Sunday 28 January 2018

While I was gone...

 I hadn't planned to be away so long... I know it's only been just over a week but it feels like longer... but you know how it is... I've been busy, easily distracted, caught up with other things. So what have I been doing?

I've been researching.
For a while now I've planned to do some research on my family tree, but in the spirit of my 60 x 60 and "what am I waiting for", and spurred on by my friend Liz I've joined and I'm finding it a little compulsive. I've gone back to the early 1880s on my Mum's side of the family. The photo above is of one of my great aunts in a locket the size of a 50p piece. The photo below is of my Dad (he's the little one on the bike at the right) with his brothers and little sister. It's fascinating! Yesterday we visited a couple of Cambridgeshire churches in the hope of finding some evidence of relatives in the churchyards. We were out of luck in finding anyone but instead we did find a wonderful church inWillingham complete with the most amazing wall paintings. One thing leads to another...

I've been cooking
lots of meals from scratch using loads of vegetables, continuing to follow the advice of Dr Chatterjee. Stewart was overheard to mutter "Your Mum will have biscuits" when we were on our way to see her this weekend... he wasn't wrong. I fear my attempts at healthy eating might be failing!

I've been planning
New classes in a new venue and it feels exciting

I've been stitching
more little hoop portraits. My Marc Bolan caused some debate on Facebook... is it Brian May, is it Phil Lynott, is is Roger Daltry (someone even suggested Noel Fielding)? No... it's MARC BOLAN!!!

Bob Marley was a little more recognisable it would seem.

I've been drawing
More daily prompts on Instagram... houseplant, beins with "L", suit (Chanel and Armour), can, wheels, paint, denim, row...

I got as far as 'hug' but have fallen by the wayside over the past few days...

too busy researching all those ancestors!

Saturday 20 January 2018

A Saffron-Orange Bundt Cake

What is this I hear you cry... a post about cake only two days after I tell you I'm cutting back on sugar. But in my defense... this was made last weekend (before I started the new regime), it was a special occasion and I am once again joining in with The Cake Slice Bakers.

It has been a long time since I made a cake with this group but they have kindly let me stay a member. Each month the Cake Slice bakers, a group of bloggers who enjoy baking and eating cake, are offered a selection of recipes from a chosen book for the year. We choose one of the recipes to bake and then on the 20th of the month we blog about it. There are very few rules but the main one is that we have fun trying new recipes and baking cakes.

This year it is slightly different as our book, The Perfect Cake from America's Test Kitchen (I'm imagining this is a bit like our Good Housekeeping Institute in the UK)  hasn't been published yet so we cannot actually see the whole book and we are only given access to the choices for that month. Also we have been asked not to share the recipes on the blog... but I can show you pictures!

I chose to make a Saffron-Orange Bundt cake. It was easy to put together, no complicated techniques and it baked beautifully at the temperature indicated and for the stated time... something that never happened with our last book. It also smelled wonderful as it baked. I think my only gripe was that as with all American books the ingredients are measured in cups and sticks... really... who on earth decided on sticks of butter as a unit of measurement! I dug out my American measuring cups and reweighed everything into grams so I had a recipe I was happy to work with.

I don't think I'm giving too much away if I say there was one unsusal ingredient that I have never added to a cake before and that was turmeric. It was a tiny amount and I can only imagine it was there to enhance the golden colour of the cake as any contribution to the flavour would be minimal. There was however a whole teaspoon of saffron which could make it an expensive cake, but I still have a pot that Joe brought me back from Morocco.

The icing was described as a glaze but for me a glaze is something that lightly coats a surface as with a lemon drizzle cake but this was a thick glace icing. This is not a complaint just an observation as it was delicious and added just the right amount of sweetness.

And the cake? Well it was lovely even if I say so myself... delicately flavoured with just the right amount of orange and saffron, it had a dense even crumb a little bit like a Madiera cake. I was worried it might be a little dry but it was perfectly moist and very well received by everyone last weekend. We happened to have Stewart's son James and his wife Elizabeth staying with us for a couple of days en route from Australia before they started the next stage of their adventure in Cape Town and as it was James's birthday on Monday it was a good excuse for a cake.

You can see what the other bakers have made by following the link:


Thursday 18 January 2018

A Day to Remember

When I write a blog post I like to try to stick to a theme or to have some semblence of continuity in what I'm writing about, at least that is how it starts out in my head even if it doesn't end up that way. But sometimes something random pops up in my brain (sometimes? Who am I kidding?) and I end up writing about that instead. Which is by way of an explanation as to why a post about a rather splendid day out (I'm coming to it, I promise) starts with a quick mention of a self help book. You may well have already heard of the very handsome Dr Chatterjee as apparently he has appeared on TV, not that I had noticed!

However I did hear him speak on Saturday Live on radio 4 last week and was so impressed with the common sense he was talking that his book seemed to end up in my Amazon shopping cart. And I am just as impressed with the book. His basic premise is that all parts of the body are connected and so we should be looking at the whole body and taking a more rounded approach to treatment of ailments. A lot of it is what we know already (although possibly ignore), like eat more vegetables, drink more water, walk more steps etc. but it is presented as clear easily achievable chunks e.i. small changes in our lifestyles that can make a difference. As someone who often has digestive problems and hardly ever has a decent night's sleep it seems worth trying some of his suggestions.... so I am starting by foregoing my nightly cuppa for a herbal tea, trying to cut out sugar again (it made me feel so much better last year) and all devices/screens are going off by 8.30 pm... no checking messages before I go to bed. I'll be reporting back! He also advocates making time for ourselves to relax and that leads me rather nicely into my lovely day out.

My friend Kim couldn't make it to my birthday party last year so offered to take me out instead. At her suggestion we met in London at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant off Regent's Street, Tibits, where we had a wonderful lunch of the most delicious salads. There was so much choice and such wonderful flavours... see, I'm already taking Dr Chatterjee's advice and feeding my body with five a day. From there we off to the Regent Street Cinema, apparently the birthplace of British cinema.

We arrived to the sound of the organ being played just like in times gone by and were both amazed that the place was absolutely packed in the middle of the day. This historic cinema dates back to 1848 and was the first theatre in the country to show moving pictures. Over the years it was used for various screenings and diferent types of entertainment but it closed to the public in 1980 and became a lecture theatre. In 2015 it was reopened as a cinema, having been restored to its former grandeur. And what better place to see the classic love story "An Affair to Remember". A delicious lunch with a lovely friend followed by an afternoon spent with Cary Grant... definitely fits the bill for taking time out to relax! And as the Regent Street cinema is another 'first' for me, it also means another sixty x sixty ticked off my list... and quite appropriate as it is the sixtieth anniversary of the first screening of the film, released in 1957 when I was born!

Kim and I also managed a quick visit to Anthropologie where I treated myself to this rather gorgeous cup... which made working all day today on tedious admin tasks so much nicer. It's the small pleasures that make all the difference.

Now if you'll excuse me I must go... my laptop/screen watershed is rapidly approaching and I'm going to do some drawing and read a book before bed instead of browsing the internet and checking emails.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Doodle a Day

 I think I may have mentioned in my last post that I have been taking part in a Doodle a Day for January following creative prompts on Instagram. I know I have done things like this before... like last summer... and have usually not got further than about a week but I'm trying to stick with it... despite waning enthusiasm over the past day or two... because it has had some knock on effect on other creative endeavours, plus it is a chance to try different techniques and different styles.

The prompts for the first nine days were: Happy New Year, Cocktail, Sleep, Penguin, Fringe, Sailor,  Building, Bath and Cloud.... I'm hoping you can work out which is which! That fringe was my Mum's handiwork... it's from an old school photo from when I was about six! Day eight was "Bath" and when I got home at lunchtime that day I discovered Jacob had given Hector a bath. Once I got over the water and hair everywhere I could see the funny side especially as Hector was not very impressed so he became the subject of my drawing that day.

I really enjoyed drawing the little penguins and they have become the subject of an applique with free machine embroidery that I consequently turned into a zipped pouch. I always imagined making zipped bags would be really tricky but they are simple when you know how... so suddenly everything has become a zipped bag! I struck lucky with the lining for this one.

Yesterday's prompt was "Houseplant" which reesulted in two drawings... a little water colour of a Monstera plant...

And some little cactii...

Which also got turned into an applique that will be a bag very soon.

And not content to stop there I made a pencil case sized bag from these appliqued owls.

I still feel as though I am working a little haphazardly, jumping from one thing to the next but I might just amass a little collection of bags for my Etsy shop at this rate.

Meanwhile if you want to see my daily doodles you can follow me on Instagram at

Sunday 7 January 2018

Two Down...

Well that was a good creative start for the first week in January and if I achieve nothing else all year I have at least finished off two projects that have been sitting on my sewing table for the best part of last year.

If I'm honest this one might have been lurking about nearly eighteen months. I made some little stitched portraits back in 2016 ready for my open studio in July. Stewart named them my "Dead Singers"... very tasteful! So continuing the theme I started on Freddie Mercury. But then Open Studios ended and there wasn't very much interest in the ones I had already done so Freddie got cast aside for other things. But in my quest to finish things in 2018 I found him again and now he is complete and mounted in his little frame.

Of course, having finished him I now want to make some more which rather defeats the object of getting stuff finished and out of the way in the first place. Not that it has stopped me... I have Marc Bolan and Jimi Hendrix drawn up ready to stitch!

Another project that has languished on my table for most of last year was this little book cover, started as a sample in one of my classes... ridiculous really as it only took an hour or so to complete.

I can take no credit for the design as it was made to cover the little notebook I carry around in my handbag so I took inspiration from the original cover. As you can see the notebook is rather dogearred and the cover has been taped back on so this little book jacket was desperately needed. I can't imagine why I didn't finish it sooner really.

So that's two projects finished... and another two started. Maybe I'm not doing as well as I thought!
I've also been taking part in an art challenge on Instagram to draw a doodle a day following daily creative prompts. I've not always liked the prompts but so far I've been doing it every day and it has already inspired me to do some other things... but I'll save that for another day because my supper is ready.

I hope your weekend has been a good one too!

Thursday 4 January 2018

Good Times

We've had a good start to the year. No sooner than I had rattled off that last post than I was off  putting on a posh frock ready for our New Years Eve celebrations. It started as an idea to celebrate over a meal with our friends Alison and Steve, but it soon morphed into a buffet supper for sixteen of our mutual friends. Alison and I planned it together and shared all the cooking and preparation which made the whole evening seem effortless. We started at Alison and Steve's for cocktails and canapes and then everyone headed up the road to us for the main meal.

All our main course dishes came from Ottolenghi cookbooks so it was a feast of middle eastern inspired dishes, full of flavour and fragrant spices.

It is a wonder we had room for puddings but with roasted figs, sticky baklava, fruit tarts and chocolate cake it was hard to resist.

When midnight came we were all suitably feasted and ready to raise our glasses to toast in the new year.

It was such a lovely relaxed evening with good friends, good food and good conversation... a perfect start to 2018. Even the clearing up seemed effortless sharing it with friends. New Year's day was taken at a leisurely pace with a lovely dog walk in the afternoon, timed to miss the showers.

Since then Christmas has been packed away in boxes in the loft, the house feels back to normal and finally I feel almost back to normal too. It has been a good Christmas and a good holiday but there has also been uncertainty hanging over us for the past couple of weeks.

Two weeks before Christmas I went for a routine mammogram. Within four days I had a call back for further tests. After a week of worrying and not sleeping, three days before Christmas I attended a screening clinic for further x rays and an ultrasound resulting in a biopsy on a lump in my left breast. It was all a little surreal... especially sitting in the waiting room with Raiders of the Lost Ark playing in between tests. I was treated well and all credit must go to the NHS who do a fabulous job.The doctor reassured me that she thought that it didn't look serious and the biopsy was just a precaution. I was told to go home, enjoy Christmas and not to worry.

And mostly that is what I have done. We really haven't told anyone else because there seemed no point without any definite news. The worrying has come at strange moments, obvious times like the middle of the night but sometimes in the middle of crowds of friends... silly worries like "How am I going to tell people?", "How can I write my advent blog posts when I don't feel upbeat and jolly?" or "Will I be able to lift my sewing machine if I have to have an operation?" However I am relieved to say that I have been lucky because yesterday I got my test results and I've been given the all clear. I thought I would just feel immense relief... and don't get me wrong, I do, but I'm also feeling lots of other mixed emotions I hadn't expected. There was guilt that I was one of the lucky ones knowing there would be phone calls to other women who wouldn't be getting good news, there was frustration at feeling the way I have for the past two weeks and other feelings that I can't easily verbalise... more of an exhaustion.... I feel exhausted. In many ways it has felt really traumatic yet here I am now as though nothing has happened... just a small scar and some bruising, both of which will go, although the lump remains, so it feels like a fuss over nothing.

So when in my last post I said there  would be no resolutions this year it was mostly because I couldn't think beyond the next couple of days... not that there are any resolutions as such more just gentle plans or ideas. I had already said earlier last year that I wanted to concentrate more on my art and textiles and that is part of my plan for this year. Maybe rethink my social media presence... both my website and blog could do with an update, I'd like to grow my Instagram following and my Etsy shop, maybe send out more newsletters... but they are all vague ideas. Christina has written about all the things she would like to make this year and it made me think not so much about what I would like to make but more about finishing things I have started... this could definitely be a year to finish things or at least get rid of those projects that will never be finished.  Barbara has written about reducing our enviromental impact by cutting down on our use of plastics and that seems to me like that would also be a good aim for the year. Mostly though I shall be grateful for my good health and appreciate good friends, good food and good conversation!