Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Green smoothies 22 days in.

I thought I would give you a little update on the green smoothie challenge.

We are 22 days in and so far both of us have only missed two days each. Its a fact that already we miss them when we don't have them.

Do we feel better and are healthier. Well hubby had to have a course of antibiotics for a chest infection last week, but I think that had been rumbling along since before we started the smoothies. And although I have had and still have a slight infection in my chest, (green gunk of another variety) I have been able to stave it off, so maybe, just maybe it has done some good.

I have read on many green smoothie blogs that increasing the green leafy matter in your diet actually increases your desire for them. I have noticed this, hubby often see's a slightly deranged woman walking down the plot with a few green leaves clutched in her outstretched hand saying "taste This, its fabulous" I especially like the Mizuna that I am growing it really has such a beautiful spicy, peppery yet delicate flavour. Its yummy. And when I am not grazing at the plot I am wandering around the aisles of the fruit and vegetables of our local supermarket looking at the freshness of the leaves and fruits whilst conjuring up smoothie recipes.

The one thing I have noticed is that the skin on my face has become beautifully soft. Don't get me wrong I still have the broken thread veins inherent in a woman that has walked dogs in harsh weather most of her life, likes a glass of wine (when she can get away with it) and works down a plot in all types of weather. But that aside my skin is so soft, so there is something going on.

I didn't really do much of anything this weekend due to the heat. I don't do well in the heat. So I thought I would share with you the extra gift that Amelia nearly had packaged up.

He was quite keen on the idea.

Do you think he would have got through customs?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Dear Cats,

I think it is time that we had a little chat. It would seem that you and I would like different things out of life. I think we both want a nice comfortable bed and plenty to eat, we are similar in that regard, but generally I would rather not have to deal with my dinner whilst it is still breathing. You on the other hand, well I can see that is a sport you both quite like.

So, if I may, I would like to lay a few ground rules down.

Firstly, at least when you bring your gift of dinner home, can you make sure it is quite dead. I would be ever so grateful. Not least because you lost a mouse in the kitchen last week, and I'm hoping that you found it at some stage overnight, I haven't smelt anything really pongy yet, but there is still time. And also because it was terribly upsetting to hear you playing the mouse you bought in yesterday like a squeaky set of bagpipes. I'm sure the mouse hit a perfect F sharp. And when we come rushing in, because we are not attuned to mouse singing you both raced outside with mouse still firmly in Eric's mouth.

And just incase you hadn't realised your scaring the dogs witless. Now if we still had the terrier it wouldn't have been a problem she would have joined in the hunt. But to find a lurcher (who should be a hunting dog but really isn't) shaking and panting because he would like to get into his bed but you have dropped a rather gruesome present into it, well it really isn't fair. The lurcher has asked me to tell you that he would rather not have presents like that. And when the golden retriever is barking and growling his merry little head off, what it actually means is "Can you take the mouse outside please".

Just before I forget, (the sooner the better). If you bring a pidgeon home again in the middle of the night, and I still have no idea how you actually got it through the cat flap, as I haven't seen a pidgeon that big for many a long year. Can you not spend the remainder of the night plucking it for us. Honestly we will take our presents unplucked. Its just that walking into the kitchen at six in the morning, barefooted, to be greeted by a floor completely covered in feathers that then swirled around my ankles, was slightly unnerving. And even though the kitchen has been swept through several times since then, I keep finding the odd downy feather of the deceased pidgeon.

many thanks

your faithful servant,

the provider of the munchies.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Malvern Quilt Show.

After a very late night and a rather early start to the day it was decided that we would venture forth to view the quilts at Malvern. I thought the false dawn brought on from imbibing the odd glass or two too many of vino the night before was going to catch up with me, but fortunately two paracetamol and a bacon sandwich soon sorted me out and off we trotted.

I'd never been to a quilt show before and I was giddy with excitement, or was that the Shiraz still floating through my veins? Whatever it was it was worth getting up early for and we arrived just before it opened at 10 a.m. It is such a pretty drive up to Malvern, especially at this time of the year with the pink blossom on the trees in full bloom, the lush new grass, rape in searingly bright yellow flowers, blue bells on hills and tender young vibrant green shoots on many trees and bushes, all bathed in bright blue sunshine.

I did my shopping first, I left hubby in various locations, as he was a tired boy. Eventually I found him in the car and he came back into the show as we had saved the best for last.

The quilts, words fail me. I am in awe of all of them. This is a small selection of what was on offer. I am deeply inspired.

Best in show, I wish I could have captured this quilt a little better, but they were just about to present the prizes, so I literally had a ten second window.

The rest I am just going to post up and you can click and enlarge them at your leisure.




















I know I haven't spent the time attributing each quilt to its artist/quilter. But to be honest, I just didn't take notes, I am shattered and if I do attribute to a few I will feel its deeply unfair to those that I just can't remember or didn't take a photograph of the number of the quilt, so cannot find the information out. I hope you forgive me.

I did say there was shopping didn't I. I had a really good time. Grin.

I was especially pleased with my book, How to Create an Heirloom Quilt by Pauline Ineson as it was on my wish list from Amazon, I spoke to Pauline personally. Actually I begged her to start up a Saturday class for her workshops on the Heirloom Quilt as she only does the workshops Monday to Friday. (I'd recently been looking on her web site) Sadly she declined, but she showed me a few tips on decorative stitches on her sewing machine and signed my book. And off course I was able to see this magnificent quilt in the flesh, so it was all perfect.

I was able to buy a Moda Jelly Roll and Layer Cake in "Looking Back" which I've had my eye on for quite a while. I already have a quilt earmarked for the two of them. I am waiting for Moda to release "Wrapped in Paisley" in the UK, I've seen it on the Internet and I think it is Lush. There is a bag with knitting sheep on it to make up which I just couldn't resist and lots and lots of other goodies. One of which was a large cutting board for eight pounds! (that is very cheap and well worth trying at that price) The magazines were 50p or a £1.00. So one might almost say I was thrifty...

There were lots of other goodies, which will be revealed in due course.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Hubby, Officially an O. A. P.

Cruel aren't I?

I don't know though, I have never thought of age being an issue, which is probably why I was happy to marry a man many years my senior. As it happens he is Much fitter and more agile than me these days, so you never can tell.

Anyway, it was hubby's 65th birthday today. I think hubby would have rather gone to work, bless him, but I think you should take a moment to mark the passing of time.

In most recent years it has been rather warm by the start of May but this year we have all had rather a slow start. This is most apparent at the allotment but I have also noticed this in the way the bulbs at home have flowered and I had only just spied bluebells flowering last week. I know that Crackley Woods, (which is such a wonderful name for a wood) is covered in bluebells at the end of the spring and I hoped that they would still be in full bloom. They were.

We had a lovely hour wandering through the woods. The smell of the Bluebells was intoxicating, the sounds of the Blackbirds calling and marking their territory was intense. Spring is definitely in the air.

The birthday boy.

A very cosy MandyCharlie.

Aren't these seats rather nice.

I made him socks, (3 days notice but we won't go into that, only to say that I had asked a month previous!) Wollmeise 80/20 Fratello, he loves them. (that makes me very happy)

We had a lovely time at our favourite restaurant in Birmingham, Chung Ying, it has rave reviews, we order of the Dim Sum menu at lunch time and it is wonderful. We have been going for twenty odd years and it has never changed, that is a recommendation.

And then we went to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the Staffordshire Hoard. It is only a temporary exhibition, it just gives you a flavour of what is to come. Its terribly exciting though to look at the intricacy of the work. At the moment the belief is the objects come from between the sixth and seventh centuries. As somebody that likes to work accurately I can completely understand how goldsmiths at this time were working with an extremely rare commodity and wanted to make the most of each of their pieces. I loved their work and am looking forward to seeing a much larger exhibition.

And I made him cake.

There is a story behind this actually. Hubby does like fruit cake, fortunately in a happy accident on his 42nd birthday I hadn't known him for very long and had no idea what to buy him for his present so I made him a birthday cake, which was a rich fruit cake Delia Christmas cake recipe. (that woman has done me proud) He loved it - need I say more! My icing abilities have never improved but my cake making abilities stand by themselves.

Although son no. 2 was desperately trying for 65 candles I thought 3 would be more elegant and much less of fire risk. One for each of us.

A birthday slice.

And a cake that should last until next week in a normal family, personally I give it until Thursday! 'Gannets' is the word.

Oh and just before I forget, the sewing group loved their treats, there was very little cake left and just under half of the short breads. They really liked them.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Shortbread

I've always been fascinated by biscuits right since when my nan used to give me malted milk biscuits that had a picture of a cow on them. When I found out that you could bake them, that they didn't just come out of a packet, that must have been just before my teens.

You see my nan was a fruit crumble, Sunday roast kind of girl and my mum could whip up cakes that were as light as a feather and apple pies, well they were made by the dozen. But biscuits, no one ever made. And then one day our cookery teacher taught us how to make biscuits, actually we made biscuits several times that term. Which was lovely, a dream come true, except one thing... I was not a very good time keeper. I always used to wash up my dirty kitchen utensils with my friend Mole around the corner in the utility room. We would be deep in conversation or "cackling" as we used to call it, when there would be a flurry of activity at the door with someone calling "Mandy, Mandy, your biscuits" and I would rush out, apron flapping in the wind only to find smoke billowing out of my oven. And when I say billowing, the smoke was gushing out.

I'd always manage to shamefacedly rescue the best ones to put on the top of the best of my burnt offerings to present to my parents. Eventually I managed to master the act of standing by the cooker and even then I always seem to manage to singe a few. You'd think it would have put me off for life but really it just made me more interested in how quickly biscuits cook and also how easily it is to under cook them, because this can be just as bad. You don't want a shortbread that is as chewy as an American cookie, you want a crisp shortbread without any colour... and there in lies the rub, its not as easy as it appears.

I think you have a two minute window, and realistically it is probably less than that to get a tray of perfect shortbreads. They should appear almost without any colour having been taken from the cooking process, but if you take this too far they go doughy and they are not so good.

This is a double quantity of shortbread mixture, based purely on the fact that I know my oven doesn't cook as evenly as I would like and that I will end up with a few that are either over or under done depending on when I take the tray out. I add a quantity of cornflour to my mix (there are many shortbread recipes, try a few) so that the mouth feel is crisp and it doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth. Some people use rice flour, I've never used it, I must try it.

I've rolled the log in demerara sugar and chilled it for twenty minutes.

Slices cut off, about 1 cm, probably slightly less and then baked for just over 18 minutes at 180 c, it takes time to get from the study, thats why its just over, you'd think I'd learn and would stand by the cooker, but at least this time I have an electronic timer, these things didn't exist (well not on school cookers) when I was young.

This is two batches of shortbread, the right end pile is almost three biscuits deep. And those are the palest, yet well cooked. The left hand side didn't have as many shortbreads in the oven and so caught a little more colour.

Which is no problem, I will have a tin full of shortbread, a rich fruit cake which has just been redressed in parchment paper after having another spoonful of brandy for medicinal purposes before being tied up with string. Doilies have been purchased, tea, coffee, sugar, milk and washing up liquid is at the ready.

I just have to sort out these delightful biscuits, with any imperfections making their way towards our supper, open a bottle of wine, (its been a long day) and try and find something on the television that isn't of a political nature.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Green Smoothies - day 3.

I came across the idea of Green smoothies recently. I became intrigued, as I love vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and fruit smoothies are always a treat. Although one that I haven't been eating for a long time, they seemed to have gone off my radar a couple of years ago.

Bearing in mind that hubby and I have both been suffering from colds/infections and the like over the winter, I thought maybe this might be the perfect time to try the 30 day Green Smoothie challenge.

So I found my blender tucked away at the back of a cupboard, gave it a quick dust down and set it to work.

And made this.

Its very green isn't it? In it was some lovely ripe pineapple, (it smelt so fragrant) 2 oranges, 2 bananas, some blueberries, a little water, a large handful of spinach and a handful of rocket, it was delicious. Surprisingly you hardly taste the greens at all in this mixture, the heady notes of the pineapple and banana come through.

Hubby is quite tickled by this idea and made the smoothies this morning before going to work, I think he is enjoying them.

And have we noticed the difference, its too early to tell, I'll let you know in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

"Where did you get that hat?"...

... Where did you get that tile,
And isn't it a nobby one,
And what a proper style.
I should like to have one
Just the same as that;
Where'er I go they shout, Hulloa,
Where did you get that hat.

As the seasons change my thoughts are forced to turn to what is going to cover my head. It is too warm for woollies, although one will often accompany me in a bag where ever I go, my head does suffer from the cold. Equally though, being fair skinned, freckled, blue eyes and what was once a very deep chestnut with red/blonde highlights (depending on the time of year) hair, I burn like a hot dog on a barbecue and sun burn directly onto your head is not good.

My head is not of average proportions (much like myself!) and it is extremely difficult to find sun hats that actually fit, let alone that I might like them. I often have to resort into the mens department to find something that will cover my bonce. It then becomes a question of need and nothing at all about fashion.

So, to tell you that I have been eyeing up, Amy Butlers Blue Sky Hats wouldn't be far from the truth. I managed to purchase a copy from Wonderwool and it didn't take me very long to find a fabric that I loved.

I've been waiting for the interfacing which arrived yesterday, so I knew it was just a question of timing. A window of opportunity opened up this afternoon so I took full advantage.

Firstly I traced the pattern onto parchment paper. One because I wasn't sure exactly what size would be right and secondly I was bought up in the sixties/seventies from not a wealthy background, I was taught by example about using/reusing/not wasting, these things never leave you.

Everything is cut out, I am quite giddy the afternoon is young.

Interfacing cut out and stitched on. What I am not telling you is the trouble I had where the fabric would stretch and ruffle whilst the heavy cotton background remained the same. I eventually found a technique where you turn the whole thing over and stitch from the heavy cotton side, this kept the decorative cotton from stretching.

A skull cap, nearly half way.

Look at that, all joined together, it was tricky and there is much work to be done but the brim looks wonderful no wrinkles which was my main aim.

But there is still much to do.

A hat without a lining.

And one with a lining.

Finished, and I'm knackered, it took about six hours. But I do have to tell you that it fits like a dream. I know that there is always poetic license on blogs, but honestly this hat is perfect. There may be imperfections from the outside, but on the inside it is bliss. I love it.

Hubby is a better model,

It is beautiful, I need a hat stand for my lovely new hat.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Its beginning to smell alot like Christmas!

Next week is my turn to provide the tea, coffee and cakes/biscuits at my private sewing group. To say I'm just a little bit nervous is an understatement. Although I have been welcomed by the majority of the group and really made to feel at home, there is just a very small minority of the group that are having trouble adapting to the change. I do think, that I am pretty scary to look at, - well I frighten me when I catch sight of myself in the mirror. And sometimes people find it difficult to get past that. I'm sure it will be fine and as my gran used to say, "it will all come out in the wash", meaning it will sort itself out. But until that time I thought I would try and win them over with cake.

I get the feeling that they are all championship quality bakers especially in the Victoria sponge department, so there is no way I am going to compete in that arena. But I have been making Delia's Christmas cake recipe for over twenty years and as Claire (my knitting pal) said, "Play to your strengths Mandy", so that is what I am doing.

I know that this recipe is sound as long as you don't splash extra brandy in, (you think your doing yourself a favour, in fact you find yourself with a cake that won't cook properly and remains soggy in the middle - ask me how I know!) and it needs to be wrapped up well for the oven, otherwise you end up with a crusty dark and bitter top.

Here is my tin, which has a false bottom and is double bottomed, like a flask so that it protects the bottom of the cake from the heat.

Hubby's mum gave it to me when we first became married and it had been used for a long time by her, so it must be at least forty years old, maybe fifty or even older than that. As you can see it is a little bit rusty and showing its age, but as the cake is wrapped up in a double layer of greaseproof paper this doesn't matter.

There are times that I do like very big supermarkets because they have a postal section and I can buy brown paper and string. I can become quite giddy when I see string, its often quite difficult to track down.

The tin all wrapped up for Christmas! I love doing this in November, making your Christmas cake brings the magic of the festivities ever nearer. As you can see it is a double layer of greaseproof around the sides and on the bottom and then a double, double, yes four layers of brown paper on the outside of the tin tied up with string and when the cake mix is in I put a double layer of greaseproof on the top with a small hole cut in the centre, (Delia recommends the size of a 50p) to allow the steam to escape. It may seem like an awful lot of effort but you need this to protect the cake.


The fruit had been soaking in brandy overnight and smelt divine.

and I forgot to take a photograph of the mix, I went onto autopilot and got the cake in the oven, but there are some advantages of working on your own. You don't have to share the licking out of the bowl.

Four and a quarter hours later on a very low oven, you have...

which has had a couple of tablespoons of brandy and is now resting in a tin ready for the main event next week.

I thought I would make a few shortbread biscuits coated with demerara sugar for those that are not partial to fruit cake. Which is basically a shortbread mixture shaped into a log and then rolled in the demerara to coat the sides and then slices are cut off to bake, they look very pretty.

Wish me luck!