Friday, 21 December 2012


Saint Nicholas' Day has become part of the Herring-Child festive season. This runs from December to January, and encompasses as many traditions from random countries as we find entertaining/tasty/alcoholic enough.

It starts in earnest on the 6th December, when we deliberately try and burn the house down in the name of good clean fun.

Feuerzangenbowle is a traditional German drink whereby a zuckerhut (compressed sugar cone) is doused in rum, set on fire, and the caramelised sugar and excess rum drips into a bowl of delicious mulled wine. The magic combination of tasty, tasty alcohol and approved pyromania is intoxicating.

We were introduced to the concept a few years ago and have attempted it with varying levels of success ever since; the chief issue with us being the lack of zuckerhut. Previously we attempted to fashion our own by packing moist sugar into a cone of baking parchment. I suspect had we packed harder, and left to dry for more than a few days, it may have been more successful, but I am impatient when it comes to rum-soaked goodness.

Cue 2012, when I finally caved and bought myself a proper kit from the German Deli in London website. I also loaded up on the zuckerhut from the same place.

It was magnificent.

A word of warning though: when adding additional rum you are likely to lose and eyebrow or two. Also, over excitement can also lead to singed carpets.

 Frustration as I clearly didn't add enough rum and it fizzles out in disappointment.
A much more pleasing sight.


Feuerzangenbowle Recipe

3 bottles of cheap red plonk
3 oranges
2 lemons
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
(optional, 2 cardamom pods, bruised)
1-2 zuckerhut
1 bottle of strong dark rum (we used Woods Old Navy Rum as it was 50%)

Gently warm the wine on the hob with the juice of two of the oranges and one lemon. Slice the remaining fruit and add to the hob along with the spices. Warm slowly for at least half an hour, not allowing it to boil, then transfer to the heatproof punchbowl. Lay the zuckerhut on the tongs (or other heatproof ledge-type implement) over the bowl and douse in rum. 

Turn the lights off, and set on fire. 

Use a metal ladle to top up the rum to prevent the flames going out, taking care not to singe yourself, your friends, or your house. Drink, rinse and repeat with another cone and finish up the bottle.

Boring safety advice: DO NOT POUR STRAIGHT FROM THE BOTTLE, or you will end up with a Molotov Cocktail, which is far less tasty.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Homemade all-purpose Mexican seasoning

I spent a while last year experimenting with chili, and finally came up with a mix that seemed to work as a general multipurpose Mexican seasoning. I add it to chilis, tacos, hot bean dip. etc, etc, etc. I doubt it's particularly authentic, but it does the trick.

All-purpose Mexican Seasoning

8 tbsp chili powder
4 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp salt (or to taste)
2 tbsp black pepper
4 tsp dark brown sugar (I used molasses sugar, but demerara is also good)
4 tsp cocoa
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder (I couldn't find this so bought freeze dried onion pieces from a Chinese supermarket and crushed them)
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp smoked paprika (change ratio of smoked to normal paprika to your desired smokiness level)
1 tsp cinnamon

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Pinterest Success #1: Rosemary Parmesan Crackers & Texas Trash Dip

In common with many others, I spend more time pinning things to Pinterest and less time actually making things, but I finally tried out some new recipes. Some worked, some didn't. These are the ones that worked.

First up are the Rosemary Parmesan Crackers (see here for the recipe). These were tasty indeed, and I will definitely make these again (though in greater numbers). For once, something I made actually resembled the picture on the website.

(LEFT: picture from Alexandra's Kitchen blog, RIGHT: fuzzy photo demonstrating my efforts minus the garnish)

Secondly was the Texas Trash dip. It's basically all refried beans and large amounts of cheese - what could go wrong? No pictures of my efforts this time, but I'm highly endorsing this and will do this again.

(Picture & recipe from Life as a Lofthouse blog)

The only changes I made were to halve the amounts, replace the sour cream with creme fraiche, replace Monterey Jack with Edam, and the taco seasoning with a tbsp of my homemade chili mix.


I am making a general pre-new year resolution to actually DO rather than PIN. Or, at least, get the ratios of doing to pinning to a more appropriate level.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

5:2 Update #1

Ok, six weeks in - four if you don't count my fieldwork mid-way through. I've carried on eating as normal (except for the fast days), I've been to a wedding and seriously over-indulged, and yet I've still lost 9 lbs. This makes me sound as if I have an unhealthy diet - I don't. I eat plenty of veg and am generally sensible, but just have the occasional binge.

I am very happy about this, as you can imagine. My modest goal was to lose a stone, and I'm only 5 lbs away from that in a very short time.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Eat, Fast, and Live Longer?

I'll admit, I've tried Weightwatchers.
I'll admit, I lost about a stone on it.

However, I've come to the conclusion that I am not the sort of person that can do diets: I love bread, pasta, cheese, curries, and pretty much ALL THE FOODS far too much. I fell off the wagon spectacularly and put on way more than I'd lost.

The problem with loving food too much is that, despite having a fairly active job (at least some of the year), the pounds creep on like you would not believe, especially once over the age of 30. Cue a conversation in my office about a month ago, whereby a colleague told me all about the BBC Horizon programme - Eat, Fast and Live Longer (I had to make sure I got the comma in the right place. If eating fast was a prerequisite, then I'd live to 100).

So it goes like this: eat what you like five days a week, but on two non-consecutive days you can only eat 500 calories (or 600 for men). It sounded tough, but the alleged health benefits seemed a bonus to me: weight loss was only one, there was also reduction in cholesterol, lowering risk of diabetes and heart disease, and retarding the development of cancer cells. If even the NHS had it on their website then it couldn't be that bad, in my mind.

I've been doing it for around a month now and I'm the lightest I've been in a long time. I've lost a fair few pounds and am feeling rather good about it all. I even had two weeks off in the middle to go to fieldwork and just picked up where I left off on my return. I've been out for massive curries, I've not given up anything I love. The "hungry days" are actually not so bad. I've found that fizzy water is a great filler and you can eat quite a lot on 500 calories if you choose your veg wisely.

The anal retentive in me has been keeping track of progress in Excel and, as of yesterday, starting tracking body fat and H2O as well. I have a set of scales that measures these - I realise it's not massively accurate, but I'm still interested in seeing what it says.

So, here's my progress. I'll be updating as the weeks go on. The grey bars indicate my hungry days, and the blue my weight (note the gap in the middle when I was away). So far I've noticed that I - unsurprisingly - always drop the day after a hungry day, but then go up again afterwards. However, that rise is rarely as high as my previous weight, so overall the trend shows a gradual drop. It seems sustainable so far, but we'll see!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

(Not So) Recent Projects: Hats

Can it really be that the last project update I did was October 2009? I admit, I'm a lazy knitter/crocheter, but it seems that I'm an even lazier blogger. Mind you, the world* is not missing much!

(* my one follower - hello mum!)


So, prepare for a visual feast of knitwear. Or not. Your call.

First off... hats.

Not the greatest picture of a Selbu Modern, but an ace hat nonetheless. My first real attempt at stranded colourwork. Looks better in the flesh, honest!

This Everglade I made for my mum, and am kind of wishing I'd kept it. I don't normally do patterns twice but I might consider it for this one.

Note: the blocking pins and the dinner plate are not a feature.

This one was not for me - even my minute head isn't small enough to fit in that one. It's an adaptation of the Snowflake Hat and the chart I made is on the project page at Ravelry.

This is Capucine. And I wore the hell out of it during the snow last year. I know I look like a five year old in it, but I have little shame.

Another hat for mother. This was highly experimental, no pattern involved, and probably ended up being far too hot to wear. I imagine it's now languishing in the bottom of one of her cupboards.

This was my favourite hat ever. Fitted perfectly, great for fieldwork, etc, etc, etc. It's a pattern called Sixty Cables.

I'm finding this all a bit too emotional though, as it was eaten by a mouse a couple of months back. It still hurts to talk about it.

The mouse is dead now. Revenge was mine.

I'm not so keen on this Beanie Brim Cap. No fault of the design: its probably because I ran out of yarn and the brim's a wee bit too small. Also I was probably a bit bitter at the time.

It's a cat, on a hat. It wasn't for me.

I don't have an updated picture of this sadly, but we abused the poor cat into giving him a body somehow, *and* a bendy tail. In fact, this is definitely the maddest hat I've ever made.

I realise it's too hot in Georgia to wear it, but SEND ME A PICTURE, LESLIE!


Yes, those are Daleks, and no, as established above, I don't have any shame.


Next up... random accessories.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A visitor at New York Terrace

We are temporarily looking after a friend's Korean fire-bellied toad for a couple of weeks. He's very cute, but clearly a bit mental. His name is Midnight, but we prefer to call him Froglet or Jimmy (Jimmy-fire-belly, of course).
As far as I can tell, for food he opts for simply trying to kiss crickets to death, which seems fairly ineffective. Clearly attempting escape, he has also recently taken to trapping himself in the clingfilm at the top of the tank.
I'm becoming a little concerned that his odd shenanigans will mean he won't survive until his owner returns from the US. Fingers crossed...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Giant Jaffa Cake for a 35 year old

When I asked Liam what kind of birthday cake he wanted, he decided that a giant jaffa cake was the only way forward for a boy of his advanced years. In the true spirit of experimentation I decided to give it a go. I've lost my notes so I'm writing this from memory - hopefully the amounts aren't too far off.
For the sponge:
  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 110g self raising flour

For the jelly:
  • 1 packet orange jelly (I used Hartleys which equals 135g of jelly cubes)
  • 100ml orange juice

  • 1 bar of dark chocolate

Firstly, make up the jelly by chopping the cubes into a microwwave safe jug, and add the orange juice. Microwave on full until the jelly has melted, then stir well.  Fortunately I had a perfectly sized plate with a sunken area the size of my cake tin.With the benefit of hindsight I will offer the following advice: put clingfilm onto the plate before you pour on the jelly to set. Getting mine off after was nearly impossible!

I used Delia's Victoria Sponge recipe, but for some reason I am rubbish and it ended up denser than hers: Delia's makes two pieces to sandwich together, mine only made one! So, follow her instructions for the sponge. If you are better cook than me, you'll end up with an extra spare cake!

Once the cake has cooled, peel off the jelly and add to the top. Then, heat the chocolate in a double boiler, let cool slightly but not harden, then pour over the cake. I haven't put an amount as I clearly used way too much with about 190g. One 100g bar would probably do it.

Let the chocolate harden in the fridge, then try not to eat it all at once.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cheesy fun

I'm getting into cheesemaking again. I'm easing myself back in gradually by starting with paneer. Totally easy to make and great to cook with.

4 pints full fat millk
4 tbsp lemon juice or 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in a little water (approx 1/4 cup)
Spices of your choice

  1. Bring the milk to a rolling boil, stirring regularly
  2. When foamy,  add the lemon/citric acid, turn down the heat and, and cook for 10-15 seconds
  3. Continue to stir off the heat until the curds and whey separate, then leave for about 10 minutes to set
  4. Ladle the curds into a muslin and keep aside the whey.
  5. Rinse the curds under warm water then leave to drain. I add the spices at this point, then put a weight on top of the tied muslin to help consolidate it all.
  6. After a couple of hours it's ready to eat.

I've found it's ace if you coat it in smoked paprika then fry it up with some bacon in a tomatoey sauce. Either that or go classic with curry. The whey you can either use in place of water in breadmaking, or I keep it in the fridge and add it instead of water to pasta sauces, etc. It gives it an every so slightly creamy edge. It lasts in a fridge as long as your milk normally does.

I used citric acid to precipitate this one, and added black pepper. You can see I didn't really pay much attention and the spice isn't exactly evenly spread. Citric acid can be pretty hard to get hold of, as people think you are going to cut it with heroin, but some places are ok. Barnitt's in York is where I get mine. They clearly don't care if housewives are addicted to class A drugs.


Middle-aged post alert

Spring means a vague attempt by me to grow some veg. I'm fairly black-thumbed so it's always a miracle when I manage anything edible at all. It's not going so badly so far though.
Plum tomato and gherkin seedlings in my mini-windowsill greenhouse.

Orange bell pepper and fuego chilis. I've forgotten which plants are which though...

My chilis and sweet peppers from last year are miraculously still going strong, and flowering already, despite a hefty pruning whereby I chopped about 4 feet off the top.

My heavily-pruned cherry tree blossoming in the yard. Last year it produced the grand total of one cherry at mum and dad's house whilst they were tree-sitting, which was promptly stolen by a bird. I'm hoping for at least two this year.

Taters just planted out at the front, plus other bits and bobs.

Only half of my sugar snap peas have germinated thus far...

I *think* these are carrots.

My courgettes haven't died yet. There's still time.

Wild strawberry plant (back) I stole back from my yarden in Birmingham, plus a new normal one (front) donated by Mother Goodchild, my source for all things seedy.

So, fingers crossed for a bountiful summer. If I manage to eat any of it I reckon I'm on to a winner.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Unobtainable furniture

I was watching Upstairs Downstairs tonight. It's fairly rubbish - embarrassingly so at times - but I fell in love with this kitchen cupboard. I love it, I want it, I'm never likely to ever source one though or, if I did, be able to afford it. A girl can dream.

Baggergate overhaul no. 1

So, we've been in our new house on 'the-street-formerly-known-as-Baggergate' since November, and things are finally starting to take shape. Going unfurnished has meant lots of trips to the fabulous Community Furnite Store, abusing the kindness of family, buying unwanted furniture from departing friends, and an unhealthy Pinterest obsession with house decor.
My favourite achievement so far is our shelves: a sure sign of my impending middle age. The premise was simple. Buy some plywood shelves and cover the undersides and front with wallpaper. Turned out after some digging that someone had (unsurprisingly) already thought of this.
Problem number one: I got back from the timber merchants to find a tonne of real wood shelves from the 1960s in the skip at work. Consider some of them dutifully salvaged (with permission!). Fortunately for my sanity, they weren't long enough for the alcove we wanted, so the original plan went ahead.
Problem number two: I am rubbish at putting up shelves and the struts are too close together. Ho hum. They've not fallen down yet!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

And finally...

Last night was my very first appearance on television in a local regional news programme on BBC. The slot didn't disappoint, with atmospheric music, helicopter shots of sweeping landscapes, re-enactors in a bloody battle scene, and moody midnight shots in a graveyard.

It's a shame that we didn't manage to get our results done in time for the finished piece. It's a bigger shame that I didn't get my roots done before filming, and that my overriding feeling coming away from it was "why can't York University afford any chairs?".**

** In all seriousness, the filmaker did a lovely job, and it was a fun project to work on. We'll be writing it up soon!