Friday, 28 February 2014

Photo Friday, well sort of.

This week has been Joe's birthday. We've celebrated by eating lots of Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies. They didn't come out looking quite like the picture in the recipe but they are rather tasty!

This isn't exactly Photo Friday material, but we're now declaring our winter break over and Photo Friday will be back properly next week.
Read More

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Knitting - The Answer

Well, the answer to last Wednesdays question about fingerless mittens anyway. I think when it came to it, by asking the question I realised I knew the answer - do you ever do that? You ask something and realise that only one answer is acceptable, but until you ask you just can't decide? I was really hoping you'd all say to undo them, that they were better without, and so that's what I've done. They are fingerless mitts once more.

Instead I've started making a whole new pair and I'm going to plan for these to have caps from the word go. I've been wanting to have a go at some stranded colour work for a while now. I have quite a few patterns lined up that need it, and so decided that patterned mitts, made for me, would be a good testing ground. If they're not quite perfect then I'll still get lots of use out of them. This has one added bonus of using up much more of my stash yarn that just modifying the old pair, and should keep me busy for a little bit longer.

I've started making these. Pretty, right? The pattern is designed for seven colours, but they're split into two groups so that you can just use two if you want. Since I don't have seven coordinating colours in my stash I'm going with the two colour option, though for one of them I'm using Sirdar Crofter which is a self patterning yarn.

 Theres only one snag. Occasionally the crofter wool has a white section which means any pattern completely disappears against my ball of cream wool. I'm getting round this by simply cutting out these sections, and leaving little piles of them wherever I've been knitting....

Read More

Sunday, 23 February 2014

February in the Chicken Coop

This month in the chicken coop...

... its been cold, wet and windy. On many days the girls have got up, had something to eat, and gone back to bed and I can't blame them! We can't let them out into the rest of the garden unsupervised at the moment leaving them with not much to do except snooze the day away. I think they're probably hoping for spring as much as the rest of us!

... they've been supervising us sorting the fence. (From a safe distance of course!)

Lemon, Pepper and Fizzy with Joe digging in the background.

Needing to stay out of the way while the gap in the fence is unattended.

... laying, ish. Frog and Pepper are now producing five or six eggs a week between them. Compared to February last year this is really low (and last year there was snow!). I think this might be the difference between hens approaching their first spring - which was always going to be their best laying season - and those enduring their second winter.
Read More

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

To Knit Or Not To Knit...

So I finished the baby socks I was working on. I love how quick and simple they are, though I'm a little dubious that they are "newborn" size. Ah well, at least they'll be grown into.

My quandary is this; what next? There are so many lovely patterns I'd like to knit, my favourites board on Ravelry is growing and growing. What I'd like to do next though is use up some of the wool we already have, and that's where I'm struggling. I'm feeling very uninspired. Every penny saved at the moment is going towards our trip, so if I can knit without buying more yarn then bonus!

I've decided to start by adding some finger caps to some fingerless mittens I made a few years ago. They've been getting a lot of use recently, but would be even better if they could keep the ends of my fingers warm too. It's been a quick knit, and this weekend I finished the first. The problem is I'm not sure I like it. I think where the original pattern had been for handwarmers they didn't cover much of my fingers, so the new cap's ended up being quite long. I think I might undo this and return them to just being fingerless.

 What do you think? Keep going, give up (and maybe make a whole new pair of mitts) or start again?
Read More

Sunday, 16 February 2014

And he huffed and he puffed....

.... and he blew the fence down.

I know many many people are having a rough time with the weather and the flooding, our own story is tame in comparison. We noticed yesterday morning that some of our fence panels were flapping in the wind, and when we looked closer we found two of the posts had snapped. They hadn't come down completely, but a few more huffs and I think that would have been the case.

We were lucky that the rain wasn't as heavy as forecast yesterday meaning we could get out into the garden and get the panels off before they became damaged as we're hoping to reuse them. The posts then lifted out fairly easily. This afternoons job is to dig fresh holes for new posts, and then hopefully we can get the panels back up next weekend. In the meantime the chickens will have to put up with the mud bath that is their run - meeting next doors dog would not go down so well!

First loosen the nails holding the panels to the posts....

... at both ends. Joe used a chisel and a sledgehammer for this.

The wriggle the two apart, 

and get the fence panel out of the way.

Next the gravel board needed removing.

Finally the rotten posts came out.

All clear and ready for the new posts.
On a similar note, remember the drip we were struggling with a month ago? For several weeks we had no problems, and we were really hopeful that reshaping the leading had done the trick. But alas, this week the wind has blown from whatever direction it is and we've had more water coming through the roof of the bay window. We now need to get an expert eye in to take a look at this one for us.
Read More

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Great Swift Bake Off

I am sure many of you brits will have picked up on the phenomenon that is "The Great British Bake Off" (bbc link). For those less familiar here's a quick summary: A group of amateur bakers (normaly fairly good ones) compete in rounds of three challenges to avoid elimination by two judges - Mary Berry (cookery guru and the go to cookery book of choice for cakes) and Paul Hollywood (master baker). A colleague and I were discussing this and, partly inspired by a friend who had done something similar, decided we should have an office version.
The office version was not going to entail three challenges per round in a televised kitchen but just a single item of baking. We produced a list of some 25+ challenges we fancied and whittled it down to the following list:

Round 1       Tray Bake
Round 2   24 Biscuits
Round 3   24 Bread Sticks
Round 4   Victoria Sponge
Round 5   12 Sweet Buns
Round 6   1 Family Sized Savory Pie (hot water crust, pork pie or similar)
Round 7  Layered Cake
Round 812 Chocolate Éclairs
Round 924 Petit Fours, 2 types

We have had a surprisingly good take up from a mostly male office. About 25% of the office are competing!

Jen and I would like to throw this open wider: If you fancy the challenge of baking along as the year progresses then post a link to your entry in Mr Linky each month so we can all have a look. This could be a blog / instagram / tweet / flickr / etc - all are welcome!

This month: Tray Bake.
Jen has baked this recipe a few times as a cake but I stole it, tweaked it slightly and did it as a tray bake. The recipe is for a Cider Apple Cake - care of Jennifer and her blog. If you want the recipe do have a look at her site.

The scores are in and I got a close 3rd place (one vote behind joint first). Incentive to work harder for the next one!

Read More

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Kitchen Gadget 5. Slow Cooker

We can be rather lazy when it comes to cooking. We love home cooked meals, but even more we love meals that are all prepared in advance, that allow us to just sit down and eat.

This months gadget is our slow cooker (crock pot for those of you over the pond) and it allows us to do just that. We can fill it with some fairly simple ingredients on a Saturday morning, go out for the day, spend time in the garden, or get on with other jobs, and come back to a wonderfully cooked dinner for minimal effort. If we're feeling organised we fill it up on a weekday evening and then we just need to pop it on when we leave for work in the morning. Perfect.

As an added bonus, slow cooking can take even the toughest cuts of meat and turn them into a tender and juicy dinner. One of our favourites at the moment is short-rib. This is a beef cut that isn't particularly fashionable - you can't find it in the supermarket and tends to be fairly cheap at a butchers - but is full of flavour and beautifully tender when cooked slowly.

Slow Cooked Short-Rib in Beer, with Dumplings
Serves 4-6

2 Pieces of Beef Short-Rib (if you can't get hold of this, brisket works just as well)
2 Red Onions, coarsely chopped
5 Carrots, chopped into chunks
200g Mushrooms, chopped into chunks
1 Can Stout (we used Brains Black)
2 Bay leaves
A Small Stick of Horseradish (optional)
1/2 tsp Pepper
2 tsp Instant Gravy Powder (or enough to add a slight gloss and thickness

On a good day we fry off each of the ingredients as this adds flavour. If you're short of time then skip the first 4 steps and just place the ingredients in a slow cooker.

1. Fry the beef in a little oil until the outside is golden and brown. Transfer this to the slow cooker.

2. In the juices the beef has left fry off the onion and carrots over a fairly high heat until the onion is starting to brown. Transfer these to the slow cooker.

3. Do the same with the mushrooms. Transfer them to the slow cooker.

4. Next use the same pan to make the gravy (lots of good flavours are left behind by the rest of the ingredients). Pour the stout in the saucepan, and add the bayleaves, horseradish, pepper and gravy powder. Heat until combined. Transfer to slow cooker.

5. Turn on your slowcooker and leave for 8 hours.

For the dumplings:

150g self raising flour
50g suet
a pinch of salt
1 tsp mixed herbs
90ml water

1. About one hour before you wish to eat combine the dry dumpling ingredients. Slowly add the water and combine to make a dough.

2. Roll into balls and sit them on top of the stew. Pop the lid back on and leave until dinner time.

Catch up with the rest of our Kitchen Gadget's here.
Read More

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Making a Plan - January Gardening

It's planning time. We have three beds that make up our veg patch and we're starting to come to some decisions about what we want to do with them this year. Each bed is about 1.5m x 3m so we have plenty of space to grow a range of things - but not enough to be completely self sufficient in veg over the summer. Our plan has always been to both rotate crops through the beds and try a few different things each year.

Last year we grew onions and garlic in bed one, potatoes in bed two and salad leaves, beetroot, cabbages, runner beans, courgettes and purple sprouting broccoli in bed three. We also had tomatoes in pots.

Photo from May 2013

Our plans for 2014 are being guided by a certain bit of news though. We've decided to take a few months unpaid leave from our jobs and do some travelling. We'll be out of the country for all of September, October and November and we're going to spend most of our time in New Zealand, though we're also stopping in Canada, Australia and Thailand. As you can imagine we're rather excited about this and I'm sure you'll hear more about it all as time goes on.

This has made us think more carefully about what we're planting. Not being here during the autumn is a little limiting, but means we can focus on those crops that will keep us going all summer.

Bed One was an easy decision. We really enjoyed having a fresh spuds in the garden all summer, and it saved us quite a bit on buying little polythene bags of baby potatoes from the supermarket. We'd mostly finished our potato crop by September and so we'll just plant a couple less plants this year, focusing on early varieties.

We've gone for Pink Fir Apple and Pentland Javelin which we had great success with last year, and have added Red Duke of York as a variety we've not tried before. These all came from the garden centre where they have a range of loose potatoes on a "fill a bag" basis. We found last year that this worked really well for us as one bag is plenty for our space and we could fill it with a mixture of varieties.  Joe set these out to chit at the weekend.

Bed Two is going to be given over to fresh salad leaves this year.  We can plant these as we go along and again should keep us going for all those summer months before our trip. We'll let you know what we plant when we make such decisions.

We then had a bit of a debate about Bed Three. We had wondered about leaving it fallow, then considered planting a green manure, before stumbling on the answer; peas! We're going to fill the bed with peas and broad beans which hopefully we'll enjoy for several months (read: be fed up of by the time we leave), and should hopefully do the soil some good too.

We've chosen "Hurst Green Shaft" pea variety and "Red Epicure" bean variety this year. Yes - a red broad bean, we were intrigued and decided that this definitely needed investigation (particularly with a description such as "'beany' flavour" - who could resist).

And thats it. We're keeping it simple and hopefully this should leave us with some time to get on with the rest of the garden as well.

Read More

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Life's a Game: 2. Go

This year we're sharing with you our game of the month. These are all favourites from our collection, or ones we play with our friends.

February's game is Go.

No, we're not talking about the ancient Chinese game involving little black and white counters. We're talking about Go, the 60's board game that takes you around the world on the hunt for souvenirs. While this is part of our charity shop collection, it is also one of the few that we went hunting for rather than stumbling upon. Joe's mum played this game as a child and Joe has fond memories of playing it too.

The premise is fairly simple - travel from city to city to collect a fixed number of souvenirs and then race to be the first back to London. As with every game there are the spaces everybody wants to land on (Thomas Cook - tickets and bureau de change under one roof), and those everyone avoids (Customs!). Some precise dice rolling is needed to get you from country to country while avoiding the hazards that might befall every traveler. It is a rare game where a freak storm does not whip an unwary passenger from their route and park them in an obscure part of the board - that's all part of the fun (though mighty frustrating if you were almost back to London and suddenly you find yourself in the Falkland Isles!).

One of the joys of the game are the details, and none more so that the range of currencies you need to use to buy your tickets and souvenirs. From Deutchmarks in Germany to Yen in Japan all with different exchange rates, its worth picking yourself a good banker for this one! Fortunately a handy chart is provided to make things easier.

I'd say this is one of the favourites on our shelf. Even the most cunning of players can be derailed by an unlucky dice throw and that makes it a good game for all the family.

Catch up with previous Life's a Game posts here.

Read More