Thursday 30 January 2014

Knitting a hat in the round

I've been busy knitting hats to match the scarves I made the other day. Do you remember? Just knitting a scarf ...

Anyway, I've made a nice, baggy one for myself, and another one for my mum.

What do you think?

They fit very comfortably, and mine will be a perfect cover-up for those bad-hair mornings when I've not had time for any self-titivation. Who does when they've got the school-run to race, the packed lunch to make and the usually not-quite-awake child to breakfast and get kitted out for the day? Not me! It's as much as I can do to get where I'm supposed to be going, with everything landing in more-or-less the right place along the way.

Anyway, enough of moaning. If you've like to have a go at making your own bad-hair day cover-up, here's how to go about it:

Hat Pattern


2 balls of Sirdar Click Super chunky
1 pair of 6 mm circular needles with a 40 cm cord between them
1 pair of 9 mm circular needles with a 40 cm cord between them


Cast on 88 stitches using the size 6 mm needles. I seem to have quite a big head (!), but you can vary the girth to fit comfortably by increasing or decreasing the number of stitches in increments of 4.

It's a good idea to use another length of wool to mark your place when you've finished. I loop a scrap of different coloured wool over the needle to mark the end of the row and pass it over each time so that I know when I've done a full row.

1st rib row: knit 2, purl 2 all the way round, ending with a purl 2. Take care when you knit the first stitch of this row to pull the wool tight so that you don't have a looseness where the two sides come together.
2nd and successive rib rows: same as first rib row.

Carry on knitting the rib until it's about 5 cm long - or as long as you would like it to be.

Slip your stitches from the 6 mm needles onto the 9 mm needles and carry on with the main part of the hat.

1st row: *Knit 3, slip 1*. Repeat from * to * until the last 4 stitches. Knit 2, knit 2 together. You now have 87 stitches.
2nd row: knit 1, slip 1, *knit 3, slip 1*. Repeat from * to * until last 2 stitches. Slip 1. Knit 1.
3rd row: *Knit 3, slip 1* all the way across the row, ending with Knit 3.

Repeat rows 2 and 3 until your hat is long enough to be a comfortable fit for your head.

The length you knit it to will affect the look. There's room for you to play around a little bit here. I made mine slightly longer than was strictly functional so that it would drape down behind for a relaxed baggy look. It measured 24 cm when I started to shape the crown, but you could make your hat shorter - say about 18/ 19 cm for a more conventional, snug fit.

Do whatever works best for you.  It's a great look when you try your partly-made hat on with the needles still attached at the top. Go on: admire yourself in the mirror!

Anyway, when you've got the length of your hat to where you want it to be, you need to do some crown shaping.

1st Row: Knit 2 together all the way across and end with a knit 1. [44 stitches]
2nd Row: Knit 2 together all the way across. [22 stitches]

Cut your wool so that you have a tail of about 20 cm to finish with.

Thread your wool tail into a darning needle and draw it through all the stitches, and pull together tightly into the inside of the hat. Fasten securely, finish and darn in the ends.

Ta dah! You have just made a hat, which you can now prettify with a pom pom, crochet flowers or whatever takes your fancy.

I've went for a pom pom finish on both my hats.

What do you think? Do send me a photo if you make one for yourself.

All the best for now, and enjoy that cosy ear feeling,

Bonny x

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Lemon & Lavender marmalade anyone?

Today I’m making marmalade, and my whole house smells of lemons and lavender. It’s reminding me of summer and sunshine and big blue skies. And when all around is grey and rainy, that’s making me just a little bit happy.

I’m fussy about my marmalade. I like it to be not too sweet, very citrusy with a fragrant hint of something aromatic – I like notes of cardamom, elderflower and lavender, but probably not all at the same time. The peel has to be included, but must be soft and very thinly sliced. When I hold the jar of not-too-sweet loveliness up to the light I like to see tones of bright golden sunshine. Nothing sludgy or brown for me, thank you very much, and I’d never dream of adding a heavy flavour like whiskey. No, not ever. That would just be wrong.

I'm not a big fan of the supermarkets, so I try to shop with the independents as much as possible. Here in West Ealing we have Cudi Foods, the most fabulous store in town. It’s an independent ethnic grocery shop with wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables piled high outside. Inside you find the very nicest bottled pulses, spices, Turkish breads and other wonderful things to eat. And I’m not talking Harrods' prices. No, this is a place where regular people come to buy great produce. In fact it’s usually cheaper than the big supermarkets.

So, on my way back from school yesterday, I headed over to Cudi for some lemons. Feast your eyes on these beauties:

With any marmalade or jam-making, the basic recipe is fruit plus twice the weight of granulated sugar. I find that I don’t need to add any setting agent to this marmalade as the pectin in the fruit and the pips is plenty strong enough to get it to the right consistency.

My basic jam making kit comprises one very large saucepan, a long wooden spoon that doesn’t get lost in said saucepan, a jam thermometer, clean jam jars with fitting lids (you could buy these, but there’s nothing wrong with saving the glass jars that you buy other things in and re-using them after a good clean), some waxed paper disks, a soup ladle and a pair of oven gloves for lifting the hot jars - and that’s pretty much it.

Check this lot out:

Now down to business, here’s what you need, and here’s how to go about it:

Ingredients :-

About 10 lemons (weight 950 g)

Twice the weight of the boiled-down lemons of granulated sugar (1.6 Kg. in this case)

Two heaped tablespoonfuls of edible lavender seeds. Or, as an alternative if it makes your life easier, you could buy some lavender-infused sugar. I save my own lavender flowers, but last year’s crop looked a bit too manky to risk in the pot, so I bought a 250g box of lavender-infused sugar and used that as part of my sugar addition.

1 teaspoonful of citric acid (This is an optional extra. The recipe will work just fine without this ingredient. I use it, because I like the extra zing it adds to the lemony flavour. You can buy it in an ethnic grocery shop such as Cudi.)

2.8 litres of Water          
Knob of butter


Day 1

The first step is to give the lemons a really good scrub, and remove the eyes (the little circular bits that come off the ends, where they used to join on the tree).

Then they need to be cut in half and juiced. Save the juice.

Remove the pips, and save them on a saucer.

Now slice the skins of the lemons into the thinnest slices that you can possibly manage without losing any of your digits.

Place the slices into a large non-metallic bowl, add the lemon juice and give everything a bit of a stir.

Place all of the saved pips onto a piece of muslin (you can buy this in any good kitchen shop), and tie to make a little package with a piece of string. The idea is to hold the pips and not let them mix through the marmalade. They will help your mixture to set, and the parcelling-them-up business will make it easier to discard them before bottling.

Place the muslin parcel of pips in the bowl with the sliced lemons in their juice and add 2.8 litres of fresh water. Give the mixture a bit of a stir-about, and leave covered in a clean t-towel overnight so that the acidity of the liquid will soften the skins.

Day 2 - roughly 24 hours later

Take an old saucer and put it in the freezer to get it crazy cold. You will use this to test the consistency of your marmalade later in the process.

Put your lemon skin/juice/pips/water mixture in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Leave to boil gently for about two and a half hours until the skins are soft and slightly translucent.

While you’re waiting for the skins to cook you should sterilise your jam jars. Wash both the jars and their lids in hot soapy water. Rinse well with warm clean water. Dry the outsides but not the insides. Place them on a baking tray (open top ends up) with the lids (top sides up) on a separate tray in an oven pre-heated to 150 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

You should also ‘warm’ your sugar. With about half an hour to go before the lemons are ready, weigh it out and put it in the oven at about 150 degrees Celsius in a large flat dish.

After the lemons in the saucepan have been boiled to the point where they are soft and translucent, add the sugar, citric acid and the lavender seeds with a knob of butter (this helps to stop it burning, according to my mum) and bring to a rolling boil, which is a gentle boil that isn’t too violent – think of gently churning rapids downstream from a large waterfall. Stir occasionally and let everything boil for another fifteen to twenty minutes or so until it starts to set. You should use your thermometer for this stage to check the temperature. The marmalade will start to set at around 106 degrees Celsius.

When it reaches this stage, and you see it starting to thicken, you need to do the frozen saucer test.

Take your saucer from the freezer and drip a little drop of the marmalade onto it. Leave it for a few seconds and then gently push it with your fingertip. If the marmalade is ready it should have formed a thin skin on top and you should be getting wrinkles when you apply pressure. It may still seem to be too liquid for spreading on your toast, but if there is a very thin skin with wrinkles you are good to go. The mixture will thicken/ solidify a bit more once it cools. This is the trickiest stage of the process, so do keep your eyes peeled.

Anyway if you haven’t reached this point let the mixture boil on for another three or four minutes and test again. Keep going until you get that skin-and-wrinkle-thing happening on your saucer, but be really careful as it can easily burn if it overheats (and, believe me, cleaning the bottom of the saucepan when it does is a nightmare job).

When the magic point arrives (skin and wrinkles on the saucer) take the saucepan straight off the heat, and let everything sit for about 10 minutes before starting to bottle it into the jars.  This slight cooling should result in the optimum amount of peel being dispersed through the mix rather than all settling at the bottom of the jars. Remove your little parcel of pips and fill each jar to the neck. I use my oven gloves and a soup ladle that I've washed down with boiling water for this part of the operation. Then place a disk of waxed paper on top, and put on the lids.

When they’ve cooled down you can apply labels and pretty them up in whatever way takes your fancy. They go down well as little treats for friends or as an alternative offering at the school cake sale.  Keep them stored in a cool, dark place and they should be good for about a year from the date on which they’ve been made. I keep my stash on the out-of reach top shelves in my kitchen cupboards. I’m a bit too short to make comfortable use of these shelves for every-day things, so they make a great larder for storing unopened preserves.   

For alternatives to the lavender you may like to consider adding some elderflower cordial with the sugar for a floral note. Alternatively, at the sugar stage, add a couple of tablespoonfuls of green cardamom seeds, split in half lengthways. 

And finally a photo of my not-too-sweet jars of sunshiny loveliness:

I got about 1.6kg of jam.

What do you think?
Totally, fragrantly delicious!
Go on, try some on your toast, and think of happy, sunshiny days.

Bonny x

Sunday 26 January 2014

Ealing Common – a little history on my doorstep

 Yesterday Maxi and I went for a schnauzer round Ealing Common. We saw a break in the clouds, and skedaddled out of the house for a breath of fresh air while the going was good. For a short while we even had a little spot of watery sunshine, but, as you can see, the Common was pretty waterlogged after all the rain.

Now I don’t know about you, but I occasionally happen upon things on my day-to-day wanderings that have been there since forever without my ever having noticed them before.  

Well, yesterday, in front of the Grange Pub, on the corner of the Common, I paused to read the inscription on an old water fountain. I’d seen it a hundred times, but had never taken any notice of it.

It read: ‘Presented by the Metropolitan Fountain and Cattle Drinking Trough Association’.
This seemed a pretty unusual association for London, W5. It struck me that it had probably been quite a while since we’d had a herd of moo-cows chewing their cud on the Common and partaking of a cool drink from our splendid fountain.

I came home nursing the image of happy cows grazing on the grass as drovers kicked back for a bevy on their way to Smithfield.

After a quick bit of research I learnt that the Metropolitan Fountain and Cattle Drinking Trough Association was a philanthropic group, set up the wake of a cholera epidemic that had swept across England in 1854, with the objective of providing pure, clean water for the people to stave off disease. Over time the Temperance movement got in on the act, strategically choosing to erect many of the fountains outside public houses to discourage people from going in. You see the publicans had previously provided a watering trough for their patron’s animals, encouraging the good folk to go inside to tend to the needs of their beasts if not their own.

So this must have been how our fountain came to be strategically sited directly outside the Grange Pub. I wonder whether the publican of the day noticed a drop in his trade as a result of the free water appearing outside, and whether the local vicar was a strong Temperance man who preached against the demon drink.

For a moment I had a brief hint of the neighbourhood politics and daily goings on from all those years ago. Do you ever get a sense of the forgotten lives that once echoed around the streets where you live? And isn’t it just a little bit sobering to think that one day, in the future, we will be nothing more than echoes ourselves?

Bonny x

Friday 24 January 2014

Just knitting a scarf …

A lovely, snuggly scarf .

I found this pattern on Ravelry:

But I couldn’t find any of the recommended wool in Bunty’s, my local wool shop, in West Ealing.

Undaunted I had a go at re-creating it with Sirdar Click Chunky yarn, which Bunty stocks in a range of colours. I chose a lovely, classic grey colour shade 0119. 

I tried following the original pattern, and, whilst the texture of the rib worked beautifully, the scarf came out too narrow for my taste at only 3 inches or 7.5 cm across, so I set about changing the pattern to create a broader scarf that worked with the Sirdar wool.

And this is how it worked out:

I kept knitting until my scarf was a very decent 48 inches or 122 cm long, and then I knit in the final ruffle at the other end and cast off.

So if you want to recreate the look with Sirdar Click Chunky, here’s the way to do it:


1 pair of US size 13/ 9 mm needles
3, 50g balls of Sirdar Click Chunky wool


1.              Cast on 108 stitches.
2.              Ruffle Row One: knit 2 together for the entire row. You will finish the row with only 54 stitches left on your needle.
3.              Ruffle Row Two: knit 2 together for the entire row. You will finish with only 27 stitches left on your needle.
4.              Rib Row One: *knit 3, bring the wool to the front of the needle as though you were about to do a purl stitch and slip a stitch, return yarn to other side*. Repeat from * to * across the row, ending with knit 3.
5.              Rib Row Two: knit 1, *bring wool to the front as though you were about to do a purl stitch and slip a stitch, bring wool to other side and knit 3*. Repeat from * to * across the row until the final stitch. End with a knit 1.
6.              Continue with these 2 alternating Rib Rows until your work measures 48 inches/ 122 cm or whatever length you prefer.
7.              Final Rib Row One: knit into the front and back of each stitch for the entire row. You will finish with 54 stitches.
8.              Final Rib Row Two: knit into the front and back of each stitch for the entire row. You will finish with 108 stitches.
9.              Cast off, weave in your ends and admire.

And then when I’d finished I thought I’d have a go at knitting another one for my mum, because it had been so quick and easy. She does a lot of dog-walking in a lovely bright, red coat with bright red wellies.

So I thought I’d find something that would clash nicely with her normal get-up. Bunty sold me some lovely red, tweedy Sirdar Click Chunky, shade 0112, and I got going on another scarf.

Double Ta-Dah! What do you think?

And now I think I’ll have a go at making a hat to match, if my friend Bunty still has any Sirdar Click Chunky wool left in the same dye-lot.

Have a great weekend!

Bonny x

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Walpole Park and my dog-walking worries ...

Walpole Park, in the centre of Ealing, is our local park. Normally it’s a great little spot, but this winter it’s being renovated, and it’s shrunk to half its normal size (argh!). We’ve been fenced out for our own safety while they carry on with the work.

The park adjoins Pitzhanger Manor, which was built by the famous architect, Sir John Soane, as his country house. You may have visited his town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which is now a museum filled to capacity with all his bits-and-bobs. Old Sir John was a bit of a hoarder, although in his day they called him a ‘collector’.

In any event the idea behind this programme of work is to restore the park’s Regency landscape. I think that sounds amazing, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished result, but I’d like to know when that’s likely to happen, and when we can expect to get our park back. The work is being ‘phased’, and I’ve not been able to find any firm finish dates on the Internet for when any of the phases will be finished – other than the vague suggestion of early 2014, which I would have thought ought to be sometime now.

We try to walk to and from school when the weather is nice, and when we don’t have too much games kit to lug back and forth. A quick detour into Walpole Park on the way back allows Maxi to have a run off the lead over the open grass before my workday begins. Recently, however, I’ve had to keep him tied up because of all the heavy plant and machinery that’s always motoring around in there. Some mornings it feels a little bit like we’re taking our morning constitutional in a working quarry.

The Serpentine has been drained and the ornamental gardens have been dug up with the result that it looks as though they’re trying to re-create a WWI battlefield, complete with muddy trenches in the fenced-off zone. The next photo’s a bit out of focus because even my camera was losing the will to live when presented with this scene of destruction, but you can hopefully get an idea of what I’m banging on about. And I have to say, as an aside, that the vague early 2014 finish date is beginning to look a bit optimistic. Call me a cynic, but it doesn’t look like the ducks are going to be paddling in this pond any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not having a go at the Council or whoever’s in charge. I liked the park how it used to be, and I’m sure I’ll love it with all the fancy Regency-era improvements that have been promised. All the people who work there have been unfailingly helpful and polite to me. The vehicles drive slowly with lights flashing, and there’s usually a lookout guy walking in front to make sure that they don’t run over anyone or their dog. I’m just saying that I’m really looking forward to when we get it back again – all of it.

Bonny x

Friday 17 January 2014

Honoré Daumier at the Royal Academy of Arts

One of my very favourite places in London is the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly.

Do you know it? If you don’t, you can find it here: Royal Academy of Arts

I joined up as a friend way back when I first moved to London, and I can honestly say that I’ve learnt more about art within the walls of Burlington House than they ever managed to teach me at school.

These days I’m a huge fan of the visual arts and of art history, but when I arrived in the Big Smoke for the first time I didn’t know a whole lot about any of it. You see I’d grown up in a very rural corner of the world where we didn’t have a lot of access to museums and art galleries. At school I’d taken maths and the sciences to A-level so I hadn’t had much of an opportunity to lose myself in fine art.

All that changed, big time, when I  came to live in London. One of the many, many things I love about living here is having such fabulous art collections on my doorstep.

The Royal Academy is special, however, as its exhibitions encourage you to focus on stuff that you may not have paid much attention to before. I’ve discovered so many fabulous artists just by going along and having a look.

At the moment they have an exhibition up in the Sackler Galleries of the work of Honoré Daumier.

‘Who he?’ you ask.

I’ll confess that I’d never heard tell of him before either, but I can tell you he was a total Rock Star of a painter. He lived from 1808 to 1874, and his work reminded me very much of that of my great hero William Hogarth in that he saw things from the perspective of the little man/ woman, the normal guy, rather than the Duke or aristocrat. His work is infused with sympathy for the working poor. His brush strokes are brave and sparse, and painted with the satirical eye of a Hogarth, and in many ways anticipating the work of the impressionists.

I won’t talk on about his work, because you can read all about it on the RA website from people who know far more about him than I do, but, if you get a chance, do pop by and have a look for yourself. You’ll discover a fascinating window into the prejudices and pre-occupations of people living in nineteenth century France, but please go soon, as the exhibition closes on 26th January.


Bonny x

Wibble wobble jelly on a plate …

There’s something incredibly satisfying about a good, old-fashioned jelly on a plate. Don’t you agree? It sort of adds an air of celebration to a very modest after-dinner treat.


See what I mean? It looks like I went to a bit of an effort, whereas in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Jelly is a doddle to make with one of those jelly-cube jobbies that you simply dissolve in water, leave in the fridge for a bit, and then love the result.

Emilio, my son, is particularly enthusiastic about jelly. He’s got an egg-allergy, which tends to rain a lot on his pudding parade. However, one thing that he can (and does) enjoy is jelly.

My Mum and Dad recently gave me these wonderful old jelly moulds. I’ve had fun making regal-looking jellies with them for Emilio and his friends. We had a sleepover in our house with three of his best friends at the beginning of the month. After dinner the boys had ice cream and jellies made up in their team colours, which went down a treat.

One trick that I’ve learnt is to coat the mould in some cake-release spray so that the jelly comes out a bit easier. Alternatively you could use a sweet-tasting oil, such as almond oil, to coat the tin, or you could dip the mould quickly into some hot water to loosen it up around the edges if it’s being stubborn about coming out – just be careful not to leave it in the hot water for too long or to get any of the hot water into the jelly, otherwise it’s liable to go pear-shaped.

It’s a really simple, easy, every-day treat that helps brighten up the January gloom. Go on, have a go, and make a little person smile. 

Bonny x

Thursday 16 January 2014

Retail therapy at the London Designer Outlet Village

 I don’t know about you, but I love to bag a bargain.

From time to time I like to motor up the M40 with a girlfriend in tow, for a bit of retail therapy at Bicester Village. It takes me about an hour to get there from where I live in Ealing. The parking is free and easy, and the get-away out of West London is usually uncomplicated. There are some acceptable pit stops for lunch in the retail village itself, and there’s a pretty good play area for the little ones if they are in on the action as well. All in all I find going to Bicester easier and less stressful than a trip to the Oxford Street, with the prospect of a good deal thrown in to add to my enjoyment.

If you've not been before, you can find out all about Bicester Outlet Village here:

Today, however, I am happy to report that we have our very own discount shopping centre under development at Wembley Stadium. I went there yesterday with a view to doing a little bit of market research. The people in the shops told me that they’d only opened a couple of months’ ago, so it’s all pretty recent.

You can find their website here:

Now I have to say straight out, and without wanting to belittle this newcomer to the shopping scene, that it’s not in the same league as Bicester. It doesn’t have any of the fancy-pants, high-end labels, but if you fancy a bit of cut-price, mid-market, everyday clobber it’s not a bad place to go.

Speaking for myself I was happy to stock up on some jeans from Gap, and a couple of cashmere jumpers from M&S. I bought my usual ‘Premium Skinny Cut’ jeans at Gap for about half of what I’d have had to fork out on the High Street, and who could complain about M&S cashmere jumpers for £29.99? Not a lot wrong with that, if you ask me.

I’m a bit of a cookshop junkie, and was happy to find four places selling cooking stuff: Denby, Villeroy and Boch, Procook and Viners. I’d been looking for some traditional icecream sundae dishes, which I scored in Viners for the princely sum of £1.40 a pop. What do you think of this little ensemble?

As you can see one of them was quickly pressed into service for an end-of-the-school-day jelly treat. Someone in our house is very keen on jelly.

Nike, Adidas and Asics all have shops there for your jogging gear. As do Trespass and Tog24 for walking/ outdoor wear.

As with most of these retail villages there are no interesting, independent stores in the line-up.  I was, however, taken aback to see a Björn Borg outlet (do you remember him of hippy hair and tennis fame?). Anyway, it seems that he is now busy designing very brightly coloured (and I do mean ‘very’) underwear for both ladies and gents – or maybe they just sell his very brightly coloured range at the outlet, and he’s got some tasteful whites and pastels on sale elsewhere. 

There’s lots of building work going on out front at the complex, and the place has a just-moved-in vibe. A window cleaner, brandishing his squeegee mop and bucket, asked me how he could get to the first floor to clean the windows. I must have looked like I knew where I was going.

There are still loads of empty units. Several looked as though they were being prepared for new tenants, so I imagine that the line up of brands is set to grow.

In addition there are stacks of places to eat with a cinema complex somewhere on the upper floor that I didn’t try and visit. If you come on a Saturday morning you can leave your little ones at the football academy (open between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m) and have a peaceful, child-free shop, which seems like a good plan.

Parking (head for the Red Car Park, which is closest to the shops) was easy and freely available – but at a price that seemed a bit steep to me. My little jamboree ran into a third hour for which I had to pay £5.50. I don’t want to sound like a tightwad, but that seemed a bit steep for where I was. Bear in mind that Ikea is at the end of the road, where the parking is free, and there’s a huge Tesco Extra not far away, where they also have free parking. All things told I felt the fee for the car park was a bit more Westfield than Wembley Outlet, and on match days the rate goes up even higher.

So what’s the verdict? Not a bad place to snoop around for a bargain, with the prospect of more and better to come.

Bonny x