Broad beans, exotic blooms and the blackbird tapping……

white bottomed buzzy bee

For the past some years I’ve been an early riser, even on those dark cold mornings when it’s rainy and windy outside, I could happily snuggle back under the pile of quilts and blankets that we have on the bed, but once I’m awake, I’m awake….I need to be up, have the kettle on, make a pot of tea…  Even if it’s just nestling in my corner of the sofa with some knitting, my day has began and I want to start doing…..

Come Summer the early morning light creeps into our bedroom, I can hear the dawn chorus begin and feel Bernard shift around at the bottom of the bed, I make myself stay under the covers til five thirty so I don’t wake the whole house with my fidgetting but then I’m up and try to be mouse quiet as I dress and creep down the stairs…

The past week has seen the weather warm up, mornings have a soft cool breeze that tickles at the back of my neck and along my arms, but make being outside a pleasure in the early hours before it feels too hot and scorchy….

napping on the potting table

(the supervisor taking a little nap sometime last year……)

Our little back garden is quite open, it’s East facing so there’s plenty of sunlight for plants, without the full exposure of West facing, there’s shady spots and shadows shift across the vegetable beds….

The past couple of Summers gardening hasn’t been so easy, or so enjoyable, next doors cats seem to delight in playing amongst our raised beds and raspberries, last year we didn’t feel inclined to do anything after numerous plantings were squashed, dug up, and pooped on….but this year I can feel the pull of the soil in my heart, I need to get my hands in the compost and plant, smell green things growing…..

The last time I felt this deep longing was a year or so after my dad died, there were so many things I wanted to ask, some to do with how things were planted, what was the best time for beans to go in the ground, how much space should I give courgettes and squashes, how many tomatoes could I fit into a grow bag….but also other things too…conversations I didn’t know I wanted until it was too late…..being outside, potting things up, weeding and tickling with one of my dad’s hoes (there’s a spot his hands have worn right smooth and shiny) seeing what wanted to grow where and what liked the soil…..all the noise and jumble in my head seemed to soothe itself out while I dug, and planted, watched seeds I planted grow into sweet smelling blossoms, herbs and fruit I was able to make into pestos and jam…….

It’s not been all sunshine, we’re still getting quite heavy downpours so being out first thing in the morning, the soil feels damp and weeds are relatively easy to lift out before Summer makes everywhere rock hard….but it’s being outside while the morning wakes up alongside with me that is seeming to give me the most pleasure….

We’ve been buying live meals worms from Wiggly wigglers and the blackbirds and robin have been tucking in like you wouldn’t believe….the sound of the blackbird tap tap tapping as he fills up on worms accompanies me most mornings when I’m outside and if I’m weeding, the robin hops over and watches me, cocking his head from side to side then darting down if he thinks I’ve found something particularly interesting….

broad bean flowers

I’ve cheated a bit this year, rather than grow a lot of things from seed I’ve bought small plug plants from Thorns which is a local ironmongers, if you live in Norwich or Norfolk then you’ll be smiling when I say it’s a right old rabbit warren inside, and I’m sure people get lost in there all the time…..I’ve planted out two rows of peas and I’ve also got broad bean plants growing too….I love the stark contrast between the milk white and inky black blossoms, and look forward to seeing those tiny doll sized pods appear…we’re growing the broad beans a bit different this year, himself has read about growing them in a circle with a tripod support, the beans grow closer together and create a micro climate that retains the moisture in the soil…..I’m not sure what my dad would have thought, he grew his in rows but then he’d grow several hundred where as we have just 2 dozen.

newspaper pots

Apart from the plug plants, I’ve planted some french beans from bean rather than plantling, the first couple of weeks of May were really cold and damp so I don’t think it’s the end of the world planting these now, hopefully they’ll soon start to sprout and come on before I know it….

I’d wanted to try make these newspaper pots for ages and I found a couple of really nice little videos on youtube, (I think this chap in particular is really nice)….I actually got a bit carried away and made way more than I needed so I think I might plant up some of the wild/apline strawberries that have started to take over under our cherry tree and give those away to friends….

Other seeds I’ve planted included foxgloves and hollyhocks and some grannys bonnet that I found up in a seed box, I don’t know if the grannys bonnet seeds will grow as they are a few years old, they came from a plant that my dear friend Joyce gave me, she died last year so I must have had these for a good few years…oh well, we’ll see, if they grow they grow, if not…I’ll just have to buy one instead…the hollyhocks are from various neighbours gardens, I’m not sure if these are the deep purpley, as “black as Cromwells heart” (…thank you @paulbommer for that) ones or the apple blossom pink ones that are all faded brown around the edges…..for the most part we have lovely neighbours, and a compliment on gorgeous front garden blooms sees a handfull of seeds given away very generously……

courgette flower

One of the real delights in getting up nice and early is being greeted by a beauty like this when you step outside….it’s like a glorious exotic bloom in a glasshouse….seriously who needs Chelsea Flower show when this is in the back garden…The blossom is the most eggy colour yellow you could imagine, all sou’westery and brightness itself….

I love courgettes and I bought 3 plants from good old Thorns, Mister Green Fingers informed me last night that I’d planted them a bit too close together so first thing this morning I moved two of them, I’ve put them into large plastic pots and will try and remember to buy some plant food when I go into town on Friday (another visit to Thorns, I almost live there in the Summer….) I can happily eat courgettes til they come out of my ears, grilled, roast, lightly steamed and served on cauliflower rice or tossed into a salad…I used to use them in a poppy seed cake where they add lots of moisture, so the cake in theory would keep longer though it tasted so nice it wouldn’t ever last more than a couple of days.

wild strawberries

I mentioned the wild/alpine strawberries that have taken over the garden somewhat…..we’ve grown both wild and alpine varieties and over the years they’ve pollinated each other so the fruits that grow in the back garden are rather a jumble, they seem to do most well just growing where they will rather than in pots, often the sweetest fruit are the ones that appear in the middle of the patio or alongside our garden path…I guess it’s because their roots like to spread out, and for the most part we just let them do as they please….the little fruits are a mix of sweet and sharp, some taste like Opal fruits/starburst, others are tart and make you go “ooh!!”….I’ll often add them to jam (they are too tiny to pick enough to make a jam of them by themselves) or to breakfast yoghurt, we also like to mash them with water mint from over the marshes and make a Summery Orchard Mist cocktail….












A cosy spot, knitting socks for Ivo, sheep spotting at The Forum and baking bread…..

a quiet spot

Goodness, and where has the time gone… really doesn’t seem like 5 minutes ago I was thinking about what we were going to eat over the Winter holidays and now all of a sudden the front room windows are open, the apple trees in the garden are in blossom and I can hear fat bees buzzing about for pollen filled flowers to tumble around in….and if you’re wondering about Bernard, well he’s taken refuge today behind the sofa, while he seems to get on for the most part with the little cat from next door, he also knows when he’s had enough of her playful ways and then it’s tappety tap tap at the cat flap (yes, he can let himself in but he likes us to open the door to him…and now said little cat from next door does it too, not that we let her in but we often hear a tap tap noise only to see her face through the cat glass…)

So I hope you’ve put the kettle on and have a cup of tea as this is quite a bit of a catch up and round down of what I’ve been up to of late, and you know by now how I do go on…..I know my blog posts have been a bit sparse these past months and I’ve had a couple of worried emails asking if I had stopped writing it, so many thank yous for those..we’re all okay but I just needed a little time to me….so come on in,  sit down….the cushions have just been plumped, and I know there are some tunnock biscuits in the cupboard……

As a lot of you will know I finally got round to gettitng a new phone, one with a camera and so I’ve been able to share pictures over on Instagram, and back in February there was a daily photo challenge called “yarn love challenge”…and while it was centered more on knitting and crochet it really made me think a whole lot about my other crafting and making…from sewing and patchwork to cooking in the evening and baking bread….one of the prompts was “where I craft” and while for the most part I do all my sewing, embroidery, patchwork (anything where pins and needles might drop and lurk, waiting for the boyfriend to come home and stand on them) upstairs in my work room, I love tucking myself into this corner to do my knitting……there’s a little coffee table just out of shot where I can have a pot of tea, and most days Bernard jumps up alongside me, sprawls all out, has a wash then a little nap…’s a nice cosy spot nd it just feels good to have squishy hand made cushions all around me……(you’ll probably recognize these cushions from when I wrote about making them the other Summer)….the side lamp was a charity shop buy, it had a very boring wicker shade on it but I cut that all off and covered the wire frame with vintage Sanderson prints…..and on the wall are some of my tapestry pictures which have been picked up from all over……..

finished socks for Ivo

Quite a lot of my time this year has been spent trying to catch up with Christmas/ birthday presents (I know, I’m terrible but I just ran out of time in December)… I always forget how long a handmade gift takes to make, it’s never the cheap or fast option is it, and I probbaly take longer making things as a gift than I would if it was someting for me, I want it to look just right, be as perfect as I can get it….anyway, a whole lot of gift knitting went on because we got to see some friends who live in Norway, this was the first time we’ve seen them in just over 3 years so it was really exciting, we all met up in Cambridge and had a really lovely day out there (I definitely want to try and pop back for the day at some point this year)…sadly one of their children had to stay with granny for the day as she’d come down with chickenpox (the little girl, not granny) and I haven’t had it so ….. but we sent back lots of hugs and kisses for her… of the gifts I made was this little pair of socks for “baby” Ivo….he’s not a baby anymore and is actually 3 in about a weeks time….the yarn was some that I bought from Meadowyarn which is a really nice on-line shop which is based very close to the village where I grew up, so buying from them most certainly feels like I’m shopping local (for Christmas my boyfriend’s family bought me a beautiful swift to wind yarn on that was made by Mister Meadowyarn so that always feels very special to use)…the yarn for the socks was quite plump, it’s almost an Aran weight so these are lovely and squishy, a bounce with every step…..I used this pattern (it’s a free one) and my making notes are just here in case you are interested……it’s a very easy to follow pattern, and has a nice range of sock sizes from baby all the way through to 8 years old….

knit pro needles from meadowyarn

Along with the socks for Ivo I knitted his mum a big shawl (I used the Open Sky shawl pattern by Andrea Mowry as this was the shawl pattern that made me fall in love with knitting) the notes for Goska’s shawl are all here…and for the two girls I knitted each of them cowls which I pretty much designed myself….that sounds way more fancy than what I actually did….this was the cowl for Saski with the notes here..and this is the one for Hanja…..and the notes are here...

The yarn was Hjertegarn Lima and it’s a Danish all wool yarn, I wanted to use the same yarn for all the projects and then with what is left over I thought I would knit something for myself and then whenever I wear it they’d be in my thoughts in an instant……

There’s also been some other knitting going on for friends and family who live much closer but I’ll share that for another day…..


I’ve also been baking lots of bread again, our stove has been playing up for a long time and we’re just waiting to buy a new one, in the meantime we have a smaller one which isn’t really as good but with a bit of experimenting with dough and cooking times I feel reasonably happy with the loaves I’m able to bake in it…..mostly it’s just a very simple loaf made with a natural starter/leaven….and then a dribble of honey, good bread flour from Shipton Mill, some oats, sesame seeds, oil and salt……it’s best to take your time making it, not rushing the proving times, but there’s lots you can be getting on with while the bread is resting under a floury cloth…..


I’ve also taken part in “Lentenwipdown” which Hanna from Patch Aesthetic writes about here …basically it’s all about finishing off those wips (works in progress) that are laying around, or are lurking in the back of cupboards before you start any new projects….gift knitting or making is still allowed though….I like not doing things for Lent even though I’m not Christian, it makes me really appreciate it when I start doing them again….and while I seem to have spent most of the “wipdown” gift knitting, I have managed to finish one of my crochet blankets which really does deserve it’s own blog post……I actuallly finished it last Sunday and was so pleased…..being made of acrylic the colour combinations are certainly on the gaudy side, and it’s already been plucked half to death by Bernard (I find acrylic yarn is a devil at plucking, whereas wool yarns seem able to resist his attentions much better)…

whiteface woodland

Other fun and exciting things, The Forum in Norwich was once again home to Maker’s Month in February, and one of the highlights for me was seeing these beautiful Whitefaced Woodland sheep…….it’s actually a breed I’d not heard of before and is on the “vulnerable” listing by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust , oh but aren’t they sweet…..Their colouring was lovely, a really creamy white fleece, with beautiful milky faces and legs with the pinkiest of rose petal noses…..Their horns are quite small and were the prettiest fawn colour….if you’re at all interested in their yarn then I believe you can buy it from…after seeing them it’s certainly made me want to knit with some.

The other really fun thing for me during Maker’s Month was getting to do an afternoon workshop with Jen Monahan (she’s Fibreworkshop on instagram and she also has a very interesting blog and sells beautiful hand spun yarn and fibre in her etsy shop)….I met Jen last year at the Maker’s Month, the fibre she’d spun was breathtaking and she kindly showed me how to use a drop spindle…so I felt I really needed a refresher and booked in for a workshop this year, and have come away feeling much more confident with my spindle using…..this has actually set some “wheels” in motion…more of which another time……if you get the chance I wholeheartedly recommend her classes, she’s very patient and is very good at demonstrating what it is you need your hands to do……

Phew…I think after all that we both need another cup of tea, now who’s going to put the kettle on…..





Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..


And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.



Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……


I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing… of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..


Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..


We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…


And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.


Using a starter for an everyday loaf……..


Making a bread with a natural starter takes a little longer than a dried yeast loaf but to be honest, most of the extra time is” leave it alone so it can do it’s thng” time, time where you can pretty much forget about it for a few hours and get on with whatever else you’re doing……

You need to start off with a natural leaven or starter, if you’re not sure how to make one or have one lurking away in a jar at the back of your fridge then yesterday’s post explains how to wake the leaven or starter from hibernation, and also how to make a natural leaven if you don’t already have one…..

Our main gas oven which I’ve used in the past to make big family sized loaves has been on the blink so I used a small top heated oven…it’s not ideal but I was curious as to whether I could use it to make a loaf of bread…..the measurements aren’t written in stone, more often than not I tinker with my bread recipe so no two loaves are ever really the same, but this should give you an idea of the stages involved…..


First you need to make a bread sponge…I decided to make two small loaves as I thought they would bake better in our little oven…..normally I make a sponge before I go to bed and leave it overnight, then as I’m a really early riser I can give it a gentle kneed in the morning while the house is still sleeping….this way you can have a loaf ready to eat for lunch time, if not it will be a supper time loaf…..

150 g of starter

250 ml of tepid warm water

200g of strong bread flour

1 teaped spoon of honey (the size you use to eat pudding or soup with)

small handful of sesame seeds (this is optional but I think it gives the bread a lovely mellow smell and flavour)

Take the starter or leaven out from the fridge,  weigh out the amount you need of your leaven in a medium sized baking bowl* (I like to use ceramic bowls) pour in the tepid warm water, mix and stir in a good dollop of honey and add about 200 g of strong bread flour…if you like you can now also add a small handful of sesame seeds……. (if I’ve got them, I’ll also add a handful of strong porridge oats…for this size loaf I’d use 125 g flour and then 75 g oats…)

Cover with a clean cloth and leave until the starter/leaven is all bubbling up lke something out of a Shakespearean witches cauldron… (this is where leaving it overnight comes in very handy… can leave it for a few hours if you like but I find leaving it overnight gives me the best results)

Next morning, add a little more bread flour to the sticky mix (I often use spelt flour at this stage, I never use rye flour as my boyfriend doesn’t like it but feel free to use it if you want…..) along with a glug of oil and a good pinch of salt….I use sunflower oil but if you’re making a foccacia style bread or pizza base then olive oil would be ideal, and for spiced buns I use cooled melted butter…..before adding more bread flour… much is going to depend in part on your bread…for these loaves I ended up using another 200g….just add it a sprinkle at a time….

You need to knead the floury mess into a dough but for just long enough for the dough to go from feeling sticky to silky and smooth, it also feels a bit cooler to the touch……this won’t take too long at all….

Now lightly oil a large baking bowl, place the dough in there and move it around so it’s lightly covered, this helps the surface from drying out as it rises…now cover and leave for a few hours until the dough has about doubled……

Top left, mix flour in to the starter/leaven…. Top right, Cover the leaven and leave to bubble up…Bottom left, knead the ingredients into a dough….Bottom right, allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl….


Once the dough has swelled up you want to gently knock it down, you want to be firm but not bash it…… and just very gently knead it back into a round ball again.


If you are using tins, line or oil/flour them before placing in the dough and allow the dough to prove or rise again…….more often than not I bake those Venus of Willendorf looking loaves, so I use a wooden proving bowl, I lay in a muslin cloth well sprinkled with flour and place the dough in there, then when it’s risen, I place a baking parchment lined tray overtop, and flip everything over just before slashing the top and putitng it in the oven….however as I was using our small oven I used these little panibois from Shipton Mill….allow the dough to rise again, when it’s almost doubled (generally around an hour or so) turn on the oven to a good hot temperature…just before placing the loaves in, slash the top, I used a really sharp kitchen knife but you can buy a grignette or bread lame if you want……..slashing the dough allows the loaf to expand and stretch….

Place the dough in the oven and allow to bake…… these loaves were on 230c which is about gas 8 for 35 minutes……

Top left, divide the dough into the panibois….Top right, allow the dough to rise….Bottom Left, slash the dough immediately before the dough goes into the oven…Bottom right, Remove from oven and allow to cool……


So how did the first loaves in a long time turn out….boyfriend said the bread was lovely as he ate a piece smeared over with a local honey… certainly smelt nice though not as rich and deep as when I’ve used the gas oven…next time I’d bake the bread in a metal tin on a metal tray so more heat is conducted underneath….before I didn’t have to worry about that as the gas flame was beneath……

I’ve always gotten really good results using Shipton Mill flour, their mail order service is excellent and along with a wonderful range of flours they also sell some nice baking equipment such as proving bowls and panibois and bread scrapers…..they don’t sell grignettes or bread lames but they aren’t hard to find on-line….if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a locally milled bread flour then try and support them, a local miller is a real wonder in this day and age.

I’m not a fancy baker or anything like that, this is just how I bake an everyday bread, one we can use for toast and sandwiches…..some loaves look a bit rum and lumpy…others I could happily cuddle….but all smell wonderful and soon seem to disappear…..

*Don’t forget, once you’ve made your sponge you’ll need to “feed” your starter…all this means is topping up with tepid water and flour in a ration of 4:5 to the amount you’ve taken out….so if you used say 225g of starter you will need to stir in 100 g of water and then 125 g of flour…re-seal and put back in the fridge…..

Waking and making natural leavens and starters for the best tasting home baked breads…….


I’ve always loved baking bread, mixing ingredients and allowing the dough to magically rise has never failed to delight…it’s very calming and even if I’m really busy and have like a million and one things to do, just taking a few minutes out to tumble in flour and yeast, warm water into a large bowl….allows me to breathe…..feel human again.

A few years back my friend Daisy gave me some of a natural leaven or starter she’d made and by “feeding” it regularly with flour and water I was able to make some rather wonderful loaves…..the past some months we’ve been without a main oven and the small one we’re using doesn’t get over hot so I’ve allowed the leaven to hibernate at the bottom of the fridge……but over the holidays I thought about waking it up and seeing how a loaf would turn out in the small oven.

Waking a leaven isn’t that hard, it just takes a bit of time to allow the ingredients to slowly stretch back into feeling all perky again…..

Waking the starter or leaven….

Day one…..The top picture is the leaven, it doesn’t look too pretty at this stage, it’s all sludgy covered with a tangy pickle juice liquid, tip this off (you’ll want to save it) …under the liquid the leaven is a bit like putty….remove a heaped teaspoon of it into a bowl and mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water… probably sounds odd to measure your water but it’s more accurate. You can pour the pickle smelling liquid back over of your hibernating leaven and put it back into your fridge.

Top Left, the hibernating leaven…. top right, pour off the liquid….bottom right, a teaspoon or so of leaven….bottom left, mixed in with some water


After you’ve mixed in the tepid warm water and the “putty” has dissolved, add 125 grammes of strong bread flour (I like to use bread flour from Shipton Mill, I don’t use a rye flour or anything fancy, just a good strong flour that is especially for bread) this stage you might prefer to mix with a spoon but I like using a whisk….mix it so the flour is all blended in and then cover with a clean cloth for 24 hours……..

Day Two….you’ll now see that the floury mixture will look rather putty like.

Top left add flour to the leaven….top right mix in the flour…bottom right leave the bowl for 24 hours …bottom left, the leaven after 24 hours.


Day Three….Take a good heaped teaspoon of the putty like leaven and again mix in 100 grammes of tepid warm water, you’ll find the putty is more springy this time and I find I need to add some of the flour to help it blend in… total you ‘ll need to add 125 grammes of flour, and you’ll find using a spoon now easier than the whisk……. cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave for 24 hours

Top left, place some of the leaven in to a bowl…. Top right, mix in water….Bottom left, the leaven after about 12 hours …..Bottom right, the leaven after 24 hours


Day Four….the leaven will have a glossy sheen, its full of air and has a nice fresh yeasty aroma…… using a bread scraper or spatular, transfer all the leaven into a medium sized bowl, add 100 grammes of tepid warm water and then slowly mix in 125 of flour……

Cover the bowl and leave for a couple of hours.  The leaven will now be fully awake and look very lively…it looks a fair bit paler,almost white, and is ready to now use to make your bread…………

Top left, add water to the leaven and mix…..Top Right, add some flour and mix in ….Bottom left,add the last of the flour and mix in ….Bottom right, the leaven after it’s been left and is ready to use

Making a natural starter or leaven…..

If you need to make a leaven from scratch it’s very similar to the stages above, it’s ready to use on day 6 so it’s a good idea to make on a monday and then will be ready to use at the weekend…

Day 1…50g tepid warm water and 2 fat teaspoons of strong bread flour…. mix in a bowl, and cover (or you can use a 500 ml Kilner jar) .leave at room temp.

Day 2…50 g water and 4 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….stir the water into the leaven and then add the flour…..cover and leave for 24 hours

Day 3…100g tepid warm water and 8 heaped teaspoons of bread flour….add the water, stir well to combine everything and then add the flour, stir ell again and then cover…leave for 24 hours

Day 4…100g tepid warm water and 125g bread flour….mix the leaven and remove and discard 3/4 of it……to the remaining 1/4 add teh water, stir and and then add the flour, stir well and cover….leave for 24 hours….

Day 5…100g tepid warm water, 125 g bread flour…..stir the leaven, remove and discard 3/4 of it…to the remaining 1/4 add the water, stir well and then add the flour so you have a nice thick paste….cover and leave for 24 hours.

Day 6….the leaven or starter will now be all bubbles, light and airy and smeling slightly pickley…it’s now ready to use…..




A year of cats and knitting, frosty walks and Summer strolls,homebaked bread and foraged fruits…..part one…..


Sometimes when I take stock of a year I find it too easy to remember the bad stuff, the sad times…horrifying world wide events can all too easily make us forget those little moments of smiles, and happiness and everyday pleasures, a spiral of despair and feeling hopeless can take hold in the blink of the eye and all those good things, however small and unimportant to others just seem gone……

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed so much about writing my blog and sharing pictures along the way is there’s a record, something tangible I can touch and look at and think “yes, that happened and it was a good thing” or “mmmm that tasted delicious”…remember how it felt to sit on the back door step with the sun on my toes or heading out for a walk when it was all frosty out and my nose turned numb before I’d even turned onto the lane…

I know it’s really not the same but all these tiny moments and occasions remind me of the bit in the sixth Harry Potter film, where everyone stands in the Hogwart’s courtyard with their wands out, shooting up wisps of light, sending out memories of love for Dumbledore and the dark mark of skull and snake in the sky slowly breaks up and fades under all that love… I say, I know it’s not the same but sometimes it’s necessary to remember the good bits and focus on that, to gather a bit of strength to be able to deal with everything else……

And so that’s what I’m trying to do today… go put the kettle on, make a hot drink, and get a plate of biscuits and sit down somewhere comfy as there’ll be waffling and rabbiting as I look back over my year……

Guess who has pinched my shawl

I’m starting with these pictures of Bernard cuddling in a shawl as they sum up my year better than anything else……after being told last Christmas Eve that the lump we’d had removed from Bernard’s paw was cancer we spent the first weeks of the year on tenter hooks….every morning his paws were checked for anything suspicious and days were spent with him curled up along side while I slowly re-knitted my shawl and fell very in love with the scent of sheepy yarn and the gentle click of my needles……. this is pretty much how the whole year has been but it wasn’t really until September that we got the thumbs up all clear from the vet regarding his health…it goes without saying that everyday this year has been so blessed, regardless of windy bottoms and swipey paws….


Most of Janurary was pretty much devoted to sock knitting (I’d been warned it’s somewhat addictive…..) my dear friend Anne gifted me not only another pair of hand knitted socks but also a ball of yarn, a set of needles and the lessons in which I learnt to knit a pair of socks for myself……yes there were grumbles when it went a bit wrong, but even better was the feeling of wriggling toes in socks I’d knitted myself…..

Most mornings started off cold, a bit damp and dreary outside, but we were treated to a spectacular frost near the end of the month, all silver and twinkles, glittering cobwebs and frozen marsh ponds…..I bundled up warm  in my first ever shawl and headed out over the pastures, it’s so cold my cheeks ached and felt incredibly rosy and pink….along the back of the golf course there’ss a small copse and it’s shaded, protected from the frost…the sun shines through the trees and the dry bracken just glows golden in the morning light…so beautiful and felt glad I’d got up and out to see it.

February was a bit of a frosty old month, we had one really foggy and frosty morning where the walk over the marshes was proper eerie, all mysterious shapes looming up out of the mist….fog totally transformed the meadows there and while normally I’m a bit loathe to step out where I can’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me, when the ground is so frozen underfoot I felt a lot safer.

I made some more sourdoughs, each one seemed to come out a bit different but I found I really prefer the smell of just a sesame loaf to those made with other seed mixes….the beloved says he doesn’t have a preference so I ended up baking to suit my nose rather than his tummy.

I finished my first ever pair of socks and was proud as punch to wear them out and about, (going so far as to wear them with red heels and leggings so they wouldn’t be covered up with boots) and hot on the “heels” of those were the ones I’d began knitting using some Shetland Spindrift I’d found lurking in my stash…so warm and the most gorgeous tweedy colour….all plummy and fruit crumbly.

On particular days it feels like Spring had very much sprung, the hedgerow that lines the lane behind where we live is bursting into bloom right now, wafts of heady blossom scent the air and it makes me just feel so happy.

And it’s not just nice scents that the air is filled with, there’s also that underarm farty sound which small boys like to make….it’s what I think Long Tailed tits sound like, we’ve got a least one little colony living near by and the garden is regualrly filled with them, they swoop around the the garden and are as impressive as anything by the Red Arrows…..I love their dainty colouring, all soft dove grey, milk white and rosy tinges on their fronts with a charcoal tail.

High point of the month was popping into my local library and finding the floor space there given over to the local guilds of Dyers,Spinners and Weavers…I had a go on a drop spindle and spun a wee skein of wool, so exciting, and I even had a go on a spinning wheel….so relaxing and I just loved it.  I went back the following week and bought some amazing handspun dk yarn, one skein of Castlemilk Moorit and one of Shetland….absolutely increbible to touch and the smell….sheepy heaven.

March was a really sad month for me, my oldest and dearest friend passed away….I was lucky enough to have known Joyce since I was about 11 or so, originally she was the mum of my oldest sister’s boyfriend, and soon she become such a warm and freindly addition to our circle of family friends….she’d always appear on her bike with a beaming smile and a jolly wave, bicycle basket laden with a harvest from her garden, a bunch of something bright and cheery for my mum……we really looked on her as a surrogate grandma, we certainly loved her as such. The past couple of years she’d been lost in a hazy confusion of dementia so in a way I’d already said goodbye to the lady I loved, she was one of the nicest people I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  She’s left a real ache in my heart.

The rest of the month was rather knitty based  (as I said at the start this was my year of knitting)… I joined up for a new kal (more of an unkal) over at the Caithness Craft Collective, and nominated a couple of unfinished woolly bits for that, firstly the grannies paperweight crochet blanket with it’s never-ending amount of tails to sew in, and a forgotten about tea cosy that I super-sized knitted by mistake…I began a “unicorn” in soft blue alpaca and silk….and this gave me the kick up the bum to start (and finish) my Nature’s Shades kal, a beautiful Moonraker shawl in soft and sulky greys, with accents of coffee bean and golden cream pips.  I also finished a pair of socks I’d began knitting for the beloved’s birthday, watching him put them on and wriggle round his feet as he admired them….well my heart near burst.  Even now a year later, I still can’t believe I’m knitting socks…thank you awesome Anne for the lessons…

Other highlights included making possibly the best hot-cross buns ever, making a real nose runningly spicy thai style soup (it was nice, just a bit hot), doing a Spring Fair over in Holt organised by my friend Ruth and bird-watching in the garden with Bernard on days when it was all sunshine and birdsong.

After what seemed like a long, damp and dreary start to the year, we started to see signs of life in the garden in early April…a little smudge of blue forget-me-not blossoms by the side of one of our raised beds and spotted lady birds scurrying about as we began a bit of weeding and tidying out of doors.

I finished my Nature’s Shades shawl for the Knit British/Brit Yarn kal on Ravelry…I was so pleased with how the shawl turned out…it’s very drapey and light, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be….the weather held up well and treated us to a couple of really smashing Spring sunshine days so we headed out with the shawl to take pictures and then walked round to Keswick Mill and saw fish for the first time in one of the streams (which we found very exciting) …  I also took some pictures of the beautiful dappled marking on the Keswick Mill brige, soft speckles of pink lichen amongst the grey stone work, walking home we saw an incredible puffy fungi on one of the posts near the golf course, soft rhthymic scallops in gentle shades.. ..everything you need for a shawl design is there in that fungi…colour, and shape…

Pudding of the month has been Creme Brulee/Trinity cream……so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I didn’t bake as much bread as usual as our oven is starting to play up, but each time I open the oven door it’s such a surprise to see what the loaf will look like, no two have ever looked quite the same, subtle changes in colour and shape…but all smelling so good.

I had such a thrill this month, I won a skein of the beautiful and lustrous Tamar…the colourway was Tiddy Brook and it’s a real powdery pollen yellow green…the colour changes in the sunlight, the twists in the yarn capture and hold light and shadow like you wouldn’t believe….the competion was held by lovely Isla at Brityarn. I really was over the moon when I realized I’d won this yarn, along with a gorgeous Ethel the sheep bag which I soon filled with all my Natural un-dyed British yarn….little did I know this would be the start of my Karise shawl addiction and love for Blacker Yarns….

I bought a couple of old books from charity shops, my favourite being this knitting book from the seventies, all the pieces in the book are knitted by children. I couldn’t resist the cover with that dear little knitted horse.


The weather was really splendid for most of the month, the air just seemed filled with sweetness and floral scents each time we stepped out the door…just up the road form us is a big patch of grass where all the dog walkers meet up and if I time my trips just right I get to have doggy cuddles with some of my four legged friends….at one side of the green there is a clump of Stag Horn Sumac growing and at this time of year those first leafy fronds look all the world like phoenix feathers or dragons feet…fancible imaginings but I think you can see where I’m coming from..I can’t walk past these without stroking them, it’s always the simplest pleasures make me happy…..

I also finished my second Moonraker shawl, this was using an alpaca/silk blend with the woolly pips of colour knitted with vintage tapestry wool…at first I was quite pleased with it but after wearing it a few times the different weight of the yarn I used didn’t really feel right…..definitely a case of (k)notting rather than knitting…. oh well, not the end of the world but I did feel a bit disappointed.

I also wrote a rather lengthy piece on what I like to use for my quilting….it really gets my goat that a lot of people seem to think you need to spend lots of money to be able to make a quilt…yes you will need to spend a few pounds but if you spend it in the right places and not on a lot of what I find un-necessary or not needed straight away equiptment then a quilt needed cost an arm and a leg to make….

As the weather is nice lemon possets become a favourite pudding to finish off a meal, and I baked some Moomin Mama buns….

June was rather damp….barely a day seemed to go by without it raining, though the garden seemed to thrive on all the water and almost overnight our raised beds were full of wild flower blossoms and smudges of forget me nots and dandelions lined the steps and path to the compost bin…..

Back in May I started knitting my first ever cardigan and in June I was able to cast it off the needles…. the pattern is Ramona and I love that the techinques for making increases in the Open Sky Shawl are now used to make increases in this…..the yarn is some I’d bought years ago from a charity shop, it’s all wool but reminded me of the pebbly beache sof the Suffolk coastline where I grew up…(however looking down at it now while I typ I’m all too aware of how it’s bobled and pilled so not great yarn but it is nice and cosy to wear….)

I also knit my first ever pair of toe up socks…the pattern is by Rachel Atkinson and was a gift from my friend Julia in Scotland…it’s all nubbled in texture…I used a now discontinued homemade strawberry ice-cream pink from Blacker Yarns and can’t not think of holidays in Italy where gelatto is served in glass dishes……

I also made some elderflower cordial, not so much as last year as it was too wet, but once again I had a little furry asisstant to help me check for insects in the blossoms..and I also made a fruity semi-freddo….

After listening to podcasts by both Caithness Louise and Shiny Bees Jo I ripped out the alpaca/silk shawl… tears, no sighs of bother….this is one of the joys of coming to knitting from a background in sewing…the ease with which a yarn can be re-used… with the help of an upturned chair, a sink of warm water and a rolled up card tube from the kitchen roll to use as a make shift nostepinne the yarn is re-balled and looks good as new…..


Part two tomorrow……


A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns… good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

Unravelled stitches and sea shanties ahoy……

kinky skein of shlasdair

Earlier this year I started listening to The Caithness Craft Collective Podcast and loved it straight off, Louise is warm and friendly and funny, and as well as knitting she also talks about her sewing and quilting which I find really interesting to listen to as it’s not always as easy to talk about fabric as it is yarn, anyway if you’re not already listening to her then pop on over as I think you’re in for a treat….Anyway, back in the Summer Louise held a unkal/kal which was split into 3 divisions… knit something you really wanted to knit, not necessarily the same as everyone elses current knitting project but something that you wanted to do,  second was to rip out something that you were not liking and then you could use the yarn for something else and thirdly…I loved this one….if you had a work in progress (or wip) then to leave it alone til a certain date then to get it finished by the end of September….

Well I had several wips (quilty ones and woolly ones) and entered a couple in that division, though sadly I ran out of time and couldn’t get them finished in time but fingers crossed for finishing at least one of them over the holidays…(grannies paperweight blanket I am looking at you)….and I knitted 2 shawls for what Louise was calling the Super-Corn” division….(her little girl Daisy decided a Unicorn with superpowers would be called a Super-Corn…)…one was in all natural shdes of undyed yarn and the other was in a lovely sky blue alpacca silk with woolly pips of tapestry wool…yeah, I don’t have a huge budget and had the tapestry yarn and wondered if it would work……

three balls blue

Anyway I didn’t feel I had anything to rip out until I listened to a Shiny Bees podcast episode….(it’s knitting based and Jo interviews lots of knitting designers which I really like, and she’s very funny)…on it Jo was talking about the qualities of alpacca yarn and how like woolly yarn it can be made to look brand new when you un-ravel it and wash it and leave it to dry….. and that got me to thinking about a crochet scarf I’d made a few years ago, I didn’t make it wide enough and the yarn I used was only 4 ply and pretty soon it began to curl up along the sides and I just stopped wearing it….anyway I emailed her and she replied explaining the steps I needed to do to make my yarn beautiful again……

So I chopped the very top edge off and began to unravel, it wasn’t easy as the yarn had felted a little, a lot in parts, and oh man, I had sewn my ends in like you wouldn’t believe but finally I had a handful of different sized yarny balls……the yarn was a luxury blend by Shilasdair  which had been hand-dyed on the isle of Skye and was a blend of merino lambswool, angora, baby camel and cashmere….every bit as soft as that sounds…..

And I took Jo’s advice…which I wrote about here….

Something that I love about knitting or crochet is that if it all goes wrong or you’re not happy with then it can be un-ravelled/ or frogged/ ripped right back to become once more a ball of yarn and all ready to star again…..very different to sewing where if you cut that fabric wrong…it’s not always so easy to fix.


So now I had this beautiful freshly skeined yarn…what to knit……it won’t really be hard to guess…..and so before I knew it I was knitting another Ishbel shawl….I hope the above picture captures the soft squoosh of the yarn… really was kitteny and oh…..sort of fudgy …..the stitch definition is….hmmm not really well defined, it’s not stark but more subtle…

I knew I wasn’t going to have enough yarn as I lost a bit due to felting and where it was impossible to unravel because of how I’d sewn my ends in (I like to be thorough is my excuse) and luckily I found Tangled Yarn which is a lovely online shop and they still had some of the original blend by Shilasdair (the blend has since been changed)…..Rachel is really lovely and was very helpful, and was very intereseted when I told her about my adventures in yarn unravelling and re-using and posted about it on facebook….


I love the back and forth, undulating flow of the pattern , very rythmic to look at and stroke, it makes me think of waves and the lilt of a boat rocking, of sea shanties and sailors and life on the ocean blue…..there was a little speckling and mottling as I included in the other skein, remember the original yarn was at least 5 years old and had been washed 2 or 3 times  so I was pretty pleased with how comfortably the new yarn fitted in……

By this time I’d become pretty happy knitting this pattern, I left off my stitch markers (feeling very brave and hoping it wouldn’t all end in tears)……and just kept going, I kept an eye on my yarn and worked several repeats so I would have a really large shawl……


And that is exactly what I’ve got……I’m really super happy and over the moon with this (I know, I say that about all my knitting but….I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with it this year and if I said otherwise than that would be fibbing)……it’s really really soft, very drapey and floaty…..I know this yarn is available as a dk and am thinking a shawl in that would be wonderful, a slightly weighter yarn to fare woosh around your shoulders….

It feels like I’m wearing a waterfall…..

I worked the new yarn in over the lace work every some rows, not really keeping count and so there were a few ends to sew in at the end, it was only when we were photographing the shawl that I saw I’d not trimmed a couple of those tails off quite properly…..


I’m just squooshing the shawl around and demonstrating the ooohhh soft and springyness of those swaddled layers……

You can see the mottled speckles of the different yarns a bit clearer here but it doesn’t bother me and I quite like the watery effect it has…..

agggghhh there’s one of those not quite trimmed off ends poking up under my chin


Here those pointy tips are really defined and pokey but actually after wearing the shawl out yesterday where it was wrapped and bundled around me the points are curling inwards rather now but that doesn’t detract from the overall shawl loveliness factor…….


I couldn’t help it…..this is such lovely soft yarn (sorry for keep saying it but oohhh it is rather wonderful) and it feels really airy, I used a 4 mm needle and found the yarn possibly on the skinny side of a 4 ply although it knits up nice and plump…..while I was knitting this I was also knitting the Ishbel shawl in Cornish Tin II which as we all know is a right plump and puddingy yarn so perhaps that is why this felt a bit skinny…..

I really wanted a big shawl that I could properly swaddle myself up in without feeling like I was on the verge of having a hot flush,one I could wrap around my shoulders and feel like I was …oh, channeling my inner water sprite or something and would happily sit by a murky pool or bog if I could wear this……

So huge huge huge thank yous to lovely Louise for making me appreciate and think out of the box about re-using yarn and inspiring me to create a piece of knitwear I am so thrilled by, and to the awesome Jo of Shiny Bees who explained the best way to skein up and re-wash my kinki curled yarn……I am now off to swaddle  and shawl woosh some more…….

(the yarn is the Summer Loch colourway and if you’re interested, my notes and observations on knitting the shawl can be found on my Ravelry project page)



A calming bake of Christmas spices…..

gingerbread man 003

One of my most favourite smells in the whole wide world is gingerbread….a big pan of bunn and golden syrup melting on the stove, pouring in a fat swirl of treacle and then slowly stirring in freshly grated gingerbread……even when I’m feeling all fraught and anxious, wondering how what’s in my purse will stretch to gifts or how I can make the hands on the clock slow down so I have enough time to check everything off, taking a few minutes out o potter about in the kitchen seems to restore better than you can imagine….

I love making gingerbread men, or little houses and for those I use the recipe I wrote about a couple of years ago….but our main stove is currently not working so I’m making do with a little one and for  that a tray bake will suit much better……

This was originally a recipe from an old Marguerite Pattern book I received when I left Primary school but over the years I’ve tinkered and added to it and have now perfected a really moist and richly spiced Winter cake……

I whole heartedly advise buying a Japanese ginger grater, I bought mine from a local health food shop but you can pick them up quite easily at Asian food stores and they are about a fiver….they grate up the ginger so well, actually they sort of mush it and allow the juice to be extracted so well, the fibrery part I just squeeze out and then pop into the compost…..

I also make up a batch of spice mix at the start of December and then it’s all there ready to use over the holiday season, I like to grind my own spices so they are more intense flavoured but if you use pre-ground you might want to add a little more to what you are making…..

My gingerbread spice mix (good for sticky cake as well as the biscuits)

4 parts Cinnamon……3 parts Ginger……1 part Clove….I part Mace…1 part Star Anise…..

(I also quite often add a handful of dried edible rose petals in the spice grinder and add that scant powder to the spice blend as well…..)


4 oz butter (doesn’t really matter if it is unsalted but it does need to be butter and not a “I can’t believe…” style spread…trust me, you will taste the difference)

40z dark muscovado sugar

4oz golden syryp

40z black treacle or black strap molasses

8 oz plain flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolvedin a tablespoon of warm water

1 1/2 tablespoon of mixed spice mix (or 1 really heaped one…sometimes I just do 2 of these)

2 medium eggs beaten

6 tablespoons milk (full fat or semi skimmed or half cream/half semi skimmed…I’ve tried them all and a little fat does make this taste nicer and lighter…)

an adult thumb size piece of fresh ginger that is freshly grated

A well lined 8 inch square baking tin (I use baking parchment)



preheat the oven to gas mark 3, 325 f, 170 c…..tin wants ot bee placed in the middle so arrange your shelf height before hand……

in a heavy bottomed pan put in the butter and dollop in the golden syryp and treacle (wiping the spoon over with a little vegetable oil will mean the sticky syrups slide off easy peasy)…slowly lelt over a low heat…..while this is melting add the sugar, spice mix and grate in the ginger (squeeze the fibres that cling to the grater….)….stir well and just breathe in that wonderful aroma…….

take the pan off the heat and stir in the tablespoons of milk, beat the two eggs and gently stir those in two and finally add in the dissolved bicarbonate of soda……

measure out the flour, sift into a large bowl and then pour in the spicy scented thick and sticky liquid, beat until nicley mixed through….this is quite runny, but fear not……

por the batter into the lined tin and bake for between 45-60 minutes……until the bake is risen and just firm when you gently press down on the top.

place the tin on a cooling rack and allow to cool for a good 15 minutes before removing and allowing to further cool on the rack…..

once the cake is cold you can either eat it (yum) or cover it in a lemon icing  (yum yum) or wrap it in tin foil and leave for a few days………hard work knowing it is there but the flavours mingle and the cake gets stickier…once it is unwrapped you can also ice it, the lemony icing seems to cut through the sweet perfectly.

Lemon Icing

Sift 200g of icing sugar and slowly add the juice of a lemon, you don’t want the icing over runny, drizzle on top of the gingerbread and allow to dry before cutting……enjoy a fat slice with a nice pot of tea.

If you want to substiture 4oz of flour for 4oz of fine oatmeal to make a more traditional parkin (which will want to be kept foil wrapped for a week before cutting) then go ahead…….

(my gingerbread man was made by my friend Sasha)

I love making this so much, like I say, it allows me to switch off, put verything else to one side and just lose myslef in the smells and memories this conjurs up….those all so familiar Tate and Lyle tins which never change and the nose tingling scent of  ginger and spices slowly simmering away on the stove….