Holding pattern

January 23, 2011

Sorry for the lack of updates at the moment.  I’m really busy at work at present and for the next few weeks, and when I’m not at the office I’m chilling out at home, doing as little as I can manage.  I am updating my films and book pages occasionally, though.

With a bit of luck I might have something exciting to tell you soon.  You never know!  In the meantime, here are two photos I’ve taken in our living room, while playing around with the Hipstamatic app.

That looks like a cremation urn on our mantlepiece, but it isn’t; it’s a terramundi pot.  We just filled one up and managed to save a cool £800 in £2 coins, which should pay for a decent weekend away at a nice hotel.

I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with vintage crystal and cut glass decanters; that corner cabinet is where I stow them (filled with sloe gin and damson gin).


Christmas 2010

December 28, 2010

Sorry for the lack of updates! I write most updates at work, and this has been made difficult by our aged computer system.  It hasn’t been able to handle the rigours of uploading photos for a long time and now it crashes whenever I open any website with ‘wordpress’ in the url (which is cutting in to my time spent reading other blogs, as well).

But don’t worry – all you’ve missed is me writing variations of ‘it’s flipping freezing’ for two weeks.  This was the frost a couple of weeks ago:

This was the snow storm on the Saturday before Christmas:

And this was the snowy and sunny scene on Christmas Day:

That flying figure is none other than Tui the Christmas Wonder Dog.

Anyway, we’ve had a lovely and relaxing Christmas break – we’ve been at home the entire time and have eaten a lot, drunk a lot, slept a lot and watched a lot of rubbish on TV.  I’m heading back to work tomorrow, but it’s only a three-day week, followed by a three-day weekend, followed by a four-day week.  That’s the kind of schedule that I can handle.

I did work on Christmas Eve.  I don’t understand why anybody at my firm would take that day as annual leave: we arrived at 9.30am, we started drinking champagne at 11am, and we left at 12pm – the office closed completely at 1pm.  And most of my colleagues went to the staff restaurant for an hour-long breakfast from 9.30am – 10.30am (but not me: I was good and actually finished some work, like a girly swot).

My lovely family spent Christmas Day visiting my Auntie Jen and her partner, Denise, at their fab house in the Wairarapa.  Apparently my parents went, as did my two sisters and their respective husbands and boyfriends, and one niece and one nephew (the others were with their respective fathers).  And the weather was splendid and no fights broke out.  I’m sure that my family isn’t unusual in being liable to have a squabble or two after a few hours of close contact, but my sister pointed out something when I spoke to her last night: my grandmother wasn’t there (too frail to withstand the rigours of a day out), so she’s obviously the trouble-maker of the family.

Owl cushion

September 27, 2010

My souvenir from the long weekend.

We inherited the chair from Tristan’s great-uncle. It’s ended up in my dressing room and it’s my prime location for writing (using a Scrabble box as a lap-top desk).

Progress: 7 September

September 7, 2010

Guys, this whole ‘eat breakfast at home and bring a packed lunch’ goal is too easy!  Another day down: I’m five for five so far.  And today was another no spending day – I’ve managed four of these so far this month (1st, 3rd, 5th and today).  It’s all good.

I’m finding that I need to be a little more organised in the morning if I want to both eat breakfast and make lunch.  I could make lunch the night before and have it all ready to go, but I seem to struggle to do anything constructive in the evenings these days.  I get home, I get changed out of my ‘school’ clothes, I wash my face, I take out my contact lenses.  And then I flake out for the rest of the evening.  And that’s exactly what I’ve got lined up for tonight!

Progress: 6 September

September 6, 2010

Another working week dawns and, yet again, I’ve eaten breakfast at home and brought my lunch to work!  I don’t think I’ve brought enough food for lunch, though: we had a fairly light dinner last night and I’ve been hungry all morning.  I had my toast this morning; I’ve eaten celery sticks and radishes as a mid-morning snack; I’ve eaten a ham roll and an orange and cranberry muffin for lunch; I’m thinking that I will make it until 3pm before I feel like I need to eat again.

Luckily, this isn’t a no spending day: I’ve had to top up my Oyster card on the way to work and I’m going to need to buy some cleanser online. 

I did manage to achieve most of the goals I set myself for the weekend:

  • Loafing around and doing nothing – yes, I did a lot of embroidery (I’m making a present for Anna’s new baby, Charlie), so I camped on the sofa for long periods and beavered away at it while watching films and catching up on programmes I had stored on Sky Plus.  I love Sky Plus so much.  The picture I’m making for Charlie is one from a kit: ordinarily I like to design samplers for friends’ weddings and baby presents, but I know that I’ll just end up taking forever to finish it if I try to be too creative at the moment.  And the picture I’ve chosen is very cute – I’ll show you what it looks like when I’ve finished it.  I had forgotten how much I love embroidery.  It’s so relaxing!
  • Rugby watching – yes, I saw most of the provincial game between Waikato and North Harbour on Saturday morning, the test match between the Springboks and Australia on Saturday afternoon and most of the Women’s World Cup Final between England and New Zealand on Sunday afternoon.
  • Sweet buying and eating – yes, I visited our lovely local sweet shop for my standard order: strawberry bonbons and dolly mixtures, plus a few fizzy Coke bottles for a bit of variety.
  • Jam making – yes, read all about it here.
  • Proper food making – kind of: I did some excellent food shopping and have a fridge full of healthy stuff for lunches and dinners this week.  And I made the afore-mentioned orange and cranberry muffins, some russian fudge and a frittata for dinner.  It was my first attempt at these muffins and they’ve turned out very well, although I can’t say that I absolutely love the taste: they’re only OK.  The fudge was a bit of a disaster: I think I pre-empted the ‘soft ball’ stage and didn’t cook it for long enough, so it’s much softer than it should be and all the beating in the world wouldn’t save it.  But it’s going to have five days to harden up, owing to my ‘no sweets during the week’ rule this month, so it might be slightly better by then.  The frittata was very tasty and I was quite pleased with it – I hadn’t made a frittata before.  We had it for dinner last night with a salad made from baby spinach, sliced nectarine and crumbled goat cheese.  Such a yummy salad!  I had pea shoots as well. That’s just how I roll.  Anyway, here are the muffins and the fudge:

  • A letter written and sent to my 95 year old grandmother – yes, three pages of excitement are winging their way to her as we speak.
  • A present sent to my older sister Philippa – yes, I posted it on Saturday.
  • A yummy present sent to lovely friend Anna – yes, it’s also on its way.  This is the same Anna who recently gave birth to Charlie and for whose older son, Sam, I made this sampler a while ago.  Anna and Lenka are the same person, in case you’re confused by anything you read in that post.
  • Joining the library – yes, did it on Saturday.  It’s fab! I mentioned it here.
  • Some writing – no, damn it.  I tried to do too much this weekend.  Next weekend the writing will be the third thing on the list (under ‘loafing around and watching rugby’ and ‘eating sweets’).

The other thing I had planned to do was to try to make pastry for the first time, but I ran out of energy in the kitchen and have put this off until next weekend.

Elderberry jam

September 6, 2010

In the comments section of this post I promised to Sasha that I would share some photos of my elderberry jam-making.  Here’s what happened.

We picked a lot of elderberries.  This is easy at the moment: the hedges surrounding our favourite dog-walking haunts are full of elderberries, so we headed out on Saturday morning, plastic bag and scissors primed and ready.

We picked blackberries as well, since they were also ripe and because I figured that they’d go nicely with the elderberries.

The next – and incredibly laborious – stage was to wash the elderberries and remove them from their stalks.  This was made more exciting by the vast number of beetles which make the elderberry bush their home.  It took so long to get rid of all of them.  Just when I thought I had seen off the last beetle, another one would stroll out of what I had thought was a beetle-free bowl of berries, forcing me to begin the washing and checking process once again.  I swear, by the end I think I washed every single elderberry separately.  Nobody wants beetle-flavoured jam, so it was all worth it. 

Removing the berries from their stalks is a real faff.  You don’t want too many stalks to get in (although some stalk inclusion is inevitable), so I did half of the job by running the tines of a fork down the stems and the other half of the job by hand (trying not to stain anything with juice – this stuff doesn’t come out very easily, apparently).

Finally, I had a saucepan with washed and beetle-free elderberries and blackberries, so I added the juice and pips from three lemons (because elderberries are fairly low in pectin, which is what makes jam set), covered the fruit with water, put the lid on the saucepan and set it to simmer for an hour.

I had decided to make jelly, rather than jam: elderberries and blackberries are too ‘bitty’ and not very nice to chew.  So the next step was to drain the pulpy fruit through muslin.  I did this by putting it in a colandar and propping that up on two tall tins, suspending the dripping fruit over a bowl.  You’re supposed to leave it overnight to drip, but I gave it about an hour because I wanted to finish the job in one afternoon. 

Then came the actual jelly making.  The first job was to sterilise the jam jars.  I don’t know why people find this part of jam making a bit of a struggle: all you need to do it get things clean and hot.  I do it by washing the jars and lids in hot soapy water and then putting them in an otherwise-empty dishwasher and running it on a fast cycle, with no detergent added.  I’ve always used this technique to sterilise my jars and it seems to do the trick – on Saturday morning I opened a jar of jam from three summers ago and it was still in perfect condition and mould-free.

I threw away the elderberries and blackberries and measured the juice back into the saucepan, adding preserving sugar in the correct quantities (and I very rarely use anything but metric measurements, but the old-school measurements were far easier to calculate in this case: one pound of sugar for each pint of juice).  I heated it slowly and kept stirring so the sugar would dissolve, and then I turned up the heat and left it to boil for ten minutes without stirring.

I tested it three times (you put a china plate in the freezer and test the jelly by placing a few drops of jelly on the cold plate: it’s done when you can push the jelly with a fingertip and make it wrinkle).  It was done after 15 minutes or so: I could have taken it off a couple of minutes earlier, I think, but this was my first time making jelly, so I was a little cautious.

The last step was to use a slotted spoon to remove any scum from the top of the jelly (there wasn’t much).  Then I used a soup ladle to put the jelly into the jars.  I stand the jars in a roasting tray for this stage, to avoid getting jelly all over the kitchen.  I had made a small batch and produced two and a half jars.

Here are the jars, all ready to go.  You tighten the lids as much as you can when the jelly has first been added to the jars, and the cooling process seems to tighten them further.

Finally, I tried the jelly this morning for the first time.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that I don’t really like the taste of elderberries.  Never mind: at least I know how to make jelly now.  And it was nice to potter around in the kitchen for the afternoon.  This is me being very cheerful, obviously.  It’s pretty annoying to spend an afternoon making something that you end up disliking!

Spoke too soon

August 30, 2010

Well, it was my clear intention to leave Cambridge without spending any more money, but I had some time to kill, returned to John Lewis and bought a useful pair of flat shoes for work: soft tan-coloured leather, that versatile ballet pump style. In my defence: I saw them at the beginning of the afternoon and waited for several hours before deciding to buy them; and they were on sale at £38.50.

I also bought some tights: three pairs of black opaques and one pair of nude-coloured fishnets.

And there’s more (and brace yourself for this extravagance): I bought some jam muslin. Oh yes! I’m planning to make elderberry jam next weekend.