Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cute summer skirt..

Although the weather is not in the least summery this week, I am hoping it will be more so when I return from my trip to the US in early May. My friend's little girl will be turning two in late May, and so inspired by these pretty fabrics I found on my jaunt to Fabric Land in Kingston a few weeks ago, I made this little tiered skirt for her in preparation for her party.
She and her big sister do like playing with their tea set, so I hope she likes the tea pots!


Fabulous Fish Pie...

On Good Friday I embarked on my annual task of making this fabulous fish is so good that I would like to make it more often, but it always seems to take me such a long time (and the taste is so nice that I can't seem to bring myself to make faster/easier versions). So, even if it is only once a year, it is nice to have a few hours pottering in the kitchen with this as a reward...

You'll have to excuse the photo quality - the light in my flat of an evening casts a dreadful colour on did taste good!

I originally got the recipe for this fish pie from Divertimenti when I attended one of their cooking schools a few years ago. The recipe states that it serves 6-8, but they are very generous portions. I halved the quantities listed below when I made this on Friday, and it would still give 4 very large portions.


Fabulous Fish Pie

450g cod fillet

450g smoked haddock fillet

225g fresh peeled cooked prawns

1 kg fresh baby leaf spinach (I not only halved this, but halved it again. i.e I put 250g in the dish above and still though there was a good ratio of spinach to fish)

80g butter

Grated nutmeg

Salt & pepper

1 large spanish onion (quartered)

80g plain flour

2 pints milk

1 bay leaf

4 teaspoons anchovy essence (I left this out as I didn't have any in the pantry)

1 big bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

150 freshly grated parmesan

(Mashed potato for topping)


1. Preheat oven to 180/Gas 4

2. Place onion, bayleaf, grated nutmeg and milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile wash spinach and place in a large pan over a medium heat. Turn spinach leaves continually until they have wilted/collapsed (the quantity will reduce dramatically). Drain/squeeze off excess water in a colander, roughly chop and leave aside.

4. Stain infused milk through a sieve, discarding the onion etc. Pour infused milk into a pan with a large surface area. Place fish skin side down, cover with a piece of damp greaseproof paper or lid and poach gently for 10-15 minutes. This can also be done in the oven in a non-stick roasting tin covered with foil for approximately 15-20 minutes. The flesh will turn creamy but still stay firm and moist. Remove the fish to a plate and allow to cool. Keep the infused milk (which now has a wonderful flavour) for the bechamel sauce.

5. Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour, stirring to a paste (roux). Remove from the heat and very gradually add the milk, off the heat, stirring well between each addition to avoid the sauce becoming lumpy. When all of the milk has been incorporated return the pan to the heat and bring the sauce to the boil, stirring continuously until it thickens. Add the anchovy essence.

6. Remove the skin and any pin bones from the fish and flake roughly into a mixing bowl. Add the prawns, chopped spinach and parsley and stir in the bechamel sauce. Season to taste.

7. Pour the fish mixture into an ovenproof dish, and cover with an even layer of mashed potato. Sprinkle with grated parmesan. Bake in a preheated over for about 30 mins until lightly golden and sauce is bubbling hot.


Necessity knitting and weekend baking...

Typically, I knit for pleasure and for something to keep me productive when watching television (so I don't entirely feel like I am wasting time and brain cells)...

But, given that London appears to have given up on ever producing spring, I was knitting from necessity this week. For months now I've been hating the gap that routinely appears between the end of my glove and my jumper/coat sleeve, that the bitter wind always seems to find without fail...especially when I am standing on the train station of a morning.

So, this week I decided to pick up a ball of wool/cashmere mix and knit myself a pair of wrist warmers...
...which now nicely bridge the gap between glove and sleeve. I tried them on a walk to the post office this morning and they worked a treat.

And although it is still cold, at least it has been a lot brighter over the past two days. I spent this morning baking - lemon and poppy seed friands. These are an Easter gift for a friend (who doesn't eat chocolate), but of course I had to try one myself this morning. It is the same recipe I blogged about here, but I swapped the zest of 2 oranges for 3 lemons.

I also received an Easter care package from my mother this week which included the February and March issues of my favourite Australian design I had something beautiful to look at whilst enjoying my morning tea...

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Trialling designs...

I am toying with the idea of starting an etsy shop and listing the type of baby/children's items that I typically make as gifts for friends. It is still very much in the thinking stage as I do have a busy full-time job, and I'd very much hate to lose the pleasure and relaxation I get from sewing if I transformed the use of those skills to more of a business footing. That said, I've been thinking of this idea for a while and it has yet to go away, so there is perhaps some longevity to it.

As part of my planning I am trialling a few designs to see what is reasonably quick to make, but still brings with it the timelessness of hand-made items. This week I decided to trial a little smocked top and trousers. The smocking took no time at all - the actual making up of the top took much longer than the embroidery - something I imagine will become quicker with time and pattern familiarity. I adapted this bishop neck pattern from one I've made before which has quite full sleeves, and adapted it with a little fluted cap sleeve. I think it has left the arm opening too large, and so that is something that I will need to work on if I make it again.

I chose the embroidery colours from the liberty lawn I used to make the small trousers - this is a piece I've had in my stash for years.

I do have some more sewing planned for this afternoon, making a little summer skirt for my friend's little girl who is turning 2 in May (just after I return from the US so I want to have this completed before I leave). I found a fabulous fabric shop in Kingston last weekend and found some really sweet prints to use - it will also be an opportunity to trial another new pattern...and it gives me something productive to do this afternoon in the warmth of my flat, as I have decided it is too cold to leave the house unless absolutely necessary!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Warming winter soup...

Winter will just not relieve its grip here. Despite the fact that next week is the Spring solstice we were back to negative temperatures last week. It has warmed up slightly this weekend, but we are apparently returning to arctic temperatures again next week.

So, in consideration of a cold Saturday evening at home, and coupled with my current task of eating through all of the staples in my pantry*, I decided to make a warming winter soup for supper last night. (* This is turning in to somewhat of an experiment as I am testing the reality of 'best-before' far, eating tinned food stuffs dating back to 2010 has been risk-free...yes, it has been this long since I properly cleaned out my pantry. Hence, my determination to get through the staples before re-stocking).

Anyway, back to the soup. This is a recipe I originally collected 15 years ago when I lived in Glasgow (I think it probably came from the UK Good Food magazine). I used to make it quite a lot but hadn't made it in years. So, when I was I thinking of a recipe that would use up some circa 2011 white beans and some end of packet wholewheat pasta, this came to mind.

Pasta and Bean Soup (serves 6)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced
400g can borlotti beans (I used cannellini beans as that was what was in the pantry)
55g small pasta shapes
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (1 tsp if using dried)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
600ml bottle passata
600ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
parmesan cheese to serve

1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion, carrot, celery, rosemary and garlic for 10 mins until soft (I add the garlic towards the end so that it doesn't burn).
2. Add the passata, vegetable stock and beans to the pan and bring to the boil.
3. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Stir in the pasta shapes and parsley, add seasoning to taste.
5. Return to a low simmer, cover again, and cook for a further 10 mins or until the pasta is cooked.
6. Spoon the soup into individual serving bowls, and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

(I also added a couple of rashers of diced bacon in to step one...I'm clearing out my very small freezer as well!)

Served with a slice of wholemeal bread it was the perfect supper for a cold and wet evening at home....and it was as tasty as I remember...
...which is just as well really, as I will now be eating the leftovers all week (only the small tubs in the picture above will actually fit in my minuscule UK freezer)...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Finally...a knitted stole

I've had quite a productive week in terms of my handmade productivity. I finally finished this knitted stole at the end of last week and blocked it during the week. I originally purchased this lovely wool/silk mix months ago, and this is actually the third pattern I've tried. The first (a curved shawl design) barely got past casting on as I didn't like that the cast-on edge didn't look symmetrical. Then I attempted a large square shawl..and actually had completed about two-thirds of it before I started to have major issues with the pattern and lost my love for it. So, this is my final attempt - a basic rectangular stole in a pretty lace pattern. It is large enough to wear as a stole, but also to use as a standard scarf...

...and given that we are returning to cold weather again this week, it will be sure to get some wear before spring makes itself properly felt.

I've also managed to complete a little handmade project that will form part of my mother's day gift this year (which although it is Mothering Sunday here in the UK today, it is not until May in will wait and post about it then so as not to spoil the surprise).

In other flight is finally booked. This time in 4 weeks I'll be in Providence RI getting ready to start the first week of my travel fellowship at Brown University. I've one hotel booked, but need to finalise accommodation in the other three cities I am visiting which I plan to do this week. I'm feeling much calmer now that task is ticked off...and I'm starting to think of more pleasant things in terms of which little/portable sewing/craft projects I will be making room for in my suitcase to cover the month I am away...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The difference a few days can make...

In my last post I moaned...about the cold weather ... but what a difference a few days can make in one's attitude...

Literally the day after I posted London was treated to the most glorious afternoon of sunshine - it was still cold, but I re-affirmed that I actually don't mind it so much if the sun is shining brilliantly. It was the same day that the Queen came to open the new hospital on one of the sites where I work...and whilst I didn't get to see her in person, I did see the beautiful Bentley in which see arrived, and got to meet one of the even more lovely Metropolitan Police sniffer dogs (a lovely black spaniel who seemed to be having such a good time doing his job) as I was catching a lift to a meeting...

I spent Thursday and Friday last week at a conference in a venue opposite Westminster Abbey. As I walked out on Thursday afternoon this was my view...and it reminded me as to how blind one can become to the experience of living in a city such as London. When I first arrived in London 15 years ago, I didn't like it felt big and dirty, and I couldn't even contemplate the thought of living here. I ended up working in Scotland, and came to appreciate London (from a tourist's perspective) over time through weekend visits to see friends.

However, even when I arrived back here seven years ago, I didn't think I'd still be living in London all of these years later. It is still big, it is cumbersome to get around at times, it's size can make it feel very anonymous, and much of it's population can feel transient (especially in the ex-pat communities) which can make it difficult to feel settled. But, I seem to have adjusted to those elements - to the extent that I can easily forget to appreciate what is surrounding me as I get on with day to day life.

Where else could I sit in a conference masterclass with this as the view from the window..., some blue sky, an increase of temperature to 7 degrees and my favourite building on London has made me an altogether happier person this week!