Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Fibre arts

I have spent this morning photographing my yarn stash, with the intent of uploading the details onto Ravelry. However I have been defeated. It was taking so long to upload the photos and the ridiculous amount of yarn I have stashed in the last year (all cunningly hidden away in a large wooden chest) was just too daunting.
So instead I've decided to share a different kind of fibre art...roasted nuts!
Every Christmas I make nut roast, and a few years ago I discovered that it was infinitely tastier if I toasted the nuts first with some spices, before grinding them for the roast. From then on every Christmas Eve I make toasted spiced nuts in large quantities, half for the roast and then half to munch on throughout the holidays. Yesterday I was thinking how great these would be as party nibbles at the new year, and thought it was about time I shared the recipe with you.

Roasty toasty spiced nuts - Adapted from Nigella Lawson

500g of mixed nuts of your choice (I use: pecans, brazils, walnuts, peanuts (half plain, half dry roasted), marmite cashews (can't resit 'em!)
3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary (one whole, two chopped fine)
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
large grind of pepper
large pinch of salt

Line a plate or baking tray with parchment and set aside.

Place a large frying pan on the hob over a medium/low heat. Add the nuts and the whole rosemary sprig and toast gently for about 3-4 minutes, stirring all the time. Once the nuts are fragrant (and only just turning golden) add the spices and chopped rosemary and toss gently to release the flavour and coat the nuts (beware when they are toasting they can really get up your nose!), turn the heat down then add the oil and the sugar, keep stirring to coat the nuts and melt the sugar. Allow about another minute and a half cooking to really toast the nuts and coat them, but watch carefully as you don't want any burning. Turn out of the pan onto the prepared plate/tray and leave to cool fully. Once cool you can store them in an airtight jar, or place into bowls for immediate munching!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas from all at Number 98.

I hope you're all having a lovely festive season. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all. I'll be back in a couple of days with some recipes (good for new year parties), reflections on the past year and hopes for the coming one.
In the meantime, relax and enjoy! I hope you're all wrapped up warm (and enjoying the cricket, oh yes!)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Like mother, like daughter

I arrived up North and almost immediately the discussions of what we were currently knitting began. My Mum showed me a lovely silk/alpaca project she was working on, as I looked more closely it looked scarily familiar. Out of my bag I produced a project that was almost exactly the same. Same stitch pattern, also used in a cowl, also in a red luxury yarn (mine cashmere).
We hadn't discussed either project at any point previously. Scary!

Monday, 20 December 2010

It's actually not that grim up North!

On Saturday morning I crept out of the house at half past seven, leaving N safely tucked up in bed, and tottered down to the station with my suitcase in tow. We'd had about 1cm of snow overnight, and yet a reduced service was running. Nonetheless I made it up to and then across London and to Kings Cross. Armed with a coffee and smart phone access to the Ashes updates (let's not mention that eh?) I waited patiently for my train. I boarded and settled down with my knitting for the three hour trip Up North.

All of this happened in perfect calm. No delays, no falling over on the way to stations or trains, bags safely stowed with no fighting over luggage racks. And soon I was speeding across the countryside admiring the pretty frost dusted trees.

Little was I to know the chaos I was leaving behind! Less than an hour into my journey news comes in from N that the south has been hit by blizzards. I wasn't sure I really believed it was that bad given I hadn't seen a single flake. Then the emergency text arrived to see if I could find out if the football was cancelled. It was! I'm not sure I've ever known it so bad that central London Premiership matches were called off.

I of course arrived at my destination and there wasn't so much of a hint of snow. Heavy showers were forecast for overnight and we got about half an inch. So much for it being grim up north!

I've been doing the obligatory pre-Christmas present drop at my parents, and squeezing in a bit of sightseeing along the way. Tomorrow I shall be attempting to get back to the south, where the Christmas holiday (and baking!!) can truly begin.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The hot toddy

The hot toddy is a wonderfully restorative drink. This week I have found myself afflicted with man-flu. Yes, I will freely admit that I am rubbish at being ill, or even in any way coldy. It's rare and when it happens I don't like it.
I resist and refuse to admit it, whilst all the time being utterly pathetic. Just ask N. He knows. I spent Sunday battling through chores feeling increasingly sorry for myself. Then on Monday I thought I had come through it, until sitting in front of the football, the coughing and sneezing returned in earnest, much to the annoyance of Sniff, who was dosing on my lap and kept being woken by sniffles and my tickly throat.

There was only one thing for it. A hot toddy, number 98 style.
A hot toddy from No. 98. Serves one person with man flu...

1 shot whiskey
1 shot of ginger wine
Juice of half a lemon
double shot of boiling water
teaspoon of honey, or to taste.

Blend in a glass and drink as rapidly as possible, then make a second to sip gently whilst sniffling and wearing your favourite Christmas jumper (thanks Mum!)

p.s. I am aware that my most recent recipes have been for drinks. Very slack considering all the Christmas baking I did last year. I've just been a bit swamped. I am hoping to have some more recipes up in the coming weeks. Then again, one can never start the festive drinks season too early!

Monday, 13 December 2010

All that glitters.

On Friday I was over at the Make Lounge indulging in a bit of festive fun. I was there thanks to these guys, who's cupcake decorating competition I helped judge.
As a thank you I got to attend a decorating master class with Mich Turner along with the other judges and the two winners.
There was fondant, glitter, buttercream, glitter, royal icing, glitter, champagne and more glitter!
I was able to take the lovely Lady K with me, and much hilarity ensued. Although I'm not sure what was funnier, Mich's face as K mixed up the acid lime coloured buttercream, or the faces of all the people on the tube as we struggled home with our haul of ten cupcakes each!
The cupcakes of Lady K, spot the acid green, it looked much more neon in person!

Much fun was had by all, and I'm still finding glitter all over things! Thanks so much to everyone for getting me in the festive mood!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Deck the halls.

Remember this guy? He's back:
And he's been joined by this fellow:
Yep, the halls here at Number 98 are officially decked. We just couldn't wait any longer. Whilst the plumber was fixing the boiler we were frantically painting the living room. It was the only room that didn't get done when we moved and the awful shade of mank-nolia that it was painted was really getting us down. Problem was as soon as it was painted we felt so smug and suddenly festive that at that very moment we couldn't wait any longer. A tree was bought, boxes fished out of the loft, Sinatra on the stereo, wine opened, chocolates consumed, lights tested (and chased around the room by a little terrorist kitty), and suddenly Christmas arrived at Number 98.

It might seem early, but it's wonderful. I have been basking a little too much in it and not doing much else. Sometimes when you can't bring yourself to get out of your pyjamas and leave the sofa long enough to bake, you just have to give in and indulge in other ways...

...but if you do fancy a spot of baking, I can heartily recommend this. I made it last week and it was snaffled up so fast I didn't get a picture. Our top tip is to heat a little mincemeat until it's warmed and runny, and then pour it over and load with whipped cream. Nom!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Let it snow

If you're British you might have noticed that there's been a bit of snow around. Apparently we're not that great at dealing with snow as a nation. Or at least that's what all the news seems to be saying. I beg to differ. I'm fantastic at dealing with snow. There's a knack to it I should admit. What you do is....not leave the house for three days. I'm sure some people would go stir-crazy, but I am definitely in my element!
On Friday I couldn't get to work. I don't drive (not that I would in these conditions) and we're on a train line that seem particularly averse to anything the slightest bit chilly. Last week there was a train cancelled due to "adverse weather conditions" on a completely normal, cold, but bright winter's day. So a foot of snow and we ain't going nowhere.
No matter. With heating now working, showers were had and preparations begun. This weather naturally makes me feel even more festive, so what better way to enjoy a snow day than with some Christmas sewing, knitting and the first batch of mince pies.
See, coping with snow is easy!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I spoke too soon...

We got snow. Quite a bit in fact. On Tuesday evening we both left work at 6pm. We made it into the house at 11pm. It was one of the few evenings when I was cursing not being in central London. Very much "we're not in Kansas anymore"

Since then we haven't left the house (except for an emergency bread and milk run when our poor veg man rang to say he couldn't get through). All train services are suspended, so we couldn't really get anywhere even if we wanted to.
Fortunately the one person who did get to us is the plumber! Rumour has it we might have hot water later today. Yep, that's the old immersion tank! Hurrah!
Perhaps the funniest thing about the snow has been the cat's reactions. It shows up their individual approaches to life very well. Gatto was running around the house from window to window seemingly saying "it's brilliant! The whole world looks different, it's brilliant, white stuff is falling from the sky, brilliant." (forgive the blurry photo, he's not a cat that stays still for long!)
Sniff took one look at it, rolled his eyes and seemed to say "oh no, not this stuff again"

I'm off to huddle in front of the fire with my knitting. I hope you're all staying safe and warm. I will hopefully be back soon, with heating and cake recipes (because butter just won't soften in our house so we're on the emergency chocolate hob-nob stash rather than home baked cakes!)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Tactics for staying warm.

I know that some of you are pretty much snowed in. In fact the pictures and news from my parents have been rather impressive, and so I really shouldn't complain about the weather, but it does rather take the biscuit that we have temperatures of -7C here and no boiler. I've taken to forcing the cats to sleep on me in order to steal their warms. It keeps backfiring though as they are rather adept at stealing mine!

And so I decided that perhaps moving would be a better bet, some preserving, and a spot of decorating, Number 98 style with fan heater and fairy lights! But more about that later because
this morning I realised that I've been rather slack on the blog, I promised cupcakes on Wednesday and all of sudden it's Monday and no cupcakes have emerged. Oops! Sorry about that.

As it happens, last Monday was a most wonderful time. Lady J and I had a hilarious day of butter, batter and banter. I was initially rather worried about teaching someone how to make cupcakes, but as it happens this year I am honoured to be one of the judges for this, and so with the complimentary cupcake kit that happened to arrive that morning we set off attempting to melt butter, chocolate and listen to heavy metal.
Alas, the freezing cold kitchen was not particularly condusive to ganache, but we still managed some very decedent and delicious cupcakes, mixed and decorated entirely by newly qualified cupcake goddess Lady J. I have promised that once the kitchen warms up a bit we'll practice piping, but until then I think we'll cope.
We tested a couple of recipes and I think the following won out for richness, depth and perfect sugar rush!

So here I can finally share it with you, while I shift hundreds of books upstairs...who's idea was it to decorate after all the books were unpacked and on the shelves, and in the same week the plumber is coming to replace the boiler?!

Not for the feint hearted chocolate cupcakes - Makes 6-8 large cupcakes

1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cocao poweder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4oz softened butter
1/2 buttermilk (Or milk soured with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
1 large egg
1/2 cup of fresh coffee (cooled)

Preheat your oven to 180C and line a cupcake pan with cake cases.

Using an electic mixer (if possible, hand power if not) combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon. Blend for 30 seconds and then add the butter and buttermilk and blend to moisten. The up the speed and beat until fluffy.

Whisk the egg and coffee together, and add to the batter in three aditions. Don't forget to scrape down the side of the bowl to catch any unmixed flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared cases, filling aprox. 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 mins. A toothpick should come out moist but with no uncooked batter attached.

Decorate with your preferred icing, we used a ganache and a buttercream, but I happen to know that cream cheese is superb (if ridiculously indulgent!)

Monday, 22 November 2010

It did it again...

Our boiler is mocking us.

It's broken again, and this time will cost a lot to fix. However, we will have the last laugh, oh yes, because in a week and a half it will be replaced with something not from the stone age, that will work, and be quiet, and small, and pay attention to the new thermostat and be generally lovely.

Until then we will be without hot water or heating. It might be a long ten days.

But that's not a problem, as I am steaming the Christmas puddings and baking up a storm with a friend who doesn't mind knitting and baking in the cold, and delights in sprinkles.

More on that on Wednesday, right now I'm off to huddle in front of the fire and ponder where I put my fingerless gloves...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sometimes it needs to be done

I am a great believer of seizing the moment, and basically giving in to your urges. Which is how I happened to making mulled port on a week night. I know it should be a weekend drink. I know it probably ought to be a Christmas drink. I know I should probably be attempting some restraint given it's only the end of my first working day of the week (with four more to go and engineering works promising the week to get much worse...).

And yet, it felt like it should be done. It was the first truly cold day today. With a thick frost and icy puddles accompanying my walk to the station, and with two layers, newly installed heating and numerous trips up flights of stairs failing to keep the cold at bay at work.

So I got into my pyjamas, and followed a whim. A hint of spice here, a dash of brandy there, a squeeze of lemon and a little heat. It was easy, and warming and the perfect thing to accompany a little taster of English cricket before the eagerly awaited Ashes tests begin.

It might not be the thing for every evening, but if you need a little warmth a hint of the festivities to come, crack open the port early and treat yourself. A little one can't hurt.

Mulled Port - Makes two small but potent servings.

200ml port
1/4 tsp mixed spice
5 whole cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar
1 tbsp of ginger wine
1 tbsp of brandy
squeeze of lemon

Place all the ingredients in a small pan and heat gently, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. keep warm for five minutes to release the spices, but do not get it hot enough to even simmer. Cool slightly and pour into thick glass tumblers. Drink.

I'm sure it would be amazing with a twist of orange and some juice in place of the lemon, I just didn't have any.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cognitive boilers.

(unimpressed cold cats shot)

Have you ever suspected the cognitive powers of your boiler? Seriously, let's just think about it for a moment. They know. They know that the cruelest point for them to decide to break is during the coldest spell in weeks, when gale force winds can penetrate any tiny cracks and give your toes frostbite and disable your fingers from knitting. And you can almost hear them chuckling as they trip your circuits, meaning the alarm clock doesn't go off so you end up with a cold shower and a mad dash to work an hour and a half late.*

As you can tell it was a good start yesterday! Today I am at home waiting for the emergency plumber to hopefully fix the boiler, identify the burny smell coming from the airing cupboard and make it so I can have a hot bath and not a cold shower.

The saving grace is that the new house has an open fire and there is something rather romantic about sitting in front of a fire with your knitting and a cup of tea and eating fudge.

Oh yes, let's talk about fudge. It's old fashioned, it's full of sugar, fat and is blissfully easy to make, which means in less than an hour you have dangerously moreish little treat that you can munch on all afternoon. I must have known it was going to be "one of those weeks" on Wednesday as I had a desperate urge to make ginger fudge. Not one to ignore my culinary callings I gave in immediately and fished the emergency can of evaporated milk from the back of the cupboard and off I went.
If it's a dull weekend, if you find yourself not wanting to leave the house and needing a little tray of something to keep you company in front of the fire, television or alongside your knitting, whip up some of this and I can promise your partners/family/self won't complain (I hold no responsibility for annoyed dentists however!).

Ginger Fudge - Makes aprox 1.5lbs (one small brownie trays worth)

I should mention that this is also a great Christmas present - yes, we're all trying to ignore that the festive season is fast approaching, but at least now you have one idea!

1lb granulated sugar
2 0z butter
1/4 pint of evaporated milk
1/4 pint whole milk
3 large pieces of stem ginger, copped finely

First, line a small brownie tray with greaseproof paper, the large the tin, the thinner the squares, its up to you as to the exact size you use.

Gently heat the sugar, butter and milks until the sugar dissolves and fat melts. Bring to the boil and boil steadily until the mixture reaches 116C on a sugar thermometer**, stirring occasionally (should take about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and beat until it looks smooth and slightly grainy, add the ginger and stir through thoroughly. Pour into the tin and once cooled slightly mark into squares. Then place in the fridge to cool completely.

Make a strong cup of tea, and settle in for an afternoon with tray in front of you, no one's judging here.

** if you don't have a sugar thermometer you're looking for "soft ball" stage, which is when a small piece dropped in cold water forms a soft ball. Don't worry if you get it a little hard it will still be delicious, and I have been known to spoon too-soft fudge from a bowl in the fridge!

*the great thing about a horrid start to the day is it totally justifies a ridiculously comedy sounding order at the coffee shop that provided me with a "dessert coffee" as N calls them, which is most definitely the duvet of the hot beverage world, even more so than a hot chocolate. Comforting and yet caffienating, and so restorative. "tall, skinny, double shot, gingerbread latte please, thank you"

Monday, 8 November 2010

A tale of wine and wollmeise

I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I am now well and truly a yarn addict, and knitting obsessive. There was a very enlightening moment which brought this all home to me over the weekend.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some highly coveted Wollmeise yarn. Two skeins of a dark green, one variegated red and a mustard yellow. Ever since our visit to Italy I've been desperate to knit myself a shawl in a gorgeous autumnal colour, and mustard has been calling to me (which is very much away from my colour comfort zone).

So there, ready and waiting on my sewing table was a newly wound beautiful skein of Olio Vergine 100% merino sock yarn. It was there as my friend K and I were having a natter with a glass of wine after an evening of food and good company. It was there as a gesticulation sent a wine glass, full of rich red wine, tumbling across the table threatening to stain everything in it's wake.

With lightening reflexes I snatched the newly wound yarn cake up and into my arms out of harms way....completely ignoring the laptop, camera, books and sewing machine that were now wading in wine! Oops!

You know you're a yarn addict, when you will save precious yarn before any and all other expensive objects!

p.s. After some lots of mopping, cotton bud in socket action, and some careful testing all other items on the table seem fine...although perhaps this is the source of my caps lock problem? (I'm writing this on a kindly lent machine which is nowhere near liquid of any form!)

Sunday, 7 November 2010



Sunday, 31 October 2010


Perhaps I've seen the Godfather too many times (sshh....I know, there can never be too many times) but there is something about the small towns of Italy that make it feel like they should always be represented in sepia or black and white.

Everything just seems hushed and elegant, as if you've stepped into the set of a film noir classic....
...or could stumble upon Luca Brasi at any moment.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Four days...

...of peace and quiet in our favourite place in the world does wonders for the head, heart and soul.
I've decided that autumn in Italy is my new favourite thing. The colours, the food, the wine, the cold but beautiful days, the quality of the light. I think from now on I will insist that we only ever go when the vines are golden and the chestnuts on the market stalls in abundance.

I feel calmer, happier and healthier than I have in a very long time.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

They grow up so fast.

Three years old, and four months old this week.

They grow up so fast our little kitties.