Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baking and drawing to keep the cold at bay

There is no doubt that winter is coming. Although today isn't too cold, the last few days have featured a bitter wind which was quite a shock when I ventured out on Monday morning. I was actually a little annoyed, as I always like an excuse to wear a coat, but not realising how much the temperature had dropped, I was forced to shiver in my definitely-at-its-best-in-warmer-weather trench coat. Still, I won't be caught out again: soon I'll be living in coats 24/7, which is a rather exciting prospect. Despite seeming to feel the cold more than the average person, I think I am at heart a winter baby. Give me an open fire, something hot in the oven and a project to keep my hands occupied, and I'm happy.

Sadly the open fire will have to wait a few years: our flat boasts two fireplaces, but neither of them is functioning and our landlord has expressly told us not to attempt to light a fire in either of them.

As to hot things in ovens, my latest attempt to get better at baking was this banana and chocolate loaf.

It's a Nigel Slater recipe (available here - I followed it pretty much to the letter, except I omitted the hazelnuts as I didn't have any) and not only did it take care of the past their best bananas in the fruit bowl, it was always pretty good, and just what I wanted at the time. I like cakes with fruit in as it keeps them moist and they seem to last a bit longer than a usual sponge. The chocolate was a good addition too, I used half a bar of dark chocolate and cut it up into little chunks. Best of all though, I made two and the other one is sitting in the freezer ready for another day when I fancy a slice of cake with my tea (not sure how well cake freezes, but I'm sure it'll be fine, right?)

And for a project, I've done a few more drawings recently, trying to add to my creatures wall which is growing on the chimney breast opposite my bed. I don't know what it is exactly, but I find these simple black biro drawings so satisfying both to draw and to look at. Here's the latest addition:

Song of the day: 'Loose Ends' - Imogen Heap

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where has the summer gone?

Soaking ranunculus tubers before planting. They are just starting to sprout and if they make it through the winter I'll have beautiful dark purple-puce blooms.

So there's a chicken tikka puttering away on the stove and I'm drinking redbush tea, sewing, re-watching Downton Abbey and awaiting responses from my latest batch of job applications. It's a funny thing, I officially finished uni at the end of June so I have been unemployed for the best part of three months, but the time has flown by! My summer has been filled with flathunting, moving to a new city, getting settled in our new place and a few other projects I've busied myself with, but mostly it's been a time of lie-ins, bad TV, eBaying and endless trips to Wilkinsons for paint and screws and seeds. I know that real life is going to have to begin again soon in earnest (preferably before our money runs out) but I'm kind of strangely content for a bit longer. Plus I have big plans for some cushion covers, a wallhanging, birthday presents (October is a busy month for birthdays) and, eventually, a little Etsy business.

Feeling nostalgic and making pimped up cornflake cakes - the cashews and chewy raspberry sweets were tasty and suitably childish additions!

Song of the day: 'The Conference' - Nitin Sawhney

Friday, September 6, 2013

An evening of poetry

Just wanted to share this photo first - I took it at Glastonbury Festival this year. The tightrope was stretched across one of the smaller fields, so he was walking, pretty casually, over a field of people, barely even stopping or adjusting his balance.

Last night, I went to a poetry reading by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and another poet that I had heard of but not read anything by, Ann Gray. It was at the Phoenix in Exeter which is a really good venue and seems to have something going on almost every night (it also hosts the Make, Do and Mend group that I went to earlier this week).

I wasn't very keen on Ann Gray's poetry, and she had a particular way of reading that made every poem sound the same, but I did like a lot of the themes she wrote about. But a lot of her imagery wasn't pushed far enough for me, I felt it was often a little too easy.

Duffy's poetry, on the other, was really good, and despite not exactly having the most musical voice, she read really well (not surprising, as she is constantly touring the country giving readings). What struck me most I think was the way she works rhyme into her poems without it being too obvious, but it (especially when read aloud) really works because it provides the ear with something to hang onto and you find yourself waiting for the next similar sound which drives each poem on perfectly. She mostly read from her 1999 collection 'The World's Wife', where she retells famous stories from the point of view of the hero's wife - she read ones about Mrs. Faustus, Mrs. Midas, Mrs. Darwin, Anne Hathaway and Mrs Tiresias. I particularly liked 'Mrs. Darwin', and it's short so I'll share it here (from here):

Mrs. Darwin

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him -
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

And although she didn't read this one, it's one that I really like, so I thought I'd share it too (from here):

Warming Her Pearls
for Judith Radstone

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I'll think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.

I think one of the reasons I like the second one is because it reminds me of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. In it, a maid and her mistress have a similar relationship to those in the poem (they go even further in fact, and actually have a lesbian affair). I just think the string of pearls is a lovely fleshy metaphor and of course pearls are valuable and a maid caught wearing a string of them would probably be sacked for stealing. Oh, also, for anyone that likes novels with unexpected twists, I definitely recommend Fingersmith - there is a HUGE surprise about halfway through.

Here are a couple of stills from the TV series that was made of Fingersmith a few years ago. Also worth a watch - Sally Hawkins is a great actress and it's pretty faithful to the book.

Images from

Bit of a rambly post, this one. Oh well, we can't all be concise all of the time. Happy Friday everyone!

Song of the day: 'Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl' - Broken Social Scene

Monday, September 2, 2013

One chicken, four meals

Last week, in an effort to save a bit of money on our weekly shop, we bought a whole chicken, as it was cheaper than buying four breasts. We also got a lot more meals out of it than we would just buying the breasts and I always think the meat has more flavour when roasted. Sure, chicken gets a little boring meal after meal, but we are on a tight budget at the moment and actually we did pretty well in getting a good variety of dinners out of it.

Here's the roasted bird. I just kept it simple with some butter, a little oil, lots of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of oregano (we're obsessed with oregano at the moment).

On the first night I made fajitas. I have to admit straight away that I never really make fajitas authentically, and usually they include anything I need to use up in the fridge. This time I fried onion and garlic, added the chicken, some paprika, cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, then when the spices were cooked, some kidney beans and passata were added to make the bulk of the filling. Then I squeezed some lime and grated the lime zest into a small pot of natural yoghurt as we had no sour cream and topped with diced cucumber and tomato for crunch and lots of fresh coriander. Oh, and cheese, of course, lots of cheese. To go with the wraps themselves, I roasted a sweetcorn for each of us.

The second day, I made a curry. I will admit that we bought a jar of curry sauce, and it really wasn't great, plus it was the odd brown colour you can see above. But it certainly wasn't terrible, and with lots of vegetables, some chopped coriander and a naan bread on the side, I couldn't exactly complain. I just won't buy that jar again.

Day three was stir fry. We buy a pack of stir-fry veg most weeks, as it saves a lot on chopping, which I quite enjoy most of the time, but it's handy to have something in the fridge that's healthy and doesn't take too long, for those nights when we don't feel so much like cooking. Shane actually cooked this meal for me. To the pack of veg he added some shredded chicken, fresh garlic, chilli and coriander and a few cashew nuts and served it with sweet-and-sour sauce and thin egg noodles.

Finally, and this was really using up the last few scraps of chicken, I made a hearty bowl of pasta in a creamy sauce. I sliced up some mushrooms, onions and runner beans that my dad gave me (odd present, granted) and made the sauce with some leftover cream, a few sage leaves from the garden and a lot of Parmesan cheese. I like conchiglie-style pasta with creamy sauces, as the sauce snuggles inside each pasta shell and coats them evenly. Yum!

Song of the day: 'Keep the Car Running' - Arcade Fire