Monthly Archives: August 2012

It’s all a matter of balance

The above picture has nothing to do with this post is meant to be about but I just Had to show you the amazing new towels that my mother bought us. Don’t you just love them?! They’re my special crochet towels – they make me want to start whipping up rainbow granny stripes now! So wonderful. I smile everytime I use them. Who doesn’t love a good towel fest?! My mom’s actually quite obsessed with towels but cannot fit any more in her house. If this means that she has to buy me more of these beauties to get her fix then all’s good – whatever makes her happy! 

Anyway, let’s consider getting to the point, shall we?

I realise that so far sweet treats have featured quite heavily in this blog (see here, here and here). Now I would be the first person to admit that I am quite a fan of a slice of cake or a bit of chocolate with my morning/afternoon/evening cuppa but I try to maintain a good balance in my eating habits. I love cooking and like to prepare a fresh, healthy evening meal when I can be bothered time allows. There are usually 3 main considerations when preparing dinner: quick to prepare, cheap (my maternity pay is reducing every month) and healthy (I really am working hard to loose the baby weight, believe it or not!).

I have my favourites, meals that I prepare time and time again, but sometimes I like to try something new. Last Tuesday was one of those days. I love lasagne but do not make it very often because of the time of preparation, the cost of ingredients and the calorie count (meat, cheese sauce, pasta = diet buster!). It is a Special Occasion Dinner. On Tuesday, however, I had a yearning for layers of flat pasta – the appearance of lasagne without the rich, calorific meat and cheese sauce. I raided the fridge and put it together to make a mushroom and spinach lasagne – I am going to name it Abigail’s Light Lasagne. Cheap, healthy and quick to prepare (it was in the oven by the time little one had been bathed and dressed!).

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne (serves 2)

Fry 2 chopped onions until soft. Add 250g sliced mushrooms, season and cook on high for 5 mins. Stir in 2 crushed garlic cloves for a further 2 mins.

Rinse 100g spinach with boiling water to blanche it.

In a separate dish, pour boiling water over 6 sheets of lasagne and leave for 5 mins to soften. Drain.

Lay half of the pasta on the bottom of an ovenproof dish then spread the filling over it. Top with the spinach then cover with the remaining lasagne.

Beat 1 egg and whisk into 250g yoghurt. Season and pour over the pasta. Sprinkle a little cheese over the top.

Bake in a moderate oven for 30 mins.

Serve with a side salad and enjoy!

This dinner was given the thumbs up by hubby who thought it was cheesy (the topping reminded him of creamy ricotta) – not faint praise from a cheese fanatic. Let me know if you try the recipe – maybe you could try a different filling depending what you have in your fridge? Do you have any ‘light alternatives’ to family favourites? xxxxx

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Baby Granny

18.46 on Saturday evening found me sitting on a patio, a glass of cool cider in my hand and gazing at this view above me.  I think the light is so beautiful, illuminating the clouds, but it really shows how the nights are drawing in now. It was one of the many sweet, relaxing moments I have been enjoying in between all of the frantic activity that is happening around here. The garden makeover is continuing and, although this does not involve digging and barrowing on my part, there are long days of marathon tea/coffee/squash making, cake/cookie/sandwich provision, constant dishwashing, muddy clothes laundering and cooking dinner for double figures. Intense and tiring for all, but it is SO exciting to see the progress the boys have been making and we are incredibly grateful for the labour and support that our generous family and friends are giving us. I have been documenting the work and I hope to share it with you as soon as I find a bit more computer time!

I digress. The photo was taken at my Aunt and Uncle’s 25th wedding anniversary party. Such a lovely gathering with the next generation really taking centre stage. My little one is still a bit young to participate with anything more than gurgles (party or not, he was still in bed by 7 anyway!) but there were lots of my cousins’ children running around and I think they really make a family party. Well, kiddies and Food, of which there was plenty. A delicious vegetable paneer curry, which I must get the recipe for, and these wonderful strawberry cupcakes made by my cousin:

They even had strawberry in the sponge, which made them extra special. I have only recently discovered cooked strawberries, in sponge and crumble, and I am a big fan of the idea. Totally different to raw strawberries, I love the taste and texture. As the season’s ending I must remember to look out for soft fruits being sold cheaply.

Anyway, I promised you crochet today so here we go: Baby blanket number 2. (For Baby Blanket 1 see here).

I absolutely love this blanket, which I was surprised about. It’s very simple and not in my usual colour pallette but I think it’s so pretty and snuggly. It is Stylecraft DK, recommended 4mm hook, but I used a 5mm hook which makes the stitches a little loose but I think gives a lovely soft, light feel.

Obviously this is basically a good old granny blanket – 6 blocks of each colour, a cream border and then join as you go. (*Edited – there are actually 7 greens/blues used here. Who knew?!) Simple! However I think that the effect of seperating the border from the granny square with a row of chain stitches looks really effective. The inspiration for this came from Jacquie’s lovely Twin Blankets and she has done an excellent tutorial here.

I really enjoyed whipping up these squares – very theraputic. It is unbelievable that I was sat on a train to Southport, 7.5 months pregnant hooking them and now I have a 5 month old snuggling under them. Such special memories.

An awful picture, I know, but it does give me the opportunity to introduce you to ‘Mork the Stork’, our wonderful friend who lives in our living room and was a wedding present from my Aunts. I love him so much! A future crochet project is a ‘beak protector’ to prevent nasty accidents when the little man starts walking.

Now for the important bit: seeing the blanket being put to good use.

See that little foot? Munchable!

Warm and snuggly in those colourful squares!

I tried to get the little man to model the blanket for you but it all went a bit wrong.

Little fists pulled it merrily this way and that before the inevitable happened…

Yum yum!

Hopefully there will be more crochet news soon – a Ripple ta-dah and two new projects on the go. Exciting.

Happy hooking! xxxxxxxxx

Blanket Stats:

Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK

1065 : Meadow
1316 : Spring Green
1003 : Aster
1019 : Cloud Blue
1068 : Turquoise
1034 : Sherbet
1422 : Aspen *Edited – this was the colour that I originally omitted!
1005 : Cream

Hook: 5 mm (H)

Pattern: 4 round Granny Square then Bunny Mummy’s ‘chain round a granny‘ before the final round

Size: 80 x 80 cm (36 squares)

Edging: Double V Edging

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A trip to the farm – Part 2

Hello! Yesterday I started telling you about our trip to the wonderful Waterfowl Sanctuary and Children’s Farm near Banbury Cross. I am really enjoying looking back at the pictures of this fantastic day and I hope you are too – here comes part 2!

Just one more photo from pets’ corner first:

Awww! After we’d had all of the cuddles we wanted inside, we stepped outside. The sanctuary was 22 acres of muddy grass fields surrounding a series of ponds. It was so green and pretty. The animals wandered freely around the site with lots of cute little huts for them to nest in as they wanted. Don’t you just love the colour of this hen-house?

Not to mention the peacock in front, of course!

As soon as we walked around the back of the centre we were met by a group of expectant waterfowl. The ducks, geese and chickens walked/waddled/pecked happily at our feet, demanding food from the little people who were holding bright, plastic buckets full of feed. Watching the look on my 2 year old cousin’s face as he chased 3 ducks around with his fists full of food pellets was so sweet! It felt like my heart was going to explode. When he realised that he was meant to throw the feed it was a case of us all dodging missiles but the animals didn’t seem to mind.

Just look at those feet go, splashing through the mud! The wellies were definitely worthwhile but we had been right to choose to travel here as the weather stayed dry and we had regular spells of glorious sunshine. (Very lucky as hubby assured me that it was Wet at home).

I just loved this place. Out in the fresh air we walked/ran/splashed around whilst vast numbers of ducks and geese flocked across the ponds to eat the food that we were throwing over the fence. Such simple fun! There was a large, wooden viewing platform from which we could survey the whole place.

The geese were so funny – I was pleased that they were inside the fence as they were pretty menacing when they were flapping their wings and hissing at us if we didn’t feed them Immediately.

I think this is a Greylag Goose. I remember a school trip to the park in year 5 which was followed by an art project where we had to draw a couple of the birds that we’d seen. I chose to do a Hooper Swan and a Greylag Goose and I was SO Proud of my final pictures.

I had quite a soft spot for these fellows (Muscovy Ducks, I believe).

A fuzzy photo, I know, but look at that face, bless him!

‘Excuse me, can I help you?’ – This guy looks so inquisitive. Does anybody know what breed he is?

The Indian Runner Ducks were brilliant. My sister has one of the wooden Duck Company ducks and I think they must have modelled them on these.

I adore birds. The ducks and geese were great but it is the twittering little fellows in the trees that I really love. My parents have the most fantastic garden for birds and my dad devotes hours to their care on a daily basis. I can’t wait until our garden is finished and attracting birds again – at the moment it’s just a haven for crickets. The noise from the little people made the chance of bird watching pretty slim (not that we got a chance to look) but I loved the chickens pecking around our feet and snoozing under the bushes. This guy looked like he ruled the roost!

The final part of the sanctuary was the children’s farm which included a donkey, some llama and an ostrich. I’m sure there were others but unfortunately I missed most of this as I was needed for feeding duties. The joys of a baby! I did get to spend some time with the goats though. They were extremly friendly!

Like all goats there seemed to be no limit to how much they could eat – endless handfuls of grass were consumed with gusto!

It has been wonderful reliving our day out and sharing it all with you. It makes me think about when my little one has grown up a bit and can enjoy such outings. So much to look forward to!

What are your favourite places to visit? I think I will have to organise another family outing very soon. 🙂

See you very soon with some crochet goodness. xxxxx

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A trip to the farm – Part 1

Well, what a busy time I’ve been having – seems like ages since I’ve blogged. Lots of visitors, lots of wonderful friends and family time, lots of entertaining. We also have my lovely father-in-law as a house guest.  All lovely but the days have been very Full. I am expecting to ease back into a slightly gentler routine this week so I’ll be able to share all of the posts I have lined up to show you. It’s so lovely having the photographs to look through to remind me of how much fun it all was. I have not had a chance to upload the piccies from this week yet but I have this post that I told you about here when I had just returned from a wonderful day out. I cannot believe it was a fortnight ago but I think you will enjoy seeing this. As promised, it is going to be choc full of cuteness!

The weather forecast for Birmingham and the surrounding area was apalling with regular, heavy rain predicted throughout the day. Living in England one cannot stay in just because of a bit of weather but days out in the rain with babies and young children are not always the most relaxing experience and we were hesistant to spend a fortune on a trip that could end up being a wash out. If we went further East, however, the weather prospect was slightly clearer. After a bit of Googling I came up with a destination – a Waterfowl Sanctuary and Children’s Farm near Banbury Cross.

Anybody with experience of travel with babies and young children will know that getting out of the house is like a failing military opperation (especially when, like me, they have a relaxed, slightly haphazard approach to life). Eventually, by late morning, everybody had been kitted out with coats and suitable footwear (Wellington/Gum Boots were a must!) and we were off. By the time we found ourselves driving through the delightful village of Bloxham there were already cries of hunger from the back seats. Normally we would pack a picnic for this sort of outing but this was Grandparents Treat Day so we stopped at the Horse and Groom Inn in Milcombe. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the pub or the delicious grub within but all I can say is Yummy. If you are ever in the Banbury Cross area I recommend a trip to this tavern as the food was superb and was devoured by one and all.

It was mid afternoon when we finally reached our destination. Hopes were high – we had never heard about this place before and we were hoping it would not disappoint. Imagine my delight when we walked through the door and were greated by this pile of colourful, woolly goodness:

Any doubts disappeared. This place was going to be fun! And indeed it was. The sanctuary was a small, family run operation with a warm, friendly vibe and was very reasonably priced. No gimics, just animals, mud and space for children to run in. Perfect. I felt quite nostalgic with the humble simplicity of it all – there are not many commercially run children’s attractions with shelves like this in their shops:

Just look at them – awww! So sad that after all that work they’re only sold for £3.99.                    

The first attraction was a sort of ‘pet’s corner’, which was wonderfully low key and interactive. Those colourful woolly scraps were put to good use as little hands got to stroke the bunnies…

…the big people got a cuddle too!

The guinea pigs were just adorable – my sister once had one that looked just like this:

Just look at that twitchy nose! So Cute!

The gerbils were very friendly but too fast to catch on camera…

…and this little guy was just Too Gorgeous!

 However there was no competition for my favourite:

I wish I could show you the faces of the children as they got to hold them all. ‘Look – A Real Duckling sitting in My Lap!’

All of the animals were really friendly and used to being held, even by excited little hands, and the staff were very patient, happily exchanging the rabbit for a chick for a duckling until everyone was satisfied. So much enjoyment and we’d only just entered the place!

I hope you’re enjoying the trip so far. I’m going to sign off now but come back tomorrow where there will be plenty of these fellows waiting to say hello:

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Elmer Blanket

As someone who finds great pleasure and satisfaction in hooking a variety of yarns into pretty, colourful shapes a baby means one thing – baby blankets! (By the way, apologies for the wrinkled bedding. I do not iron, especially not sheets!)

After an initial dabble into oh-so-cute crochet bootie production I quickly realised that I was not interested in creating baby clothing. For those of you who may be, this pattern came from a rather delightful book called ‘Cute & Easy Crochet’ by Nicki Trench. It is a gorgeous book full of wonderful hooky products, although I admit I spend more time gazing at the scrumminess within than actually creating the products.  Adorable as this bootie is, it still does not have a pair. I just spent the rest of my pregnancy staring at it and exclaiming ‘awwwww’!

It was definitely blankets that I was interested in. I had a yearning to wrap my little one in soft, colourful drapes that I had created myself. Work, Ofsted and pregnancy lethargy did not leave time for mass production but the arrival of maternity leave gave me the opportunity to put ideas into action.

The lovely Heather of Little Tin Bird was in the middle of one of her baby blanket phases, whipping up a trio of woolly delights for her friends who were expecting. Unfortunately I cannot compete with her incredible hooking speed so I had to choose one design to attempt. As soon as I saw it I fell in love with her gorgeous Elmer blanket. Afterall, what better inspiration for people who love colour than Elmer?

This blanket is made up of solid granny squares crocheted together at the end (Heather has written a wonderful tutorial here if you fancy whipping up some colourful blocks yourself). The dense nature of these blocks has proved to be useful as it helps prevent busy little fingers and toes getting caught.

Having collected quite a healthy stash of Stylecraft Special DK, I chose 12 colours and created 6 blocks of each. As each square is a single colour, this blanket is relatively quick and easy with minimal colour changing and weaving in of ends. Perfect!

Once a pile of rainbow coloured squares had accumulated I laid them out, trying to spread the colours evenly, and photographed the final design for reference. 

I have never crocheted blocks together before but found the process of whizzing along the edges very theraputic. Lucy of Attic 24 has a superb tutorial for Joining Granny Squares, clear and concise as always, which made the process simple and stress free. I chose to copy Heather’s idea of using the bright red to join. This is mainly visible from the back but I love the way the vibrant colour peeks through at the corners.

I think that this blanket’s overall charm is its simplicity. The blocks of unfussy, solid colour are so effective that I did not want the border to detract from this so I chose to keep the edging simple with a row of  UK treble crochet followed by a row of double crochet. Unfortunately, I misjudged the number of stitches needed and inexperience meant that I did not spot the problem until I had almost finished the second row. Bowing to pressure from others I left it as it was but it still niggles everytime I look at those crinkly edges. Ah well, live and learn!

However, when I just look at the colours it makes me smile. And of course, most importantly, the blanket being put to good use.

This was my first completed crochet blanket and I admit, I LOVE it! So let’s indulge in a bit more blanket loving. It looks good with spots…

…and stripes.

The baby I made snuggling into the blanket I made. Awww!

Blanket Stats:

Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK

1065 : meadow 
1316 : spring green 
1003 : aster 
1019 : cloud blue 
1068 : turquoise 
1188 : lavender 
1034 : sherbert 
1061 : plum 
1390 : clematis  
1132 : shrimp  
1246 : lipstick 
1081 : saffron 
1020 : lemon  
1246 : lipstick (border)

Hook: 4mm (G)

Pattern: Little Tin Bird’s Solid Granny/Elmer Squares

Size: 90 x 60 cm (12 x 8 squares)

Edging: UK tr, UK dc

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Out of my window…

18:04 The black clouds roll in, overpowering the blue.

18:05 Clouds hang over the lake and rain covers the ground.

18:05 Raindrops patter onto the windowpanes.

19:20 The clouds lift and light returns.

19:21 Peace and tranquility is restored.

The weather in these parts is truly incredible at the moment – never staying the same, unpredictable from one minute to the next. I never tire of watching it arrive over the lake.

Thank you for sharing it with me today. Join me tomorrow for a crochet reveal.

Abigail xxxxx

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Inviting you to tea

Can you believe it was raining this morning? Not just a few drops but black sky, splish-splash-splosh, sheeting rain. This would not have been such a disaster if hubby was not on holiday. More specifically, Mr D has taken all of his remaining annual leave to make something wonderful out of our garden. To wake up and be greeted by the sound of rain pounding on the windows on day 1 of the project is not a good start. There was definitely a black cloud hovering inside the house as well as out.

What to do in situations like this?

Go somewhere with a display like that. How can anybody feel gloomy when greeted by such a sight? This counter is to be found in The Garden Room, the cafe accompaniment to a garden centre local to my parents. Since maternity leave I have enjoyed being ‘a lady that lunches’ here more often than is probably good for me but I love it. And what do I have at this wonderful place? For me there is only ever one option: High Tea.

A choice of sandwiches, a scone and a cake of your choice served with a pot of tea in a china cup (and a glass of fizz if you really splash out!). I can vouch for the quality of their Bakewell Tart (my usual choice) and Key Lime Pie (my mom has this) but today we decided to try somethingdifferent: Chocolate & Coffee Cheesecake and Fridge Cake/Chocolate Tiffin.

By the way, did you notice the half eaten cake on the plate at the back? My darling husband did not appreciate being asked to wait to eat. Or to move for this photo. The scowl returned but it did not last long. The things he has to put up with!

There is no scowling with this lot in front of you. I would be lying if I say that I have not sat with a partner and cleared this whole stand before but I do not wish to scupper my belly busting diet so we were good…the cheesecake and tiffin are currently resisiding in our fridge awaiting their destiny. See my halo?! The rest, I can assure you, was scrumptious. And it worked. By the time we had finished smiles were on our faces and the sun was shining in the sky.

A happy ending.

I cannot get enough of that sky. I wish I had taken a photo of the rain to contrast this with.

We may not be on holiday but I cannot be anything other than happy when the sky looks this big and brilliantly blue.

It lifts me out of the city.

Wishing you sunshine not showers, xxxxx

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Snapshot

Greetings! Some days have a purpose: a planned outing, a special meal, a celebration. However the majority are not so clearly defined. They are not particularly exciting or momentous but comfortable and familiar. They contain the little events that make up everyday life and I am very grateful for them. 

I am forever fascinated at having the opportunity to peek into the homes and lives of fellow bloggers and I love having the opportunity to share and record these here. So this is a little snapshot of what is happening in my life on this Sunday:

In my garden:

The roses are smiling at the intermittent sunshine.

 

I love fushia – they look like beautiful ladies dancing through the sky on tiptoes, their pink skirts swirling.

 

I used to love popping the buds as a child.

This little bee was snoozing on the job.

On the lake:

A gentle breeze rolling over the lake making the reflections shimmer on the surface. It felt very tranquil.

With my tea:

A sneaky little slice  of chocolate cake. I decided to make only half a cake so that I can enjoy a little slice of what I fancy while not scuppering my attempts to lose the baby belly. Clever, no?!

On my hook:

I am on the final colour of my edging for my ripple blanket. I am so excited, I love this blanket and am incredibly proud to have nearly completed it. More about this soon!

 Hoping you stop and look at the little things in your life today. Enjoy!

xxxxxxxxxx

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French Onion Soup

Happy Saturday! And a very enjoyable Saturday this is turning out to be. Any day’s off to a good start when pancakes are around. Lemon and sugar is always good but toffee sauce and strawberries won out this morning. This plate of goodness brought a ray of sunshine to proceedings, which was welcome considering the gloom outside.

However, the clouds slowly lifted and the sun is shining brightly around here this afternoon.

The trees are blowing merrily and fluffy white clouds are whizzing through the sky. Everything seems right with the world when the sky’s that colour.

I love watching the light dance over the lake like little jewels glinting on the surface. We are very lucky to have such a beautiful area of tranquility opposite us. You can almost forget that we live in the middle of England’s 2nd biggest city!

Now, I know that I said that today would be sharing the delights of yesterday’s adventures however today has involved some last minute cooking so I am going to share my lunch with you instead!

Soup isn’t the automatic choice for the hottest recorded day in 2012, but this morning did not give many clues to the delightful weather instore. Also, the good thing about French Onion soup is that it is a soup that can be enjoyed all year round without making you think of chilly January evenings with the fire blazing.

I love French Onion Soup – it is always my chosen starter at Café Rouge.  Unlike many others, it is a really simple soup to make at home but the results are restaurant quality in both taste and (sometimes) appearance without the price tag. For a really indepth study of broth creation check out this page on the Guardian website, but I think the recipe is fairly flexible and can be adapted to suit your store cupboard.

French Onion Soup – serves 4-6

1kg onions, finely sliced

2tsps sugar (I use demerera)

1tbsp vinegar (balsalmic, cider or wine vinegar work well)

2 heaped tsp cornflour/cornstarch

1.2ml stock (see below)

1tsp Bovril/Marmite (optional)

Salt

Glug of sherry/brandy (optional)

The secret to good onion soup is to fry the onions for a long time on medium, stirring regularly, until they are brown and caramelised. I usually do them for 30-40 mins.

When they start sticking, stir in the vinegar and scrape any goodness off the bottom of the pan.

Many recipes will tell you to add flour now but I find that this can lead to the possibility of lumps, especially if you are impatient and trying to get dinner on the table. To eliminate this problem, mix the cornflour with a little water to make a paste then add to the stock.

A word about the stock. I usually prefer a mixture of beef stock and cider or white wine, though the booze may be omitted if preferred. The better quality your stock is the tastier your soup will be so I usually use stock pots or ready made stock, although cubes will be fine. Vegetable stock will work well if you are looking for a vegetarian version.

Add your chosen liquid to the onions and cook on low – the longer, the better so allow 1hr or pop in the slow cooker until dinner. (If the family is threatening mutiny then just simmer for as long as possible!)

Finally, season to taste and add in the booze if using.

Serve with cheesy croutons – toast some baguette, sprinkle with grated cheese then grill until bubbling. Stringy cheese, such as Gruyère works particularly well but this was last minute cooking for guests so we had cheddar on ciabatta!

I hope you will feel inspired to soup up your dinner one day soon. Let me know if you try the recipe or have your own version.

xxxxxxx

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Cookie comfort

Just a quick hello after a busy day. We’ve got visitors of the little variety which bring an exhilarating energy to proceedings, even if one does end the day exhausted!

I made cookies yesterday in anticipation of the mini people’s arrival. Choc chip with sultanas (one of your 5 a Day, don’t you know!). There are not many things that are quicker to bake than these cookies – they can be mixed and baked before the little one wakes from his nap!

Look at those dollops sitting there, ready to be cooked. Yum yum. Tasty little treats to enjoy with a cup of tea.

I have just uploaded all my photos from today and look forward to showing you them tomorrow. There are so cute!

I can’t resist just showing you this one as a sneak preview:

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