Saturday, 24 December 2011

in the deep mid-winter.

it's christmas eve. our first. and yet it is ancient. we celebrate a coming king. a baby born to save the world. emmanuel, god with us. tonight is candlelight hymns and communion at midnight. tomorrow we rejoice for all that god has promised us in this baby.

a traditional canadian christmas eve dinner, tourtiere, so good.  here's the recipe.

a simple salad to accompany. rocket (arugala), with pomegranate seeds, and a pomegranate, clementine and olive oil dressing.

what can i give him, poor as i am? if i were a shepherd, i would bring a lamb. if i were a wise man, i would do my part. yet what i can i give him, give my heart.

in the bleak midwinter. high street hymns.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


what to do in a kitchen with no space? we have about 5 cupboards in our teensy kitchen. and both food and dishes for cooking and eating, to store. so how to fix this?

we've put up a couple corner shelves, painted white to match the walls, and we're using glass jars.

to keep from mixing up the sugar and salt, icing sugar and flour and the different types of flour i use, i printed cute labels found on pinterest onto sticker paper (seriously, the most useful stationery item i own!). this was an inexpensive project, gets us away from using plastic to store food in and prettied up the kitchen! all with the added bonus of random food no longer falling on our heads when we open the cupboard doors!

i love the look, the old-time feel and the ease of it all. the kitchen is 100% more functional! which makes me one happy lady! 

glass jars from ikea, variety of sizes: £0.90 - £2.69

sticker paper: free

corner shelves (4 total) : £4/shelf

Total cost for new pantry: £30

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

christmas card 2011.

we're a little behind in sending these off, but i'm determined to get ours in the mail TODAY!!! i'm praying people have grace for us, what with the knee making us a little slow off the mark.

our photo is obviously from the wedding.  kind of a big deal this year. i downloaded the card from becky higgins.

and i love the scripture we've used:

rejoice! celebrate all the good things that god, your god, has given you and your family. deut 26:11

merry christmas. almost.

i'm linking up with faith's christmas card carousel.

Monday, 12 December 2011


there's been a serious amount of baking around here. in all honesty, it's about all i have the energy for. i can break it up into segments and sit down when i need to take a break. and it's been great to have treats for people when they pop over for coffee. and it's been nice to have something for us too!

le boy's absolute favourite is coffee walnut cake. i only became familiar with this cake in the last year or so, a decided treat to be found in national trust tea shops and a must buy after a rousing walk in the hills! well, there's not much walking going on these days (although that is getting better). but regardless, le boy has been so helpful, so wonderfully serving, that it seemed only appropriate to make him a favourite cake.  this will make another appearance in the kitchen very soon i'm sure. it lasted for days and was unbelievably delicious, and incredibly moist. i baked it on a wenesday, but of course, didn't have icing sugar, so iced it on a friday, and then it was still fantastic enough for saturday lunch!

the recipe is adapted from the hummingbird bakery cookbook. i have yet to experience a poor recipe from hummingbird, either in store or from this cookbook. it makes a fantastic gift and i heartily recommend it for any bakers in your lives - last minute christmas gift? (it's also available in north america via amazon and uses US measurements rather than UK weights).

coffee walnut cake
(adapted from the hummingbird bakery cookbook)

2 tbsp instant coffee granules (espresso powder makes a great rich taste!)
450 g (2 cups) unsalted butter at room temperature
450 g (2 1/4 cups) caster sugar (white sugar)
6 large eggs
450 g (3 1/2 cups) plain flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup of walnuts crumbled, plus half walnuts to decorate (optional)

1 quantity frosting

250 g (2 1/4 cups) icing sugar, sifted
80 g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
25 ml (2 tbsp) heavy cream
a few drops of vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant espresso mixed with 2 tbsp boiling water

25 cm ring mould (known as a bundt pan in north america)

to make cake:

to make 'coffee essence' put instant coffee and 170 ml (3/4 cup) of water in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil and reduce by half. set aside to cool completely.

preheat oven to 170 C (325 F)

beat together butter, sugar and coffee essence. add eggs one by one, mixing well and scraping the bowl down as you go. beat in flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, mix until batter is light and fluffy. fold in crumbled walnuts.

pour mixture into prepared mould and even with spatula. bake for 40 minutes in preheated oven or until the sponge feels firm to the touch. (do not open oven door during early cooking or you will collapse the the cake). cool slightly in mould before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

to make frosting:

beat icing sugar and butter until mixture comes together. in a small bowl combine cream, vanilla and instant espresso. add wet ingredients to sugar and beat until light and fluffy (5 minutes).

cover top of cooled cake with frosting, decorate with walnut halves, serve on a pretty plate.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

simply slow.

over here things have to be prepared for. stamps to be bought. gifts made and wrapped. parcels sent. it can be tiresome. but i remember who i'm giving to. who i'm giving because of.

this year has been very short on the buying. perhaps my least expensive christmas ever. perhaps our least stressful christmas. we're preparing. slowly. intentionally for christmas. making plans. daily devotions focussed on why.

i've been slowed this season. it was just what the ultimate physician ordered. time to sit and read and think and pray and knit. time to enjoy this season of our marriage - not what we thought it would look like, but what he has deemed for us. and it is grace-full.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


it's such a simple thing really. bread. and yet in our home, it is essential for domestic harmony. i read an article by mark bittman years ago in the nytimes about no-knead bread. i thought it intriguing, but i also considered it to be rather impractical, what with so many hours of rising time required. but recently re-reading the articles, i realised that many people had tweaked this recipe to work for their own purposes. i've linked all the related content from the nytimes below, and here i'll go through my process.

i started baking bread out of curiosity and really, frugality. we are lovers of good, wholesome, artisanal bread. i am suspicious, to say the least, of grocery store bread, really it's the list of preservatives that i shake my head at. and while we're fortunate to live near an excellent farmer's market (wimbledon farmer's market for those who are local) with an impressive array of vendors, the bread we favour is £4 a loaf, and with le boy at the table, that only lasts a couple of days! and that's if he's distracted by other delights the kitchen has produced. needless to say, this was becoming an expensive indulgence in a daily necessity.

perhaps i could bake my own bread? perhaps i could feed our (small) family for mere pennies a loaf? and so i started experimenting. my first attempts were faltering. i started by following the quicker of the recipes to the letter. the bread was good, really an excellent first attempt, but the quick recipe calls for dousing the flour with yeast, and so the bread tasted yeasty.  we wanted perfection. in all honesty, i'm not great at following recipes and it occurred to me that perhaps i could get a loaf we were satisfied with, with less yeast, and a middling rising time. a compromise so to speak (or taste?).

and so with my willing taste-tester at my side, i began baking bread. and since i've started we've scarcely bought a loaf! i think we're spending in the neighbourhood of 40p a loaf. because this recipe calls for so little yeast the overall cost is negligible and really bread flour is about as inexpensive as any ingredient comes.

so here we go, the recipe for white bread. i'll be back next week with a follow-up of our very favourite, whole grain, seeded bread that follows on the same principles as this loaf, but with some small tweaks to accomodate the whole grains.

firstly, bread requires remarkably few ingredients - flour, yeast, salt and water.

to 3 cups of strong white bread flour, add 1/4 tsp of yeast and 1/2 tbsp salt. the long rising time allows for the small amount of yeast to distribute throughout the dough and means that the 'yeasty' taste that can sometimes characterize homemade bread is no longer an issue.

mix the dry ingredients and add 1.5 cup of lukewarm water. i mix the dough in a stainless steel bowl and use a spatula to get all the dry mixed with the wet. i'm hoping (not so secretly) for one of these for christmas. it's really important to make sure all the dry bits are incorporated, the dough will be shaggy, and nearly impossible to knead as it's extremely sticky.

at this point, cover the bowl and leave in a warm place. i put mine in the oven, using the 'rising' function. if you don't have this a warm oven from after dinner or a warm place in the house will suffice. ideally the temperature needs to be about 70 F or 21 C. the first rise needs at least 9-10 hours. i usually make the dough after dinner and leave it overnight, waking early on 'bread mornings.'

after the rise the dough will look like this

the holes are the indication that the yeast has worked.

at this time you need to heat your oven to full whack - 450 F or 230 C. and you need to heat whatever you're baking your bread in at the same time. this is an essential aspect of this bread. it needs to be baked covered. so a dutch oven or a covered glass pyrex would work. i use my le creuset ovens. caveat: technically le creuset knobs are only recommended to 400 F or 200 C, but i've been using both my ovens at this temperature for months now with no problem - plus i have absolutely lovely, wonderful ovens that deserved to be used and why not use them? i'll just replace the knobs if they ever get damaged. 

here's what i do next - pour a tsp of oil onto a flat surface, a kitchen board would work well, i cover my dough with aluminum foil, so i turn that over onto the counter, and smear some oil on it. 

pull the dough out of the bowl, kneading it a couple of times in your hands, and then shape into a round loaf form. turn the loaf form in the oil and return to the bowl, covering again. allow to rise for another 30 minutes - 1 hour, this is about how long it takes my oven to heat. 

once the oven is heated, take the baking pot out of the oven (CAREFUL it's very hot!) and drop the dough in - it should sizzle as the oil hits the bottom. 

bake for 30 min with the lid on, take the lid off and bake for another 15-30 depending on how brown you want the crust. 

according to what i've read it's the hot oven and the lid which makes all the difference. because this is a fairly wet dough this creates a steam action inside the pot which is why you can get a fabulous crust from this recipe (it's hard and crunches when you eat it). 

remove from oven, and place on rack to cool (i just use the stovetop as it's gas and sort of rack-like?)

and really, make sure you enjoy this with butter, there's nothing better. nothing. 



3 cups strong white bread flour
1/4 tsp instant/fast acting yeast
1/2 tbsp salt 
1.5 cups lukewarm water


  • in a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. add lukewarm water, stir to combine thoroughly, cover and leave for 9-10 hours in a warm place. 
  • preheat oven to 450 F or 230 C - making sure to also preheat whatever you are baking it in, form dough into round loaf, turn in oil and rise for further 30-60 minutes
  • carefully place inside hot pot and return to oven for 30 minutes with lid on, and further 15-30 minutes with lid off
  • remove from oven, allow to cool, and serve warm
because of the high water content the crust will eventually become more soft, it hardens again if toasted or if the loaf is put into a warm (350 F) oven for 10 minutes. 

nytimes links: i very much recommend you read these articles if you're looking to develop your own technique, they gave me ideas and confidence to stray from the original recipes...

something new.

'upcycling' is a huge trend these days. i'm sure our grandmothers would laugh if they heard about this - taking something that's no longer fit for its original purpose and giving it new life with a little creativity. part of the 'make do and mend' trend. that being said, i'm loving it. i constantly find things all over the house that can be made into something new.

most recently? old wool sweaters. i love wool - i mean i've usually got some of it tangled in my fingers and ready to keep another warm, but what happens when a sweater is past its prime? i had two sweaters that were in this condition. one sweater, the red one, is more than 30 years old. it originally belonged to marvellous, and i believe was purchased over here in the british isles (we have a long love-affair with this island in my family). i came into ownership about a decade ago and i wore that sweater to death throughout university. the moth holes and thinning elbows making it all the cooler. but now, it just looked pitiful. the second was a super cute short sleeved sweater that i accidentally shrunk in the wash...i tried to wear it a few times after that, but it was never the same. so what to do?

i felted the red sweater in a super hot wash and then dry in the dryer - this thing was half it's original size and had fuzzed up really well. i then cut off the sleeves, hemmed closed the arms and neck holes and stuffed a pillow inside. i then used an invisible stitch to close the seam. the white sweater was of course, already mainly shrunk and so i didn't feel it needed a second whirl. i followed the process a second time and had two sweaters-pillows with minimal sewing or effort. plus, i didn't have to buy any fabric or spend any time knitting to then felt it. and really, that's all folks. they are now sitting pretty in our living room, a little seating nook has been created with a footstool and a few cushions and that's a welcome relief because we are sorely short on seating at the moment!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

to simplify.

a simple advent. that's all i want for christmas this year. oh and to get le boy's jumper (sweater) done in time. but how do we prepare? how to get it all done? the baking and the making and the visits and the work and the decorating and the events? how do we keep the event of jesus coming to earth as the central idea of our days? how to keep from becoming caught up in the busy-ness of it all and forget the business of christ?

by stopping. and stilling. by bending low and thanking god for humble beginnings and babe-grace. by putting the needs of others ahead of our own. by focusing on the truest thing we can, the sacrifice of praise for he who would sacrifice it all.

this year we have chosen to remain in one place. and we are delighted at the prospect of standing still. for years we have each travelled, across land and seas to be home with our families, and those are times we cherish and times, i'm sure we will miss this christmas. but we are also learning how to be our own family. to establish and develop our own traditions.

it's slow around here at the moment. a joint stiff with swelling and pain, and a girl who is always eager to do one more thing can be a challenging combination. i am learning. i am preparing for a season of slowness. of incremental progress, measured by the degrees i can bend my knee. of being patient and pacing myself. of learning how to pace my days, rather than fill them to the absolute brim.

trees will be trimmed this weekend, rows upon rows of double moss stitch knitted, and we will begin our advent study. in the midst of it all, i pray we prepare not just our home, but our hearts for the coming of christ.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


i've recently downloaded a new app. 1000 gifts - based on the book 1000 gifts, by ann voskamp, which i'm currently listening to and LOVING. a great[ful] way to list daily thanks, on the go and with your phone. love it.

and so here's mine from today.

how she's always been right beside me.

candlelight illuminating humble (homemade) table.

pillows from old jumpers, now a cozy corner.

new wool waiting for fingers to fly. 

woollens wet on the line - waiting to warm.

a thoughtful gift from my most recent visitor.

 as we enter advent, remembering who HE is! (printable here)

get the app here. 

one thousand gifts app

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


i wrote a little about preparing the other week. i am grateful to have had the time to ready us for the operation. it all went smoothly and life here, while quiet, is very peaceful because of those preparations. i rest easy knowing there is food is the freezer and wool ready for the needles and period dramas queued for watching. i rested easy because marvellous came and gave up her week to love on us and care for us. i am amazed by the endless stream of visitors we have had, who take time out of their busy weeks to travel to a small suburb in london so that i may have company. we are filled with visits and doctors appointments and naps. and yet despite all this preparation. despite the prayers and cooking and the finishing up of things and the emails and people from abroad. we weren't quite ready. and i suppose we never are. 

change, big or small, demands attention and time and energy. and there are always bits for which you are not prepared. the pain. or the feelings of being unwell. the kindness that has been shown you. the unexpected care packages. i was not prepared for any of these things. and yet, in his grace, we are given what we need, as we need it. and so the medication does a great job of numbing the physical pain and the care package takes away the sting of separation from family. i am learning to ask for and receive help. i am learning to allow others. to count my thanks. to be patient. to heal.

we are never completely prepared. we cannot be. there would be no painful healing, no growth, no unexpected delight.

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1

Monday, 21 November 2011


we're pretty quiet around these parts these days. warms drinks and food. enjoying the relief of the pain medication. lots of ice packs. naps in the morning, afternoon and evening. welcome visitors bearing gifts of food and wishes of speedy recoveries. this recuperation thing is exhausting. i'm grateful beyond words for the kind care of le boy and marvellous. i spend much of my day in a room with a small print of 1 thess 5:18 it's a very good reminder.

we're moving slowly. and we are living grateful lives.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


we've got a large open space in our living room. the room is shaped in such a way that all the furniture needs to go on the edge of the room, i know, it's a design no-no, but really we're not able to do much else. so the centre of the room needs something to fill it. i have a love of reclaimed things, (which is awkward when combined with my love for ikea) but rarely do i approve of the price tag associated with such items. so when i saw this on one of my favourite online shops i thought - i can do that...

and so began my obsession with pinterest and pallets. my pallet board is here. and i found some ideas i liked.

but how does one find a pallet?

firstly, i should say that pallets are pretty big, about nine square feet, so one wouldn't fit in our car. but when you start looking, suddenly pallets are everywhere. i've seen at least five in people's trash in the last couple of weeks. what is most fortunate is that we live down the street from a carpet warehouse (bizarre, i know, but that's london for you) and i was pretty sure if we asked nicely they'd let us have one. so i dispatched le boy one morning, and indeed, he was allowed to take his pick!

and this is what we started with.

it was in pretty good condition, considering it's former life as a warehouse storage item. but pallets are made from rough wood and have some not so nice parts (read: big splinters). i'll outline what we did but i didn't take step-by-step photos because, well, i wasn't planning on a tutorial and i'm a bad blogger and i had paint all over myself and it was cold and really we all know how to sand and paint, right?

pallet transformation:

materials needed:
wooden pallet
sandpaper (coarse and fine)
paint for interior wood & brushes
pre-painting wash solution


  • start by wiping down pallet with wash solution, we found some handy wipes at the hardware store, but even just rag with some water and vinegar would do the trick, allow to dry 
  • sand entire pallet with coarse sandpaper, this will take quite a bit of time, but is worth doing well so that you get a good finish 
  • wipe down again to get rid of all the dust (very very important!) 
  • paint your first coat and allow to dry. because the wood is untreated it sucks up quite a lot of paint, consequently we painted it on quite thickly - if you are going for a fully professional look it's better to do light coats and more of them, but i'm ok with (and indeed want) a slightly more rustic look, so as this gets used, i'll be happy for paint to chip etc. 
  • sand with light sandpaper (this allows the second coat to bind well to the first) 
  • paint second coat and allow to dry 
  • attach wheels, we used castors from ikea, 2/£10, easy to attach and they have brakes so the coffee table doesn't go flying across the room! 

total cost: £35

paint & supplies - £15
castors - £20 
pallet - free! 

pretty great savings. and i LOVE LOVE LOVE it. a lot. 

i'm linking up to take it on tuesday.

Monday, 14 November 2011

monday musings.

to say we're in a bit of a big week is an understatement. if i'm honest, things might be quiet here this week, but for good reason.

  • marvellous arrives tomorrow 
  • i'm getting work squared away for 2.5 weeks off 
  • surgery on thursday for a knee that isn't working the way it should
  • job interview for le boy on thursday (yes that's the same day as surgery) 
  • i'm getting laundry done and the house tidied and meals in the freezer 

it's a lot. but there are so many blessings. 

find printable here.

  • marvellous arrives
  • i'm fortunate to work for an employer with generous sick leave 
  • my surgeon is the best, and this is pretty much the appendectomy of orthopedic surgery
  • le boy has a job interview, in a difficult economy 
  • we've spent the weekend getting caught up on laundry and making food and sorting life here and there
  • i'll spend the next week with two people who love me better than anyone and i'm already grateful for their grace