Tuesday, 21 December 2010


I would like to be able to blame the snow for my current state of completely-behind-with-everything-ness, but sadly I don't think I can. It didn't stop me from posting cards or reading the mortgage stuff or tidying up or packing. It may stop me from getting to Scotland for Christmas, but that is a different matter.
It does make trips out of the house a bit more adventurous/treacherous though.

I still don't get how it makes everything so quiet.
There were quite a lot of other things I've been meaning to write about but my brain seems to have misplaced them. Oh well, I don't suppose you're missing much.

Do have a marvellous Christmas won't you? I think I'd better get on with the pile of things undone now, and love you and leave you until the new year...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Late adopter

I'm a bit of a luddite at heart. I like things to stay the same; I don't really like the breakable, complicated nature of technology. A bit freaked out that I have no idea really how the internet works, or even this computer, or mobile phones. I like things that are understandable; fixable; take-apart-able. I hate that everything has to be replaced and upgraded all the time; that it is mysterious and ever-evolving so you can't get a grip on it. I hate how dependent on it we all are.

So, I'm a little slow in getting on the technological bandwagon sometimes. (Although, obviously writing all this on the interwebs so obviously not that committed to the luddite cause!)

Anyway, I had been given a second hand iphone ages ago but it seemed alien and like just another administrative hassle, so I put it in a drawer and there it remained for the best part of a year, until I couldn't hear people anymore on my old phone, and had to admit that it had to be abandoned. (Even that phone I hadn't really liked as the colour screen was so bright - the old green and black one was much less offensive on the eyes when checking the time in the middle of the night...)

So I got it all linked up and whatnot, and suddenly I get the appeal of this slippery little bright-screened toy. I check my email in the park on our nap-in-the-pram walks. I read blogs late at night when I'm feeding. I make little notes of things I need to remember, or that seem important at the time. After all my chastisements of B for playing with his phone during dinner or whilst talking to me, suddenly it's me hooked to the little device, not coming to bed, checking it whilst we walk along together. The shame!

Another little piece of technological know-how I've made friends with recently is google reader. I must have used it once ages ago because it contained a list of blogs already but I never really got in to it. Now, suddenly I get it. Wonderful! I don't have to use my blog roll to check new posts anymore; it's like having an email inbox filled with lovely and interesting things all the time. And now I can be a more consistent blog reader and commenter (though I don't think I've been able to comment via the iphone yet).

So yes, I guess despite my scepticism perhaps we can be friends, technology.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

At last!


At last - an MP calling for an end to the criminalisation of drugs.

I'm not a supporter of legalisation because I think drugs are great and we should all be taking them; I'm a supporter of legalisation because everything I've seen and read on this subject seems to point to it being the most sensible thing to do if we want to limit the damage drugs wreak on people and society. To my mind it is screamingly obvious that prohibition is ridiculous.

Because it doesn't work.
Trying to stop the supply of drugs into the country is notoriously ineffective. Anyone in this country can get hold of anything they want to get hold of by asking the right people. Surely it's better to put all that time and money into trying to curb demand, regulating an official supply to improve safety, and trying to ameliorate the effects?

Because it's nonsensical

How can you ban a substance because it is potentially harmful but not ban similarly harmful substances? It's a crazy and impossible thing to try and do.

Witness the constant invention of new 'legal highs'; legal because that particular chemical construction has not yet been logged and documented, not any better than illegal substances.

Morphine is an effective and invaluable analgesic in a clinical setting; its close cousin Heroin (invented incidentally to try and cure opium addicts!) is seen as an evil and destructive power. It's not the slight chemical difference that causes this - it's the context.

And what about nicotine and alcohol? - if we have a system based on personal and societal harm we must logically include these, surely.

Because it supports criminals
You make a substance illegal; all those involved in its trade are criminals. Off the radar, unregulated. The demand remains, the trade flourishes despite our intervention; prohibition gives criminals business. Funds people traffickers and gangsters and terrorists and leaves these substances - that people will seek out and take regardless of the law - under the control of the unscrupulous and profit-motivated criminal gangs.

Because it makes criminals
Wouldn't addicts be better treated as patients? For their sakes, for the sakes of those affected by drug-related crime?

Because it is not a useful deterrent
I've heard an argument that if you make drugs legal people will think its fine to take them. Um, well its legal to drink weedkiller and its legal to jump off bridges and its legal to smoke. Does that mean everyone thinks these activities are safe?

I'm not saying legalisation would be a wonderful panacea, and of course I recognise that all the different substances that are illegal would need different strategies and that there are complex issues surrounding how and why and where drugs are taken and it would be an impossible task to devise policies that created good outcomes in every case. But I do think legalisation, regulation and information is the way forward, and I really hope that this guy speaking out leads to sensible debate and maybe some changes.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Pleasant surprises of a postal nature

I picked up an envelope from the doormat the other day and thought. 'ooh, what's this. It doesn't look like a bill or a mailshot?'. Almost immediately I answered myself with the pessimistic reply, 'well don't get your hopes up, mystery envelopes are never exciting; they're always just junk or annoying bureaucracy'.

But lo and behold, it was exciting! It was a £25 prize from the Premium Bonds. Woop woop!

That very same week I came downstairs to the door and saw a Koala peeking out from the pizza menus and cleaning lady ads. It felt a bit like when you see something from your childhood that you'd forgotten about - like, 'oh yeah, I remember postcards'. It had been so long since I'd received one I almost forgotten they existed.

And then, a canary yellow envelope turned up and inside not only a card but a letter - real writing! in ink! on paper! from my dear dear friend. I put it in my handbag and saved it for a quiet moment later in the day - a real treat.

10 years ago I wrote letters regularly - to a school friend, a pen pal (remember them?), a particularly wonderful high school teacher who kept in touch - now I very rarely put pen to paper. Much as I enjoy the online world and can be cheered by a facebook message from a friend abroad or a lovely email hello, there is still something different and special about receiving something nice in the post. I hope written communication doesn't become just a curio of the past, my kids astounded that one would communicate without cut and paste and instant delivery. Expensive and wasteful though post may be, it's not only a more personal connector to friends in the present, it's also an easily preservable connector to the past. And it's nice to have that personal touch and solidity in the midst of the whirling rushing onslaught of electronic communication.
(picture of lovely cards I bought from Liberty recently - they have dove grey envelopes which are ever so chic and I like the picture of the little crazy girl on the bike so much I think I might frame it and hang it up - cheap art!)

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sleep training and blog-love

Sleep training... doesn't that sound lovely? Conjures up images of perfecting the starfish position, getting in some warm bath and hot cocoa preparation and testing for the perfect flannel pyjamas. Preparing for the spooning finals, the afternoon nap contest, the tricky snoozing on a plane competition...

Sadly no. I'm talking screaming, shushing, patience-testing such as a saint would fail. The baby, obvs.

Our little one, despite being an evening screamer for her first three months, did, rather cleverly we thought, decide to settle into an 8 hour routine from about 8 weeks - she dropped off after a feed or a scream around 10 and woke us at 6. Ideal - one of us got to work on time; the other got to have a leisurely breakfast with baby and boy. We got into bed before we fell apart from tiredness.

Sadly, late nights began to pique her curiosity and she started only going down for the night around midnight, after a lot of feeding and screeching and wide awake playfulness.

I got into bed a week ago and said, "I can't take any more of this". It was the point at which I knew I needed A Different Tactic. So, time to turn back tail between my legs to the Baby Whisperer, whose book I had thrown against the wall weeks previously because it infuriated me with its calm 'just do this and the baby will do this' ridiculousness. But it had a plan for getting the baby to settle in the cot, and in the absence of any other, it now seemed the time to get serious and try...

So, for the last 6 nights we've been picking up and putting down in a darkened room for our evening entertainment. I liked the plan. I didn't feel mean putting her down by herself because I could cuddle and calm as soon as she got upset. And in between I got to lie down and immerse myself in blog land.

And it worked. Well for a few nights it did anyway - one night she even went straight to sleep with barely a whimper. Then last night I stuck out 20 minutes of trying to calm my wiggly little noise machine in the dark before I gave in and brought her downstairs to distract her with lights and TV (quiet immediately!). So we'll see what happens as we try to keep it up, BUT...

...there is one small problem, in that for the last several nights I've been working my way through the complete archives of a blog I came across the other week, which I was absolutely loving (the wonderful Mwa's Lost in Translation). It was like reading a good book, going 'oh yes, I so get that' the whole way through, then finding out your favourite character has come to life at the end. And it was like getting to know a new and fabulously funny and frank friend, chatting with her late each night.

But then I read my way right up to the present and there's no archives left. So now I need something new to keep me going whilst we pick up and put down some more tonight and doubtless nights to come. I'll trawl around a bit until something captures my imagination I think, then do another whole-archive read - it's nice getting to properly know a blog(/blogger) rather than just flit in and out.

Which brings me to my second post topic - this has been making me think about this blog and what I want from it. I wanted it to be a kind of notepad for me to refer back to - good recipes, ideas I'd had for when I eventually get this completely pipe dream cafe up and running (i.e. 2nd of never), projects I'd finished, pretty things I might want to buy or just look at. That kind of thing.

And for some reason I didn't really want it to be about personal stuff, mummy and baby stuff, 'musings'... Not quite sure why. I liked reading those kinds of blogs, I just didn't feel that that was what I wanted to do.

But now I think perhaps I do. And besides, I choose what I cook primarily on how easy it'll be to clean up nowadays, and I knit at a rate of about three rows a year so there's not going to be much of interest on the foody/crafty front.

So, not promising anything because anytime I decide what this should be, or how often I should post, or whatever, it's pretty much a guarantee that that won't happen, but just saying, perhaps I'll open up a little and share a bit more minutiae and mind-noise here from now on.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Two simple salads

Not a terribly appealing photo there, but I just wanted to make a note to self on this little dish. I'm not really a repertoire cook - I have a couple of standard dishes I wheel out again and again but often I just play around with what I have. The experiments are not always super succesful, but every now and then I make something I really like, only to forget it and never make it again.
So, so that I remember. These two simple salads both deserve another outing.
First - romanesco cauliflower with roasted peppers and pine nuts. Roasted the peppers in olive oil in the oven for half an hour or so, then added par-boiled florets of the cauli to crisp it up. Dressed only in the roasting oil, topped with toasted pine nuts. Good.
Second - to cooked wild rice I added a little very finely sliced red onion, and halved segments of tangy clementines, dressed with lemon juice, clementine juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Surprisingly delicious.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Making friends

It's strange, this new mummy club I now belong to. It reminds me a little of the first days of university, or secondary school. There's this whole new group of people I'm slowly getting to know and I feel like I'm sussing them out, trying to work out which ones I like, which ones like me, which ones will turn into friends.

It's a long time since I made any new friends. I've been content at work to have friendly colleagues. I have just a handful of truly close friends, with whom I have rich, deeply treasured friendships, all many years old. I am not a facebook friend collector, and I don't make friends easily - I take a long time to relax into really knowing someone, and find maintaining flimsy acquaintances effortful and tiring.

I also really prefer to have one-on-one friends. People who, like me, prefer a simple two-person conversation to the complicated chatter of a large group. I like groups, but I often feel a bit like a spectator in multi-way conversation; or if I enter into it I can find it unsatisfying; cut-off comments all mixing in a big, quickly moving pot. I prefer to take my time and talk and listen and engage; something it's much easier to do with just one or two others.

So now, there are all these groups and opportunities to meet mums. And we have ready-made conversations because we are all obsessed with the weight and intake and output and colour and sound and world of our offspring. And we like to compare and contrast and take comfort from others.

Frantically we skip from how many poos the little ones produce, to swimming lessons, then post baby blubber and cranio-sacral osteopathy*. We share tales of woe - perineal breakdown, multiple attacks of mastitis, infected stitches, babies who won't eat, or gain weight, or sleep. Dates and times are slung through the air - Mabels Monsters, Rhyme Time, Baby Bounce, Mummy and Me Yoga*. We discuss what to wear to a wedding when you're breastfeeding and how to get baby passports and what pushchairs you can take on aeroplanes. We compare slings and prams and clothes and babygyms.

It is wonderful, having this resource of fellow experience. And honestly, all of the mummies I've met are quite lovely. I've seen none of the competitiveness that is parodied in that mum-lit genre of books and columns, and although there is often a barrage of advice or 'well I've read that...' in response to quandaries, people try hard not to be judgmental or too opinionated.

But I'm getting a little weary of the hecticness of chatting in big groups and the need to be polite and thinking all the time about whether you could offend someone with your thoughts or opinions.

I can't wait until I click with someone; until I reach that point where I know I can call someone up with a stupid question, or issue a solo lunch invitation without it seeming a little weird. I'm sure amongst all these lovely women there must be someone with whom I forge strong bonds, but I don't know yet who it will be (almost all of my good friends I have been sceptical of, dismissive of, intimidated by or downright appalled by on first impressions).

I guess it will just - like so many things - take time. At least now I am old and wise enough to know to not get disheartened and to just keep pressing on being sociable and enjoying what I have - after all I am very lucky to have these networks so ready-made and easy to access.

And of course, maybe none of them will become my friends, maybe several of them will. That's the fun of being at the start of something I guess - we don't know what will be. We just have to wait and see.

*yes I know, it is North London we're talking about here!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Chocolate Almond Cake

This is luxuriously soft, subtly almond-y and studded with rich dark chocolate chunks. I think it would suit a strong velvety latte, on a sunny but brisk autumn morning, setting the world to rights or reading the paper at a pavement table.

1. Butter a 28cm tin and line with greaseproof paper.

2. Mix 150g butter with 1/4tsp salt until soft. Cream in 100g sugar, then add 5 egg yolks and mix well.

3. Chop 150g dark chocolate, and add to the mix, along with 150g ground almonds.

4. Add in 100g flour and 1 tsp baking powder.

5. Beat 5 egg whites until stiff, then beat in 100g sugar to produce a shiny mixture.

6. Mix egg whites into other mix.

7. Bake at 180C for 50 minutes - done when a knife comes out clean.

8. Yum

(Recipe from 'Chocology', a leafet produced by some Swiss chocolate board or similar - sorry I can't give a proper reference; I found it at my parents' house and don't have to hand!)

Monday, 25 October 2010


We walk a lot, baby and I. I've got the zero to ready-to-go thing down to a number of seconds now. Sometimes some fresh air and a change of scene is exactly what's needed to change grizzly and potentially explosive to calm and potentially (hopefully!) sleepy.
When the weather's like it is right now - sweetly crisp and floodlit with cold sunshine - then it's a glorious treat to be able to meander round London's fine green spaces.

Watching others enjoying the seasons.

Looking down on my lovely vast city from a calm, green vantage point.
Rugged up in scarves and mittens, enjoying the cold night air.

(Hampstead Heath by day, Primrose Hill at night)

Friday, 22 October 2010

The saga of the indoor plants

I like plants. I buy them; they look lovely. They die. I wait around hoping they'll revive. Eventually I sadly throw them out.

B said I shouldn't buy any more until I can keep at least one alive; he's not keen on the dying foliage school of decor. I had to agree.

I bought some mint plants feeling hopeful. They sat there for weeks until I managed to clean a pot and buy some compost for them.

I watered them (nearly) every day, felt quite proud.

Mint plants only suffer one disease - mint rust. Mine got it. According to the internet some 'stressed' plants can also get aphids. Guess what mine have millions of? How did I stress them out, poor loves?!

On the to-do list then:
1. Get rid of aphid covered rusty mint
2. Try rosemary

I will get one to stay alive!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Date, Walnut, Cardamom Cake

I may no longer pluck my eyebrows every day, go to the cinema in the evenings or always know what day of the week it is, but one thing I can and do still do is bake.
This one is soft, sweet and warmly spicy. Would go beautifully with a light black tea - Jasmine perhaps - rugged up inside on a rainy day.
Adapted from The Glasgow Cookery Book
1. Chop 150g dates and sprinkle with 1tsp bicarbonate of soda. Cover with 250ml boiling water and leave 30 minutes.
2. Cream 50g butter with 100g soft brown sugar. Add 1 egg, soaked dates, 50g chopped walnuts, and 200g wholemeal flour that has already been mixed with 2 tsp ground cardamom and 1 tsp baking powder. Mix well
3. Put into greased, floured tin and bake for about an hour at 180C

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


I keep starting posts and not finishing them before I need to feed/distract/change etc.

I think I need to be more succinct!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

And then...

That last post was scheduled. About the time it was posting here I was meeting the little person who'd been growing inside me for the previous nine months.
So suddenly in a new world of baby. It did feel like stepping through a door and leaving behind the old life; things I used to think and do occur to me as though I dreamt them. Now she's here it's like she's always been here, she was always meant to be here, nothing else could have happened.

So, in short:

it's a girl
she weighed 8lb3

and had a lot of hair
ten fingers ten toes big lungs

birth was: objectively - quick, straightforward and very good; subjectively - just horribly painful and distressing

the first few weeks - bleeding, aching, lactating, learning, waking, feeding, marvelling, lots of crying, lots of lovely peaceful moments, everything new and fragile and wonderful, freezer meals, first few forays out, dad at home taking care of me and her and everything

then - days on our own, honing pram skills, healing up, meeting other babies, learning how to do everything one-handed, learning how to relax and trust it'll be okay, cooking, washing, feeding, changing, trashy tv, gaining weight (her), back in the biggest jeans (me)

now - smiles! 8 hour sleeps! finally feeling like emerging from immersion in this real now baby world and blogging a little again...

(PS Although I love reading about other blogger's babies, I feel a little weird about putting my baby out there on the internet for some reason, hence the foot picture. I don't intend to turn this into a baby blog; hopefully as I get back into cooking and crafting and cafés and thinking about things other than baby, I'll have enough else to write about!)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Tiny shoes for tiny feet

Finishing the mittens kickstarted me into a little knitting surge over the last weekend. I finished these two pairs in about four days I think. Hooray for small things! They're both from Blankets, Bears and Bootees by Debbie Bliss .
These are my favourites. I had a bit of an issue with the pattern and had to change it a bit as I just couldn't work out how it worked as it was written, but happy with the end product. They remind me of mini ugg boots (in my household, having an Australian mum, uggs are not fashion statements but just the most practical and comfy slipper/houseshoe. We used to be terribly embarrassed when Mum wore hers outside and thought it hilarious when they suddenly got all trendy and our Mum had led Kate Moss et al by years!!!)
They're done in a merino-cashmere-acrylic mix, which is lovely and soft, and more importantly, machine-washable. Part of a stash I've been trying to use up for ages, so good to have little projects to just use the odd half ball.
These are cute too, and slightly easier, although they seem to be designed for very fat feet! I had a problem with this pattern too - there was an obvious mistake in the number of stitches at one point. Knitted in some Jaeger cashmerino I had left over from a sale purchase I meant to use for something ages ago and never did, so again good to use some of that up.
So, I'm sure there are a whole host of practical things I've forgotten to get in for when baby decides to make an appearance, but at least it'll have stylishly warm little feet!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Pear and Walnut Cake

Given the choice of a fabulously pretty cupcake or a more plain looking fruit-laden cake, I'll choose the fruity one pretty much every time. I like to look at the pretty cakes, but I prefer to eat the uglier ones. You can't go far wrong with a carrot cake; a good banana cake will always make me happy, and anything with apples or pears in will generally be good in my experience. I like dense, moist satisfying cakes. This is one of them.

It's based on a Joy the Baker recipe for Apple, Walnut and Flaxseed bread . I'm not sure why I decided on pears rather than apples - they just looked nicer in the shop I think. I haven't adapted an awful lot - used a bit less sugar, swapped in oil instead of butter (just to avoid using a saucepan to do the melting!) and I didn't want to buy buttermilk and have a load left over I wouldn't know how to use so I used milk and cream of tartar, which I already had, instead. Result - fruit and nut laden soft cakey goodness.
Pear and Walnut Cake (adapted from Joy the Baker)
  • Preheat oven to 350F/180C and grease and flour a suitable pan (9x5x3-inch loaf pan specified in original recipe; I used a shallow pan about 9x6 inch)
  • In a bowl mix together: 1 cup white flour; 3/4 cup wholemeal flour; 2/3 cup packed brown sugar (you might want to break this up first or you'll end up with little brown sugar pockets in your cake like I did); 1/2 tsp salt; 2 tsps baking powder; 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda; 2 tsps ground cinnamon and 1 tsp ground nutmeg.
  • In a larger bowl mix together: 2/3 cup milk, mixed with 1 tsp cream of tartar; 2 eggs; 1/3 cup sunflower oil; and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Mix dry ingredients into wet (I know all recipes say to mix wet into dry; I guess it's something to do with how it mixes, but I always mix dry into wet, as it makes the washing up easier).
  • Add: 1 pear, grated; 1 pear, chopped into small dice; and 1/2 cup walnuts.
  • Spoon batter into pan and bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean
  • Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then on wire rack.

Joy recommends toasting and buttering, which it suits very well, although it's equally good as it is.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


I don't know how I came across Laura George, but just spent an enjoyable time browsing her etsy shop and smiling at prints such as the awesome Bonsai Party, above (I want to have a bonsai party!) and this cutie, below.

Aren't they wonderful?
Now, take the sage advice on this one to heart. I am going to...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

I finished the mittens!

I finally finished something I started knitting! (see this post for the whole sorry story...)
On the plus side, they look like mittens, and they fit. However, I'm a bit disappointed with my douple pointed needle skills. On the first one, I was knitting into the back of the stitch on the corners, as I'd read that made for a tighter join. But you can see on this photo that it gives a bit of a weird wiggly line where I've done that.
So, on the second I just knit it all normally, but the join on this one is a big line of loose stitches like train tracks. Possibly this is because I did them in bamboo, which stretches out a bit more on my hand than the last pair I knitted, I think in a cashmerino yarn.

Any knitters out there have any tips?!?!

So, not sure they're present-worthy, but they will at least come in handy come winter. I wore the last pair I knitted all last winter, but they were done in a yucky mint colour, just as a prototype and then got hidden in a cupboard somewhere and emerged a little bit moth-eaten, so they have holes. Nevertheless, they were so cosy and cocoon-like for my fingers; much more satisfying than the cheapo gloves I have.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Get thee to the cinema!

Ah, if only all romcoms were this good!

Heartbreaker, a 'fromcom' (French rom com) starring Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, follows a man who's paid to break up relationships, which he does in a variety of entertaining and innovative ways with the help of his sister and her husband, as he goes about on his most difficult job yet. Reasons to go and see it:

1. I laughed out loud a lot, and I am not generally a laugh-out-louder in the cinema
2. My boyfriend laughed even more than me!
3. There's a little schmaltz, but in quite a cute, feelgood way. I might even confess to shedding a tear.
4. Romain Duris is quite charming, in a skinny crooked French kind of way.
5. It doesn't have a terrible sappy and/or downright stupid heroine who is a disgrace to womankind, like many of its genre.
5. It's very snappy and fast-moving; you won't get bored.
6. Vanessa Paradis' wardrobe is quite lovely
7. The soundtrack works well.
8. I promise you'll love the Dirty Dancing scene.

One of the most enjoyable films I've seen in a long time. Do go.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Spelt Honey Pecan Cookies

Following on from the choc-banana bars, yet more wholesome-y sweet stuff!

This recipe comes from the back of the flour packet (Doves Farm Spelt Flour). It takes literally seconds to put together, and the end result is satisfyingly dense, soft but crumbly little nuggets of slightly spicy goodness. Very good with a cup of tea.

Ok, so:

In a bowl, mix: 4 oz wholemeal spelt flour, 2 oz honey, 2 oz sunflower oil, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.

Once combined, shape into little balls, and place on a greased baking tray (a bit too sticky to roll with your fingers, I used teaspoons to shape) with space to expand.

Press pecan halves into the top of each cookie (I added this element myself - genius).

Bake in a preheated oven at 190C/375F/Gas 5 for about 10 minutes.

Cool on tray.


(I have a feeling this would also work with black pepper instead of cinnamon, but that might just be weird. If I try it I'll let you know how it turns out.)

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Pain, discipline and backflips...

Just watched an incredible documentary that was shown on BBC4 last week. It follows children and teachers at the Shanghai Circus School through training and building up to a national competition.

Unfortunately you can't watch it again on the BBC4 site for some reason, although you can get an idea of it on this trailer, and possibly will be shown again, as it seems to have been repeated a few times over the past few years. If it is, do watch it.

Anyhow, found myself dwelling on a few thoughts as I watched.

1. You start to feel a bit of a wuss for thinking about how childbirth might be a bit traumatic on your body when you're watching an eight-year old hanging by her arms from bars and raising her legs to her nose over and over again as a teacher chides her for crying with pain and exertion. Jesus. We grow up with so little pain in general; it's easy to forget how exceptional this is in the world.

2. I (used to?) absolutely love acrobatics. Keep backflipping or balancing on one hand and I will keep gasping with glee. I don't really know what it is but well-performed acrobatics often incite a kind of childish delight in me. However, watching 12 year old Cai Yong's unquestionably beautiful performance, I couldn't see any beauty in it, or feel any excitement, because I'd seen a bit of how hard he trained to get there, and it suddenly felt very peculiar to do such things with our bodies.

And often I've thought how I should have found something to dedicate myself to and get really good at. How I would have liked to have really trained my body up at something. I started realising watching this what that really might have entailed in terms of sacrifice and sheer repetition and started feeling almost grateful that I'm naturally lazy and butterfly like in my interests, skitting here and there and never wedding to one completely.

3. These kids are constantly admonished and shouted at. For gaining 2 kilos whilst back home, for not being able to do a handstand properly, for crying, for not doing a perfect enough move. They don't answer back when scolded. It's an entirely different system. And at first it's just complete shock and sadness. You want to take them out for ice-cream and tell them they don't have to practice every day or be the best trapeze artist, they can just do their best. And then the parents or guardians are there shouting 'do you want to be a beggar? if you don't work hard you'll be a beggar. there's no other option' and it puts it in a whole other light. Again, a perspective on my own culture. It seems so obvious that parents want children to be happy, but suddenly I saw what a luxury it is to be able to want that.

4. Oh, and a little part of me still thinking how awesome it would be to be able to do flying trapeze. They do courses at The Circus Space. Maybe one day...

Anyway, good TV.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Chocolate Banana Bars

These little beauties went down very well indeed in our household recently. Not surprising really as they come via two grand doyennes of the foodblogging world - I picked up on them at the marvellous Chocolate and Zucchini, which in turn was a slight tweak on an original post on the equally wonderful 101 Cookbooks.

They contain no sugar except for that in the chocolate, no flour and no dairy produce - pretty handy go-tos then for vegan/gluten-free/low sugar friends. They are also magnificently tasty in that satisfying wholesomely filling way, and go well with an espresso or a nice cup of tea.

I pretty much followed Clotilde's recipe albeit with olive oil instead of almond butter and a lazier technique - I just mashed everything together in one bowl, which worked fine, so another plus point - easy and not too much washing up!

Check out either of the recipes linked to above, or for my summary of how I did it, keep reading:

(makes about 12-18 small (finger-sized) bars)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a medium baking dish (I think the one I used is about 11" by 7" rectangle, about 1.5" deep) with vegetable oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup ground almonds, 1/6 cup shredded coconut, and a pinch of salt.

Chop around 60-80g very dark chocolate (I used 80% cocoa) into small chunks (this is easier to do if it's at room temperature rather than fresh out of the fridge).

Add two very ripe bananas, a couple of drops of vanilla extract and 1/8 cup olive oil to the oat mixture. Mash the bananas thoroughly and mix everything together until well binded.

Fold the chocolate in gently.

Spoon into the prepared baking dish, level the surface, and put in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is set and golden-brown.

Let cool completely before slicing into bars.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Recommended reading

I finished this recently, it having superbly passed the Tube Test (i.e. does it grip my attention strongly enough to encourage me to get it out each hot, stinky tube journey to and from work).

Based on his newspaper columns exposing and explaining examples of 'bad' science and bad reporting of science, it's both entertaining and informative in a really useful way.

Like most people, I undoubtably don't question what I read enough. And it's probably only when someone's challenging an assertion I blithely make that I stop to think where I heard it and whether I can trust that source.

The book tackles quite obvious targets, such as homeopathy and Gillian McKeith, but instead of just providing counter arguments, it really tries to provide the readers with the tools to assess what they are reading about anything science-related for themselves. Now, I'm not sure I'm really going to start chasing up academic articles, checking out reviews on the Cochrane Collaboration site, or reading deeply into statistical methods of studies, but I do feel like I am reading things with a more healthily sceptical mind, and spotting potential mistakes much easier.

Heartily recommend it if you're interested in thinking a bit more about the health and science stories you read.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Orange and Pistachio Biscotti

The Italians, in my opinion, are the best at biscuits.

Several years ago, I booked a last minute flight to Italy to accompany my friend Lucy to a tiny town on top of a mountain called Monte San Martino. We were both approaching final exams and she had decided that the best place to get the peace and quiet to concentrate on this was in a monastery on top of a mountain. (Her aunt is a nun at this monastery, and no I don't mean a convent, for some reason it was definitely called a monastery).

Anyway, it was exactly perfect for its purpose. We got lots of work done at a small table in a sparse room, overseen by Jesus on the cross. I had been having a somewhat turbulent time in London and the quietness and unbelievable greenness and beauty of the place could not have been better conceived to heal that.

But, the point of this story is the food. My goodness, I've never since or before come across such food. The nuns worked some fields a little way down the mountain. They had cloistered pigs and cows, and made their own cheese and ham. They received gifts of fruit and wine from the villagers. We arrived for breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times and dined with the local priest and various others at a big stone table.

Fresh tomatoes, oozing soft cheese, simple pasta soups, slices of meat and potatoes, wonderful bread...

And for breakfast, we got a bowl of milky coffee, soft fresh brioche style rolls, homemade jam, and a whole massive tray of homemade biscuits. They were divine.

These aren't quite up to that standard, but they are pretty good. This is an adaptation of a more normal Cantuccini recipe with almonds. I just happened to have pistachios to hand and thought I'd try that. Compared to commercial ones, I think they lack some perfume and sweetness, and wonder whether an addition of orangeflower water or fragrant honey would help.

Orange and Pistachio Biscotti

1. PREHEAT oven to 190C

2. MIX TOGETHER: 1.25 cups plain flour; a pinch of salt; 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/2 cup ground pistachios; 1/4 cup sugar; 3/4 cup chopped pistachios; zest of one orange

3. ADD: 2 lightly beaten eggs and MIX TO A DOUGH

4. ROLL dough into a sausage shape of about 2cm diameter. Cut to fit baking tray and place the sausages about 5cm apart on the tray.

5. BAKE for 20 minutes

6. REMOVE from the oven and turn oven to 80C. Slice the sausages into 1cm diagonal slices and place back on trays.

7. BAKE for 1 hour, turning half way through. Cool on a rack.

Friday, 2 July 2010


Yesterday was my last day in the office. So I'm now on what B likes to refer to as my 'holidays'...

I had been counting down the days for the last month or so. Work was manic right up to the end, with normal deadline pressures compounded with various 'people-problems', so I couldn't wait to be shot of it. Which is a little bit of a shame, to be leaving with a bad taste in the mouth as it were, but now only a number of hours on I feel quite a long way away from all that, which is nice.

And also a little weird. I was so looking forward to leaving work I wasn't expecting to feel any difficulty adjusting to being at home, but as I left the office yesterday it was like I only just realised that that meant I wouldn't be going to work for quite a while. And it felt bizarre.

Still, I have plans for how I'll fill my days so I'm sure I'll settle in just fine pretty shortly; there's heaps of admin, household, little nitty gritty things I'd like to get sorted, and I'm going to make sure I make the most of the last days I'll have to act like a lady of leisure with as many lazy lunches and meet-ups as possible. And possibly I'll have time to blog a little more!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Summer vegetable soup

Ok, so this looks not a world away from a bowl of sick but please don't let that put you off; I promise it tastes better than it looks!...

A little while back the younger sister and I journeyed down to Devon to attend a day's cookery course at Ashburton Cookery School. I've been in one of my non-blogging moods since then and it feels too ages-ago to rehash too much now, so suffice it to say that I enjoyed the course, would definitely recommend the school, and its lovely accommodation, and recommend that if you find yourself there you also spend an afternoon in the garden of the Green Ginger Café in Ashburton stuffing yourself on an exemplary cream tea.

My travelling companion, Wife in the City, has a much better write-up, with pictures of the food we cooked, here.

Anyway, one of the things we cooked was a Curried Mussel Soup, which was a lovely summery yellow and very more-ish.

So once home I tried to recreate a similar soup, sans mussels. I tend to make pretty simple soups - essentially bits in water. This works pretty well for me; I like bits in water. But I want to add things to my repertoire that might appeal to people with less simple tastes, things I could cook for dinner guests and that kind of thing (which was a lot of the impetus behind going on the course in the first place).

The no-mussel soup worked pretty well, and was light but rich and very flavoursome although not quite as pretty as the mussel one had been somehow. I love the tomato in it, and the coriander finish. I still think I'd be as happy with some diced up potatoes and carrots and lentils in seasoned water, but for something a bit different and a little bit more sophisticated, this is pretty good.

This is how I made it.

1. Make small crosses on the non-stalk end of 2-3 tomatoes. Place in boiling or just boiled water for about 10 seconds, until the skin starts to split. Remove, place in cold water, then peel the skin off, remove the seeds, and cut into fine dice. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, boil 250ml white wine in a pan until reduced by about half. Set aside
3. Sweat one medium onion, diced, and a clove or two of finely sliced garlic in sunflower oil until starting to soften. Stir regularly so it doesn't stick.
4. Add a couple of spring onions, sliced, and one carrot, thinly sliced.
5. Once these are starting to soften, add about a teaspoon of ground, toasted cumin and a teaspoon of mild curry powder.
6. Then add the reduced wine
7. And a few cups of vegetable or chicken stock
8. Cook for a few minutes until veg is cooked
9. Add a cup full of frozen peas, and the diced tomato. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes just to warm these through.
10. Add a large dollop of double cream and stir through.
11. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice and serve garnished with chopped fresh coriander.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The world's slowest knitter

That would be me.

I love poring over knitting books and making elaborate plans for what I will knit in which colours. But then it comes down to the actual accummulating of stitches on needles, and things never quite run like I plan.
Right now I'm completely stuck with two sorry projects...

Exhibit 1. The bamboo mitten
Back in January, I thought to myself that I wouldn't be unrealistic and plan to make birthday presents throughout the year, but instead I'd get a headstart on Christmas. If I 'whipped up' a few pairs of mittens and a couple of scarves, I thought, I'll have them tucked away in a cupboard by summer and be feeling very smug with a homemade present stash come December...

Ah, some things we never learn. Like how very uncommitted to projects I can be. I've had this mitten on the needles for goodness knows how long. I LOVE the bamboo yarn - it's silky and soft and a fabulous colour. But give it just a little room and it'll tangle itself up into an ungodly mess. And now I'm stuck with the world's biggest knot, and only a few rows to go... Untangling can be somewhat relaxing, but it's a slow process. At this rate, some lucky person will be bemusedly receiving one lonely thumbless mitten on Christmas day!
And on to

Exhibit 2. The lacy sock-yarn cardigan

Now I can't even remember when I started this. I have a blurry memory of doing the edging on the eurotunnel train and I last went over to France that way years ago. decades. centuries.

This yarn is quite possibly jinxed. I knitted it into a vest first of all, but found out on sewing up that the armholes were too small for anyone who ate or was older than 5. So I frogged it all and decided to put it to use in a lacy cardigan pattern from Kim Hargreaves' Breeze book.
The lacework border took FOREVER, so once I was through with that, however ambivalent I was feeling about the design, I had to go on and see it through because there was no way I wasn't putting the endless border to use.
So, I did the back - ever so slowly - then I gathered pace and finished the left front in a week or two.
I tacked it together and at this stage disaster struck. I hadn't measured properly. It was made for a midget. Armhole problems again, and I'm not sure I know anyone who'd willingly sport a cropped-to-the-navel lacy cardigan...

So, now I just look at it and sigh. What do I do? Finish it and find a small child to bequeath it to? Finish it and stretch it defiantly on, just for the sake of it. Unknit?!?!? Try and improvise some kind of shoulder extension (I'm pretty sure I'm not technically up to this option)...
I don't know. Maybe it's time to go back to chunky scarves...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Vegbox cooking - using bits up

Picking up where I left off with the 'what I cooked from the vegbox' stuff, this was my final meal from the first vegbox - a simple stirfry using up asparagus stalks, mushrooms, onions and carrots.

I went off stirfries years ago - started to find them boring and thought them an appalling thing to do to nice vegetables.

Then, recently I saw some black rice noodles that seduced me with their exoticness, and I tried one out again. The noodles were great - purple in colour and very tasty, and the stirfry surprised me in just how yummy it could be.

Now, stirfries are still fairly boring to write about so I'll keep this short. All I want to say is 'Nuts!'. Just add some cashews, some peanuts, or something else with crunch, and suddenly a boring veg stirfry will seem magically elevated.

I couldn't find the peanuts I was hoping for in the shop the night I cooked the above, so I went for deepfried shallot and chilli to add a bit of crunch. Also helps to have fresh coriander and lime juice.

Quick and healthy and good for using bits up - the stirfry and I are friends again...

And if you have any tips to excitify your stir-fries, please do let me know!...

Sunday, 23 May 2010


I haven't been posting much recently. I haven't been replying to many emails either - even the normal work banter. Or going to lunch, or calling people, or getting anything done in the evenings apart from eating...

It's a kind of hibernation, like I'm curled up somewhere inside of myself, not letting too much of the outside in. Not to get through winter, but to get through work! We're very busy and I'm getting tireder and I feel like I have to put all of my energy into getting through the days in a reasonably balanced manner - getting stuff done but not over-working and stressing it. And this means that everything else falls by the wayside a bit.

Thank goodness next week is my last five-day week. Then - hooray! - an extra-long weekend, and then I just have four shorter working weeks, and I'll be done with work (of the office variety) for a year.

So, should be more posts soon. In the meantime, hope everyone (UK) is enjoying the weather FINALLY acting like summer's on its way... Glorious glorious sunshine this morning. Can it possibly last?...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Vegbox cooking - a summer salad

Day two of cooking from my vegbox...

So, this feels a long time ago now. Those last couple of posts were scheduled (whilst I was enjoying the sun in south of Spain for a long weekend - yay! absolutely wonderful...).

Anyhow, to continue on the vegbox posts, this was a little summery salad I made sometime last week, when it was feeling quite summery here.

I had all the asparagus still to eat, and also happened to have some lovely hard goats cheese and pink grapefruits, so thought I would experiment with chucking them all together.

The salad is literally just that - segmented grapefruit with its juice, lightly steamed asparagus, crumbled cheese, olive oil, and then also some walnuts which I coated in a mixture of oil and honey and baked in a medium oven for about 10-15 minutes.

The honey-walnuts with cheese and grapefruit combination was delicious! Very moreish those walnuts (a trick I picked up off Masterchef, and haven't tried before). A forkful of asparagus, cheese and nut went superbly well too. Somehow, grapefruit and asparagus together however didn't quite work, so I would tweak next time I think by swapping in interesting leaves and maybe green beans for the asparagus, or leaving the asparagus in and taking the grapefruit out, eating with leaves and a lemon juice-olive oil dressing. Maybe some crispy bacon/pancetta with that too...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Vegbox cooking - the green soufflé

Day one of cooking with my veg box contents...

I decided the sprouting broccoli needed to be tackled first, as I already had a heap in the fridge (love it!). And the massive bunch of wild garlic that I wasn't sure what to do with.

Just a day or so earlier I had been watching Tamasin Day-Lewis on some cookery channel making haddock soufflé, which had looked surprisingly easy.

I've never tried a soufflé before, but it struck me that it might work with some green veg.

So, I sweated down some finely chopped shallots in butter and oil, then once they were soft added a handful of shredded wild garlic and a couple of handfuls of sprouting broccoli, cut into fairly small florets and leaves.

I stirred this for about 5 minutes more until lightly cooked, and took off the heat.

Then I made a béchamel. Afraid I can't give you the measurements because I just do it by eye. About a finger's width of butter, a shake or two of flour, maybe 1/2 pint of milk?

Into this, I intended to add two egg yolks, but clumsily split the yolk when trying to separate the first egg, so it ended up being one yolk and one whole egg. I whisked the remaining egg white until stiff peaks formed, and then folded this into the bechamel and egg mixture and seasoned (salt, pepper, a little mustard powder).

The greens went into an oval oven dish, and I spooned the soufflé mixture on top, then popped the whole lot in a moderate oven (when in doubt put it on 200C is my general oven philosophy) for 20 minutes.

I popped a couple of the vegbox mushrooms in the oven also, with some butter dotted on them. I had been boiling some new potatoes that I already had in stock, and sauteed these as the souffle and mushroom cooked.


... the result was one of the nicest things I've eaten in ages. Despite the broken yolk and missing an egg white, the soufflé was meltingly soft and light, and the creamy souffle top went perfectly with lightly garlicky broccoli underneath. The mushroom was big and meaty, and it all went together like a dream. I felt like I'd just been to a really nice restaurant (although admittedly it doesn't look that special!).

And then, carried away with the cooking bug, I also got together a batch of Joy the Baker's brownies.

Yum! Look at that gooey goodness...

I sliced and lightly steamed some of the hard green pears and apples in the veg box, and served these and a dollop of greek yoghurt alongside.


So nice to finally cook a meal I really really enjoyed. Recently I seem to have eaten far too much mediocre stuff, uninspiring stuff. And I really think it is down to the ingredients in the main. If they're right, then the inspiration is there and with a little bit of knowledge and some careful handling you're pretty much guaranteed a good eat. If the ingredients are just a bit crap, on the other hand - the watery peppers and tasteless tomatoes that supermarkets serve up for example - then it'll be much more difficult to salvage something delicious.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Vegetables in boxes

We quite often end up talking about where we might want to live in the future (both of us have ended up being kind of itinerant - I've lived in London for almost 10 years now and am on my 13th address, and the next move can't be too far away given the new addition...). And when we do, I always list 'good food shops' in my top priorities for the area.

This is because I know how much the available food sources affects what I eat.

I've lived in a Greek/Cypriot/Turkish area and subsisted almost entirely on houmous, pitta bread and vegetables (substantially reducing my food bill as the little local shops were so much cheaper than the too-far-away-to-walk-to supermarket and its tempting 2-for-1 deals on stuff you really don't want or need).

I've lived round the corner from a 24-hour shop and not much else and developed a worrying microwave pizza in the middle of the night habit.

I've lived in an area seemingly short on shops, but with one little Turkish grocery store that always managed to have perfect avocadoes, which I really missed when I moved away!

And I've lived 2 minutes walk from both a lovely organic shop and middle-eastern supermarket, both of which I could stop off at on the way home from work, which was an absolute treat.

Now, my closest food provider is a small supermarket, which has a paltry and overpriced selection of produce. I try to get to my nice organic shop on the weekend, but if I miss stocking up for one reason or another, then I end up in the miserable supermarket, and my evening meals (and wallet!) have suffered as a result.

So, fed up with this situation, I decided to give veg boxes a try again. I sampled an Abel and Cole box once, but wasn't that impressed for one reason or another and never went regular with it.

This time, I tried Riverford* out. We have a convenient hiding place now, which makes it more viable, and they deliver on Thursdays, which is the same day the cleaner comes - I quite liked the idea of arriving home to a clean house and a new box of veggies!

And, this is what we got:

I was really pleased - a good balanced selection of fruit and veg which all looked lovely and fresh and delicious. It's £10.95 for all that lot; I added up what I think I would have had to pay in a supermarket for it, and my estimate is probably a few quid more.

It delivered the kick up the backside that my cooking needed as well - at least for a couple of days! I'll try and post on what I cooked with this in the next day or so...

Anyone else got tips for good box services in London area or how they work for you? Would be interested to hear your views...

* basically, I picked Riverford because a while back I spent ages looking into everyone who delivered in London, and there was no clear winner. This time I couldn't be bothered with all the rigmarole of researching it all again so just chose the one whose name I could remember!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

I would like to...

1. Make my own sourdough starter and bread
2. Do more crochet
3. Start composting
4. Get some nice houseplants (and keep them alive!!!) - succulents I think
5. Do yoga teacher training (one day!)
6. Get better at making *good* clothes purchases

I'm copying Wife in the City's neat little list of things she would like to do, because I liked it.

These are my preoccupations currently. What are yours???

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Totally Scrummy Choc-Banana Bread

My boyfriend and I are very different in many ways. One of these ways can be illustrated through the following story... We had invited friends over for brunch and B was going to go out to get some milk. He asked if I needed anything. I thought perhaps a banana would be a good addition to the fruits I already had for fruit salad, and asked for one, adding to pick up maybe a kiwi or some other more exotic fruit if there was anything nice.

45 minutes later, guests were due to arrive and he finally returns (he'd been for milk via the bike shop to check on progress of his new handlebars - another way in which we differ; I'm a little more 'time-sensitive'...), bearing a bunch of 8 bananas, and two mangos as big as rugby balls. Fine, if we were expecting 20, but no, I only had 6 mouths to feed...

Me? I probably would have come back empty-handed because the choice between fairtrade bananas that looked nice but you had to buy in 6s in plastic packets and the normal bananas which were looking just slightly too ripe for my liking was proving a bit taxing. And then I might have started thinking about airfreighting and whether maybe another pear would be better, and then the decisions would all get a little too much and time would have been ticking on and I'd just turn back round and go home again...

Anyway. After I'd used the one banana that I actually needed, we had a whole load of ripe bananas that sat there steadily ripening. Something had to be done before they were only good for the bin, and that something is normally banana cake... (do you know of anything else to do with overripe bananas?)

I tried Joy the Baker's Oatmeal Banana Bread recipe on the Friday, and we wolfed it down so fast, I made it again on Sunday, with a few tweaks this time. This is the kind of cake I absolutely adore. It's got a wholesome satisfying feel to it. It's soft and not too dry and pairs beautifully with a cup of tea. It feels at home as breakfast or dessert, or afternoon tea. It leaves you feeling like you just ate a warm hug. And you get the benefit of knowing that there is all kinds of goodness in there - vitamins and minerals in the wholemeal flour and oats and bananas, some protein from the eggs, complex carbs so it's not too sugar-rushy. Why it's practically a health food.

So, my adaptation of Joy's recipe is as follows:

First, preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

You are going to need three bowls.

In one, put:
- 11/4 cups wholemeal flour
- 1/2 cup muscovado sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 3 tsps cinnamon
- 1 cup porridge oats
and stir together

In the second, mash 2 or 3 ripe bananas. Add:
- 3 tsps sunflower (or other) oil
- 1 egg
and mix, then add:
- about 50g dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks

In the third bowl, beat 2 egg whites until medium stiff peaks form.

Fold bowl 1 into bowl 2 (recipes always say put wet into dry, but I always put dry into wet, just because it leaves the dry bowl less messy for washing up). Then fold bowl 3 in as well, in three additions.

Pour batter into tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until top is firm to the touch.

Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then cool on wire rack.

Monday, 26 April 2010

oh weekend!

oh weekend! the first breath of your air as I leave the office behind, so sweet and full of promise.

the long, sumptuous hours of yours I can relax into. the luxury of laying head on hands and squinting up at budding branches from sun-warmed grass.

the pottering, the sorting, playing around, getting bits done, smelling the fresh baked bread as it sits and cools on the side.
the gloriousness of the ordinary moments - walking down the road to get an ice cream after dinner; being on a bus but not commuting; wandering the heath and seeing all the others at leisure with dogs and kites and prams and picnics; stopping for tea and talk; relaxing with a magazine; snuggling up to watch the snooker.
oh, i love you, weekend, you beautiful thing.