new friends, more cakes

Mama and babe

New friends down the road live in Gracie's idea of heaven. For several years she has begged to have a small farm that is home to a long list of animals. There have even been prolonged tantrums over not having her own farm. I'm sure one day she will make it happen.

Chick friend

What a fantastic visit we had. There are many newborns on this little farm at the moment. Lots of chicks, lambs, a one day old alpaca, brand new kittens and puppies on the way. There were also pigs and bunnies and rare breed sheep. 

Oinkers

We picked up the most beautiful fleece for felting when we first met, I'll have to get more soon. The fleece from the rare breed sheep and alpacas is so lovely it makes me want to spin. But do I need to learn a new craft, one that requires a large wheel – I'm thinking no (at least not right now;)

New babe

The little guy above on the left was born on Tuesday; he's called Diamond because he was a Jubilee baby. I love the colour and beautiful eyes of mama on his right there.

Snowy alpacas

The last of the parties was Thursday and we made some extra yummy cakes from our favourite Little Red Barn Baking Book.* These Velvet Butter Cupcakes weren't the quickest to whip up but well worth the effort. The head chef only let me help decorate two. She had so much fun with these – worth every last E number in those squeezy icing tubes.

Cake maker

The little sugar decorations I picked up at Waitrose, couldn't resist the tiny London buses.

Cakes

Our half-term break is nearly over, back to school Monday but we look forward to a visit from a dear friend tomorrow. 

Enjoy your weekend, and if you see Mister Sun, please send him back our way :)

Jx

* The Little Red Barn Baking Book (I've mentioned before) is getting hard to find but well worth the effort of searching for it. We love every recipe in it. The author, Adriana Rabinovich has now become an expert in gluten-free cooking after her daughter, Ruth was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in 2004. I have no doubt that her gluten-free recipes will be brilliant too. Her's is one of the only books I don't mess around with, every recipe is spot on.


Simple food and things

The-colours-of-yum
Lasagna in the making

If we all wanted different meals when we were younger we always got the same response from my mother, "This isn't a restaurant." Entirely the most appropriate response, especially with four young children to please. Though I always thought I'd have four too, I'm finding two children is often the perfect number of offspring. Making lasagna to order for instance; I simply layer each side with different ingredients. Each has their own favourite veg and sauce. Tristan is a pesto lover and Gracie likes tomato. Gracie eats all vegetables but Tris is more selective. When it comes to putting it all together they often do the layering themselves.

I recently asked the children to make a list of their favourite meals and this veggie lasagna made it into both their top fives.

The baking dish we use makes 4 portions or 3 large portions. If I'm making this just for the two children then there's enough for their dinner and leftovers for their lunch the next day.

This recipe fits into a small baking dish 20cm x 28cm (8 x 11 inches)

We have no recipe for this lasagna but this is how we make it.

Ingredients:
6 sheets of fresh lasagna pasta
250g pot of ricotta,
A few handfuls of mozzarella grated (roughly 1.5 cups)
1 egg
Selection of lightly steamed vegetables (Peas can go straight in fresh or frozen) 
Olive oil to drizzle 
Sauce of choice (we use green pesto on half and tomato sauce on the other half)

Preheat the oven to about 190 C and put one large pot of water on a gentle boil.

We don't have a pasta maker but we use fresh lasagna sheets from the supermarket fridge section.

Lightly steam a variety of vegetables and add a handful of fresh or frozen peas to the selection. Set the veg aside.

Mix one pot of Ricotta with a few handfuls or grated mozzarella (I'm guessing a little more than a cup) and one egg to bind. Mix well with a fork and set aside.

Put a couple of fresh pasta sheets into the boiling water for a minute or two. 

Spread a little sauce on the bottom of your baking dish. Take the two sheets of parboiled pasta from the water, let the water drip off of them then lay them over the sauce, covering the bottom of your dish with them (my dish was covered with two large sheets of lasagna pasta).

Add another layer of sauce over the sheets of pasta then spread over a couple spoonfuls of the cheese mixture. Top the cheese with a selection of vegetables.

Pop another two sheets of pasta in the water for a minute or two then repeat the process of layering pasta, sauce, cheese and veg again. Lastly, top with another two lightly boiled pasta sheets, then the remaining cheese mixture sprinkled with more grated mozzarella, enough to mostly cover the pasta. I also drizzle a little olive oil to the corners and edges so be sure it lifts out of the dish easily.

Bake for roughly 30 mins or until the cheese browns a little.

Note: We use the fresh pasta and partly steamed vegetables to cut down on the baking time I find it helps keep the veg and pasta from getting too gloopy and mushy.

Button-backs We've been spring cleaning up a storm and I'm happy to say we've excavated our way to G's floor. I'm only wishing my energy could stretch to the garden, it's in need of some hard graft, harder than I can muster this year. We might have to forego the vegetable plot, but who knows, the sun is shining today and it's nourishment might provide enough energy to at least get one bed dug up and ready for planting.

I also shipped out a few packages earlier this week. Lately I've taken to using mother of pearl button backs. Many of the mother of pearl buttons are scratched and dull on the fronts but are dotted with delicate colours on the backs, flipping them is a happy solution.


Bluebell-time
Bluebell time

We welcomed a new babe into the family this past week too. One of my sister-in-laws has two grown-up children and her eldest gave birth to baby Lily on Wednesday, we can't wait to meet her. Congratulations to Debs and Chris.

We're off for a walk, it's bluebell time, a spring highlight for us.

Happy Sunday,

Jx


Comfort and things

Rainy-day-biccies

Because the weather is stormy and children (and mother) irritable, today comfort in the form of baking was needed. Oatmeal & milk chocolate chunk cookies with tea perked us all right up and even helped get us through homework and a small mountain of laundry.

Tristan has started a blog all on his own. I'm not sure how much time he'll have to update it because of his long school hours but please check out his first posts if you have the time. I have a feeling my camera will start disappearing ;)

T's-Collage
You can read about his inspiration for this collage on his site

And I "spotted" this sweet toadstool treatment on a child's blanket on Bella Bobbin. It's made with the Mouse House appliqué pattern .

5403869767_c5c5fc2a6d

Bella Bobbin is full of spotty treats, I'm loving the look of the toadstool cakes.

Happy Sunday to you,

Jx

 

 


Collecting and things

Autumn-collection
Autumn collection

Can't before we're already in the home autumn stretch. My new bag is filled will these finds like those above these days. The chestnuts, cobb nuts and acorns are hard to find now due to the industriousness of squirrels bedding down for winter but I've still found a few. And I love the shape and texture of the beech pods, like woolly hats for the fairies and gnomes. The moss covers the ground beneath some birches on one of my walks and the birch branch beneath comes from a large branch I dragged home with me, it lost this small piece along the way.

Our weekend was filled with Bonfire Night celebrations. My photos from them aren't worth seeing or keeping but the town of Lewes, not too far from us, has a wonderful Flickr group that gives a great view of the festivities like this fantastic bonfire image by, Anna Richardson. I've written about Bonfire Night in the past, a sort of celebration of the notorious, Guy Fawkes, who endeavoured to blow up Parliament.

Bags-at-the-beach
Forager bag at the beach

We also had to stock up on new clothes for the children. Tris has grown six inches this year and his ankles have been showing beneath his trousers for way too long. After that job done, we stopped off at the beach and he snapped a few photos of another sample forager bag for me, all blurry, but a very good effort for a chilly afternoon at the beach. The pattern is done, just wanting some decent images of it, I may need to forego them.

Roasted-goodness
Yummy roasting

And today we've woken to the windiest, wettest storm of the season. We nearly needed a boat to get to school and I put off my walk. It's sounding quieter out there now so I think Pippi and I will hit the road soon.

Butternut squash soup will be on the menu for tonight and I'll be using the roasted squash for this empanada recipe of Pat's soon too. Some more seasoned logs were just delivered so we'll have a nice fire in the wood burner tonight too, one of the best comforts of the season.

A happy week to you all, I hope you're finding lots of comfort in this season too.


Seasonal eats, roasted pumpkin seeds and more

Seasonal-treat
Roasted pumpkin seeds

When we carve pumpkins each year we always save the seeds and roast them. After years of trial and error we've come up with a simple process for the perfect crunchy seeds. The key, I've discovered is in the drying.

Here's our very simple process:

After collecting the seeds spread them out on trays or greaseproof paper and let them dry for two days. When dry, toss them in a bowl with a few drops of olive oil. You want the seeds to have a very, very light coating of oil. If you need more than a few drops of oil add more a little bit at a time.

Preheat the oven to around 200C (around 400F). Spread the seeds on a tray and sprinkle with sea salt (try not to overlap seeds too much).  Roast in the oven for between 5 and 10 minutes keeping an eye on them. You'll here popping sounds as some of them crack open. Remove from the oven when they're golden brown. 

Butternut squash seeds are also great roasted this way but they take less time to dry because they're smaller.

The bowl was a birthday gift from my friend Cara. It's by Kent potter, Kevin Warren, I love his birds.


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We eat a lot of salads, year round. As the weather gets colder and I crave heartier foods I tend to make a lot of salads with steamed vegetables and roasted root veggies. We serve these slightly warm or room temperature. This is my very favourite dressing to use this time of year:

Tahini Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup tahini 
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp honey 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper 

Blend all the ingredients until smooth.

This recipe dresses two or three large family-sized salads. The tahini solidifies a little in the fridge, just stir it up and add a little more of the liquid ingredients if it's too thick.

Other ingredients we add to these salads to turn them into main courses are crunchy lettuces or rocket (arugula), various pulses (cannellini beans, black beans, lentils, barlotti beans, etc.), nuts and seeds.

Do you have favourite autumn foods and drinks?

 


If I can do it, you can too...

My-own-stone
Blue covered stone I made, white stone and standing mushroom, by Margie 

I could hardly believe that just seconds after putting up my last post the purl bee posted this tutorial by Margie. I swiftly grabbed a stone, thread and hook and started stitching. I'm not sure I followed the pattern exactly but it's okay, I still love it. I made this one as a mate to the sweet white one Margie made and I'm so excited to have made my very own. 

The stitches really are simple so if you're in the process of learning crochet give it a try. Really, if I can do it, you can too.

Pub-collage
In the garden of a nearby pub

And these are some images from our day at a pub nearby. This pub has the nicest garden we've ever been to and as you can see, doggies are welcome too. There's a beautiful kitchen garden and little nooks where you can curl up with a book, the Sunday papers, or in my case, a bit of crochet. I'm hoping the sun will shine brightly tomorrow when we meet our lovely Sonia and family in this very place - I can't wait!

If you visit Hampshire and are in the Petersfield area, email me for directions to this special spot. Oh, I forgot to mention, the food is all local and amazing and the regional brews are definitely worth a taste as well.

 More images of our favourite pub on Flickr.  


A favourite cake and another prize

Favourite-cake

Clementine Cake

I've tried to take photo of this cake many times, but never managed, we just eat it too quickly. It's from Nigella's How To Eat book and it comes out perfect every time. After a quick search I've found she has this recipe on her website here. Mine comes out darker, I'm wondering if it's because I bake with unrefined sugar which is darker, speaking of which, this recipe is not for the fainthearted in the calorie department. More often than not I tweak a recipe here and there for personal taste, but not this one - it's perfect, and so moist!

You know I'm a tea drinker, this cake is perfect with a cup in the afternoon - although I have been known to sneak a slice or two with my morning tea for breakfast instead.

CK-gift 

Prize Six

I don't know how, but I accidentally omitted this prize from my list in the previous post. I thought I'd put together five, but just went back to my file and realized I forgot to include this one, so it's six. This is a white linen tea towel, pre-washed and ready for embroidery. It's the same towel I used for this Christmas stitch-up. Prize six also comes with a set of fabric for a tea cozy. Cath Kidston spot fabric and co-ordinating floral fabric, cut into a tea cozy shape all ready to embellish before sewing it up. Of course, there's no need to embellish it if you don't want to, and in fact there's no need to use the fabric for the tea cozy, use it for something else if you fancy.

If you haven't entered the (six day) celebration contest, go to the previous post to enter. With six prizes to give away your chances are good :)

Hmmm... six seems a strange number, seven seems better, I'll have to think on that one. 

Happy Tuesday!


 

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas

Silhouette-ornament School's out for Christmas break, today we got the tree and the holiday festivities are in full swing. I've had this Robertson's marmalade lid sitting on my work table for months with the aim of putting a tiny silhouette in it and today was the day. When the Christmas tree is up later it will be our newest ornament addition.

Peppermint-bark
We followed Rachel's suggestion for peppermint bark earlier this week and made it for the teachers. Ours doesn't look as pretty as the batch Rachel showed us, or the one in the original recipe at Brown Eyed Baker. We used Green & Blacks white chocolate which has small bits of vanilla in it and it's very yellow – but I can tell you it was very tasty regardless of it's less than perfect appearance.

Mush-cap Also, I got into the habit of melting chocolate in the microwave, why, I don't know. This time because of  the large quantity of chocolate I popped it in a huge stainless steel bowl and put it over a giant pot of boiling water so the kids could do all the stirring and watch the melting process happen more easily. They loved it - probably their favourite culinary adventure to date, I highly recommend it.

We made jars like these on the right for gifting the peppermint bark, a pattern for them is coming soon ;)

Tiny tutorial
The silhouette project above was very easy but it was so tiny to cut that I gave up after several tries and decided to Photoshop her instead. It was very easy to do and I'm sure any image editing program would work, here's how to do it:

  • Measure the inside of your lid to find out what size you'd like the image to be, mine was just under 2.5" or about 6cm in diameter.
  • Photograph your subject in profile against a plain, light background then open the image in your image editing program.
  • Reduce your image to a size that will fit within your lid and save it to 300 pixels per inch.
  • Select the light background and then invert it. In Photoshop you would select the background with the magic wand then choose "Select" from the menu, then "Inverse." This step will make your subject selected.
  • Lastly fill the selection of the subject with black (make sure the background is white)
  • Print it out on to heavy weight paper, cut it into a circle (fitting the diameter of your lid) around the subject and glue it to the inside of the lid.
  • Glue a looped ribbon to the back, finished.

Note: Gimp is a very good, free image editing program, I'm not that familiar with all of it's features but I bet it could handle the simple tasks for this project. Also, cutting the silhouette out probably would have worked with manicure scissors, my embroidery scissors were not tiny enough.

Now I'm hoping my boy will pose for his profile so we can have a matched set, but now I must make a start on some Christmas cards.


Best broccoli

Purple-broccoli

I'm not sure if purple sprouting broccoli is available outside Europe, I know I'd never seen it here in the UK until five or six years ago. Apparently it was once the most common variety here in Britain but at some point the green type took over, no doubt commercial reasons involved.

Now it's very easy to get when it's in season, roughly January through spring. It has more flavour than the green stuff and we can't get enough of it. Most varieties of purple broccoli have long, slender stalks instead of one large crown. Everything is eaten on it, stalks, leaves and purple tops.

We get it at our local farm shop but any supermarket will now have it. We also get fresh asparagus at our local farm shop this time of year which is amazing freshly cut - we're going to try substituting purple broccoli in the following recipe with roasted asparagus too.

I found this dish in a magazine but I don't remember which one, cut it out without the details. I've altered it a bit and increased the amount, the original served two, this should serve four.

This is far and away my favourite pasta dish. Humble ingredients, but so, so scrummy.

Recipe:
About 750g purple sprouting broccoli (or green broccoli)
1 tbsp olive oil
50g unsalted butter
2 or 3 cloves of garlic chopped or crushed
Big pinch of dried chili crushed (I often use a teaspoon of chili paste instead)
Couple of good pinches of grated nutmeg (grate your own, it's worth it)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
4 anchovy fillets roughly chopped (you won't taste any fish, they will melt into the other ingredients)
300g (uncooked weight) orecchiette pasta, penne would work too
50g - 75g fresh Parmesan, grated

Trim just the ends off the purple sprouting broccoli (If using green broccoli trim the stalk and cut into bite-size pieces.) Heat the oil and butter in a wide-bottomed pan or wok (one that has a lid) and when it's sizzling, put in the garlic, thyme, nutmeg and chili. After a minute or so add the broccoli and anchovies. Splash a few tablespoons of water over the ingredients and a little salt and cover, cooking on a low heat for 10 mins or so.

Cook the pasta al dente style, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the broccoli mixture toss it through then do the same with the Parmesan.

Sorry I have no lovely photos to show you, I won't mess around with photography when this dish is ready, can't wait to eat it.

22-4-09

Although I'm cooking purple, today I'm feeling blue from head to toe. I'm only just managing to get it in on Wednesday to take part in Fi's www.

Wednesday here is sunny, hope yours is too :)





Five minute pizza dough

Pizza-dough

Ordering pizzas aren't an option for us, no delivery guys would come all the way out to where we live - but that's probably a good thing. Our pizza dough recipe is so easy, I make it by lunchtime and it's ready to roll for dinner. It literally takes only five minutes (not including rising) and tastes amazing.

Recipe:

  • 500g strong flour (I use 250g strong flour and 250g plain flour if the children are going to roll it as this combo is a bit less stretchy and easier to roll but tastes the same)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10g of dried yeast
  • 315ml of warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Mix the yeast with the warm water and add the honey. Stir it with a fork until the mix gets frothy.
In a large bowl stir the flour and salt together, then create a well in the centre of these dry ingredients. Slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the well and gather the flour up from outside the well into the well and mix all the ingredients together.

Dump the mix onto a flat surface and begin kneading. Add some flour a little at a time if the mixture is too sticky. Continue kneading the dough until it's smooth (about five mins.) Next form a round shape with the dough, slice a cross in the top of and dust it with flour.

Put the dough back in the bowl and cover it with a tea towel or cling film. Leave it in a warm place for two or three hours until the dough doubles in size.

This recipe makes two large pizzas or four small pizzas. On nights when we get home late from school I roll out one large pizza; I top half with Tristan's favourites (green pesto and mozzarella) and the other half with Gracie's, tomato sauce, mozzarella and various veggies. I then roll out the remaining dough and put it in the freezer for a quick meal at a later date.

Because this recipe makes four small pizzas it's perfect if each child has a friend over - they love kneading the dough, rolling it out then topping it themselves.

EDIT: Thanks Anne for your measurement comment. For American readers try Cooking Conversion Online which converts metric to imperial measures or the reverse. It's fantastic - a super quick way to convert all your favourite recipes - for bread making you can round off measures after converting them.

Www4-2-09 

And as it's "watcha wearing Wednesday" here it is. I can't quite reach high enough to get the front view, a little floral top, the softest tank underneath and a cropped cardi on top. Feet, my Christmas present Aussie slippers and unmatched wool socks.

I love these new sheep skin slippers I got for Christmas but because they have soles on them I've run out of the house for the school run, got in my car and down the track before realizing I'd forgotten to change into my shoes. I've done this not once, three times.

I'm playing along today just because it's sunny! However I don't expect Fi or anyone else will be up to joining in, the news in Australia is just too sad for frivolity. I'm sending happy thoughts to you all.

PS - Tomorrow a quick little felt tutorial, I'm joining the Meet-Me-At Mikes make-along with felt.