Tales from a happy house is my personal blog, a place where I record and celebrate the things that matter most to me. I write about my love of creating things, of our home, of cooking and gardening, getting out and about, and my family, among other things. We are not always a happy house (we are human after all) but we are most of the time, and I believe in seeking out and cherishing.
I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes, a magazine I've not bought for some years. Back when it first came out, around the time I started blogging, I used to really love it. I think I had a subscription for it, and I remember making one project a month from it for a year. That was fun. But I started to enjoy it less and less over time; the projects didn't grab me so much, and perhaps my children started to reach an age where I didn't want to make quite so much for them, and I certainly have much less time now than I ever did before, both to read magazines and to make things.
But the most recent issue, with it's spring like colours and plant-themed projects, really grabbed me and I spent a long time in the supermarket (once I'd removed all that ridiculous plastic wrapping) flicking through it. I was especially taken with this Boho Botanical supplement, full of gorgeous ideas and really right up my street.
This project, a piece of hoop art designed by Helen Wilde of Ovo Bloom, grabbed me straight away. I loved the colours and the contrast between the silky embroidered and spiky crepe paper leaves.
I always find satin stitch harder than it looks. It couldn't replicate the perfectly smooth, even texture in the pattern but I did my best. It looks ok.
The French knots for the soil were much easier to stitch. I do love a French knot.
To create the spiky succulent leaves, you cut small strips of crepe paper, twist them into bows, glue the two leaves together then cut into a leaf shape. Then you slowly layer them onto a small disc of cardboard, about the size of a two pence piece (or wine bottle lid, that's what I used), gluing them down as you go, until you are left with a beautiful, tactile little object. Paper craft isn't something I've ever really experimented with but I can see the appeal.
Then the small cardboard disc is glued onto the linen fabric. So simple but very effective.
I absolutely love it. It feels like spring might finally come when I look at this.
I've hung it in an awkwardly shaped corner in the dining room, next to the book shelves, and I think I'm going to create a hoop wall there. I already have a little pile I've been collecting for a while, piled up there on the bookcase.
After the cold weather the ground is slowly warming up and everywhere around are signs of spring. Green and yellow tones fill the woods and our garden, our home and our kitchen and I've felt a renewed energy for cooking, gardening and crafting which can only come with the longer days and hopeful glimpses of warmer weather.
£1 bunches of daffodils fill jugs on the kitchen table for as long as they are in the shops. I love the way they look like paintbrushes before they unfurl their vivid yellow petals.
I am delighted with my new string of hearts plant. The muted green leaves tangle together in such a beautiful way and it looks really good in my copper hanging planter.
Bored with bread for lunch every day, I made a large batch of salad at the weekend and have been taking it to work instead of my usual sandwich.
I've been eating lots more fruit, vegetables and eggs, not deliberately, but isn't it funny how our bodies and appetites want different sort of foods as the seasons change. I want cake year round though, and these lemon bars from Making Winter were delicious, with a sweet biscuit base filled with a lemon curd style topping.
Something about lemon - I don't know if it's the colour or the scent - makes me think of Easter.
I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes (issue 90), my first purchase of that magazine in about three years. This was the first one I'd seen in ages that actually grabbed me and filled me with enthusiasm, largely because of this little project, an embroidery hoop project designed by Ovo Bloom. I love houseplants and I love embroidery, so it stands to reason that I'd love this design too.
Thanks to a bargain job-lot of vintage Observer books from eBay, and a couple that my parents found for me in a charity shop recently, my little collection is growing. Angus likes to sit in the chair next to this bookcase and read them. I recently found him engrossed in the Dogs volume.
Outside in the garden, things are starting to wake up. It's still a muddy, squelchy wasteland, of course, but there is hope. The large wooden planter is filled with as many daffodil bulbs as I could fit into it, and they are just starting to open up.
The tulips are a little further behind, but soon I will move these pots to the front door step.
We had a couple of really nice walks in the woods over the weekend. I love being around the trees at all times of year but especially in the spring and autumn, and I'm already thinking of my favourite places to go locally for bluebells later in the spring.
There weren't that many buds or leaves on the trees yet, but the forest floor was full of growth and green shoots.
Of course, now that I am in spring mode, now that I am full of plans for the garden and itching to get to work out there, the weather is predicted to take a sharp and wintry turn this weekend, with snow even forecast in some places.
I don't think we'll get any but the icy winds will be a shock after the 15°C temperatures and sunny days we've enjoyed lately. I'm not complaining though, it's an excuse to light the fire and do some embroidery.
Hello! Once again I'm joining in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge, in which each month I choose a different cookery book from my shelves - usually a title that I've previously overlooked but not been able to part with - and try a couple of new recipes. Should you fancy taking part, you can read more about it at Penny's blog The Homemade Heart.
For February, I chose Easy Meals by Rachel Allen, a book I can't remember buying so I think it may have been a gift. The jacket screams "TV series tie-in" and the book contains as many photos of the author as of the recipes, but it's a really good solid book which is why I've never parted with it. I liked lots of elements of the book including the ribbon bookmark (essential!), the clear text and of course the recipes themselves, but a few more photos of the finished dishes would have been nice. I really struggle to imagine how a finished dish might taste based on the title alone, and ideally I like a photo as well. I don't know if this means that I am a very visual person, or a very lazy and unimaginative one.
Our first choice was Thai Steamed Fish, a very easy assembly job of a recipe and one John and I ate one Saturday night when the kids were in bed. First you mix together the sauce, which consists of garlic, ginger, lemon juice, fish sauce and coriander, my favourite flavours.
Then you place your fish, salmon in our case, in the steamer or in a foil lined sieve on top of a saucepan if you don't have a steamer, like us. Add the pak choi and drizzle the sauce over the top before clamping on the lid and steaming.
Not having a proper steamer (I knew I shouldn't have thrown it out!) meant that the fish took a little longer to cook than the recipe said, but it worked fine. We ate it with plain boiled rice and, while there wasn't that much sauce, what remained was packed with intense flavour. I absolutely loved this dish - light, fragrant, fishy, zingy - and could eat this kind of food every day, but John was less impressed. He said it was "alright".
Our second meal was Chicken and Chorizo with Rice. I had high hopes for this dish, since chicken, chorizo and rice and three things that every single person in this house really likes.
You start by frying the chorizo until it releases it's oils, then remove it and set aside.
Next you add the chicken thighs, followed by the onions, garlic and chorizo.
Finally add rice, wine and stock and let the rice cook in the stock and juices from the meat before serving with chopped parsley.
I like one pot dinners like this, where you can carry the dish straight to the table and there is minimal washing up. Unfortunately this wasn't the crowd pleaser that I'd hoped for; John and I loved the fragrant, sticky rice, full of the flavours of the chorizo and wine, and the chicken was so tender, but Bella and Angus were less impressed. Angus protested loudly about the weird rice that wasn't plain, boiled like was expecting, and pouted throughout.
John and I have started to adopt a slightly more no nonsense approach to our family meals of late. When we eat all together, which is four or five nights a week, we both tend to cook things that we know the children will enjoy and eat - it just makes life easier that way. But it also limits what we eat. So, our new policy it to cook things which we know they might not enjoy - butternut squash risotto for example - as well as meals we know they like, and they can eat it or not. I'm hoping we can eat more widely and adventurously as a result.
Finally, continuing with the (unintentional) rice theme, I made caramel rice pudding. You begin, not surprisingly, by making caramel before pouring in a lot of cold milk. Instantly, the caramel sets to stone and there was a heart stopping moment when I though I might have to throw out my favourite copper saucepan, but as the milk heats up the caramel softens and dissolves into the milk.
Then you add what seems like an unfeasibly small amount of rice before simmering for about half an hour. I've never cooked rice pudding on top of the stove before, and for ages it just seemed to be grains of rice swimming around in too much milk, but suddenly it all came together.
Honestly, you couldn't really taste the caramel, but it was sweet and delicious and one rice dish that all of us enjoyed. Plus the stove top, frequent stirring method of cooking meant no awful, revolting skin which pleased me enormously.
I'm not sure what March's book will be. I received a couple of new books for Christmas and my birthday which I haven't really delved into yet, so I might choose one of those.
Right. It's Friday night and I've had a bit of a week so I'm going to make myself a martini. Have a fabulous weekend everyone.
On Thursday afternoon the snow arrived. School closed at lunchtime as the first flakes started to fall and by the time we were home later in the afternoon everywhere was covered. Our school, like most locally and probably many others across the country, decided not to open the following day and a snow day was suddenly a reality. I was so happy. I still am! John's day off fell on Friday too and, since he has been working this weekend, it was the most wonderful and unexpected family day, made even more special by the weather. I had such a sense of anticipation and excitement on Thursday night as I wondered whether it would snow more, and ran through all the lovely things we could do tomorrow with this gift of a day.
I started sensibly with a lie in.
Those bitterly cold, strong Eastern winds had blown the snow all over the place, so that there was none in some places that were sheltered by the house and drifts in others.
It was such a treat to substitute the usual weekday breakfast of porridge for a more relaxed meal of toasted sourdough and a pot of coffee while we talked about, well, the snow of course.
We decided to take Ziggy out for a walk first. I love the way the snow transforms everything, so that a road you might walk down every day suddenly looks different.
We went down to our local woods, somewhere we often go, but I've never seen them covered in snow before.
I just love the way the snow lies on the boughs of the tree.
I took my new camera with me and had a lot of fun playing around with it.
Of course there was a snowball fight.
When we got home I made homemade rolls and leek and potato soup for lunch.
I cobbled together a made up recipe with some strong white bread flour and dark rye flour, and hoped for the best. I'm of the opinion that if you put enough butter on something and dip it in hot soup then it's probably going to taste nice.
But what a treat to have that extra time to make bread and soup. I can't remember when I last bothered to do that.
After lunch, and in danger of falling into a little snoozy slump, we went sledging. It was only Angus who wanted to go, to be honest, we were all quite happy staying cosy indoors, but it was worth it just to see the look of total joy on his face. He loved the snow, much more than Bella, and was outside playing in it at every opportunity. He was so sad that it all melted yesterday bless him, as was I. The other member of this household who very much enjoyed the snow was Ziggy - he was so skittish and playful in it, and had twice the energy he usually has (and he usually has a lot....).
Back home again we lit the stove, snuggled under blankets, watched the snow fall again outside, made hot chocolates that were towering with whipped cream and marshmallows, and I knitted a little.
It was a pretty perfect day, and it's not often you can say that, is it? And I'm glad I took all these photos and that I have this blog to record days such as this one because this afternoon on the beach, with 9°c temperatures and no wind, with such warming sun that the kids took their coats off, it was hard to imagine that it ever even snowed.
I do realise that I am incredibly lucky to have been able to enjoy the snow, rather than have been stuck on a motorway for hours, or properly snowed in as some have in other parts of the UK. It's one thing to be able to enjoy it falling thickly outside from the safety of a warm home, quite another to be out in it, and we only had a little down here on the south coast compared to other regions where it caused real chaos. And hats off to all those essential workers, those people who work in hospitals or for emergency services who cannot enjoy the luxury of a snow day and have to get to work regardless, no matter how hazardous their journey. Thank you.
Hello from a very cold Hampshire, where temperatures have dropped to well below freezing and snow flurries cause mild excitement/panic in children and adults. It's the most perfect winter weather: bitterly cold, dry and sunny, although we've yet to experience a proper snow fall down here on the south coast. I'll be honest - I am just desperate for a snow day, I really am. There's a chance we might get some tomorrow or Friday - fingers crossed.
Thank you so much for my birthday wishes! You are all very kind. I still haven't had time to play with my new camera (I honestly have not had a moment - my feet haven't touched the ground this last week) so I'm afraid we've got phone photos today, but please don't let that put you off because I am full of the joys of crafting this month and have loved these little activities.
Welcome to February's Making the Seasons post. In this annual project, my friend Lucy of Attic24 and I are consciously trying to make time in our busy lives to focus on achievable, seasonal creative projects. This month, I have focused on two small and wonderfully wintry projects: completing the Winterberries hoop which came in the winter Craftpod box, and crocheting another warm and cosy chunky colour block cowl.
I so enjoyed the Winterberries hoop. It took a while - each berry had to be painstakingly outlined in tiny stitches before you could fill them in - but there was something deliciously addictive about those little satin stitch berries, the way you built up the texture with layers of thread, going over and over until the berries shine.
They create a wonderfully three dimensional effect and pop out from that snowy white background. For now it's just propped up on the mantel but I'm gathering a little collection of different hoops, cross stitched and embroidered, that I want to hang in a group together somewhere.
The cowl is the same one that I made for a friend before Christmas, and I like it because it's a very easy pattern, so it can be crocheted in the car or in front of the TV with minimal concentration. The 10 mm hook and chunky yarn mean that it's quick to make, which is handy when you need a gift in a hurry, and it uses precisely three balls of Drops Andes yarn which come in a great range of colours and are well priced. It's also very warm.
But the main reason I like it is because it looks amazing on, with just the right amount of drape and fold around the neck (and I really will make myself one of these one day) and the chunky yarn has a nice structure to it. But this pink, grey and white beauty was a gift for my friend and birthday twin Helen, who turned forty last week too. We travelled up to Yorkshire at the weekend and stayed in the pretty town of Holmfirth to celebrate Helen's birthday, and also caught up with lots of University friends who we had not seen for years while we were there. It was a fantastic weekend, just John and I, no children or dog. Of course we had fun chatting, laughing, drinking and dancing with our friends, but an accidental highlight of the weekend was the journey there and back. Just the two of us in the car, talking and listening to music or the radio, with very little traffic on the roads, and the sun shining the way there and back. John did most of the driving and so I sat and enjoyed the moment and did first some knitting (a jumper) and then some cross stitch.
At the last moment, just as we were about to leave the house, and quite excited at the possibility of some crafting time during daylight hours, I threw my Alicia Paulson My Sweetiepie ABCs sampler into my bag. I started this one a couple of years ago and made great progress until, for some reason I can't remember, I lost interest and put it away. I got it out briefly last summer and worked on it a little but my heart really wasn't in it. But last weekend, as I stitched all the details in the house, I really fell in love with it again. Cross stitch is so incredibly relaxing, providing you're in the mood for it. It takes a long time to sew each motif, but the colours are so pleasing and the little images so delightful, it's the most mindful kind of crafting. Nothing to think about but what the pattern is telling you to do.
Look at the house, with it's terracotta roof tiles and plumes of smoke. Each motif has the same slightly nostalgic quality and attention to detail. I don't mind telling you that I am really looking forward to stitching the kettle and the patchwork quilt.
Cross stitch, I love you.
This series of Making the Seasons posts is really making me think about what I like to craft and when. I'm thinking ahead to Easter and gardening projects for March and April, perhaps something wearable for May or June, but in those quiet midwinter months I seem to search out something peaceful and almost meditative. It doesn't have to be yarn-filled and snuggly (although that's nice) but it's more about making time to stop and be still.
The last week has been the loveliest whirlwind of cake, cocktails and celebrations. The house is a real mess, the laundry situation out of control, there's nothing in the fridge, but who cares, there are at least four different kinds of cake in the house. I'm not entirely sure why I was dreading my fortieth birthday so much (apart from I'm convinced I'm still twenty five) but when it came to it I had such a lot of fun and felt like a bit of a princess and who doesn't like that?
John, the children and I went out for afternoon tea over half term. I loved it, Bella loved it, John loved it, Angus hated it. Really, it was hysterical quite how unimpressed he was by the whole notion of afternoon tea and he listed it as his "worst half term moment". He said all the food was too "grown-uppy" and that they "snuck in" things he doesn't like (mustard in the ham sandwiches, rose water in the cake, lavender in the scones etc) and he sat and read his book in protest throughout the afternoon. As I said, I loved it and I know it's bad of me but Angus's reaction just made it all the more memorable and enjoyable.
My dear friend Abigail and I, who you may remember try to get away at least once a year together, have birthdays just a few days apart and so our impending fortieths called for a day trip to London. I've know Abigail since we met in our English Literature A Level class at sixth form college, so around twenty four years (!) and she's one of my oldest and best friends. I love our London jaunts and this years' was just as much fun as ever, with some shopping, lunch in a Greek restaurant, a trip up to the Sky Garden where we had a cocktail and sat there chatting so long the light changed, before we moved on to Covent Garden where I treated myself to some Laduree macarons (so expensive but I love them so much) and dinner here. Opinion on the Sky Garden seems to be divided but I loved it; the contrast between the trees and foliage and the huge atrium, the way the views are framed by the architecture of the building, the huge viewing platform - all captivating.
Forty peppermint oreo brownies made by John. :-)
My birthday itself was huge fun. I met my parents and sisters for breakfast in a nearby cafe, something that has become a little family tradition of ours over the last few years, before going to work. Initially I had sulked a fair bit about my school day birthday - it almost always falls in the February half term break - but I think it was improved by being at work. Lots of good wishes and cards from colleagues, badges made by the children, flowers sent by John, and one of the Year R classes came up to the office and sang happy birthday to me. Everyone should celebrate a birthday in a primary school because, not matter your age, a birthday is probably the single most exciting thing that can happen to a five year old and their delight is joyful and infectious.
There was a definite them of indulgence in the gifts I was given, which is fine with me, and I received some parcels through the post too, including a pair of gin balloons, a book, chocolate, and the splendid cross stitched whippet above, sent by my friend Jennifer from Thistlebear. Jennifer, thank you - I cannot tell you how much I love it. This little Monet-style watercolour, painted by Angus and framed by John, will soon be added to the family gallery wall.
There was another gift too, something befitting a birthday with a zero on the end....
My beloved DSLR, bought for a bargain price about nine years ago, has finally packed up and having it mended will cost more than a new camera. I realised that a like for like replacement would be much more than we could afford, and I'm actually sick of lugging it around anyway, so after much research and talking to people in shops I bought this:
I haven't really explored it yet. Frankly, I'm terrified. I was such good friends with my old Canon, I could operate it in my sleep, and this one is all different and new, I'm worried we won't get along. I'll have fun playing with it though.
But overall, I am happy. This week I have felt very loved and cherished by those around me and can report that, so far, turning forty is fab. Even if there is nothing for packed lunches tomorrow.
I have made a concerted effort to slow down this week, something I am truly terrible at. Self care, balance, me time - whatever you want to call it - that is what I have been trying to do. Mornings have been slow and relaxed where possible, with no alarms, cups of tea in bed and unhurried breakfasts. Time with family and friends has been planned, days out enjoyed. We've taken flasks of hot chocolate and packets of biscuits with us on freezing beach walks and enjoyed the sun when it's shone. I have made time to sit and read a book or magazine in the day, without my usual feelings of guilt, or stayed up late sewing or crocheting while binge watching Netflix (Altered Carbon - so good!) knowing I can sleep in a little later the next day. I've pottered and moved things around, rearranging and refreshing rooms a little. Instead of red roses, Valentine's Day brought me a bunch of eucalyptus and a little ivy from the local florist, and then I finally opened that tin of expensive fish soup I brought back from France purely to re-use it as a plant pot, and put the ivy in it. The soup was really good too.
We went to Brighton on Monday. I didn't make it to any yarn shops sadly, but we had such a nice day. It was really sunny and clear, so perfect weather for our trip up the i360 from which the views were really spectacular. We stayed on the seafront all day, eating fish and chips on the pier, stopping for tea or hot chocolate in little cafes and generally just enjoying the atmosphere that is so unique to Brighton.
I've quietly gone about various domestic chores and tasks this week, taking satisfaction in doing some spring cleaning. I know that clearing out cupboards isn't what brings everyone joy and, if there was a choice, yes of course I'd rather be enjoying a spa break, but there is such a feeling of achievement, however small, from sorting old toys and clothes, dividing up piles of things for the charity shop or to recycle, and restoring order to a messy child's bedroom. Windows have been cleaned, floors mopped and bedding changed. The last two days have been beautifully sunny and a little milder too, with a whisper of spring in the air. Bella and Angus have been out in the garden for hours at a time, bouncing on the trampoline or playing with Ziggy. It's welcome.
I feel like I've talked about cleaning quite a lot today, it must be on my mind a lot. I don't know if I can quite describe the level of filth that exists in our house when there are four people and a dog here every day; all that traipsing in and out of the garden, going on all those daily muddy or sandy walks, all those meals around the kitchen table, the wood burning stove being lit every day (plus a dog who loves to chew the fire wood) - all this means that our house is mucky. I could - and probably should - vacuum every day, but I stopped on Wednesday. This afternoon John took the children and dog to the beach for a walk and I, blissfully alone in the house, cleaned. I swept up such a pile of grit, sand, mud, wood, dog hair and crumbs today, and sucked it all into the vacuum cleaner and it felt so good. Then I opened all the windows and flew about with a damp cloth and steam cleaner, making everything nice again. Then they all came home. Ziggy had been in the sea and to say that he was sandy would be an understatement. I made the kids take their shoes off at the door and carried Ziggy straight to the bathroom to shower off that sand, and I don't think for a second that it really helped but oh, for about ten minutes, the house was glorious.
Hello! Everyone ok? I'm enjoying the peace of a Sunday night with the extra good feeling that comes from not having to get up for work and school tomorrow. I love the February half term, and this one was welcome. I don't know about you, but I felt like it was the longest five week term ever. John is home this week and we have a few day trips planned but nothing major. No travelling, no decorating, just lots of taking it easy. Ok, obviously I have a list of jobs to do this week, the kinds of things I only get time to do in the holidays: spring cleaning, sorting out all the children's toys under their beds, admin. I made a start today and repotted all my house plants. I reckon I have a fifty/fifty success rate with my house plants; for every pilea peperomioides I propagate, I kill a succulent. Ziggy likes to chew the odd plant too, so I can't keep any on the floor at the moment and I fear that my poor Mother in Law's Tongue plant will never be the same again. I think I've got room for a few more though - I'd very much like a String of Hearts/Rosary Vine and a Calathea.
It's been so cold this last week. We've had sleet, hail, frost and wind that makes your cheeks sting. I like it when the weather behaves in a seasonally appropriate way, and would always take cold and dry over wet and mild weather, but my skin is protesting. My hands and lips are chapped, and the skin around my eyes gets red and itchy when it's very cold. This never used to happen, and I can only think it's one of the delightful things that must happen as one gets older. Fantastic.
We walk and walk - the beach or the shore at the weekend, or I go down to the woods in the week before I go to work. It's good for me and tires out Ziggy who, if he's feeling energetic or mischievous and doesn't fancy the look of his various bones and toys, will chew shoes and furniture. He's pretty handsome though, isn't he? He's also a joy to walk, especially when we go somewhere where he can run off the lead.
I've been cooking a lot. The cold weather makes me want to eat cake, so I make blondies and flapjacks and banana bread, and then broccoli and quinoa salad to make myself feel better. The cold also makes me want to crochet and knit, so I've been doing lots of both. The crochet socks are finished now, although I did have a soul crushing moment earlier in the week when I realised that I had somehow managed to crochet an entire second sock on a different sized hook, and didn't realise until they were almost done and I tried them on, and so I feel like I crocheted that sock about seven times, when in fact it was only twice. I am knitting away at my huge jumper when I can, and surprising myself by how much I'm enjoying the rows of garter stitch.
It was my Grandpa's funeral at the start of the week. I'd been dreading it, but is was about as lovely as a funeral could be. So many people came that they had to stand at the back of the church and the tributes and eulogies were beautiful. His wish was to be buried in a natural burial site and today my family and I all met down there to scatter wild flower seeds before going for a walk together. It's a nice spot, near the shore, and somewhere we walk a lot anyway, so it will be nice to pop back over the spring and summer and see if any flowers have grown and say hello.
We're off to Brighton tomorrow and, while John tells me there won't be time for any shopping, I'm just going to quickly google "yarn shops in Brighton", just to have a look. It can't hurt, surely.
I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do another Cookery Calendar Challenge this year but, in the last week of January, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, surrounded by half opened recipe books, a notepad and pen. I love cookery books almost as much as I love cooking; in fact, sometimes I think I might like them better, given as I am to reading cookery books in bed at night. And I decided there and then to take part in Penny of The Homemade Heart blog's Cookery Calendar Challenge for another year. It gives me a reason to use my less-thumbed recipe books more, it's encourages us as a family to cook and eat new meals, and most of all it's fun.
Also, this year cake is included.
My chosen book for January was Kitchen by Nigella Lawson, a book I have had on my shelf for about six years but only cooked from a handful of times, and I really don't know why that is because it's very good indeed (much better than her most recent one, shhh). The recipes are varied, generous, and suited to the kind of family cooking (one pot meals and tray bakes) we seem to do a lot of at the moment, and happily are all available on her website so I've linked to them individually.
This fab personalised jar was a birthday gift from a friend.
But my first recipe was an indulgence, something I've always wanted to try but could never persuade anyone else to eat: Marmite Spaghetti. Marmite, that most divisive of yeast extract spreads, is not loved by everyone in this house. John and Bella think it is revolting, and while Angus likes it on toast I'm not sure he could be persuaded to eat it on pasta. But one Friday night, with the kids fed and in bed and John out, I found myself alone for the evening and in need of a quick dinner that could be eaten on my lap on the sofa.
It's very easy to make: you boil spaghetti and when it's almost done, melt a little butter in a small saucepan with some Marmite, as much or as little as you like. Drain the pasta, reserving a little cooking water, and stir through the melted butter and Marmite, adding a little water if it needs it, before serving with grated parmesan. It's divine. Just the right amount of salty and savoury, and perfect with a glass of red wine in front of the fire with season two of The Crown on Netflix. In fact, John should go out more often.
Next was something everyone could enjoy: Braised Beef in Beer. We make a similar kind of beef stew a lot, so I was curious to see how this one would differ. The addition of lardons gives a salty depth to the sauce, and the beer flavour came through really well, but not so much so that the kids didn't like it. The colour of the sauce was incredible, the deepest dark brown, and it full of flavour. We ate is with baked potatoes and lots of vegetables, but I would like to try it with gnocchi some day.
Now for the cake, and what a lot of good cake and pudding recipes there are in this book. (You may remember that I made Marmalade Pudding Cake from this same book back in January, and ate it with custard and a chorus of angels singing, so good was it.) Loving as I do anything with a citrus flavour, I opted for Lemon Polenta Cake because I have never made a cake with polenta before and something told me I was going to like it.
I was right. It is a flourless cake and the polenta and ground almonds give a wonderful moist heaviness to the texture, and I think it's nicest slightly warm with the lemon drizzle topping soaking right through to the plate below.
A successful first month then, with recipes I will definitely make again. I have no idea which book I'll choose for February yet, but I'm going to have fun deciding.
Hello! Welcome to the first Making the Seasons post of 2018 - a little later than planned, but it's been that kind of month for Lucy and I.
I was worried that I wouldn't have much interesting to show you today, and even thought about skipping a month. But I think it's really important to be honest here and say that yes, January was a difficult month, and no, not a lot of crafting got done, but what little I did do felt really good and helped me a lot.
The kind of projects I choose in January always feel a little more self indulgent than at other times of the year. With Christmas behind me and no birthdays for a few months, I can put aside thoughts of gifts and work on things that are solely for me - jumpers, socks, little things for our home. I like that.
Something I've been doing a lot this month is buying cheap pots of bulbs from the supermarket or garden centre - hyacinths, usually - and repotting them in pretty bowls and tubs. I don't know why I never did this before - it's so much easier than trying to find plant pots in the garage that fit the plastic pots the bulbs come in.
I always love the spring bulbs that come into the shops in January and feel ready for that fresh lift of green in the house after all the Christmas decorations have been taken down and it's all looking a little bare. It's also a nice excuse to get out some dishes I don't use as much and give them a focus.
Just gently lift the bulbs from their pot, re-position in your chosen bowl, then top with compost and, if you have it, a little moss looks pretty on top to hid the earth.
These tete-a-tete bulbs don't look very exciting now but in a couple of weeks they'll send up bright shoots of green to cheer up my mantel.
I love how this one looks potted in a clear glass bowl.
I've been crocheting bed socks too, the same pattern as the pairs I made just over a year ago. I just love them - I can't get to sleep if my feet are cold and I wear them almost every night in the winter. I like their warmth, obviously, but also the way they don't dig in and leave an imprint in my ankle which itches, as tighter socks do (anyone else know what I mean?) I think I must get a bit of water retention in my ankles or something. So I'm making myself a new pair in grey and dark blue; sleepy, January colours. I also made a pink pair for my mum. They were supposed to be for Christmas but ended up being an early January gift - luckily she's very understanding!
I've also been enjoying the winter edition of my Craftpod box. These boxes are truly such a delight, I love everything about the choice of projects and the styling. My kinds of projects, my kinds of colours.
This one contains everything you need to stitch this beautiful embroidery hoop...
plus tools and patterns to create your own stamps.
And the element I think I like the most is the self care part, the chocolate, tea, stickers and postcards, little treats that remind you that it's ok to sit down and do something for yourself for a while. Necessary, even.
I found an hour at the weekend and made a start on the winterberry design. I got as far as sewing the branches and outlining just a few of the berries.
That's ok though, I'll finish it in my own time. A project like this is not for rushing, but for savouring slowly here and there in little moments with a cup of tea.
Part of my intention with Making the Seasons was to create in a way that would tie in with the seasons and support me through the months of the year, and I feel that crafting has really looked after me this month. My friend Lucy at Attic24 has also been trying to make space for a little quiet crafting in a very busy month, so do please pop over to her gorgeous, colourful blog and say hello and read about Making the Seasons post.
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