Monthly Archives

September 2012

Birthdays Family Kitty

The day I turned two

26/09/2012

dating wall street By Kitty, aged 2 (editor’s note: seriously – how did that happen so fast)

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and Godmummy Mandy came to help me blow my candle out.
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I like being two.

Editor’s note two: Yes, it’s true, the ever lengthening Kitty turned two last Friday amidst a sea of pink wrapping paper and wonderful and generous gifts from friends and family.  She is officially spoilt rotten, and I have not seen my carpet in days.  I believe it to be blue but that’s purely supposition.  We kept things pretty low key, but by the power of satellites and the internets her birthday tea was attended by not only her Godmummy but also Grandpa (by Skype) and Uncle and Aunt C who phoned from their holiday in Spain at just the right moment.  Now all we need is a way to send cake through the airwaves – Roald Dahl was clearly on to something.  As she is too little to have quite grasped the concept of birthday wishes we made some for her, and if even half of them come true she’s going to have a wonderful year!

PS – thank you so much to all who left comments or sent messages on my last post, they are all appreciated and dearly treasured.

Family

My Mum

20/09/2012
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Today I write with a sad heart.  My lovely beautiful Mum became very suddenly and unexpectedly unwell almost two weeks ago and a few days ago, with my darling Dad and close friends by her side she was called home peacefully in her sleep by our heavenly Father.
We are all devastated, grieving and still a little in shock.  But in the same breath there are so many things that I’m thankful for.  I’m thankful that we all got to spend time with Mum during her illness, and that the care she (and we) received from the hospital was exemplary; so many staff members going above and beyond the call of duty.  I owe them more cake than I could ever hope to bake and deliver.
But that’s just the last few days.  I’m thankful for 32 years of hugs and jokes (some funnier than others!).  I’m thankful for the late night phone calls, the drop everything and come visits when I really needed my Mum, and the snippets of her childhood and teenage years she perhaps didn’t always mean to divulge over a long glass of something cool and icy.
It’s Mum who taught me to make bread, to pull together a roast lunch, and to bake cake, although the latter may have had an element of self interest after years of trying to concoct creations featured on the pages of the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes booklet which Zee and I studied asiduously in the run up to each birthday (notable hit – the Maypole cake for what I think was my 5th birthday; family legend – the football pitch cake for Zee when she invented astroturf pitches long before they caught on in the Premier League when Dad, sent on an emergency run to the cook shop for green food colouring, returned with spearmint). 
In fact, once Zee and I knew how to bake, we only merited cake for really special occasions. On the other hand, my H’s apparant innocence in the face of an oven seemed to merit him special treatment; chocolate cake.  Arriving on a trip to Oxford to visit me, I’d get a big hug, but from the depths of her basket would appear a little foil wrapped parcel handed over lovingly to my very grateful then-boyfriend. Happily, he shared.
It’s Mum who taught me the joy of creating things; teaching us to sew, to cross stitch, and helped with our knitting (that would be by knitting the back and sleeves of a jumper I’d started but run out of steam on aged about 12.  It was the early 90’s, happily no photo evidence survives).  She turned a blind eye to the scraps from our summer dresses mysteriously disappearing while she sewed and reappearing later as little dolly outfits, complete with a little lace or bias binding also purloined from her stash, and infamously forgave (but never forgot) the occasion on which her two-year old eldest daughter decided, on the night before her baby sister’s christening, that the dress which Mum had so painstakingly made for the occasion (and as a mother of an almost two year old myself I give her serious kudos for even attempting that one) was just lacking a little something, and added a series of inch long snips at two inch intervals all the way around the hem.  It’s a good job the fashion was for below the knee hems at the time.
It was the start of a life full of handmade, and as my stash(es) outgrew hers, she would sit in the comfy chair in my sewing room and we’d look through my books, and yarn and fabric and just play. If a few of my scraps made it into her latest projects it seems only appropriate after the ‘borrowing’ of my youth. 
She never stopped making things, I think it runs in our blood, but was more than happy to place subtle hints for handmade birthdays and Christmas, and a more enthusiastic recipient you couldn’t hope to find.  An Ishbel shawl, knit up for her birthday in 2010, a few weeks after she borrowed and loved mine during a maternity clothes shopping spree in Bath when I was first expecting Kitty, a drawful of fluffy handknit socks, a Christmas tree skirt wizzed up at super secret top speed, hats, scarves and most recently the riotously colourful quilt I made for her birthday.  If her love language is cake, mine is clearly yarn and fabric. 
Mum once told me that the most compelling reason why she should let me loose in her kitchen was my chemistry A-level.  I think I’d asked to make a lasagne.  Whilst ably demonstrating that she had never even peeked through the windows of my chem lab, or she wouldn’t have let me nearer than the lounge, it sums up her attitude to life; “Try it; what’s the worst that could happen?”, or to quote Joyce Grenfell (as she loved to do), “Go for it GaGa”.
I promise I will.
Baking

Plaiting for Britain

11/09/2012

Hi, my name is Carie, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m ever so slightly addicted to watching the Great British Bake Off.  I’ll admit I watch it with slightly mixed views; on the one hand I am firmly of the view that if you’ve baked something that tastes like a cake, looks vaguely like a cake and is iced with all the sprinkles in the cupboard then congratulations! You’ve made a cake! 

But then there’s the rest of my personality.  The ever so slightly teeny tiny bit of a competitive streak that propels me to the crazy heights of say, entering the art competition at the village show when I can neither paint nor draw, and baking more fruit cake than any one family could every possible eat (same village show, different category).

It’s that inner voice that loves to see things done well, and then takes one look at the technical challenge and says “I could totally do that”.

Baker, it’s time to put your money where your subconscious is.  And as Rum Babas are out of the picture for me at the moment for somewhat obvious reasons it’s time to dive straight in to week 2, and the recipe that got my fingers twitching; the Eight Strand Plaited Loaf of doom.

With my “Mel’n’Sue”, more frequently known as Kitty, on standby to offer enthusiastic assistance at every turn, we weighed, measured and got kneading, only slightly hindered by the ever liberal application of a bit more flour from Kit, who clearly felt that her time was best spent producing that authentic flour cloud so beloved by cartoonists, and tasting it as it landed.

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This recipe uses double the yeast I would normally use for a 1lb (ish) loaf, presumably to give a shorter rising time and perhaps to help countermand the effect of the plaiting later on.  The other change from my normal breadmaking (and I was being pretty diligent about following along exactly) was to oil rather than flour the bowl for proving, a tip I think I’m going to pick up for everyday use.

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An hour or so, and Mel’n’Sue’s prod test later, about 2lb of bread dough slid gently out of the bowl.  I’ll admit I distracted the tiny assistant with pink playdoh at this point (and I bet the contestants occasionally wish they could do the same) after Kitty’s initial attempts at rolling dough into sausages revealed a strong inclination to pull it into little bits and throw them on the floor.  I caught it with my knees (an impressive feat considering I can’t really see them).

And so to the plaiting.  Now I would probably have to concede that as a girl with seriously long hair throughout most of my teens, I’ve had a bit of practice at the standard ‘Little House on the Prairie’ pigtail, and that may have stood me in good stead.

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The first attempt was perfect until Mel’n’Sue started to eat the pink playdoh, which unsurprisingly is not as nice as even raw bread dough, and my attention was diverted to give cuddles and a nice long drink.  When I got back I couldn’t for the life of me remember which step I was on. It was like being a new knitter who’s made a mistake but can’t read her knitting to find out where it’s all gone wrong; I can’t read an 8-strand plait.

So I unravelled, produced a saucepan of dried pasta and a wooden spoon for Kitty, and started again.  Et voila:

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We left it to prove while Mel’n’Sue settled down for her nap, and after a 25ish minute stint in the oven, behold the rapturous glory of the bread!

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So what would Paul and Mary make of it? Well it was nicely baked through, I didn’t leave any floury lines showing between the plaits and it tasted really good, if a little saltier than my usual loaf mix.

September 020

I think I’d loose a few points for the egg glaze not being entirely consistent, and perhaps my strands were a bit too long making the loaf a little flatter; think large baguette circumference not classic farmhouse – when we made sandwiches with it we sliced a chunk and cut it in half horizontally for beautiful ham sarnies.  On the whole I think compared to the rest of the contestants my plaiting was up there so on that I declare myself through to next week!

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Knitting Work in Progress

Yarn Therapy

06/09/2012

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I knit because I must.

Don’t get me wrong, H doesn’t stand over me every night feeding me Tunnocks teacakes as he sternly admonishes me to knit on, knit faster, knit stronger, recent casualties of long use/the washing machine having led to his fluffy sock collection being reduced to a shocking three week supply. Well actually the Tunnocks might not be too far from the truth.

No, I knit because without it I twitch, I fidget, and my subconscious takes a flying leap into overdrive. Knitting, even complicated difficult things that I can’t figure out, soothes my soul and shows me that at the end of each day, when all I’ve achieved at work is a pile of paper, and all I’ve got done at home is now undone, I’ve made something that can stay that way. Well unless I’ve made a mistake and need to rip it all out again, but the less said about that the better.

My needles are currently occupied by what could quite conceivably be considered some of the most boring knitting ever. I’m making Kate Gilbert’s Mama Snug from an old Interweave Knits, and aside from a few twisted cables on the ribbing and around the neck, and the clever short rows that make this a functional maternity jumper, it’s a 2×2 rib long sleeve jumper. For a 6’0″ girl with fairly long arms and a sizable baby bump. That’s a lot of ribbing.

But somehow the continuity is showing me what I suspect I already knew. I’m on the back at the moment and as I sit on the train watching the trees take on the start of an autumnal tint, wondering whether I’ll finish the jumper before it gets cold enough to need it, and thinking about this little winter baby kicking away inside, my fingers settle into their familiar rhythm; knit knit, purl purl, knit knit, purl purl.

It’s the speed that varies. On the fast train in the morning my sleepy fingers take a little time to warm up but then catch up with the rattle of the carriages as we whistle through the stopping stations. On the way home with my mind still racing from the day I start off quickly, knitting out my worries and frustrations, and as the tension drops away with each station call, so does my speed, my fingers settling into the rock of this quiet little local train to bring me back where I belong; curled up on the sofa in the nearest approximation of a midwife-approved relaxing position, with a sleepy Kitty tucked up in bed upstairs, talking to H about all the nonsense under the sun, as the yarn slips through my fingers and the teacake supply steadily dwindles away.