Wednesday 31 October 2012

Not Quite Rock and Roll

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I made rough puff pastry. I'd always considered it a step too far... all that turning, rolling and resting sounded far too complicated when supermarkets sell the stuff. But if I'm going to stick to my challenge and try everything in this book, then it had to be tackled. And to my surprise it wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined. In fact after the initial mixing and rolling, I found that the frequent resting periods where all you have to do is leave the pastry in the fridge were perfect for getting back in the studio and stitching. And just as I got bored with 20 minutes continuous machine stitching it was time to get back in the kitchen and do another turn and roll. A perfect combination.... Turn, Roll & Stitch!
 I do think that the cooking times in the book are a little suspect  (either that or my oven is not the correct temperature) as they were definitely not cooked after half hour. So I cranked up the heat a little and left them for another five minutes... still not cooked. Decided they needed yet another five minutes, took my cup of tea and went to sit in the comfort of the sofa and picked up a magazine. Fifteen minutes later, I jumped to my feet, shouting obsenities... "I've forgotten the *beep* sausage rolls... Oh *beep* *BEEP*!!!... they're ruined!" But it was decided by the rest of the family who had come running to the kitchen to see what all the noise was about that although they were a little more golden than I may have liked they were not ruined. And they've gone off in the lunch boxes this morning so I'll know the verdict later. I have to admit that they smelled pretty good... almost enough to make me eat meat again.
Who knows... I might even be back with some stitching later.

Sunday 28 October 2012

A Personal Bake Off Challenge

I'm reading this book at the moment. I'm only half way through but I'm loving it. There is something in Julie Powell's obsessive personality that I recognise in my own... plus that need for a challenge...
and I got to thinking it would be fun to work my way through all the recipes in one of my own cookbooks (but without the time limit!) So given my slight obsession with all things "Bake Off" I decided to try  and cook everything in this book .Although there are some things I just don't like the sound of so may well miss them out which does kind of defeat the purpose of cooking every recipe (if there is indeed a purpose).

One recipe that did catch my eye was this Pecan Loaf... so pretty.

I perservered with a very sticky dough, kneading it by hand as I don't own a  fancy machine with a dough hook. I confess that it had less than the 2 tablespoons of black treacle required in the recipe... because I had almost run out... nor did it have pecans as I didn't have any in the cupboard, so walnuts were substituted.

And the end result looked pretty much like it should.

Sliced whilst still warm...

And eaten for lunch with our Sunday soup (Pumpkin with melting cheese, since you ask)

But despite appearances, I wasn't very happy with my bread. I don't think it was cooked properly (a slightly soggy middle) and there were far too many walnuts giving it an oily, slightly bitter flavour. And although no one else complained and there is not much left, already I want to try it again with the proper ingedients. I think pecans would work much better in the quantities in the recipe so I guess Paul Hollywood does actually know what he is talking about. Making all the recipes from this book and getting them perfect could be a very long process!

Of course there was cake too, a fruity Harvo loaf... but baked in eight little loaf shaped cases instead of the usual loaf tin. This is another one of those family recipes passed down from my Mum that also uses black treacle... but as I'd used the last scrapings from the tin in my bread I substited golden syrup.

And this time the substitution worked... delicious sliced in half and buttered!
Harvo Loaf
Stir together in a large bowl... 2 cups self raising flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup sultanas (or raisins), a scant cup whole milk, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons black treacle (or golden syrup if you've run out of treacle). Mix until combined, pour into a lined loaf tin and bake at 180 deg C for about 1 hour. Cool in the tin and eat sliced and buttered with afternoon tea!
I think it is quite likely that I've given this recipe on my blog before but I make no apology as it is quite the easiest and one of the tastiest cakes ever!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Stitching without Bread Pudding

Lest you think there has been nothing other than the baking of cakes around these parts I thought I would show you that as well as sitting on my backside in front of a sewing machine feeding myself with bread pudding I have actually done some sewing this week. First of all there were these two little book jackets made as samples for my class at The Settlement.
We are still working on some of the lovely patterns from Jenny Rolfe's book but instead of using the resulting fabric to make bags, this time it was turned into book jackets. We've only been working on this project for a couple of classes but already Margaret has finished her book pictured below.

Ann also finished hers and was delighted to have completed a project in class instead of having to do "homework".

And Jan, who is always speedy, managed to finish two book jackets, both pictured below.

As well as making book jackets for class I've also had a commission to cover a photograph album for my friend's new grandson and I finished that last night... without the benefit of bread pudding... didn't think I should risk greasy fingerprints on the silk!

Just a simple applique design of boats...

front and back!

Tomorrow I'm off to talk to the ladies of Horsham Embroiderer's Guild and on Saturday I'm teaching more book making but I'm sure I'll be back before too long... no doubt with more cake!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is one of those nostalgic bakes that is a cross between a pudding and a cake and one that takes me right back to my childhood. It is something my Mum made regularly and yet I've never made it before. But we were talking about it at the weekend and I suddenly had an urge to make some... probably something to do with the need to fill up my contantly hungry sons.
Despite rummaging through all my scraps of paper and recipe books I couldn't find Mum's recipe anywhere so I had to resort to some research on the internet, took what seemed to be the best elements from several recipes and this was my version which wasn't too bad... although I will get Mum to give me her recipe again so I can do a comparison!

In a large bowl tear up 400g of white bread (I used the crusts as well but you can remove them if you like) and add 600ml milk and allow to soak for 10 mins. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mash it all up to combine. Stir in 450g dried fruit (I used raisins and currants) and 100g sugar. Then add 50g Self Raising flour and one & a half tbsp of mixed spice. Finally add 2 beaten eggs and 100ml of melted butter. Pour into a rectangular or square baking tin approx 20cm x 25 cm and bake for one and a half hours at 150 deg C. Turn up the heat to 180 and cook for another 10 mins or so until pudding browns. Excellent warm with custard or eaten cold.
It's the sort of pudding that makes you feel you should be doing a long hike or a strenuous bike ride but after a miserable grey day like today when the damp fog hasn't really lifted and the lights have been on all day indoors I think it's a perfectly acceptable pudding for when sitting on your backside in front of a sewing machine all day... don't you?

Sunday 21 October 2012

Home Grown

My vegetable plot has not been quite so successful this year as in the past. My big trip to New Zealand in the spring meant I was late planting and the awful weather followed by lack of time over the summer months has meant it has all been a bit haphazard. But I have managed to grow courgettes... lots and lots of courgettes.
For some reason, totally unknown to me, I thought it might be fun to grow courgettes in different shapes and colours this year, but the round ones have sometimes been hard to spot whilst still a managable size. I currently have one the size of a football that I intend to carve like a pumpkin! But there has still been an endless supply... with which to make frittata...

Our favourite courgette filo pie (from Hugh's fabulous veg book)...

A newly discovered recipe this summer (thank you Kim) for a courgette lasagne... very quick, very easy and also very tasty... this has been made almost every week...

and there have even been courgette chocolate cakes.

But finally as I settle into a comfortable Autumn/Winter Sunday routine of homemade soup, bread and cake for lunch, today I have used the last of the home grown courgettes in a carrot and courgette soup.

And in case you ask, the cake was a lemon and thyme loaf (From the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days)... using home grown lemon thyme.
The other thing I managed to grow were some rather splendid squash... raised from seeds extracted from a squash in my Abel & Cole box several months ago. Using another brilliant recipe from Hugh's book (this really is my all time favourite cook book.... everything I've made from it is wonderful) for squash stuffed with leeks, they made a fantastic supper last night.

Eaten off trays whilst we watched Strictly!

Friday 19 October 2012

Inspiration and Excitement!

It has been a long time but finally this week I've felt a bit of that "Zip-a-dee Do dah" zest for life return. Probably for the first time since my degree course came to an abrupt end 18 months ago, I feel I have found some creative direction again.
The week started with me giving a talk to the ladies of Oxted... and the enthusiastic reaction I received started the spark of an idea. There was a lovely day spent with a special friend on Wednesday which got more ideas flowing, a day spent in my studio just making on Thursday and then today I've been with another special friend to see this exhibition and suddenly everything seems to be fitting into place. I'm inspired and excited again.
I shall digress to say this really is a "must see" exhibition. The costumes were amazing. The only slightly down side was there was so much fascinating stuff to read as well as see that it meant the queues were very slow moving, but even that didn't really diminish from the exhibition and I can't wait to go back to see it again. We had a special moment when we were both waxing lyrical about the absolutely gorgeous costume worn by Judi Dench when she played Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" and a very elegant lady to my left very quietly and modestly said "My daughter designed that". We were actually talking to Sandy Powell's mother.... that is Sandy Powell, Oscar winning costume designer! We had a lovely little chat about how she had helped sew on some of the jewels and what a lovely lady Judi Dench is...
... so suddenly I'm bursting with ideas of where I am taking my work in future. And probably for the first time in many years I don't actually care what anyone else thinks about what I want to do. That need for "peer recognition" can be an enormous pressure to create meaningful conceptual art but I finally know what I want to do for me... and I believe that will bring its own credibility and meaning to my work. And if everyone else thinks it is a load of old tosh or that I've finally lost my marbles then that is their problem, not mine. I really don't care... and that is a very liberating feeling.
I'm not going for a great 'reveal' but I hope in the coming months there will be glimpses of where I'm going creatively as I put my ideas into practise. Meanwhile this is the creativity that was going on during my train journey into London today much to the amusement of fellow travellers... crochet mice...

very definitely up to mischief!

(yes... if you recognise those cakes, I'm finally doing something with them!)

Thursday 18 October 2012

Beautiful Bags

I really enjoy my weekly machine embroidery class at The Letchworth Settlement but it is not without its challenges. About half a dozen of the ladies have been coming to the class since I started teaching there but each term we also have another half dozen new ladies, some of whom are complete beginners. So my challenge is to come up with something interesting enough for those with experience but not so difficult as to put off the newcomers.
I usually start with some sort of sampler of free machine stitches and this year we have appliqed strips of coloured fabric to a felt backing and worked a variety of free machine patterns over the surface. Plenty of opprtunity to practise! We have then used the resulting fabrics to make a simple bag consisting of two circles based on the petal bag in Jenny Rolfe's lovely book of Embroidered Bags. Making bags has also given us the opportunity to make cords and tassels.

I made a couple of large bag from circles about 6" wide and then a second smaller bag from 3" circles.

The ladies in the class then set about making their own with these fantastic results. Not all of them were finished when I took the photos but you can see what a brilliant job they have done. I thought I would remember whose was whose when I took the pictures... but now I'm not so sure!

I'm pretty certain the collection above are Jean's but everytime I look at the following five photos I change my mind as to who made which bag. Sorry ladies... they are all fabulous!

Just remembered that the one below is Jan's... maybe?

And this one is definitely Margaret's...

Because she also made these very clever scissor keepers from her smaller bags.

And this gorgeous multi- coloured bag is Di's because she also made a very clever beaded button closure as well as a beaded tassel.

And Marian made this one with a beautiful twisted and beaded cord (all done on the sewing machine)

One of the other "challenges" of this class is they like to come up with things for me to do while they are busy stitching. Someone will casually throw out a suggestion... and before I know it I've taken the bait! This time someone thought that the smaller bags would look good as little gift bags for the Christmas tree... and then someone suggested a collection of then would be rather nice as a Christmas garland...

So here they are... I made six mini bags, finished off with beads rather than tassels...

Just waiting for a suitable cord from which I can string them.

I did however, resist the suggestion that I might make twenty four of them as little Advent bags. A step too far even for me I think!

Saturday 13 October 2012

Just Popping by...

I know I said I was away... But I made record time back from Yorkshire this evening (The roads were very clear... I wasn't speeding... honest) and I thought that if I didn't share the photos of the work made in the class today right away, by the time I got around to it there would be something else to post about and then I wouldn't get around to it at all... you know what it's like.
So here we are... fifteen lovely ladies in the beautiful village of Snape in North Yorkshire working on a Tyvek playday... and these are the results of their endeavours.

They made fabulous flowers, scrumptious seedheads and beautiful beads.

I can't give credit to many individuals because I confess I did not learn very many names but the seedhead above and the work in the previous photo belonged to Julie who incorporated silk fabric and lace into her seedheads with amazing effect.

As for all the others... just enjoy the photos of their wonderful work...

I must mention Nancy who made the flower above despite not really enjoying machine stitching at all... but I did let her stitch the petals together by hand!

This pair of seedheads looked really frosty in real life with their silver stitching.

I was well looked after by Diane, who provided a super lunch and afternoon tea with cake for us all today as well as feeding me and giving me a bed for the night on Friday. Thank you Diane and thank you to all the ladies of the Snape Textiles Group for working so hard and making it such a fun workshop.

Now if you'll excuse me I really do need to go to bed!