Saturday, 4 January 2020

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all.

This post is a little late as its been full on Christmas & New Year with lots of family and friends coming to visit. In recent years we have had very quiet Christmases and even quieter New Years now that all but one of the children have grown and flown. We usually have one or two out of the four but this year we had all of them at home on Christmas eve which was lovely seeing them chatting about when they were younger and the things they got up to that they thought I knew about only to realise I didn't when they saw the look of surprise on my face.  Daughter was working on Christmas day, but I still had the three boys, my DIL and little grandson and of course the bearded one for the rest of Christmas. It was especially nice that the eldest one stayed for a week which has been unheard of before due to work commitments and it was nice that not only did he get time to spend with the olds he got to spend some quality time with his youngest sibling even if it did involve an X-box. We bought in the New Year and new decade in with one of my very dearest of friends from my school days and we had a lot of fun catching up and after rather a lot of wine a lesson in crochet which considering we had,  had a glass or two of wine turned out very well. She has some big changes going on this year and she wanted to be able to learn to crochet before giving up her career and moving down to Cornwall to look after her lovely dad who will turn 94 this year, still lives in his own home and goes tea dancing three times a week but is getting to the point where he needs someone around but not enough to cramp his style....

This year I decided to make up hampers for the older three children,  filled with Christmas treats. I'd never thought of doing this before and now I have I really don't know why I'd never thought of it before as they seem to have been a big hit. 

This years were made up with cakes, crackers, specialty coffees and specialty cheeses and of course mums home made chutneys
Lazy Days & Sundays: Apple & Red Onion chutneywhich apparently were enjoyed on New Years Eve by at least one of them as demonstrated by the photograph I was sent by my daughter who was spending the evening with her boyfriend as she was working the next day. Having been such a success this will definitely be something I will be doing again this year and I have already got my thinking cap on as to what can go in them and what chutney's I can include. 

The hand knitted socks also went down well this year and I am led to believe that both pairs have already been out on several outings. Its the first time I have gifted my socks to someone other than family but definitely something I will do again now I know they have been so well received.   The one thing I didn't do was go back to Asda and get more of these little gift bags for which I am quite cross with myself but time just got the better of me so I will just have to hope that they have them again this year or that I can find something similar or maybe I will make my own.

Is anyone else out there already planning their gifts for this year or is it just me.

Well whatever your plans are for this next year if not this next decade I hope they are filled with health, wealth and happiness for you all.


Sunday, 29 December 2019

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust Vol.1) - Philip Pullman

Malcolm Polstead's Oxford life has been one of routine, ordinary even. He is happiest playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, La Belle Sauvage. But now as the rain builds, the world around Malcolm and Asta is, it seems set to become increasingly far from ordinary.

Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life to make a dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra forever...

Have any of you been watching the BBC dramatisation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Myself and my DIL have been avid watchers of the series.  It took a couple of goes at watching the first episode for me to get into it but once I realised who all the characters were and  what the deamons meant to their person then it started to make more sense.  It was whilst I was talking to a colleague at the office that I discovered that as well as the trilogy of His Dark Materials that there was also another book The Book of Dust  by the same author a prequel to His Dark Materials which tells the story of Lyra's journey to Jordan College as a baby when the floods had come.

Without giving too much of the story away Malcolm Polstead is an 11 year old boy who goes to school and helps his parents in their public house 'The Trout'. Alice is a 15 year old local girl who helps Malcolm's mother in the kitchen at The Trout and for the most part doesn't have much time for Malcolm. Malcolm likes nothing more than to spend time in his beloved canoe 'La Belle Sauvage' so named after a famous Inn.  He also likes to help the nuns at the local priory and this is where he finds Lyra, the daughter of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel. The nuns have been put in charge of Lyra's care in the absence of her parents.  It is the gyptians who forewarn Malcolm of the floods that are due but no one takes any notice of a warning from an 11 year old boy. When the floods come Malcolm with the help of Alice, go the priory to rescue Lyra and so their journey begins. 

The Book of Dust -La Belle Sauvage is the first in a trilogy of The Book of Dust series.  The Book of Dust Vol 2 (The Secret Commonwealth) was released in October 2019 and continues Lyra's story as a twenty year old women.  The third and final book is yet to be named and a release date set as far as I can tell. 

You have to remember that essentially these books are written for young people and not a 50+ year old women but I did enjoy reading this book and I'm not sure that you would need to know anything about His Dark Materials before reading it. 

I think Philip Pullman has been very clever in writing His Dark Materials trilogy and then writing a separate trilogy of books that go back to the very beginning of Lyra's life. It means that you could read either trilogy without ever reading the second or you could start at the very beginning with this the first part of Lyra's story then His Dark Materials and then The Book of Dust Vol 2 (The Secret Commonwealth) completing her story with Volume three when it is released. 

I bought a copy of The Book of Dust -La Belle Sauvage for my DIL for Christmas. She had no idea there was a prequel to the original series of books and left happily reading it before she left.  I do like it when I feel I have made a good choice of a gift.  With young Freddie to take care of I know her reading time is limited but it just might mean that I can get her the His Dark Materials trilogy for her birthday. I do like to earn my MIL brownie points.


Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Foolproof sock pattern (cuff down) and other ramblings

No photo description available.

You would of thought that Asda knew that all across the UK there are sock knitters who have been knitting furiously to get their socks finished and ready to gift this Christmas.   I had only popped in for a couple of bits and bobs as you do, the usual thoughts of spending £5 and ending up spending £20 as you find things you didn't even know you needed.  I have made several pairs of socks to gift this year including for my secret Santa for our local Knit and Knatter group. I was so excited when I spotted the bags as they are just right size to hold a pair of hand knitted socks and at just 80p they could not have been any better, in fact I am thinking I may just have to buy a few more to keep in my stash for next year. 

I have been making the same socks in various sizes and yarns for many years now but had never got around to writing up the pattern. Having watched me studiously knitting my socks some of the ladies in the knitting group have asked if I will show them how to make them.  With this in mind I decided it was definitely time to sit down and write up the pattern. It was one of those things I was going to do on a quieter day over the Christmas holidays but then one member mentioned she would like to make a pair for her daughter's birthday at the end of January.  At this point I said it may be a good idea to get her started then at our last meet up before Christmas on the 23rd.  Thinking I just had one or two interested parties I put a message out on our social media page to say what type of yarn they would need and what needles.  I still prefer to use dpn's rather than circular needles when it comes to making socks.  I think it is because the circular needles are so small and for someone who is only small in stature their-self I appear to have sausage fingers.   I was surprised to find that at least half the group wish to take up the mantle of sock knitting and so we are having a bit of a master class on Monday.  This should be an interesting evening as the first of my children will be arriving by train that same evening ready for Christmas.  I have confessed that en route home from the train station that we will have to make a slight detour to the pub whilst I see the ladies and get them started on their sock knitting experience.   I have bribed him with a pint and a packet of crisps. 

If you would like to join the many sock knitters around the world by having ago at making a pair of very basic socks then you can find the details of my Foolproof Socks (Cuff down) here.

Meanwhile the Christmas preparations are underway at home.  Well I say that. I have lists of things I need to do and lists of things I am yet to buy and of course then there is the never ending list of food for just one day of the year.  Although I have got visitors for several days so nothing will go to waste. 

It will be the last minute manic tidying session, sorting of  beds and making sure every last stitch of clothing in the wash basket has been washed, dried, ironed and put away.  The annual seek and find of the Christmas table cloth that every year I put away in that SAFE place that is obvious to me at the time and then it gets to the next Christmas and we go play hide and seek all over again. There will be much baking going on, on Sunday and whoa betide anyone who dares to eat anything before Tuesday  by which time the rest  of the family will have arrived. Its always a bit of a feast or famine in our house.  Some years we only have three for dinner and others we have the full compliment of eight.  This year there will be seven possibly eight for Christmas Eve and six of us for Christmas day. I have to admit that I do like it when all the chicks are back in the nest and of course this year we will have our little grandson with us for the holidays and at sixteen months he will still be a little unsure of the whole Christmas thing but I am so looking forward to having him visit with us this year. 

I hope your Christmas preparations are going well, if not drink gin I say, not long to go now and it will all be over for another year.


Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Gingerbread loaf & other Christmas ramblings

Image may contain: indoorIts that time again when these little guys get to come out of hibernation. They are my favourite decoration on our tree. We've had them a number of years now and I always look forward to unwrapping them and are usually the first thing I go searching for in the box of decorations and are usually the last thing I place on the tree. 

Image may contain: christmas tree and outdoorThe tree is finally up after the mega clean of the house. I've never known a house to get so dusty and cobwebs, don't get me started on those, they seem to appear from nowhere and a bit like the elves who made the shoes for the shoemaker, you never see them being made. We bought this tree when we lived in our little cottage when it used to take up a whole corner of the living room. Here at the farm house it looks a bit lost, but as its one of those posh ones you see advertised on the tele with the lights already attached that we bought in their sale many years ago I am not going to change it. It always looks better once all the presents are wrapped and under the tree.

I'm starting to feel less sick with panic that I won't be ready this year. I have purchased the baskets to make up the hampers and I've added the finishing touches to the Chutneys  with their little ribbons.  I even found time to make a second batch of the Apple & Red Onion Chutney and the Caramelised Onion Chutney  so we have some for home for those all important leftovers on Boxing Day. The supermarket shopping list is having things added to it daily but there will come a cut off when the bearded one tells me he has booked the delivery slot and that by 10pm the night before its due I need to have added any last minute requirements.

I confess I am one of those annoying people who likes to make a list of the things I am going to buy for the family and be more or less done and dusted by the 1st December. This is not because I am a control freak, okay well may be I am but more that I don't like the mad rush in December and I can't cope with a last minute panic buy of presents and ending up with something and not knowing who I am then going to gift it to. It wasn't so bad when the children were small and part of the Christmas build up was to make their list. Now they are adults they can never come up with any ideas, but then they tell me I'm just as hard to pick a gift for and if they ask me I can never think of anything especially on the hoof.  I do try and note down something I like so that when they ask me I can make suggestions but they haven't asked this year so it will all be a total surprises which is equally lovely unless of course they think I've spent too much time on the naughty step this year to warrant a gift from Santa. 

I have two pairs of snugly socks already made and ready to gift with a third pair currently on the needles. These two pairs are both made using Drops Fabel 75% wool & 25% polyamide blend. The pair to the left are made in Lavender Print (904) with the contrast colour Off White (100) and the pair to the right are made in Sea Mist Print (910) with a contrast colour of Royal Blue (108).

My New Years resolution is to finally write up this and the other sock patterns I use instead of them being lodged in my ageing brain.

I used to love the build up to Christmas, starting with the making of the Christmas cake only be told by my children when they were adults that they don't actually like it. These days instead I make my grandmothers iced tea bread and her gorgeous gingerbread loaf. Both of these just remind me of my grandmother she was a superb baker.  At this time of year and at the end of a busy day especially around Christmas there is nothing nicer than sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a slice of one of her cakes. I think it was through  my grandmother that I developed my love of most things ginger and I seem to have passed it onto at least one of my sons. 
From your Nigella cupboard under the stairs you will need:

115g (4oz) soft brown sugar
85g (3oz) butter or margarine
175g (6oz) golden syrup
225g (8oz) plain white flour
A pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground ginger
1 egg beaten
150mls (1/4 pint) milk

Pre heat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3

  • Grease or line a 2lb loaf tin
  • Place the sugar, butter and golden syrup in a saucepan and heat through gently until melted and the mixture has come together. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Sift the flour, ground ginger and baking powder  and salt into a bowl and mix together. Now make a well in the centre.
  • In a small bowl or jug mix together the egg and milk.
  • Add the milk and egg to the flour mixture followed by the melted mixture
  • Using a wooden spoon stir the mixture together thoroughly until smooth.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.
  • Bake for 1 - 1 hour 15 minutes or until lightly brown or when tested with a skewer it comes out completely clean. 
  • Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

I have to admit that this gingerbread is just as nice warm with custard or ice cream as it is cold with a nice cup of tea or may be even something a little stronger it is Christmas after all and possibly well deserved after all your hard work of pulling off yet another festive extravaganza. Whichever way you choose should you wish to have ago I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Saturday, 7 December 2019

Apple & Red Onion Chutney

Here as promised is the last of the trio of chutneys I have made for the hampers this year. This is the Apple & Red Onion version.  Once again if like me you do not have a Nigella cupboard under the stairs then you will need:-

1kg  red onions, thinly sliced
6 tbsps of light brown sugar
6 tbsps of cider vinegar
2 apples. I  have used pink ladies but you can use whatever sweet apple of your choice.
4 tbsps of olive oil

This quantity makes 800mls or 4 x 200mls jars.

  • Add the olive oil to a heavy based pan and add the sliced red onions. 
  • Stir in the soft brown sugar
  • Let the onions gently cook for about 20 minutes on a medium heat until they start to soften.
  • Meanwhile core and peel your apples. Now depending on whether you like a bit of a crunch to your chutney or not depends whether you fine dice your apples or grate them. 
  • After 20 minutes of cooking add the diced apple  and cook for a further 20 minutes if you have chosen to grate your apple you will need to wait until the onions and sugar have cooked for 40 minutes before adding.
  • Add the cider vinegar and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the chutney is thick & sticky.. 
  • To check if the chutney is ready drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the saucepan and if it is ready it should take a few seconds to re-cover across the pan. 
  • Spoon into sterilised jars, add your wax disc, allow to cool and seal with the lid.

I have so enjoyed sharing these chutney recipes with you and I know there are some that have already had ago at the Christmas Chutney recipe.  Some have asked if it is too late to make the chutneys now with just over two weeks until the big day.  It may be a little late for Christmas chutney but if you are having family and friends around for the New Year celebrations you could just sneak in with a batch this week, equally if you are making them to gift in a hamper the chances are they won't be touched until well after Christmas as we know we all over indulge on the day so even Christmas chutney would still be ok to make even at this stage. I have in the past made both the Apple & Red Onion and the Caramelised Onion chutney with just two weeks to go. In fact having made the chutneys for the hampers last week I had enough of the Christmas chutney to make a jar for home over the festivities but not of the Apple & Red Onion or the Caramelised Onion chutney so I will be making both again  this afternoon.  So yes they do mature with age but you can make these two this week and they will still be delicious whatever you put them with.  The Apple & Red Onion chutney equally goes well with those sausage baguettes, cold or hot meats and of course anything that involves cheese. 


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