Thursday, 31 January 2008

Hurrah for Hugh!

I went to Tesco tonight, and it's not normally an area that I frequent but there were happy scenes to behold in the chicken aisle. It seems like the River Cottage Chicken Out campaign is having an effect because there were only 3 whole free range chickens and a few thighs left. The rest of the area was empty, whilst the non-freerange birds were left untouched.

There was almost cheering and jumping up and down. And then I realised it wasn't a good idea to make too much a spectacle of ourselves whilst I'd asked Olga to take a few pics on her phone! The little notice said that they're working hard with suppliers to meet the demand. And long may it continue :) If you have't done so already, I urge you to follow the link above to read all about the commercial chicken trade and sign up to the Chicken Out campaign if you can.

A quick PS... that tesco notice is actually a bit cheeky because it suggests 'Willow Farm' as an alternative to standard birds but this is in fact still indoor-raised meat and is therefore not free range and doesn't comply with RSPCA freedom food standards. For sure it'll be slightly better in terms of welfare than the standard stuff, but there are still big concerns. Beware of misleading packaging - if it doesn't actually say FREE RANGE then it won't be!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Farewell feasting

Last weekend was Jane's final one in Dundee before she heads off to warmer climes, so we had lots of people over for Sunday lunch. We'd been over to see Jean earlier in the week to admire the HUGE amount of pyrex cookware she won by entering a competition on tv. She very kindly gave me a lot of really useful dishes, many of which were called into service on Sunday. It was quite an interesting logistical challenge to get enough food for 20 people cooked and into suitable dishes! I didn't get as much time as I would have liked to chat to people as they arrived, but the event went very smoothly and we managed to get the food out at a reasonable time.

Before we get on to the serious business of the food, I also wanted to show off my DIY skills, and my new favourite corner of the kitchen. Thanks to Jean's very professional looking spirit level, I was able to put up a couple of shelves which have become home to my cookbooks.
They are now safe from the previous threat of getting wet because they were living on the worksurface right next to the draining board. A nice little space underneath has been liberated for the whisky collection and the glass jars.
You can also see in the picture a few shiny new utensils that Jane bought recently. The potato ricer is fantastic! I never realised what a difference it made, but it makes perfect mash. I feel a gnocci-making session coming on.

The greenery in the vase that you can see is a bit of a clue for the food. We took a covert trip down the road under the cover of darkness, scissors at the ready, and acquired large amounts of rosemary to go with the roast shoulder of lamb. 2 shoulders in fact, both of them weighing 4 kilos. Jamie Oliver did a programme about lamb the other day, and Jane got given the book of the series as a leaving present so we thought it would be a good time to give it a try. Here they are being prepared for the roasting...

The things in the other photo are polenta canapes that I made to nibble on in case we got behind schedule with the lunch. Diane also made some yummy crostini with broadbeans, pear and pecorino cheese. For dessert we had lemon mousse from Jean, crumble from Laura, pancakes from Iva and a tasty French dessert from Laurence with pears in a kind of custard batter. I'm really looking forward to finishing it off for my tea tonight. Sorry Laurence, I'm not sure how to write the name so I'll leave it to you!

Polenta squares with red onion marmalade and goat's cheese

Once again apologies for the slightly cowboy measurements, I was going freestyle!
Finely slice 3 red onions, cover and cook gently with a little oil until completely soft. Remove the lid, increase the heat a bit and add a tablespoon or two of brown sugar. Cook until most of the juices have evaporated and the sugar is starting to caramelise. Add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to taste, and maybe some thyme. Allow to cool.
Bring 1L of salted water to the boil, and add 250g quick cook polenta, beating vigorously. Cook for about 5 minutes until it's quite firm, stir in 2-3 handfulls of grated parmesan, season, then spread out to a thickness of about 0.5 - 1cm on an oiled baking sheet. Allow to cool and set firm, then cut into squares.
Place a teaspoon of the onion marmalade onto each polenta square and top with some crumbled goats cheese.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Setting off on a marathon WIP

I have a new WIP. A HUGE WIP. A VERY VERY LONG TERM WIP. I bought a magazine containing the pattern for a lovely big blanket called 'Leafy Heirloom' by Kim Hargreaves a long time ago, and have been gazing at it ever since. Ravellers go here for the knit along. January sales fever got the better of me and I scoured the internet to find the required (vast) amounts of Rowan All Seasons Cotton for a good price.

With some kind of wonky logic I have decided that the best way to stop myself casting on more and more projects is to add this blanket to my list of WIPS. I like the excitement of casting on a new thing too much, and start to crave it way before I've finished the previous thing. The more I do it, the more WIPs I have, and the slower they all seem to progress, which makes me bored and itching to go for yet another something new. Vicious circle.

But here comes leafy heirloom to the rescue! To complete the blanket I need to knit 48 squares corner to corner then sew them together. I've done 4 so far, pictured above after I blocked them and sewed them together. Every time I feel a bit of mid-WIP itch on the other projects, I'll bang out another heirloom square to give me a bit of a change but not a whole-new-project-sized break.

Does that make sense, or am I just trying to justify a big splurge on a LOT of NICE yarn?!? It was more or less half price at Cucumber Patch and a very good deal (although 36 balls of anything is never going to be cheap!), so I've almost got myself convinced it's justifiable :)

Sunday, 20 January 2008


I've finished the tank top I have been making with some of my Christmas yarn, hurrah! it's called Badia, and was a free pattern from Berrocco. The pattern called for 8 skeins, but I managed it without cracking into the 8th, so I've got enough leftovers for a skinny scarf hopefully.

The yarn is a bamboo tape called Bonsai. It took a bit of getting used to because it's quite shiny and slippery, and I went down from 5mm to 4mm needles to get the gauge. Picking up the stitches for the neck and shoulder edging was a little tricky too. It took ages to squeeze in the amount of stitches I was supposed to pick up, and the resulting rib looked to bunched up and almost frilly, so I undid it and started again by picking up only where it looked like there was an obvious place to do so. Seems ok I think. I feel the start of a tank top phase coming on!

Mushroom soup

When I get the chance, I bring out my huge cauldron-style cooking pot and cook up a load of stuff that can be frozen in portions for lunch. It doesn't take much more effort to make plenty, and it's so nice jut grabbing something that's ready to go rather than having to think about what to make for a packed lunch every day.

Yesterday I made some mushroom soup because I'm getting a bit fed with the hundreds and hundreds of pots of broccoli and stilton soup I have to work my way through. Mushroom soup always looks a bit brown and boring, but it's very tasty. The beauty of soup is that you can pretty much just chuck in whatever's available then add an amount of liquid to give it the right thickness once cooked. I've tried to note down a kind of recipe below though, with very rough quantities!

Mushroom Soup

  • Soak a handfull of dried mushrooms in some stock until soft, remove them and chop finely.
  • Heat 600ml milk with around 1.5 - 2L stock until nearly to the boil.
  • In a separate pan, fry 2 onions in a large knob of butter until completely soft. Add 2 packs of finely chopped chestnut mushrooms and the rehydrated dried mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes.
  • Stir in a handfull of plain flour and cook for 2 more minutes before adding the milk and stock to the mushroom mixture. Season well and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Blend in a food processor until smooth, then stir in a few tablespoons of finely chopped parsely and a glug of sherry.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Scottish Snow

After a week or so of cold wet weather, the snow conditions were looking promising so Marios, Barry, Jane, Alban, Stephan, Juanma and I set off very early on Saturday morning for Glenshee. It really was quite amazing, I had to keep reminding myself that we were in Scotland and not somewhere else because the snow was surprisingly good and the weather was perfect - not a cloud in the sky and no wind.

As you would expect lots of other people had the same plan, and the rather antiquated system of drag lifts were struggling to get everyone to the tops of the runs, but as a result the runs themselves weren't too crowded at all once we finally got through the queue to reach them. Jane made a batch of everything-tasty-in-the-cupboard flapjacks to keep us going and we had a great day enjoying the snow and the scenery with some nice leisurely paced skiing and boarding.

A few others joined us when we got back to Dundee, and we rewarded ourselves for a very successful trip with mulled wine, masses of chilli, and some yummy French cheese from Alban. Diane brought a long a lovely little felted gingerbread man who has taken up residence on the mantlepiece, pics to follow, thanyou Diane! Thanks to Barry, Alban and Stephan for the photos published here - I've mislaid my camera charger, hopefuly it's not in Birmingham from Christmas. Fingers crossed for more snowy weather so we can do it all again soon.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

spicy sort out

When I came home from the Christmas hols, Jane and I spent an afternoon sorting through and amalgamating our herbs and spices, together with those we inherited when Abdallah and Rebecca left Dundee. Oh my goodness, I don't think we need to buy any herbs or spices for at least 5 years! A good amount was thrown away (longevity award going to a 12 1/2 year old vintage of garam masala), and many things were combined.

Barry also did rather well from the session because we were able to put together a fairly comprehensive herbs and spices box containing some of everything we had in duplicate or more (which was most things!). The winner of the multiple pots award goes to mustard - FIFTEEN types of mustard were all open and in various states of completion.

Also there were 12 packets of cinnamon if you count both ground and sticks together...

I managed to bodge and extra shelf in two of the kitchen cupboards, so now our newly sorted and labelled collection had a new home too. It's only taken me 3 years to get around to it ;)

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Tentsmuir stroll

This afternoon Diane, Andrea, Jane and I went over the river to Tentsmuir for a bit of a walk on the beach. After a week of horrible grey and wet weather it was lovely to get out in the fresh air and enjoy some winter sunshine.

I really like the way that the shells end up on little stalks of sand as the wind blows away all of the stuff in between, and we were there at a good time of day to see them with nice shadows.

We walked from Tayport round the edge of the estuary mouth and a little way onto the beach. The tide was high so there weren't any seals sat on sandbanks but I was very determined to see one and managed to convince myself that a variety of birds and posts were seals in the water. After a while on the beach we actually nearly tripped over this little guy before we noticed him huddled up near the grass. Unfortunately I think he was probably sick or abandoned because he was all alone, but we did see an adult seal in the water as we walked further so hopefully it was the mother and she eventually made her way back to the baby once all the annoying noisy people had gone home.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

New year, new WIPS

Here's a quick update on what I've been up to with the knitting over the holidays - I had lots of time on trains going down to Birmingham, and then over to Cambridge, so I got plenty done which was great. All 3 of these major WIPS are with cables, my favourite thing at the moment.

I'm nearly ready to start the shaping at the top of my first CPH sleeve, which I knitted in the round to avoid having to sew up a seam. I may come to regret it when I'm struggling to attach the sleeve to the body when it's not flat but we'll see. No pics today.

For Christmas I got some lovely shiny Berroco Bonsai yarn, which I'm knitting a tank top from. The pattern is called Badia and is free from Berroco. They have quite a lot of good free patterns on there by the way.

I've also made a reasonable start on Jeanie, which is a wrap made from sock yarn on the latest edition of knitty. It's got reversible cables, with dropped stitches in between. The chart took a bit of getting used to but I'm definitely well into the swing of it now and it's not as complicated as it first seems. Slow going though, because the yarn's so fine. The brighter orangey bit you can just see at the bottom of the photo is a provisional cast on in waste yarn. When I've finished the top end, I need to put these stitches back on the needles and work them in to a cable border that runs around all 4 sides when finished. Scary stuff.

Happy Hogmanay!

Pete and Candi are here at the moment visiting from Canada, so on New Years Eve we braved the weather and made our way through the fog to Stonehaven for the hogmanay fireball ceremony. Every year at midnight there's a procession of people swinging enormous wire cages filled with burning rags through the streets down to the harbour where they get chucked into the sea. It's a tradition that has quite ancient roots, and has been revived in recent years. There are a number of theories about the origins but the general idea is to ward off evil spirits and that kind of thing. The spectacle was a little short-lived, with not much sign of the build up timetabled in the programme, but it was very exciting when a line of people eventually formed down the middle of the road with each one pulling a huge ball of fire behind them. You could really feel the heat from them, and they looked very heavy to swing around.
After the procession we walked down to the harbour and had a glass of champagne on the sand whilst watching the fireworks. I didn't get many good pics but here are a couple especially for Dan who nearly came with us, and also check out Jane's blog, I think she'll be posting some of her pics there soon. HAPPY NEW YEAR!