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Sunday, 22 November 2015

Stir up Sunday (again)

It's That Time of Year Again

I can hardly believe where this year has gone.
I always remember my Nana telling me 
the years go by faster as you get older, 
and I never really understood 
what on earth she was talking about.

Sadly she is no longer around to tell me that any more,
but I now know exactly what she meant.

Time is so precious, 
and it's not until we have a bit of
life experience under our belts 
that we can truly appreciate
how taking the time to make 
special memories is so important.

I look at my two children and wonder what they think of some of the things I tell them?
Do they think I am a wise and knowledgeable parent?
Or someone who talks utter rubbish at times, 
but makes them laugh?

I hope it is the former, 
but suspect it is the latter.

Either way I love them, 
and hope in years to come they will look back 
at all the things we do at this time of year,
and remember fondly the laughter and fun
(and amazing smells) 
that fill our kitchen and house.

Christmas was never that special to me 
in my late teens and twenties.
It was a good excuse for a few days off work 
and to eat and drink far more 
than my poor tummy could cope with.
It is only now that I really enjoy it all
(and that includes the stress of having 
everything ready for one special day).

Today is fondly known as 
'Stir Up Sunday' 
in the baking world.

A day to bake, 
and make a serious attempt at 
the mountains of Christmas 
preparations that need to be done. 

I have already baked the 
Christmas cakes and they are maturing nicely,
with a regular 'feed' of brandy, 
before icing in a week or two.
There was just the Christmas pudding that I needed to get done today.

I have already written about the recipe I like to use here.
I have tweaked it a little over the years 
and I have replaced the
currants in the recipe for dates.

(Currants are one of my least favourite dried fruits. 
They look like dead flies 
and taste pretty much like them too.)

The dates give it a more rich and slightly toffee taste 
which all the family seem to enjoy.

I have found using my slow cooker 
to cook the pudding by far and away the easiest
and convenient way.

You pop it in there 
and basically that's it for about 8-10 hrs depending
on the size of the pudding you are cooking.
It's all nicely tucked up in some 
greaseproof paper and foil now 
until the big day.

Next on the agenda is my sweet mince prep 
but that will have to wait until next weekend now.

What are some of your Christmas traditions?
I would love to hear about them.

Until next time,
enjoy your Christmas preparations.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Sunburst Granny Square Blanket

Growing Up Is Hard To Do

I think we all dread the day our children leave home.

There is the attraction of having a spare room again,
and being able to see the bottom of  the laundry basket from time to time,
but with that comes the
empty nest syndrome that so many people have described to me over the years.

I have been with my 'work family' for so long,
their children have become integral parts of my life without realising it.
I have been privileged enough to watch them grow from
gorgeous little babies into amazing adults that we can all
feel incredibly proud of.

Therefore when my lovely friends daughter came to leave for university recently,
we all felt the stomach churning wrench of being left behind.

The though of our loved ones not waking up in their own bedrooms any more is never going to be an easy thing to accept, but I remember reading a quote many years ago that said -

If you love someone set them free
 If they come back they are yours.
If they don't, thy never were.

Tell that to their mothers as they weep inconsolably for weeks after they have gone.

Never the less, Abby left for Leeds and I really wanted to give her a gift to remember us all by,
 but also something she could keep as a memento of her first steps into adult life.

I knew immediately that a hand made blanket would be perfect and so I set about racing against time to make something really special for her.
As always the clock was against me and I didn't manage to finish her gift in time for her leaving but I sent it down to her a couple of weeks later.

I have been wanting to try out the sunburst square by Priscilla Hewitt for quite some time, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a go.

I was really pleased with the end result and the colours seemed to come together so well.
More by luck than planning!

Miss Bee helped to choose the colours
during a recent trip the wool heaven also known as 
Black Sheep Wools.

My favourite colour is blue,
 so when we chose this delicious mix I couldn't wait to get started.

I calculated the size of  the blanket,
 and it worked out at 7 x 9 squares plus a decent size border.
I used parchment for the border which I felt was a nice change from the usual cream or white that people tend to go for.

I chose Stylecraft Special Double Knit in 

Storm Blue

and Stylecraft Life DK in 

Ice Blue

The border was simple but I think it looks effective.
I didn't want to detract from the detail of the pattern in the squares,
(and there were quite a few of them stacked up around the house).

I have used this on a couple of other blankets 
and it always looks good and is very simple to do.

There is a very good picture tutorial over on 
Cherry Heart

The final row of edging was taken from Attic 24's granny blanket edging.

As my confidence with my crochet skills grows,
so does  my bravery to mix things up a little with pattern and colour combinations.

I have so enjoyed creating this gift for Abby
and my only hope is that she enjoys it's lovely, snuggliness 
as much as I have,
and that she thinks of us all 'up north' when she uses it.

Until next time, enjoy your day.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Blueberry and Lemon Muffins

Have You Seen the Muffin Man?

I remember singing this song when I was young
(a long time ago now)
and whenever we decide to bake muffins at home
I end up humming this to myself.
It's a busy bee thing.

As I mentioned in my last post,
the shops are now getting all of the gorgeous summer fruits in abundance
and I bought some blueberries the other day,
but wasn't sure I was going to do with them.

An impulse buy if ever there was one.

There had been a couple of lemons rolling around in the fruit bowl
for a few days and after a few minutes pondering what do with them both,
Muffins sprang to mind.

You could substitute the blueberries for other fruit too.
This really is a general, all-rounder recipe.

You will need :

150g softened unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
120ml whole fat milk
250g self raising flour
zest of 1 lemon
125g blueberries
a little demerara sugar for the topping

1. Line a muffin tin with muffin cases.
(I had some pretty pink tulip style cases I had been itching to use.)
Pre heat the oven to 200c / 180c fan  / gas 6.

2. In a bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and then gradually add the eggs and milk  little at a time.
The mixture may look a little curdled at this point but don't worry
it will come together at the next stage.

( My little helper for the day )

3. Fold in the flour and lemon zest until the mixture is just combined.
Overworking the mixture can result in the muffins feeling little on the heavy side.

4. Fold in the blueberries.
Again the mixture dos not require too much mixing
as the blueberries will start to burst and you end up with purple muffins.

5. Divide into the muffin cases.
I find an ice cream scoop very helpful with this,
as you get an even dollop in each case.
Top each muffin with a sprinkling of the demerera sugar and
pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes,
or until the muffins are risen and golden on top.

( I had help with the dishes )

6. Leave the muffins to cool in he tin for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

These will keep for 3-4 days in a container,
but taste delicious when fresh and just warm.

Until next time,
enjoy your day.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

A Shiney New Kitchen

Confessions of a Busy Bee

You may have noticed there has been a
distinct lack of baking going on in the Busy Bee household of late?

Truth be told, I lost my baking mojo for a while
- about a year to be exact.

It all started back in June last year when the work started on my NEW KITCHEN.

Yep, that's right - we finally started with the extension to create our dream kitchen.
A place to cook in,
eat in,
 and enjoy as a family.

The building work was straight forward and took around 6 weeks from start to finish,
 it was a B-I-G extension.
Then the kitchen fitters had to do there magical bit.
They created the nicest kitchen a girl could ever wish for,
and they did manage to give me some of the things I had always dreamt of.
A bespoke window seat,
an arched window (yes, I loved Playschool when I was a little girl),
an island work space,
needless to say, I am one very lucky girl.

The colour scheme we went for was a soft pastel one.
Nothing to bright or harsh on the eye.
We plumped for Laura Ashley's light duck egg blue in the end.
It is so lovely,
I still sit and admire the colours.
It is a true country style kitchen (with a modern twist).

Living with the work was not so easy.
The dining room became a make shift  kitchen.
My cooking was limited to the microwave
 and a small halogen oven which a friend loaned me.

I washed up in the bath,
and we ate from plastic plates.

This is nothing new, I hear you say,
as many people have found themselves in similar circumstances
when they have work going on in the kitchen.

I think we got off quite lightly compared to some poor peoples tales of woe,
where they have had to endure some pretty terrible ordeals.

But, for some strange and inexplicable reason,
I have not really settled in my beautiful kitchen until now.

I wonder if I was grieving for the little kitchen I had,
or was it just the upset and upheaval of the work which unsettled me so much?

I really can't say for sure, but I have slowly started to feel a sense of comfort and ease
that has allowed me to dip my toe back into the baking world.

I have two fantastic new Siemens ovens,
and a rather complicated manual to read too.
There are so many settings and recommendations for different types of food you are cooking.
A million miles away from my little crappy oven that you just switched on and hoped for the best.

I have really struggled to produce things that I'm really happy with
and I am a bit stumped as to what is going wrong.

Is it the setting of the oven
or perhaps that the temperature is not right in the oven?

Heaven knows,
but I'm determined to get back to where I was
with my pleasure of baking and all things cakey.

Please don't get me wrong,
the kitchen is a wonderful place now,
but I'm trying to be honest and taking this opportunity
 to explain what a strange time it has been for me.

I realise now what a stressful time the whole experience has been,
but one which I had to experience,
 in order to create a lovely space
for the whole family to enjoy.

Any way, enough of my maudlin mews.
I have been playing around with a few recipes,
and these will pop up here shortly.

All the lovely summer fruits have been appearing in the shops
and the temptation to go a wee bit crazy with them is too great.

The plan is to make some raspberry jam this weekend,
and then some delicious scones to compliment them.

Until next time, enjoy your day.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

End of Year Tears

Summer Holidays are H-E-R-E

It only seems like such a short time ago that Miss B was starting her journey into school
with her first day at Nursery.

Now she is finishing up with Infants school 
and about to start a whole new chapter 
of her education adventure 
in the Junior school.

This week has brought back some long forgotten memories for me,
Saying goodbye to old school friends
and being more than a wee bit nervous about
starting a new school and making new friends.

Things seem very different from that now.
(Teachers seem a lot more friendly for one.)
There are transition days held within the schools 
and the children are given several opportunities to meet their new teachers before term starts in September.
This seems to give the children a huge confidence boost.

It has been such a hectic couple of weeks at home.
There has been an end of term pirate party (great fun).
Leavers concerts 
(which I sobbed through the entire thing).
Visits to the schools 
and the opportunity to look at their work from this past year,
and of course deciding on thank-you gifts 
for teachers.

This year Miss. B wanted to be very hands on with this, 
and quite rightly so.

We eventually decided on some painted 'keepsake' apples,
hand made thank you cards,
and a 'little' something from Cath Kidston 
(never fails to please).

The apples were great fun to decorate and 
provided a fun filled weekend
of getting messy together.

Hopefully a handmade gift will mean something special for her teachers.
I think she will always treasure these early school day memories,
and her teachers have been such an integral part of this.
(and of course, me being me, I had to go a little bit
overboard on the gift bags too.)

We painted the same rosy apples on the front of gift bags,
with a personalised touch
of a matching gift tag and ribbon.

I did feel quite proud of all our hard work when they were finished.

Well, all that remains for me to do is 
wish you a very happy
and fun packed Summer, 
whatever you have planned.

Until next time,

Enjoy your Summer.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Good Food Show Harrogate

Good Food Show Galavanting

I was lucky enough to get a 'pass out'
the other weekend and
off I went with my lovely friend Sheena,
for an adventure on the train down to Harrogate,
to see James Martin and visit the
 Good Food Show.

What a lovely day we had.

It started with an early departure from Durham station.
I was surprised just how busy the
station was for a sunny, Sunday morning.

(I think most of the other travellers were headed to the same destination as us.)
It was a lovely journey down.
A chance to chat and catch up on things.
Sheena and I work together but she has been away on maternity leave
for what feels like forever,
so it was great to while away the time hearing all about things.

We arrived at Harrogate mid morning,
and after a little stroll down from the station to the exhibition centre,
(of course, it had started to rain by the time we did arrive,
so it was perhaps more of a scurry than a stroll,)
it was time for the fun to begin.

It was the first time I had visited the exhibition centre but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the venue itself
and the very good organisation of the day.
Plenty of well furbished toilets, staff very friendly and helpful, etc.
Altogether a far better experience than some of the places we
have visited in recent years.

magnificent meringues

The lay out at the show was pretty much the same as it always it -
A plethora of stalls selling their wares.
Everything from kitchen appliances to tasty morsels,
and plenty of scrumptious samples to try.

The absolute highlight of the whole day was the delicious

We stumbled into him at the tail end of a book signing.

Sheena 'brushed' past his arm whilst heading to an interview session.
Yes, she actually made contact with his arm.
She will be forever a happy girl.

The final cherry on the cake was sitting front row at
James' cooking demo.

I have to confess I paid no attention to what he was cooking.
I sat there in a trance, 
 hanging on his every word throughout the entire
thirty minutes he was on stage,
and can't actually remember what he said!!

All told we had an amazing,  
fun day and I can't wait for the next one,
(probably next year).

Until next time,

enjoy your day!


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Giant Granny Square Blanket

Cosy Cat Crochet

I was sorting through my wool stash after
Christmas and came across a
bag full of wool I had bought from Poundland
of all places.
I must confess,
I couldn't even remember buying the stuff.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wool.
Sometimes cheap wool is exactly that,
This wool however,
 felt quite soft to the touch
and the choice of colours weren't bad either.

I pondered for a little while, 'what on earth I could do with it?',
and the idea for a little blanket for Jaffa
came to mind.

Everyone in the house has had something made for them
in recent months
but poor Jaffa has been somewhat forgotten about.

I have mentioned my cat,
to you before
a.k.a. Stupid Cat
He is not the most affectionate of cats.
In fact, any affection is very much on his terms.
He does't' do cuddles or sitting on your lap,
only wants to be touched when he is hungry,
and has the philosophy
"why scratch when a hiss will do?"

Over the years, we have all come to have
mutual understanding
for each other.
We have our space and he has his own.
The children learnt from a very early age not to bother him.
On the odd occasion he strolls upstairs to see
what is going on,
the kids tend to stiffen up into rigid statues and inform me
"Jaffa is up here".
It's actually quite funny to see their reaction to him
(in a cruel way).

I know my description makes him sound awful
but he really is not all that bad.
You just need to know how to treat him.

So I thought best to keep the design simple,
and plumped for a giant granny square style.

I ran an alternate row of white with each colour,
which looked quite pretty,
and seemed to accentuate the contrasting colours.

The wool was comfortable to work with,
and didn't split or separate either.

In all, I would say this wool was not a bad buy.

I do read some of the brilliant blogs out there,
where they use such beautiful
(and terribly) expensive wools,
and wish my purse strings could stretch
to such luxurious buys.
A girl can dream, right ?

Any how, my little cat blankie came together
 in the space of a couple of evenings
and the pom poms on each corner were a fun project for
Miss B and me to play around with.

This was such a quick and simple project
and the end result was very satisfying.

I think Jaffa was suitably impressed with his present too.

Until next time, enjoy your day.