Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The Elephant in the Room

I'm  not going to talk about that elephant in the room... the thing that everyone wants to ask... any news, have we got a date? No I'm going to talk about everything else that has been going on instead.

I finished another blanket.
I know... I finished a blanket just a week or so ago but this one has been on the go for many years. At least six years as I first mentioned it here. I would go through phases of  making squares and then leave it for months before picking it up again to add a few more. Even when I had finished the 168 squares, each one subtly different from the last, it took me almost as long to sew it all up... all those loose ends! Was it worth it? Yes I think so, although what I will do with it now I don't know. I do know I might take a break from blanket making!

This is going to be in the order that the photos have loaded rather than the order that I have been reading, although to be fair I seem to have read a lot in the past month  and I can't really remember the order in which these book were read!

I had high expectations for The Lost Letters of William Woolf. It seemed such a great idea, such a wonderful premise... a lost letter department of the Royal Mail where letters were reunited with their recipients. The romance of hand written letters gone astray, finally arriving at their destination seemed to offer such great potential for a story. But I was disappointed, finding it far fetched and over romanticised and mostly about the failing marriage of William Woolf.

In the need for a quick satisfying read I have turned to thrillers. The Dark Room was okay but felt very dated, and The Taxidermist's Daughter was okay but wasn't really engaging me... probably more to do with that elephant in the room effecting my concentration rather than the quality of the writing. However I did read The Killing Habit by Mark Billingham in just two days... I do rather like DI Tom Thorne!

I also enjoyed The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths, Normal People by Sally Rooney and I am now part way through An American Marriage which I am thoroughly enjoying. Maybe my powers of concentration are returning!

I have been picking up my knitting on and off since the start of the year and it has taken me this long to finish this Hitchhiker scarf. At the beginning of the year I made a pledge to finish nine projects in 2019. This is the third project that I have finished which  doesn't bode well for getting them all done by the end of the year does it.

Looking at that photo I am slightly alarmed that my neck looks like a turkey's... oh dear one day you look in the mirror and all is well with the world then suddenly before you notice you have turned into your grandmother. Not that I have a problem turning into my grandmother as she was a wonderful woman... but you know what I mean! At least the scarf looks good!

I bought the dog a new bed because I felt sorry for him.He chooses to sleep on the floor as he only has a hard plastic bed... his own fault as he eats his beds. But do not be fooled by him curled up looking cosy... he loved it for one night before he dragged it out and chewed it, pulling out half the stuffing. Which of course is why he didn't have a comfy bed to begin with. You think I would learn wouldn't you.

I have made two chocolate cakes this week. The first was for Free Cakes for Kids, although this time it was not for a child's birthday. The Cambridge branch of the charity also supports a couple of homeless charities and so this chocolate cake was delivered to Wintercomfort. Everyone with a June birthday was entered into a draw to win the cake.

Donna won the cake and then shared it with all the clients using the services that day. I was privileged to be asked to stay for a cuppa and a chat. It always leaves me humbled that just a cake can mean so much.


 The second chocolate cake was for this gorgeous baby... except he's not a baby anymore (although still ptetty gorgeous but I am biased). Son no. 3 Joe celebrated his 30th birthday this weekend! Where did those years go?

We had a family barbecue to celebrate. At Easter we thought it would be the the last family gathering in this house. Little did we know...

Each week I take my Mum to her painting class. Mostly I just sit and draw in my  sketchbook  but the for the past couple of weeks I have been joining in with the class. Last week I painted that proverbial elephant!

Talking of which... today we had a bit of a break through. I don't want to tempt fate by saying too much but I might actually be shooing that elephant out of the room by the end of this week!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Slowly going crazy

Everywhere I go the first question on everyone's lips is "Have you moved yet... any news... have you got a date?" I see my Mum twice a week and she asks me every time I see her. It's natural that people are curious and they care but it is driving me crazy. And believe me when it happens I will shout it from the rooftops I will be so relieved. Everyone will know!

We have packed all unnecessary items, got rid of unwanted or excess furniture, I have sorted and emptied virtually every cupboard, cleaned every nook and cranny (so long ago it will all need doing again). The loft is empty, the shed and garage are tidy... and so we wait surrounded by empty rooms and boxes. We wait for solicitors and the local council to resolve an issue over a small piece of land. So your guess is as good as mine! The upshot of all this is that it has left me with a lot of extra time on my hands... it's a bit like being in a waiting room for weeks on end!

And so I have been filling my time with making art amongst other things. I mentioned several weeks ago that I was following along with a free online sketchbook class. It was two weeks of intense classes covering a wide range of techniques. All the images here are pages from my sketchbook as a result of just a handful of these classes. The one above involved tracing around the face with the non dominant index finger whilst simultaneously making an outline drawing of the face in pen... with your eyes shut! Yes... those four faces are me! Told you I was going crazy... that's what I look like!

I did some colour mixing and observational drawing with water colours and invented whimsical towns in pen and ink.

I tried intuitive water colour painting, collage, painting with acrylics, doodling...

Experimenting with different media, sometimes drawing the same thing over and over.

Some of the techniques and ideas I will never try again but I learned so much and worked in so many different styles. Best of all it has got me back into the habit of working in my sketchbook regularly. I have also been taking my Mum to her art class once a week as she isn't really driving at the moment so that gives me another chance to draw uninterrupted.

I think one of my favourite exercises was taking a photograph of cracks in the pavement and finding creatures hidden in the cracks, which is an actual thing... Pareidolia, the tendency to see faces in inanimate objects.

Like these mice or this crazy bird lurking in the sidewalk!

 I've also been doing lots of crochet in the evenings and although it is not really the time of year to have blankets draped over your knees I finished this blanket in the sweetpea trellis pattern from Attic24 but in a coastal colourway and I have another blanket just waiting for its border. I'm slowing running out of things to do but I guess I can always start the cleaning again if I get really desperate!


 Apologies that I still don't seem able to comment on blogs or reply to your comments here (unless I have your email address)... I cleared my cookies and managed to leave a single comment on Christina's blog and then it stopped working again, but I am reading. I promise!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

I’m Still Here

Yes, I am still here... both virtually in this little online space and physically in our house still waiting to move. 

I enjoy writing this blog and if there are a few of you out there enjoying it too then it makes it worthwhile. Especially if I can read and comment on your blogs too, should you happen to write one. The interaction with others makes it feel like a conversation. But it has become increasingly more difficult to leave comments on some of my favourite blogs. There have been times when I have typed out a comment three or four times but each time I hit the publish button, the comment disappears... which is so frustrating! And I know others are having the same problem so it does feel like being in an isolated bubble. So just saying I am reading, I'm still here ... and I would comment if I could!

We're still here waiting to move too. It was meant to be this Friday but contracts haven't been exchanged and so it looks like completion date will be pushed back once again to next week... or later possibly... possibly not. After what feels like months of clearing out we have got rid of furniture and possessions so we are now living with empty rooms and boxes, which is very unsettling.

But we are trying to carry on as normal as best as we can. I'm doing lots of reading but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate and stay focused when I read, although to be fair those late night ten minutes before nodding off are probably not the ideal time for retaining information. I frequently have to reread what I've already read!

The were a couple of books for our reading group lately that I didn't really enjoy. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen is a spy story set in 1972. The female voice of the narrator, Serena just never rang true for me, which actually made sense by the end of the book so may have been a very cleverly written ploy. (Trying not to give a spoiler here) But there seemed little point revealing something clever at the end if it didn't resonate all the way through. Our latest Reading group book was Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, a retelling of the Oedipus story which I just found too weird and complicated. I didn't even get the Oedipus connection! It did lead to a really good discussion though  and the group were strongly divided in our opinions.

I picked up The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul in our phone box lending library. I thought it would be a light easy read, which I suppose it was but it felt like it had pretensions to be something more. It tackled heavy subjects such as the Taliban and the role of women in Afghanistan but I felt the story was too lightweight to carry them off. And then I picked up the first Rebus story by Ian Rankin... surely Ian Rankin could take me away from my busy head but I didn't particularly enjoy that either. Rebus is a bit too morose and dour for me, although I'm willing to give him another chance, which is just as well as I think I may have packed another half dozen or so Rebus novels.  I was despairing of picking up a book that I would enjoy, ever again... until I found this. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found the writing intelligent and concise as it builds the story of Frances and Bobbi, students who have been friends since school. It's about flawed characters and complicated relationships and I found it refreshingly different to what I had been reading.

I actually bought this in a bookshop, rather than on-line or picking it up in the phone box and had a pleasant surprise. Inside someone had tucked a little folded homemade book. With a bit of research I found it was the work of some Anglia Ruskin students who claim to be "celebrating the ordinary" by posting these little newspapers around Cambridge.

A fun thing to do that brought a smile to my face!

There are more books piled up at the side of my bed. I'd like to think we will have moved before I get through these but at the rate we're going it seems unlikely.

Meanwhile we are trying to carry on as normally as possible and on the plus side every nook and cranny of this house is getting sorted out and cleared... nothing is safe! That includes the food cupboards too. Baking has involved using up store cupboard ingredients... goodness knows how long the tin of pineapple had been there but as it was just about in date it got put into these tropical fruit muffins along with a packet of coconut.

The six egg whites I found in the freezer were used to make blueberry friands. I have no idea what the yolks were used for but the freezer is now empty and the cupboards are bare so I hope we move soon!

Wishing you a happy bank holiday weekend here in the UK. I hope by the next time I write something it won't be from here but will be from somewhere else... but I'm not holding my breath! I'm now going to read some blogs... and apologise now for not leaving a comment!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Welcome to my World

I was going to ask did you have a good Easter weekend... ask what you got up to. But that was this time last week and there appears to have been a time warp. But that's what my life is like at the moment and the weeks are flying by. Of course if I stop and think I know exactly what I have been up to... there's been a printing workshop to teach in Hertfordshire and then a rag rugging workshop in Leicester. I took my Mum to her painting class as driving any distance has started to be problematic for her, and I had a stall at a craft fair, so that's four days gone already.

But for the purposes of this little space I'm still back there in the Easter weekend before all those things happened!

Our Easter break was quiet... a chance to get on with more clearing out and packing, although that didn't really happen. The week before I had spent a day doing mosaic with my friend Terry, making this dish. So I finished it and grouted it and it became the perfect dish for holding chocolate. No Easter Bunny in this house... we have an Easter dragonfly!

I also finished off my furniture restoration projects. An old yellowing pine chest had been given a first coat of paint several weeks earlier and had been sitting there reminding me it was unfinished every time I walked past. It got its second coat, a wax and rub down and then on a whim I added some stencilling as we had been given the stencil as a Christmas gift.

It is destined to hold all my spare knitting yarn but that's a joke... I have given away at least ten carrier bags of yarn and I still have three boxes full. So let's rephrase.... this will hold some of my knitting yarn stash.

While I was about it I also finished off another kitchen chair.

So now I have a pair. I think it might be some time before they become a full set but that's the plan. Except when guests arrived on Monday no-one wanted to sit on them in fear of spoiling them. But no point having nice things if they are not used... I ordered that bums were put on seats!

On the last day of the holiday the family descended... in dribs and drabs all day... popping in, popping out, some staying hours, others making only a brief visit. Of course it was lovely to see them all and there was plenty of food on the go, including chocolate baking too! Who doesn't like a mini egg brownie?

So that was our weekend, busy in a nice way. Since then there has been some progress with the house situation and it looks as though we won't have to rent after all. That's all I'm saying for now, but the clearing and packing continues. I have also joined a little singing group. Believe me, I am no singer but this is an informal group of friends meeting to sing together once a month... because I need another hobby/interest in my life! Jesting aside, it's a great stress relief to sing for an hour or so and I thoroughly enjoyed our first meeting. I'm also taking  part in a free online sketchbook course called Sketchbook Revival, over two weeks. It's pretty intense with two videos a day from a variety of different artists but I'm picking and choosing what I want to do and somehow fitting it in by neglecting the housework. The dust will still be there in two weeks time. If I find another spare half hour or so I might even write about it here!

So how was your Easter weekend? Good I hope.

Friday, 19 April 2019

A Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

I'm joining in with the Cake Slice Bakers again this month baking from The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk

A couple of the choices seemed really complicated but I was immediately drawn the the Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt cake as a chance to use my beautiful Rose Bundt tin, which has languished unused in the back of the cupboard. And being the Easter weekend chocolate seemed a good choice.

The photograph in the book shows a simple glaze that shows off the beauty of the shaped cake and I was anxious whether my cake would turn out quite so beautifully.

I greased and floured my tin well. The actual cake was straightforward to make, it baked beautifully and  turned out of the tin like a dream... I just wish I had taken a photograph at this stage! I then made the glaze according to the recipe and didn't really clock that it seemed more like an icing than a glaze. I poured it liberally over the cake but instead of sinking in and leaving just a touch of frosting as in the book it just sat and looked gloopy all over the surface! Not an attractive look!

I almost didn't share these photos! It's definitely not my best effort and it is hard to believe I used the same glaze recipe as the book, but I did! Fortunately my chief cake tester is not that discerning thought it looked just fine.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating... and it tasted okay but for me it was neither one thing or another. Not quite orangey enough to be an orange cake, yet not overly chocolately either. So I'm not sure I'll be making it again, although if I do the glaze will be replaced with an orange drizzle... or I would bake it in a plain tin.

 The recipe should you want to try it for yourself:

227g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 tspn vanilla essence
1/2 tspn orange oil
Grated zest from one orange
227 ml milk
plain flour
4 tspn baking powder
100g white chocolate, melted
100g 72 % dark chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) and grease a 23 cm bundt tin. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, along with a spoonful of flour with each addition and beat in well. Combine the flour and baking powder and fold into the batter with the zest, vanilla, orange oil and milk. Divide the mixture into two bowls and stir the white chocolate into one and the dark chocolate into the other. Gentle fold the two together to give a marbled effect and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for approximately 55 mins until baked through.

Cool in the tin for 15 mins and then turn out and cool completely. Combine 50 ml double cream with 125g icing sugar and the zest of an orange and pour over the cake for a nice gloopy topping!

My other chocolate offering this weekend was a Mint and Pistachio chocolate fridge cake from Ottolenghi's book Simple. This is not hanging around and will definitely be made again!
Wishing you all a happy Easter and I hope there will be chocolate for you too!

Each month The Cake Slice Bakers are offered a selection of cakes from the current book we are baking through.  This year it is The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk.  We each choose one cake to bake, and then on the 20th - never before - we all post about our cake on our blogs. There are a few rules that we follow, but the most important ones are to have fun and enjoy baking & eating cakes!

Follow our Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages where you can find all of our cakes, as well as inspiration for many other cakes. You can also click on the thumbnail pictures below to take you to each of our cakes. If you have a blog and are interested in joining The Cake Slice Bakers and baking along with us, please send an email to thecakeslicebakers at gmail dot com for more details.

The Cake Slice Bakers also have a new Facebook group called The Cake Slice Bakers and Friends. This group is perfect for those who do not have a blog but want to join in the fun and bake through this book.

Our choices for April 2019 were ~

1. Poppy Seed Smetanik
2. Rhubarb Strawberry Tea Cake
3. Opera Cake
4. Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

Poppy Seed Smetanik
  • Amandie Bakes - Amanda

  • Marbled Chocolate Orange Bundt
    • Fan My Flame - Gina

    • Rhubarb Strawberry Tea Cake 

        Sunday, 14 April 2019

        Like Buses...

        Nothing for weeks and then they all come at once. Well maybe not all at once but two posts in five days from me which feels like a lot. To be honest I need a break from clearing out my studio. The logistics of trying to decide what I might need for the next six to twelve months and what I can put in storage is making my brain hurt but I'm slowly sorting out every box and drawer which has been quite cathartic. The realisation that I will never do silk painting again and the satisfaction of passing on a box full of supplies to the local school was a high moment. The four large crates of knitting yarn I plan to keep (after already getting rid of several bags full) doesn't feel quite so good... until I remember that knitting is good for you!

        And I was reminded of this by a special little parcel that arrived this week... so beautifully wrapped.

        A few weeks ago I bought myself a ticket to an evening talk at Craft Days in Saffron Walden to hear a talk by Jame McIntosh. I think that people often think that I am confident and outgoing but actually the opposite is true and it takes quite a bit of courage to venture out to an event like this on my own. I can quite happily stand up and give a talk to a room of fifty people, or teach a class full of students, but in a small group of I often struggle. But James was talking about how knitting helped him overcome a serious bout of mental illness... literally saving his life. And long time readers will know that this is an issue close to my heart as my youngest son continues to battle with his mental health. So off I went... I took my knitting as a security blanket and on arrival I smiled a lot  at everyone but said very little! Of course as it turns out everyone was really friendly, including James, whose talk was inspirational and very funny.

        His book "Knit and Nibble" has recipes for sweet treats as well as sweaters and we were treated to several of the fabulous cakes and biscuits while we listened to the story of how knitting helped his recovery from a severe breakdown. I loved the sweater he was wearing... simple shapes and stitched up with brilliant big embroidery stitches. Definitely on my list to make (just remind me I don't need to buy any new yarn!)

        By the end of the talk everyone was mingling and chatting and I got talking to an interesting lady called Addy, an ex airline pilot and now a rep for Rowan yarns, who had her own story of over coming mental illness. We got chatting because she was wearing a gorgeous hand stitched brooch featuring a little fox with his knitting needles. She told me it had come from a lady called Lorna also known as Stitchbirdie.

        When I got home I sent a message to Lorna asking if I could buy one of her beautiful brooches and this week a little parcel arrived for me and here he is! The photo doesn't show how beautiful the stitching is on this gorgeous little brooch which is entirely hand stitched. The little sweater is exquisite and the whole thing is beautiful done on a piece of Harris Tweed. And for me it is a little reminder that we all have our own struggles in life to some extent or another and we just need to be kind to each other.

        Tuesday, 9 April 2019

        Did You Miss Me?

        You don't have to answer but this rather sad little blog has been somewhat neglected of late due to a combination of things really. The technology is making it more difficult than in the past so writing and posting photos seems to take longer, plus our lives have been totally taken up with the prospect of moving house. After twenty nine years I had forgotten what an upheaval it can be, although we have had a spanner thrown in the works last week... more on that later. Plus I sometimes think that after twelve years of writing this blog maybe it's time to call it a day. I think of things to write about and then when I actually find the time I'm not sure they are that interesting. Time to do something else possibly? Or maybe just take a break... oh hang on a minute... that's what I have just done! Anyway, for now, a little catch up of life chez moi.

        However busy there is always baking. I made Welsh cakes for my Mum on Mother's Day. There was an ulterior motive.... it was so I could eat them when I visited her. I may have had one hot from the griddle too, making the most of the fact that I still have a range cooker with a griddle. Mum used to make them for us when we were little and I'm guessing maybe her Mum, who was Welsh made them too.

        I made a chocolate cake for an Embroiderer's Guild supper party. We had Michala Gyetvai come to talk to us about her work. I have known Michala since the early days of blogging and although we have met once or twice I have never really seen her work up close. It was stunning and made me think I must get back to doing more sketching and producing more work... but maybe when we move and I have more time!

        So... that move... Every day I try to clear another cupboard or box. Bags have been taken to the charity shop, items have been moved to their rightful owners (two car loads to son no. 2), some things inevitably have ended up in the skip and I have now also started selling things we no longer want. I have discovered the pleasure of ebay as people out bid each other and Facebook marketplace where our junk seems to be others' treasure. This entire set of 1980s magazines have found another home and although I was beaten down by £2 on the price - £8 instead of £10... does that really make them a bargain or is it just human nature to think we've got the upper hand - frankly I didn't care and I was happy because I would have given them away. They are definitely of their time.

        But all is not plain sailing with the move. A month ago I would have said we would be settling into our new cottage by now but that was before the results of our building survey. We had been aware of some subsidence in the past which we were told had been fixed, but it turns out the problem was more extensive than we were led to believe and possibly still ongoing. It wasn't just a case of the cost of putting it right but the problem of getting buildings insurance too. It felt too much of a risk to go ahead so we currently have nowhere to move to. But having found buyers who are ready to move we are keen not to lose them so we are now looking for somewhere to rent. It feels like a logistical nightmare but as all things no doubt we'll laugh about it one day. Or maybe not!

        One of the logistical problems is deciding what goes into storage and what I need to keep back for work which carries on regardless and varies depending on what I'm teaching. Just in the past week or so there has been a rag rug workshop as well as finishing off some rugs for Elspeth at Ragged Life.

        I have held a block printing workshop and have another lined up for a couple of weeks time. This was the result of printing on paper which was fun to do. I feel it needs to wrap around a special gift or possibly make a book cover. Which reminds me I am teaching book making in the autumn so better keep all those materials to hand too.

        And most recently I have been sewing together coffee sacks to make the most mahoosive wall hanging... 2 m x 5 m to be precise. It was an exciting commission. The partner of the owner of the coffee shop where I occasionally work owns a business called Hot Numbers, which not only roasts and supplies coffee and provides barista training but also runs two coffee shops in Cambridge. Their latest venture is a big shiny new coffee shop and restaurant at the same site as their roastery and this wall hanging will be part of the decor.

        It was a real labour of love... my hands were stuck with pins more times than I care to remember,  I broke several machine needles, my house was covered in hessian fibres and dust and I didn't stop sneezing for days. Not only that but I had no idea what the finished thing looked like or if it would even work as there was nowhere big enough to spread it out at home. But it is up in situ and is okay so I've now got to make the second one... preferably before we move!

        I keep sane by walking. Every morning whatever the weather the dog still needs to go out and it sets me up for the day, helping to keep a perspective on things. Sometimes I'm even rewarded by a beautiful sight like this. Although not this morning as I'm currently sitting with my feet up and an ice pack on my right shin. I've had a niggling pain for a few days but after a day working in the cafe on my feet all day yesterday I'm now in agony with full blown shin splints!

        So that's my life for the past few weeks. I don't think I'm quite ready to give up blogging yet but my appearances here might be sporadic. I'm hoping you won't give up on me. I'm finding commenting on blogs and replying to comments sporadic too... sometimes it works and other times not but I'm still reading what you say if you leave a comment and I'm still reading your blogs too although I miss that connection when the comments don't seem to work.

        Well I must go... I have coffee sacks to sew and more boxes to pack!