Saturday, 9 March 2019


About three years ago I picked up three old kitchen chairs in a charity shop. The intention at the time was to do wonderful things with them but then three years went past... and I didn't do anything with them!

So, last week in the midst of sorting out and packing (even though we still don't have an actual moving date) I decided it was time to tackle my little upcycling project and the chairs were given a couple of coats of chalk paint, waxed and then rubbed down to give a distressed look. You've got to love paint that doesn't require any rubbing down or preparation first.

While I was about it I also got the first coat on an old pine blanket box. There is method in my madness as the intention is that this will hold my stash of knitting yarn in our new living room so it does almost come into my sorting out regime. And I couldn't live with that aged yellow varnish.

I then recovered the seat with some appliqued and embroidered fabric...

And hey presto... my new upcycled chair (other two still to finish!)
I was wondering whether to make a set of six but at the rate I'm going it will be another fifteen years before I finish them all!

I was spurred on to get at least one finished though as I am away teaching at Misssenden Abbey this weekend where we are making collaged fabric to turn into bags.

And I thought it would be fun to show how the fabric can be used in different ways

Almost too nice to sit on!

Sorry I haven't been replying to comments again... for some reason Google lets me type out a comment, I hit publish and then nothing appears... so frustrating! But I do read them all and enjoy hearing from you.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Since Last Time...

Yet again it seems a long time between blog posts but I'm not sure it matters much anymore... is anyone really interested in the minutae of my life? But should you be the least bit curious a summary of what has been happening in these parts...

  • More decluttering - despite the divided opinions on the Konmarie method of decluttering I am continuing bit by bit. I don't see it as a ruthless throwing away reducing myself to a minimalist lifestyle but more of an honest appraisal of what really is necessary or "brings joy", which let's face it is not a million miles away from the William Morris adage of "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful nor believe to be beautiful". William Morris was there way before Marie Kondo! The plastic shoebox contains my boys' first shoes... and little red wellies. Not in the least bit necessary or useful but they bring me joy when I see them so they are staying. However, the piles of card making supplies that hadn't been touched in years were re homed. The tidy cupboards bring me great joy!

  • Listing things on Ebay - I was going to throw out my old Blue Peter annuals discovered lurking at the back of a cupboard - why on earth have they been kept?  But when I put a picture on Facebook there was an outcry of " don't throw them, sell them". So I have listed three of them on Ebay to see what happens... so far nothing... not so much as a starting bid! So they will no doubt be thrown away after all!
  • I've been Pantomiming - if there is such a word! I wasn't acting in our local AmDram Pantomime, Beauty and the Beast this year but I have done a supporting role as producer/business manager as well as helping out with costume. It has been very time consuming but lots of fun... friendships are always made and cemented!
  • Painting - Those grey brick walls were my doing!
  • Reminiscing - the young girl playing Principle Boy (centre of the photo) was wearing an outfit I made for me to wear about 23 years ago when I was playing a Principle Boy! The outfit was actually older than her! Talk about making me feel ancient *sigh* where do the years go?
  • Editing - our village newsletter. Just one more edition to go before we move and I no longer live in the village so no longer will be an editor!
  • Baking - Coconut Dream bars from a Hummingbird Bakery recipe. I have made them at the cafe before but never at home until this week. I now know why they are called dream bars... boy are they good! Chewy, sweet, coconutty and hard to stop at one!
  • Teaching - rag rugging to two large groups of adult learners in Luton. There were language difficulties to be overcome but we crossed those cultural barriers and had lots of fun as the learners made rag rug corsages. It was a wonderful example of how creativity can be such a great boost to self esteem and mental well being.
  • Visiting - I've had a twenty four hour trip to Dorset with my Mum to visit her sister who is very poorly, but despite the underlying sadness there has been much laughter too and as a bonus we got to visit the beautiful Wimbourne Minster. The ceiling of the central transept was stunning.
  • Sewing... on buttons. I finished knitting this cardigan (yarn and pattern from Eden Cottage Yarns) ages ago but couldn't face sewing on fourteen buttons... I know lazy! But I thought I might like to wear it tomorrow so I have finally put the buttons on. I was going to use the mother of pearl but ended up putting on the glittery black ones. I like the contrast.
So that's what I've been up to... have you done anything interesting?

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Cake Slice Bakers - February

Thank you for all the comments on my last post. I couldn't reply for a while for reasons unknown. Replies to comments just disappeared into the cloud, but today they are being published. It's a mystery! Anyway, it seem that Marie Kondo creates quite a difference of opinion, as does the whole subject of decluttering and moving house. I don't think it will be my last post on the subject. But today I'm writing about cake!

For a little while I stepped back from the Cake Slice Bakers, a worldwide group of bakers who each year bake from the same book once a month and blog about it on the 20th of the month. It was a combination of not finding the time to bake and write a blog post about it regularly and also I wasn't enjoying the the last couple of books we were baking from. The books were American baking books and as a general rule American cakes tend to be a lot stickier, sweeter and heavier on the frosting than British or European cakes  and not really to my taste. So when I spotted the book choice for 2019 was The European Cake Cookbook I was tempted back. The author Tatyana Nesteruk is Ukrainian, brought up in Italy and now resides in California. The book even claims that the cakes are less sweet than their American counterparts.

However, having seen the four choices for February I wasn't convinced! All consisted of several layers and were thick with frosting, a caramel honey cake, a lemon meringue cake (tempting!), Esterhazy cake, and a banoffee cake... definitely special occasion cakes rather than the sort of thing you would have in a tin to go with a cup of tea or coffee at anytime of day (I'm quoting from the back cover of the book). But as it happens we had a big family meal a couple of weeks ago and it was a good excuse to make one of the cakes for dessert so I chose the Caramel Honey Cake although I think all the choices would have made good desserts.

The cake itself was a fat free sponge baked in three tins and with the use of my trusty mixer it took no time to mix up and get in the oven.

The cake layers were soaked in a syrup of condensed milk and cream, which I thought would make it really sickly but in fact it just made the layers really moist and flavourful. Although I did opt to change the frosting slightly and used only half the amount specified. Instead of cutting each of the cakes in half creating six layers to be separated with frosting I just kept to the three layers, which automatically reduced the amount of frosting required. I think this was a good decision as it gave a good proportion of cake to sweet icing.  I like a butter cream as much as the next person I do think it needs a good proportion of cake to go with it... and this was just right. If I had gone with the recipe it would have been far too sweet for my taste. And it still made a very tall cake. The only other change I made was I toasted the pecans lightly before using them as I think it brings out the flavour.

And the verdict... everyone loved it and I would definitely make my version again, not too rich and full of flavour.

When our two year old grandson saw it he tipped his bowl containing a little malt loaf onto the floor and pushed his plate towards this towering cake instead!

My Version of the recipe:

Caramel Honey Cake

for the cake:
9 large eggs
150 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
118 ml of runny honey (1/2 cup)
250g plain flour
100g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
125 g toasted chopped pecans

for the syrup:
118 ml condensed milk (1/2 cup)
118 ml double cream (1/2 cup)

227g unsalted butter
250 g icing sugar
200g dulce de leche (caramel sauce)
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g chopped toasted pecans (reserve some whole ones for decoration)

  • Pre heat the oven to 350 F, 180 C (160 fan) and grease and line 3 20cm round cake tins
  • For the cake, place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl (preferably a stand mixer) and whisk on high speed until pale and almost doubled in volume (About five mins). Add the honey and whisk for another minute. Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl and fold gently into the egg mixture in small additions so not to get pockets of flour. Finally fold in the pecans.
  • Divide the cake batter between the three tins and bake for  25 - 30 minutes until completely set. Allow to cool in the tin briefly before turning out to cool completely.
  • Combine the condensed milk and syrup together and brush over the cake layers until it has soaked in thoroughly.
  • For the frosting, whisk the butter until light and fluffy. Add the caramel sauce and vanilla and whisk until combined. Add the sugar and whisk again until well mixed and fluffy
  • To assemble, spread a layer of the frosting between each layer of cake and then cover the sides and top with the frosting. Use the remaining nuts to coat the side and decorate the top with some whole pecans

You can check out what everyone else has made hereby clicking on the link below... I think!

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!