Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Another week, another item on my 50 list. This week 'The Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie' - I know, such high aspirations! Given that we keep hens in our garden and always have a surplus of eggs, I usually feel a pang of guilt if I venture down the supermarket biscuit aisle. To be fair, with a bit of deep breathing, I can usually manage to overcome said guilt but, occasionally, I show inner strength and vow to MAKE MY OWN. During the holidays, L&E enjoy baking and can rattle off some jolly good cakes, but one thing which has so far eluded us is a decent cookie which retains its shape and looks like those in the recipe books. Perhaps it's the fault of my cooker? - a range type affair with gas hob and electric oven which, although looking good, isn't really a patch on the old 1950s gas oven which we inherited on moving to our last house. It moved with us to our current abode but was brutally replaced for something more aesthetically pleasing when we updated the kitchen. Shallow person that I am, my cakes have never been as good since. 

Whatever the reason, my cookies fail to retain their proper shape and usually spread to form one mega uni-cookie, occupying the entire baking tray. They taste OK but lack the full cookie experience. Having recently watched an old episode of 'Nigella Express', I was inspired by her recipe for 'Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies'. Dusting off my copy of the accompanying book, I ventured supermarketwards (is that a word?) for the necessaries. Maybe it's the ingredients, maybe it's the fact that she uses an ice-cream scoop to deposit the cookie dough on the baking sheet. Whatever it is, it actually worked and the little beauties came out of the oven looking like - well, cookies! The recipe actually made slightly more than the stated 12, so I followed Ms. Lawson's advice and froze the remaining mixture in little cookie shaped mounds for future moments of crisis necessitating chocolatey comfort. Below are the photos of 'the quest':

PS. I forgot to mention - they taste jolly good too!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Hello again. Given that there are 52 weeks in a year, it makes sense that I should aim for roughly 1 item per week on my 50 list. This week's New Thing was to learn to crochet, although I have to confess that I actually started this over the Christmas holidays. I was taught to knit at an Irish wake when I was about 7 years old and have knitted the odd item (very odd on occasion) over the years, but this was to be my first attempt at crochet. A very nice American lady called Yolanda thoughtfully provided a You Tube video to help crochet virgins and it did take me rather a while to get the hang of it. I also found that, having watched the video multiple times, I was counting stitches in my head in an American accent. I bought 4 rather muted colours of wool and crocheted 32 granny squares in various combinations until I had a cushion's worth. The result is shown below. I have rather mixed feelings about it: I'm quite pleased with it because it was my first attempt and I actually persevered and finished it but, if I'm honest, I'm not too keen on the colours. 

I then discovered a brilliant website called Attic24 whose author, Lucy, makes beautiful, colourful crocheted blankets. Inspired, I promptly beetled off to my local yarn shop and had a lovely time choosing a slightly more adventurous combination of yarns. Following Lucy's pattern for Granny squares (she produces a tighter square by leaving out the chain stitches at the sides) I started on my first blanket. I also followed her tutorial for 'joining as you go' which stops the tedious business of stitching large quantities of squares together at the end and, I have to confess, I'm completely hooked (if you'll pardon the pun). It's so relaxing and, now that I don't have to concentrate so hard, I can sit and watch a film in the evening whilst happily hooking away. The photo below shows the work in progress. As you can see, it's slightly more colourful than the above cushion cover. I'll show you the finished blanket when it's ready, although it may take me a while!

I also thought I'd quickly show you a few photos from my trip to the V&A on Monday. I met up with an old school friend and we had a lovely catch up in between school runs. If you're ever in London, I can definitely recommend it. Free entrance, fantastic exhibitions and a cafe with coffee and cakes to die for. They also go in for quirky lighting and I loved the juxtaposition of the beautiful, old building and funky, modern lights. The ones in the cafe are like huge Christmas baubles.

Friday, 17 January 2014


Given that New Thing # 2 has been put on the back burner awaiting my GP's consent, I thought I'd move swiftly on to the next item on my list - making marmalade. To be honest, I'm not normally a great fan. I usually prefer something a little more savoury if I'm having toast in the morning - marmite or Tartex (a yeast based veggie pate) - but R is a big fan and can happily get through a pot every couple of weeks all on his own. I do make jams and chutneys on occasion, usually when there is a glut of some fruit or other in the garden, but marmalade is a first for me. 

I bought a bag of Seville oranges from the supermarket, a lemon and a couple of bags of sugar. It's probably best not to dwell on just how much sugar the recipe states (1.8 kg for just under 1 kg of oranges!). Rather than hunting for a recipe in my cookbooks or on the Internet, I lazily followed the one provided on the bag of oranges. Basically, you juice the fruit (easier said than done; I felt I'd had quite a work out by the end), reserving all pips and pith which go into a muslin bag, and put into a preserving pan, if you have one, with 2 litres of water. A large saucepan will suffice if, like me, you don't have a special pan. The whole lot is brought to the boil and then simmered uncovered for 2 hours. You can go off and do other things whilst enjoying the lovely, fresh smell of oranges pervading the house. After 2 hours, remove the muslin bag and allow it to cool. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve, and then squeeze the muslin bag (that's why it's best to let it cool!) into the pan until all the sticky goo (for want of a better word) is added. Boil for 15-20 mins, until a setting point is reached and then pot into sterilized jars.

It actually made far more than I thought it would, resulting in a last minute scramble for extra jars. I ended up putting quite a large amount into an old storage jar. Having tasted it, I'm rather pleased. It seems fresher and less sweet than I'm used to (goodness knows how much sugar goes into the shop bought stuff.) and I certainly won't have to buy any more for a while. I'm not sure how economical it is when you take into consideration the cost of the gas as well as the ingredients, but I'm just happy to have completed an item on my list successfully!

The above photo was just me trying to capture the lovely colour but it was quite a grey, dismal day and I don't think I did it justice. I am, however, thrilled skinny that I managed to upload the photos ALL ON MY OWN with no help whatsoever! 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Blood Donation

Good morning! Thought I'd just update you on my attempt (note the word attempt) to donate blood. Never having done it before, I just turned up at the donation centre on the day and thought I might have to queue for a while. Foolish me; the place was packed and, it turned out that appointments are NECESSARY. Fitting in collecting E from school and a little ferrying to and fro for a piano lesson, I made an appointment for 6:30. I dutifully returned at the appointed time (having had a quick sandwich and cup of tea - for those of you who have never donated, you are not advised to do it on an empty stomach), filled in the forms and, as they were running 40 minutes late, was told to take a seat. 

It was quite an eye opener, sitting waiting. Again, the place was packed full of people from every walk of life - young, old, male, female, all turning up after a tiring day just to do something to help complete strangers. There was even a pair of pierced, tattooed youths who, to be honest, I would have given a wide berth to on a dark night (I sound really old don't I?!). It was a humbling experience and I felt immensely proud of them all. 

When I filled in the forms, it did occur to me that my heart murmur might be a bit of an issue. As far as I'm aware, it's completely innocent. It was picked up during a routine medical when I was a student and, apart from keeping an eye on it when I was pregnant, it has never caused me any problems. What it does do however, is stop me from donating blood! Maybe not forever though - I filled in a consent form to allow them to contact my GP and, if she says it's OK,  they will call me back at a later date. So, it was all a bit of an anticlimax really. I returned home rather sheepishly and ate a baked potato the size of my foot as consolation. I refuse to cross it off my 50 list, however, and GP permitting , I will try again soon.

Monday, 13 January 2014


The Fifty List

Hello.  I'm a married mother of 2, living in a smallish house by the River Lambourn in West Berkshire. I've never blogged before and, to be honest,  it does seem rather a strange thing to be doing. I'm not sure exactly who I think I'm talking to - probably just myself and possibly Daughter # 1 (L), who's currently back at uni after the Christmas holiday but is aware of my tentative journey into Blogland. (Hi Sweetie! - Skype doesn't seem to be working at the moment; I'll try talking to you tomorrow xx).  She was the one who helped her technologically-challenged parent to set up the blog and even uploaded the photo of the coot, taken by Daughter # 2 (E) on a Boxing Day walk by our river.           

I recently turned 49 and, as this will be my 50th year, I decided to try 50 New Things in order to celebrate. You are actually looking at New Thing # 1 - To start a blog! Hopefully, this blog will become more of an online diary and not just my 50 list. It may include veggie recipes tried, places visited, craft projects attempted/completed etc. It's also an excuse to use my new camera more - assuming, of course, that I can actually manage to upload the photos (I did say that I was technologically-challenged, so please bear with me!). Anyway, that's enough for day one I think. I'm just off to do New Thing # 2 - Donate blood. I'll let you know how it went soon.