Oreo butterfly cakes 👍
Also a smashing afternoon en amité but largely it was about Oreo butterfly cakes.
It was back to the office this morning after twelve glorious days off. Standing on the station waiting for the train this morning in the blusteriest gale it felt like I’d never been away. It’s funny how work time goes so differently from not!work time. My watch strap broke before Christmas and I haven’t got round to getting a new one yet so I’m reliant on either my computer or my crackberry wireless device to tell me the time. Truth be told, I kind of like not having a watch it makes me feel like I’m less… trapped isn’t the word I want, but that’s the sentiment. Whilst I was up in Rural Derbyshire for Christmas I generally had no clue of the time unless I was looking for something else to watch on the old telly box or I’d gone to look for my crackberry to see if anyone was missing me (shallow, I know). It was nice.
Back to Rural Derbyshire though… I spent nine fabulous days at my parents’ basically doing very little outside of familial obligations (which largely entailed entertaining the small members of the family, something not to be sniffed at). I watched a lot of really bad TV (up to and including possibly every episode of The Professionals ever plus various lousy man films) and some not so bad TV, knitted a lot, went for a few glorious walks that involved going up, up to the top of the world when the weather allowed and sporadically wandered into the kitchen to do a bit of cooking. I’ve decided that my 2012 aim is really to get over my love-hate relationship with cooking and turn it into a love-love relationship, I don’t want to see it as a chore/means to an end any more.
At 9am on Christmas morning I was drinking an unset champagne jelly, eating toast and making a pavlova whilst trying to not mention that the last time I made mereingue I’d been in Guides. I am, mes chums, Klassy with a capital K. Oh yes. Thing was, Christmas Eve my poor mother had followed Delia’s champagne jelly recipe to the letter but the dratted things just would not set so twenty four hours later we reluctantly returned to the drawing board. “I’ll make pavolva” I said blithely at around half past eight looking up vaguely from my new book of baking recipes, clearly still half asleep from having crept in at midnight from the pub. I’d made mince pies a couple of days previously, in comparison how difficult could a pavolva be? Erm, a little is all I’ll say on the matter. Luckily, mereingue – like pastry – doesn’t have a hissy fit if you feel the need to keep opening the oven door every five minutes to poke at it. On the plus side, it all turned out fine (hurrah for Good Housekeeping, say I) and it was jolly yummy.
So I had seafood with trimmings for Christmas dinner, I kid you not. It was ace. Basically I’m not that giant a fan of meat and I’d already had two turkey dinners before Christmas – you see where I’m going? I have been known for my Christmas dinner previously to just have trimmings, no meat no alternative at all (these were mostly in my teenage vegetarian years – the vegetarianism fell by the wayside when I moved to France for a year). In recent years I’ve made a token gesture to the turkey and had a tiny couple of pieces but… well, seafood is frankly vastly more fun. Christmas dinner was eaten at Favourite Auntie’s house, cooked in Favourite Auntie’s Aga and washed down with a vast quantity of vino. It was ace.
My festive knitting was limited to two (fairly big) projects: a blanket for my Big Nephew and a cardigan for myself (yes, the grey Fair Isle cardigan I’ve been going on about for ages). A couple of years ago I knitted my mother a mitre squared blanket which my Big Nephew is now quite attached to so he’s getting his own so my mother has a chance of reclaiming ownership of hers. I love mitre squares, they are terribly soothing and a 60 stitch one takes approximately one episode of West Wing to knit. What could be better? My cardigan currently has a back, one front and half a sleeve; I’ve found that, as usual, my concentration span has completely hit the fan since coming back to London.
Today has involved some pretty serious retail therapy to try and get myself over the shock of the return to the office. Actually, I think I consider books and yarn to be essentials in my life, new towels on the other hand I think make me some kind of scary grown up type and this bothers me. I may need an Allegedly Healthy Cookie to get over this. And, on the subject of resolutions (which we weren’t), tomorrow I must not sleep through my alarm and wake up too late to have breakfast because, much as I agree with Kathryn’s assertion that cake is breakfast, it doesn’t do my diet masses of favours… 😉
I haven’t blogged about knitting for a while – I seem to have been taken over by this random urge to show you ALL OF THE CAKE I BAKE. In case, after my last post, you’re still labouring under the misimpression that I’m the next Delia Smith – you can’t currently breathe in our kitchen the volume of smoke I created making lunch. As far as lunches go, it wasn’t even that exciting and certainly not worthy of driving me from the kitchen to eat. On the plus side I did get to watch Neighbours with my lunch for the first time in years – there was even a Karl Kennedy moment! I tell you, briefly it was just like being back at university…
These started life as a pale green beaded lace shawl. Yeah, really don’t look like that now… The pattern and I didn’t get on, let’s put it that way and leave it at that. This was a much better idea, I can knit gloves without a pattern. Well, I like to think I can. Shall I share the tale of my sorry stupidity? You know you want me to… I know, I know that to start a right thumb it’s two stitches in and to start a left thumb it’s two from the left. Have I knitted dozens of pairs of gloves? Yes. Have I only started to have a mental block on this in the last few months? Yes. Have I knitted three pairs of right gloves now this winter? Yes. Oh self! Will i point out any mistakes if anyone asks? Hell yeah! I don’t want people thinking I’m more amazing than I actually am… 😉
I finished my blanket a while ago but I realised the other day I’d not taken any photos of it. So I’ve remedied that. I love knitting blankets, I tend to usually have one on the go because they’re just nice, pretty, mindless knitting – and they’re very good at using up leftover bits of yarn, yarn you’re not sure what to do with, yarn you wouldn’t knit an entire thing with but the odd square is okay. My current blanket method is 30 stitches by 30 rows on 4mm needles, I knit six of these 30×30 not-quite-squares in a strip and then sew them all together. But don’t you hate sewing, I hear you all cry. I sure do, but you cannot knit an entire blanket in one piece. Well you could but it would be huge and heavy and a little unwieldy.
There are strips of random lace, cables, rib and colourwork stitches. And the thing I like about these kinds of blankets is that there’s something to say about every single square. Each bit of yarn I’ve used on this has a story, something that it went into before the leftovers went into my blanket. I’m just going to share some of my favourite squares, it’s easier:
I love knitting blankets. I love the effect of everything all together. I love the fact that I don’t have to think to knit them. I just… knit. And I don’t have to worry about which side the thumb goes on and that, mes pals, is toujours a bonus.
Things I have learned this week: class is a super struggle after your work Christmas lunch. Pre-class I was unattractively draped over the barre having hit that ‘too full’ wall of sheer exhaustion. To be quite honest, I’m surprised I managed to haul myself into the air for any of allegro. But I survived (just). Unfortunately there were no pirouettes in that class so I couldn’t test out the assertion that drinking wouldn’t help with them – not, mind you. that I’m wholly convinced the tiny glass of fizz I’d had six hours and three courses previously would have made much difference. Anyway, that’s by the by and not really the point of this post – I was merely on an anecdotal tangent as is oft my wont.
Over the summer I accidentally got promoted at work (long story, very dull) but in the immediate aftermath of this I brought ‘brownie buns’ (boring story involving a tragic lack of greaseproof paper in my kitchen) into the office to have at tea break time and declared I was ‘asserting my authority via the medium of cake’. Seriously, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get some respect around here… So as I had a couple of days off after I got back from Paree I thought I’d have a baking day and take the spoils in to work in lieu of writing Christmas cards (frankly I’d far rather make pastry any day than sit and write Christmas cards, surely that’s not just me?). I baked for about four hours solid, realised my kitchen is poorly designed to deal with the quantity of baking I was doing and lived in mortal fear of putting my foot in a mince pie running up the stairs to the loo…
The spoils resulted in being: Christmas cake muffins (whip up a fruit cake mix and put it in muffin cases rather than one giant cake, cunning), apple & cinnamon muffins, gingerbread stars, mince pies and a couple of stray jam tarts to use up the last of the pastry (yes, okay, I’ve got a bit of an obsession with jam tarts, what of it? :P).
There was probably just the tiniest fraction too much for work so that means my housemate gets me leaving her such lovely notes as this:
Also over the weekend I cooked a roast dinner AND it all came together at the right time. I was properly impressed with myself. Particularly because I have a real thing about meat, and raw meat in particular. But I roasted a whole chicken ALL BY MYSELF. Well I had to get my housemate to carve it but I’d done everything up to that point. Proudest of all though I was of my apple sauce, it was seriously good and just worked to perfection. Usually I don’t put enough water in to stew the apples and it never works quite right but this was nomnomnom… There’s still a wee bit left so I’ve stuck it in the freezer and at some juncture am going to make myself a tiny crumble. Mmmmmm.
Oh yes, remember in my last post I said go and get the Puppini Sisters in your ears? Well, whilst I’m doing a ‘show and tell’ I’m just going to kind of force them on your ears. This number is brilliant, largely because of Queen Mullins’ imaginary trumpet, but mostly because it just highlights how awesomely talented these ladies are (Steph and Marcella are doing a sterling job in making the ukelele sexy):
You know what, you should totally also checkout Marcella and the Forget-me-nots. So yeah that’s Marcella Puppini of Puppini Sisters fame in her ‘other’ band but they’re equally awesome. This song is probably my second favourite of theirs (YouTube seems to be sadly lacking in ‘Born Beautiful’ though):
So I went to Paris. I bought all the biscuits (seriously, I bought a LOT of biscuits). I ate all the pain au chocolat (because it would be rude not to). I wore a beret and carried a baguette (could I be any more stereotypical if I tried?). Generally I just had an awesome time being back in France for the first time in eight years. I will leave you with two things:
2. The Puppini Sisters. Please go and get them in your ears immediately.
I was in bed by half past seven last night, cwtshed up in my PJs and watching Bones. About an hour and a half later I was overcome by the need for cake. That all consuming MUST HAVE NOW need. So I got up again and schlepped downstairs to the kitchen for a quick emergency baking session. Not quite as glorious as the one I had in my final year at uni which involved having to raid ALL my housemates’ cupboards to get enough ingredients together, but still pretty nifty. I admit freely that I am no LondonBakes in the kitchen (luckily she is one of my favouritest people) but I can cobble a thing or two together when I have to…
Nellie’s emergency cake recipe (variation on a theme of my mother, grandmother, your average Vicky sponge)
4oz self raising flour
4oz caster sugar
2 eggs (do not forget to add these)
Splash of milk
Dash of vanilla essence
Dollop of cocoa powder (optional to make it chocolatey)
The crucial thing to remember here is that I have no real technique for baking a bog standard sponge-esque cake. Life is too short to be creaming butter and sugar and all that jazz. So my dead simple recipe is: dump all ingredients in bowl.
Get out the trusty electric whisk and blitz the lot together until all the lumps are gone. Sample to check it tastes like cake (add anything you feel it’s lacking.)
Spoon out into baking tray/fairy cake cases/whatever. If you’re doing it in a cake tin don’t forget to grease it beforehand! This amount of mixture makes 12 fairy cakes and one small star mould (or approx 16 fairy cakes).
Plonk in oven on gas mark 6/200C for around 10-15 minutes. Check, poke with a skewer – if it comes out clean you’re good.
And eat… (do not consider how many pliés it will take to burn off the cake because CAKE IS GOOD.)
It’s all vaguely more appealing than my dinner tonight…
I am possibly the worst person in the world when it comes to gloves: I hate having cold hands but I can’t stand to have the tips of my fingers covered. So I figured knitting myself a pair that dealt with all my ‘glove quirks’ was the way forward. These have a long thumb so as to cover it all but not ‘seal it in’, so to speak. They’re fingerless, hence easier 😉 And the mitten flap is long enough to cover my fingers with wiggle room so my fingers don’t get claustrophobic… Click on for the pattern, which I am subnaming ‘Giselle’ because the colourway reminds me a little of the second act *sigh*
I have been Cranky McRanty Pants of Ranty street for about the last ten days or so taking in stops at awkward turtle, rampant paranoia, ranty mcranty, super rational and reasonable, and the end of my proverbial tether. The knife edge I thought I’d stopped balancing on a few months ago was back with a bang and it was liable to go one way or the other. I think super rational and reasonable is back though (it usually wins in the end, generally after the moment where I realise that I’m really, really annoying myself let alone anyone else). Essentially, I’m not terribly good at, to paraphrase President Bartlet, “standing there in my wrongness and being wrong and getting used to it” or having out loud conversations with my conscience (hearing other people speaking my thoughts is always marginally unnerving) both of which are usually followed up by super rational and reasonable me muttering ‘I told you so, self, you are an idiot‘.
So, I’ve kind of over the last few days, tried to redress the balance a bit with the ‘looking for things that make me smile’ thing – there’s only so long even I can spend dwelling on my own stupidity after all.
On Thursday night I went to see the sublime Idina Menzel in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I’d kind of kept forgetting we were going on account of having booked it ages ago and, essentially, it not being ballet (*facepalm* It’s Idina frickin’ Menzel!!!). Oh my goodness, it was amazing. Seriously amazing. Like, no words amazing. IDINA MENZEL. And Marvin Hamlisch (who may have retweeted one of my over excitable tweets about Idina and over which I may have had a complete freak out in my kitchen). IDINA, people, IDINA. She was super adorable and cute and funny and… what a voice. What. A. Voice. The highlight though? Idina singing ‘For Good’ from Wicked acapella and without a mike and just her voice filling the entire RAH. It was perfect, actual perfection. The second highlight was ‘No Day But Today’ from Rent where she made us sing the echo, that was pure magic. There were other songs too and mostly I’m all ‘OMGELEVENTYONESQUEE’ about it, so I’ll just leave you with this…
“Don’t dream too far, don’t lose sight of who you are.”
Idina aside, photos… ‘every picture tells a story’ after all:
New long socks, microwaveable slippers, getting the blankets back out – autumn’s definitely arrived with a vengeance.
New yarn, getting my current scrap blanket half finished, lunch time autumnal strolls in the park.
Covering my stapler with apple stickers, emergency cake kind of days, random sculptures at the ICA.
Making toffee apples with the small people.
Handwriting out a recipe from memory on the train on remembering that the printed copy is still in your in tray, televisual perfection, nature in the park.
I am slacking off class today in favour of tidying my room – which looks like a small explosive device has gone off in it – to the accompaniment of West Wing Season 3 then later some guilty pleasure viewing of Strictly Come Dancing. Also, my spine is still being vaguely flouncy from overdoing the attitude promenade thing earlier in the week. Speaking of, my clinic letter came from the hospital the other day – I was quite amused to find myself described as ‘generally neurologically intact’. Hopefully it won’t take too long for my physio referral to come through now… we shall see.