Sunday, 27 January 2013

Seven For Seven On A Sunday Evening

somehow, the weekend seems to lay glinting at the end of the week, like a silver thread, which when you finally get to it, somehow slips through your fingers so quickly. And so it is, I suddenly find myself here again, on a Sunday evening. It has been a peaceful, gentle weekend, just what we needed. I find myself wishing I had just a little bit more of it to come, and feeling slightly blue. I think that it is partly the full moon, partly Call The Midwife being particularly sad, and partly a small personal disappointment.

And so, pondering upon the post I would write, I decided to borrow an idea from the lovely Midori Green, and write a Seven For Seven post, as she says, 'a dash through the week'

Eating The most delicious breakfast at Baroosh, one of our favourite Sunday morning breakfast haunts. They had sold out of their delicious ricotta pancakes, so I chose the vegetarian breakfast instead, as it looked interesting. I am so glad I did! Salty, squeaky halloumi paired with scrambled eggs, baked beans, and an amazing potato rosti. Bliss!

Being Inspired By Miss Marple! Whilst watching an old episode a few weeks ago, I noticed she was wearing a rather lovely scarf. I came across a pattern for it on the internet, and bought some wool in soft grey with a hint of sparkle, and cast it on this morning.

Reading Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II and also re-reading They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple. There is something about both of their writings which just speaks to the very depths of my soul.

Listening To The ukulele! I have been practising since my class on Thursday. I can change chords - but very slowly! Hopefully with practise that will improve...

Being Horribly Impolite ...well, I hope that it is a good sign that I can't think of anyone I have been horribly impolite to! Hopefully I would realise if I had!

Wearing The most fabulous new dressing-gown-come-house-dress that I got in the sale the other day. It is a floor length wrap dress made of jersey, in leopard print. It definitely needs a slick of red lipstick to set it off. I could happily open the door to the postman although I wouldn't go as far as going to the shops in it.

Trying Out Our brand new duvet! I hadn't realised how thin our old one had got until we went on holiday and had the fluffiest duvet ever - it was like sleeping in a cloud. We collected it yesterday, and I can't wait for bedtime!

I wonder what the week ahead will bring?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Simple Suppers

Wednesday evenings are amongst the times I enjoy cooking most. I always make sure I leave work on time, to get home and make supper so I can get out to my burlesque on time. I want something nutritious and satisfying after a day at work, but also light enough so that I can get into my corset and dance without discomfort. It also needs to be something that will keep and reheat easily for when Carl comes home later. My lovely friend Annastasia comes to share this meal and a pot of tea with me each week, and she happens to be vegan, so whatever I cook needs to tick all of those boxes for me.

Soup is just the most perfect answer to all those questions. I have rarely made the same one twice, and don't very often follow a recipe, just going with what I find myself thinking about that day, or what looks good on the vegetable stall at the market. I suddenly realised, the other day, that I have not been writing the recipes down anywhere. So, here is the soup I made this past week, and also the slow-cooked baked beans that I put on to cook overnight, ready for supper on Thursday night, before I went off to ukulele class.

Slow Parsnip Soup In A Hurry

In the morning, when I got up and started putting together breakfasts and our packed lunches, I put the oven on to heat, and put in a tray of chopped parsnips and red onions tossed lightly with a little olive oil. I left them in while I went about the rest of my morning, letting them slowly caramelize and their flavours mingle. When they were done, I sprinkled them with mild curry powder, and left them to cool, before putting them in a covered tub in the fridge.

When I got home, I put some vegetable stock into a saucepan along with some potatoes, just a handful, and simmered them. After about 15 minutes I added in the parnsip and onion mixture, simmered for 5 minutes more to heat them through, and then popped the lot into my blender and blitzed to a thick rich soup.

Annastasia had been to Planet Organic in London, and brought with her a wonderful baguette that was so dense and rich and delicious. When Carl came home, he had his with some chorizo. Simple, satisfying, soothing...soup is just fabulous!

Slow Cooked Baked Beans

While the soup was heating, I chopped a large onion and softened it in a little oil with a couple of sticks of soft celery. I scraped them into my slow cooker, and added a carton of passata, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a diced red pepper, a can of butter beans, a can of kidney beans, a pinch of dried chillies, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, and a pinch of sugar. I covered it and set it to low and let it cook overnight. The transformation that long slow heat has on the contents of the crock pot is amazing, the flavours are really deep and complex.

Let me know if you try making either of them how you get on!

Burns Night

This has been a lovely week, but a busy one - not only was there my usual burlesque class on Wednesday evening, I had a ukulele workshop on Thursday evening - and work has been as busy as always. As such, I have picked up little bits and pieces from the market, but haven't placed a full order for shopping to be delivered, as I usually would.

And so Friday dawned without me having yet bought my haggis for Burns' Night. I didn't think it would be a problem, and popped into Marks and Spencer on my lunch hour. Horrors, the shelf was bare! Not to worry, I thought, and bustled off to the butchers at the market, only to find they had sold out as well!

We decided to go with plan B, and eat out, as several local restaurants were offering a Burns' Night menu. The first place we tried had been 'debranded' from the pub chain they belonged to, and were no longer running the menu. The second and third places were fully booked!

And so we turned to plan C - we would drive out to the supermarket, get the ingredients and cook our own Burns' Night supper. Alas, when we got there, we found the shelf was bare again!

We thought that we would have to admit defeat, but as we walked back to the car, I remembered there was another restaurant near by which might just might be celebrating Burns' Night. We had a moment of worry when we got there and they asked if we had booked, and we hadn't, but happily they found us a table and seated us really quickly.

The menu was really good value, at £19.99 for 4 courses, and I actually really liked that there was no choice at all. Sometimes choice can be so overwhelming. We started with smoked salmon, brown bread, wedges of lemon and a little garnish of bitter peppery watercress, and then were served slices of haggis on neeps and tatties, again garnished with watercress. Next out were medallions of venison which came with a redcurrant and red wine sauce which was heavenly, some cubes of roast swede, and some horseradish mashed potatoes. The meal was rounded off with a version of cranachan which was really crunchy as they had used a granola base for it.

It looked like we weren't going to have any haggis for a while there, but it was a really lovely meal, and I don't think we would have found our way to the restaurant otherwise, so it was serendipitous and lovely.

Hope you had a Happy Burns' Night!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Daffodil Days

January seems to have a special kind of light, all of its own, that falls softly through the window, tinged slightly with grey. Monday, was, apparently, Blue Monday, the day of the year we are most likely to feel glum. Christmas is behind us, and spring seems far ahead.

And yet, we can bring a little hint of what is to come into our lives, with the purchase of a bunch or pot of daffodils. It started with a brisk walk to the market one chilly lunchtime, to buy some kale. I don't know why, but I have been really craving kale lately. As I hurried back to work, my eye fell on a display of potted tete-a-tetes, for only 50p. I really couldn't say no, and took a pot back to my desk.

So many people commented on them, that a few days later I went back to the market, and bought a pot for everyone in my office. My thoughts hadn't gone beyond that it would be nice for everyone to have a little splash of spring on their desks, but I was overwhelmed with how happily they were received. Even the men were really enthusiastic, and immediately suggested we have a prize for the longest living and a forfeit for the first to die.

At some point during the day, someone will casually wander past, just to inspect and scope out the competition!

At home I have a bunch of daffodils in a jam jar. They started as such tight buds, it is almost impossible to believe that the great froth of yellow flowers were ever contained in such a tight space. Whenever my eye falls on them at home or at work, they make me smile. We might be having more scatterings of snow, it might be cold enough to nip at your nose outside, but sometime in the next month or so, snowdrops will start to show their pretty little heads, heralding the unfurling chorus line of crocuses and aconites and daffodils.

January seems to have been both a very long month, and also almost gone in a flash already at the same time. It is as though it is slow to awake, tired from the Christmas festivities, and then, realising it is late, hurries away. But there are still days in which to make marmalade and drink pots of tea and watch black and white films and snuggle with hot water bottles and make plans for the year ahead.

Monday, 14 January 2013

All Dressed Up With No Place To Snow!

And so, we made ready! The hatches were battened, the electric blanket was on. I woke up in the night once or twice to find Carl standing by the window, watching for snow. We opened the curtains this morning to find...nothing!

I am not complaining as I know a lot of people further North than us have suffered with it, and I know it does make life very difficult for so many people. But it was just strange after so many warnings, nothing. Although, it was very cold.

Then, as I walked to work, wearing my new boots, the very first flake fell from the sky, and then suddenly I was in a snow globe. It didn't settle though. Later this afternoon, big, fat clumps of snowflakes started whirling down from the sky, but again they haven't settled.

And so it is evening now, and it will definitely be a hot water bottle night, but so far, so good. I hope wherever you are, your preparations have paid off and you are safe and warm and cozy love Mimi xxx

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Making Ready

In the depths of December, before Christmas, we woke up one morning to find that it had snowed in the night. It had been utterly unexpected, and unforecast. The first inkling we had, was when the light that creeps between the blinds was different somehow.

By that evening, it was as if it had never been, and we settled into days of fog and mist instead. For the past week or so now, I have been hearing murmerings about snow. I have had emails from friends and relatives, a conversation with the head of highways, and seen countless mentions on blogs. So, who knows what tomorrow will bring - except, the possibility of snow.

We are so fortunate with where we live - my 5 minute walk to the office will be a 10 minute walk as I try not to slip on icy pavements, and Carl's walk to the train station will be similarly lengthened, but as it is even closer than my office, it shouldn't be too bad.

But even so, with snow expected, it is time to prepare, and as I sit here with a candle burning low, I have that quiet sense of battening-down-the-hatches and preparations made, making me feel secure and ready for the snow, should it come.

This morning we got in our provisions. Now I hate it when the merest whisper of bad weather sends people panicking to the supermarket to buy all the bread and all the milk, but as it happens, I have been running down our storecupboards, and they were ready to be refreshed. For a few weeks, we plan to take a more simple, pared back approach to menu planning. So, I have individual portions of chicken and fish in the freezer which will be served with seasonal veg and potatoes most evenings. The tea-bag pot has been refilled, I have flour and milk and eggs, and we are ready.

The other thing that I realised needed attention was my footwear. Having turned out my wardrobe recently, I have a smaller selection of shoes than before. I have high heeled court shoes a la Kate Middleton in black, red, and nude, a pair of black ballet flats, and a few pairs of party heels. I believe that I might be in possession of a pair of trainers somewhere.....but clearly they won't see me through a snowy walk, even if it is only ten minutes!

So a brief shopping trip this afternoon was in order, and I came back with a pair of flat boots which aren't something I would normally choose to wear, but will keep me warm, and hopefully upright, on snowy mornings.

There is a hot bath pouring, the electric blanket is switched on low, and I think we are ready now. I hope that wherever you are, you are similarly prepared, and amongst all the headaches that snow brings for so many people, there might be just a tiny moment when your heart skips a bit to see the flat white landscape, and your first footprints in it.

Wrap up warm and stay safe,

Love Mimi xxx

Friday, 11 January 2013

Sunday Craft Swap

Something 2013 seems to have in common with 2012 is how quickly time seems to slip away, although I still think that my job has a lot to do with that!

And so I find myself on the cusp of another weekend, without having told you yet about the loveliness of last weekend. Back in the autumn, I was talking with one of my favourite people in the world, the lovely Carla from Ducking Fabulous. We had both read The Christmas Cookie Club, a novel about a group of ladies who meet each year to swap batches of cookies. We had the idea of doing the same thing, but with crafts.

We invited some of our crafty friends to take part - the idea being that how ever many ladies signed up, you made that many of anything you chose, to exchange at our First Annual Craft Swap. There were nine of us in the end, and we all set about making our crafts. The only rules were that you had to have fun making whatever you chose, and that there had to be enough for everyone.

However, with nine ladies, it was always going to be difficult to get our diaries to line up, and it quickly became clear that we weren't going to be able to make it before Christmas. Instead, we set the date for last Sunday, and all converged upon the wonderful Angela's home for lots of tea and cake and giggling.

What utterly amazed me was the breadth of creativity and talent in our circle, and how everybody interpreted the very brief brief differently! My love of buttons is well documented, so I decided to make button fridge magnets. I spent a happy morning sorting through my numerous button jars to find the prettiest buttons, and then cut a magnetic sheet into small squares and stuck one on to each button. I had some really lovely little paper bags, and I put an assortment of buttons into each one, before tucking them into my bag to take to the swap.

After much tea and cake and talking, we took it in turns to go round the circle and give out what we had made. I took home a bag of the most delightful gifts. Wendy had filled little jars with homemade herb and spice blends, with a choice of Italian or Barbecue - I took home barbecue, and it smelt wonderful! Annastasia made sloe gin chocolates, which were utterly divine, and Helen made a chocolate fridge cake which she presented in tiny cherry-covered boxes, tied up in cellophane with a ribbon. Sharon made denim lavender bag hearts, stuffed with lavender which Wendy had grown. Apryl made jars of jam using fruit she had grown herself. Gabby had been inspired but a trip to Budapest, where she had seen sweet little fabric chickens, and had made her own, complete with dangly little button legs. Carla decoupatched kilner jars with pictures of burlesque ladies, and filled with a recipe for gingerbread, a tiny jar of ginger, one of glitter, and some assorted cutters, which is a lovely idea. The best thing is that the empty jar can be used to post in slips of paper on which you write happy memories from the year. Angela had made the most beautiful teabag folded cards for us.

The best thing is that even though the things in themselves are wonderful, they are also imbued with happy memories of the day, which makes them even more special.

We had originally thought about doing another swap next year, but actually, I am not so sure that we really want to wait that long!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Today I Am Grateful For

...a security guard at work. From time to time, they do spot checks, and you have to swipe your security pass so they can check your credentials. I was on my way back from popping out at lunch, with two bags in one hand, a coffee in the other, and my lunch juggled between the two. Seeing me struggle to get my pass out of my bag, one of them took it and swiped it for me. A little act of kindness, but much appreciated.

...the internet. I want to make Thai Chicken Soup this evening. The recipe was from a copy of Good Food Magazine several years ago, and I don't think I have made it since we have moved. It is really quick and easy, but I couldn't find the recipe. Happily, after a few minutes of internet searching, I came across it.

...thank you. I had a particularly difficult series of events to manage at work today, and had a bit of a tension headache by lunch time. I got a 'thank you' text from my boss. Just those two words. But it made a difference to how I felt.

There are lots of other things I could list today. I am trying to pick 3 to focus on, but I have been spoilt today. One that I must mention though, is the great joy I find in the library. I popped in to return some books, and took a look at the Classics shelf in the hope we might have some more Persephone books in. Alas it was not to be, but I have discovered Katherine Mansfield and took home a book of her short stories, which I am enjoying very much already.

The evening holds some simple pleasures for me...home cooked soup, a bath, my library book, and an early night. I hope the evening holds similar lovely things in store for you.

Love Mimi xxx

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Gratitude List

I think that this year could be, for me, the year of daybooks. The year of following Simple Abundance and The Way of the Happy Woman, and Brocante Home's Puttery Year. The year of doing not just reading.

So, last night, on the first day of the new year, I did something from Simple Abundance rather than just thinking about it. Before I went to sleep, I cast my mind back over the day, and chose three things to be thankful for.

Friends It was so special to see the New Year in with friends, Annastasia puts so much effort into hosting the evening and making sure everyone has a wonderful time, while giving the impression that nothing is any trouble at all, which is, I think, the mark of a very good hostess indeed.

Croissants The same lovely hostess made homemade croissants from scratch and served them to us for breakfast yesterday. I have never tasted a croissant like it, even in France. Hot from the oven, tender and flaky, and somehow, tasting very buttery, even though I know they were vegan!

My Dressing Gown A Christmas gift from my lovely sister, purple, fluffy, and soft, soft, soft it was really luxurious to wrap myself in it and sip tea yesterday evening. I felt cosseted, comforted, and cosy.

I don't intend to post my gratitude list every day (although today's will include the dentist who took away my toothache without hurting me at all, the free hot chocolate I had from Cafe Nero at lunchtime, and receiving an utterly joyful email from a friend) but I don't think it hurts to sow the seeds.

It goes without saying that I am thankful for my blog and blogfriends. I am always grateful for you.

My wish for you all is that you have much to be grateful for this year. And now, I am trying to summon the enthusiasm to go and wash up, and clean out the fridge. I had been toying with the idea of doing a menu plan and a shopping list this evening, but I have a quiet evening in tomorrow, and I think I shall do that then.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Welcome, 2013

Last year feels like a very long time ago, even though it was only yesterday. I can't believe that yesterday morning, I was at work in the office. Although I didn't leave until 4:00pm, it feels like a lifetime ago, thanks to the special magic that is woven at midnight between December 31st and January 1st.

We celebrated in our time-honoured tradition, by visiting our dear friends who hosted their annual New-Year's Dinner. I wore a simple black dress with a pair of earrings which are not what I would normally choose, but they called to me (and had been reduced to £1 in a sale!). They have diamantes arranged in a diamond formation, with three long dove-grey feathers hanging from them. Red lips and nails, of course! I baked a Bastilla to contribute to dinner - filo pastry swiss rolls, where the filling is a carrot and lentil mixture, spiced with ras el hanout, arranged in a spiral like a snail shell, sprinkled with flaked almonds and cinnamon. Our kitchen smelt heavenly afterwards!

We started the evening with Sloe Gin Fizzes, and sat down to dinner. It is always such a lovely mix of people, some new faces have joined us over the years, others have slipped away, but there are several of us who are always, always there. After eating, we went round the table and each played our song of the year. There were eleven of us this year, so it took some time! My song was 'Good Girl' as it was the first song I learnt a burlesque routine to, and it was this routine I performed on stage in October.

We then went round the table and said one thing we had learnt this year. Some are heartfelt, some are funny, all are interesting. Mine was a card a trick I learnt a few weeks ago! We then wrote down our predictions for 2013 and sealed them in an envelope before reading last years predictions, which were then burnt on the fire.

As always, we were taken by surprise that it was almost midnight! We just had time to pour the champagne before standing to listen to the chimes on Radio 4, and sing Auld Lang Syne before toasting the start of a new year. Somehow, I sat up until 6am, talking and drinking pots of tea. Suddenly, the last candle burnt out, and I was alone in the dark, so I took myself up to bed.

We never get up very early, and at 10:00am I rose to greet the new day properly. A pot of tea later, and we took our traditional walk down to the nearest shop to take in the fresh air, and to buy the morning papers. We were incredibly spoiled, as our hostess proceeded to make us fresh coffee and handmade croissants for breakfast.

We just had time to get to our next engagement of the day, lunch with Carl's friends. We were a smaller group than usual, but it was good to see them. Two of the group are getting married in just over a month's time, and it was lovely to look back at this same period in our own life.

And then, home, home, with the light of the first day of 2013 already fading. Home to spend some time together, thinking about the coming year, making resolutions and targets and plans, to watch a film on the tv, and then get an early night ready to start the first 'normal' day of 2013 tomorrow.

I hope that you spent the evening with people you love, and that 2013 is better than you could ever imagine.

Love Mimi xxx