Thursday, 29 November 2012

Festive preparations

Christmas may actually happen in this house....

The puddings have been made and the poinsettia bought. A friend and I made the puddings together, amid much laughter and tea-drinking. The small ones will be for presents.

After reading the blogs of some wonderfully organised people, who appear to be all ready bar stuffing the turkey, I placed quite a few internet orders last week. Unfortunately they all arrived today, I was out, my husband works from home in the loft...let's just say he is a little fitter now.

DD has also been busy making cards and decorations. I'm just happy to see some sun for the sun-catchers! She has made a whole tribe of snowmen. Somehow snowmen and sun doesn't seem like a sensible combination!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Well dressed chickens!

I have always loved the idea of joining a crafty type group. I had an idealised vision of knitting away in a cosy cafe to like-minded people. This week I finally found one that has recently started at a nearby craft shop. To be honest, it's more of a craft supermarket, but the staff have set aside an area for workshops and that is where the group meets. I was made very welcome and met some lovely ladies. At the moment the group are working on knitting jumpers for rescued battery hens:

Photo from
Battery hens sometimes peck each other's feathers out due to stress caused by being so cramped. These jumpers help keep them warm while the feathers regrow. The pattern is available here. The group provided wool and I am now half way up my first jumper.

I think the brown is a bit dull, but I don't suppose the chickens are that bothered by the colour! I have plenty of more vibrant colours for future chook fashion!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Is it really cheaper to make scones from scratch?

In our family we have a bit of an addiction to cream teas. Whenever we visit the West Country we seek them out; we have been known to fit in one each day of a holiday. We also enjoy making our own at home, especially when the weather is as miserable as it has been this weekend. I think it reminds us that summer will come again!

I enjoyed writing last week's post on the cost of baking Victoria Sponge from scratch so I decided to take the same approach with scones. I didn't buy the cheapest "value" scones, as these contained fruit and DD considers cooked dried fruit to be an Abomination, only tolerated under sufferance. The scones I did buy claimed to be made with butter, so this time I used proper butter in my baking.

The ingredients!

The recipe I used was similar to the one on the BBC website here, except that I used milk rather than beaten egg to glaze them. This time I coerced DD into helping measure the energy used. Following Angela's advice I baked twice the normal amount to save even more energy. I froze half before they could be eaten!

Mine are the scones on the left.

My scones turned out to be the same weight as the shop bought scones. Mine worked out at 8p each, and the shop bought ones were 16.7p each. The shop bought scones looked neater, apparently mine have "character", but the home made variety were much lighter. So now the only question is, cream first or jam?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Creating a Victorian boy

DS is studying the Victorians at school at the moment. So far he is loving it. In a few weeks he will be off on a school trip to Preston Manor for a Victorian day, where he will spend the day as a Victorian servant. I think this may come as something of a shock!

Of course, he has to look the part. Fortunately the school has cut back a bit on dressing up days. I have known parents pay out quite a lot of money for a costume on the internet. I wanted a waistcoat, but I wasn't about to spend much on something for just one day! I trawled the charity shops and came up with a small adult shirt:

It was actually quite a nice shirt and I felt a bit guilty chopping it up! I shortened it and cut off the sleeves and collar. Once I had hemmed all that I took it in a bit at the sides so now it looks like this:

It's a bit more "Little Lord Fauntleroy" than "Oliver Twist" - he will have to be a valet rather than a gardener!

After all that sewing I am now determined to overcome my phobia of sewing machines. My Mother-in-Law gave me hers last year but I haven't had the courage to use it yet! I think my fear stems from being absolutely useless at needlework at school. There are so many things I want to make, I just need to have some gumption and get on with it!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Spiky cross stitch

Since I finished stitching the wedding card back in July I have been working on a design from the same magazine for a family birthday. My Dad has quite a collection of cacti. In fact, I pity any burglar trying to climb in through his windows! I decided to give him a specimen that needs even less attention than usual. I liked this design because it is bright and cheerful.

Nearing completion!
I framed it myself. When I first tried this I asked the helpful lady in the craft shop for tips, who suggested using a spray adhesive. I was horrified! Put glue on my precious creation! I did a reasonable job with the traditional method, but this time I couldn't manage it in the shallow frame. So in the end I got out the glue. 

DS also collects cacti!
I like to have some stitching on the go, so I was very happy to get a couple of kits for my birthday and I have started on this poppy field. This one is for my wall! It is a starter kit, but as far as I can tell this is only because it is on 11-count aida, making the stitches bigger.

I can only stitch during daylight, so in the evenings I usually have a piece of knitting or crochet in my hands. I couldn't tell you which I prefer; normally whatever I am doing at the time!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Is it really cheaper to bake from scratch?!

One thing that I often read on the blogs that I enjoy is that it is cheaper to cook from scratch. Being of a scientific and mathematical bent I decided to conduct an experiment to find out if this is actually true. I promise I won't befuddle you with calculations!

I decided to bake a Victoria Sponge from scratch and compare the results with the shop bought variety. To be fair I used the cheapest ingredients I could find and bought the value brand sponge, (for research purposes you understand!).

I was a bit dubious about using the "spreadable" butter-like spread. I usually use value butter but the spread claimed to be suitable for baking and it was considerably cheaper, so in the basket it went. I couldn't bring myself to buy caged hens' eggs, but you can get free range eggs fairly cheaply these days.

I use the weighing eggs method as I have a rather nice pair of kitchen balances. I am not going to write out the recipe here. (The words "suck eggs" comes to mind!)  It is available here, although this recipe promotes rather more expensive ingredients.

While the oven was heating up and the cake was baking I measured the electricity I used with an energy monitor. I sat there with a stopwatch and the monitor watching the little light on the oven go on and off. I really need to get out more...

In case it isn't obvious, the one on the left is mine! I then weighed both cakes and settled down to some serious work with the calculator. I was very pleased to find out that my cake cost 18.3p per 100g and the shop bought cake was 24.6p per 100g! 

But what of the taste? I found some very willing volunteers, blindfolded them and gave them small slithers of each cake. Fortunately for my self esteem they both preferred my cake. In fact, the shop bought cake is now trifle! I was also happy to find that the butter-substitute gave as good a taste as the real thing, so there will be a tub in the fridge from now on.

Of course there are a lot of other reasons to cook from scratch apart from cost. Knowing what's in your food and environmental factors spring to mind. I am now wondering what else I can compare...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"The Help"

I love reading. My bookshelves are overflowing with books and there are still more relegated to boxes in the garage. So recently I have resisted temptation to buy yet more and avoided bookshops and charity shops. Discount book catalogues have been resolutely consigned to the recycling. (My Wartime Farm book doesn't count. Honest.) So I was secretly delighted when I was given a Waterstones gift voucher for my birthday. I could indulge my passion without guilt!

One of the books I bought was "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.

I am not normally very good at trying new authors - I have definite favourites and don't usually waver from them. But this was strongly recommended so I gave it a go.

It is written from the viewpoint of three women from the American South set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement during the early 1960s. The two black women, Aibileen and Minny, are maids, or "the help", to white society women.  The third woman, Skeeter, is an aspiring journalist from that same white society who is uneasy about the way the black community is treated. Together the three women start to write a book that will explore the relationships between white and black women, both positive and negative.

At first I found it hard going. It is written in the first person and I had to slow my reading right down to understand the dialect. I am so glad that I persevered because I really enjoyed it. There is plenty of period detail. Several sub-plots were woven around the main storyline. The tension built steadily and I really cared about the fate of the characters.

As a modern white British woman I don't pretend to know much about the American Civil Rights movement or the society of the time. I now feel that I know a little more.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Christmas stockings!

I have finally finished the Christmas stockings that I started back in September. They are from a Ravelry pattern. I can spend hours on that website!

I really enjoyed the snowflake pattern. I haven't done Fair Isle knitting in years and it was fun watching the pattern form. It was also quite slow! If you can do both continental and English knitting then it can be much faster, (tutorial here), but I have never conquered continental knitting. Maybe once I am a bit more confident with crochet I will try to learn it. So now my needles are empty. I have some ideas of what to do next, but I really need to get on with my crochet bag. I am half way up the sides and the end is in sight!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Flowers in November

I am not a good gardener. Every year in Spring I have excellent intentions; this year will be the year when my garden looks like somebody loves it. It will have colourful flowers and abundant vegetables; it will be a place where the family can sit and relax. I have an April flush of enthusiasm; seeds are sown and plans are made. However, other priorities take over and the garden is left to go its own way with the minimum of maintenance and care.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find some flowers out there today.

Primroses are native, so presumably will thrive on neglect. I have quite a few that have self-seeded around the borders. I love them as they look so cheerful and resilient.

These roses are very prolific. They should probably have been pruned back a long time ago, but they just keep going, despite the frosts at the beginning of the week.

We have been quite under the weather in our house this week, so these blooms cheered me up. Maybe next year will be the year...

Monday, 5 November 2012

Courgette loaf

This morning saw me trawling around the supermarket. Even though I honoured Stoptober more in the breach than the observance, I had more or less emptied the freezer and needed stocks urgently. I was very pleased to find some yellow-stickered courgettes and bananas lurking in the fruit and veg section.

Using bananas was not going to be much of a challenge, but courgettes? Neither of my children will touch them, not even DS, who can be relied on to finish off the salad bowl and prefers apples to chocolate cake. I had vague memories of a recipe for courgette loaf in the back of my recipe file, so I bought the despised courgettes anyway.

I had to adapt the recipe, (which originally used buckwheat flour), but the results were very well received. It makes a semi-healthy "back from school" snack. I like it spread with margarine, but the kids preferred it plain. This quantity makes two loaves, which can be frozen or stored in the fridge for up to three weeks, if you can resist them for that long!


350g grated courgette (no need to peel!)
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
165g plain flour
165g wholemeal plain flour
275ml sunflower oil
350g caster sugar
175g raisins or sultanas
3 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4

2. Grease and line 2 2lb loaf tins.

3. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

4. Divide mixture between tins.

5. Bake for about 50 minutes until a metal skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Brighton in November

Like a fair proportion of the British people, every so often I need to see the sea. We live a train ride away from Brighton, which also has lots of warm places to shelter in November, so today we bundled up and headed to the coast.

The power in the sea was incredible! We marvelled at the huge waves, threw stones in but decided against paddling. DS still managed to get his feet wet, unfortunately with his shoes on!

This was my favourite part of the day!

You can get the most amazing doughnuts on the pier.
We also visited the Sea Life Centre which has been open for 140 years and has very atmospheric subterranean Victorian architecture. We haven't been here for about 6 years so the kids didn't really remember it. We made the most of our time, handling the creatures and taking a trip on a glass-bottomed boat.

Playing hide and seek!

We also discovered the fabulously named Choccywoccydoodah chocolate shop in the higgledy-piggledy "Lanes" area of Brighton. It sells incredibly ornate cakes alongside slightly more modest truffles and chocolate bars. At £7.99 for a 100g bar we didn't buy any! 

I have to be honest; Brighton is not my favourite place. It is heaving in the summer and can be an expensive place to visit. Today, however, I was surprised to enjoy myself.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Something alien this way comes...

Chocolate apples are something of a tradition in our house this time of year. When the children were little we would set up a production line with apple segments on cocktail sticks, melted chocolate and sprinkles. We all got very messy but it was great fun. 

For the last few years I have bought the supermarket chocolate apples but they never quite hit the spot. The apples were a bit manky and there was a paltry amount of chocolate. We like our chocolate so this year we did our own:

We stuck apples on lolly sticks, rolled the apples in melted chocolate (reduced Green & Black's - yum!), and stuck on mini-marshmallows. The results look like they have landed from outer space, but taste wonderful. Surely they count towards our five a day?!