Thursday, December 27, 2012

Radiolab: Bliss

I love Radiolab. Jad and Robert are great cohosts - they bounce off each other perfectly.

I highly recommend the podcast as a regular listener.

However, if you're not going to subscribe or mess about with podcasts, may I recommend the 5 best minutes of radio that I've heard this year?

It's the first 5 minutes of their Bliss episode. I've listened to it twice (and then watched the video). Amazing. Fair warning: you might want your headphones - it's a bit loud.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity

Before I start this review, I will say that I picked this up at the same time as Arthur Ransome's We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea (which is excellent, by the way), and somehow thought that I had picked up the Ransome to start reading when in fact it was this one. I was mightily confused by the opening set in Nazi Germany (and the complete lack of sailboats). Ahem.

So, if one picks up this book and is actually expecting it (and not a Swallows & Amazons sequel), it's actually rather good.

Set in England and Germany during World War II, it's a story told in two parts by two different narrators, about pilots, spies, and the WAAF. I found the WAAF parts particularly fascinating, as my mother-in-law served during the war. The characters were very well-drawn, the sense of place was well-presented, and I could tell a lot of research had gone into it. The story was heartbreaking (as were many people's stories during WWII, I imagine), and very engaging. 

I heard about it in the New York Times' list of the year's best children's books, and I love the review by Marjorie Ingall. As she says, if I told you more about the plot, I'd have to kill you!

Oh, and lastly, from Ingall's review, about Elizabeth Wein: 
"Wein’s earlier novels are set in Arthurian Britain and sixth-century Ethiopia. She has a doctorate in folklore and a pilot’s license. She met her husband at a dinner dance for hobbyist bell ringers. Nerd." Can I meet her?!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The British Fork Rule (and Major Exception)

Brits, as a rule, use a knife and fork to eat most things. Including, but not limited to: pizza, hamburgers, picnic food, and fruit.


There is one FIRM exception to this rule.

Birthday cake.

Not the birthday cake that you serve adults at the end of a dinner party. There, forks are allowed. Nay, compulsory!

This bizarre fork-less birthday cake takes two forms, as far as I can tell from my extensive anthropological research on the subject.

First, children's parties. For reasons I cannot fathom, the assembled sing Happy Birthday to the relevant kid, then the parents take the cake away. They bring it back, wrapped in napkins (icing and all!) and then put it in the party bags with the party favours. This results in a number of possible outcomes.
a. The kid demands to eat his cake in the car on the way home (sans fork, obv.). Even cake distribution throughout vehicle ensues.
b. The cake becomes unwrapped and coats the inside of the party bag, favours included.
c. The cake is forgotten and rediscovered 2 months later, at the bottom of the kid's backpack. Science experiment!

Why not just feed the cake to the kids at the party (with plates and forks)? They're already good and sugared up anyway, guaranteeing a meltdown in the car on the way home.

Second, at-the-office "it's my birthday and I've brought cake" cake.

Aside: this is something that I don't understand: why do I have to bring cake on my birthday? YOU should bring cake on my birthday. I will make you cake on YOUR birthday. Most people just buy donuts and cake at the grocery store and bring it in. I spend the night before my birthday making brownies, apple cake, and cupcakes (or some similar combination). Not that I mind, it's just odd.

Anyway, once this cake arrives at the office, even if it would normally be eaten with a fork and a plate, it is immediately transformed into finger food. There are no exceptions for icing or general gooey-ness.

This whole post, by the way, was inspired by a colleague's birthday about 2 weeks ago, where I found myself eating (and trying unsuccessfully not to wear) a large piece of very delicious Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake with chocolate frosting. Without a fork.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Golden hour in Lavenham

We had a break between our rehearsal and the concert last weekend in Lavenham, and decided to go for a walk. When we stepped outside the church, the light was gorgeous - the nice thing (!) about dark English winters is that you get the Golden Hour in the middle of the afternoon and you don't have to stay up. Also, it seems to last forever, since the sun is so low to begin with.

The concert was lovely, by the way. Among other things, we sang Morton Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, which is now one of my favourite pieces. Go have a listen!

We also took advantage of the light to properly show off my snawheid:

Kate Davies posted on her blog this week that there will be a pattern for snawpaws (aka matching mittens) along shortly. I have one other project I need to make and then they will find themselves on my needles.

(Photo by Sarah Mansfield - thanks, Sarah!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Smitten Kitchen is famous

Well. I've been making Smitten Kitchen recipes since at least 2008. That German apple cake was my gateway recipe.

And now she's all famous and has made a bestselling cookbook and has been featured in the New York Times.

And this week, I had some extra yogurt in the fridge. And I hit the "surprise me" button on her website, and found this. Grapefruit yogurt cake. 

It was like lemon drizzle cake but zingier. YUM.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cup Of Jo's Avocado toast

I have to say, I love avocados. But it had never occurred to me to put them on toast until I saw Cup Of Jo's post about the best ever avocado toast.

I had two avocados that we had been planning to make guacamole with (for fajitas), and then our plans changed. I was faced with a lunch and no plans, and two perfectly ripe avocados. 

Result, below. Yumsters.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Dyson vacuum & service

I married into a Dyson vacuum cleaner. John's Dyson is a DC04, which, according to its serial number and the nice lady we spoke to on the phone, was purchased back in 2000. Yes, it's a 12-year-old vacuum. It had been cutting out lately, and then comprehensively gave up the ghost about 10 days ago. We called the Dyson service line from their website. They said that we could either have £80 off a new Dyson, or have an engineer come out and fix our current machine, for a fixed £73 fee (which we would not have to pay if he couldn't fix it).

We decided to see if we could eek out a few more years before springing for another £400 vacuum, and  so the service chap turned up on Saturday. And proceeded to take our machine completely to pieces. As seen below. The whole breakdown took him about 5 minutes.

He disappeared out to his truck, and returned with a few boxes. We thought he was just going to replace the cable, as that was the part that was faulty. Apparently not. Their policy, according to our repair guy, is to replace everything. New motor, new brush-thingy, new clutch, new internal hose, new filter, and a new power cable. That would be a new vacuum, then. Oh, and once he turned it on he announced that the cyclone bit "wasn't making the right sort of noise" and that a new one would arrive in the post shortly. Oh, and a new hose. The only original bits now: the wheels, tall bit, and the handle (and attachments). 

Another 12 years, please?

The only complaint I have is that the stair attachment doesn't stay on terribly well (I usually have to put it back on once or twice). My mom bought a Dyson on our recommendation and does NOT like it - none of the hoses stay put. We asked the service guy and he said that the American division is a different operation, so fair warning.

And yes, I did just write a post about our vacuum cleaner. Deal with it. (And no, it was not sponsored!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Latke season!

Hooray! It's latke season! Melissa Clarke has posted a video & recipe for those of us who do NOT have Jewish mothers to teach us how to make them.

Oh, and it's also hat-making season.

And model-making season (for the Husband).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comfort food

After admiring Smitten Kitchen's Mushroom Bourguignon for months and months, it suddenly hit me this afternoon that I had to make it tonight. The thought of it was making my mouth water at 3:30 this afternoon.

So, yeah. I picked up some mushrooms on the way home. I bought big cremini, but I think it would have been good with any meaty mushrooms.

Oh, and because we're not vegetarian and we had two sad week-old slices of (English) bacon in the fridge, we used bacon right at the beginning. It was AMAZING and so much quicker than the full boeuf version and I could hear Julia admonishing me NOT to crowd the mushrooms! (Darling, I didn't. I did them in 2 batches. You'd be proud of me.)

SO good that we ate it all and there were no pictures.

Oh, and we put the pearl onions and butter/flour mixture in right after adding the liquid. Other than that, unchanged. And delicious.

Veggie peeps: go make it.
Meat-eating peeps: this is almost boeuf bourguignon and it was on the table in an hour. SHUT UP and go make it.

And as the other part of my quest for comfort food, I made the pumpkin-apple muffins from the Libby's Pumpkin tin on Thursday last week (Thanksgiving, for those of you paying attention). I wanted cream cheese icing, not streusel, so that's what I did.

Libby's recipe is on the inside of the pumpkin labels, and also here. I used Martha's cream cheese frosting recipe, here. YUM.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lots of knitting

I've been knitting up a storm. Fingerless mittens for Amy, which I knit on the plane to NY while watching Brave and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I loved both movies and was surprised that the airline stewards let me knit during both take-off and landing. A seven-hour flight is the best for blasting through a pair of fingerless mittens.

I'm almost finished with these mitts for Lou. I LOVE this madeline tosh merino yarn, bought at Purl Soho. It's gorgeous to knit with and the colour and size variations make for really interesting mittens. I'm just fretting about the thumbs - you have to pick up stitches going sideways and I'm terrible at it. I think I need to just sit with some YouTube tutorials and be done with it.

I (along with rather a lot of other knitters) have just started Kate Davies' latest pattern, Snawheid. I've made several of her patterns, and I'm excited about this one. I might have to line the brim with fleece - the Jamieson & Smith yarn is beautiful but not terribly soft.

And last, I'm still plugging away at my Elizabeth Zimmerman February sweater. Must. Keep. Knitting. I'd forgotten how long sweaters take compared to mittens. Sigh.

The lace pattern is gorgeous, though!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Gone Girl

I just finished reading Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I heard about it on Pop Culture Happy Hour (one of my favorite podcasts). 

It's labelled "thriller" at our library. And I don't want to give away any of the plot. Suffice it to say: I read it in under 24 hours (while home from work, sick). And the thing that kept coming out of my mouth while I was reading it: "Holy $h*^!"

Two complaints:
1. I've tried Kate Atkinson books and not liked them, so the blurb on the front made me a bit worried.
2. The cover of the copy I have is suede-like and NASTY to hold. I kept washing my hands after reading it. ::shudder::

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Ok, so it's not really alive. It just looks a bit strange.

My mom has this bamboo microfibre duster (it's a mitt) and Harry is a little bit obsessed with it. He "helps" by carrying it from room to room.

When it's not being carried around by His Dogness, it is a supremely excellent duster and picks up all kinds of fluff (and is machine washable). Sweet! 

On the Williams Sonoma website, I could only find it listed as part of a set. Lakeland seem to have a similar product in the UK.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tom Holland in Cambridge

We went to Cambridge a few weeks ago (my iPhone speaker was buzzing and I wanted to get it checked out; Apple replaced the whole phone and sent me on my way!), and we wandered in to Heffers. We were walking over to check out the knitting books, followed by YA fantasy (me) and the model train books (John). I spotted an author doing a signing, and recognised one of the books as one that we have at home (Persian Fire, the blue book in the bottom right corner of the picture below).

"Hey, husband, don't you have that book?"

"Wow! It's Tom Holland!"

"You should buy his books and get them signed!"

The line was 1 person long (not really a line at all), so we stood and chatted to Mr. Holland for about 5 minutes while he signed 2 books for John. Then someone appeared in line behind us and we stopped hogging the author.

It turns out that the copy of Persian Fire we have at home is actually John's second copy; he gave the first one away to someone who he thought would enjoy it. When we mentioned that to Mr. Holland, he looked like he wanted to give John a medal.

We now have 2 new Tom Holland books, both signed. Sweet! I haven't read any of them yet but John thinks they're great.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Framed cards

I bought these cards at Whimsies in Warren, RI.

I loved them so much, I had them matted and framed (hooray for stock frames and nice framing stores that cut matting for you to measure and then help you stick the cards in the frames).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Newport and 12-meter sailing

We went to Newport, for a sail on a 12-meter. The weather was HORRIBLE - it was gusty with rain in the morning and then the rain cleared up by the time we were due for the sail. We even called the company to make sure that we were still going to sail (since there was no way we would have taken Kanga out in that breeze).

We sailed with America's Cup Charters - it was well organised and the crew and helm were very good. Recommendation: wear the waterproof pants, even if you don't think you'll need to. I had a wet bum. John wore the pants and was warm and dry.

It was too wet/windy for me to risk the camera, so no pics. Because of the stiff breeze, the captain decided that we'd just go out under the jib (the smaller, forward sail). Ok, the jib on a 12-meter is only classed as small when being compared to a football field...

From sailing on our happy little squib, it was quite a change to be on Intrepid. Even with just one sail, we were zipping along at 9 knots (our hull speed in Kanga is about 4 knots). Woowhee!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grace's red quilt

I had most of the fabric for Grace's quilt back in July. Actually, the Tufted Tweets have been in my stash for a while (and were in this quilt from 2011). Oh, and the red was part of Gabi's Annie Dress. Newly purchased were the monaluna chairs (LOVE), the red stripes, and the birds for the back. 

Oh, and some of the polka dots from Gabi's quilt WAY back in 2009. Anyway, I didn't have a ton of any of the fabric, so I cut squares (5", I think), and then sashed them horizontally with grey. Not quite there.

I realised that I wanted to put AsYetUnnamedBaby's name on the quilt, so I added a white panel to the front, the same size as the pieced panels. (Thank you, Hubby, for the quilt feet.)

Then, I was at Quilter's Haven in Wickham Market over the summer to pick up some fabric for Emily's wedding quilt (not done was a month ago...), and spotted these birds. Birds on the front AND on the back? With red? Sweet!

I picked a font I liked, enlarged it to crazy proportions, then printed it out. I reversed the letters, traced them, cut out the fabric, then applique'd them on to the quilt front (the quilt was in suspended animation until she was born and had a name).

I used red thread to zig-zag around the letters, then finished my quilt sandwich and quilted with a meander, avoiding the letters to make them stand out a bit.

I LOVE how it turned out.

Almost as much as I love this selvedge:

All quilted and bound and ready to go. She was born two weeks before we left for New York so there wasn't a huge amount of time!

Ahem. These chaps thought the quilt was for them and were very disappointed to find out it was not.

Thanks to Evan for the quilt feet and the Brooklyn Bridge for the backdrop.

And here it is in its new home. Grace is exceedingly cute (but was a little sleepy at this point)!

Friday, November 2, 2012

We ate Rhode Island (and a little New York)

We went to Rhode Island. And ate everything in sight. 

I had two hot apple ciders (both delicious). They DO NOT have this in England, and it's a damned shame. Brits: it's warm cloudy apple juice with cinnamon and nutmeg and other yummy spices. It's warm and fall-y and delicious. I have some cloudy apple juice from Waitrose and might try my hand at making it tomorrow afternoon...

And here, my friends, is a giant celebration cannoli, surrounded by lots and lots of smaller cannoli. Shut  up.

We went to an anniversary brunch while in NY, and John had a very entertaining cannoli experience.

A family friend's grandmother is Old School New York Italian, and we were talking about the fact that John didn't know what cannoli was and had never tasted it. Basically, fried dough with ricotta filling. YUM. But definitely not on John's list of good eats. Nonni was undeterred and proudly presented John with a plate containing two cannoli, announcing, "You gotta eat some cannoli! You'll love it!" Poor hubby looked very worried until I relieved him of his cannoli and ate them. :)

Once we got to Rhode Island (not cannoli-free, I might add), we took ourselves for dinner at DeWolf Tavern in Bristol. The food was stunning - John had lamb chops and I had steak, and both had been cooked in their tandoor and were caramelised on the outside and tender on the inside and generally amazing. My only quibble was that I had the daily special and it wasn't mentioned that the price was $10 more than the most expensive thing on the printed menu. Otherwise, outstanding.

And since we were in the US, I had to have some pizza, at Leo's (again, Bristol). This is the buffalo chicken pizza (with blue cheese, obv.). Spicy and salty and cheesy and very very tasty. The pizza base was some kind of twice-cooked foccacia. Really springy with big air bubbles and a crispy crust. We will be experimenting chez Herd.

We also managed to waddle to Federal Hill, Providence's Little Italy. We were hungry and unsure where to eat so my ever-resourceful mom spotted a man going into a bank (he looked like a local) who obviously enjoyed his food, if you catch my drift. "Excuse me, sir, we're wondering if you can recommend a place for lunch in Federal Hill?"

Didn't miss a beat. "Go to Venda Ravioli." We obeyed and were not disappointed. This was the view from our table. The pasta was incredible and super-fresh. It's a deli, a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a kitchen supply store. It does all of them well.

Our final meal in RI was a breakfast at the now relocating Sunnyside. I can't wait to see where chef Joe will end up, and try his dinner menu!

John was excited for the pancakes (leftovers pictured below) and real maple syrup. My mom, wanting to make sure he was not disappointed, stashed a bottle of real maple syrup from home in her purse, just in case Sunnyside had "breakfast syrup" or some other travesty. Thankfully, they served the real thing and mom's bottle of syrup was taken home again untouched. Phew. Cracked me up, though!