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!