Monday, 13 April 2015

New Baby Blanket

Another baby blanket was completed this weekend.
The yarn is Drops Merino Extra Fine. The pattern is from Drops, with some minor amendments like adding in the heart in one of the squares and not including the little bobbles which is part of the original pattern. I envisaged they could be uncomfortable for a little body to lie on if the blanket was wrapped around him. Yes, it is for a boy due this week, so done just within time! Unfortunately, the blanket isn't perfect - I noted several (very annoying) mistakes when it was done, but I am still pleased with this first attempt of cable knitting. Or perhaps I could hide behind the old saying that mistakes should be added to anything you make as "only God makes things perfect"... ?
Anyway, here it is after washing, resting on Our Student's old foam blanket last in use many, many years ago... I have many times thought of getting rid of it, but it is actually brilliant for stretching out washed knitted or crocheted garments on...!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

More Luck than I Deserve...?

A really lovely, relaxing Easter holiday came and went.
The troop was gathered and I have to say I really enjoyed just being home with the family.
The days were spent with good food, long walks, knitting, talking and sleeping.
But I wonder if I might have used up this year's allotted portion of good luck.
Just listen to this:
On Saturday we took the Student and the in-laws for a meal at our favourite Turkish restaurant Efes. I had booked the table for 5.45 as this was the only time they could fit us in. We were fortunate enough to get a parking space right in front of the restaurant. As we were tucking in to the meze that was appearing in front of us (soooo gooooood!) I happened to cast an eye out of the window and saw to my horror a parking attendant looking at the car! I knew I had not paid for parking as I thought it was free after 5 pm. I couldn't even manage to speak, just squeaked and bolted out the door with napkin in hand and food in my mouth. All the charm I possibly could possess was mustered and believe it or not - he let me off the hook! Parking was payable till 6.30, so I ran in again and the kind waiters were offering me coins to put on the meter.
Lucky escape no 1!
borrowed from the web
The next day we decided to walk along The Backs and through King's College to look at the lovely daffodils and tourists. Even if we live in walking distance to town, my in-laws can't manage to walk too far so we drove and parked in a nearby road to the entry to the college from the Backs. It is a fairly long road, and we were parked about mid-way. We proceeded on foot in to town and my charm came to full force again when I manage to convince the kind guardsman to let me bring all three of my guests (University employees can normally bring 2 free guests).

Town was packed and we enjoyed Afternoon Tea at Harriet's. Tip: the portions are so generous - we ordered for 3 (even if we were 4) and even managed to bring home a small doggy bag as we just couldn't finish it all.

borrowed from the web
On the way back we leisurely walked over Garret Hostel Bridge on Burrel's Walk and looked at the people punting. We had been out for about 3 hours when we entered on to the street where I had parked the car. I suddenly noticed a couple examining the parking meter and saw to my horror that parking was payable ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. It being Sunday I thought parking was free and I had not paid anything... I then saw the dreaded sight of parking attendants making their way down from the other end of the street! Without a word to my family, I started running LIKE MAD towards our car which was mid way between me and the parking attendant.... Suddenly the hours spent in the gym came into force and I sped to the car, delighted to see they had not reached our car yet and just jumped in and drove down to the family who by now realised what had happened...
Lucky escape no 2!

So, lesson from this Easter: start paying attention to parking regulations and parking meters...!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Facebook, Birthdays, Childhood Logic and Numbers

One of the aspects of "being on" Facebook is that 'suddenly' you know when (most) of your friends' and relatives' birthdays are. Don't get me wrong - I think it is very nice to receive congratulations from near and not so near friends - whether in person or on FB.
But I have noticed that some days of the year many of my friends/family/acquaintances have joint birthdays:
For instance today - I know 4 people with birthdays (ok, it includes a set of twins)
On 19 May there are 3 sharing the same birthday
13 October there are another 3
24 October there are 4 with joint day
5 December there are 4

October, December and March seem to be the month when most of my friends on FB are born. Our own immediate family's birthdays don't fall into any of these months, but are spread out over the year. Another 'birthday anomaly' is for instance my in-laws' birthdays which are one day after the other  - that is a bit unusual, I'd say.
When I was little, I had this idea that the oldest child in the family 'chose' the date of all the future siblings' birthdays because my sister and I are born on the same day of the month (not the same month). When I noticed that this was not the case in some (most!) families - I made the 'logical' explanation in my mind that they probably were half siblings, ie they probably did not have the same mum or dad... Well, imagine all the questions THAT could spark off if this was indeed the case...!
Do you have months in the year with many birthdays in your family?
In any case - Happy Birthday to those celebrating today!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ladies Who Dine at the Movies!

This last month I have been to the movies twice. It is literally years since I went to the movies last. Can't even recall which film it was I saw...
Both times we went this month "The Ladies Who Dine" (our little group of friends) were almost the only ones in the movie theatre. It has become expensive going to the movies, and there are just so much more film entertainment available through various other online media. Makes me wonder how long the cinema is going to survive. But to our surprise there was an offer on Wednesdays this month - £5 per person - that is a fair offer, I think!
But we had a blast, it was the being together that mattered.
We first went to see "Theory of Everything" which was nominated for 5 Oscars. Needless to say, we all enjoyed it very much. The acting, the scenery and the familiarity as much has been filmed in our own town made it a treat. Ok, I must admit I got a bit hung up on scenes that were supposed to be in Cambridge, but that neither of us could identify... But it is still a good film of their relationship even if I did miss some more focus on his work. But then again, the film wasn't about his work.

Moving on: Last night we went to see "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". I just love the cast, in particular Maggie Smith, Dame Judy Dench and then the new 'boy' - the silver haired fox, Richard Gere.

So, where do you see yourself retiring when the time comes...?
Any big plans or places you want to see health and wealth permitting?

Perhaps you might want to check in to the Best Exotic Marigold hotel...?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Restaurant Review: Pierino, South Kensington

picture borrowed from the web
I had a business meeting in London yesterday. It doesn't happen very often, but a couple of times a year I go to London to discuss investments and money with the company's trustees. Sounds important, doesn't it..?!
The more fun part of these London trips is when I can meet up with The Student to have a nice catch-up and dinner! I went to meet him close to his halls of residence and he took me to one of his favourite local Italian restaurants - Pierino (37 Thurloe Place, London SW7 2HP) - for dinner. I thought I would mention this as a useful tip as the restaurant is by South Kensington tube station and just around the corner from all the lovely (free) science museums in London. Not that London lacks places to eat, but this was a very successful visit.
We shared a duo of bruschetta for starters and then for main course we both had "Pappardelle Machiavelli" which was "home made princess pasta with smoked salmon and fresh spinach in a cream and white wine sauce". The starter was fine, but the main course was truly one of the very best pasta dishes I have ever tasted. The pasta was amazingly fresh and I gather that princess pasta is long flat strand of pasta - a bit like if you were to cut up a sheet of lasagne plates. The flavour was intense with the right amount of salmon and spinach and without too much white wine sauce which often tends to drown the dish. It was so lovely, but left no room for dessert...
 I am afraid I didn't take any pictures, but I will certainly be back.
We both drank fizzy water and the bill came to just over £30 for the both of us.
You can't complain about that for a truly gorgeous meal.
So, in short - a highly recommended place!

Friday, 20 February 2015

College Wine Tasting!

One of the real perks of being part of academic life in Cambridge is the possibility of belonging to a college. Cambridge is a collegiate university where you are not only a member of the University, but as a student (and often as an academic) you belong to one of the colleges. The Colleges are responsible for admitting students to the University and is the base while you're studying at Cambridge. College is also where you eat, do a lot of socialising, receive academic and pastoral support, and where you often have your supervisions. Colleges also offer various form of entertainment, social activities and sports facilities.
I feel I belong to Clare Hall College since it was The Professor's college while he did his PhD and we lived as a family in college for 2 years when we first came to England. It is a lovely, all embracing, family friendly college and we have very fond memories of the time we lived in college and the many events we have attended throughout the years. They still use one of my old pictures on their website with a very young version of our Student. Although we didn't move far away - our house is a few hundred meters away - it has been a while since I attended any functions in college.
But that all changed last night when my new friend - an amazingly lovely Norwegian visiting professor from Tromsø - suggested we go to a wine tasting evening. I am so pleased that she has embraced college life as I suggested it to her when she arrived here. It gives such a different experience of life here if there is a college connection.
But it was all about wine last night. I am no expert at all on wine, but I tend to really enjoy Italian wine and we regularly buy from this vineyard in Tuscany. However, it is important to keep an open mind and see what else is out there! The evening was fun, informative and tasty where we sampled 14 different wines. Their prices ranged from £5 to about £20. I let my palate do the choosing and intentionally didn't want to be biased thinking a more expensive wine was the better, so out of the 14 wines - here are my 3 favourites, one white and two red:
I don't often drink white wine, but this was a very enjoyable and neither too dry nor too sweet Cantina Ottoventi 'Punto Otto' .8 Grillo Sicilia IGT, Sicily. At around £6 a bottle you really can't complain!

Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina Riserva 2010 gives a very attractive aroma and is very well balanced. Price should be around £10 and well worth it!
And finally, Primitivo di Manduria Dunico 2010. Very drinkable, but more pricey at around £17 a bottle. Perhaps for a special occasion, but I think I would rather have go for two of the former.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Easy Does It...

Note to self -
it is very silly to get over confident in the gym and put extra resistance/weight on the workout machines.
You just end up with very painful and torn ligaments in the knee... 
And then you have to take anti-inflammatory medicine and the doctor will ban you from the gym for at least 2 weeks!!!
But he did say I could keep swimming (and possibly biking)...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Tried and Tested: Chicken Korma

Indian food is very popular here in the UK. So much so that Indian dishes have been voted the nations favourite food for years. Although, I am sure many Indian dishes in the UK are adapted to a European palate and very different from their original version. However, I am offering you here our family's take on a very popular curry - Chicken Korma. With its mild, fragrant and tasty herbs and spices it suits most people - particularly if you are not too keen on very hot and spicy food. It truly is a tried and tested recipe which has now settled in this form:
You need:

1kg Chicken breast or mini breast fillets
(You can obviously substitute the chicken with lamb, beef or game)
1 heaped tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
150g thick (plain) yogurt
1 dried red chilli
2 finely chopped onions

1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

1 tbsp ground coriander
Pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala

75g creamed coconut
salt to taste

2 heaped tbsps. ground almonds
finely chopped Coriander Leaves, to garnish
juice of  1/2 lemon

This is how you do it:
Cut the chicken breasts into bite sized chunks and mix it with the ginger, garlic and yogurt. It is preferable to then cover it and marinade for 12 hours or in the fridge overnight.

On the day of cooking you need to liquidise the chopped onion and red chillies, add a little water if you need to blend til a smooth paste.

Heat the ghee/oil in a pan and add the ground coriander, ground black pepper, turmeric and garam masala and stir fry for about 1-minute over a low heat.
Turn up the heat, add the onion and chilli paste and stir fry for 5-10-minutes.

Add the chicken with the yogurt marinade and continue to stir fry for another 10-minutes.

Add the creamed coconut and enough water to *just* cover the chicken (be careful not to add too much water as the flavour may become watery). Bring it to the boil and stir in the ground almonds.

Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is tender (30-40 minutes).

Remove from heat, add lemon juice and salt to taste. Mix well.
Serve with basmati rice and salad of finely chopped tomato, red onion, flat leafed parsley and mango .


Monday, 2 February 2015

Tried and Tested: Sholezard (Persian Saffron Rice Pudding)

picture borrowed from the web
My in-laws have been living with us for quite a while and I am very spoilt with coming home to ready made dinner most days. I tend to do the cooking on the weekends, both to give my mother-in-law a break, but also because I truly enjoy cooking. She is a very good cook, but there are still the occasional Iranian dish not included in her repertoire which I make on occasion. Traditional Iranian cuisine is based on the use of lots of fresh vegetables, pulses, beans, meat, rice and fruit. There are not as many desserts as in Scandinavian cooking, as fresh fruit is often the preferred end to a meal.
Here is an exception to this rule:
(or Persian Saffron Rice Pudding)
You need:
250 grams rice
2 l water
 400 grams sugar
4 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
 1/2 teaspoon saffron
 2 tablespoons crushed almond
For decoration:
 cinnamon and either slivered almonds or pistachios

This is how I do it:
Wash the rice a few times until the water is clear, then drain.
Add the 2 l of water and bring to a boil, removing the foam.
Cook for 30 mins and then add the sugar and stir well.
Dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water and add to the mix.
Add the oil, cardamom, and the crushed almonds as well. 
Stir carefully, cover and cook at low temperature for another 20 mins. 
Take the lid off and cook for another 20-30 mins.
Chill and serve with pistachio, almond and cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Iranians make the most elaborate decorations - I am not well versed in this respect...
Some add rosewater to the rice while it is cooking, but I omit this as I am not keen on the taste or smell of rosewater.
This rice pudding has a strong flavour of saffron, but it is actually very light, although very sweet.
I made it last weekend and it was well received

Friday, 23 January 2015

Check Up time!

Snix's cat box. Notice the organised folder on top with all his data and insurance papers. What a well organised cat, that is!
January seems to be a month for a lot of check ups in our house!
Our cat, Snix (his name is a pun on St. Nicholas as we got him right before Christmas 9 years ago), had his annual check up with the vet this week. He was not amused... Poor baby, he was sleeping on my bed, all warm and snug when I just whisked him into his cat carrier before he realised what was going on and could protest. Once there, with a rather defeated attitude he kept pressing himself towards me for comfort, while he quietly accepted being examined: eyes, teeth, weight, claws, heart, etc etc.

"I refuse to model today. No photos, please!"

He got a clean bill of health, but the vet suggested he was moved on to cat food for older cats. Not sure Snix could believe his ears! Food for older cats!? He is a mere 9.5yrs old.... A cat in the prime of his life, if you ask him. But apparently food for older cats contain more calcium which they need more of as they get older. So, he got his booster injection and was back on my bed in no time. Hopefully, a year till next 'trauma'.
The surgery was busy with loads of other cats and dogs in for the check ups. Or as one of the cats needed - medicine to induce vomiting because the silly cat had eaten rat poison. Something that doesn't happen too often to cats, according to the vet. Dogs, yes, but cats tend to know better. The owner did say this particular cat was generally rather stupid...
And today was my own check up with the oncologist. It is now just over 1.5 years since my own cancer operation and I am so grateful and happy that everything seems to be fine. I was very lucky with the early discovery and have had a very good recovery. I feel I am back to "normal" now, but with added awareness of my own health and I don't take anything for granted any more.
Next week is the annual MOT and service of my car.
I hope that goes well, too!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Flattery Gets You Everywhere...

I make a lot of knitted and crocheted things for myself and the family - whether they want it or not...
But I was flattered when one of the Student's friends asked me to make a pair of felted socks/slippers for him. Not often the teenagers take an interest... He requested them in 'coffee and cream', but this was the closest I could get.
I hope they keep him warm and he likes the result.
The pattern is free from Drops.
I used Rowan Brushed Yarn and no 7 stitches.
They are knitted in one piece and sewn together.
Then I washed them on a normal program in the washing machine and stretched them into the appropriate shape/length.
Very easy.
Now on to a baby blanket I have been asked to make for a friend expecting in a couple of months time.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Graduation in Durham!

Students gathering outside Durham Cathedral
I was up in lovely, but very blustery Durham on the weekend (incredible winds - think it was the storm 'Nina' that was making all the noise!) in connection with the graduation of one of the Professor's PhD-students. I don't get to know all his students, but every so often some of them become like friends and it feels natural to be there with them on their big day - particularly if they are not able to have their own families with them.
Borrowed from the web - we were not allowed to take pictures inside during the ceremony
 I had not been in to the amazing Cathedral before, but I will definitely go again soon (have wanted to save it till we have guests to take around!). Simply beautiful. After the ceremony in the cathedral there was a reception in the school.
Fitting decoration for the occasion - from the reception in the Business School.
We then proceeded to our house for a couple of hours before we went for dinner.
Picture borrowed from Finbarr's webpage
The new Doctor invited us all out to a delicious meal at Finbarr's . Finbarr's is an excellent  restaurant for a special occasion. We ate very well and it was such a nice way to mark the day. I strongly recommend the restaurant if you make your way to Durham.
And the socks I was knitting...? No, they were not completed on the train, but on Monday evening. I have two more 'UFO's to complete before I start anything new. Wool has been ordered for this new project, but I have PROMISED myself to finish off these two other projects before I get going on anything else.
Looking at the new wool waiting will be a good incentive, I think...!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

There Is A Chance...

I am heading up to Durham for a long weekend and with about 3 hrs on the train there is a chance I might finish the socks I am making for The Professor on the way! Socks like these are such a great way of using up leftover yarn from other projects. I can't abide the thought of throwing out the leftovers, and I hate having leftover yarn cluttering up the knitting basket. Making something useful is therefore a win-win solution.
I really recommend Bitta Mikkelborg's book "Sokker - Strikking Hele Året" - there are just so many ideas and patterns to chose from. The patterns and techniques are very well described making it a pure joy to knit
(sorry - to my knowledge, the book is not available in English)

Monday, 5 January 2015

Going to the Theatre: The Play That Goes Wrong!

The Play That Goes Wrong
Happy New Year!
We have had a lovely Christmas and New Year celebration with loads of food, drink and merriment! Christmas parties, walks, talks, snacking, knitting, reading, tv-watching and sleeping! That summarises the last two weeks pretty well. I 'packed away' Christmas on the weekend and we are now back to 'normal'. One remaining guest is still with us for one more day, but the Student and the Professor are both back in their universities and I started work again today.
Felt ok, to be honest. Must be a sign that it was a sufficiently long and relaxing break!
Just wanted to give a tip if you are going to London any time soon:
We started a new family tradition last year where we go to London for a weekend either before or after Christmas to stay in a hotel and go and see a play. This time the three of us went the weekend before Christmas and saw "The Play That Goes Wrong" at the Duchess Theatre in Covent Garden. The Professor and I conveniently stayed at the Grange Strathmore in Kensington, close to where the Student now lives and it was a nice hotel. Apparently, it used to be the London residence for the late Queen Mother's father (sold in about 1898)!
But about the play: the website explains: The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery in Havisham Manor, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong… does, as the accident prone thesps battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call. This brilliant new laugh out loud comedy performed by Mischief Theatre Company has enjoyed two successful runs in the West End and was the sell out smash hit of the Edinburgh Festival with its sensational reviews, numerous accolades and awards. The Play That Goes Wrong is guaranteed to leave you aching with  laughter!

And it did. A lot of slap-stick humour - really great fun and well acted. We all particularly enjoyed Dave Hearn in the role as "Max Bennett" and Henry Shields as "the director Chris Bean". Here is the trailer: