Archive | October, 2012

Inspiration: unisex baby clothes

29 Oct

My (soon-to-be) sister-in-law and niece were staying with us this weekend and they brought some gorgeous presents for the baby. My sister-in-law has impeccable taste in children’s clothing, so the Gap onesie and jumper she gave him were just stunning. Even better, they would look just as good on a boy or a girl…

I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the instant genderfication of babies (not a word, but it should be). Right from the minute they’re born, the sex of the baby is seen as one of the most important things about them: boys dressed in blue and girls dressed in pink. Even congratulatory cards always scream “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” as if the baby’s gender is the relevant bit of information for celebration.

I spend ages, when giving new baby cards to others, looking for non blue or pink ones, without the B or G words emblazoned on the front. It’s amazing how hard it is to find nice gender-neutral cards that simply congratulate someone on the actual existence of new arrival, rather than the fact it happened to be a boy / girl…

And then we get to baby clothes… Well, suffice to say, it’s even more difficult to find unisex baby clothes (once they’ve outgrown the ubiquitous white all-in-ones anyway). When I come to the point of designing the fabrics for my baby range, it’s really important to me to make baby clothes that can be worn by boys and girls.

The trick, I suppose, is to pick new designs that haven’t yet been appropriated for one or other sex. Personally, I think a tractor is a great motif and would be fabulous for a boy or girl, but put one onto a jumper and you can guarantee everyone will think it’s a boy inside. I also want to make sure I stick to neutral colours where possible. I am imagining some heritage greens and greys…

Anyway, enough ranting, instead here’s a round up of some of my favourite unisex baby clothes available to buy at the moment.

Click on the pictures to go straight through to the websites where they’re for sale.

Baby Gap is my favourite shop when it comes to high quality, well-designed and well-fitting baby clothes. The only reason his whole wardrobe isn’t Baby Gap is the prices. While I’m sure the quality of their product justifies the cost, I still can’t afford to spend £15 on a T-shirt that will only last for two months. That said, we’ve been lucky enough to receive a few items as presents. The few pieces he does have are absolute staples in his wardrobe…

From their current winter collection, this cable jumper is utterly adorable:

Gap cable jumper

Gorgeous and snuggly: you can’t beat a good cable jumper from Gap

And the shade of green on this jumper is just beautiful. (Plus, a cow is super cool):

Gap cow baby jumper

Moooo. What baby wouldn’t want a cow on their Gap jumper?

I’ve never shopped in Next baby myself, but we’ve received a few presents of Next clothes and I’ve always thought they’re made from nice fabric and fit really well. These baby sleepsuits are very cute:

Green and blue baby sleepsuits from Next

These look snuggly and very huggable. Baby sleepsuits from Next

I have to confess, I can’t stand the Mothercare white newborn “essential” collections: I think the cotton is cheap and becomes hard and misshapen after a few washes and the shape of the babygrows  is far too wide at the waist. But once you move past day-long babygrow wearing into a world of T-shirts and jumpers, Mothercare really comes into its own. And you can’t beat these prices…

Orange Mothercare hippo T-shirt

Orange is truly a completely unisex colour and this hippo is glorious. All for £2.50. Good old Mothercare

I really love pretty much everything from Organics for Kids. We’ve been lucky to have been given a couple of their babygrows. Their farmyard range at the moment is stunning:

Red farmyard babygrow by Organics for Kids

All the animals of the farm in a bright, cheerful colour. Plus, of course, all organic cotton, being from Organics for Kids

So, there you go, a few nice options in the shops at the moment if you want some non-gendered baby clothes. I notice that I’ve only put in babygrows and jumpers here. I suppose trousers / skirts really do end up being for boys or girls… (Well, skirts anyway. Even I would draw the line at dressing my baby boy in skirts, and I do purposefully put him in pink now and again.)

 

The world’s simplest recipe: apple and plum compote

24 Oct

Almost a month after making the failed apple cake and the much more successful apple and sage jelly and (not) bramley lemon curd, I still had seven apples left from the great tree-picking.

I’d left them really far too long sitting in the fruit bowl and they weren’t looking very perky anymore.

Apples

Sad apples

I also had a punnet of supermarket plums that are as hard as bullets and have very little flavour.

Wizened plums

Wizened, wrinkly and rock hard: could these supermarket plums be destined for greater things?

These sad fruits were past eating fresh, but I hoped that by cooking them together with a bit of the magic ingredient, sugar, they could be revived into something a bit nicer. I decided to make myself an apple and plum compote. Perfect for putting on top of yoghurt, or just snacking on straight from the fridge when I can’t find any other food in the house. That sort of thing.

I am almost embarrassed to be sharing this as a “recipe” – it’s so simple I’m not even sure that it counts as such, but this is what I did:

Ingredients

  • Some apples (I used seven, but however many you have to hand will be fine)
  • Some plums (I used four plums. You could substitute with any other fruit that goes well with apples: rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries would all work well, for example. Or you don’t need a second fruit, you could just stick to apples.)
  • Lemon juice, a dash
  • Sugar, a handful
  • Some nice spices (nutmeg, cloves, ginger or cinnamon would all work well, depending whether you’re feeling Christmassy or Summery…)
Apple and plum compote

All chopped up and raring to cook

Method:

  1. Peel, core and chop the apples. I quartered my apples, then cut each quarter in half, just to give you an idea of size.
  2. Core and chop the plums, or other fruit.
  3. Put all fruit into a pan and add a couple of tbsps of lemon juice (or grate the rind of a lemon over, if you want a stronger flavour) and add some of your spices. As much as you like, really. I grated half a nutmeg into mine.
  4. Add some sugar: the amount is up to you, depending on how sweet or tart you want the compote to be. I used 2tbsps.
  5. Pour a small amount of water into the saucepan so the bottom is just covered – I used around 100ml.
  6. Cook over a low heat for about 15 mins till the fruit is soft and crumbling.
  7. If you mind about things like plum peel, now is the time to fish it out. You can stick the whole thing through a sieve, or just pull out anything you don’t like the look of.
  8. Mash with a potato masher or a fork.
Apple and plum compote recipe from Wolves in London

Makes any yoghurt tastier. The finished plum and apple compote

Eat hot as it is or let it cool and store in the fridge. If you’ve more than you can eat in one go, this will also freeze well.

Perfect for using as a topping on yoghurt, rice pudding, porridge, or any other “plain” thing that needs a pep, for dolloping onto muesli, eating by the spoonful, or even as a really fresh spread on toast.

When cooking goes wrong: a cautionary tale

19 Oct

If you dropped by here last week,  you’ll have seen my posts about our apple windfall and the appley deliciousness that followed in the kitchen. It all sounded rather perfect. Reading back I rather envy this person with their idyllic life: picking the apples from the trees in the garden, making some preserves, heck, even a partner who loves to cook and is happy to whip up a quick curd when he comes home from work in the evening.

It was all starting to sound a little too flawless, right? Turning into one of those blogs where “delicious smells” are constantly “wafting from the kitchen,” where trees are “heavy with the bounty of fruit” and everything about this person’s life is so blinking fantastic  (if a bit on the twee side) you start to hate them a little bit…  a world with babies that don’t cry, partners who love to cook and soufflés that always rise.

Well, just so you don’t hate me, I thought I’d share our third and final bit of apple cooking. This was the result:

Apple cake

Believe it or not, this is actually an apple cake. Delicious looking, ahem…

No, that isn’t supposed to be a treacle sponge, or some apple version of a chocolate pot pudding all gooey on the inside. That is supposed to be an apple cake. And just a reminder in case you’ve not seen a cake for a while: cakes are supposed to be firm and stand up on their own.

Our problem, I think, was that we used a really deep cake tin. We cooked it for the correct amount of time, but it wasn’t set, so we cooked it for another hour (double the time). The next day, I upended it from the mould, saw the middle wasn’t quite set, so cooked it for another hour. By now, this cake had been in the oven for a full three hours, which you’d think would be enough to nuke any cake, but when we went to eat it, this was the vision we saw.

So, there you have it, a cautionary tale against culinary smugness. The moral of the story: don’t feel too great about your prowess in the kitchen with apples from the garden or your cakes will never rise again.

Sounds like an ancient Chinese proverb…

(Admittedly, though, the non-collapsed outside of the cake was pretty tasty, so I may well try and make it again. But I’ll obey the recipes instructions for the size of cake tin next time…)

Three secret projects

15 Oct

As well as my homemade Christmas, I’m working on some other homemade presents too, these for my partner’s birthday in November.

This is proving trickier than it used to be, as my time for making anything during the day is a bit limited. Somehow, looking after the baby, taking a walk and remembering to get washed and eat lunch seem to easily take up 12 hours. So I really only have the 30 minutes or so between putting the baby to bed and Jamie getting home from work to actually get anything done.

Still, as ever undaunted by the genuine lack of time to finish what I’m planning, I’ve got three secret projects that I want to make him by the time his birthday arrives in the middle of November.

The first is a knitted scarf, smart enough for him to wear to work when the winter starts to get cold. I’ve found a free pattern for the appropriately named “His (Birthday) scarf” (pattern found through Ravelry, but I’ve linked direct to the blog it appears on). I’ve splashed out on some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran yarn – normally I’m too mean to buy Debbie Bliss yarn as I do think it’s very expensive, but since this is for a special birthday present I thought I could give it a whirl. And oh my goodness, having knitted the first four rows, I am amazed at how gorgeous the yarn is… Really soft, but it doesn’t split while you’re knitting at all, and it’s lovely and solid on my bamboo needles. I’m using a 4.5mm needle, though the yarn calls for 5mm and the pattern for 4mm (I thought I’d take the middle road, sounds sensible, no?) So far, it’s looking gorgeous, will update on progress…

The second project is to go with some bento boxes that I’ve ordered him through Amazon. I thought that the boxes are all well and good, but he’ll still want a bag to put them in, rather than just sticking them straight into his rucksack. So, at the moment, I’m torn between two different patterns that I’ve got pinned on my Pinterest boards. The first is a bag from the long thread and the second is a similar version but made with oilcloth by Tonya Staab: handmade lunch bag. Ordinarily, I’d go for the oil cloth version without thinking, but I do know that I want to make this for him with my Spoonflower fabric, so I’m umming and ahhing over this.

The final project is the most fun: ironing on some sort of awesome old-fashioned marine related picture to a T-shirt. Something like this, from the New York Public Library archives.

Octopus image from New York Public Library digital archive

Love the vintage marine vibe going on here

Awesome? Awesome.

If I get these all finished, I’ll update with more info and pictures.

Apple glut part two: Not bramley lemon curd

10 Oct

Those reading this blog yesterday, will have seen my post about the utterly delicious sage and apple jelly I made from the apple glut at our new house.

The jelly was fantastic, but it didn’t make a big enough dent in our apple pile (which I sadly didn’t photograph, so you’ll just have to imagine a lovely wicker basket overflowing with apples). Next to try was a variation on lemon curd, found in the River Cottage guide to preserves: Bramley Lemon curd.

Bowl of apples and lemons

The ingredients

We didn’t have bramley apples but we figured, quite rightly, that our apples would be just as delicious. Now, I have to admit, I didn’t make this one myself. I read through the recipe and found references to things like double steamers and heating it to a certain exact temperature and was immediately put off. I’m more of a chuck-the-ingredients-in-give-it-a-stir-every-now-and-then-until-it-tastes-good kinda cook. Stews not souffles, that’s my style. Luckily, my partner loves fiddly cooking (he can spend hours pre-chopping the veg to the perfect millimetre before so much as turning on the oven) so I put myself in charge of apple chopping and him in charge of the making.

To be fair to Jamie, and the recipe, once he’d started he made it look a lot more straightforward than it sounded. And within 30 minutes we’d made ourselves some gorgeous tasting (Not) Bramley lemon curd.

Lemon curd

Lemon curd on toast

Lovely spread thick on toast. Yum, yum, yum

I’ve just had a quick Google and it turns out this recipe has been published by the Guardian so is available online: River Cottage Bramley lemon curd recipe. I strongly recommend you make your own if you’ve got a few apples spare. We followed the recipe to the letter, but found we needed to heat the mixture for a lot more than ten minutes to get the right consistency: it ended up being closer to 25 by the time it was thick enough.

Best of all, we’ve still got some apples left…

Related articles:

Here are some more cooking ideas for apples if, like me, you’ve got a few on your hands…

 

A glut of apples: apple and sage jelly recipe

9 Oct

When we moved in to our new house a few weeks ago we were beyond delighted to find that we had a plum tree and three mature apple trees in the garden, all bearing different types of apple. (Not the plum tree, obviously, that had plums on…) We were a little late for the plum harvest and most of those were on the ground being enjoyed by insects, but the apple trees were heaving.

Despite every best intention to enjoy the garden during the day, I find it hard to get out there with a small baby (and am always slightly alarmed by the sight of the algae-covered green pond as well) so last weekend I handed the baby over to my partner and spent an hour outside in the glorious late September sun, pulling as many apples off the trees as I could. I was doing a pretty shabby job with some barbecue tongs and dropping a good percentage of the apples into the pond, until I was handed a giant fishing net, which worked substantially better.

The end result was a lot of apples. I mean a lot. I love an apple, but there was no way we could eat this amount – probably 100 or so apples were pulled off the trees.

So, naturally, I decided to do my favourite thing with any large amount of fruit and veg and got to making some preserves.

First up: apple and sage jelly.

Apple and sage jelly, a recipe from Wolves in London

Yum, yum, yum, apple and sage jelly

I hadn’t actually heard of apple and sage jelly until relatively recently. Out in Hong Kong on a six month sabbatical we met a friend of a friend who came from London but had been living in Asia for the past ten years. I asked him whether there was anything he missed about “home” and he said just one thing. Apple and sage jelly. He’d searched and searched, but never managed to find it anywhere in Hong Kong (and this is a city that is so Anglicised you can buy Waitrose own brand products in many of the supermarkets).

Well, I didn’t have much on at the time (I was meant to be writing a book, anyway, so any excuse to avoid the laptop for a while was welcome) and I really meant to make him some, but what with a kitchen smaller than a mouse’s sneeze and no jars or saucepans or, frankly, anything useful, I never quite got round to it.

Six months later, and nowhere near the poor man who was craving it, I thought it was time to have a go. I decided to use a standard savoury jelly recipe and just add in some chopped sage towards the end of cooking. This is what I did…

Ingredients

  • A lot of apples. I used approximately a kg, but it doesn’t really matter how many you have as you can adjust the sugar levels later
  • Sugar. Weight depends on the amount of apples you use
  • 100ml cider vinegar
  • One bunch of sage. I used some amazing purple sage I found from an organic farm shop. I realise that makes me sound a bit of a ponce. In my defence, it was the only sage I could find on the whole of my high street. It was expensive, admittedly, but it did turn the jelly a wonderful light purple colour
Apple and sage jelly, a recipe from Wolves in London

So delicious, we’ve already eaten half a jar

Method

1. Chop up the apples into quarters, with their skins on and pips still in.

2. Put them in a saucepan with the vinegar.

3. Pour water into your pan, slowly, until it just covers the apples.

4. Bring to the boil and them simmer slowly for an hour, covered, until the apples are soft.

5. Tip the mixture into a jam straining bag or a muslin cloth and leave over a large bowl overnight. (At this point I discovered that only a part of my jam straining bag survived the move, so I put the bag inside a sieve and left it like that. I reckon the same thing would probably work if you just put some fairly open-weaved material inside too, if you haven’t got a jam bag.)

6. The next day (or a good few hours later, if you’re impatient like me), measure how much liquid you have. For every 600ml, add 400g of sugar.

7. Put it all back into a big saucepan, with the sage, chopped finely. (Or chunkily, if you prefer — just remember that whatever size you leave it is the size it will pretty much stay. It won’t make much difference to the flavour how you’ve chopped it, but it will depend how you want it to look.)

8. Boil the mixture quickly and then cook until it reaches setting point. There are a million different recommended ways to do this, but I tend to just put a spoon in, stir it round, take it out and see what the liquid looks like on the spoon. If it is a bit treacly, with a bit of viscosity in there, instead of just pure liquid, and if it takes a while to drip back down the spoon, it’s probably done. If that sounds alarmingly vague and inaccurate to you, then you could try a jam thermometer or putting a cold plate into the fridge and dripping a bit onto that and seeing if it goes wrinkly. I have to say, though, that neither of those methods seem to work terribly well for me and I always end up over-heating my jams if I follow those. But each to their own…

9. Pour into sterilised jars and put a lid on. I sterilise my jars by washing them with normal washing up liquid, then standing them in a roasting tray in the oven to dry at about 180 degrees. When you’re ready to use them, you just take out the roasting tray and pour the jelly into the jars. I always find the pouring bit outrageously messy, so this has the added advantage of containing the spillage as well.

10. Give the jars a little shake as they’re settling, just to ensure the sage bits are evenly distributed. I did this on one, but not the others, so, as you can see from the first photo in this post, some of my jars had all the sage bits at the top. It’s not the end of the world, of course, but it’s nicer when they’re spread throughout.

11. If you can bear to, leave for about a month before you open this to eat it. I couldn’t. It tastes delicious with more delicate meats, going particularly well, I’ve found, with pork.

Apple and sage jelly, a recipe from Wolves in London

The money shot: the jelly, without its top on

Related posts:

If you want to see what else I did with my apples, or if you’re just in an especially appley mood and searching for more recipes, take a look at:

(Not) Bramley lemon curd

The world’s simplest apple recipe

Blackberry and apple vodka

And let me know what you think. If you make this recipe, do leave me a comment below and tell me how it turns out. Or let me know what other ideas you’d have for a huge glut of apples…

Building a fabric empire

8 Oct

A little while ago I had a brilliant idea: why don’t I create a fabric line, with beautiful designs exactly how I want them and then make a range of gorgeous soft furnishings and baby clothes using said stunning line. It sounded really straightforward in my brain, when the idea started germinating, and I picked up the phone to tell my Mum the exciting news:

“I’m going to design my own fabric and then make it into beautiful things and it will be really gorgeous and high end and be like, oh, like Liberty print fabric, you know, that sort of thing…”

And – because she’s my Mum and therefore legally obliged to be positive whenever I suggest another hare-brained scheme, which is frequently – she said what a wonderful idea it was and how there was a definite market for some lovely fabrics and she managed to only chuckle slightly, and very definitely under her breath, when I made the Liberty reference.

Liberty fabric

Could I ever make fabric as beautiful as this classic Liberty print? (Short answer: it’s unlikely…)

Because she was so encouraging, it wasn’t until a little bit later in the day that I started to think about some of the potential pitfalls of the idea: I can’t draw, I’m not a designer, I don’t actually know much about fabric, I certainly don’t know anything about how you get fabric printed, though I have a sewing machine and can follow an extremely basic pattern (just) I wouldn’t have a clue how to start designing my own patterns, oh and even if I did, I’m not sure that my sewing proficiency is quite up to scratch to actually make and sell anything I had designed. Is that it? Oh no, finally, even if I did manage to design and print some fabric and make it into something beautiful I don’t know how I would go about trying to sell this highly desirable object.

But, hey, these are minor details, right? I’ve got plenty of ideas in my head and I can already pictue some gorgeous end results.

So, this is my blog to chart my progress. I guess I’ve got a bit to learn, but that’s all part of the fun. Drop by again and see how I’m getting on.

Of course, if I only blogged about every time I did something to further this fabric plan, then these pages might look pretty sparse, so I’ll be updating you on various other projects as well. Knitting, cooking, sewing and generally anything else that inspires me along the way.

Please post a comment and let me know what you think – I’d love to hear any suggestions (especially if they’ll take me a step closer to my world fabric domination dreams…)

Update Sept 2014:

I have actually managed to design a few fabrics, using the wonderful Spoonflower… Take a look at my teapots and the selection of vintage image fabrics I’ve managed so far. After a little lull in fabric designing world domination dreams (which went on for, oooh, about 18 months) I am now back up and running with the planning, so I hope to have a few more things to share soon!

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