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Archive for September, 2010

Weekword: Ten

The Scribbler over at Domestic Scribbles chose this week’s word, and she chose the word ‘Ten’. I felt that as I have recently started writing my ‘Tuesday Ten’ posts, I couldn’t really interpret this word by doing a list of ten things – that would be cheating a bit. I tried to think of any resonance that the number ten had for me and in the end I emailed my mum with a question.

‘Can you remember,’ I asked her, ‘what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ when I was ten?’

I had tried to remember the answer to this myself, but had drawn a blank. I think I had already given up on a career in ballet by that point (I have neither the figure, the patience nor the pain threshold) but couldn’t remember where my ambitions lay.

The following day, the answer came back. ‘When you were ten,’ my mum replied, ‘you changed your mind every ten seconds.’ How appropriate for this weekword – even my correspondent is joining in. ‘You wanted to be a fashion designer at one stage then became interested in politics and wanted Elinor Goodman‘s job as the political editor on Channel 4.’

When I read that, I remembered both ambitions very clearly. I remember the endless drawings of dresses and the cutting out of lots of bits of fabric. I remember the fashion books I got out of the library. I also remember the avid watching of the news and the interest in politics, and I do remember watching Elinor Goodman on the TV and thinking that I’d love to do her job.

More than twenty years have passed since then, and I am now thinking about how much of my ten year old ambition is still in evidence. Well, I’m no fashion designer, certainly. I am not even much of a follower of fashion now I live in the depths of the countryside. I live most days in jeans and jumpers, with wellies for outdoors and slippers for the house. But I love fabrics and textiles, I love making things, and enjoy fitting the right fibre, colour and texture to the thing I want to make.

And the politics? Well, the interest continued, and I did Politics at A Level, and after university I joined the civil service and spent four years working in Whitehall, briefing ministers, writing answers to Parliamentary Questions, asking the Treasury for more money and putting together policy proposals. I even wrote a few speeches. And I went to a lot of meetings and wrote a lot of emails and learned a lot of jargon. As for the journalism – not quite. I am an editor and a writer – and one of the things I’m writing is a novel set … in Westminster.

So perhaps I haven’t abandoned the dreams I had at ten after all. The fashion designer who grills politicians on the news has morphed into the editor and copywriter who writes political novels and does some sewing and knitting on the side.

And although my ten year old self may have been disappointed, I’m more than happy with that.

Pop over to Domestic Scribbles to see who else is playing.

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Well, it’s been a good year for apples, and as I enjoyed making the chutney and jelly so much, I made some more apple preserves.

First up, some more chutney, this time apple, date and ginger. Recipe here. I didn’t have any cider vinegar, so I used malt with no ill effect, although I’d like to try cider vinegar next time. I also used paprika instead of cayenne and mixed spice instead of allspice. This was for no culinary reason – I just didn’t have any cayenne or allspice. I made double, as I had a lot of apples, and it smells lovely, and tastes very promising. I’m looking forward to cracking into it in a few weeks.

Next, I moved onto jam – this one, the wonderful sounding Caramel Apple Jam. From the comments describing it as ‘apple pie jam’ it was clear that I had to try this. Although I was a bit confused by the recipe calling for pectin. ‘Pectin?’ I thought, ‘with apples?’ I wasn’t sure why you’d add pectin to one of the most pectiny fruits there is. And then I saw the instruction to boil for 1 minute and had my answer: either laziness or impatience. Forget the pectin and boil to a set as usual – about 15 minutes, in my case. This is an American recipe and so calls for processing in a water bath, something that is obligatory for canning here (botulism being an undesirable ingredient on both sides of the Atlantic) but I’ve never seen an instruction to waterbath jam in a British recipe. So, of course, I didn’t. Hot jam into hot sterilised jars, sealed before they cool, and the job is, as they say, a good’un. It’s lovely, by the way – very sweet but really autumnal and comforting, and would make bread and jam taste (and feel) like cake.

Here they are on the top of our (as yet unlit, although it won’t be long) range. Jam on the left, chutney on the right.

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A bit of a cheat this week – I’m using the Tuesday Ten as a to-do list, in the hope that putting it on the blogosphere will prompt me to get these things crossed off my list. I have lots of work on, but this isn’t a work to-do list, it’s a work-life balance to-do list. Next Tuesday I shall post an update, so let’s hope I can do ten out of ten…

1. Clear out the polytunnel – there are some plants which I’ve nurtured and now they have reached a size that means they can come out, there are plants that are over and need to be composted, and I need to give the vine its late summer pruning, which is now rather overdue and the vine is looking rather Triffid-like.
2. Pot on my young trees – I have a silver birch that is looking a bit sad, and an acer which is looking reasonably happy but could do with more legroom.
3. Plant my Christmas bulbs – I have some bulbs to force for Christmas, and others to plant in pots for the spring, and this is supposed to happen in ‘August or September’ so I reckon if I do it this week, I’m safe.
4. Sort out the bits and bobs that my children’s nursery needs – old greetings cards, cardboard boxes, that sort of thing, which my decluttering has brought to light.
5. Finish reading ‘Wolf Hall’ which I have borrowed from the library. I am enjoying it but am so tired in the evenings I am barely managing more than a few pages, so I am going to set aside some reading time and finish it.
6. Get my tax paperwork ready for my accountant. Boring (and work related) but necessary, and I’ll feel all organised and virtuous when it’s done.
7. Take some photographs of the autumn colour – it’s starting to look fabulous and if I wait too long it’ll be all over.
8. Make a cake, because it’s been a long time since I did.
9. I hesitate to say I’m going to finish the Little Girl’s cardigan because I fear I’ll be setting myself up to fail. I have done the back, one front panel, both sleeves and half of the other front panel. All that remains is to finish the front panel, sew up and add the collar. Which isn’t much but I haven’t knitted a stitch of it for weeks. So no, in reality, I probably won’t finish it. But I will pick the wretched thing up and knit some of it.
10. Sort out the bathroom cupboard. At the moment it’s six shelves of utter mayhem and I can never find anything.

So, fingers crossed and let’s hope for a perfect 10 come next Tuesday…

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Weekword: Comfort

I’m a bit late with my homework this week – it’s been a bit of a busy week chez Sowandsew. Mr S is away working, and I am looking after the Little Ones, trying to keep track of my work and tick off some things on my to-do list as well.

What a good word ‘comfort’ is for this time of year. I’ve posted recently about the pleasures of autumn – and how many of them involve settling somewhere cosy, with blankets, a fire, hot drinks and good food, friends, good books and craft-work. To me, taken together, this is all a picture of comfort. Because the drawing in of the days means that more time is spent indoors (and as we both work from home, that means at home), it is at this time of year that I feel the need to clear out, declutter, tidy and clean. I don’t ‘spring clean’ – spring is a time for being outside, doing things in the garden, taking walks, revelling in the lighter, brighter days. But autumn, that’s when I want to get our home ready for the winter, make it comfortable and cosy and welcoming. My autumn-clean is in full spate at the moment, and soon I’ll be able to cwtch in for the winter.

Allie chose this week’s word – pop over to her blog to see who else was playing!

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Note that this doesn’t say ‘my favourite cookery books’. This is because several of my favourite cookery books are ones I read rather than cook from. I adore Elizabeth David’s writing, and love the sound of the food she describes. I find that reading her books gives me ideas. But I very rarely follow her recipes (and when I do, they don’t always work – but then I know people who find her recipes very reliable, so who knows…?) So here, in no particular order and with my very subjective comments, are the ten books I actually use in the kitchen, rather than read in bed…

Home Baking by Carole Handslip.

This little book was given to me years ago by my mum’s godmother. I must have been twelve or thirteen. She was all kinds of crazy, by the way, but those are stories for another day… It is resplendent with late 80s-type styling, but it is wonderful. The recipes are lovely, and they all, without exception, work. I can bake something from this book for the first time and know, without a doubt, it will work. This is where ‘my’ apple and cinnamon cake recipe came from. And ‘my’ gingerbread recipe. Also the drum cake I did for the Little Boy’s birthday. Bless Carole. And bless mad Auntie M for giving me this book. It’s out of print but Amazon have copies for a penny plus postage.

The River Cottage Preserves Book
by Pam Corbin

My goodness, this book is wonderful. Jams, jellies and chutneys. Cordials and things made with lots of booze. Fruit ‘leathers’. Compotes. It’s wonderful. The recipes are clear and comprehensive, and for a country dweller, there are plenty of ideas for using things like rosehips, beech leaves and haws. But city dwellers needn’t panic – there’s strawberry jam and apple chutney and things like that. Although I do suspect that calling something ‘Saucy Haw Ketchup’ was an exercise in playing with homophones as a trap for the unwary. It also has a lovely binding and smells like a proper book. These things matter to me.

The New English Kitchen
by Rose Prince
I really like this book. Lots of recipes, but with an emphasis on using good quality produce, seasonal food, sustainable non-intensive meat, making the most of leftovers… it sounds terribly preachy and worthy, but it isn’t. At least, I don’t think so. I think it’s delightful. (Although her recipe for lemon curd is achingly sweet – cut down the sugar by a third…)

Tamarind and Saffron
by Claudia Roden

I love Claudia Roden’s books and have several – and want the rest. But this is my favourite. From the evocative title and the beautiful blue and yellow picture on the cover to the beautiful writing and the droolsome recipes, it’s a gem. Plus, the recipes are delicious. Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food is also wonderful, but as yet is more of a bedroom cookery book than a kitchen one…

Feast
by Nigella Lawson

I have a love/hate thing for Nigella. I love her books and her writing. I cannot bear watching her on TV. The hair flicking and finger sucking and flirty looks at the camera drive me to teeth-grinding lunacy. But her books … well, I have several and was torn as to which to include. ‘How to Eat’ is great – it’s my go-to for the basics and for new ideas with staple ingredients. ‘How to Be A Domestic Goddess’ is a fantastic baking book, and I do like baking. But I chose this in the end. I love the idea of a book centred on seasonal feasts and the ritual of cooking. I love reading about the food of other traditions and seeing what is familiar and what is less so. And I love anyone who can include a recipe for ‘Blood Clots and Pus’. (It’s in the Hallowe’en section and when my children are older I am totally making this…)

I picked one Claudia Roden and one Nigella Lawson, but I couldn’t pick just one Nigel Slater. Nigel Slater is my favourite cookery writer, bar none. I love the way he revels in both the simplest dishes (roast chicken, a baked potato) and the more complex (fish with a beautiful sauce, a home made ice cream). So I have selected two of his books:

Real Food is a kitchen and a bedroom standby. It is a big squeezy warm hug of a book, with chapters devoted to a particular food: bread, potatoes, cheese, chocolate. It is comforting, it is delicious, it is inspiring and happy making. ‘Real food means big-flavoured, unpretentious cooking. Good ingredients made into something worth eating. Just nice, uncomplicated food,’ he says. Who could argue with that? It tends to come out more in the winter months, when my need for comfort food is highest, because nobody does comfort food like Nigel. No, not even you, Nigella.

And we also have Real Fast Food.

I used this lots when I worked in an office and had people home for dinner on weeknights. Proper tasty food, ready in half an hour or less from start to finish. And yummy.

Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache
by Harry Eastwood

This is a book I picked up on a whim at the library. I liked the name and I liked the cover. But I have a wheat allergy and the recipes are all wheat free, so that was wonderful. They also use vegetables in place of the fat. And they’re delicious. Really. Cake made with swede, courgette or sweet potato is moist and yummy and proper cake-like. Ms Eastwood does come over a bit dippy in places – all the cakes have little potted descriptions of their personalities – but it’s a fabulous book.

I like many of the River Cottage books, but this is the one we use most. The Family Cookbook
is brilliant for child-friendly recipes, and also explains why food does what it does – why we beat eggs and whip cream, why milk turns into butter, why things burn. It’s awesome. Plus, it has a top notch recipe for fudge, and is the place we go when we’ve forgotten how to make pancakes. This is coming into its own now my older child is getting interested in food, and I foresee a food-splattered future for it.

And for the basics, I turn to the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
It tells you, plainly and simply, how to cook pretty much anything. It was a present a couple of Christmasses ago and I have used it regularly since.

So, there we are. Here are my favouries. How about yours?

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I tagged the very lovely and talented Emma to choose this week’s word, and she picked a fabulous one. To me, the word ‘curiosities’ has a lovely archaic air. It conjures up images of devotees attempting to breed red delphiniums, blue roses and black tulips – varieties nature seems adamant shouldn’t exist – and gentlemen’s curio cabinets full of prized, exotic objects. The wonderful Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is described as housing ‘archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world’ but it really is one big curio cabinet. A witch in a bottle? Check. Shrunken heads? Check. Funeral accountrements from all corners of the known world? Check. Items for smoking just about any substance ever? Check. I loved the Pitt Rivers.

So I was thinking about the curiosities in our house. I collect all sorts of bits and bobs and Mr SowandSew and I have picked up all sorts of oddments on our travels, but nothing leapt out at me as a ‘curiosity’ – much less ‘curiosities’.

But then I remembered. One of the delightful things about motherhood is seeing the world through very young eyes. Last night, at dinner, the Little Girl said, ‘Look, Mummy! A rainbow!’ So we left the dinner table and went outside to look at the rainbow (it was a beauty, a huge, vivid double bow). The Little Girl bounced and said, ‘If we go up the hill, we could grab the rainbow and then we could feel the rainbow!’ To her it was that simple – but also, how wonderful that she wanted to feel a rainbow. To the Little Girl, the world is full of curiosities. I am forever being asked to ‘look after’ something she has found that has become a prized object. To us, they may be ordinary, everyday things, but to the Little Girl’s not-quite-three-year-old eyes, they are wonderful, exciting and new. So, it is with pride and delight, ladies and gentlemen, that I present to you a few highlights from:

Miss SowandSew’s Cabinet of Curiosities

This spotty, black and white feather was found on a walk. It is a bit ragged from being stroked thoroughly all the way home. But then I was asked to stick it on the larder door (this is where the children’s artwork is displayed).

These are apparently ‘fairy cups’ and I was asked to look after them because the curator’s little brother was trying to eat them.

This came from a wedding invitation and was promptly claimed for the collection:

These are plastic beads, the sort that some people make into dangly lampshades. Well, to me they are. But to the Little Girl they are ‘jewels’ and very precious.

Pop over to Emma’s blog to see the rest of the curiosities!

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I have (with permission) borrowed the idea for a ‘Tuesday Ten’ from Sally. She has made some really interesting lists and I fancied having a go.

I love spring and summer. I adore warm weather, the long evenings, all the things that happen in the garden. I love picnics and eating outside. I love going for a walk without taking a cardigan, much less a jacket. I love drying washing on the line. I love salads. So I often look on the end of summer as a sad thing, and watch the days getting shorter with some trepidation.

Over the last couple of weeks, autumn has gradually crept upon us. Even on warm, sunny days there’s been a crispness in the air. We’ve had misty mornings and dew on the spiders’ webs. Haws and rosehips have appeared in the hedgerows. And our cat Trixie, who spends every fine day and warm night outside, has started appearing in the house.

So, to make myself more reconciled to the passing of summer, I am going to think of ten things I like about autumn.

1. Making chutney. I like making jam, too – but making autumn preserves is nicer than boiling up jam in a hot kitchen that’s full of flies and wasps. There’s something really warming and autumnal about the smell of onions, apples, spices and vinegar that makes the kitchen smell really cosy.

2. Misty mornings. The effects of the light are more subtle in spring and autumn, and the weaker sunlight shining through early morning mist (and the catch I get in my throat when I go outside) is beautiful.

3. Buying bulbs. We have lots of plans for the garden over the next year or so (basically, we’re going to dig everything up and start again) so there’s not much scope for planting bulbs in the beds. But there are still pots and tubs. And there are still bulbs to force for Christmas. Our local supermarket had lots of bulbs on special offer, so I have species tulips, standard tulips, grape hyacinths, daffs and narcissus, anemones and crocuses. The daffs and narcissus are going to be planted in a drift by the path. The tulips and grape hyacinths are destined for tubs by the kitchen door. And the anemones and crocuses will be forced for Christmas. This week, I shall also order some of the big scented hyacinths (which I adore) and some Paperwhite narcissus. There is something lovely about planning for spring, and also about having pools of scented spring brightness in the house in the depth of winter.

4. Scarves. I like scarves and I have lots of them, and it’s nice to be able to get them out and wear them again. One of the things I like about knitting is being able to have scarves exactly as I want them. The first thing I ever knitted was a ribbed scarf that was quite narrow, but over six feet long, so it could wrap round and round my neck (so it wouldn’t slip off) without stifling me. I also have a very cute sparkly scarf I knitted last winter, and of course I have my new Wicked Witch scarf for this winter.

5. Butternut squash are in season. Yummy. I love butternut squash, especially roasted with chilli and garlic and made into soup.

6. I love the long summer evenings outside, but winter means evenings in front of the fire, and a chance to catch up on some knitting and make a dent in the stack of unwatched DVDs.

7. It’s the Little Girl’s birthday soon, which is quite exciting. The rest of the family have our birthdays in the first third of the year, so I’m quite looking forward having an excuse for an autumn celebration.

8. Looking through my books to decide what I’m going to make and cook for Christmas. I know it seems mad but you need to force bulbs early, and collect pine cones before they get wet (pine cones make fantastic kindling and smell divine). I also like borrowing Christmas craft books from the library – you know, the ones with instructions on how to make your own everything and loads of totally over the top bonkersness which would have you committed by your suffering family if you did it all – and weeding out the really good, simple ideas.

9. In a similar vein, I also enjoy the Christmas knitting magazines, and in particular, threatening to knit a festive sweater for Mr SowandSew and making him wear it. I never would actually knit one (I have precious little knitting time and I wouldn’t waste it). But waving the pictures of reindeer jumpers at him and watching the resulting horrified facial expression is an annual joy.

10. Satsumas. Both the children adore satsumas, and will choose them over any other treat. (We know, we’ve offered them a choice of satsumas or biscuits and the satsumas win every time.) I love them too, and can eat piles of them. And then I dry the skins on top of the woodburner, which makes the living room smell all warm and citrussy. And the skins make great firelighters.

And having written all that, I feel the need for a cup of hot chocolate.

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