Halloween (ish) baking

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I know, I know, it’s late.

We’re almost into Christmas, and here I am with bat shaped cookies.

DSCF3220My last visit to Larisa and Adara (read about our dining and other adventures in my last post, here) coincided with Halloween. I don’t usually do that much for Halloween – I’ve been to a couple of Halloween parties in my life, as a Guide and then later at university when one of my American friends absolutely loved Halloween and went to town with decorations and so forth every year (and if Facebook is any indication, still does. I wish I was up in York and could go!) DSCF3233This year, I went ghost hunting with a company called Haunted Happenings. I’ll be honest, I’m not really much of a believer in spirits and ghosts and so forth, but I went with an open mind and the understanding that for a lot of people, this is very real and important to them. It was a great evening; lots of activity and unexplainable events, and I’m definitely glad I went, even if I don’t think that you could count me as a believer now.

DSCF3247A few weeks prior to my visit, Larisa had mentioned wishing she had some Lofthouse Sugar Cookies, which are a ~thing in the US, apparently. I sprung into action – surely people had created homemade Lofthouse cookies on the internet? Of course they had. I decided to go with a somewhat Halloween theme…based on the fact I have one bat cookie cutter. And some vaguely Halloween colours. I used a wonderful recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod, which I halved. I also don’t have a stand mixer, but this worked just fine with my hand electric whisk and a bit of elbow grease! I don’t generally have much success with cookies, so I was very very happy when these worked, and proved to be utterly delicious. I am a new convert to this type of sugar cookie. So light and fluffy and oh god, MOREISH.

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DSCF3253I also made a flourless chocolate cookie that I found on Pinterest. This led me through to Chocolate and Carrots and another simple and easy recipe to follow! I had a bit more trouble with the cooking of these – they spread a fair amount, and I really need to get some non-stick silicon baking mats or something, because greaseproof paper did not prove at all non stick with these…They were, however, delicious – chewy and rich chocolate and the chocolate chips, oh oh oh. They didn’t turn out glossy like the original post, but they were so tasty that it didn’t matter!DSCF3257

And something that was pretty much a disaster, but I am nothing if not honest here! Another Pinterest find, from Tutti-Dolci. It claimed to be a wonderful moist chocolate pound cake,DSCF3258 but well, I burnt the top a bit, whoops, and I think I put too many chocolate chips on the top of the cake and caused to sink, whoops, but the texture inside wasn’t all that great either – it was rather stodgy, although it tasted nice. I couldn’t eat a lot of it though. I’m not sure whether this was due to a cooking issue, or perhaps my measuring of the mixture (me and cups don’t always get on brilliantly, which is the downside to using US recipes)DSCF3261 or just it wasn’t meant to be. Sigh. I think I needed to find some icing sugar to disguise it better!

Overall,  I think a successful baking session.  I do so love baking for friends…even if I do tend to go a bit overboard!

I’ll tell you someone who did enjoy the cookies…

A little girl…

DSCF3265(She didn’t get to eat a whole one, she just got a lick of the frosting whilst I was taking the photos)

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Gourmet visits to small adorable children

Well, small adorable child.

Meet Adara.

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She is one of the cutest things I have seen in my life, and I could just eat her up. (Side note apropos of nothing, changing nappies is not difficult but it’s also not easy, as demonstrated by the fact that I changed my first nappy ever whilst her mama was sleeping, and I put it on back to front *slow clap*)

Fortunately, the last time I went to visit, I avoided this, but I did enjoy some other delicious delights with her utterly lovely mama, Larisa. Larisa and I share a love for good food, and whenever I go to visit her, the diet tends to go out of the window, and she takes me to different restaurants around her area and we generally eat well. One favourite place is Edamame, a Japanese-sushi restaurant in Oxford. They only serve sushi on Thursday evenings, and you have to queue out in the street to get a table! We liked it (and the plum wine) so much that we went back for “normal” service the next time I visited. If my visit falls on a Thursday again, I’m sure we’ll be having sushi again!

This time round, we started with Wild Lime. Larisa heartily recommended the parmesan crust pizza, so natch, I went for that. It was utterly delicious and I did love the fresh rocket on the top. DSCF3298

Adara happily nommed down on one of the crusts (better than the leaves of the plant she was trying to eat…) because mama is introducing baba to the good things in life early. As she should.

After a fairly horrendous time trying to get parked at Bicester Shopping Village on a Saturday – starving crying baby in the back seat, no spaces, stressed driver, stressed mama – (yeah…) we headed straight for FOOD andDSCF3382 ended up at Busaba Eathai. I’d vaguely heard of this place before, and I guess I’d describe it kind of like a more upmarket Thai Wagamama! Omgosh though the food. I had a Jungle Curry, which is a pretty hot curry. I’m not amazing with hot hot food, but this, although mouth-burning, was mouth-burny in a good way. It was so fragrant and flavourful!

DSCF3383The service was great too;our server bought a biscuit over for Adara along with our coconut ice cream desserts, and Adara continued her reign of charming everyone who sees her (she’s currently charming the United States. I fully expect her to have taken over by the New Year)

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On Sunday, we were entranced by a hearty roast on the telly, so Larisa declared that we were going to Puddingface (which was utterly fine with me) who do HUGE pies in a million varieties – there’s a note on the blackboard menu that says that you are NOT allowed to share a pie (which seems a little harsh, they are HUGE) but they are delicious, so…

We also had pudding, because, you know, what’s having a weekend of good food without pudding?

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Adara had some of the mashed potato crust (lucky duck!) and a napkin: (crafty bonus – this was the first proper garment I knitted! AND LOOK, it fits!)

ImageSo, that was my weekend of fun and frolics and food. More craftiness to follow, I’ve been a relatively busy bee…

In the meantime, have some more photos of cuteness, and my face.

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Some not very adventurous cooking

This week is filled with interviews, all for teaching assistants. Well, three interviews, two of which I have already had and failed to get.  The first one, at an infant school, was the shortest interview ever, and left me feeling like they didn’t even want me in the first place. The second one, yesterday, was at a small primary school, and went much better, but I didn’t get it either, probably because of my lack of experience with smaller children. They liked how I interviewed and my task with the children, so, you know, at least I’m not completely hopeless. I have a third interview at a primary school tomorrow, this time with children more in my ‘usual’ age range of Key Stage 2, so if I don’t get this one, it must be something else wrong with me, and it’s back to the endless round of applications.

Something about said endless round of applications and a general lack of direction in my life and what I want to do (although my brain keeps yelling CHILE CHILE CHILE at me, and eventually I’m going to listen, take the leap and see it through no matter what) doesn’t really make me want to eat healthily, but I’ve been trying.

In reality, I’ve wanted to eat a pile of cream scones and then some more things with cream in and then a chicken pasty thing from Greggs, but I’ve just about managed to content myself with looking at cupcakes on Pinterest and remembering that next week I’m off to see L and her bubba, so I can bake cakes for them.

So, what have I made?

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This was a Winter Squash Pasta adapted from one of Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals. Having had the book since Christmas last year, it was about time I finally did some cooking from it! This was certainly a new way of eating squash – I love butternut squash, and am currently getting through one every week- and once I got used to it, I really liked the fennel flavour. I added some bacon, and upped the amount of parmesan to make it a Slimming World Healthy Extra A portion. Plus, I really like cheese.

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Okay, it’s as if I wanted to prove how much I like butternut squash. And cheese. Butternut Squash Lasagne from this month’s Slimming World Magazine. Good and yummy. Nom nom nom. They didn’t put cheese on it. I added cheese, because, seriously, you can’t have lasagne without a creamy melty cheesy topping. That’s sacrilege.Even when slimming.

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These last couple of weeks, I’ve been venturing into the world of preserves and chutneys. We have a vine growing against the house, and this year it produced a bumper crop of grapes. Sometimes, these end up wasted, so we were determined to use them, and Good Food obliged with a recipe for a black grape jelly. And then I ended up with 12 jars of grape jelly. That’s a lot of jelly. (Recipe here)

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Having caught the preserving bug, this week I made a batch of apple and grape chutney. I haven’t tried any yet, but Dad says it’s nice, if sweet. Maybe once it matures a bit, the flavours will develop. Again, this was from Good Food (recipe here)

I can definitely see more preserves in my future – maybe some more pickled onions. I made pickled onions a year or so ago, surely we must be due some more? I find that one can never have too many pickled onions.

As long as they are hugely vinegary and acidic and kinda hurt your mouth.

Nom.

It’s raining mitts

I have about a million things I probably should be knitting – or doing, depending on your perspective, but I’ve been applying for jobs and I have an interview on Friday, so that’s something. I have a jacket to finish that I started up when I was on holiday in Chile this August. There’s not that much to go…actually, I lie, I have to finish one of the fronts, knit the sleeves, knit the collar and then sew the whole thing together and I will, I will, but working out where I was before I got on a plane seems like too much of a headache right now.

And there’s all the magnificent inspiration I got from the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace last weekend (and the wish I had a never ending pot of money so I could buy all the yarn that I fell in love with…and the wish I could sew so that I could do something with all that amazing fabric) but that’s a whoooole other post. Partly because the photos are still on my camera.

So I wanted something super easy and super quick that I could knit up with some of the leftover yarn I had from my hooded cardigan. I started one of the new Deramores hats:

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(Pattern avaliable here)

But uh, it turned out that I didn’t have enough yarn, despite thinking that I had enough yarn. So, halfway through the hat, I had to rip the hat apart D:

So, mitts, then.

I used Kate Turnbull’s Basic Fingerless Mitts pattern on Ravelry (add me, by the way, I’m faeriejaqi), for simplicity and also because I wanted something I could knit flat. I have knitted in the round, and I will knit more in the round because sewing up is my nemesis, but I didn’t want to have to work out what circular needles I actually have, and hey, my straights were sitting right there. My next mitts challenge will be in the round. Probably. And I know what everyone I know will be getting for Christmas. Sorry.

I knitted myself a pair first:

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Simple, and toasty! Kept my hands warm this cold rainy Sunday out for lunch in London, anyway. Having seen them, my mum decided she wanted a pair, so I pilfered her left over hank of Rowan Colourspun Chunky to make her a pair. Any excuse to knit with some Rowan yarn!

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I think she likes them.

So now I’m kinda hooked on mitts. I want to do more complicated ones! I want to do them in the round! I want cables, and stitch patterns and I think I might just have to experiment. Do you have a favourite mitten pattern?

An introduction — of sorts

I’ve always been crafty – or at least wished I was. When I was younger, attempts at any sort of crafting tended to turn out into a PVA mangled mess, wonky sewing, and broken machine needles. I can’t really “art” – I can copy somewhat decently, but coming up with my own ideas and designs always seemed harder, and again, ended up wonkyand looking nothing like I’d intended. All my grand ideas (I can always see something in my head) never looked like that in reality.

My grandma tried to teach me to knit when I was young. Considering she passed away when I was six, and I’m left handed, and was incredibly cack-handed back then, this was probably not a Good Idea. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember that I definitely could not do it. I put knitting to the back of my head as something I was never going to be able to achieve, like ice skating (that’s really not going to happen. Trust me.) Once, at university, in a fit of crafty desire, and a surfeit of time borne of a bout of depression, I bought a massive cross stitch pattern of Kirk and Spock. I’ve never finished it, although I don’t think I’ve done too badly for someone who had no idea what she was really doing other than making little crosses in the fabric. It’s still around somewhere.

Moving into the classroom dug out some craftyness – I found I quite enjoyed decorating the classroom, and creating things to stick up, and that continued into my teaching practice. And then I found myself battling myself, my anxieties, depression and my general idea of failure once again.

I returned to knitting. And I failed. Mum and I bought some Rowan yarn in a John Lewis sale, and I started trying to learn to knit and purl under her guidance. I just could not get it. The stitches made no sense to me. Why was that piece of wool going that way? Where was that one meant to go? WHAT ARE THESE NEEDLES?

Later, job in hand, confidence boosted somewhat, although no desire to ever be teaching my own class again, I was determined to be able to do something I could feel proud of. I had this yarn, so I went back again. Third time lucky -it worked! The stitches made sense! Suddenly I had a row, and another, and I was working in stocking stitch. I moved to my Rowan yarn, and started the stripy scarf, a simple case of large blocks of two colours. I dropped stitches – I handed the knitting to my mum, unable to work out how to pick them up (I learned when she went on holiday, leaving my knitting to me and me alone – who else would pick up the dropped stitch?) In general though, it went incredibly smoothly, and I ended up with this:

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I haven’t really stopped since then – 9 months ago – and I’ve learnt to knit on DPNs and circular needles, work cables, do a hood, pick up stitches (…something to develop more) and knitted garments for me, friends and the most adorable baby in the world. You’ll see pictures of her soon. I haven’t managed lace yet, or socks. That’s next on the agenda. Knitting for me now is something therupetic that can get me through when everything else is falling apart around me. I’ve recently ended up back at square one again, and although I might have given up on that, I haven’t given up on knitting, and I’m going to improve, and design, and generally just…find my way.

Oh, and I cook. I love to cook. I cook mostly following the principles of Slimming World, so you’ll find Slimming World friendly stuff here – and not so Slimming World friendly when I just can’t avoid baking cake. I also like to make gluten free stuff for one of my best friends whenever I see her, and my most recent GF accomplishment was Pizza Hut Style GF Pizza. SO GOOD.

So, that’s me. I’ll doubtless share more as time goes on, but for now, enjoy the amalgam of knitting, cooking, me trying (and failing?) to be more crafty, and whatever else floats my boat. I’m looking forward to meeting you!