admired him when Charlie posted about him, but never for a minute expected to have my very own! Thank you Charlie, this was a fab package, and the pigeon and mushroom - now known as the Super Mushroom - are firm favourites already (though we are hiding them from the Monkee, just in case he starts to feel jealous).

What did I tell you? Lovely, lovely people. And now I must plot some parcels of my own ...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Kiddie science heaven

My sister introduced us to *the most fabulous place* yesterday - the Science Centre at Herstmonceux Observatory. Small Small was very excited at the prospect: "Will we be able to do experiments with a real scientist?". Well, I'm a real scientist. "No, a REAL scientist. Like Nina." Glad to see all those years of study weren't a waste then.

This was the site of the rehoused Greenwich Royal Observatory for many years, and is a rather odd looking place from a distance, with a collection of slowly greening copper domes housing huge telescopes. As you get closer you start to see that the grounds are filled with hands on experiments designed to challenge and entertain tiny scientists (and their mums).

We started with a run round outside playing with water wheels and turbines

and rolling sticks (did you know that train wheels are specially cone shaped to help them go round corners?).

What could this be?

If you look closely the letters "C" and "G" may give you a clue that this is ...

A DNA helix for climbing on! I very nearly swooned.

A very charming older gentleman told us the history of the observatory, and showed us how a telescope worked and even opened the roof of one of the domes where Patrick Moore used to work, and twirled it around.

Then he allowed the children to control the telescope - how exciting was that? Very exciting, I can tell you. I even saw the moon through the roof.

And it doesn't stop there. Inside are more exhibits including a captive tornado:

and a plasma ball - at least I think that's what it was called. By this time I was overcome with excitement and squeaking a lot. A LOT.

A high point was surely the life sized model of a human torso, complete with removable organs. Located directly opposite the cafe. I shall spare you the photos, but we had a long discussion about how all the pipes link up and how wee is made (well, they are 3, 4,and 5).

Edited: I should explain - the 4 year old is my niece. Having three little ones a year apart would probably have killed me ;-)

And the best bit? A gift shop full of science books! Yes, I am a geek and there's no hope for me ...

Sunday, 10 February 2008

For every head, a hat

We have come to visit my parents by the seaside for half term. The weather is absolutely perfect - more like April than March, so we headed off to the beach for a bit of messing about by the water. When we've been before the tide has been out but today we timed it just right, and one lunatic even went paddling.

Fired with enthusiasm by the making (and wearing) of my cable hat I have been busy kitting out the rest of the family. First came this watchman's hat (first seen here) for my lovely tall hubby to keep his brain nice and warm; the pattern couldn't have been simpler but all that ribbing took AGES.

He says it is very warm, and I was pleased to be able to make something for him - he does put up with an awful lot of girly pink stuff. Speaking of which:

A small pink version of mummy's hat for a small pink person. In fact this hat is a bit tight for her so it will end up being for Tiny Small, and I've already cast on for a rather looser version that should be ready for next winter at the very least.

It really was a perfect morning!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

All hail Alexander Fleming

First of all, apologies for not responding to email or being round to visit everyone much this week. I will catch up, I promise.

I've been sick - it turns out I had tonsillitis (which is every bit as foul as I remember from childhood) but by the time I realised I was getting worse, and went to see the doctor, I was feeling really rough. He assured me it was probably viral, but he took a throat swab "just in case", and off I went, back to bed and feeling maybe I was making a big old fuss about nothing. Ha. Sure enough, it wasn't viral; I'm now on antibiotics and feel a lot better today. I worked for four years in a building looking out on the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford and knew that it had played a critical role in turning Fleming's discovery of penicillin into a marketable commodity, but to be honest never really gave it much thought. Right now, I am very grateful for the work those people did so many years ago. (OK, so I'm not on penicillin itself as I'm allergic to it, but the principle's the same).

So, not a lot happening on the creative front this week, but I did manage at last to have a go at felt making with some rovings I bought a year ago (ahem). I used the straightforward instructions given in Complete Feltmaking by Gillian Harris. It was very therapeutic; I have some ideas for the various bits I made, but to start with just went with the obvious beaded flowers.

(Pssst Ali - this is why I needed the sushi mat ...)

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Shopping lists

Apparently my mum is extremely trendy - well, at least judging by at least 3 Sunday supplements and foodie mags of recent weeks. We're being exhorted to throw away less food - a hugely sensible idea but hardly earth shattering - and to plan our weekly menus to minimise wastage. So, shopping lists become necessary.

My mum always planned her weekly menu, and as I've grown older I've fallen into the same habit - most weeks it is fun to leaf through the cookery books and see if there's something new to try this week or whether it should be old favourites. Though frankly today it was less appealing as I had two screechy people vying for my attention as they worked on their "Maffs books", plus a lingering headache (thank you to coworkers who insist on working when they should be off sick).

One of my unofficial resolutions for this year was to try at least one new recipe every week - so far so good. Last week's new one was a version of the vegetarian moussaka from the Cranks Bible - very easy, very good:

(Apologies for fuzzy quantities - I am quite hit & miss except when baking)

2 aubergines
Potatoes - enough for the people you are feeding, which really depends how greedy you are. I probably used about 600g
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tin tomatoes
500 ml milk
butter - maybe 50g?
plain flour
75 g Gruyere (very authentic, I know)

Slice 2 aubergines about 1cm thick, brush with olive oil and grill until soft

Slice potatoes about 5mm thick, boil for about 5 minutes.

Chop onion and fry till soft in olive oil. Add chopped garlic, tomatoes and oregano, and simmer for 20-30 minutes to thicken. Season to taste.

Make about 500ml of white sauce - so a fair lump of butter, a couple of tablespoons of flour and about a pint of milk. I do this the lazy way, sticking it all in the pan together and stirring with a whisk it till it boils & thickens. Can't be doing with all that roux malarkey these days. Stir in a good grating of nutmeg.

Assemble it in layers: aubergines, then potatoes, then tomato sauce, then white sauce. And repeat, finishing with a thick blanket of white sauce. Scatter over about 75g chopped gruyere and bake at 180C until it browns - about 30 mins.

Scoff it. But don't burn yourself!