Wednesday, 15 August 2018

A Fishy Tale

I have not eaten meat for over twenty years... if you don't count the half a sausage I had at a barbecue last month in the absence of any alternative. I don't really have any moral objection, hence the sausage, I just stopped eating it as a result of taking one of my children to a town farm where there was a chicken shed. These were meant to be humanely kept chickens but the smell was so disgusting I stopped eating chicken from that day onwards. I gradually stopped eating other meats and I find I generally prefer vegetarian food. But I cook meat and I've always eaten fish and sea food so I have never called myself vegetarian. But until recently I have never eaten octopus... ever.

When we were in Greece my daughter-in-law's mother asked did I like octopus. There may have been something lost in translation in that Maria's English, although good, was a bit rusty and my Greek is... well, non existent shall we say. So I ended up trying some delicious little white cubes of fish... yes, I like octopus.  So when we were out with friends last week and one of the starters was octopus on a bed of smoked aubergine puree and everyone else was waxing lyrical about it I decided 'Yes, why not, after all I like octopus'.

However, I wasn't prepared for the creature from the deep that was dished up on my plate... it was a dirty great tentacle for heavens sake. It looked like it might crawl off the plate and wrap itself around my neck! Not wanting to look like a complete Muppet by screaming "I can't possibly eat this"as I ran from the room, I gave myself a good talking to... I could do this... just don't think about those little round suckers...  I cut off a small piece and with my eyes shut popped it into my mouth.

And I have to say... it was absolutely delicious! I cleared my plate without looking at what I was eating but I can now definitely say I have eaten properly eaten octopus for the first time. I may never do it again but I've done it. Another sixty by sixty bites the dust... only three more to go.

When we were at the Festival of Quilts, Gill thought I could add 'teaching at the FOQ' and 'staying in an AirBnB' to my list as these were also firsts for me but neither really seemed too much of a challenge... not like eating an octopus! So my total still stands at 57. As always suggestions are most welcome.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Seasonal Stitching

Well I'm back from a lovely weekend away at The Festival of Quilts. I enjoyed the challenge of teaching a couple of machine embroidery workshops in the space of just one hour which seemed to go down well despite some hiccups with threads on the first day...and one particularly rude lady who could do with brushing up on her manners but the less said about her the better. Thankfully most people are absolutely lovely. I met up with old friends and new, may have made a couple of small purchases of some beautiful fabrics and mostly felt overwhelmed by all of the quilts. I can admire the all the work and effort (some were absolutely spectacular) but they aren't really my thing. And there were so many of them! Best of all was spending a couple of days with my friend Gill... we are on the same wavelength as far as quilts... and people are concerned!

This week I have a day class teaching "Seasonal Hoops" - little free machined applique pictures representing the four seasons mounted in embroidery hoops. I designed and made the one with two little rabbits ages ago... during the spring in fact when I was inspired by all the blossom on the trees. It was used to advertise the class

But I never quite got around to designing the remaining three until last week.

But they are now all done and ready for my class.

So a few questions you can help me out with... do you have a favourite? Do you think they would make good cards?

Is it the sort of thing you would buy a pattern/tutorial for? And if so what sort of price would you be prepared to pay? Happy to hear your thoughts on these questions and anything else you might think...  well specific to these embroideries I mean... not that I'm not happy to hear your thoughts on other subjects of course... and saying that you would be willing to pay is of course in no way an obligation to buy anything from me at all... sorry, it's late and I'm wittering

But it's just that I'm pondering some different ideas which may or may not amount to something... and may or may not even be good ideas at all.
Thank you!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Food for Sharing

Since before the first wedding (and it will probably continue up until after the third one at the end of this month) we've had an almost constant stream of house guests as our various children have stayed for the occasional one off night to a few days here and there. James, Lizzie and Joe have all come back from extended travelling and have been between jobs and more permanent accommodation so have needed a base. Jacob pops back on a regular basis and will also be between flats for a little while next week. And then when Kirsty gets married we have Scottish family staying with us as well as at least four grown up children. So as you might imagine instead of quick meals for the two of us there has been extended catering and many leisurely meals eaten in the garden. It has been lovely to cook for lots of people again... it was one of the things I missed when they all left home. There have been lots of quiches and salads, pasta and fish... easy to make and easy to share food. James and Lizzie also cooked several meals for us which was a real treat.

There have been occasions when we have taken food out to share too and last weekend we went to campfire party. As the emphasis was very much on barbecued meat I felt that a veggie option would probably be welcome so made a batch of these courgette fritters. It was a bit of a risk never having made them before but they proved popular and they all got eaten. Either that or someone was slipping them to the dog!

There was a tin of cookies and cream Brownies too... essential campfire eating I think!

It was a brilliant evening with shared singing as well shared food that went on until the early hours. Fortunately the neighbours had all been invited too!

And then this week we had our book club supper club gathering for which I pretty much always make the dessert. It was a key lime pie but without the key limes. I'm not entirely sure what a key lime is but ordinary limes sufficed and it was all eaten up with relish! We may have discussed books at one point during the evening but I can't really remember!

And then yesterday the weather turned and it was cold and wet so I fancied something warming. We had a butternut squash tagine and I discovered the hotplate on which I make pancakes is perfect for making flat breads, also great sharing food. I'm not sure why that had never occurred to me before but I'll make them again before we sell the house and I no longer have a hot plate!

But although it has been lovely to have friends and family with whom to share food - one of life's greatest pleasures I always think - tomorrow I am off to Birmingham to the Festival of Quilts to teach a couple of workshops (Saturday is full but there are still a couple of spaces on Sunday) and I have a whole weekend with no cooking at all, which is equally nice. Variety being the spice of life and all that!
I hope your weekend is good whatever you might be doing.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Go Ape

We started the day on Thursday with a carb loaded breakfast as I finally made Danish pastries. When we were in Copenhagen I fell in love with Tebirkes, an almond filled pastry topped with poppy seeds that are not easily found outside of Denmark. My version looked nothing like the ones we had and I'm not sure they tasted much like them either but they were rather tasty nonetheless. Tasty enough in fact that I managed to force two down!

But in my defence I was going to need lots of energy... ready to Go Ape! James, my stepson and his wife Lizzie had given me my treetop adventure as a birthday present, so it was lovely that as they are staying with us at the moment they could join in with our day out.

Lizzie and I braved the treetops whilst the boys stayed firmly on the ground... to look after the dog and sample cake apparently (I know, after all those pastries too!)

There were loads of very wobbly crossings, from rope bridges to tightropes

Some amazing high speed zip wires (I loved them!) to bring us down to ground from the tree tops

And best of all a very high up free-fall Tarzan swing that was so exciting I was disappointed only to get one go!

And it is official that I am now a gorilla! (and I've ticked off another sixty x sixty

I know I am just a little bit crazy and tree top adventures may not be everyone's idea of fun but Thetford forest is a lovely place for a day out with plenty of beautiful walks through the forest... although I was already eyeing up the Segway track for another time.

As long as you don't mind all the gorillas swinging overhead!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

What Next?

So here I am, the disappointment of a less than successful Open Studio and a cancelled class now just a distant memory as I start to plan for what's next. In the immediate future that's an easy question to answer as next week I will be at The Festival of Quilts where I'm teaching a couple of Quick and Easy workshops... a machine embroidered nature inspired needle case in just an hour! Still a few places left on both Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th the last time I looked. And if you don't have tickets for the show yet you can get them from the website or by calling 0844 581 1289 and if you quote the code WT26 you can get a 15% discount.

Of course in order to get the needle case made and finished in the short time allocated I have to provide ready to go kits with designs already drawn out onto calico...

and all other materials provided and cut to size.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would, a lot longer... just saying!

And then I thought I should try a few samples of my new designs to see how they looked and how long they took for me to make. I discovered I can make one from a pre-prepared kit in about 30 minutes so I think that notwithstanding any disasters involving machine malfunction or operator errors we should get the projects finished, allowing time for some teaching etc... I hope!

After that I have a couple of one day classes in August but then things get a bit quiet and once again I'm left wondering about long term career prospects. I love what I do but unfortunately there is also a need to earn some money. This seems to be a cyclical thing that I need to go through every so often and as often happens I find I return to my other love, which is cooking. (It was that that led to me baking cakes for two years!)

I made a batch of pecan and cranberry granola (you can find the recipe in this post) along with an apricot and blackberry compote. The idea was to have some healthy breakfasts at the weekend but I ended up making pancakes too. They were good!

There were also some honeycomb brownies for a hen-do. I used a Nigella Lawson recipe for the brownies which is always my go to recipes when I make brownies as I know it works reliably with my oven. Instead of walnuts or other additions I added crushed Crunchie bars. I didn't make my own honeycomb... I'm not feeling quite that enthusiastic about cooking! They were also good!

And finally I took along some savoury puffs to another gathering of friends last night... ready rolled puff pastry (No, I didn't make my own pastry either), spread with goats cheese, wild garlic pesto (from the freezer - I did make my own, recipe here) and chopped sun dried tomato. Roll it up like a Swiss roll, cut it into slices and bake on a silicon mat on a baking sheet for 15 minutes at 220 deg C (200 fan)

I'm not sure I have quite got the cooking out of my system yet. For some reason I have a desire to make some Danish pastries so watch this space. But as for future career ideas I'm still not any further forward with ideas. Although the exciting news I hinted at last week does look like it's going to happen, so as soon as I have details and the go ahead I promise you'll hear it here first!

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Sixty by Sixty

As I mentioned in a previous post, in between the excitement of the weddings I just happened to have another birthday. It came and it went, I was busy setting up for Open Studios all day and we celebrated in the evening with a fish and chip supper. The only thing of any real significance is that I am now 61 and so according to my own rules I am at the end of my sixty by sixty project.

Except I'm not really as I'm only up to number fifty five! But they have certainly been a lot of fun and introduced me to lots of new things, some I will definitely do again, some I will never do again and some that have opened up new opportunities. It was never meant to be a bucket list, although there is still a list of things I would like to do before it's too late (I've yet to see the Northern Lights for one), it was always more of a project to open my mind to new experiences started because I happened to mention in passing I had never been to a music festival. I've still not been to a music festival!

So it was always a project to try things I'd never tried before, visit places I had never been, achieve some long held ambitions and to do things that I may have never have thought of doing before. The only proviso was it had to be a new experience. It was no longer good enough to say "I would like to do that one day"... I intended to do it because life should be an adventure!

There have been some really exciting things like the indoor sky diving (I still think I might like to try the real thing), climbing over the O2 and maybe best of all, riding VERY fast on the back of a motorbike (Although I'm sure we weren't going THAT fast officer!)

One of my long held ambitions was to do the London Moonwalk, which was an amazing experience and there are already plans afoot to do it again next year with some friends.

Afternoon tea at The Ritz was another highlight that I loved but probably would never do again... unless of course someone feels like taking me.

Handling big birds of prey was another fun day out despite it being on what was probably the coldest day that year.

I also realised a long held ambition to start my own baking business which I did for two years. My first commissioned cake was this Guns'n'Roses cake

The last one was a twenty first birthday cake for a young doctor in training.

Much as I enjoyed it, I decided it was taking too much time away from my textiles and so reluctantly closed up my kitchen to the public last Christmas. However one of the other things I did over the 60 x 60 project was get involved with Free Cakes for Kids, a lovely charity that provides birthday cakes etc for children who would otherwise not have a cake. From my very first cake for Orla, I have gone on to make many more, some for children's centres, some for homeless charities and some for children undergoing cancer treatment... all of them a pleasure to make and something I will continue to do. The best thing is that without my 60 x 60 to spur me on I may never have got involved. The more I think about it, many of my 60 x 60 experiences involved cake!

I still don't know if the friend I nominated for an honour will be considered. It can take up to eighteen months to process and the only way you know is if it is successful... I'll keep an eye on the New Year honours list! There have been so many exciting and interesting experiences all I can say is do look down the list (in my sidebar) and give some a try! I can highly recommend Bletchley Park, Kew Gardens and Peterborough cathedral if you have never been.

And so to my last "experience" which was riding a zip wire... can you believe I have never done that before. We were meant to be taking our grandson to the park to play on the swings but I fear his Nanny-G may be a bad influence!

And as a result of the zip wire experience I was given a voucher to "Go Ape" for my birthday,  so I can't stop my project just because I turned 61 can I? I have been recording each experience in a scrapbook so will continue to fill it until I reach sixty things (my project, my rules!) and after that I will just carry on, trying new things, seeking out new experiences and going to new places, embracing and enjoying life to the full.

I don't think I want to call it 70 x 70... but maybe I should be really ambitious and name it 100 x 100. What do you think? Any ideas?

You can see all my 60 x 60 posts here.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Thoughts on the Future

I have been participating in Cambridge Open Studios since 2005 only having missed two years. The number of visitors is always fairly consistent, never huge crowds with living in a village outside of Cambridge centre but always enough to make it worthwhile. There have been years when no-one has turned up for the first few hours and I have wondered if I have opened on the wrong weekend but it always evens out in the end. I mostly sell enough to make me feel good about what I'm making and to cover my costs (participating in Open Studios is not cheap). But this year felt like a disaster... where was everyone?

My visitor numbers were less than half the usual number overall and mostly consisted of people I already knew. with the exception of about three or four people. Everyone who came was a great support, even the man who opened with "Are you the cross stitch lady?" was enthusiastic when I explained how I work. I sold a few bits and pieces too but still it felt soul destroying. And although I would make and create things even if it wasn't my job I can't help feeling it is all a waste of time. I guess we all need validation for what we do.

The feeling has been compounded this week on finding out a course I thought I was teaching had been cancelled and no one had thought to tell me. Made me feel really valued let me tell you!

I'm sure these feelings will pass soon but right now I'm wondering how to get rid of the huge amount of stuff I have made and accumulated over the years, especially in light of the fact we hope to downsize in the not too distant future. I contemplated a skip... a yard sale... giving it away to passing strangers (except we don't really have many of those in the village) but in the end I thought I would do a little Etsy shop update starting with my latest mosaic makes. I did in fact sell a few of the mosaic pendants over the weekend but the rest have ended up in the shop. I'll decide how to deal with the rest of the stuff later!

I was also considering a drastic career change... Brain surgeon? Bus driver? Bar maid? But then an email popped into my inbox this evening with an offer that might... just might make things look a bit rosier in the future. But you'll have to wait to hear about that!

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Sitting Doing Nothing...

So here I am again, sitting around for another weekend of Open Studios... quiet so far and although I know it is still early in the day (most visitors tend to come in the afternoon) it is hard not to feel a little despondent. So much work goes into these events that I do wonder if it is worth it. 

I'd like people to come along just to see my new discovery... I can see me doing a lot more mosaics in the future. In-between the weddings I just happened to have another birthday and inspired after my day making mosaics with my friend Terry I asked for some basic supplies to get me started. I just happened to have a handful of these blank wooden gift tags, like you do, so decided to try decorating them with mosaic to make little pendants.

Why start with a simple project when I could be doing something intricate and fiddly... well I know why now!  Not to be deterred I persevered and have made sixteen little pendants which have been added to my Open Studios sales table.

Not perfect by any means but passable enough judging by the reaction they have received on Instagram (I'm gina_ferrari_art on Instagram since you ask)

And if they don't sell this weekend they might make an appearance in my Etsy shop next week.

Although I might keep one or two for myself. This one goes particularly well with my new top.

And of course, should you be reading this and be within spitting distance of South Cambridgeshire I'm open until 6pm this evening and all day Sunday too.

There are textiles and paintings to see on the walls.

And lots to tempt you should you be in the mood for spending, although of course no obligation to buy... just come along to say hello!

Another five and a half hours to go... I hope someone turns up!