Monday 30 January 2017

A Ritual

It really doesn't matter how many jars lurk in the cupboard from the previous year... Or possibly even years. And there are always some, as marmalade consumption is rather slow in our house given I'm the only one who eats it, unless it gets baked into a cake or a pudding. But when the Seville oranges appear in the shops briefly during January, I cannot resist buying them for a marmalade making session. It's an annual ritual, capturing that little bit of sunshine in a jar during the cold grey days of January.

A day of making marmalade is like bringing a little bit of hygge to the kitchen. I prefer the slow method of squeezing out the pips and juice from the bitter oranges and then thinly slicing the peel by hand. It is then left to soak overnight in the juice and water.

The following day it gets boiled until soft and then cooked up with sugar until it makes marmalade. I love the way the windows steam up, the kitchen becomes warm and cosy and the whole house smells of fragrant oranges.

This year I used half demerara sugar and it has produced a wonderful dark almost treacle like conserve. I also found the remnants of a bottle of Jack Daniels in the cupboard so that went in too... slightly more than I had actually anticipated was left in the bottle!

But it has made the most intensly flavoured dark marmalade.

Which of course, I had to try... on a slice of soda bread which went down nicely with an afternoon cuppa.

Since embarking on our healthy eating regime I've been making soda bread each week for our lunches and to go with our soups.

It really couldn't be easier. In a large bowl combine 450g of wholemeal plain flour, 75g mixed seeds (such as sunflower, linseed, and pumpkin), 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Then in a large jug mix together a tablespoon of black treacle with a tub of buttermilk (cartons seem to vary between 280ml and 300ml but the exact quantity doesn't matter) and make this up to between 425 and 450ml with cold water. Mix this thoroughly into the dry ingedients to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. The amount of water you need does tend to depend on the flour. Leave to stand for 5 minutes while the oven heats up to 200 deg C (180 fan). Then shape the dough into a round loaf (or two smaller loaves as I tend to do) and place on a non stick baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Making soda bread each week has also become something of a ritual this month and I like the idea of eating something that is not packed full of additives. As you might have gathered we are now approaching the end of a whole month of eating better, it's not been difficult, everything seems to taste so much better, we're enjoying our food and we feel so much better too. Alhough there has been cake this weekend... more about that next time!

Friday 27 January 2017

A Tale of Two Gloves

Are you sitting comfortably? Cast your mind back to the week before Christmas. You know, that week where there are a million and one things to do and not really the time to do them. I wanted to find an extra little present for Ben's girlfriend, Alexandra... beautiful, glamourous and raven haired. She wears mostly black, with chunky jewellery... sort of gothic but not quite, and I suddenly had inspiration that she might like a pair of black mitts with a lace cuff. Just like the ones that I had started weeks, months... ok, possibly years ago but never finished. After rummaging in several drawers and cupboards I eventually found them... one completed mitt and another cuff almost finished... Bingo! I spent a couple of evenings finishing the second mitt, which incuded having to unravel part of it which literally took hours. If you would like some advice... don't try to unpick sections of lace knitting in black yarn in artificial light... ever. Just saying.

Eventually I finished the pair of mitts which I then gave a quick wash. When they were almost dry I left them over the radiator in the hall so they would be dry enough to wrap (this was the day before Christmas eve). I quickly popped upstairs and on my way back down, spied the back end of a black puppy running away at great speed with something black in his mouth. Yes, you've guessed it... Hector had swiped one of the mitts off the radiator! I managed to retrieve it from him before he decided to swallow it (believe me... he would. His brother Herbie, who belongs to my brother ate a whole T shirt, a dish towel, a pair of socks and a metal coil before Christmas that need to be removed surgically. But that's another story). 

Unfortunately the mitt was destroyed beyond repair. To say the air turned blue is a bit of an understatment. I may have shouted just a little bit, possible even said some bad words before I stomped off out. On my return the dog just peered at me tentatively round the kitchen door... he knew he'd done bad! It was too late to start again so I resigned myself to not having an extra present for Alexandra.

Then over the holiday when Ben and Alexandra were staying with us I told her the story of the dog and the mitt and showed her the remaining unscathed mitt. And she loved it! She tried it on and admired her hand and was sad that there was only one. So after making sure she wasn't just being polite and that she really did love it, I offered to make another, which I finished today, just in time for her birthday next week.

And that naughty puppy was watching like a hawk as I sewed the buttons on, waiting for his chance... as if!

Pattern is Veyla by Ysolda

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Times They are a Changing.

...and I'm not just talking about world politics.

When I first started blogging, almost ten years ago I still had four sons living at home, I did a little bit of teaching in adult education and I was about to embark on a degree in stitched textiles.

All these years later and the three older sons have moved out and the youngest is here only part time as he completes his degree. My own degree course was never finished, not through any lack of enthusiasm on my part but because the school ceased to exist and as for my work... it has undergone many changes and is about to do so again.

My teaching gradually increased of the years but then started to wane again as various doors began to close and so a liitle over a year ago I took the opportunity to start my own little baking business as well. I considered myself lucky to be able to work in two different jobs, both doing what I love. But the reality is that whilst doing what I love might be wonderful in an ideal world, it is not really paying the bills.

So as from next week I will be starting something else and have a job 2 - 3 days a week in the kitchen of a brand new cafe attached to a local independent book shop. I've also added an evening class and an extra term to my local teaching commitments and I hope to continue to bake the occasional cake for people in between.

I've no idea how easy I will find it to juggle these various aspects of my week but I know I'll miss my long dog walks at lunchtime and first thing in the morning on the days that I'm working. But with the prospect of lighter evenings I'm hoping there will be plenty of evening walking to be done instead.

"Is it time for another walk yet?"

Friday 20 January 2017

Another Lemon Cake

It's that time in the month again when I join in with the Cake Slice Bakers baking from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. I very nearly didn't join in this month as we are still going strong with out healthy eating and I didn't want the temptation of cake in the house. But No. 3 son came over last weekend and we were chatting about it and he very valiantly offered to take a cake off my hands should I feel the urge to bake!

The choices this month were a Devil's Food Cake which didn't really appeal. Chocolate cake is probably my least favourite ( I know, I'm weird) and I couldn't stomach the thought of all that sickly frosting. I have completely lost my taste for sweet things.

I did rather fancy the vanilla and blood orange cake... and might make this when the blood oranges appear in my veg box

Or possibly the Apple streusel cake with its crumbly topping.

But as it is exactly one year since I joined The Cake Slice bakers and my first cake was a Lemon Cake I opted for the Lemon Drizzle Cake... it just feels like a January sort of cake! I do have a fail safe recipe for lemon drizzle but this one was different in that it has a whole carton of cream so thought it was worth a try.

The batter was wonderfully thick and creamy and tasted heavenly... yes I licked the spoon!

It did take longer to bake than the recipe stated... a whole 15 minutes longer and if I made it again I probably wouldn't add the water to the syrup but it certainly looked the part and smelt wonderful. I'd like to be able to tell you it tasted delicious too... but it got wrapped up and Joe collected it last night ready to take to work this morning. He's working on a construction site at the moment so I don't imagine there will be much left! He has promised to report back*

* Message from Joe and the guys he is working with "Very nice and lemony", "Best lemon drizzle I've had" and my favourite... "She's very good, is she paid to do this." 

Should you want to try it yourself ,it is incredibly easy to put together, so this is my version:

Lemon Drizzle Cake (adapted from World Class Cakes)
You will need  an 7" x 3.5" x 3.5" loaf pan, greased and lined. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C (140 fan), 310 deg F
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 175g plain flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 150g double cream
  • finely grated zest of two large lemons (or three small ones)
  •  In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Whisk in the melted butter and the cream
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
  • While the cake is baking make the drizzle by combining 85g caster sugar, the juice of two lemons and 125 ml water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
  • When the cake comes out of the oven, brush the top with the drizzle until it is all used up.
  • Cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out until completely cool.
And this is what it should look like!


Friday 13 January 2017

Windy Weather

I've had a couple of days away... not in the Gobi desert as you might be fooled into thinking from my photos but in the depths of Norfolk!

Over the past few years three good friends have up sticks and moved away. I'm beginning to think they were trying to tell me something but they all remain good friends. The sort of friends where it doesn't matter if you go weeks, months or even years without seeing each other because when you do, you pick up from where you left off. Gill relocated to Norfolk last year and although I saw her in December this was the first time I've been to visit her in her new home (I say first because I intend to go back whether she likes it or not... she can't get away from me that easily!)

We were hoping for some long walks during the day and plenty of chat and knitting in the evening and we weren't disappointed. On Wednesday we ventured to Wells and walked along the beach to Holkham... well wrapped up against the wind.

Admittedly the wind was really COLD but it was still a beautiful day. Having notched up at least a day and a half's worth of steps, we came home and even though she really doesn't do cooking if she can help it, Gill cooked me a fabulous supper which even included loads of green vegetables which she wouldn't usually eat through choice. See what a good friend she is making me a healthy supper... and all I do to her is make her eat cabbage!

After a night of telly and knitting, the following day we walked from Gill's to Sandringham. We didn't see the Queen but we could just about see the sea!

It's been a lovely couple of days, Gill has cooked me some really good meals... breakfast and lunch as well as dinner, and I feel like I've been on holiday. Not only that I've clocked up so many steps that I've walked a whole extra day's worth. I could have just stayed in bed today! Having woken up to this it was tempting...

But it didn't hang about for long... and I didn't stay in bed for long either!
Wherever you are, stay warm this weekend.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Feeling good

I said I'd update you on our new healthy eating regime and so far we are on day ten and still going strong. I'm starting to scour my old food magazines and where in the past I would tear out all the cake recipes I'm now finding things that fit with the plan - low carb, wholegrains, lean protein, healthy fats, plenty of vegetables and some fruit and most importantly no added sugar. We are eating really well, enjoying every meal, we've both lost weight and what is really noticable is we both feel so good. No afternoon slump or tiredness and loads of energy.

Beetroot hummous on homemade soda bread with feta and olives
Of course we all know we should eat like this all the time but it seems the penny has finally dropped. Like most women I think I have a checkered past with dieting. I first went on a "diet" aged about twenty one because I'd filled out a little and couldn't fit into my size 10 dungarees. Want a laugh... I found this... me in said dungerees! (it was the 1970s... just don't ask what I was doing!)

I remember limiting myself to 1000 calories a day, with no real nutritional knowledge and feeling hungry all the time. How ridiculous was that, to even think I needed to diet... I was like a rake.Yes, I got back into those dungarees but no doubt soon grew out of them again... thank goodness!

Baked masala omelettes with red cabbage slaw
Over the years I've tried a Rosemary Conley low fat diet, The F-plan (with that revolting sawdust that passed for breakfast) and weight watchers. And although I have often teetered in the top range of the recommended weight for my height, which does make me feel uncomfortable, I've never been seriously overweight and yet I still fell victim to the hype and magazine images etc that convinced me I should be dieting. And yet we all know dieting doesn't work long term and I no longer do diets - haven't done for about ten years. Because let's face it, we are in the business of eating for the long haul not just to reach a weight loss goal, so it makes sense to eat well and mindfully all the time.

Poached egg and avocado on soda bread toast with fried tomatoes
And this is what this plan seems to be about... Thinking about what we are fuelling our bodies with so that every meal becomes a pleasure. It is not about denial and then rewarding ourselves with sweet treats, it's about changing our attitude to food. I don't mean to sound evangelical nor will I claim that I will stick religiously to this 100% of the time, of course I will eat the occasional cake or biscuit but the thing that has really hit home is cutting out or greatly reducing added sugar. This seems to have been the single thing that has made the difference to my energy levels and how I feel. This article makes interesting reading on the subject should you want to read more. And given the high levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes with their associated problems of heart disease, cancer and stroke that we constantly hear about, something needs to change. It may have been coincidence but on Sunday evening I had a couple of small glasses of wine and a small piece of Christmas cake... okay the wine tasted good but the Christmas cake icing tasted unbelievably sweet and the following morning I felt tired, headachy and lethargic. It convinced me!

 Sweet potato, tomato and chickpea soup

It does mean preparing every meal from scratch which can be time consuming but there have been loads of left overs for other meals so I think it can fit round a busy schedule. I'm managing by planning a menu for the week and sticking to it, often preparing things the night before.
The test will come when I have to make a cake for someone... so far there has been no baking in January so no temptation! Plus this evening I'm meeting a friend for a curry. Like I said... it's no good being evangelical and shouting from my soap box because I'll only fall off and make a fool of myself. I'll be happy if I can stick to this way of eating 80% of the time.

Sunday 8 January 2017

A New Dress

Having cleared out my wardrobe... I'm now attempting to fill it again!

Well, not exactly fill it but I've had the fabric to make a new Coco dress for at least a year, so thought it was about time I actually made it.

I don't know why I put it off because I cut it out one evening last week and had finished it by lunchtime the following day.

I was trying to do some arty looking shots but failed miserably so got Stewart to take a photo instead... and then edited out my knees! Not sure it's much better!

I may have made a dress but I'm no further on with the jigsaw... although we are still sticking to our healthy eating plan (I may have had a mouthful of Christmas cake this evening) and I've more energy than I've had in ages. So this new year is still looking good!

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Off to a Good Start

How was your New Year's Eve? We had a long walk with the dog and then I followed that with an equally long soak in a hot rose scented bath. My sister-in-law-to-be made bathsalts from all sorts of luscious ingredients including rose oil, as Christmas gifts this year. She packaged it up in beautiful jars and added these dinky little wooden scoops. That's pretty much my idea of a perfect present!

I then wrapped up in a cosy gown (okay, I own up, it was actually a fluffy rather ridiculous "lamb" onesie that one of my sons bought me a couple of years ago... but it was cosy!) and decided to take the advice everyone gives me... to slow down. I started a 1000 piece jigsaw that I found when I was clearing bedrooms for Christmas guests. I lasted ten minutes! Since then I wander by on my way to do something else and sometimes fit a few pieces together but it's not going to be the thing that makes me sit down. Maybe "Finish a 1000 piece jigsaw" should be on my 60 x 60 list.

We then went out to friends for a lovely meal and stayed up to see in the new year.  We took down the tree and decorations on New Year's Day. I like them up over the Christmas period but I'm really not a fan of them lingering into January. I'm ready for a fresh start. That includes food too... I no longer want the chocolate and biscuits and rich fayre, just lots of lovely fresh flavours and vegetables.

I subscribe to Good Food magazine which has a 7 day healthy eating plan this month. I'm not really a follower of diets but the recipes sounded so good I convinced the other half to join in too and so far we've been sticking to it. The raspberry coconut porridge was amazing and the stilton, pear and walnut on homemade soda bread was delicious too... in fact it has all been really tasty. It's so good I think we might stick to it for more than a week. There's a bit of effort to prepare the meals from scratch but nothing has been too hard... the website even provides a shopping list.

I was sold on the healthy aspect of it all and feel a week or more without any added sugar and masses of fresh vegetables can only be a good thing. And if we lose a few pounds too... then that's a bonus. I'll keep you updated! You can find the recipes here without having to buy the magazine.

And while I was feeling virtuous and full of energy I decided to clear out my wardrobe. You would not believe how long some of the clothes have been in there...over half my stuff has been cleared out ready for the charity shop, including so many pairs of shoes I'm ashamed to admit it...let's just say double figures! Heels that I will never totter on again, certainly not with this blimin' ankle. And above the clothes on the shelf more stuff that I really do not know why I kept, including a toy "paint ball" gun which I had obviously confiscated and hidden many years ago. I know, don't say anything... my "children" are aged between 24 and 34, but I'm sure they would still attack each other with paint balls given half a chance! It's now in the dustbin!

And this is my wardrobe today, which is so clear and tidy I keep having to go and have a peek because I can't quite believe it. I'm on a roll now... nothing is safe!