Sunday, 25 November 2012


New gloves
Calendula Milorange Scotch bonnets Molly Wesley socks

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Wanton abandonment

One of the things I enjoy about living in London is the easy availability of ingredients from all over the planet. Just off Leicester Square is Chinatown, home to a fantastic supermarket with three floors of Asian delights. If I'm in the area, usually at one of the independent cinemas or National Portrait Gallery, I'll pop into the supermarket and browse with a mix of intrigue and bafflement at the range of ingredients from Japanese carrot milk to Thai galangal to wanton wrappers.

Chinese New Year 2011
Chinese New Year 2011, London

In summer 2011 I went on holiday to China. Our fantastic hostel in the hutongs north of the Forbidden City in Beijing held a dumpling night which was free for guests, where they demonstrated how to make dumplings/gyoza/wantons. We mucked in and after a few messy attempts were proficiently wrapping parcels of veg, egg and pork for the meat eaters.


 See the look of concentration on my friend's faces.


I had a go at this when I returned home but making the pastry was tricky, so the next time I was in Chinatown I picked up a pack of wrappers in the freezer section.

Gyoza experiment

Tonight I had a go at making wantons. I'd been sprouting mung beans (yes, I'm that sort of person) so I minced some of those in the food processor along with some ginger, garlic, cavolo nero leaves from the allotment (again, just think of me in the Good Life) and quorn pieces which I'd stir fried for a few min before chopping.

Gyoza experiment

Taking my wrappers out of the freezer it dawned on me that I didn't know how to prepare them from frozen.  Trying to prise them apart with a knife shattered them and the instructions on the back of the packet were in German, so I had to improvise - yes I could have googled it but where would the fun be in that? I poured some freshly boiled water into a dish and let the wrappers sit for a about 20 seconds which enabled me to peel off the bottom few wrappers, repeating the process until I had enough. I popped the rest back in the freezer for further experimentation.

Gyoza experiment

Stuffing them was fairly easy, though I found it hard to get the edges to stick compared with fresh dough. Keeping my fingers and the wrappers wet helped and stopped them from sticking to everything else.

Gyoza experiment

After some fiddling I decided to chance it and boil the gyoza without worry if they fell apart or not. It worked! Sort of. Some did fall apart, partly due to my lack of patience when I was fishing them out of the water.

Gyoza experiment

Here's the worst of it

Gyoza experiment

and the best of it.

Gyoza experiment

The stuff drizzled over them is my improvised teryaki sauce which is dead easy to make - see the end of this post for details.

So, the important part, nevermind how they looked, how did they taste? Pretty good, seeing as we gobbled them down in a matter of seconds.

Will I make them again? Well the prepration to eating-time ratio is pretty high so maybe in another six months I'll have another go. In the meantime, Chinatown also sells frozen Korean kim chee gyoza, which are pretty excellent and only take a few minutes to boil. Sorted!

Teriyaki-esque sauce

This is a variation from a recipe in Yo Sushi: the Japanese Cookbook

I didn't have any sake (a shame, I know) or mirin.

3 tbsp low salt soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp Japanese rice wine vinegar (a wine vinegar with gentle flavour will work well)

Boil ingredients, adding a small amount of water if the sauce gets thick to quickly. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce is the consistency desired. That's it. Told you it was easy. Keeps any leftover sauce in the fridge.

Hostess with the mostess dumplings

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Four born - part one

I've only seen one dead baby real life. That sentence, even as I type it, is shocking.

Not that I've only seen one dead baby but the fact that I have seen one at all.

Here in the UK, where we have good and universally available healthcare infant and maternal mortality figures are very low. Remarkably low, a happy testament to what we can achieve. Of course, they could be better and there is always room for improvement but watching my friends raise and nurture their children with the stresses and strains that accompany bringing a new human into the world is in stark contrast to what many women face.

I've just watched Four Born Every Second, a BBC documentary following women's birth experiences around the world. It reminded me of the dead infant I'd accidentally seen when I worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I'd been taking my usual route through the hospital from one department to another when walking past the morgue entrance I saw a nurse holding a baby. I glanced at the child, preparing to do my usual mix of cooing and daft gurning I reserve for the youngest in our society, when the stark
 realisation that the baby was dead hit me hard in the gut. The baby didn't look very different from a healthy living child and the nurse was sensitively holding the baby as you would a living child. I was shocked. Surprised. Upset by what I had seen and those sensations stayed with me for a good week.

I'd become accustomed to seeing seriously ill children, some with pretty severe appearances, as well as grieving parents in my workplace. It was normal, though being away from the wards - I worked in a research department - I was removed from the brutal fate of some of the kids at work.

My train of thought chugged its way back through other similar experiences. A good friend of mine lost her four-month-old son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome two years ago. While I'd never met her boy as she lives in Australia I still grieve for her loss. In a similar vein friends have gone through miscarriages, some very late on in pregnancy, devastating their hopes for their future.

However, the majority of my friends have had good experiences of parenthood, with healthy kids and sick kids, the poorly children getting treatment for things from chest infections to epilepsy to childhood cancer. No doubt you have similar stories to share.

So where am I going with this?

After I graduated from University I spent a summer volunteering in Tanzania helping to build a health clinic with a small British NGO called Health Projects Abroad. As well as providing health clinics in remote parts of the country, one of the aims was a cultural exchange, breaking down barriers and preconceptions for us and for the local people who became our neighbours.

While there were many amusing moments it was also my first encounter with poverty. Not full on starvation as Africa (so often referred to by continent rather than diverse cultures and countries) is often portrayed, but limited access to healthcare, education, balanced diet and communications. Many of the kids I met were relatively healthy, but there were some sad incidents, things you'd hardly ever see at home.

Heck, I've just seen the time, 1am, I really should go to bed. I'll try and pick up the thread tomorrow. In the meantime, check out this interview with MSF's Dr Philip de Almeida who was featured in tonight's film. He's an inspiring person.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Look! Knitting!

Catalogue shots

Look! Gasp in awe and wonder! I've finished a knitting project!

I am excellent at casting on, enjoying the first half of a project, then being distracted by a shiny new pattern like a dog spotting a squirrel, dropping the first project and casting on a new. 

So yes, this was made on 5mm needles, and yes, it knitted up very quickly, but look, I got to the end, grafted the ends together (I like grafting) and wove the ends in (I hate weaving ends in). Part of the impetus for finishing this is it was a present for my MIL. Here she is modelling the cowl - which I named Simon, geddit? - when we went to visit her in France. 

C'est tres chic, n'est pas?
Cowl in action

Another part of knitting I am excellent at, is coveting the things I've made. I like this cowl, which means I'll have to make myself one, however without the impetus of gift knitting the question is will I finish it?

Knitting details
Pattern: A Very Braidy Cowl
Yarn: Malabrigio Worsted 
Colourway: Tuareg Lighter blue 98 
Amount used: 78g
Needles: 5mm

Cowl in action

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How to speak Lund

Like knitting? Like Scandanavian crime dramas? Then you might like this video from the Guardian and UCL's Scandanavian Studies deparment.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

What did you do in the war Grandad?

I entered a competition on my friend knittingtastic's blog a few weeks ago. She posed the question:

Tell me your favourite knitting figure from history and why they top your list. 

I didn't win but think what I wrote about is worth sharing here:

My OH’s grandfather was by all accounts was a thoughtfully lovely chap. He was stationed in the Falklands during WWII as the islands doctor. Luckily for him life there was relatively quiet so he picked up his knitting needles and knit his wife a dress. 

I’d love to ask him which yarn he used, was it from local sheep, did he bother with tension swatches, you know, all those knitterly questions. I remember my OH’s gran recalling with fondness the dress he’d made, which he gave to her as a gift when he returned home at the end of the war. 

Apparently it was a very good fit and well made, which I am a little bit in awe of as they were half the world away from each other and he didn’t use a pattern. 

I trot out this story when people make inane comments about knitting being just for women.


While I didn't like my GCSE English and English lit teacher very much, he did introduce us to the war poets of the first world war, for which I am very grateful. I hadn't studied history much at school but studying the likes of Owen and Sassoon gave me some insight into the horrors of war.


I worked as a care assistant for a year after I graduated from University and many of my patients had lived through the Great War, so I learnt more from them and also from survivors of WWII, including some people who had been interned in Auschwiz, their tattoos an indelible testament to the worst of humankind.

I hadn't intended to find the poem, Glory of Women by Siegfried Sassoon, but was browsing through my book of his poems to photograph something for here. The last three lines might strike a chord with some of us:

O German mother dreaming by the fire
While you are knitting socks to send to your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud

I have mixed feelings about Remembrance Sunday.  Yes, I think it is vital to remember what people went through, and still are going through in our armed forces, but I also think we should remember the civilians affected by war. The people of Afghanistan who have lived with war for generations, families in Pakistan currently facing drone attacks in the name of the 'war on terror' which creates more terror, just not where I live. The conflicts we hardly hear about through our media as they've been going on for so long and appear so hopeless that we, but not all of us, seem to have abandoned them.

I can get quite ranty about this, however other people can put this into words better than I can such as this article in today's independent from an Afghanistan veteran questioning if it's right for our Prime Minister to wear a poppy while "fetching and carrying for the arms industry".

I'll leave you with one of the poems I studied at school which has stayed with me. While we remember what has happened, the question is how do we stop it from happening again?

O.B.E. by AA Milne

I know a Captain of Industry,
Who made big bombs for the R.F.C.,
And collared a lot of L s. d.--
And he--thank God!--has the O.B.E.

I know a Lady of Pedigree,
Who asked some soldiers out to tea,
And said "Dear me!" and "Yes, I see"--
And she--thank God!--has the O.B.E.

I know a fellow of twenty-three,
Who got a job with a fat M.P.--
(Not caring much for the Infantry.)
And he--thank God!--has the O.B.E.

I had a friend; a friend, and he
Just held the line for you and me,
And kept the Germans from the sea,
And died--without the O.B.E.
Thank God!
He died without the O.B.E.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Cheers Bill

I came here to write something completely different, but as I was signing in I heard that Bill Tarmey has died. Bill played long-suffering husband and pigeon fancier, Jack Duckworth in the classic UK soap Coronation Street, which I've watched since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

My mum used to let me stay up to watch the cat in the opening sequence before I was packed off to bed. I think the only times I haven't watched Corrie is when I was at University and didn't have a TV and when I've lived overseas. Even then I would get updates on what was going on from my mum.

Now you may be groaning, thinking soaps are a load of crap, which yes, a lot of them are, but there's something a little bit different about Corrie. There's a real northern warmth about the writing and a heck of a lot of humour. Whenever I catch glimpses of miserable Eastenders, seemingly filmed in grey, the only expression being a downturned grimace or tedious shouting of "leave it aaah, 'e aint werf it", I change the channel and think fondly of Rita's Cabin, where daft gossip is interspersed with comedy gold or the ongoing Ken-Deidre-Tracy sagas and Deirdre's timeless cries of "Oh, Tracy love".

I've just had a quick pop over to twitter and saw Joanne Harris, the writer, had shared her favourite Jack Duckworth quip:

That gentle humour is one of the things I admire about t'Street, which, by the way, attracts such theatrical luminaries as Nigel Havers and Ian McKellen. Yes, that's right, Gandalf has been in Corrie. I was recently on holiday in Malysia and Indonesia where I picked up what may have been the oddest thing I have ever brought abroad. We were in Kuala Lumpur central station, waiting for a train idly browsing a book sale in the station, when I found this:

Corrie book

Yes,  I bought a 1980's Coronation Street album while in Malaysia  It's awesome - if you like Corrie, obviously - and is packed full of facts and good interviews, not like novelty books today where most of the writing seems to have been left out. It's from the era when I first started watching Corrie, when I was deemed old enough to stay awake beyond the cat, so I've had fun dipping into it and dredging up old Corrie facts. If I ever go on Mastermind Coronation Street might well be my specialist subject. I just hope one of the answers would be "Oh Tracy love!"