Tuesday 31 January 2012

Regular Visitors

picture borrowed from National Trust
The blog fell silent for a few days as we have enjoyed visitors from Norway.
My Faithful Friend who comes over at least once a year (she is far better than me to visit!), arrived on Thursday with Her Lovely Fiancee and Her Delightful Son.

picture or a perfect Napoleon's Cake borrowed from matoppskrift.no
Her Delightful Son turned 11 earlier in the month, so we grabbed the chance for another little birthday celebration for him! He had requested Napoleon's Cake (I will post the recipe some other time) and auntie was happy to oblige and try out a new recipe! :-)
I have no idea what Napoleon had to do with the cake, but despite being a new recipe for me it tasted very nice even if it didn't look as perfect as on the picture above!
Practise makes perfect (maybe)!

As they are regular visitors there are certain things and places they HAVE to see when they are here, but I managed to squeeze in a few new places for them to discover, too.

We watched the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey one evening and then a visit to Wimpole Hall became a must!Despite it being bitterly cold (the humid cold here goes through to your bones!) we enjoyed a good walk and lunch in the cafe.

In the gift shop I found the throw pictured above. It is a super warm woollen grey and white throw which simply 'begged' to come home with us. A snip of a price at £20, I think!
It goes so well with the cushion I knitted and the lovely cushion my friend and her son had jointly made for me!
I will take a picture of it in daylight to do it justice!

Friday 27 January 2012

Tried and Tested: Fig Jam with Port

I have seen several blogs singing the praise of Fig Jam served with cheese. I have to admit I rarely eat jam except for a bit of lingonberry jam with roast. But there are other jam eaters in the house and we all eat figs. I admit it was rather nice and it goes very well with a blue cheese, perhaps also served on a gingerbread biscuit. A real Christmas type of jam, if you ask me.

This is my version:

Chop finely and soak 500 grams of figs if they are very dry for a couple of hours (mine were very juicy so I didn't soak them).
Bring to a boil with 3 dl of the soaking water and
Add the juice of 1/2 lemon and
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Let it simmer for 15 - 20 mins
Add 350 grams of sugar and
4-6 tablespoons of Port
Let it all simmer again for another 10-15 mins
I used a blitzer on the ready product as I had not chopped it fine enough.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Tried and Tested: Macaroons In The Making

a poor picture taken in haste with my IPhone
Our Boy and I fell in love with macaroons when we were in France last summer.
Almost every night we would share 1 macaroon as we strolled around the warm streets after dinner. I must say we were very good in controlling ourselves!
I have always heard that macaroons are so hard to make so I had always put of trying.
As I was watching Lorraine Pascale on TV last night I thought it was time to give it a go.
At least her method makes it really easy:

125 grams of icing sugar with
125 grams of finely ground almonds (I had a bag of ready ground almonds ready)
40 gram egg whites (it is important to weigh the egg whites)
Add food colouring, if you want (I didn't have any to hand)
In a clean bowl, whisk
40 grams of egg white till they are semi-stiff peaks
In a pan:
melt 110 grams of sugar and
2 tablespoons of water
and let it become syrupy (about 115 degrees if you have a thermometer)
Add the sugar syrup to the egg whites and whisk briskly till it is all shiny and stiff
Finally, combine the egg whites with the almond paste and stirr well.
Fill a piping bag and pipe small circles onto a baking parchment about 2 cm apart.
Once the tray was full I slammed it 2 or 3 times on a flat surface and this flattened them.
Leave the uncooked macaroons to set forming a nice skin on them for about 30 mins before baking them on 170 degrees for 12-15 mins.
I didn't have any particular filling to hand, but just used some jam and sandwiched them together two and two (Lorraine used whipped cream).
I was really pleased with this quick attempt and they were an instant hit!
Now I want find a good recipe for our favourite filling from France - salted caramel!
Anybody got any tips?

Sunday 22 January 2012

Quiet Weekend

This has been a very surreal weekend.
In a very sad way.
Completely unrelated with each other, we have received sad news of no less than three tragedies amongst friends this last week.

It is hard to find the right words to say. 
We are lighting candles and sending warm thoughts to all those concerned.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Creating a Knitting Pattern

Sitting and knitting is actually very relaxing and almost like meditation...

My mind spins all over the place and I get all sorts of new ideas.
Only problem is that my hands don't knit as fast as new plans form in my mind... 

Anyway, spurred on by the completion of the knitted cushion cover I thought of another complementary pattern, but decided to 'try' it out on the computer (Excel) to see if it would work. As you see, I have again borrowed inspiration from the Marius sweater but also various other pictures I have seen on the internet. I guess you can say I am showing my roots in the image above - yes I spent most of my childhood in the south eastern part of Norway where there are plenty of moose.

This cushion cover will be slightly larger with  89 stiches as opposed to 72 on the previous one, but I think that will be ok.

Do any of you have any experience with making your own patterns?
I'd better get knitting as I am impatient to see if this works!

Thursday 19 January 2012

Marius-Inspired Sofa Cushion

Remember the project I started a couple of weeks ago with the enormous balls of yarn?
I am pleased to announce that the first scatter cushion is now done! I am mainly relieved that it didn't turn into another never finished 'UFO project' as I tend to get impatient and put it aside...

I kind of made it up as I went along and the front is loosely based on the traditional Marius-sweater pattern while the back is much simpler (I don't know the English word for it - lus we call them in Norwegian). I even put in a zip which is rather advanced work for me... 72 stiches and thick knitting needles made light work of it, to be honest.

Sorry about the picture quality - as we know, evening light is not the best for taking pictures. 
I think it works well on the sheepskin in the sofa.  

I also think I need two complimentary cushions... 
I have a plan for another one with a slightly different pattern, but again I don't promise when it will be ready.

And, yes - the balls of yarn are still ENORMOUS!

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Luxury Dilemma..

What a luxury dilemma!

To my amazement I won two round-trip tickets rail tickets in the Norwegian rail line's Christmas calendar
from anywhere in Norway to anywhere in Norway!

And now the dilemma - where to go and what to see!

Aaaaah - there is so much choice and soooo hard to choose!

The tickets are valid till the end of 2012, so there is plenty of time to plan a great trip!

Any good suggestions?

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Never Too Late...

picture borrowed from http://stuffkit.com/50-cool-guitar-hd-wallpapers.htm
The Professor has decided to learn to play the guitar.
He has been watching Our Boy playing (who has been taking lessons for the last 5 years) and was convinced it can't be too hard...
Our Boy graciously let his father have a lesson with his guitar teacher.
He didn't have time for any more than this ONE lesson...
I think he agrees it isn't enough.
The Professor decided it was something wrong with the guitar - that the strings are too closely spaced. (He wouldn't accept that his fingers are too large for the strings nor that he needs to practise more.)
A new guitar has thus been acquired.
I will report back in due course about possible progress.
In the meantime darling, 
please don't give up the day job and join the band,
not just yet...



Monday 16 January 2012

Domestic Pleasures...

One of my guilty domestic pleasures are bedsheets...
The older I get the more I just love them.
Can never seem to have enough and I am always drawn to this department in the shops although I am sure we have enough sheets to last us for years...  There are few things in life that beat sleeping in clean, fresh, crisp bedsheets...


But I used to find folding the fitted sheets a real mess and could never work out a good way to fold them so they would fit neatly in the cupboard. Until I found this instructive film on YouTube. I struggled a little to begin with, but now it is second nature. Ok, it isn't the BIGGEST challenge in life (contrary to what the lady on the film says), but it does help up free up space in the linen cupboard.
Give it a go!


Friday 13 January 2012

Friday 13th... and Time

Can you believe it?
It is already Friday again and to top that Friday 13th (no, I am not superstitious so that doesn't matter)!
The week has just gone by in a swish! Not that I complain - bring on the weekend!
And I THINK I can feel that the days are becoming just a little bit longer - yeah!

Our Boy is in the middle of his mock GCSE exams and we have one more week of this. I think he has about 18 exams in total these two weeks. Here in England children take most of their GCSE exams at the end of year 11 (Our Boy already did maths last year). The real exam is not till May/June, but every school does a mock/trial exam either before or after Christmas to give the children (and parents) an idea what they can expect and also where they might need to focus the rest of this school year's revision time. The GCSE results are important for acceptance to 6-th form which is the last two years before they go on to University (again - where has THAT time gone - to me he was 5 'yesterday'). The exams at the end of those two years are called A-levels. Even though Our Boy is staying for 6-th form at the same school as he is currently attending and therefore the GCSE exam results don't really matter in this respect, they are looked at when you apply to University along with the A-levels.

Talk about loosing track of time:
I thought my hair was starting to look a bit long and it might be 6-7 weeks since my haircut so I'd better get an appointment.

Oh, how wrong was I?!
It is 4 MONTHS since my last haircut...
No wonder the hair is long!!!
Actually, I don't think my hair has been this long since I was 13...
And exactly what happened to that time?????

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Healthy Surprises in a Box

I have previously told you about my shopping secret.
In short - as I hate going grocery shopping, I shop online and have it delivered to our house instead. Ok, it might not happen every week as admittedly sometimes you can get some inspiration when you go to the shops, but most weeks I would rather do something else with my time!
It is a perfect arrangement for me.

They have now introduced a box filled with various seasonal fruit and vegetables. I was initially sceptical to this as I prefer to choose my own combination of fruit and vegetables, but then I was getting bored with my own choices. You get an indication of what they may be including when you place the order, but there might be some changes due to the season.

To be honest, I love this.

This way I am introduced to new vegetables on a regular basis and it 'forces' me to think of new dishes to make to utilise these sometimes to me new vegetables:

Last week in this mix was fresh beetroot which I have only ever eaten pickled and bought in a jar. I made a lovely pan of mixed roasted vegetables with the beetroots (cut in large pieces and sprinkle some olive oil/salt/pepper over beetroots, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, swedes and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes till done).

This week the box included fennel which was also a new ingredient to me. I made a lovely fennel soup with cod and shrimp - I found the recipe on Trine's Matblogg. It was lovely and I will definetely make this soup again AND buy more fennel.

Sometimes it is good to be forced to think
'outside the box'...


Monday 9 January 2012

The Biggest Balls EVER....!

For those of you who thought this was about some other types of balls, I am afraid you will be disappointed... 
We are talking about balls of yarn!

I wanted to knit some new covers for a couple of sofa cushions and came across these balls of yarn meant for big hunky Aran sweaters. Since I am making up the pattern etc as I go along I was not sure how much I needed. Also, it needs to be said that it has been a while since I knitted anything... So, when I came across these ENORMOUS balls I thought this would save me running out of yarn. 
Yep, I was right. 

I think I have enough yarn to knit an entire sofa... 
Well, maybe not a sofa, but each ball is 500 grams 
(I think 'normal' balls of yarn are 50 gram)...

I promise to show the finished product... when I get there. 
But please, don't hold your breath waiting. 
It could take a while.


Sunday 8 January 2012

Tried and Tested: Boston Brownies

Ok, I admit it is rather early in the year and too close since Christmas to be tempting with Brownies, but I am a weak mother... When Our Boy asked for Brownies after a he had been for a long run, I couldn't deny him.


I found this recipe on the back of an American corn flour box and it does not contain any other flour. I made some alterations to the recipe (as I often do) and the Brownies turned out very tasty and chewy and seemed lighter than my regular recipe. I suggest you mix all by hand to avoid getting too much air into the mixture. You want it gooey and somewhat heavy.

You need:
150 gram butter
100 gram chocolate - roughly chopped (the recipe actually called for 200gram, but there is a limit!) 
180 gram light brown sugar (again the recipe called for 200 gram, but you will never miss these 20 grams)
2 eggs, beaten
few drops of vanilla extract
50 gram cornflour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
a handful of chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

Melt the butter and half of the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water
Mix the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract
Mix the sugar/egg/vanilla mixture with the melted butter/chocolate
Sift in the corn flour/salt/baking powder 
Mix in the rest of the chopped chocolate and the nuts

Bake in a small lined tin (18 cm square, for instance)
on 180 degrees for approx 50 mins (check that it doesn't burn on top) 
Let the brownies cool in the tin before your remove the lining and cut into squares.

I admit Our Boy did not eat all of the Brownies by himself...
I am now going for a brisk walk!

Thursday 5 January 2012

New Year's Walk...

I have to say the weather is strange these days! 
Extreme winds and lots of rain, but rather warm. 
A lot of things are starting to grow in the garden...

Not sure what to make of it, but it is very unlike last January when we even had snow for several days! 
On our last holiday after Christmas The Professor and I ventured out for the first walk of 2012. We went our usual route to Grantchester. Always lovely and warming to have a stop at one of the pubs at the end of the path for a glass of mulled wine... 

 We walked around the church (where I once - by accident - attended service with Lady Thatcher - but that is another story and enough name dropping for one day...) and I was intrigued by this bricked up doorway in the wall... wonder what the story was WHY this had been done? It was only the church yard behind it. It reminded me of the book 'The Secret Garden'...

On our way back home we suddenly stopped and STARED
Despite the distance - there was unmistakably a man taking a swim in the river...! 
And no - it really isn't THAT warm (we were wearing gloves and hats...). 

I think that is taking New Year's resolutions to get fit a bit too far...

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Recommended viewing: Great Expectations

BBC showed a new 3-part adaptation of Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' this Christmas.
Gillian Anderson (better known from X-Files) is a haunted and bitter Miss Havisham (with a very convincing British accent!) while David Suchet (Agatha Christie's Poirot) is the hardnosed lawyer Mr. Jaggers and Ray Winstone is Magwitch.

Nobody does these period dramas better than the BBC and a bit of Dickens this time of year is never wrong.