Thursday, December 30

Christmas slippers

Bought the Curse some lovely felt slippers for his birthday and soon realised that I needed a pair too....!

Yes, I know I could have made my own but sometimes there's a great pleasure to be had in the immediate gratification of retail therapy!

Plus I was supporting our local independent shoe shop...ah well, enough excuses. They are lovely and warm! Next year perhaps a pipe or hip flask?

Saturday, December 18

Sumudu's dal

A typical dinner when I'm home alone is heavy on pulses and greens. Last night I made my favourite store-cupboard dinner lentil dal, and served it with pak choi that had simply been browned in groundnut oil, plum & chilli jam and plain yoghurt.

The dal recipe is one I was given years ago by a woman called Sumudu whom I met on a BTCV weekend break. The only thing that niggles me slightly about it is that it uses two pans, but I have learned to live with it. It's very simple to make, yet tasty and substantial.

My apologies that most of the quantities here are 'some'. I seem to remember that Sumudu learned the recipe from her mother and these were the quantities she passed on.

Red lentils (estimate depending on how many you are serving to, and whether it's a main course or side dish)
Onion, chopped
Bay leaf
Dried mixed herbs
Curry powder
Chilli powder

Spice quantities are for two:

Put the red lentils in a pan and wash in warm water two or three times. Then fill the pan with cold water up to about an inch above the level of the lentils. Add a teaspoon of curry powder, the same of turmeric, a bit of chilli powder to suit your taste and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer until the lentils are breaking down but not too mushy. Don't let all the water evaporate - top up if necessary.

Grind a bayleaf, three or four cloves, half an inch of cinnamon stick (or use ready ground) and the seeds of a few cardamom in a grinder. Fry gently in some oil with the chopped onion, one crushed garlic clove and a teaspoon of mixed herbs.

Once the onion is soft (about five to ten mins), tip the lentil mix into it and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to check that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Sunday, December 12

Trosley country park

A sunny afternoon with no commitments was a great opportunity for myself and the Curse to get out of London for a couple of hours, so we drove down to Trosley country park near Meopham in Kent for a leg stretch. This is one of several small country parks that are within a relatively short drive of us and are a great fall-back for walks when you can't be bothered to pore over maps or search the internet for suggestions.

They are easy to find, have car parks, cafes and toilets, and also have waymarked routes ranging from one to six or seven miles.

I'd planned to do the Coldrum trail at Trosley - it's about six miles long and takes you along the ridge (great views south over Kent) then down through fields to the Coldrum longbarrow and eventually back up to the cafe where they have a roaring wood-burning stove in front of which to warm up with a cup of tea.

However it soon became clear that descending the steep paths of the ridge would be tempting broken limbs - the paths were still thick with snow and compacted ice. Instead we contented ourselves with a slippery stroll on the path that runs the length of the park along the ridge, then back through the woodland.

It was late afternoon and the trees were alive with tits and jays flitting around and searching out whatever they could find to eat. In a largely brown, black and white landscape it was almost shocking to see the pink smears of yew berries on the snow under the trees.
By the time we got back to the car park the sun was fast disappearing and the weak heat of the afternoon was dropping off fast. Despite our shorter-than-planned walk, we still felt justified in warming ourselves with a cup of tea in front of the fire before heading home.

Friday, December 10

Tea cosies

I love to make tea cosies. As someone who brews up a large pot of tea every weekend morning and proceeds to drink several cups in succession, I am well aware of the importance of keeping the tea warm while it continues to brew.

I reckon I've made at least a dozen in the last few years - from special old-fashioned granny-type cosies for my granny to cosies based on the construction method used in Ysolda's Urchin hat. I've whipped them up during stays in holiday cottages and left them as my legacy, and I've even made a couple where the pompom on the top was almost as big as the teapot!

I wanted to make a new one for granny - the previous version is looking a bit tatty and stained and it's a bit too big for the teapot she now uses. I also wanted to make one for my sis who lives in Austria. I know she misses English tea (Tetley tea bags usually form part of any gift that gets sent) and I figure a tea cosy might be welcome too.

But with Christmas fast approaching there was little time to knit them up. So instead I dug out an old wool jumper that I'd bought off the junk market for £1 and felted in the washing machine, and I 'up-cycled' bits of it into two rather jazzy new tea cosies. I think they are rather successful, especially given the time it took me to make them. Stitching the words 'Short' and 'Stout' onto my sister's full-size cosy was the longest operation.

First get your raw materials. Felted jumper, and some odds and sods of Rowan Kid Classic in contrasting colours.

A bit of blanket stitch later and some i-cord for the top. Ta-dah.

Flushed with success I hit out for a larger version. This time I decided to add some decoration since the expanse of the larger cosy looked rather bare without. The loop at the top is made from the seam that I cut off the jumper.

Sunday, December 5

A ray of sunshine

It has been a gloomy week or two what with one thing and another - even when London was blanketed with snow we only got greyness, no sunshine. Various family crises made it necessary to travel in difficult conditions, and we experienced the worst of the winter.

Thankfully today we have had some sunshine - a reminder that winter is not all doom and gloom, and that life goes on despite everything. It's amazing what difference the weather can make to one's mood and today it was good to see the light streaming through the beautiful 1970s Holmegaard suncatcher that I hung in my window just a day or so before all the shit hit the fan.

I've also been knitting socks - a natural choice in freezing conditions! These are made using Rowan Felted Tweed for my friend Lisa, whose 40th birthday fell at the end of October. The wide rib gives them a bit of stretch but hopefully will mean they are also quite snug around the ankle. She specified 'socks that don't fall down' which I'll admit is a bit of a difficult brief to fulfil. In my experience if you are wearing wellies, all socks fall down. Perhaps I should have included some of those little sock suspenders that my grandad used to wear!