Monday, 25 November 2013

Advent Crafting

Here's a very VERY badly kept secret: I love advent. I LOVE ADVENT. In a big way. It's officially the most wonderful time of year. It always puzzles me that of all the phases of the Christian calendar, the hard language of Lent has retained its place in the secular year, and yet the word advent only seems to appear in the context of advent calendars. The word itself is loaded with excitement and suspense! I do however love that lots of different religions and cultures have festivals at this time of year, so I approve of the idea of a "holiday season" for all. And the word "winterval." How delicious! If you're not a Christian, did you know that advent is the start of the Christian calendar, so that the first Sunday of advent is also new year? Did you know that advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day, and not the first of December, so some years advent is longer than others, and you might be missing out on a few extra days of excitement? Probably not, and it probably doesn't matter to most people, but I am an advent lover married to a Grinch, and in this house we are not allowed to start decorating/playing Christmas music/watch Christmas films until advent is officially in session.

This weekend we all had the winter vomiting bug, and since Husband was already feeling poorly he is laid pretty low. He has mostly stayed in bed since Wednesday. Today I was feeling pretty rotten, but I had got quite a lot of jobs done, and Husband was asleep, so Sausages and I broke the rules and made snow globes!

Well, the photos are truly awful (I'm working on the camera problem), but here's what we did: first we superglued small Christmas figurines to the inside of the lids of clean jam jars; then Sausages poured some coarse glitter into the jars themselves; we topped the jars up with water and a little glycerin to make the water viscous; then we screwed on the lids tightly and gave them a good shake! I'm hoping to put a little superglue in the threads of the jars in order to prevent small people from unscrewing them, but Sausages is so pleased with them that I don't think he will. He keeps shaking them to see it snow, and then waiting to see who is hiding inside! Even Husband has to smile at that! Most of the equipment for this craft were already in the house, although I did buy some little Christmas cake toppers to go inside. They cost 20p each, and obviously you could use anything. I quite like the idea of a plastic dinosaur one! The most successful jar we used was actually one of those squat salsa jars. Hurrah for having a stash of such things under the sink!

Due to our nasty bug there has been no baking, but I had to cancel a yarn-dyeing play date last week, and had already prepped three 50g skeins of squishy merino, so when I had the chance I tried out dyeing them with Kool-Aid. I don't think I did very well, but it was a first attempt! The purple is made from a red and a blue mixed, and is beautifully variegated across the skein. The green and yellow was an attempt at dipping each end of the skein separately, but I didn't make up enough dye I think, and there are undyed patches that I have overdyed with a yellow-green made up from regular food colouring. The blue was supposed to be a sort of lavendar (I swear it was before it went on the yarn!), and is very patchy. At least the colour seems to have set really nicely. I'm not sure what they want to be yet, so all suggestions welcome. I notice there's quite a lot of green/yellow two tone appearing in my home dyed yarns; I obviously have some sort of draw to these colours, although independently I wouldn't call them my favourites. Maybe it's because I love daffodils so much?

Do you have many crafts lined up for advent, or the preparations for another festival? I'd love to hear about them. I'll be posting more advent crafts soon, and also giving you a glimpse of our collection of advent books in this week's yarn along on Wednesday. I hope you can join me then, and in the mean time, happy (secret! Shhh!) crafting!


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Yarn Along

Joining in with Ginny...this week I am mostly reading in preparation for the new baby. Sausages and I (and Husband!) had quite a breastfeeding journey after his premature birth, and although I looked at biological nurturing online at the time it has been wonderful to sit down and read the book in a concentrated yet leisurely fashion. I really enjoyed it! Although it is basically a write up of Suzanne Colson's research, and the style of the book reflects this, it is a wonderful resource for any breastfeeding family. So much of it resonates strongly with me in terms of what I went through with Sausages, and I feel forearmed for 'Madge's arrival. I actually got to borrow this book from the fabulous collection available at our local children's centre. Sadly the children's centre has lost most of it's breastfeeding support, but their library is looking increasingly open to gentle and attachment parenting. I suspect that their rather lovely administrator has been ordering books she might read herself. I might pop in and hide the Gina Ford!

The arrival of my order of Daiper Free ironically coincided with a massive influx of nappies into my life! Sausages was cloth nappied alongside a bit of elimination communication from birth to eighteen months old, when we just abandoned nappies. About a year later he decided to stop wearing one at night. There was no potty-training for us, just a natural realisation that nappies were no longer necessary, and a move towards greater self-reliance for his toileting. In the last year I lost my cloth nappy stash in a house move, replaced it for 'Madge, and managed to recover the original stash from our former land lords. The result of this chain of events is that we now have the most enormous stash of delicious soft white cloth nappies. I can sit and admire them...when I'm not reading about how I don't need them! Again, this is an exercise for me in being a bit more informed about something we followed naturally and without research the first time around. Again, a lot of it resonates with what we did without thinking about it.

On the knitting front I whipped up a pair of mittens for Sausages. He chose the yarn from the stash. He got out the ball winder and made two lovely centre-pull balls so I could knit them two at a time. I knitted them up, with a pattern I have used before, during his swimming lesson. He won't wear them because they are not green. 'Nuff said about that, really.

This is the start of my Christmas knitting! Not very festive! It will be a shawl, and the yarn is soooo soft that I have quite high hopes! I find it necessary to have a small project like a shawl or mittens on the go alongside the big projects, and this jumper for Husband is probably my most epic project to date! A full, man-sized sweater! The scale is a bit daunting, and has given me chronic cast-on-itis, which I am trying to resist. And no, for anyone who saw me mention it in a former post, I haven't designed the front yet. Or finished the back. Will it get finished for the 13th of December? Not massively likely at this point! I shall persevere!

What are you crafting and reading this week? Or has nobody made it this far, put off by my crunchy parenting reading? It's all very lovely, I promise! I hope you all have a good week, and are much further into your Christmas crafting than me!


Monday, 18 November 2013

A Foodie Post

It's been quiet here on the blogging front. Sausages is needing me a lot at the moment, I'm getting tired and slow moving, and I had to give the fabulous camera back to Bapar. Blogging seems pretty dull without photos! This week I have set myself up with the camera I had when I was a student. It's the same as Sausages', but he has 6mp and I have only 4! His life is more exciting than mine anyway! So I apologise if my photos are a little sad at the moment.

There has been some really hearty seasonal cooking recently, so I thought I'd share some of it with you!

This is Chicken Stew/Soup (this one lies on the cusp. If you mashed it it would definitely be soup, and if you chunked the components it would definitely be a stew, and would love to go with dumplings) in the style of my Gran. Again, it's a what-I-have-in-meets-slow cooker recipe, but well worth passing on. If you've met me, or read the blog recipes before, you'll know measurements and precise ingredients are not in my nature! This potful contains: three chicken thighs; a little marigold reduced salt bouillon powder; two sticks of celery and five carrots, chopped up fine in the food processor; about a cup of ubiquitous broth mix (barley, split peas, lentils etc. available very cheaply in any supermarket or wholefoods shop); and a good measure of boiling water from the kettle. Bear in mind that the broth mix will drink a lot of water. I cooked the chicken in the slow cooker first, then took out the bones and skin but left in the juices before adding all the other ingredients and cooking for half a day. Pulses don't really seem to soften well in the slow cooker, so I try to give them as long as possible. It made six hearty portions, wolfed down on a chilly lunchtime with hot crusty bread rolls and lashings of white pepper. The white pepper is important! It makes the dish!

The second slow cooker lovely I want to share with you is a sort of instant sauerkraut-inspired sausage and cabbage affair. This is a real autumnal meal. Into the pot went: a pack of six bratwurst sausages from Aldi, roughly quartered; half a white cabbage, sliced into around 1.5cm strips with a bread knife; one red onion; ground mixed peppercorns; a tablespoon of cider vinegar; and about a cup of cider (plenty left in the bottle to drink alongside!). We served it with mashed potato to soak up the delicious gravy, but we were not equal to the quantities, and so I would say this serves 5-6. There was plenty left over for another meal. Sausages especially loved this, and when I wasn't looking leaned over and liberated some of my sausage. He is the proverbial "good eater!"

I've also been making some fancy drinks this week. Sausages and I tried out a fabulous outdoor playgroup last week, and at snacktime they produced hot potatoes and a flask of mulled apple juice. Sausages loved the apple juice, so I made a big pan of it at home, and the three of us dealt with it pretty swiftly. I just chucked a carton of cheapy UHT apple juice in a pan with a sachet of mulling spice, long past it's B.B.E. and found lurking at the back of the larder. It reduced down a little, but the spices stopped it from being too sweet int he way apple juice can be come times.

I also had a go at making pumpkin spiced syrup, courtesy of the lovely home baked blog. I recently roasted and processed a delicious little pumpkin. Most of it went into an amazingly delicious risotto, but three spoons of puree were reserved for this little treat. I wasn't ready for the pumpkin spiced lattes to disappear from the cafes!

I ended up with one tall jar full of delicious, dark syrup, but I think I reduced it too far, so you should end up with more. Also it would have been cleverer to use several little jars instead, so that only the sterile seal on what you are using would be broken. I'm not too bothered though: I don't think it's going to last very long!

As I have emerged from the fug of pregnancy sickness I have been greeted by not only the change is season, and the culinary excitement it inspires, but also the push towards preparing for Christmas. Christmas this year is a "known unknown" for us: will we have a new bungalow resident? Will I be waddling around with a full-term-sized belly? It's a mystery for now, and Husband and I are focusing on every week as it comes, taking things very steady, and doing everything in our power (not much) to avoid having another early baby. This weekend in my fortune cookie I received the fortune "a happy event will take place shortly in your home." I'm taking this as a positive homebirth sign. I'm not superstitious, but even I can't ignore that one! However, it has occurred to me that it might well be Husband who actually cooks our first Christmas dinner in our own home. I have been doing as much preparation as possible, and the 4-bird roast, pigs in blankets, and baked red cabbage are all nestling in the freezer. Husband does the best roasties and veg anyway, it only remains for me to persuade him to cook sprouts the way I like them!

How is your festive prep coming along? I hope you are enjoying your slow cooking!