Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The clock is ticking

Time is of the essence at the moment. Our house sale and purchase are going through and it looks as though we may well be moving house by the end of next month. I know there is so much to do yet I'm finding the thought of all the sorting out and decluttering all rather daunting. Bit by bit I'm deciding what we will bring with us and what needs to go but there is still an awful lot to do.

So at the moment reading is pared down to ten minutes or so before I fall asleep. If I wake up in time I also get twenty minutes in bed with a cup of tea before I walk the dog... when I frequently end up re-reading what I read the night before! So the fact that the last two books I've read have been slim volumes has been a real bonus. I thought Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss was a perfect little gem of a book and I loved it. It tells the story of 17 year old Sylvie who is away in Northumberland during the summer with her down trodden mother and bus driver father who is an obsessive amateur historian. Together with a university professor and three of his anthropology students they are re-enacting life in an Iron Age settlement. Despite being a very short read it manages to cover themes of abuse, violence, class and gender inequality as well as history yet the narrative never falters

My second quick read was Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Published by Virago Classics it was a beautiful book - the cover is delightful - but I wasn't really convinced by the claim that it was a brilliantly witty book about the breakup of a marriage. Being a 'classic' I wanted to like it but mostly I found the self obsessed stream of consciousness just a little tedious and irritating rather than witty. I didn't dislike it enough to give up on it though and was glad as it grew on me a little by the end.

I'm not sure what I will read next as I have a pile of four or five books by the bed, as yet unread, but for now I'm flicking through Marie Kondo in the hope it will inspire me to get on with the tidying and clearing up. This morning I went through my t shirt drawer folding and rolling and found at least four or five that are destined for the charity shop. It's not much but it's a start. I couldn't quite face the KonMarie method of getting all my clothes in one big pile before sorting them out. If I had done that we wouldn't have got in the bed this evening! One drawer at a time will have to do.

I'm not looking forward to going through my books though... definitely won't be putting all of them together in one big pile before sorting them out. One shelf at a time I think.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Sweet stuff!

So given my last post* was a bit deep and thoughtful, tonight I decided I would just bring you cake or dessert... which is much more my style. I don't often do deep and thoughtful! 

Remember I said I was exhausted? Well when this photo below was taken I was at peak exhaustion. I had done an eight hour shift at the cafe ( I may actually have had a five minute break that day.) When I got home I really just wanted to get into pyjamas and curl up on the sofa. But instead I had a bath, put on my favourite leopard skin print dress and headed out to my book club supper... that is the alternative book club where books are rarely mentioned but we do eat supper. I had brought dessert, a chocolate caramel cheesecake which fortunately had been prepared the previous evening. I think I may have actually been lying with my head on the table five seconds before the photo was taken I was so tired. Don't even ask about the koala!

Two days later we were celebrating a Burns supper with friends and again I had offered to bring a dessert. I made a pavlova, partially with brown sugar which gave a lovely caramel flavour. The topping was roasted spiced pineapple in a caramel sauce (adapted from an Ottolenghi cheesecake recipe from his book Sweet) with added pomegranate seeds... I do love pomegranate seeds glistening like little ruby jewels. I love them on salads and puddings.

My final cakey offering this week was a birthday cake for Free Cakes for Kids. It has been a while since I last baked a cake for this charity but I was reminded once again what a difference a birthday cake can make. It may not seem like much but they are always appreciated. I find it quite humbling to bring a cake to someone who for whatever reason might not be able to provide their own cake. Little Albie and his mum were all smiles and it made it so worthwhile.

There might be quite a bit more cake here in weeks to come because I have decided to join in with the Cake Slice Bakers again... so there will be a big reveal and a recipe here on 20th of the month if I manage to get my act together. Although I hope to be back before then!

*Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my last post. I think I managed to reply to most in the comments but I am struggling to leave comments on blogs lately, including my own.... sometimes I type out a long reply, hit publish and it disappears, over and over again. Other times it works. I certainly don't know why!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Thoughts on India

I seem to have been away from this space for a long time and the only reason is that I am exhausted... well I'm exhausted and blogger failed to save my last post mid-edit and I lost the lot... but mostly exhausted! Long shifts at the cafe knock me out for days, plus all the stuff involved in moving house, family issues as well as everything else that is going on has all been a bit much over the past couple of weeks. I'm not very good at stopping, asking for help or admitting that I'm tired and the cumulative effect has knocked me for six. I thought it might be restful to sit and write a long blogpost, which it was until it disappeared. It's taken me another six days to summon the enthusiasm to  write it again!

But this is a post that I needed to think carefully about writing. There has been a lot written over the past couple of weeks about racism, that seems to have started in the on-line knitting community on Ravelry and Instagram. I had been blissfully unaware until I read Julie's post here. I followed her links and read what had been going on and was alarmed at the emotion fuelled discussion and negative comment around racism and inclusion.

I am not sure I am qualified to add to the discussion at this stage and I'm still trying to understand many of the issues, especially from the viewpoint of white privilege which is where I have come from. So if you want to find out more I urge you to follow some of the links in Julie's post. However I do know that no-one should feel unwelcome, excluded, hurt or upset as a result of what someone else has said or written regarding their race, colour or anything else, whether those things were said with intention or not. And we could all do with being more aware.

Which I guess brings me to this post in which I've wanted to write about my trip to India for quite a while. But this whole discussion on racism has stemmed from a blogpost by Karen Templer about her upcoming trip to India so it has made me very wary. The problem was with the language used and sentiments expressed. I've questioned my own motives and intentions but do believe my reason for wanting to visit India stems purely from a desire to expand my horizons and learn more, first hand, about a different country, its people, culture and skills.... in the same way as the first time I visited France, Italy, the USA or anywhere else. So I truly hope I'm not offending anyone as I've only ever wished to create a space that is friendly and welcoming to all.

Whether it is in preparation or just to get me in the mood, I seem to have been drawn to books and films about India recently. I read The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel before Christmas. It was okay but full of stereotypes such as old racist white people and didn't leave me with any real sense of the country.

Then a friend loaned me The Siege of Krishnapur. Telling the story of the siege of an imaginary Indian town, although based on true events in Lucknow during the  Muslim mutiny in 1857 it was far better written than Marigold Hotel and also funny in places, in a Jeeves and Wooster kind of way. That is, all upper class, moral superiority and colonialism. It might have been a true picture of an India in days gone by but I didn't feel it really reflects life today.

I also saw the film of "A Passage to India". It is a fabulous film if you can look past the awful casting of Alec Guinness as a Hindu Brahmin, that deals with racism and prejudice in the days of the Raj. It left me feeling quite uncomfortable that people could act in such a superior manner towards another race, and worryingly I sometimes wonder if much of that underlying feeling has changed. But again I'm not sure it gave me much of a flavour of India today.

My latest read has been An Area Of Darkness a semi autobiographical account of V. S. Naipaul’s visit to his ancestral homeland. Naipaul was born in Trinidad of second generation Indian immigrants and was brought up a Hindu. It is strikingly original response to India’s caste system, its  acceptance of poverty and squalor, and the conflict between its desire for independence and its nostalgia for the past. Despite its rather negative portrayal of India and its people, it gave more of a feeling for what the country might be like, being a richly sensual and descriptive book. Of course, whatever books I read and films I watch, they will only ever give someone else's view so I'm very much looking forward to discovering the country for myself.

The main focus of the trip in September will be to attend different block printing workshops where we will be learning from skilled experts in this ancient craft. But I have been having a little dabble myself to prepare for some upcoming workshops I am holding to promote the trip. I was given a beautiful set of carved wooden blocks by Colouricious which I have been using to print fabrics.

Lots and lots of fabrics!

I have then used the fabrics for some projects... a cover for a little travel journal...

A bag for my iPad...

As you can see elephants feature heavily and another highlight of the trip will be a visit to an elephant sanctuary

And I have also been creating applique pictures using the various fabrics

And if you fancy joining me on this amazing trip, to discover India for yourself, you can find all the details here:

I'm now going to hit the publish button and keep my fingers crossed it doesn't all disappear again. Tomorrow I am back at work but I hope I won't be away quite so long before my next post.

Friday, 11 January 2019

January Rituals

I'm struggling here. I've updated my iPad and it no longer supports the blogger app which I always use to upload my photos for blogposts. I still write posts on my laptop and I do that because if I try to write on my iPad it randomly deletes the posts half way through. I suppose I could go back to using my camera and uploading all the photos on my laptop via a cable but it seems so long winded that I might just give up blogging altogether. With a bit of fiddling about I've got the photos from my iPad onto a draft post but now I can't space them out and put them where I want them. I'm silently screaming with frustration. Anyway, I'm here, I'm writing and I'm trying to ignore the fact my photos are all over the place (but I don't like it!)

I finished the first of my nine projects for the year although before I'm accused of being overly keen it did only take a couple of hours. It turns out that I had already started the apron dress kit - which was printed out onto the fabric a little like the old Clothkits patterns - and I had already cut it out. Slight problem in that I've had it so long that I had cut it out a size smaller than I actually am now, but I went ahead anyway.

Despite the pattern pieces not fitting too well together and the 'optional' darts not being marked on the pattern it went together relatively easily and quickly. And despite being a size too small it does fit... well sort of, if I breath in and ignore the fact it is a little snug around the bust. I might possibly wear it one day and at least it is one thing finished.

The other thing I have been making this week is marmalade. We don't really eat that much of it but there is something about the lure of Seville oranges when they appear in the shops in January that I can't resist and so it has become something of a ritual that I make marmalade.

I enjoy the slow process of juicing the oranges, scooping out the white pith and pips and slicing the peel into fine shreds. I love the fresh citrus aroma that fills the kitchen as it bubbles away in its pot.

And then when it reaches setting point I like to add a large slug of bourbon before filling up the jars. It really does lift the flavour to another level.

Lots of lovely jars of sunshine in the middle of winter, softly set and glistening, bittersweet and fresh tasting. Some will be given away and some will be kept for spreading on hot buttered toast.

It has also become something of a ritual that I make a marmalade cake in January too. Recipe from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries.

Soft and fragrant, it is too good for only one slice.... which means that apron dress is not going to fit better any time soon!

Thursday, 3 January 2019


I'm sure I am not the only one who finds the prospect of the new year an exciting one full of new possibilities, which is ridiculous when you think about it as every new day holds the prospect of new adventures and a fresh start. A chance to leave old habits and bad things behind, moving forward with a sense of discovery. Yes, we all know that but somehow 1st January seems endowed with significance, a chance to do things differently, a time for re-invention.

The first day of the year was a good one. The morning was spent taking down the Christmas decorations. I don't like them lingering into the new year and the tree was definitely past its best. Harnessing my inner Nigella, I do however leave fairy lights up in my kitchen. I think we could all do with some fairy lights during the first few months of the year. Once the house was clear we had some brunch, having skipped breakfast due to the vast amounts of food consumed on New Year's Eve, and then ventured out for a long walk to blow the cobwebs away. On our return I made large mugs of hot chocolate with some lovely raw cacao that Joe had brought us back from Costa Rica.

Then to round off the day we went to the cinema to see "Mary Poppins Returns", which I thoroughly enjoyed. Stewart's reaction was "What a lot of nonsense" but really what did he expect? Mary Poppins flew in on a kite to take care of a new generation of Banks children. There were lamp lighters instead of chimney sweeps but other than that there was singing and dancing, a cartoon sequence and pretty much all the elements of the original film. It was slick and well produced, with fabulous costumes so all in all an hour and a half of pure escapism. I think he enjoyed it really!

It did bring to mind a Brownies production of Mary Poppins that took place in 1966 where yours truly took the title role. A role secured largely by the fact I had the loudest voice rather than any other talents. My Dad kept this newspaper clipping and I'm the one on the right.... don't laugh!

Despite liking the idea of a new year with new possibilities I don't really go in for resolutions etc. I tried the trend for adopting a word for the year once... "Balance" if I remember rightly. That didn't last long so I only ever did it the once. However when I spotted an initiative on Instagram called the "Make Nine Challenge" it really appealed to me. It is supposed to be a slow fashion intitative where participants pledge to make nine projects throughout the year. Last year I tried to finish off things that I had started but I lost track once I started to make things for the weddings, but knowing I still have a huge stash of fabrics, yarns and half finished kits this seemed like a good opportunity to do a bit of stash busting before we move. So the following are my nine projects, which I will document here as well as on Instagram. You can ask me at the end of the year how I have done! In no particular order...

1. I will make a Hitchhiker scarf/shawl  by Martina Behm in either the green or the grey yarn... or possibly both should the fancy take me!

2. I will make this apron dress, bought as a kit several years ago after seeing someone else had made one on a blog I was following. I no longer remember the blog and the kit remains in its bag untouched, so I either need to make it or give it away.

3. Another kit I bought many years ago was this wall hanging kit that required machine embroidery skills before I even knew what machine embroidery involved. Yes, that long ago! It doesn't really qualify as a fashion item but it's textiles so I'm going with it.

4. I will use these fabrics to make something to wear. These were another purchase after seeing them featured on a blog. I fell in love with the colours and then when it arrived I wasn't sure I was brave enough to wear them. I'm now older and don't care so I'm thinking I will make a pinafore dress... or two! I sent for the pattern today.

5. Blogs really do have a lot to answer  for don't they.... An Attic 24 kit to crochet a blanket, bought on a whim and never started. Having resisted the urge (only just) to buy the latest Attic 24 crochet along Sweet Pea blanket, I might just crochet this one along instead.

6. A Camber dress by Merchant and Mills. I have the pattern and the fabric was bought and pre-washed two years ago. I have no idea why I've not made it yet. I just need to get it done!

7. This Kaffe Fassett sweater was featured in Living magazine in 1988. The photo is of the original page. I bought the yarn as a kit and it has remained in a drawer for thirty years. It has been so long ago I'm hoping it will be back in fashion if I finish it this year.

8. I'm pleased to say I only found this pattern last year rather than thirty years ago. It's a free pattern on Purl Soho but I fell in love with that yoke. It may require a yarn purchase though which feels slightly against my rules. Perhaps if I finish the other eight projects this can be a little treat to myself!

9. And last of all an Ehrman tapestry kit for a cushion... about a third completed so it really does need to be finished... although I'm not really sure I like it enough. Maybe it should just go?

So there we are, nine projects I aim to finish this year. I'd like to tell you these are the only projects I have to finish but despite there being others, these will do for now. What possibilities are you hoping to achieve this year? Whatever you do, in the words of Neil Gaiman I wish you "A year filled with magic and dreams and good madness"

Monday, 31 December 2018

Food, Glorious Food

So here we are once again on the other side of another Christmas. Despite my lingering cough and cold, it has been a fun few days spent with various family members. There has been laughter, some games, a few drinks and plenty of food. Which seems fitting, because food is so much more than just eating. For me it's about sharing, togetherness and good times, which is what Christmas should be about too.

Although having seen the size of the portion a certain someone had for his Christmas dinner it is probably a lot about the eating too! It is only one of a handful of occasions when I cook him a roast dinner with meat so he was forgiven... although my parsnip roulade and vegetables don't really come close do they! Suffice to say, no-one went hungry though.

We don't do lots of big gifts in our family but food featured heavily this year. We received this huge can of extra virgin olive oil that came directly from our daughter in law's family in Kalamata, which made me very happy. Another son and daughter-in-law filled a bag full of fabulous homemade baking and preserves, including these preserved lemons and harissa paste. I feel a Moroccan feast coming on! And a third son and daughter-in-law baked us mince pies and cookies. We have been very spoiled indeed.

In an effort to not buy our grandson more plastic toys, I made him a set of felt food for his new toy kitchen (remember that last minute idea... this was it. The knitted hat however never did make it on the needles!).

I think they gave me a whole lot more pleasure than they gave him. After lots of fun opening the parcel the entire contents were tossed aside along with the little personalised shopping bag, in favour of the football (plastic) that my Mum had given him!

As the week has gone on we have been creative with leftovers, finished off the mince pies as well as the last of the turkey and I am now longing for fresh flavours and lots more fruit and veg (real rather than felt!). The Christmas cake however remains untouched waiting for someone to cut into it in the New Year. 

And so we come to the end of another year which we will be celebrating with friends... and more food of course. Looking back it has been a wonderful year of weddings and celebrations, although not without its challenges too. But we enter 2019 looking forward to a fresh start in a new home before too long.

Wishing you and your families a very healthy and happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Happy Christmas

I have spent today flicking a duster around and giving the vacuum cleaner a cursory run up and down the hall, I've pretty much wrapped most of the presents which have now taken up residence under the tree and I have bought all the food I intend to buy... if we haven't got it in now then we won't be having it! So I feel as ready as I'm ever likely to be... it all happens one way or another. Mostly I enjoy all the preparations, except for the food shopping which is stressful in the extreme, but like I say it's all done now and all that is left to do is to cook. Well, that would be the case if I didn't have a last minute brainwave to make some felt fruit and vegetables and knit a hat. I'll let you know how that plan went once Christmas is over but given that I haven't actually cast on the hat I think I might be being unrealistically optimistic. Plus I have gone down with a cold which is waking me up at 4am every morning this week. I really could do without that but realised as I lay awake at some silly hour this morning trying to ignore my thumping head that I only ever get colds at this time of year so it feels as much like Christmas as the smell of pine cones and the continual backdrop of carols. Looking on the bright side if I'm awake at 4 am I might get that hat knitted!

I leave you with some of the images of a recent outing with my Mum to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens. It was a spectacular show of light and sound and my pictures don't begin to do it justice.

There were trees covered in  twinkling fairy lights and curtains of light that changed colour as we walked through them.

A whole cathedral of light with accompanying choral music

as well as giant flowers that changed colour.

It was all quite breathtaking. Plus I had churros and hot chocolate for my dinner which was also rather amazing. Do not judge me until you have tried it!

The finale was a projected light and sound show onto the Palm court and the fountain. It was a wonderful evening that was rounded off by driving home through the West End of London to see the lights there too. They didn't disappoint either - I just loved the host of angels down Regent Street. It was such a fabulous evening that I have declared it my final 60 x 60, more in an attempt to draw a line under this particular project before I launch into something else.

I hope all your plans and preparations are going smoothly and all that remains is for me to wish you and your families a very Happy and Healthy Christmas.