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!