Monday 28 January 2013

Stitch 'n Bake

I decided it was about time I combined my love of baking with my love of free machine embroidery and so came up with this little image...
designed to grace the front of an apron. It was meant to be a prototype for some aprons to go into my Etsy shop.

And although I love the end result there will have to be a serious re-think of the design because all those ruffles use up an awful lot of fabric and took me far too long.

After all... what would you be prepared to pay for an apron...

especially one too pretty to wipe your floury hands on?

Sunday 27 January 2013

A Healthy Lunch

Another recipe ticked off from my baking challenge... this time it was Pitta Bread.
Very easy and satisfying to make... although I probably did get a tad overexciting when they puffed up like little soft pillows in the oven.

And they made a very healthy lunch stuffed with home made hummus, falafel and salad... although I probably didn't need to eat two of them.

And if you fancy making my very quick and easy hummus you just need to whizz up a tin of drained chickpeas with 1 crushed garlic clove, juice of half a lemon and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper in the food processor until it's the consistency you want. (I like mine quite chunky). Then drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil down the funnel of the processor while the motor is running until everything is mixed. Taste... and add more lemon and seasoning if required. Sometimes I add a tablespoon of tahini or peanut butter if I have it but I didn't yesterday and it tasted just fine.
That's five recipes done now... only another hundred or so more to go (113 actually!)

Thursday 24 January 2013

Sweet Tooth

After my brief foray into stitch yesterday I'm back with the baking!

A few months ago, Cathy posted about a rather splendid looking book by Lily Vanilli called "Sweet Tooth". Not only did she give an excellent review, she also very generously had a copy to give away. I didn't win the giveaway but I knew I had to have a copy... if only for the fabulous colour on the edge of the pages!

But the book is not just an aesthetically pleasing object but packed full of the most amazing looking recipes...

Fabulous photography... (I so want to make those little cherry bakewells)

and plenty of really useful baking advice, including some of the science behind baking.

I tend to agree with Cathy that many of the recipes seem to be "special occasion" baking rather than everyday pies and cakes, but it is certainly a must have book for any keen baker.

And there are dozens of things I want to bake. I thought I would start with something simple and opted for these Biscuit Brownies.

Mine didn't come out as shiny as Lily's, nor did they crack... in fact they didn't look anything like the picture in the book at all. But to be fair, my oven tends to be a bit unpredictable and I had added white chocolate chips which weren't in the original recipe because I always mess about with recipes (such a rebel!)...but they still tasted pretty good. (Although I think it is time to follow Lily's advice and invest in an oven thermometer)

Given the choice I would probably just bake Brownies  rather than Biscuit Brownies as we are big Brownie fans in our family...

But they were declared a success and they are being gobbled up pretty quickly. I'm looking forward to trying an awful lot more a lot more from this book... Lemon and pistachio shortbread is next on my list. I would also like to thank the lovely Lily Jones (aka Lily Vanilli) who replied very promptly to my request to feature pictures from her book on my blog. A beautiful book full of wonderful recipes... and I really wasn't paid to say that!

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Bringing Colour to my Cheeks!

The group of friends that I am meeting once a month for a bit of stitch and support (the same group that I made my "snow" piece for) have more than just a weather challenge on the go. We also have to produce something on the theme of self portrait.

When I was doing my degree I did quite a bit of work on portraits, including this very rough brush and ink drawing of yours truely.

"Green Stripe" A portrait of Matisse's wife

Then taking inspiration from the work of Matisse and his vibrant use of cool and warm colours, I translated the portrait into a little colour sketch.

"Woman in a Hat" 1905, Matisse

 A very quick little sketch (done on a train journey)... that makes me look rather jaundiced!

 However... not one to be put off easily, I took further inspiration from the fabulous work of Sue Dove...

"Facing It" Sue Dove

And ended up with this hand stitched "sketch", which I actually think is a great improvement on my original colour drawing.

So roll forward a few years...and given the challenge of working on the theme of self portrait I thought I would resurrect this brightly coloured version of me and see if I could produce a machine stitched version.

I started by laying down some coloured wool tops onto a felt backing, using the embellisher and this is the result at that stage. I have clearly not mastered the art of using the embellisher as a painting tool!

But never fear... I can add a bit of textural machine stitch... and completely mess it it up!

Although the reverse might still work for the project I've got in mind... as long as I don't mind "the bearded lady" look

I would say watch this space but there is a good chance I will bin this... and possibly not start again. Not my best effort... must try harder!

Sunday 20 January 2013

Tessellating Rolls

 I'm back with my baking challenge...

 This time page 62 and the "Ale Bread Rolls"

Which I declare a success (although I wouldn't leave them in the oven quite so long next time)

It could just be the mathematician in me, but I rather like the idea of tessellating rolls!

And they did go very well with the celeriac and mustard soup.

Okay... that is three posts in a row about food. I promise I will not show any more food until I've done some stitching to share... or maybe some knitting?

Saturday 19 January 2013


 You will pleased to know that I had my "Mrs. Sensible" hat on yesterday and we didn't attempt our trip to Cornwall. Mum is safe and warm in her house and I am safe and warm here. I did have an early morning trip to the supermarket though, to stock up before any snow arrived and on impulse bought some Seville oranges.

I don't make marmalade that often. Not that I don't like it... I do... very much. But I'm the only one in the house who likes it and even then I don't eat it that often.

So the thought of cutting up all that peel into tiny shreds isn't exactly my first choice of activity. Unless of course I have a unexpected  free day that I thought I would be spending driving. The sort of day when it's cold outside and you don't want to be out and about doing anything else. Then the idea of spending a morning making marmalade seems like rather a pleasant activity.

I love the alchemy of jam making - turning all those shreds into a thick and sticky marmalade is strangely satisfying. The peel had released so much pectin that when I added the sugar it already started to form jelly like lumps before I even had a chance to bring it back up to the boil. As a result it required very little boiling.

Which meant a very high yield... seven jars of bright, tangy marmalade from 2kg of oranges.

Which is enough to keep me going for years!

Although I have rather got a hankering for a marmalade bread and butter pudding now... or perhaps a marmalade cake? Do you have a favourite marmalade recipe?

I also fancy making some lime marmalade... or perhaps pink grapefruit... and I'm wondering what these would be like in a marmalade cake too. The possibilities are endless!

Thursday 17 January 2013

Pies and Panic

 You might recall that some weeks ago I had a rather silly notion of setting myself the challenge of baking all the recipes from this book... well it never got beyond the silly notion stage really. But flicking through the other day I thought I'd like to try making pork pies. Why? Don't even go there... I haven't a clue... I don't even eat them... but I knew wanted to make them.

Ingredients were all bought this week and I kept thinking about it, but was put off by the idea that hot water crust pastry might be tricky and the need to work quickly before it cools down and becomes brittle and crumbly. But finally last night at about 6 pm I took the plunge and decided I would get these pork pies made and in the oven before embarking on the evening meal. The filling was prepared, flours weighed, water boiled... and then the phone went. It was Anna... was I going to reading group?... Ah!... Yes... but I had totally forgotten. But no worries... I still had and hour and half to finish the pies and make a toad in the hole...

And I did manage both... but only just. Dinner was dished up for my men (I had a couple of Ryvita!), just as the pies came out of the oven and Anna turned up at the door!

So given that I was running around like a headless chicken, muttering rude words and leaving chaos in my wake, it was probably not the best conditions for my first ever attempt at hot water crust pastry but it wasn't quite as tricky as I imagined. It felt rather like the home made play dough I used to make when the boys were little... we all loved to handle that while it was still silky soft and warm!

However, there was no way of getting the stock flavoured gelatine down that little hole. I did try and it went everywhere... so in the end I didn't bother. And as Joe said jelly is his least favourite bit in a pork pie, I decided it would be fine without. They certainly look and smell like pork pies... But I'm still waiting for the verdict!*

I'm still waiting for the latest weather update too*. It was -7.5 deg C here this morning with a forecast of more snow coming up from the west tomorrow. I'm meant to be driving West to Cornwall with my Mum in the morning so I'm rather hoping that the forecast is wrong.

This cold spell might look very pretty but it's mighty inconvenient!
* Verdict... pies apparently "awesome" and weather "appalling" so we're not risking a drive to the West Country. Another weekend by the fire knitting I think!

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Textiles in Focus

I have been putting the finishing touches to a bit of hand stitching today. Adding a bit of sparkle to these tiny little squares of needle weaving.

Which have become three little brooches... some samples for a couple of workshops that I will be running in February at Textiles In Focus.

I'm sure many of you will already be familiar with Textiles in Focus, which is a fabulous annual textile event that takes place here in the east of England. Spread over three days on 15th, 16th and 17th February it offers two exhibitions, traders specialising in threads, fabrics, mixed media products, books, a talk, excellent lunches, demonstrations... plus an extensive range of two hour workshops... which is where I come in.

On Friday 15th February I will be running two workshops called "Weave it, Wear it" to create one of these little brooches from scratch... and ready to wear by the end of the workshop. Everything you need is provided - you only have to bring a small pair of scissors (and I even have those to share if you forget!). At just £10 a workshop, this is excellent value. And of course, I'm not the only one offering workshops - there is a fabulous range to choose from and you can download the programme from the website.

If you have never been to Textiles in Focus before, I can definitely recommend it. It has all the appeal of the bigger shows but is much more friendly and intimate. But do hurry if you want to book on a workshop because they fill up fast!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Little Things are Cute

Sunday evening camped on the sofa with my knitting and this is what I made. The cutest little baby hat... because Stewart's nephew and his partner are having their first baby in March. As we are planning a trip up north of the border next month and will be seeing them, I felt the urge to knit baby things.

And because it really did knit up in just one evening I now have the urge to knit lots more baby things. Last night I finished a pair of matching booties (but it was too dark to photograph them) and today I bought some yarn to make a jacket.

I think I could be tempted to knit baby stuff even if there wasn't a baby on the way... because little things are just so cute!

You can find the free pattern here should you be so inclined!