On the Table and In the Garden in January

carrot-soupHow did it get to be February already? Every time I wander into the garden I see more signs of spring, the bulbs are peeking through and the early snowdrops are starting to flower. I know that we might still see snow, but just for today I’m thnking we might be at the tail end of winter.

January on the table was mostly about soups, hearty stews and substantial puddings. We needed “stodge” to see us through the cold, dark afternoons. I stuck pretty close to my January meal plan and it has definitely saved us money (a household bill of £193). Scroll down to the end of this post if you’re interested in what we spent and how we could save more. The highlight was Diana Henry’s book Simple, which has fed us well. Our favourite has to be the Red Lentil and Pumpkin Dal, which also wins the prize for “meal that most looked the picture in the book”. We also swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potato a couple of times, equally delicious.

diana-henry-dal

You can pop over here to Diana’s website for a list of her books and some great recipes. It’s hard to recommend just one of her books, I love them all. She “sits” on the shelf between Nigel Slater and Sophie Grigson. I like to think of it as the  “hope they are as nice in real life as they write and appear on tv” category! Talking of Nigel Slater, his easy  Hot Chocolate Pudding from Appetite has appeared on the table more than once. Served with a dollop of creme fraiche it doesn’t photograph well, but it’s so easy and delicious. The recipe is available online on the Telegraph website, so why not pop over and give it a try. It’s the perfect last minute bake and gluten free, which is a bonus.

hot-choc-pudding

As we move into February, I’m starting to think about plans for the veg plot. Last year we stuck to “old favourites” like peas, onions and potatoes. This year I’d like to be more adventurous again. Of course the fruit bushes and artichokes look after themselves, giving regular crops. This makes me a bit lazy and I must learn not to rely on the perennials. We still have a few leeks in the ground and onions in storage, and I’ve noticed the herb pots in the greenhouse are starting to look more “awake”. The parsley has seen us right through the winter and it looks like the chives and oregano I hid in a corner have fresh growth. I wish we had put more potatoes in pots, it was such a joy to have home grown “new” potatoes at Christmas, but they didn’t last long.  The daffodils and early bulbs are making strong growth, and the woodpecker is still visiting daily. The Goldfinches are still perching on the fennel heads, in the vain hope they might have missed a few seeds, and they sulk if the bird feeder gets too empty. The robins (we still have two regular visitors) are so bold now, they hop at our feet every time we venture out. Sometimes I oblige them by digging over a small patch of earth or pulling back a few dead leaves, which seems to make them very happy. I know it’s wrong to give them human characteristics, but they do seem to puff up and look so pleased with themselves when they root out a small grub from the freshly dug soil.

Indoors, I have been working hard on new designs. I still haven’t got much to share as contracts insist I keep things a secret, but work is steady and that’s a good thing. Don’t forget, if it’s mostly the knitting and crochet you’re looking for, head over here for updates on my latest pattern releases.

So, that was January. Dull, damp and gloomy it may have been. But our house was filled with laughter, good company and great food. That has to be a “win” surely?

Happy making x

 

What we ate and what we spent in January

Mostly, we stuck to the meal plan for January, and our household bills came to £193. I think that’s pretty good, especially as we both work from home, that works out at about £6 a day for all our food, cleaning products, toothpaste and toiletries. Of course we’re lucky that a well stocked freezer and larder mean we always have access to  herbs, spices and every day essentials. And, it certainly helps that we have garden produce. I did think about ways we could cut down this bill if we had to and came up with a few things I’m just not prepared to compromise on. When Mr T was made redundant many years ago, we mostly lived on value ranges –  bread (10p a loaf), beans (3p a tin) and tinned tomatoes (7p) – I feel so lucky that we came through that scary year unscathed and still able to live well. I also believe (perhaps wrongly) that supermarkets are still led by customer demand, so if I keep buying Fairtade or British products they’ll respond by offering more and better choices.

So here’s my “no compromise” list

Local meat, often from the farm gate or butchers I trust – supermarket own brand would be cheaper I know.

Decent coffee, usually Fairtrade – we only drink one cup a day and even buying top of the range is still cheaper than I’ve seen people pay in “Costabucks for a latte!

Organic, local, fresh in season veg – using what we have definitely saves us money – but I won’t give up my Fairtade bananas!

Tinned beans and pulses – yes, dried are cheaper.  After a busy day it’s so much easier to reach for a can of lentils or chick peas, these are my “ready meals”.

Indulgences we could do without

We’re still working our way through the dozen bottles of wine we bought at Christmas – dry January? Not in this house!

 

 

 

 

 

Always and Forever

mr-and-mrsThirty years ago I met this man, fell in love, built a home and made a family. We’re still together, living in harmony, wedded bliss, whatever you want to call it. As soon as I met him I knew he was “the one”. Mr T’s version might be slightly different, a beer fuelled weekend in which I snared him with my cheeky grin and my excellent aim with a snowball. It’s been hard work, how he puts up with me I’ll never know – and me – well I must have the patience of a saint!

University friends persuaded me to tag along on a weekend to Yorkshire, we stayed at the Crown. Mr T turned up (an ex student keen to catch up with friends). Something clicked and we’ve been a couple ever since. It’s a proper old fashioned love story. The photo above was taken a couple of years later when we returned for a trip down “memory lane”. I’ve watched friends fall in love, fall out of love and if I knew the “secret” to a happy marriage I’d bottle it. We fight, we make up, we disagree. I nag, he’s lazy. I can’t bear injustice, he likes to watch Dave. I can’t resist a “house” programme, he hates bullies (and wives who interrupt when the 6 Nations is on).

holding-hands

But some how it’s worked for us. We laugh ( a lot), we love (frequently) and he’s still my best friend. So this post is for Mr T. Thank you for being the most amazing, generous, kind, wickedly funny friend I could wish for.

Here’s to the next 30 years xxx

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A New Website I Love

Once in a while I come across a new blog, when I do I try to let my friends know how great it is. Here’s one I’ve been talking about a lot this week.

Mrs Steel’s School of Stitchcraft and Scissory was set up by Emma Friedlander –  Collins, a crochet designer,  all round lovely person and champion of all things creative. Her designs regularly appear in print and she has written a couple of rather marvellous crochet books (you can visit Emma’s blog to discover more about her). This new website is a celebration of all things crafty, with tutorials, recipes, patterns and all kinds of great ways to share the crafty love.

Emma says:

The school motto is ‘Make More, Take Less’, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do.  Rather than buying ‘throw-away’ things from stores, we’re going to find creative and exciting ways to make and re-make things to create treasured, heirloom pieces.

Now of course, that resonates with me. As many of you know, sustainability and reducing waste is a big part of my philosophy.  With a nod to Hogwarts, you can place yourself in one of  five  “houses”. I’m struggling a bit as I think I’d be at home in any one of them. The houses are listed as:

Yarnistry – crochet, knitting, weaving, macrame and the fibre arts
Stitchery – sewing, embroidery, dressmaking, cross stitch
Stationery  Cupboard – paper cutting, painting, drawing, origami and anything paper based
Greenhouse – flower arranging, photography, growing and gardening
The Pantry – dyer, baker, candlestick maker? Anything with a bit of hardware!

Emma promises that over the coming weeks there will be lots to discover based around these themes. Of course, the best way to discover what Mrs Steel’s school is all about is to pop over and take a look for yourself.  Today’s post is a rather delicious looking chocolate brownie recipe, which I must admit had my mouth watering.

And, if you have a favourite blog or website (or would just like me to take a look at yours). Leave a comment and I’ll drop by.

Happy making x

So, British Hygge Is a Thing Now?

hygge-handsLast year’s obsession with all things Hygge in the UK fascinated me. Everyone it seemed was trying to find a way “do hygge”.  Knitters and crocheters were posting almost daily photos on Instagram of themselves with candles, blankets and knitting. If they could factor in a woodburning stove as well, and a glass of wine it seemed they must be in Hygge heaven. Almost  every yarn enthusiast I follow on social media got a book about “It” for Christmas, and my Danish friends (there is a quite a big middle aged Danish contingent in Cheshire – not sure why), were equally amused and aghast at the phenomenon. One friend showed me a clip of a knitting podcaster struggling to pronounce the word, trying “higgy”  and “higg yee” before settling on “higg”. “Well, she clearly hasn’t read the book she’s reviewing – there is a guide to pronunciation on page 7″ said my grumpy friend Trine.

So, why are the English (and it does seem to be a thing I’ve noticed among English friends rather than Scottish or Welsh), so obsessed with this idea? Have we fought against cold, wet winters for so long that the sudden idea of getting cosy and embracing winter is appealing? I am usually immune to trends and fashion (I still wear boot leg jeans and my phone is 8 years old) and so I have observed the growing interest in all things Scandi from a distance. I watched Borgen, but I’ve never seen the Killing or the Bridge. I’ve been to Copenhagen and loved it, but the idea of deliberately trying to”make” or “do” Hygge had never occurred to me. Then,  I posted a photo on twitter and someone commented “That is so British Hygge”. I think it was meant to be a compliment.  Here’s the offending photo.

woodburner

It seems I am the epitome of British  Hygge without even realising it.  I’m still not sure if it’s a compliment or an observation. But my immediate reaction is one of  denial. This is just what I do, I work from home, I have Reynauds, I need to be warm. The woodburner is our main source of heating, this is just our “normal”.   In an effort to discover more about this new phenomenon, I googled “British Hygge”.  Try it for yourself, you’ll be swept down a rabbit hole of blogs, articles and page upon page of advice for how to bring the H word into your life.

There is even a helpful blog, full of tips and advice on creating a cosy existence the British way.  Eager Brits have stolen the frankly, untranslatable concept of Hygge and created a version for themselves in which the deliberate act of making yourself cosy is celebrated. It seems the antithesis of what my Danish friends have tried to convey. One said “Hygge is a feeling of bliss and contentment you get when everything is just right, it is a state of mind”. The lovely Trine, a 63 year old Dane who has lived here for almost 40 years told me that “Hygge happens”, you can’t buy it or make it. “It’s a state of being” she told me, not a product you can buy or make at will.

So has Hygge been hijacked by the British media to sell us an idea. Is it the “new mindfulness”? Or just a publishing ploy  to make us buy self help books disguised as  how to be Hygge? Or is the fascination with all things Nordic part of a wider desire to find happiness and contentment in the every day? I’m still unsure.  My first encounter with the term came in 2015 when I read Helen Russell’s book “The Year of Living Danishly”. I am drawn to books about ex pats (maybe it’s my innate curiosity about other people’s lives, or maybe I’m just plain nosy), and Helen Russell’s account of trying to fit in to life in Denmark, while her husband worked for Lego is engaging and amusing.  If you really want an insight into Danish life and values, forget the “how to” books and read this instead.

gathering-wood

As for me, I shall live the life I’ve always lived. I shall remain satisfied with what I have and   enjoy the simple things.  I shall spend time with people who make me happy, who value me as I am, not for what I can do for them. Above all, you will still find me hunkering down under a blanket, warmed by the fire in a room lit by candles and soft lighting until Spring. Then I shall leap forth, weed the garden, marvel at the spring bulbs and embrace  the daylight. If that makes me the epitome of British Hygge, then so be it.

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But First, Coffee

eric-barbeau

Photo by Eric Barbeau for Unsplash

I’ve mentioned here before that Mr T and I are keen on a decent cup of coffee, so it might come as a surprise to know we only just discovered Pact Coffee. I’ve seen the ads and plenty of friends had posted discount codes on social media, but I had never been tempted to try it for myself. Recently I shared a great cup of coffee at a friend’s and was surprised when she told me they have been subscribers to Pact for a couple of years. Not long after I saw a link online and went off to do some research. Unlike our favourite brand, Pact isn’t Fairtrade, but they do work directly with coffee farmers and I was impressed with how much information they give about where the coffee is grown, how it’s harvested and processed. The choice of blends was impressive and the flexibility to choose how often our coffee is delivered was definitely appealing (there is even a post now button if you really need a coffee fix in a hurry).  I chose the Planalto blend, ground for my cafetiere. My order arrived just a couple days later. Freshly roasted, securely packed and ready to brew.

It’s a great tasting coffee, the customer service was friendly and my order arrived promptly. I’ve set up a repeat order, but Mr T and I are going to spend some time perusing the different blends, so if you’re already a Pact Coffee fan, do let us know your favourite. If you would like to try Pact Coffee for yourself, you can get a whopping £5 off your first order by using my referral link*.  Or, you can type this code in when you visit the Pact Coffee website (TRACEY-698BF3). And, just so you know, this isn’t a sponsored post, I’m writing this because I really liked the coffee and I’m just a bit sorry Mr T and I are so late to the Pact Coffee party!

*Offer for new customers only, discount is applied to your first purchase of any regular priced coffee

 

Bargain Book Finds

hooked-cover-imaage1Book bargains are great news for readers, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me. And as a writer, I am happy that my books might be picked up by readers who might not want, or be able to pay full price. I have discovered some brilliant designers by shopping in  bargain book shops and my local charity shop and I can never pass the door of a second hand bookshop without peeking inside for “just a minute”. Luckily, Mr T shares by book love, so he’s happy to accompany me.

Lately, I have snagged some absolute bargains while mooching in The Works. These include the wonderful Claire Montgomerie’s book Hooked, which I picked up for the bargain price of £4 and Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant for just a fiver!

Both books are excellent and I love them both. I noticed both are also on offer at other online bookshops (including Amazon and The Book Depository), so if you still have Christmas money to spend, these are both perfect choices – you won’t be disappointed. Even at full price they are both excellent value and will earn their keep on your crafting bookshelf as you dip into them time and again.

So, what makes them such great books?

let’s start with Hooked by Claire Montgomerie. Once Editor of Inside Crochet magazine, Claire has a long list of successful knitting and crochet books. Hooked, published in May 2016 is her latest and perhaps best crochet book (that’s just my opinion). It is filled with beautifull projects aimed at beginners, but even the more experienced hooker will find themselves wanting to make almost everything. The styling and photography are fresh and modern. I love the colour palette Claire has chosen – and can’t help noticing she’s sneaked in several projects with her own favourite colours – the Chevron Clutch, Granny Square Blanket and Tiny Coin Purse are stunning.

As you would expect, the first chapter takes you through the basics, holding your hook, reading a pattern and basic techniques. Subsequent chapters are designed to extend your skills and challenge you to try new techniques. The Striped Pencil Case for example has a useful tip about avoiding “jogs” in your stripes. There is a useful glossary at the back and a well designed index so you can look up projects and techniques easily.

I have recommended this book to lots of crocheters (new and more experienced) and I know a couple found a copy under their tree, so I’m looking forward to seeing their makes. So, congratulations Claire on producing another beautiful and useful book to add to my groaning bookshelf!

Next,  Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant. I just adore this book. Filled with colour work patterns inspired by Fair Isle and Icelandic knitting techniques this isn’t a book for beginners. It’s light on technical advice, although there are a few pages at the beginning which skim over double knitting, grafting and making a pom pom. You’ll also find advice on caring for your knits and how to prevent moth damage. If you haven’t tried stranded colour work before I’d recommend a good technique book or a patient friend to guide you through some simple techniques, and you might find yourself looking up provisional cast on tutorials and working from charts if these aren’t already aprt of your knitting skill set. But, few knitters will be picking this up expecting a “how to”, it’s a snapshot into Hilary Grant’s creative process, her design inspiration and a chance to knit some truly beautiful accessories.

The real beauty of this book lies in  the short text that accompanies each pattern and of course the photography. Each pattern is accompanied by a stunning collection of images which are  almost a love letter to the Scottish landscape. The first project, Beacon Pom Pom Hat is less than half a page, but the 3 pages of photographs which accompany it had me gasping at how such a simple knit can be so beautiful. It is also a perfect project for the less confident knitter to begin with.

This collection adapts some of Hilary’s most popular machine knits and  is filled with graphic patterns, flattering shapes and simple designs that hand knitters can recreate at home. Practical hats, snoods and sweaters suitable for all skill levels will inspire you  and no doubt (like me) you’ll find yourself googling trips to  Orkney to see for yourself the stunning backgrounds showcased in the photographs. The colours chosen for each design are beautiful, although it’s rare for me to knit anything in exactly the same colours as shown in the pattern, this is one book where I would be tempted to make everything just as it is.

In short, I love this book. I have spent hours just gazing at the photographs, planning projects and colour schemes. It’s a book I will buy for friends and certainly not one I shall be lending out. It will sit with me for years, and every now and again I shall knit myself something beautiful from it’s pages.

 

 

A quick lunch on a cold day

hoummous6

Hummus and crunchy veg, summer 2016

It really was a day for soup. A biting wind and a hard frost kept me indoors. Only a fool would have ventured out today! I craved soup, but the cupboards are bare. We only came back from a few days away last night and the only fresh veg we have is a sad looking cauliflower, and a couple of onions. We didn’t even have a can of soup or a stray tupperware tub lurking in the freezer.

Instead I made a big bowl of hummus. Served up with crackers and crunchy cauliflower it was a delicious lunch. I make mine with lots of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It might not be the genuine article but it passes muster in this house. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for this tasty dip. I use canned chick peas for convenience and a big dollop of tahini. It’s easy to make if you have a food processor. You might like to try this recipe from Jamie Oliver as a starting point. If you have ten minutes to spare, Felicity Cloake wrote a piece for the Guardian about making the “perfect hummus”, which is a great read if you want to experiment.

Tonight we’re eating from the freezer, left over sausage rolls and Christmas Day veg fried up bubble and squeak style. Tomorrow the monthly “big” Ocado shop arrives and I’ll make a trip to the green grocers and the butcher to stock up – but I shall definitely be wearing “all the hand knits” if it’s as cold as it’s been today!

 

What We Ate in 2016

chocolate covered candied peel

Candies orange peel – we used the juice to make a citrus cheesecake.

Looking back over last years food diary, it would appear the Todhunters ate very well. Inspired by Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Dairies, last year I resolved to keep a journal of what we grew, cooked and ate. I am starting to regret not blogging about it here – especially when I checked the stats yesterday and realised just how many of you still visit this website every day (far more than my “official website”). So, in case any of you are interested, or simply looking for a bit of frugal food inspiration for the year ahead here are a few highlights.

Delicious lemon buns from Bake me a Cake as Fast as You Can

Delicious lemon buns from Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can

All our meals  are inspired by the cookery books on my kitchen shelves and local library.  The most thumbed is a school exercise book which contains hand written recipes dating back to my student days – when we ate frugal food because we had to, not because it tasted so good!! These days, we just eat the food we like. It happens that we grow a lot of our herbs and veg, so we eat seasonally.

A glut of radishes meant we discovered lots of great recipes

A glut of radishes meant we discovered lots of great recipes

We grew lots of old favourites and ate well on the produce from our home veg plot.

New potatoes, grown in the green house and dug up for Christmas lunch

New potatoes, grown in the green house and dug up for Christmas lunch

The highlight of 2016 had to be Rachel Allen’s Nectarine Frangipane, which I made for New Year. It’s been on my list of recipes to try for most of the year, but the right occasion never presented itself. You can find the recipe in Rachel’s book Every Day Kitchen. We eat from this book at least once a month, the fish curry  is a firm favourite. Sadly, we demolished this too quickly for me to pause and take a photo – and young Miss T and her boyfriend took the left overs home with them! You can find a link to the Frangipane recipe on my Baking and Making Pinterest board. You cn also find a selection of recipes on Rachel’s website.

So, happy 2017 and welcome back to the Baking and Making blog. I just want to thank all of you who have dropped by over the past few months expecting something new and been disappointed.  I shall be adding a page with my favourite  store cupboard ingredients shortly and a page listing my January meal plan. As the year progresses I’ll add links to the recipes as we make them. If you have any recommendations for frugal, tasty family food I would love to see them, so leave me a link to your blog or Instagram.

Happy making x

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New Post: Time to celebrate

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon for Tailormade Publishing

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon for Tailormade Publishing

Hi there, over on Granny Cool, you can read all about my latest designs for Inside Crochet magazine. Click here for the full story and while you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to my new blog for all the latest news and updates.

Tracey x

Momma’s Got a Brand New Website

shutterstock_138222647OK, so for a long while I fell out of love with Baking and Making, it didn’t really seem to fit what I do any more and it has become little more than a place to list where I’ve been published each month (not much fun to read eh!) . I’ve written before about this and for a long time I’ve been trying to find a solution. I love that so many of you stop by each day to read and feel bad that it’s become a bore!

I’ve toyed with other blogs, trying to find a “creative outlet”, but that didn’t seem to work either and to be honest, most of my day to day thoughts I post on my facebook page or instagram, so a “real blog” didn’t seem to be so appropriate to my business any more.

I’ve also begun to sell more “ready to own” crochet items in craft shops and galleries and wanted a “label”, something to make them stand out and identify my “brand”. That’s how Granny Cool was born, and slowly (very slowly), I’ve been building my website, organising stockists and trying to juggle all this with my magazine work, writing a book and living a life! Selling under my own label is really exciting, it’s how I started (making small kits to sell to classmates at school, selling baby hats at NCT sales and in recent years designing patterns for Craftseller, for others to sell). I love the freedom of making, of not having to stop to think about writing down the pattern. I have no intention of giving up my design work (look out for some really lovely designs coming soon), this is just a slight change in direction.

Over the next few months I’ll be moving the free crochet patterns and other bits and pieces over to Granny Cool, but this site will remain. It won’t be deleted or disappear, but you’ll see less and less crochet patterns and more varied new posts.So, if you really want to stay in touch it would be fabulous if you could hop over to facebook and like my page, or even better take a moment to add Granny Cool to your “favourites”.

Over at Granny Cool, I’ll be  letting you know about sample sales and new pattern releases and on Facebook, I’ll be posting links to my favourite blogs, great designers and general chat, so it would be lovely to see you there (post a link to your facebook pages on there too, so I can say hello!).

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

 

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  • My favourite make - this woman - my daughter. Wearing handmade of course! Celebrate spring with a floral pin cushion! There's a link in my profile with all the details, free pattern & more ideas for Mothers Day gifts 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #crochetconcupiscence #crochetaddict #crochetgifts #freepattern #bakingandmaking Finally some crochet! Five years ago I designed these little bags for the  wool shop where I worked I  still make them for wrapping presents - so much nicer (& more sustainable) than paper or plastic.  Link in my profile for details & free pattern. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang  #crochetgeek #crochetaddict #bakingandmaking #mothersday #giftwrapping #reducereuserecycle #zerowaste Sunshine on a rainy day. I've hung this on my kitchen wall, rather pleased with this simple print of 3 plants from my garden (the middle one is from the tiny christmas tree we were given in December at Delamere Forest) 
#cyanotype #sunprint #surfacepattern #inmygarden #bakingandmaking #delamereforest Garden plants & British wool = a beautiful washing line! Hurrah for fresh young nettles, alder cones & winter onion skins!
#britishwool, #plantdyes #handmade #handdyed #nature #plantdyedwool #foraging ##inspiredbynature  #naturaldye #slowstitch #knitting #crochet #inmygarden #bakingandmaking Day 17 of #marchmeetthemaker is feedback. This was posted today so seems appropriate.  I love seeing people use my books & sharing their makes. Thankyou everyone who takes the time to share & give fedback.
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#crochetdesigner #crochet #amigurumi #booklover #bookreview Eco print "before" shot. Now bundled and simmering. So much colour in the garden this week, had to capture a memory. #springday
#ecoprint #ecodye #naturaldye #plantdye #inspiredbynature #mygardenrightnow #nettles #bakingandmaking #bundledyeing #theartofslowliving #surfacepattern Scrappy cyanotype. Still experimenting, still learning, still loving this process. Even tiny scraps of fabric aren't being wasted - perfect for testing out ideas...
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