Sunday, January 30

Sweet potato, coconut and spinach curry

I served this curry to a few people on my last birthday and it was almost universally popular (not with the Curse of course, as it contains No Meat!). Quite a few people have asked me for the recipe and because I've not made it since, I had to steal the picture from the Guardian's website where the original recipe can be found. It's very easy to make and very comforting - Allegra McEvedy suggests serving it with tarka dal, which I have done, but I think that only works on the coldest of winter days when the most comforting food is in demand. Any other time it may be better with plain rice and possibly a vegetable side dish.

Sweet potato, coconut and spinach curry.

Serves 4-6

60ml groundnut or sunflower oil
2 white onions, diced
800g sweet potatoes, chopped into 5cm chunks
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp tumeric
500g whole leaf large spinach, roots cut off and well washed
50g ground almonds
2 green chillies, sliced thickly
half a tin of coconut milk
about 50ml of plain yoghurt
Juice of a lime

1. Fry the onion in the oil in a large saucepan

2. Add the sweet potato and dry spices and fast-fry with the lid off until it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.

3. In two batches, add the spinach, ground almonds and chillies. When they are all in the pan and the spinach is wilted, add the coconut milk and yoghurt and some salt.

4. Put the lid back on and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.

5. Add the lime juice just before serving.

Cocoa brownies

This recipe is so simple, requires very basic ingredients, and has come out perfectly both times I've tried it. What's more, it only uses a single bowl!

5oz/140g unsalted butter
10oz/280g sugar
3oz/85g unsweetened cocoa powder (eg Green & Blacks)
quarter tsp salt
half tsp pure vanilla extract (I used double this, as it was the fake stuff)
2 large eggs, cold
2.5oz/66g plain flour
walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Put the cocoa, butter, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl and put in a pan of water to heat gently till all the butter is melted. The mixture is pretty gritty at this stage but don't panic, it will smooth out when you add the rest of the ingredients.

Remove and cool slightly till it is warm rather than hot.

Add the vanilla extract, then beat in the eggs vigorously, one at a time, using a wooden spoon. When the mixture is thick, shiny and well-blended, add the flour and stir it in well. At this stage the mixture becomes quite hard work to stir.

Mix in the nuts then spread the mixture evenly into an 8" (200mm) square tin which has been lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake in the lower half of the oven at gas 3, 170 degrees C, for about half an hour until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the brownie mix comes out slightly moist. Let them cool completely on a rack before cutting (or you can even put it in the freezer/fridge if you are anal about having clean cut lines).

Recipe originally from Smitten Kitchen.

Sunday, January 23

Sunshine socks completed!

With apologies for the gloomy pics - the greyness is back and it's been impossible to take any decent photos of these socks.

However there's a very sunny story behind their completion! As I got closer and closer to the toe of the second sock I started to get worried about whether or not I would have enough yarn. Every time I picked up the knitting I felt a little sick at the prospect of running out so close to the end, to the extent that the closer I got, the less I wanted to carry on.

Eventually I forced myself to knit until the yarn ran out. It ran out with about six rows to go, but it very definitely ran out. (That's one of the reasons why I prefer to make toe-up socks, so much easier to adjust!)

I threw myself on the mercy of fellow Ravellers; having searched for this particular yarn and colourway, I found a couple of possible donors; Lisa (aka Frownybaby) and Polly (aka pollykerenza). Despite the fact that I was approaching them as a total stranger, begging for the leftovers from their stash, they both reacted with typical Ravelling kindness and were willing to send me their leftovers to enable me to finish my socks.

With Lisa's yarn, I finished off the second sock in about 10 minutes, washed and blocked it.

She would not accept any money for the yarn, even for the mailing, so I resolved the best way to show my appreciation was to make a donation to p/hop.

Saturday, January 22

Late afternoon sun, Horseguards Parade

After a hard day's work in the library I nipped off a bit early so I got chance to see some late afternoon sunshine. Glorious

Saturday, January 15

Cheese & chilli corn bread

At christmas I bought this book intending to give it to someone as a gift. I'm a bit of a sucker for Hugh with his unkempt hair and spoddish appearance but I suspect he would probably get on my nerves a bit in the flesh. Actually now that I've just written in the flesh and it has piqued my imagination I feel a bit queasy. Hugh, we were never meant to be. Sorry.

Anyway, I liked the look of the book so much that I kept it myself! (Don't worry, the person in question got something else just as lovely!).

It has some great recipes in it, many using cheap and unfashionable cuts of meat and leftovers, sustainable fish, great soups and lunch ideas, as well as very easy-to-make bready things to go with soups. My bread making has never really thrived so I pounced on these and tried one of them out yesterday to go with my leftovers soup (the remains of sausage and root veg casserole - we'd eaten the sausages so it was mostly root veg!).

Amazingly easy to make (although it does dirty quite a few dishes for the prep) and when it came out of the oven it actually looked like the picture in the book!!!

Cheese & chilli corn bread

125g cornmeal or fine polenta
125g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
half tsp bicarb of soda (I've just realised I left this out of mine, but it doesn't seem any worse off for it!)
2 medium eggs
1 tbsp runny honey or soft brown sugar
150g buttermilk/plain yogurt
150ml whole milk
25g butter, melted
a few spring onions, sliced thinly
one chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly
50g strong cheddar, grated
50g sweetcorn

1. Heat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas 7 and grease a 23cm-square baking tin about 4cm deep.
2. Sweat the spring onions and chilli in a little oil till soft but not coloured.
3. In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, cheese, baking powder, salt and bicarb of soda. Make a well in the middle.
4. Whisk together the eggs, honey or sugar, buttermilk or yoghurt, milk and melted butter. Pour into the well in the dry ingredients, stir until everything is combined but don't overmix - a few lumps are ok, but you want to get it into the oven quickly.
5. Mix in the spring onions, chilli and sweetcorn, then pour into the baking tin and bake for about 20 mins till the cornbread is golden and has shrunk slightly from the sides of the tin.
6. Cool slightly then cut into squares and scoff.

Sunday, January 9

Stave Hill and the London skyline

Yesterday's intermittent sunshine saw me bounding out of the house to try and boost my body's levels of vitamin D.

It was only a short bike ride around Surrey Docks and Russia Dock Woodland, but it did the trick in feeding my soul and reminding me that hopefully, there are better days ahead.

I took a couple of snaps from the top of Stave Hill in the fading light. London's skyline is getting taller - on the left, next to Guy's Hospital tower at London Bridge, is the concrete core of the Shard with the outer structure following along behind. I believe the core has topped out, but from the other renderings I suspect there's a steel frame to go on the top of it so it's still not at its full height.

Other towers are currently under construction in the city (on the right of the picture) including Heron Tower and Bishopsgate Tower (aka the Pinnacle/the Helter Skelter) and the Leadhall Building (aka the Cheesegrater).

Looking east you can see what used to be the UK's tallest building, now set to be thoroughly overshadowed.

Incidentally, I forgot to mention that today marks the start of my fifth year of blogging! Thanks for stopping by and/or sticking around!

Friday, January 7

A bicycle adapted for two!

Since buying my Raleigh 20 almost a year ago, I always keep an eye out for other small wheeled bikes as I ride around London. I spotted this one parked up outside Dover Mansions on Tooley Street, and had to stop off to take a closer look at the adaptations someone has made!

The second seat is the most obvious difference, but if you click on the picture to make it bigger, you can also see the second set of handlebars that has been fastened onto the stem.

And underneath all the quirky adaptations is the original British small-wheeled brand, the Moulton.

Sunday, January 2

Surround me: Susan Philipsz

With Susan Philipsz's song cycle for the city of London, Surround Me, due to finish this weekend, I met up with some friends under London Bridge on what was one of the gloomiest, coldest new year mornings I remember.

We had plotted the route meticulously and were all anticipating a morning of aural stimulation in the near-deserted city streets. Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out that way. Only three of the six installations seemed to be working and we spent quite a lot of time hanging around waiting for the music to start only to eventually conclude that it wasn't going to.

I was particularly disappointed that the installation at Moorfields High Walk was not working; from the videos I've watched online it sounds like a particularly haunting song cycle. In the desolate and brutalist architecture of the square where the speakers are installed I imagine it would have been a rather uplifting experience.

I was also saddened that the work under London Bridge was not running, as I was looking forward to the combination of singing voices with the sound of water lapping at the embankment.

Luckily the work at Change Alley - Oysters - was working and it was thrilling to hear the beautiful melody echoing off the high buildings that surround this otherwise unremarkable alleyway.

I was interested in the contrast between the different locations that Susan Philipsz had chosen - from the courtyard in front of a 14th century church tower to an intersection in the heart of a modern development - all of them underlining the long history and constant evolution of the city of London. It was also a lovely excuse to explore the quiet city streets.

For an overview of the project and interview with Susan Philipsz, the video shown below is worth a look.

Sunshine socks

Ironically we have seen little sunshine since I started knitting these socks on Christmas day. Boxing day - which we spent driving to visit my parents in Derbyshire - was glorious but since then it has been grey, grey, grey.

Luckily the pattern and yarn has brought a little sunshine into what is turning out to be a rather gloomy period, and I have already finished the first sock and cast on the second.

The pattern is Sunshine from the Sock Innovation book by Cookie A - a fairly simple top-down pattern which I've enjoyed knitting even though I prefer toe-up as a rule.

The yarn is UK Alpaca's sock yarn, which comes in five beautiful colours including this vibrant mustard (the picture doesn't do it full justice).