Wednesday 16 December 2009

a country mouse gets glittery

It's not your eyes, it's my photography. I borrowed a smart new camera from a friend to see if my antiquated model was at fault but no, it is definitely me. Perhaps I should claim I meant it to be in soft focus. It is LOVE after all, and a little soft focus is often a good thing in that department.
A great deal of mess was created while making this little decoration. The cones were gathered on a winter walk on a dry day last week and left in a box to let any sheltering beasties escape. Little R had a fine old time painting on the PVA glue and covering them, me, herself and the kitchen in glitter this afternoon while I studded the oranges with cloves, stopping every so often to mop up the combat zone. You can see our new tablecloth in this photo: christmas robins, from John Lewis. It was a present from Grandado and Little Granny and makes the room feel very festive. Fortunately, it is wipe-clean vinyl.
I wanted to include this picture, below, as a reminder to myself that the best things in life are sometimes free, or at least quite cheap. I was picking rosemary in the garden this afternoon to make spinach, lentil and rosemary soup from one of my oldest and most favourite cookbooks when I realised how wonderful it smelled, even in the depths of winter, so I picked a big bunch and filled a jug for the windowsill. The tea lights are in flowery glass holders from Ikea which cost 39p each. And the cherries are a wee treat for Little R, who loves them but was refused them the other day in M&S when I realised that they were £3 a punnet. I bought a handful loose today in the local greengrocer's for pennies.
The spinach, lentil and rosemary soup is a recipe I have made many, many times and is from one of my favourite vegetarian cookbooks, Glasgow Greens, by Kathryn Hamilton. My lame photography does not do it justice but it is a wonderful deep green colour and looks extra vibrant when you add some natural yoghurt and a slice of lemon on top. And I see my red Ikea tray making an appearance here for the third time. What a loss I am to the world of food styling.
This soup is great if you're feeling a bit run down as it is so full of nutrition. It's easy to make and you can feel extra smug if you have grown most of the ingredients in your garden, as I have done in the past and plan to get my BTM into gear to do again. You start by softening 2 cloves of garlic and one finely chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then add 115g red lentils and about 1 tbsp chopped rosemary and stir till coated. Add spinach in handfuls till wilted. The recipe says 450g of spinach but I have found it comes in 200g bags (when not home grown) so that's 2 big bags. Then add about a litre of vegetable stock, cover and simmer for 15-20 mins. Blend, season, and serve. The lemon really adds something and it can be nice to squeeze in some lemon juice as well.
We have some mummy friends and their children coming over to play tomorrow afternoon so I had another go at the River Cottage pear cake, this time making sure to caramelise the pears properly. It looks a lot better than my first attempt. I just hope there's no glitter in it.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

a country mouse makes gingerbread men

At last I have finished the garland of gingerbread men I embarked on two weeks ago. I'm really happy with them, despite the various lumps and bumps and the fact that they do not bear close examination from behind, but then who does. They were easy to make and although it did get a little old by gingerbread man number 3, I thought of Delia and her wise words when making christmas pudding crackers out of filo pastry, "Yes, it is fiddly. But look, it's done now." The cute little robin decoration beside them was a present from a good friend who knows my weakness for robins. We went to two Christmas fairs at the weekend and Little R visited two of Santa's Helper Santas (bit of quick thinking required there). I found a really great bag on one of the craft stalls. The lady who made it makes all kinds of things out of vintage interior designers' fabric. I had never heard of her work but I think I'll be buying more. If you like the look of it, her website is My bag was only £5 and it is really special in its provenance and is very well made. You can also see Little R's new bag and sweetie watch in the photo. Her bag is so cute. It has a furry ponyskin patterned fleece on the back and was only £1 in the good old charity shop. She carries her wee purse in it and these days there is considerably more money in her purse than there is in mine.
Today we had another of those cosy kitchen afternoons that I love so much. This time we made soda bread with spelt flour from a recipe on the Cottage Smallholder blog at It's real, proper soda bread with a good hard crust. It's delicious and I'll definitely be making it again. My usual recipe uses natural yoghurt but this one used buttermilk and cream of tartar.
Even Little R ate it. Next time I will put less salt in though, so that I can feel happier about her eating it. These days all she will eat for dinner is plain pasta with parmesan. I put corn or peas or sprouts in as well and she'll usually eat that without comment, and she does eat lots of fruit, but there is very little protein going in other than the odd egg for breakfast. She's even saying yuck to the homemade chicken nuggets. I think it may be a reaction to all the cooking I've been doing over the last few months. She did one day say to me, very firmly, "No more recipes for dinners, please." Perhaps this is the direct action approach now, the talks having failed.
Below is Little R's play dough version of the soda bread. Play dough is such great stuff and it's very easy to make. We got this recipe at her playgroup. Each week a different mum would be responsible for making and bringing the playdough and on more than one occasion a forgetful mum (me) had to run round to the shops for the ingredients and whip up a quick batch in the playgroup kitchen. You need 2 cups of plain flour, 1 cup of salt (to stop the little savages eating it), 2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of oil, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and some food colouring. Boil it all together, stirring all the time, until it makes a ball. It takes about 2 minutes of stirring at the most. Store in clingfilm in the fridge. Other than the perennial favourite, the cardboard box, it has to be one of the cheapest and most fun toys there can be. We're all about the value for money here at Country Mouse Towers.
I'll leave you with a happy thought: Kirstie's Homemade Christmas, Wednesdays, 8pm, Ch4.

Thursday 3 December 2009

a country mouse gets lucky

Country mouse got oh so lucky in the charity shop the other day. I could hardly squeak for excitement.
I spotted this little house on a high shelf as soon as I walked in. It's a tissue box cover - see the chimney? Every home should have a hand stitched tissue box cover made out of plastic aida. Then I spotted the cushion cover (behind it in the photo above). There were 5 of these cushion covers, all hand made, plus a set of lined curtains, also hand made, all for £4.50. The house was £3, so coming close to breaking the budget, but I just had to have them. With my heart rate climbing and my arms full of swag, I noticed one of my favourite things - an old fashioned craft book (below).
There really are no words to describe the contents so here is a photo of the crocheted swimming costumes to give you the general idea. The little boy's face says it all.
Home for some minestrone soup. As you know, I'm a recovering vegetarian and a fussy one at that, so am only ok with eating certain kinds of meat - organic, high welfare, expensive. My local butcher has some delicious bacon that fits all these criteria and as I had a savoy cabbage from the farmers' market looking at me reproachfully every time I opened the fridge door, minestrone was the answer. It was very quick to make, once the chopping was done. I find it quite soothing to chop vegetables anyway, especially if there's something decent on radio 4 and Little R is happily drawing at the table. I'd like to freeze frame happy afternoons like that. I suppose that's what I'm doing with this blog. It's so nice to look back at previous posts and read about the little events of our lives that I'd probably have forgotten otherwise, or which would at least have melded into a general memory of "cooking" or "walks."
But back to the soup. You heat 2 tbsps of olive oil and add a finely chopped onion, carrot and celery stick. Soften for 8-10 mins, then add 70g pancetta (I used the bacon), 1 clove crushed garlic and 2 tbsps chopped thyme and fry for 2-3 mins. Then pour in 1 litre hot chicken stock, 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes and half of a 400g tin of borlotti beans. Mash the remaining beans, stir into the soup then simmer for 30 mins. Add 125g minestrone pasta (macaroni in my case) and 175g shredded savoy cabbage 10 mins before the end of the cooking time. Add a spoonful of ready made pesto to serve.
This recipe is from a booklet I got inside a Good Housekeeping magazine a few months ago, called 50 Suppers For Under £5. It's really good and I can see myself making a lot from it. The very next night I used the leftover bacon and cabbage to make spicy bacon pasta sauce from the next page in the booklet and it worked out really well too, even though I poured the recommended glass of dry white wine into me rather than into the pot (naturally).
Finally, with a four year old in the house, Christmas starts on the 1st of December. This is her own little tree with a fairy on the top. We'll get the proper tree in a couple of weeks. There is a big country estate not far from here where you can go into the woods and choose your own tree, put a tag on it, then come back for it when you're ready. They give you a hacksaw and you have to cut down the tree then drag it back through the woods to be put through the shrink-wrapping machine (that green net stuff) before trying to fit it into the car without too much injury to self and family. They have carol singers in the courtyard and a craft market in the stables and also a Santa to visit, although as I write this I remember getting a nasty shock last year when we took Little R to meet their Santa and found that he was about 25 years old.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

a country mouse cocoons

The weather here has been atrocious over the last few days so we've been cocooning as much as possible except for the mad dashes to nursery through pouring rain. Little R goes into nursery dressed in waterproofs from head to toe and I am wearing the gear I used to wear to struggle over windswept heaths and hills in a previous job. Work paid for it so I bought the best and it's being severely tested at the moment. At least it dries quickly. All this cocooning is giving me a chance to catch up with the housework and also to do wee extras like hanging these Christmassy Ikea wooden birds and paper stars on the triffid (above). Mistletoe and wine...
We had a friend and her two daughters over to play this afternoon so Little R and I got out the baking book and had a go at Date and Ginger Slice. It was really easy to make, was baked for the time stated in the recipe, unlike my last cake, and tasted delicious. If only it was healthy too. You need: 125g block margarine, 125g light soft brown sugar, 125g black treacle, 175g packet of dates finely chopped, 150ml water, 225g plain white flour sifted, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 medium egg beaten, 1 heaped tsp finely chopped preserved ginger and half a tsp ground ginger.
In traditional country mouse style, I made a mistake with the recipe. How I will ever return to the world of work I do not know, when I can't even follow a recipe for ginger cake. It was supposed to be one heaped tsp of finely chopped preserved ginger but I just took one piece of ginger from the jar, chopped it up and put it in. That was quite a lot of ginger. Luckily I noticed in time and didn't add the ground ginger. I'm planning to use the rest of the preserved ginger for a Fay Ripley sticky ginger chicken recipe and will blog that when I do it. Anyway, you gently melt the margarine, sugar, treacle, dates and water in a large pot. Stir in the sifted flour, bicarb of soda, egg, preserved ginger and ground ginger. Mix well and spoon into a 28x18cm greased and lined swiss roll tin and bake at 180deg fan for 30-35 mins. Let it cool in the tin for 15 mins then put on a wire rack and peel off the baking paper. Serve on pretty china plates while the rain lashes against the window.
Another good thing about cocooning is that with the housework done, a state of affairs which lasts an hour max, I can pick up a needle with a fairly clear conscience. The tapestry above has been gathering dust for a good while and it only took an hour to finish it off before the house began to resemble a war zone again, so that was fine. Having meticulously stitched the border, I took it to a craft night a few months ago to work on the leaves and really messed them up because I was too busy chatting. It's meant to be oak leaves and acorns, believe it or not. Never mind. I will frame it and hang it in a dark corner and just not look at it too closely.
And this is my latest project, a garland of gingerbread men, from the Tone Finnanger Christmas book (see Shelfari bookcase on right hand margin of blog, below blogroll). The half-stitched gingerbread man in the photo above looks a bit wonky but that's because the page it's on is curved. I felt like Noel Edmonds the other day with his "ask the universe and the universe will provide" patter. I was searching online for brown linen and cream linen, as per the illustration in the book, but was having no luck, so posted a message on Facebook to my craft group friends to ask if anyone knew somewhere to try. I then popped into the charity shop on my way to pick up Little R from nursery and what should I see but a big basket of fabric, including brown and cream linen. Thanks, universe. Let me leave you with this happy thought - Moet £14 at Morrisons:

Monday 16 November 2009

a country mouse burns a cake

This is the farmers' market I go to every couple of weeks with a German friend. She is a very careful shopper and makes sure she always gets the best quality food to feed her family. She's a great example to country mouse, who is getting lazy and has been spending a bit too much time and money in Marks and Spencers recently. As you can see from the photo above, however, we are not spoiled for choice in terms of fruit and vegetables. Cabbages, turnips, parsnips, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and some hard pears, and that's yer lot, missis. Quite a contrast to the amazing markets on Lucy's Kitchen Notebook which I like to imagine myself wandering through in the French sunshine, wicker basket in hand. A farmers' market on a Scottish November morning is rather a bracing place to be and you certainly feel you've earned your dinner. On this particular windswept morning I felt like the hunter home from the hill. I bought half a dozen medium eggs from the stall below (love that tablecloth) with the intention of using them with the hard pears to make Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's pear and almond cake.
It's a variation on the apple cake that I made so many of during the late summer/early autumn when I was getting bags full of apples from Grandado and Little Granny's trees. The recipe looked very easy, and having seen the man himself making it on TV the other night, I felt fully equipped to give it a go. Apparently it doesn't matter that that the pears are hard as the heat from the caramelising process makes them soft and juicy.
You need 3 conference pears, 25g unsalted butter and 1tbsp granulated sugar to make the caramelised pears for the top of the cake. You melt the butter at a high heat then add the pears, peeled, cored and quartered, and cook gently until they begin to colour. Then add the tbsp of granulated sugar and shake the pan till the pears are coated. While Hugh did all of the above he was busy beating the butter and sugar for the next stage, but I know my limitations so did the pears first then tackled the beating bit. You use electric beaters, unless you are very strong, to beat 300g of softened unsalted butter until soft and pale. Add 250g caster sugar then beat in 4 medium eggs (above), one at a time, thoroughly combining each one before you add the next. Then fold in 150g wholemeal self raising flour, 150g ground almonds and a pinch of cinnamon and turn the mixture into a greased and lined 23cm springform cake tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour over the caramelised butter/pear juice from the pan.
Bake, says Hugh, for 35 mins at 170degC. Well, after 35 minutes my cake was wobbling in the tin when I pulled out the tray to check it. 10 minutes after that there was no perceptible change and a skewer came out slathered in cake mixture. I covered it with foil (top getting dangerously dark), turned it up to 180deg and gave it another 10. Then another 10. After baking the damn thing for more than an hour I lost patience and took it out. Here's the result:
It didn't look too good, but it tasted fine once we'd scraped off the burnt bits. I would bake it again, but perhaps at 180deg from the start and I would caramelise the pears for longer so there was less buttery juice soaking into the mixture. Cake is cake, after all, and country mouse has never met a cake she didn't love.

Thursday 12 November 2009

a country mouse buys some books

Remember Bunty? Remember the Four Marys? "Mary Simpson, Mary Field, Mary Radleigh and Mary Cotter were all in the Third Form at St Elmo's School for Girls. They were great friends, and shared a study in St Bee's House." And were candidates for an Anti Social Behaviour Order. Take a look at this.
One morning, the Headmistress, Miss Creef, had an announcement to make. The girls were to help move the books from the library and stack them in the gym so the library could be re-decorated. Mabel's response, which I will have to type out because my photography is so rubbish, is, "Why should we do this kind of work, anyway? We should protest, Veronica!" The Four Marys' response is VIOLENCE. Likewise when Mabel and Veronica (with matching bad-girl hair dos) refuse to take part in a fire drill organised by the safety-conscious Marys. Again with the brute force.
The final scene is a fire drill in which Mabel and Veronica think there really is a fire and get stuck on a ledge outside their bedroom window. The Marys lay mattresses on the ground then gather 20 girls to hold a tarpaulin over it. I cannot bear to put the ensuing illustration on my blog. Raddy to Mabel and Veronica, "Stop moaning, you're down safely." Cotty to Simpy, "Simpy, I think they should be taught another lesson. Give them a few tosses!" And they do so, with vim and vigour. The last word goes to Dr Gull as the assault on Veronica and Mabel continues in the background, "Well, Miss Creef, thanks to the Marys we're now prepared for any emergency we may have at St Elmo's. Their safety campaign has been a big success!" Mabel and Veronica's mater and pater may be considering legal action.

On a very much less aggressive note, you might like to see my other purchase, this little Ladybird book, entitled "Learnabout...Cooking." Both of these books were charity shop buys, by the way, and were 20p each, so I'm not busting the budget. Recipes include Banana Snow, Scotch Eggs, a Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog and, below, Vanilla Ice Cream, featuring Bird's Dream Topping as an ingredient.
And here is the very party I have striven each birthday for 4 years to achieve for Little R. I had not realised I had been striving for this until I saw this picture, but now that I do see it, there's just no denying it. Orange and Lemon Fizz all round. Cheers!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

a country mouse finally blocks that blooming scarf

Little R, Daddy Mouse and I went to the local bonfire night on Friday and came home absolutely clarted in mud. Today I was forced to accept that I now have no sartorial standards whatsoever when Little R pointed out to me (in the middle of Marks and Spencers food hall) that I had mud all over the front of my jacket. So I did, great big dauds of it, from her muddy boots when she was sitting on my shoulders at the fireworks. Is this old age? When I am old I shall wear purple? Or maybe I should start looking in a mirror occasionally. Or (much more country mouse's style) just get a scarf and cover it up.
And squeaking of scarves, here is the pile of raggy old flowers I crocheted for my sister's scarf a VERY long time ago. It sat reproachfully in my crochet bag waiting for the ends to be sewn in until yesterday afternoon, when I could stand it no longer and finally picked up the needle. Wait till you see the miracle worked by blocking.
You plunge your precious handiwork into a basin of cool water with a little bit of very mild detergent, such as a baby soap powder, then squish and soak it until every fibre has been thoroughly wetted. Then remove, carefully wring out and rinse twice in clear cool water. Squeeze out the excess water then lay on a folded towel and push and pull it into the exact shape you want it to dry into. You can pin it if you want to be extra precise. Leave it for a day or two until it is completely dry, then, ta da. Despite having done this before and witnessed the miracle of blocking, I must admit I was quailing a bit as the flowers looked so very twisted and scrappy when they were wet, but look, it turned out fine after all:
The flowers look a bit crumpled here but that's only because of the way they are draped around Scotland's Next Top Model. I will wrap it up in some pretty paper and give it to my poor wee sister before she freezes on these cold winter mornings.
And finally, here is an oil painting I bought this afternoon in the charity shop for the rather hefty sum (on my charity shopping scale) of £7. I felt able to splurge because my kind sister and brother and their families gave me a very generous amount of money for my 40th to be spent on a painting. There's even a couple of bob left. In this photo you can see the lovely carpet we've got in the study at the moment. Yes, that's right - 22mm chipboard, neatly edged in gripper rod. The aquarium leaked all over the carpet a couple of months ago while we were out and both the aquarium and the carpet had to go to the dump. One of these days we will get a replacement I suppose but there are so many things I'd rather spend money on and then there are all the things I have to spend money on such as car tax and car servicing and other dull things like that. I tell you, this stay at home mum bit is not so much fun when it comes to being utterly skint. I am fed up being skint. I want to go somewhere posh and SPEND LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY!!!!

Thursday 5 November 2009

a country mouse and a christmas robin

Little R and I are back on our feet at last after a horrible week-long virus which kept us both in bed with our eyes shut tight. Now that it is over it is hard to remember just how bad it was but truly, it was bad. It is never easy to be ill when looking after a little one but when you are both ill at the same time it really is hard going. It has certainly been a reminder to look after our health and to appreciate it. We wrapped up warm and ventured out to the shops for supplies this morning and came back with this little chap, the first Christmas decoration of the season and it's not even fireworks night yet. I'd like to claim it is me being organised but of course it's just that I can never resist a robin.
The worst of being ill was that Little R and I missed her aunty's wedding. Little R was to have been a flower girl. We were so sad to miss it but unfortunately there was just no way either of us could have managed it as we were basically unconscious. Daddy Mouse walked his big sister down the aisle and by all accounts (well, his account!) gave a wonderful after-dinner speech, then brought us back some wedding cake the next day and this beautiful posy which Little R was to have carried on a ribbon. She would have looked so sweet and it is such a shame that she missed seeing all her relatives, and seeing her aunty as a beautiful bride.Before I succumbed to the mystery illness I was working on some wrist warmers like, it would seem, everyone else in blogland. Unlike everyone else though, I messed up the pattern! You will no doubt recognise the wrist warmer notion from Lucy's Attic 24 blog. Lucy chained 35 on a 3.5mm hook. Well, I was too lazy to go and look for my 3.5mm hook so chained 35 on a 4mm hook and ended up with rather large wrist warmers. I decided to turn them on end as a way of narrowing them a bit so now have vertical instead of horizontal stripes. This affects the way they sit on my wrist so instead of wrinkling down nicely in concertina folds they are a bit like armoured gauntlets, but never mind, they will do the job on cold winter mornings and they used up all the odd bits of Debbie Bliss wool I had left over from my sister and sister in law's scarves. One of these days I will sew in all the ends of my sister's scarf that I photographed in a very early blog post and then block it and photograph the blocking process like I promised. I just absolutely HATE sewing in ends! As an experiment, I crocheted in the ends on the first gauntlet and left them loose on the second to see which was easier. Crocheting them in was easier, and now I have another load of ends to sew in. Grrr!
But I will smile and make the best of it because..... seems I've been nominated for a Lemonade Award for "seeing blessings where they're not obvious and making lemonade instead of complaining about sour lemons." The award is being given by Beth at The Linen Cat Blog and I've been nominated by Anne at Andamento, my own absolute favourite blog, so it is a real thrill. Apparently I have to write down some things I am grateful for and then nominate some other lemonade-making bloggers. OK, here goes:

1. I am profoundly grateful for my amazing daughter and my happy-natured husband, and for my loving parents, wise brother and sparkling sister, and their families too.
2. I am lucky enough to have some really good friends - strong, unique women who enrich my life.
3. I am grateful for my good health and for that of my family and friends.
4. I am incredibly lucky to be what I want to be in life - a mum who is here at home with my little girl. It's not for everyone but for me it is the most precious dream of my heart and I treasure every moment of it.

I have some lovely blogs to nominate. Unfortunately I am so rubbish at computery stuff that I am not able to write them as links in the text and so have to put their full addresses:

And the link to the beautiful and inspiring blog which nominated me, Andamento, is

I dread the day I go back to work and have to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of computers. When I started work in the civil service, many moons ago, we used fountain pens and wrote on foolscap. Sounds like something out of Dickens now, but that's the way it was, and that's what I'm comfortable with, dammit! Oops, I may have just blown my chances of the lemonade award.

Monday 26 October 2009

a country mouse visits a big city

Country Mouse is still recovering from a big trip to Edinburgh the other day. An old friend and I went to a few of what used to be our favourite haunts when we both lived there. Susie's Wholefood Diner (below) sounds rather worthy but is a fantastic place to eat and the scene of many good times. In the olden days it was called Seeds and had rough plaster walls painted a warm golden colour and huge handpainted pictures of vegetables. Seeds is gone but Susie's is licensed so hey ho. It still has the rickety wooden tables and the same dodgy chairs and the menu hasn't changed in 20 years. If you ever visit Edinburgh and are feeling vegetarianly inclined, it's on West Nicolson Street.
Also on West Nicolson Street is one of the best pubs in Edinburgh, the Pear Tree. It has the most beautiful garden with a canopy of fairy lights in the trees. The house was built by a merchant in 1749 or something and is full of old books, paintings and big squashy couches. Unfortunately we had to give it a body swerve as there was an - eek- TV, showing - eek eeek eeeek - football.And below is a photo of one of the gates into the dark and gothic Greyfriars Churchyard. I couldn't get a decent picture as there was a City of Edinburgh wheelie bin jammed up against it. As a child I was very interested in the story of the loyal little dog, Greyfriars Bobby, who never left his master's grave. How did he eat? How long did he last with no food? Where was he buried? I can see where Little R gets this question, question thing from. If you feel like a good greet, have a read at this: and as a bonus you will find out how he ate and where he was buried, just like I just did when I read it two minutes ago after 35 years of wondering. Not constantly.
After our delicious lunch my long-legged and super-fit friend marched me at speed to Maxie's wine bar on Victoria Street. There is a roof terrace which must be amazing in the summer but as it was a bit cold for us oldies we went inside.
This is Victoria Street at 5pm on the day the clocks went back, so 6pm really. That's the Grassmarket running along the bottom of the street. You can just see in my bad photo a brightly spotlit stone plinth just where Victoria Street meets the Grassmarket. That's where the hangings used to take place. There are eyewitness accounts which tell of Victoria Street being solid with people and the windows and roofs all completely full as everyone jostled for a good spot from which to watch the executions, and the householders used to charge big money. That's Edinburghers for you.
We were good girls, and instead of phoning our husbands and saying we were having such a good time that we were going to stay out for longer, my friend put me on the 6pm train as arranged and DH and Little R picked me up in Glasgow, very happy to be back home after my wonderful adventure in the big city.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

a country mouse has a happy halloween

Little R just discovered that her aunt's wedding, at which she will be a flower girl, is taking place on Halloween and so she will not be going out guising. Cue shrieks and gnashing of teeth. I love Halloween too so we're having it early in this house. I have happy memories of a Halloween in Nova Scotia, where these things are done in style. So far we have a paper lantern pumpkin garland up in the hall, a witch-on-a-broomstick-shaped helium balloon and orange halloween straws with pumpkins and bats on them. The witch balloon is giving me the creeps. It drifts around of its own accord from room to room and it can be rather disconcerting to find it in the bedroom when two minutes ago it was downstairs getting in my way in the kitchen.
Below is a close up what Little R calls her Mildred Hubble dress, which is proving to be a great bargain in terms of price per wear as the fashion magazines say when persuading you to buy Agnes B instead of Dotty P.
The last few days have been busy and not particularly photogenic but I did manage to pick up a couple of bargains along the way. The Nigella jar above was from Cancer Research and cost £1. It needed a good scrub in - yay! - fairy liquid, but that was no hardship for country mouse. The wee book was 10p in another charity shop and the oven gloves were £4 in Matalan, reduced from £8. They are really good ones - long and heavily padded - and they have flowers and cupcakes on them. They are from Anthea Turner's range at Matalan, and I am now going to expose myself to great scorn by saying that I REALLY LIKE ANTHEA TURNER. No one else seems to. I say hooray for anyone who likes washing up as much as I do, and folding towels just the right way and using lavender water when ironing. And eating Flakes.
Here is the final version of the Findhorn blanket. I would have done a few more rows but my dad snaffled it to wrap up in against the cold winter breezes in his and mum's house. Mum is a fresh air fiend and does not agree with cosseting people with luxuries like central heating. I remember trying to study in that house when I was at uni and not being able to hold the pen properly because I had to wear gloves. Yes, they breed 'em tough in Scotland.
And finally, birthday cake no.4. Jelly Tots and everything. See, there are some good things about being 40.

Saturday 17 October 2009

a country mouse crochets up a storm

Country Mouse's crochet hook was smokin' last night. The postie finally brought my wool and I was able to crack on with this baby bottle holder for my nephew's birthday. I had to get it done as I'm seeing him today, so I went like the clappers and finished it at five past midnight this morning. Hook, hook, hook, sizzle, hiss.Here's the final result. The book is I Love Crochet by Rachel Henderson and Sarah Hazell. It has lots of easy projects but I can't share them with you yet as I have very ambitious plans to make some as Christmas presents and some of the recipients read this blog. The wool came from and arrived in a very exciting parcel, in which each ball of wool was individually wrapped in pink tissue paper. An absolute joy to receive. I would not like DH to know quite how much I spent though.
I also made my nephew a fleece hat from a pattern in another great book, Crafty Mama, by Abby Pecoriello. I highly recommend this book for quick presents as none of the projects require needle and thread, just a hot glue gun and some decent scissors. The wee red baby-wipe box below is an idea adapted from Crafty Mama. There is a pattern in the book for a baby-wipe box covered in funky fabric, which looked great but was footery to make and wasn't terribly durable. This version, with puffy stickers, might last a bit longer and will look cool in his nappy bag.
And since it is our anniversary today I made DH the sort of boy food he likes for dinner last night: chicken and ham pie and apple and blackberry crumble with ice cream. Good old Fay had a recipe for both. I padded the chicken pie out with extra leeks because I use organic/free range chicken, which costs a bomb for not very much.
I use ready made pastry for everything and wouldn't know where to start to make my own. So, for my version of Fay's recipe, you need a pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 leeks finely chopped, 2 organic chicken breasts chopped to bite size pieces, 1 organic chicken stock cube, slices of prosciutto ham torn into strips, handful of shredded basil leaves, 8 tbsps double cream, 1 beaten egg. Oven 200deg (fan). Sweat leeks for 5 mins in oil, add chicken and brown for further 5 mins then pour into oven dish. Add the ham, basil and pepper then pour over the cream plus 4 tbsps of the stock. Pop on the pastry lid, brush with egg then bake at 200deg for 20 mins then turn down to 180 next 20 mins. Fay's version involved a loose bottomed cake tin and a pastry base as well as a pastry top but that looked like a lot of faff for a country mouse.

The crumble recipe turned out great and this time I even remembered to add the sugar to the crumble mixture. I used 6 small gala apples and 2 punnets of blackberries. Peel, core and slice the apples and put with washed blackberries into pan with lid along with a splash of water and cook gently for about 5 mins till softened. Pour into dish and put crumble mixture on top. Fay's crumble mixture is 120g wholemeal or spelt flour, 40g light brown sugar, 30g ground almonds and 100g butter, cubed. Bake for 40 mins at 180deg (fan). She suggests only scattering extra sugar on one half of the crumble topping so any children who eat it don't suffer too much in the way of dental trauma but Little R would never stand for that. She scoffed every scrap and says she wants it for dinner - not pudding - every night from now on.