Monday, 15 December 2008

Show and Tell

This weekend I finally got my husband to take some pictures of my new cardi in a room with actual light in it and everything. I thought taking photos was going to get easier as the leaves fell off the trees and the light could actually make its way into our house. Unfortunately there's not a lot of sunshine these days.
But, to the finished objects with buttons sewn on and worn by real people!

First here's my daughter in her cardigan which I actually finished knitting many moons ago (umm, May apparently from the photographic evidence). Now it's properly finished with some buttons since the cold weather is here and it really doesn't stay on well without buttons done up.

Pattern: February Baby Sweater by Elizabeth Zimmerman (in the Knitter's Almanac, at ravelry)
Yarn: some I bought in England years and years ago...
Ravelry project page here (not that there's anything new to read there

I like this pattern and will have another go. The fit on this incarnation is kind of weird as you can probably seen in the photo here where my daughter has her arm stretched out. I forget exactly what I did to change the pattern to make it bigger but obviously I didn't do it quite right. So I think next time I'll make a baby one with the pattern as writ and see how that goes before fiddling with things again. Conveniently I have a friend who's due to birth a little girl any day now who (although really she's probably drowning in hand knits already since she and her husband run a knitting website).

Now onto the really exciting part, well for me anyway. It's been quite some time since I made myself anything this big and I've been craving new cardigans since my daughter was born since breastfeeding while wearing a sweater is (I find) a huge pain in the neck and makes discretion challenging. Of course I'm wearing sweaters more again now that my daughter is older and doesn't nurse as much, but I still love cardigans and you know it doesn't hurt to be prepared for the next baby (not that I'm pregnant you understand but we do want to have another baby in the not too distant future if we can).

Pattern: Gathered Cardi from Knit.1 Spring/Summer 2008 (at ravelry)
Yarn: Araucania Nature Wool Solids in Eggplant
Modifications: lengthened a little before gathers; increased just two out of every three stitches at the gathers; sleeves are a little longer here (and also worn unfolded in these pics); oh and 2 buttons rather than one (and I seem to have managed to put the button holes on the wrong side, oh well)
Ravelry project page

I've been wearing this a lot. I like it. I'm glad I didn't increase at the gathers quite as much as the pattern called for as what I did gives quite enough bulk. The problem with this sweater is that I need to remember to remove it when cooking because it is at just the "right" length to drag on the burners of the stove when I reach over then to work the controls... I have managed to avoid singeing or setting it on fire so far. Perhaps this is just a reminder to me that I should put an apron on when I cook anyway.

This was a good knit for me because it's fairly quick and simple (I could knit in front of the tv, or around my daughter, or in the car without worrying about interruptions at critical points). I like the feel of this yarn. It does seem to have started to pill a little already and while I have been wearing it a lot that's only over the course of a week.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

banana cake

My husband got me a standmixer for Christmas - it arrived really quickly and we opened it since this means I can use it to make stuff for Christmas more easily! My husband gave me a rundown of the features (he's compulsive about reading manuals) and my daughter must have been paying attention because the next day she gave me another whole spiel about it and demonstrated the mechanism for moving the bowl up and down. Then she wanted to use it and since we had some over ripe bananas lying around the kitchen we improvised a banana cake. The basis for this cake lies in three banana bread recipes that I like - one from bakingbites, one from orangette and one by Delia Smith (from a recipe book my mum owns, oh but wait it's on her website - I usually omit the walnuts and add chocolate chips and chopped dates).

Banana Cake

5oz butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
4 Tbspns walnut oil
4 bananas
1 egg (I wasn't originally intending to use the egg but my daughter fetched one from the fridge and insisted)
1 1/2 Tbspn rum (optional)
1 cup AP flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger (to taste)
3/4 cup coconut
1 cup chocolate chips

  • cream butter and sugar
  • add remaining wet ingredients and mix thoroughly
  • mix dry ingredients in separate bowl
  • add dry ingredients to wet and mix until combined
  • pour batter into 9x9 cake pan
  • sprinkle with demerara/turbinado sugar (or the coarsest grained kind you have)
  • bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes
This is a moist, slightly crumbly cake. We brought half of it to share at breaktime during the evening singing (along with another oaty thing I threw together) and we didn't bring any leftovers home so I'll take that as a positive review.

Unfortunately with the miserable weather we're having at the moment getting a good photo is more difficult than usual. Maybe the sun will come out again before it's all eaten...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

cooking and crafting

After a period where I was feeling undercreative (I don't think that's really a word is it, but you now what I mean right?) things seem to be picking up (as evidenced by actual blogging, new sweaters and so on). This makes me happy and hopeful that I can gain and maintain momentum.
But to get to the point... I made soup. I usually make this quite often around this time of year. It's my Orange Soup (no actual oranges involved, just the colour). I cut a butternut squash in half, scoop out seeds (roast separately for snacking) and roast in the oven until cooked. I like to halve an onion to put in the cavities of the squash, some garlic cloves too, and rub with a bit of olive oil. Meanwhile also cook some red lentils in water or broth. That's basically all the ingredients, sometimes I put in some carrots too. I put the ingredients in the blender with extra broth (this time I had some made from the Thanksgiving turkey which my SIL would otherwise throw out). Heat, add seasonings (I sometimes add cider, this time I tried a glug of cider vinegar) and that's basically it. My husband is not a big fan of squash soup but he'll sometimes eat this -- the lentils make a big difference for him.

I like to eat this soup with a spoonful of salsa stirred in, and maybe a bit of grated cheese (or cheese on toast). Today I added some frozen corn kernals (I like some texture in my soup). It's also lovely with some fried up slab bacon cut into small chunks!

My favourite thing I made yesterday though is this little book for my daughter.
Now I'm not claiming it's well made, but it's made which is the important thing. If I have a notebook anywhere in sight my daughter wants to draw/"write" in it immediately so I thought it might help keep what's in my notebooks legible if I gave her her very own notebook to draw in. She liked this idea and helped with some of the snipping of threads for sewing the pages together, and also with the gluing. I used some sheets of drawing paper for the pages and card and paper from the recycling to make the cover. I'm going to consult with the book's owner about how to decorate later!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

craftiness in the blood

My daughter has been very interested in my sewing, knitting and crochet for a long time. Now of course she wants to help me constantly. Partly inspired by Soulemama* and partly by memories of my own sewing projects my mum set up for me as a child, I helped my daughter do her first sewing project. I found some cross-stitch fabric (which has holes she can poke the needle through built in) which I put into an embroidery hoop. She chose some embroidery floss (blue first as it seems to be her favourite at the moment) and threaded up a cross-stitch (blunt tipped) needle for her.
She's only two and it was her first try so I mostly held the hoop for her and reminded her which side to work from with each stitch, but she retained creative control so far as where the needle and thread went. It may not actually be complete yet because she wanted to add some pink and more blue. I think she did a pretty good job with her "crochet" as she keeps insisting on identifying it! (I scanned this as an experiment hence the blotchy bits where the canvas isn't quite flat.)

* I'm adding this to the Creative Family Pool at Flickr where you can find lots of photos posted by people inspired by soulemama's book The Creative Family. (I went to one of the book events when the book came out in the spring time. I find Amanda's book and blog constantly inspirational.)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Eat cake

Yesterday my husband and I had rehearsal with our church choir in the evening. Before singing there was a choir meal. The main course was taken care of but I knew my daughter would enjoy making something so we made Mincemeat Quickbread using the last of the mincemeat I made a few years back (one of the other choir members is also originally from England so I thought he'd appreciate it at least). So now a new batch of mincemeat goes on the to-do list.
This is a super quick and easy recipe to throw together since there's so much in the mincemeat before you start (it does take an hour to bake though). The mixture always seems a bit dry to me when I mix it up (this time I was more anxious about that since there was slightly less mincemeat than the recipe called for so I added a bit of apple butter) but it moistens while in the oven. I timed the baking so that the cake was still warm when we got to church. When I make my way through leftovers (which won't take long this time) I like to put it under the broiler to toast lightly and then spread with some butter.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

thrifting thursday plus buttons

First, look look the knitting is all done on my gathered cardi! A few ends to sew in, some blocking and buttons to be sewn on and then a FO photo op.
Yesterday alongside our excursion to the library my daughter and I stopped and got some buttons. Some for my cardi and some for her february baby sweater that's been sitting around waiting for way too long. Daughter wanted to touch everything in the store but was mostly pretty restrained (thank goodness, this is a fancy fabric store that I don't usually dare to enter). The lady there gave my daughter her own bonus button in an envelope too so now I need to find a cute cardigan pattern requiring just one button to feature it.

On the way home from the library we had a quick thrifting stop. I haven't done much thrifting lately, at least that's the way it feels! My favourite find though was this:
I'm very excited, it was only $3.25 (and from the price sticker I think it had actually sat around for a month waiting for me). I go to lots of potlucks and didn't have anything good for carrying cakes and all I've really seen out there has been plastic. This has a handle and two little catches to keep lid and plate together. So now I can start thinking about all the cakes I've contemplated...

I was also really excited to see a big plastic container of sewing patterns for 50c each and picked up a few of those (baby/small child clothes, aprons etc), also some crochet yarn to try making ornaments (when I find my tiny size crochet hooks) and some tins (for gift giving). Very satisfying.

Monday, 24 November 2008

...and Making

Two posts in such quick succession after so long. Am I setting myself up to fail I wonder?! Since posting in August I was away for a while (singing in AL & GA over Labor Day weekend and then a trip to England - visiting family and friends plus some more singing - for the bulk of September) and then not feeling creative or productive and being so much out of the habit didn't get back to the blogging.

More recently I've been starting to get back into the swing of things again. Lots going on in the kitchen (examples in my previous post). As for crafts, I haven't been sewing much of anything but there's been quite a bit of knitting lately. Perhaps I can do some something old something new posts!

Here's a picture of one of my current works in progress. This is the Gathered Cardi (ravelry pattern page) from Knit.1 Magazine (Spring/Summer 2008 edition). I went out and bought the magazine after seeing this photo, not sure I would have bought it from the pic in the magazine (especially as I'd not even noticed the existence of that particular publication before). Here's a link to my project page on ravelry.

Also please note that my almost cardigan is being modelled for me by a dress form. It is my somewhat belated excellent birthday present from my husband. Now that I have passed the baby swing chair that was residing in my sewing room (not that my daughter sat in it more than a handful of times) on to some expectant friends there was a space for me to set it up. Now I just need to sort out the rest of the room and perhaps I can manage some sewing in the run up to Christmas. I have The Omnivore's Dilemma on CD from the library to listen to while I work. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 23 November 2008


I've been baking with my daughter more recently. She's really liking getting involved especially when she can do stuff herself.

For these cookies I got the ingredients mostly ready to go in advance and she got to put stuff into the bowl and mix until bored and ready for the next addition. I would do some extra stirring as needed.

Then I cut the dough into pieces the right size for one cookie and she rolled pieces and "squished" them onto the baking sheet herself (well about half of the dough and I did the rest, these in the picture are her own work).
I found the recipe at the Baking Bites blog - Spicy, Chewy Molasses Cookies
(note the ones I made were chewier than my daughters, probably because I lightly pressed my balls of dough onto the baking sheet rather than squashing them!)

Then for dinner we made pizza. I used some basic bread dough (using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book and making a dough somewhere between the basic recipe and the olive oil recipe with some whole wheat bread flour in it) and cut off a 1lb piece for the pizza for me and my husband and about 3 ounces or so I think for my daughter. She loves having some dough to work with. Unfortunately we couldn't find her smaller rolling pin and she was a bit frustrated using mine but it worked out and she did a bit of stretching and pressing it with her fingers too. I helped her spread some tomato sauce on (both of us holding the spoon) and then gave her slices of cheese and pepperoni and some olives to place on the dough as she pleased. Then I put it in the oven and she watched it cook.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


We had a little birthday party for my daughter at the weekend (at last, only just over a month since her birthday). My organization skills in general leave a lot to be desired, but my drive to provide food at social events is strong so party favors didn't get finished but we had more than enough food to be in danger of spoiling our dinner (it was a late afternoon party).

The picture shows the selection of sweet baked goods I made (with help from my daughter who loves to pour and mix and press the button on the food processor and call for "more choc'ate").

The leftmost cookies are the Honeyed Chocolate Chip Cookies that I spotted on the Baking Bites blog last week. When I noted that honey makes the cookies moist and therefore less prone to going dry and stale I thought that was perfect for my purposes since I could make a batch a day or two ahead to spread the baking out. I used to make a honey and ginger cookie quite often when I was at uni which I'd all but forgotten about, this brought the memory back and I added maybe half a teaspoon of ginger to the dough. I might add more ginger another time for my taste, as it was it gave that slight hint that makes you think "there's something in here I wasn't expecting but I can't put my finger on what it is".

The other cookies are two variations on the Flourless Nut Butter Cookies which I've made several times before. I made a double batch with peanut butter to which I added some cocoa powder and chopped chocolate. Also made a single batch with almond butter which I tried putting a spoonful of jam (some strawberry rhubarb I made a while back) in the middle and a little chocolate on some too. I personally like the almond butter ones much better than peanut, and the jam and chocolate topping was really yummy.

Finally the birthday cake! I took two banana bread recipes I've made and liked in the past and combined elements from both to make a spiced banana coconut cake with molasses then baked it in an 8x8 square baking tin. Should have taken notes, it came out very nice and moist and tasty.

I had intended a flourless chocolate cake too (since some guests don't do flour or dairy). When that didn't happen I thought I'd better put chocolate on top of this cake (after all I had been told there needed to be chocolate by the birthday girl). I had the end of a batch of ganache in the fridge and threw in some extra chocolate and melted them together and spread it on top. Not the most picturesque but it worked for us!

There were some more healthful food options - hummus with carrots and socca for dipping plus lots of fresh fruit.

The party was nice and small and relaxed. We went to the common in town with friends, sat at and around a picnic table, ate and chatted. There was singing to the birthday girl, and she got to open some presents, eat cake, kick a ball around, pet a dog and play with bubbles.

I made her a big footed bunny (using a pattern from WeeWonderfuls) with a pinafore to match the one I made daughter for Easter (which daughter was suitably impressed with when she noticed). Unfortunately I didn't quite manage to finish so we still need to sew on a face, I shall be asking for input from the new owner (there has already been a vote for blue eyes) who is quite appalled at the face with no face. I imagine that once the face is in place the bunny will get her own photo shoot and blog post.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

chocolate stickybun

I made these using the "Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls" recipe from Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day. This is the second batch; I actually remembered to take a picture this time. Admittedly this is not the greatest picture ever but, you know, I wanted to eat!

The first time I used challah dough which was really good. The second time I used just a batch of (more or less) the master recipe which is not as rich and decadent but still really very tasty.

I make 9 rolls in a square pan (8x8 and 9x9 both work). I just like all the rolls being a more consistent shape I guess. And I make mine with chocolate because, well, I love chocolate and too much cinnamon and pecans is not necessarily my favourite.

For the caramel topping I actually melted the butter and sugar most of the way in the microwave rather than creaming because I was in a hurry. It seemed to work just as well that way and I just poured it in and spread it out a bit to evenly distribute the sugar then sprinkled on the pecan pieces.

When I rolled out the dough I spread it with a little softened salted butter and then some ganache (which I made using a mix of semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate so it's not too sweet) and sprinkled on some chocolate chips before rolling up and cutting. The first time I did also sprinkle on a bit of cinnamon which I forgot the second time, I like it both ways.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

I almost forgot!

I edited the photos and then forgot to upload and blog about this dress I made for my daughter back in June (which, incidentally seems to have disappeared of the face of the earth since so perhaps that's why I forgot). I was reminded when I caught sight of this dress made using the same tutorial.
It's made from an old shirt of my husbands using this tutorial.

I made another from a blue checked shirt found at the thriftstore as a gift for a friend of ours who is very into The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy dress!). Forgot to take a photo of that one though.

This was a satisfyingly quick and effective project (since a lot of the fiddly stuff is already done in the shirt, case in point being buttons and button holes).

Another time I will attach the shoulder straps/sleeves closer together (at least in the back) because they slip down a lot as they are in this dress. I think this one runs a bit big on my daughter but that just means space to grow, and/or means she can wear it over warmer clothes in cooler weather, (well, assuming I can find it again anyway).

Sunday, 10 August 2008

finally a FO

I'm so excited to have actually finished sewing something (and something for me too) for the first time in ages! I actually finished a week or so ago when my husband took our daughter off to visit his parents leaving me home alone for hours for probably the first time in 2 years (and this hot on the heels of me getting to go to the cinema by myself to see Mama Mia which felt wonderful).

The pattern is NewLook 6490. The fabric is some I found a while back at the thrift store (and I have quite a bit left over for another garment).

I made the shoulder straps much wider than the pattern (which suggests using 1/4-3/8" ribbon or lace) 'cause I like to wear a bra and not show too much of it off.

I'm not sure whether you can tell from the photo but the top part of the shirt is two overlapping sections, very handy for a nursing mama! The fit is a little weird to me because the top section ends way before my breasts actually do, but actually I think that works!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Porridge Bread

My daughter's choice for breakfast most often is oats and raisins. Partly this is habit, and I suspect she also likes that she gets to do cooking (I measure the water and oats and she pours them into the pan, puts the lid on and watches for the bubbles).

Sometimes she'll devour her bowl of oats and raisins and sometimes she'll pick for ages and eat very little. I hate to throw out the leftover oatmeal but it's not something I like to eat myself and I've been meaning to experiment with making bread with the leftovers. I came across a recipe online the other day that prompted me to give it a go. So here's what I came up with.

Porridge Bread

(modified from this recipe, and I already forgot where I found the link I'm afraid, and influenced by my ABI5MAD experiences so far)

I had 1/2 cup of leftover oatmeal and raisins (had a little milk mixed in but was made with water)
to that I added 1tbspn walnut oil, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup molasses

In the measuring cup I had measured out the molasses in I put 1/4 cup warm water and 1/4 cup milk then sprinkled over 1tspn yeast (if I'd thought about it more I would have used the warm water to dissolve the rest of the molasses and then transfered the liquids to the mixing bowl before adding the yeast)

Mixed wet ingredients in the bottom of a mixing bowl then on top added 1&1/2 cups AP flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour and 1/4 cup oat flour plus salt

Mixed until flour all wet, I needed to add maybe another 1/8 cup water and also decided to throw in a handful or two of currants (next time I might add even a bit more water as the dough seemed a bit denser than I might have ideally liked). No kneading.

This made about 1 1/2 lbs of bread dough.

Allowed dough to rise in the bowl for about 3 hrs (it was a cool day), shaped quickly and placed into small loaf pan and left the dough to rise maybe another hour until it was poking up above the top of the loaf pan.

Baked at 375 degrees for about 45 mins (this may not be the best temp/time configuration for the crust so I'll have to experiment).

I've been eating it lightly toasted with butter, I'm thinking it would also be good with some of the apple butter I made last year too.

Friday, 25 July 2008

More Bread and some Thrifting

I've continued trying different things from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. The oatmeal bread worked OK although I think I may have given it too long in the initial rise, it tasted good which is the important thing.

For dinner last weekend, on a night when my husband and I would be out in the evening and need to eat dinner soon after getting home, I made pizza. I mixed up half a batch of olive oil dough (I used whole wheat bread dough for one of the cups of flour) right before we went out which meant that when we arrived home it was time to heat the oven and make the pizza. While the oven heated I cooked up some onion to which I added kale, beet greens and scapes (all from our farmers market) and some balsamic vinegar. That mixture went on one of the pizzas along with mushrooms, tomato paste with oregano and basil and then topped with fresh mozzarella. The other pizza (which I thought my daughter was more likely to eat) had tomato paste and pesto, cheddar cheese and pepperoni.

Today I had a go at making bialys with some of my second batch of bagel dough.
My daughter and I shared one still slightly warm from the oven, she declared it good and did eat some of the onion and poppy seed topping even. I really liked the texture of the bread, and love the onion and poppy seeds (I really want there to be more of it than the recipe suggested so might think about that for next time, there will definitely be a next time).

Do you like the plate the bialys are on? It's one of my latest thrift store acquisitions. I've been trying to go less often but on Wednesday my daughter encouraged me in there as we passed by (she knows where to find all the toys and heads straight in that direction). We actually found a couple of things for her, not in the toy department though. Firstly I spotted a couple of ceramic birds which I guessed she would like as she has always enjoyed watching the sparrows when we're in town. She was very happy to see them and got herself a basket to put them in and carry them around until it was time to pay. (The birds are now perching over one of our doorways where she can, and does, spot them and point them out at regular intervals.)
Then while I was looking at fabric she spotted a little tiny "mug" which she got very excited about it has "humpy dumpy with a bue balloon" on it!

In addition to the plates I came away with two interesting looking books, two sheets and a lovely tablecloth (white with pink embroidery and appliqué). The table cloth is a bit stained but it's the kind of stain that I hope might come out, if not I'm sure I can make good use of the unstained parts in some crafting projects.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Birthday Presents

My birthday was a week or so ago and one of my presents was Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (thanks mum). I'd been hearing of it around the internet. Having had success with the No-Knead Bread recipe, and finding that my daughter always needs my attention just when I'd trying to get something time sensitive, done this method seemed intriguing. So far I haven't been disappointed.

I'm really enjoying looking through the book and giving some of the recipes a try. I started out (as suggested) with the basic recipe (although I did sub a little wholewheat and a little barley flour in there I must admit) and ended up with a very nice loaf of bread. My daughter has been more than usually excited about having toast and marmite for breakfast recently.

I'm liking not worrying about finding something to cover my loaf while it's baking (as in the no-knead method) and the multiple variations. What I will be on the lookout for is some different containers for the dough while it's residing in the fridge since I'm currently using my large (4.5 qt) mixing bowls which aren't quite big enough for the initial rise really, and take up more room in the fridge (widthwise) than is really ideal. I'd love to find something not plastic.

My second batch of dough is from the bagel recipe (here I subbed one cup of wholewheat into the recipe and used malt extract instead of sugar). Despite some slight water logging issues a couple of times while boiling, the results have been very tasty. I may have a go at pretzels with what's left of this dough, but I definitely want to try the Bialys which sound so good (onions and poppyseeds, mmm). Next up is the oatmeal bread (I actually baked some already but haven't tasted it just yet).

Sort of related (and possibly TMI for some so stop now if you'd not into girl talk), for my daughter's second birthday (almost to the hour which I find very interesting) I got my period (as in the first one since my daughter arrived on the scene)! While I'm not so much enjoying the cramping and other less enjoyable aspects of being (presumably somewhat) fertile, I'm excited in so far as we want to have another baby sometime and this would seem to be a step in that general direction. Time to sew some cloth pads, and perhaps invest in a new thermometer I do believe.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Good News Bad News again

080524 breakfast
Originally uploaded by commonplaceiris.
Here's a picture I took while eating the granola I made on Friday for breakfast with some strawberries and milk. It was "so good" (as my daughter keeps saying about her food at the moment), I will definitely be making my own granola more in the future.

Good News: the washing machine seems to be up and running again which means we may be able to pass it on to our tenants when the new one comes as originally planned (since they don't have one at all).

Bad News: instead of getting up and going to a birthday party this morning my daughter and I turned over and went back to sleep after a restless night. When I went to bed last night she crawled up on top of me, and was tossing and turning for hours which meant I wasn't sleeping much until she finally settled down. We took her temperature when we finally did get up this morning (underarm) and it was 100.4 so we were glad we'd chosen not to push things and go to the party in case she was contagious with something.

Good News: the fever didn't seem to be really bothering her much. It was apparent that she was under the weather but she wasn't really unhappy so we just had a quiet day at home. She spent a lot of time with her daddy today and I got into my sewing room again. Who knows I may even have some finished projects to show off soon (I'm actually wearing a new pair of flannel pj trousers right now).

Saturday, 24 May 2008

modern conveniences

We've been planning to replace some of our old inherited appliances (after finally filing some overdue tax returns and getting refunds). There's good news and bad news...

Bad News: this morning our washing machine was still full of water when it should have drained and spun while we were sleeping. It did not seem at all interested in draining and spinning although it did still agitate so not completely dead. Now when I was in my first year at university I did all my washing by hand in the tiny sink and a big plastic container in my room. With a toddler who wears cloth diapers and a husband who also produce laundry in the house I am not so thrilled with the idea of going back to washing by hand while we wait for a new machine!

Good News: this got my husband to finally order the washing machine he's been talking about us getting for many many moons (unfortunately it will take 3 to 4 weeks to get here)... and after some coaxing and poking the washing machine did finally drain and spin and my husband rinsed the clothes out and put them back in the machine and got them to spin again - hurrah! We shall experiment with it further over the weekend I'm sure but it seems there is hope at least.

More Good News: We had a new stove delivered last Friday, hurrah! The old oven worked just fine but the burners were quite unreliable to say the least so this is very nice for me. I broke it in on Friday evening by making a roast chicken dinner and baking bread. I've also made banana chocolate chip flapjacks (recipe found here, tasty) and had another go at the beef and rhubarb dish (this time I did serve it over rice) for a potluck dinner. Last night I made another version of potato and cheese bake which I served with some pea greens bought at the farmers market (where I also got rhubarb) cooked up with bacon and mushroom. (See the nice shiny stove that the plates are sitting on? It makes me happy.)

Today I decided to make granola for the first time (having polished of the last of the bought stuff the previous day). I've always intended to have a go at making my own, but I always wonder whether it's worth it since I don't consistently eat it and somehow it'd be worse to let it go to waste if it's homemade. Well I saw a recipe for cocoa-coconut granola at everybodylikessandwiches, and since I love chocolate and have actually been eating cereal more often recently I thought this would be a good time to finally give granola making a go.

I started while my daughter's breakfast oats were cooking so she insisted on helping with the dry ingredients and I finished putting it all together while she was eating. I didn't actually try eating it in a bowl with milk or yoghurt or anything yet, I've just been snacking on it from the jar, mmmm. I'm thinking it'd be good with raisins, or dried cranberries (as well as the apples, or bananas in the photos posted with the recipe). Maybe tomorrow I'll have some with some of the strawberries I didn't put in our rhubarb and strawberry sponge pudding tonight...

Monday, 12 May 2008

pentecostal mothers day

My husband took this picture of me with my daughter this morning just about to leave for the Pentecost service at church (hence lots of red clothing). I seem to take almost all the photos around here so it's nice to have a picture of me and my daughter together on Mothers Day.

And this is not all my husband did for me on Mothers Day either! He's going for some kind of prize this year I think. I got a cute card (which he helped our daughter to initial as we'd done for his mother and memere the day before) and a box of truffles. There were going to be flowers as well apparently but they had to be postponed due to our poor daughter throwing up in the car en route (we're hoping it was due to too many snacks at church rather than her inheriting my horrible car sickness). The best thing though was that he spent most of the day with my daughter so that I could have some time for me alone!!

I guess it's a little odd to celebrate being a mother by not mothering for much of the day but it was lovely to be able to listen to my favourite Radio 4 shows uninterrupted, and to get a rare chance to do some sewing (must get a sewing machine I can bring downstairs). Actually I think getting to take that kind of break makes spending time with my daughter afterwards seem all the sweeter. And how joyous when her daddy would bring her up to visit me and I'd hear "hi mummy" and she'd rush over to give me hugs and kisses.

A further bonus was getting take out food for dinner so that I didn't have to worry about cooking (I do enjoy cooking but when I'm sewing it's hard to tear myself away). Just as it was time to go pick up the food the power went out. Thankfully the power wasn't out at the restaurant so the food came home alright and we ate most of the meal by the light of an oil lamp and candles alone which my husband would not normally do voluntarily but I love.

Now I just need to rectify the neglect I've shown my own lovely mother this year (hi mum -- sorry I'm as disorganized as ever but I love and appreciate you very much).

Friday, 2 May 2008


spring journal page
Originally uploaded by commonplaceiris.
I've been wanting to try something like this for a long time. The biggest obstacle has been just getting something on a page and getting started.

The arrival of Spring is spurring me on to renew myself, start new things bring back habits I've lost and so on. I want to start posting to this neglected blog again, I want to be more creative and make sure my daughter's creativity is supported. I really want to feel less chaotic! I'm working on it -- here's a beginning in this new journal. Hopefully if I can keep building on these ideas the rest will follow.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The Experience of Motherhood

I listened to something tonight far enough in advance that I can post about it before the podcast is gone!! And it's Woman's Hour (from BBC Radio 4) so I think it stays available to listen again to(that link will stream the show in whatever media player is default on your machine I think) beyond the 7 days after broadcast.

Tuesday's Woman's Hour was a special devoted to "Experience of Motherhood". It's about our expectations and realities of motherhood, questioning whether it's idealized and whether woman/society downplay how hard it can be. Questioning whether that could be a factor in causing depression, difficulty bonding with baby and/or transitioning to a new identity as a mother. Really interesting to listen to. Of course there's a lot of ground that isn't covered or even touched upon, but it's only a 45 minute show after all. The Wednesday edition was a phone-in follow-up show which I'm looking forward to listening to also (podcast same place as above, listen again here).

Thought I'd mention it in case any of you out there would like to give it a listen too. It's interesting to my how what is difficult for one woman about motherhood is not going to be the hard part for another; how a lot of that seems to have to do with what you know you're letting yourself in for and what you don't; what you can and can't anticipate.

I always knew I wanted to be a mother. By the time my now 19 month old daughter was born I was better prepared than a lot of people I know in terms of understanding what hard work it can be especially at first. (I love the newborn stage so I think the mind numbing parts of the early weeks and months were offset by that along with my mum being around to help out for the first 6 weeks and a husband who adored the baby and helped out a lot.) But still there's a lot that I don't think you can understand until you're actually doing the mothering -- a lot about finding your new identity and finding out whether you're going to be the mother you envisioned or one that's quite different...

I love being a mother, I adore my daughter and she makes me happy every day, but she also drives me nuts at points everyday as she's becoming this wonderful person who we invited to live with us without knowing what her personality would be! The constant need from another person can be draining, it leaves me craving me time to myself that I hadn't recognized the importance of until I couldn't have it anymore. Not to mention all the things I want to do for my daughter, my family and myself that there simply aren't enough hours in the day for and yet I get so stressed that I can't so it all. (By which I mean live up to my personal ideal of the mother - and woman - I want to be not an overarching ideal of Motherhood that I measure all mothers against.) That's all I'm going to say about it here and now, maybe there'll be more when I've had time to digest and think (if the job of motherhood allows such a thing!!).

Friday, 29 February 2008

Pasta Bake

Here's my meatless dinner for Friday again. I was going to make pizza but completely forgot to make the dough on Thursday night, oops. Instead I made a pasta bake. The first pasta bake I made when I was in high school used a recipe seen on adverts for a UK supermarket. It remains a starting point for most of my pasta bakes today!

For this incarnation I cooked up some puy lentils (far and away my favourite kind of lentil) in some broth with garlic (I cooked extra with extra liquid so that I can make soup with the rest over the weekend).

Meanwhile I made a tomato sauce (well actually I chopped some celery which I fried a little before adding a large can of Muir Glen Organic Tomato Sauce because I was in a hurry and then threw in some black pepper, basil and oregano), and cooked some pasta.

Mixed together pasta, sauce and lentils and placed a layer in a baking dish. Added a thin layer of shredded fresh mozzarella (I've also used the shredded processed type of mozzarella made with skimmed milk which I like too, but fresh is better in my opinion) followed by the rest of the pasta mixture. Finally I grated some Parmesan cheese on top and put in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minute to get the cheese bubbly and a bit of crispness to the edges of the pasta on top.

This is always a popular dinner in our house, I sometimes use cheddar cheese, with or without the other kinds. I also make it with some, or several of the following with or without lentils and celery:
bacon chunks
minced beef
quorn chunks (when I lived in the UK)
roasted red pepper
... the possibilities go on and on it's such a good basic idea that you can use what ever bits and pieces you have in the pantry, fridge or freezer for.

Also this week I have made what I think must be my first loaf of bread this year amazingly enough. It's my "usual" version of the No-Knead Bread recipe (using 1 1/2 cups white bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat bread flour, 1/2 cup oat flour, 1/4 cup each barley and rye flour plus handfuls of sesame and poppy seeds).

I want to start making more of our bread again, and supporting local bakeries when I don't get around to baking myself (that part I've been doing, possibly too well, so far this year!). I like using the no-knead type recipes a lot of the time (as in this case) since it seems more possible with a toddler around who is liable to "need" me just as I'm in the middle of kneading or some other important step! Still I resolve to try some more of the recipes in the Bread Bible this year. In the no-knead bread department though I'm determined to make this chocolate bread I saw at flickr very soon!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Soup and Bread

The Soup

Made this for lunch today with a little help from my daughter.

  • In a frying pan with some olive oil cooked half an onion (left over from cooking dinner last night), the last of a cabbage and a rib of celery.
  • Added those to a blender with a can of white beans, a can of crushed tomatoes and some home made chicken broth.
  • Daughter did the honours blending ingredients 'til mostly smooth.
  • Returned soup mixture to the pan and added chopped carrot and some brown rice leftover from last night's dinner plus garlic powder, celery salt, black pepper, basil and oregano.
  • Simmered until the carrots were cooked. Served and ate.

The Bread

I read at slashfood that it was banana bread day and since I had some over ripe bananas I'd been meaning to bake with I took it as a poke with a sharp stick to get on with it!
I looked at my saved up to try recipes (since I didn't have enough bananas for the banana bread recipe I most often use) and found one for banana gingerbread which sounded good for this time of year.
I made it basically as in the recipe although I did use yoghurt instead of buttermilk, and just ginger, cinnamon and allspice for the spices. I was going to add chopped dates but as I was making the cake and cooking dinner simultaneously I ran out of time, but next time I definitely will.
It comes out with a nice gingeriness, not tasting a lot of banana in my first piece though perhaps I need to make banana jam next...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Ganmodoki with Vegetable Stir Fry over Rice

Originally uploaded by commonplaceiris.
Friday again and another meatless dinner. This time a vegetable stir fry over rice with ganmodoki on the side.

I printed out a recipe from ganmodoki I came across at the mostly vegan blog bunnyfoot a few years back. I made them and enjoyed them back then but had not made them for ages; prompted by the less meat project I dug out the recipe and had another go.

I didn't have green onion so I used half a yellow onion (which I sauteed a bit before adding to the mix). I left out the mushroom because daughter doesn't like them so far. Also had no ginger so put in some five spice mix. I used tamari instead of salt and not quite as much hijike as suggested (not being sure how well it would go down with husband and daughter). They're a little more crumbly to work with than is ideal, maybe next time I'll puree some of the tofu and or add some tahini and see whether that helps. Crumbliness aside, they were very tasty, I've been picking at the leftovers for the last few hours!

Also on the plate a stir fry of broccoli, carrot, shitake mushroom, green beans and garlic. Made a sauce using the water from soaking the mushrooms, a little broth, tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, five spice and tahini.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

a filling day

Today the weather was much warmer than it has been in some time. It made for quite the misty, moisty morning! Here's a picture taken from outside the kitchen door. I didn't venture further outside than that however because it was wet and I suspect very slippery as all the compacted snow and ice got melty but didn't have time to actually disappear.

I actually spent the day trying to make some more headway in the house. It's part of my new start resolutions to get a grip on housework and clutter. I tackled the kitchen for a start, clearing things off the floor and vacuuming, I was hoping to wash the floor during naptime but my daughter woke up just as I was about to start. She mostly kept off the wet floor though so it all worked out. She had fun helping me move stuff and working beside me with her very own broom and dustpan and brush (which she got for Christmas). She's in constant motion these days but not totally ready to occupy herself for stretches of time (especially if it looks as though I'm trying to get something in particular done!!).

After the kitchen floor I ended up giving the same treatment to our front room's floor after my daughter threw her bowl down after polishing off a bowl of couscous, egg and peas. It shattered and the pieces covered a lot of ground so she had to wait in her high chair while I made the floor safe for little feet again.

After a long day I figured we needed a treat so I thought I'd try out a recipe that's been calling to me since I came across it a few days back. Checking out recipes at the Boston Globe I noticed molasses brownies and immediately printed out the recipe to try. They seem so appropriate for me since my usual breakfast includes a mug of hot cocoa sweetened with molasses.

I love them (husband and daughter seemed to agree). The molasses taste is strong, I'd say it overwhelms the chocolate -- it was like eating a treacle toffee cake! (NB I didn't add the coffee, I don't know what difference that would make to the taste balance.) I ate mine with some banana, maybe next time I'll try baking some banana into the brownies themselves. It's also quick and easy to throw together so will be going on my list of cooking projects for my daughter to join in with.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Dinner: Cheesy Leek & Potato Bake with Burgers

I'm trying to do the less meat thing generally, but also want to make at least one meat free dinner each week (certainly during Lent and hopefully beyond).

So this was our Friday night dinner for this week.

The potato cheese and leek bake is a big favourite in our house. We could eat just this really, and I've served this with some baked beans on the side before which goes well but I'm the only one in the house that likes baked beans (maybe that's what I'll have with the leftovers).

The burgers were an experiment based on a couple of recipes I've used in the past -- I prefer nut burgers to bean burgers but had some cooked beans that needed using up so made a compromise batch!

Cheesy Leek & Potato Bake
(based on a recipe from the Sainsbury's Vegetarian Cookbook -- I have two veggie recipe books that Sainsbury's put out back in the early 90s when I was a vegetarian and I still use them often.)

2 leeks thinly sliced and steamed for about 10 minutes
5 small/medium potatoes sliced thinly and par-boiled (could use a few more or less depending on appetite)

Layer the leek and potato in an oiled baking dish and pour over a cheese sauce, sprinkle some reserved cheese (or grate on some parmesan perhaps).
Bake for a bout 30 mins at 375-400 degrees

For the cheese sauce melt a good knob of butter (or warm other fat) in a sauce pan, sprinkle on flour and cook until toasty. Add in some mustard (I used honey mustard but have used other kinds in the past) and pepper. Pour in liquid (I used about a cup of chicken broth so this wasn't actually suitable for a vegetarian but I have also made it with veggie stock in the past, and with milk as per the original recipe). Bring to a gentle boil while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in cheese (I used 4 oz grated cheddar, the recipe calls for 2oz but we love cheese and I wasn't using milk in the sauce).

(based on recipes from Mark Bittman in the NYTimes -- two years ago exactly it turns out! -- for bean burgers and nut burgers)

1 cup nuts (I used brazil nuts, almonds plus a handful or two of sunflower seeds)
1 cup beans and lentils
1/2 cup of oats
1 egg
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
some leeks saved from the bake
generous Tbspn of tahini and another of tomato paste
celery salt, paprika, basil
(I think that's everything, I meant to write it down as I went along.)

I put the oats and nuts in the food processor first to get them ground up evenly then gradually added in the other ingredients dryer first and wetter last.
Shape into burgers, I coated them in a little oat flour and fried them up.

They came out pretty tasty if a little bland. In the original recipes there's a lot more spice added but I was hoping my daughter would eat some and didn't want to over spice so erred on the side of caution. I think next time I'd certainly add more tomato paste at the very least. I ate mine with a bit of ketchup, my husband had mustard with his and that was plenty flavourful.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

January KAL - first sock finished!

Still working on my January socks for the 2008 sock knitalong group at ravelry. I finished the first one (modeled here with help from my lovely assistant).

I'm close to turning the heel on the second sock, so maybe I'll manage to finish in time to start February socks in February!! Once they're finished I'll try to get a better photo since none of the ones I took today came out particularly well (I'm just pleased they're in focus since my daughter was climbing all over the place while I was trying to take them).

Diagonal Rib Socks by Ann Budd from Interweave Knits, Winter 2004(my project page at ravelry) (download pattern as a pdf file here). The yarn is ONline Supersocke 100.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Less meat and hopefully more blogging.

One of the things on my list of aims for Lent, and for my Making A New Start objectives, is to eat less meat. It seems to be better both for our health (because it encourages eating more veggies, pulses and such) and for the planet (check out this article) so that should be good incentive. Here's our dinner for the first Friday of Lent a stew of beans, tomatoes and vegetables.

It's not actually vegetarian because I did use some bacon fat and the last of the gallon of duck broth I made after we had roast duck a few weeks back. They add nice flavour (and also mean I'm making better overall use of the meat we do eat). Of course it can easily be vegetarian, and I've made it that way for friends who are veggie and for myself during my 7 years as a vegetarian.

Start by adding a small onion (chopped) into a pan over low heat in the fat of your choice and cook until they start getting clear. Add garlic, then celery and carrot and saute a while adding in some pepper, paprika, a little chili powder, oregano and basil. Then add in tomatoes (I used a large can), and beans. (For the first time in a while I soaked and cooked a mix of dry beans myself - black, pinto and white beans, black eyed and chick peas, but more often of late I've used canned.)

In this case I served the beans over potatoes roasted in a little duck fat and broth but it's good over baked or mashed potatoes, egg noodles, rice and probably any other grain that takes your fancy, or I'm guessing it would work over greens of some kind too. Leftovers with extra liquid (probably stock of some kind and extra canned tomatoes) make a hearty soup too. And of course there's lots of room for playing with this recipe depending on what vegetables/beans/pulses you like/are in season/you happen to have on hand.

To balance the sensible food choices of the main meal I decided to make something more decadent for dessert (to keep the husband on side, or perhaps because I wanted chocolate...). It's Chocolate Pudding Cake, I know it doesn't look that wonderful in the photo, and you can't really see the sliced banana and warmed through raspberries underneath which added a lot to the dish but this is mighty tasty. There are lots of recipes for this kind of chocolate cakey dessert where you mix most of the ingredients in the cake tin (fewer dishes to wash), then sprinkle over more sugar and cocoa and pour over more liquid and it cooks into a cake with a gooey chocolaty sauce on the bottom.

(I don't use the coffee because I don't much care for coffee, and my 18 month old doesn't get coffee yet. Also I think I would add less vanilla next time, I am never quite sure I'm crazy about vanilla essence in things and it struck me while taking a bite of this that it's because it reminds me of play dough... I told my husband about my realization and he complained because it had never occurred to him before but now it was reminding him of play dough too).

Well, I've spent longer talking about the food than I meant to and need to go to bed if I'm going to make it to church in the morning so this will be all for now, but I'm excited to be posting more often again and hope to be back soon with more (including a picture of the first of my diagonal rib socks!).

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Apple, Cranberry and Raspberry Crumble, and some other thoughts.

Yesterday I was making crumble for our dessert and I decided to experiment with crumbling in some cookie (spice biscuits) dough that's been sitting in the fridge a while. I figure basic crumble is a lot like a biscuit dough in terms of ingredients. Surprisingly it made the crumble sweeter, I always thought I added more sugar than I probably should to the crumble already!

The spices in the dough went very nicely with the fruit combination -- allspice, ginger, cinnamon and cloves with apple, cranberry and raspberries.

(In making this I used up cranberries that have been sitting in the fridge for ages as a change from the blackberries I'm using up by making crumble, they have been sitting in the freezer for ages!)

Made some custard to pour on top, yummy. Well my husband and I thought so. I think my daughter prefers the blackberry and apple combo, or the regular crumble mixture as she didn't gobble it up they way she usually does. She did eat some, and all of the custard I hadn't mixed in already.

Not the most exciting post I'm afraid, but something at least. I've decided that my 2008 is only now officially beginning as January has been a bit of a disaster. A constant rotating succession of illnesses in our household and just chaos generally. By the end of last week I was something of a wailing puddle on the floor and then I got a blocked duct. Blah. Managed to avoid mastitis but did get a low fever and extremely low energy.

Anyhow. I'm now back on form and apart from my daughter's still snotty nose we seem to be in fairly good health so I'm back to thinking about new beginnings and maybe resolutions and the like. It's almost time for Lent so I'm going to try and get my head around a list of goals for Lent and the year beyond Easter. Oh and maybe I'll actually finish my January socks one of these days (I'm almost done the toe of the first sock...).