Sunday, 30 September 2007

Chocolate Fudge Cake and Gentleman's Relish

Given that it was my mum's birthday on Friday and that she and my dad were calling in for tea on Sunday on the way back from London, it seemed like a good idea to plan on making a cake this weekend.

"What sort of cake shall I make?" say I to C on Saturday morning. "Chocolate fudge cake" says C. So I flick through my random collection of recipes, duly note down the ingredients, and off we go to the shops.

The following morning, food-mixer in hand, two things strike me about this cake:
1) It requires a whole block of butter, the best part of a bag of dark brown sugar, and very nearly all of a pot of cocoa powder.
2) Given the erratic spelling and instructions along the lines of "add flour and other things", this is almost certainly a recipe I have acquired at some point from my youngest brother, whose recipes are notoriously "experimental". Mercifully this one doesn't have any mystery ingredients that I can see (the chicken dessert of two Christmases ago has passed into family legend); neither am I instructed to "put it out in the sun to cook", or to grind the flour myself using a saddle quern made of stones recovered from the garden. Nevertheless, it was with a degree of trepidation that I embarked on the project.

However, in the end, the instructions seemed fairly sensible, the mixture very nearly fitted into my biggest, deepest cake tin, and it came out looking not all that bad. Unfortunately while trying to get it onto the cooling rack a slight miscalculation with an oven glove (i.e. it wasn't on my hand when I picked up the still-hot cake tin) resulted in a nasty fissure across the top but I struck on the idea of disguising this with icing sugar, first cutting out the letters of "Happy Birthday" in paper so as to leave a message on the top when the letters were removed. This (very nearly) worked well. The B of Birthday got a bit smudged trying to get the paper letter off and the a moved a bit so the over all effect was rather as though the message had been written by a small, semi-literate child, but it wasn't too bad. My mum seemed to like it anyway.

Only as the last notes of Happy Birthday died away and my mum took a deep breath did the drawback of this plan strike me. My mum blew out the candle and the three of us at that end of the table, most of the tablecloth, and a fair amount of the rest of the room turn white (and slightly sticky).

Still the cake was nice... If somewhat rich... There's a fair bit left...

Also in a spirit of culinary experiment this week C and I bought a pot of Gentleman's Relish (est. 1824). This is something I had often heard of but never before tried. The lid of the pot was emblazoned with a health warning along the lines of "to appreciate the fine flavour of this product to the full use VERY SPARINGLY". Accordingly we spread it thinly on hot buttered toast.

I can well imagine that to a Victorian gentleman, his palate hardened by quantities of mutton, port, and cigars this might have an interestingly piquant flavour, but to me it tastes like a mixture of crab paste, marmite and Vicks VapoRub. Pthah! C claims to like it and says that this demonstrates that he is in fact a true gentleman (in spite of all evidence to the contrary). I reckon this might have more to do with the fact that he burnt off all his tastebuds at an early age by consuming industrial quantities of kebab-van chilli sauce while an undergraduate, and now belongs to that category of people who believe that if something doesn't make your nose run (or better still bleed) it's not worth eating. I shan't be eating any more of it at any rate.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Happiness is fridge-shaped

Hooray! Our new fridge finally arrived and it fits (just)!

This is the long-awaited replacement for the secondhand one we bought when we first moved out of a furnished flat. It was supposed to be reconditioned and frost-free, but the frost-free function never really worked properly, so instead of letting the moisture condense and drain away, it formed a sort of glacier at the back of the freezer. Every two months or so you'd go to get something from the freezer and the front of the drawer would come off in your hand because the rest of it was frozen to the back wall.

The new one is big, shiny, economically efficient (as far as these things ever are) and has three (yes three!) vegetable drawers. It's a sorry indication of just how old and sad I am these days that ownership of a double egg-rack should produce such paroxysms of joy, but there we are. It's a very very good new fridge.

When we finally get the new washing-machine and I no longer have to open the door with a screwdriver my joy will be complete.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


Last night I blocked Kiri mark 1 to the size O requested. As predicted I think it is too small (more like an antimacassar than a shawl); even on a short-arse like me it barely covers the tops of my arms. But otherwise I'm quite pleased with it.

Provided I can get it back on the needles I reckon another 3 repeats or so (plus the edging) should do the trick. The silk is so fine it gives a very pleasing result when blocked.

I finally got round to photographing the socks I finished a while back which I've decided should be called Opal Fruit Socks. The colour of the Opal "Feelings 1705" yarn reminded me so powerfully of Opal Fruits (Starburst to all the youngsters out there) that I could practically taste them while knitting (particularly the orange bits for some reason). These were the ones I ripped about 20 times in a fruitless (pun intended) search for something wouldn't just give me great big stripes. In the end I divided the yarn and used two balls at once to give me lots and lots of stripes and I'm fairly pleased with the end result though equally glad to see the back of them after so many false starts.

Also today I managed to tidy up the garden a bit, including having a hack at the lunatic yellow clematis which is taking over the whole of one side of the garden. The problem is it's so tangled you can't really see where it comes from so you just have to chop things and hope for the best. I can only reach the low bits so I just cut them and wait for the bits further up to die.

The whole garden is looking rather fed-up and end-of-summer and quite a lot of things are suffering from blight/mildew/some other sort of lurgy as a result of the lousy weather we've had and the fact that, consequently, I've not been outside as much as I might. But at least the Virginia Creeper's looking nice.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

If you can't beat 'em

OK, I've finally caved. Everyone else seems to have a blog, and I was beginning to feel left out. So here I am. This blog is almost inevitably going to be mostly about knitting, since the only people I know who are likely to read it are other knitters and anyway, it's what I spend quite a lot of my time doing.


Attack of the fifty-foot stash

I have turned over a new leaf. I have decided that from now on I am only going to buy good quality yarn and then only when I have a specific pattern in mind (honest guv). However, the first step is to get rid of the vast quantity of stuff I already have which is spilling from the not-inconsiderable hamper in the living room - and the other box under the table which we don't talk about (that's crochet thread so it doesn't count - well most of it is...). Consequently I'm in the middle of a major stash-busting exercise.

The first thing is to get rid of the two MASSIVE balls of
not-very-nice aran I acquired when I first started out, and have singularly failed to make anything from since. To this end I am making Banff from Knitty (this is going to be a gardening jumper I suspect). However the balls really are quite big. There were two when I started; I've knit the front, the back, and the cuff of one sleeve, and I only have one and a bit balls now... :os

I also started a madly-striped baby cardigan (the cardigan is striped not the baby) for the daughter of a friend in order to use up lots of merino/baby cashmerino leftovers. Kind of fell at the first hurdle there as I had to go and buy more yarn to eke out the oddments and get the colours to work. Hmm.

Finally, I'm knitting the first of three silk lace-weight Kiris for my sister's wedding (seen here languishing on top of the ever expanding pile of yarn and half-finished projects). Quite excited that I am now at the stage to do a test-block and see if it's big enough, though I suspect the answer will be no. That's my project for the weekend.

However, my cunning plan is being somewhat undermined by the fact that people keep giving me yarn, which is very nice of them, but it's not helping with the tottering pile which is threatening to engulf my end of the sofa. My latest acquisition is this rather lovely skein of 100% Jacob aran(ish) that my brother brought me back from Orkney. Now what shall I do with it I wonder...