Sock It

Sooooo…socks! Yep, I knitted me some socks. Actual, wearable socks knitted on double pointed needles, you guys. I like to think that I’m a pretty accomplished knitter, but my knitting resolution for 2013 was to learn to use double pointed needles. Cos they really used to scare me! What the hell, four tiny little needles, all inserted somehow into your knitting, boinging around of their own free will and causing absolute havoc! No thanks. But after my obsession with this book, I was determined to face my knitting fears.

And I did, ahead of schedule! For Christmas 2012, I knitted Christmas baubles for friends and family…

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But I was still quite frightened of socks. There’s a heel to turn, foot shaping and of course making sure it actually fits your foot! I needed a nice simple pattern to gently ease me into the world of sock knitting. My friend Sophie is a sock-knitting whizz, and with a bit of inspiration and encouragement from her, I finally went for it. I chose Jane Brocket’s pattern from her gorgeous book The Gentle Art of Knitting, and set to work.

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I used Regia Funstripe sock wool in a perfect-for-me colourway of pink, blue, yellow and brown. This wool stripes as you knit, so it’s really lovely to see the random colours emerge! After a fiddly start, I was away. And you know what? It wasn’t all that terrifying. Just some ribbing, then a lot of knitting in the round. I realised that with socks, there is rarely any purling. Because you’re going round and round in a circle, you simply knit away, so all your wrongside stitches stay inside the circle and your lovely outer side is all knit stitches. Great!

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Then we got to the heel and there was some deep breathing, but Jane’s instructions really are clear and simple, and she guided me through well. Bit more knitting, a fiddly toe cast-off (as you can see from the bumpy toe on my right sock), and it was done!

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Oh, and then there was a second sock to knit…I launched into this straight away, because I knew the curse that befalls many sock knitters: putting off that second little guy. You’ve achieved the first one, it looks lovely, but man, there was a lot of plain (i.e. boring) knitting going on there. I’ll just do it…later. Another day. Six months on, arghh I still only have one lonely sock! I wasn’t about to let that happen, and I think I knitted the second sock even more quickly than the first.

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My next sock attempt may well be the french knot polka dot ones from Anna Wilkinson’s lovely book. Until then, I’ll pad around the house in my new striped lovelies, gazing at them adoringly and high-fiving myself. Cos, you know, SOCKS. I can knit ’em.

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Get shorty

Last week, I couldn’t stop thinking about strawberry shortcakes. Despite never actually having eaten one, the perfect summer weather had me craving something decadent and scone-y, with equal greedy measures of jam, cream and strawberries. So I decided to treat the girls at our weekly knitting club to some shortcake goodness. After a brief bit of internet hunting, I found Nigella Lawson’s version. Needless to say, they were delicious. I made them the day before we planned to eat them and they were easily refreshed by warming them up in a pre-heated oven for 5-10 minutes.

These shortcakes are definitely best served warm, with lashings of whipped cream and strawberries. And probably a spoon, too. Because, let’s face it, the best puddings are the messy ones! Let’s go summer, we’ve got the food nailed.

Strawberry shortcakes
by Nigella Lawson

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Ingredients:

For the shortcakes:
325g (11oz) plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 tablespoons caster sugar
125g (4oz) unsalted butter, frozen
1 large egg, beaten
125 ml single cream

For the filling:
approx. 300g (10oz) strawberries
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3 drops balsamic vinegar (optional)
250ml double cream or crème fraîche

– Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and 3 tablespoons of the sugar in a large bowl. Grate the butter into these dry ingredients and use your fingertips to finish crumbling the butter into the flour. Whisk the egg into the cream, and pour into the flour mixture a little at a time, using a fork to mix. You will probably not need all of the eggy cream to make the dough come together, so go cautiously.

– Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll gently to a thickness of about 2cm / ¾ inch. Dip a 6½ cm / 2½ inch round cutter in flour and cut out as many rounds as you can. Work the scraps back into a dough, re-roll and finish cutting out. You should get 8 in all. Place the shortcakes about 2½ cm / 1 inch apart on a greased or lined baking sheet, brush the tops with the remaining egg/cream mixture, and sprinkle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. If it helps with the rest of your cooking, or life in general, you can cover and refrigerate them now for up to 2 hours.

– Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden-brown, and let them cool for a short while on a wire rack. Meanwhile, crush half the strawberries with the spoonful of sugar and the few drops of balsamic vinegar if using, and halve or quarter the remaining strawberries, depending on their size. Whip the double cream, if you’re using.

– The shortcakes should be eaten while still warm, so split each one across the middle and cover with a spoonful of the crushed strawberry mixture, a few halved or quartered strawberries, then dollop some whipped cream or crème fraîche on top, and set the top back on.

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Two years on

Following my post almost a year ago, in which I reflected on our one year chicken-keeping anniversary, I thought I’d write a bit about what’s been happening since. Basically, not much. All is cool. In fact, we’re pretty obsessed with chickens now.

It surprised me how easily the chickens fitted into our lives. In fact, a couple of months ago we decided to get three more, and went back to the lovely Home Farm in Overton to pick out Sybil, Hatty and Ghosty/Navin/Pig Eye Jackson (don’t ask). They have settled in well, and despite regular squabbles over food and territory, are all laying eggs regularly. We’re eating a lot of omelettes and pavlova at the moment…

We’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden lately, tidying, weeding and preparing for a new shed. Being around the chickens every day, even if it’s just ten minutes, has meant that they are as used to us now as we are to them. They are excellent at “helping” in the garden. They follow us round, getting in the way. They are nosey, and peck at anything they deem to be food (wellies, fingers, lips!).

We’re very fortunate to have lovely friends to act as chicken-sitters when we go away, for which I am very grateful. There are always things going on with the chickens – Hatty has a habit of scaling a four foot fence, and Queenie currently has a cold – but I wouldn’t change them for anything. It dawned on us recently that we’re probably always going to keep chickens. And that’s totally fine with me. Turns out we’re just chicken people.

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Birthday caking

My friend Erica has a bit of a thing for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not a sexy thing, more like…HE’S AWESOME. It was Erica’s birthday last month, and a big one at that, so I thought it was about time I tackled a cake fit for a colourful, inspiring and fun-loving girl.

The starting point came when I saw this post on baking a polka dot cake, and it pretty much blew my mind. I mean, how amazing! I bought a cake pop mould and set to work, colouring small amounts of a basic vanilla sponge mix.

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The cake pop colours didn’t come out as vivid as I would have liked, but I just delighted I was able to get them out of the mould in one piece…

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Next step: I blobbed some cake mix in the bottom of three 20cm round cake tins, arranged six cake pops evenly per tin and covered them with more cake mix.

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This stage looked a little, err, blobby, but hey! They turned out ok!

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Next I sandwiched the cooled layers together with buttercream icing (recipe here, minus the cocoa powder).

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Then, I did something I’d never tried before: I crumb-coated the cake. This is a very thin layer of icing, which is spread all over the cake to “glue” any crumbs down and ensure that the top layer of icing is super smooth and clean, without any crumbs poking their stupid heads through your work of art. In the past I’d always skipped this step, as it is quite time-consuming, but I knew I wanted this cake to be GREAT, and I wasn’t about to let any pesky crumbs interfere with my icing. It was also weirdly therapeutic and gave me time to mull over how I was going to decorate the cake.

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I let the cake sit for the rest of the afternoon, to let the crumb coating do its thing. Then I set to work with the final layer of icing, which I’d decided was going to be OMBRÉ. Oh yes. First, though, I had to address the main man: Arnie. With help from the ever-patient Jim, I printed and cut out a picture of Arnie as the Terminator, then laid this across the cake. I then dusted the cut out areas with edible silver glitter…

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And glittery Arnie was complete!

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For the sides, I separated a large batch of buttercream icing into three bowls, and used food gel to colour each one from pale lilac to darker purple. I set to work applying the icing in stripes down the cake, with leftover white icing for the top stripe. This may sound tricky, but a small butter spreader dipped in warm water worked wonders for blending the colours together.

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Finally the Arnie cake was ready for its birthday debut…and it went down well. The polka dots even worked! Even better, there was enough cake for all of Erica’s party guests. Way to go, Arnie cake! You made a special lady very happy.

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