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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bank Holiday Baking – Dorset Apple and Almond Cake

I was rooting through the fridge on Monday trying to find a tiny thumb sized piece of fresh ginger that had gone astray when I found three wrinkly apples sitting sadly in the veg draw.  I’m quite fussy with fruit and I can’t bear the eat bananas once they’re completely ripe and I loathe eating an apple unless it’s perfectly crisp.  But I also can’t stand food waste.  The whole food waste outcry seems to be a recent thing for some, but I was brought up with parents who had experienced post war rationing and the effect it had on households even when it came to an end, so it’s far from a new idea to me.   I remember watching the Delia Smith cookery shows as a kid and my mum would be aghast when Delia would fail to scrape every last morsel out of a bowl.  ‘What a waste!’ my mum would cry, followed up with ‘Well, she can afford it.’ from my dad.  Poor Delia carried on regardless with her dishes for dinner parties that would never be cooked in our house.  I doubt my mum knew of anywhere to even buy a pheasant, even if she ever had the inclination to buy one.

I’d spotted a recipe in last month’s BBC Good Food magazine for Dorset Apple and Almond cake and thought this the perfect recipe to use up the apples and some other odds and ends hanging around in the cupboards, namely what turned out to be 10g of ground almonds (I had to make up the missing 90g with flour) and I used some blanched almonds instead of the required flaked, which were bought in flash of optimism before Christmas in the hope I’d get around to making a Dundee, cherry Genoa, or stollen (as it turned out, nothing other than the traditional Christmas cake got made).  As an aside, I feel I must extol the virtues of having well stocked cupboards (I’d give my right arm to have a genuine, bona fide pantry).  Having various pulses, grains, tins of tomatoes, tinned fish, flour, stock cubes, spices and good oil stocked means that even when the fridge is empty (as mine is want to be at the end of the month) there’s always something cheap and nutritious to eat.  One of my favourite meals from childhood that persists to this day is tinned plum tomatoes, warmed and served on toast with plenty of white pepper.

Even with my haphazard alterations, the cake turned out beautifully and the flavours seemed especially apt for the relatively cold late spring bank holiday, being autumnal with the apples and almonds that I always associate with Christmas.  I’m most definitely an autumn/winter person and I do tend to dread the summer which makes me something of a pariah in England.  The demerara sugar top was a particularly lovely addition in the recipe, giving a beautiful toffee hint to each bite.

applecake 001

Rightly or wrongly, I always feel myself to be a more accomplished cook when I don’t need to go out a specifically buy ingredients and I can use what I have to hand.  As I write, I have the same feeling because I’ve got a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart in the making.

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Saturday Stitching – Dala Horse Cushion

I suspect that like many crafters, I go into, or at least I’d like to go into, a crafting overdrive at Christmas.  Craft magazines are filled with various beautiful, festive related creations that just make me want to lock myself up and create for days on end.  But as many of us know Christmas, or at least the run up to it, can be one of the most stressful and busiest times of the year with far less time for creating than usual.  This is doubly so if you happen, like myself, to work in retail.  I haven’t had Christmas eve off for 8 years: when I do make it home, usually at about 5pm after having been up since 5am and at work since 6 or 7am, all I can manage is to cook an easy but relatively special christmas eve dinner for my partner and his mum who joins us, finish wrapping any presents, prepare whatever I can for the impending feast on the morrow and conclude the day by flopping down into a sofa coma to nurse a strong drink and gaze at the bejewelled tree in the twilight glow of dozens of fairy lights.    I can’t help but glare in envy of office workers who, coming to buy their christmas food on the 23rd/24th have had, compared to me, a relaxed run up of parties, get-togethers, and shopping outings.  Thank goodness I don’t have any friends who expect me to throw parties because they’d be disappointed every year.

By the time I get around to making anything, it’s usually January:  such is the case with the Dala Horse.  The reason for the scenic route into this post is that I only bought the christmas edition of the Cross Stitcher magazine, which contained the pattern for the dala horse, because it came with a free kit to stitch a robin ornament for the christmas tree.  I did stitch this kit in time for christmas but alas I didn’t have time to put it together in order to hang so it’s been stuffed into my sewing box until I remember to buy some fabric glue and finish it.

Embroidery and cross stitching is another craft I did quite a bit as a child but never touched it again until late last year.  Even so, as I child I never stitched anything complicated.  My mum would buy big bits of aida (which she pronounced eye-ee-dah, I’m still unsure of the pronunciation), cut me squares or rectangles of it and I would stitch freestyle borders or my name, or sister’s name or ‘mum’, using lengths of unsplit, ie. 6 strands, embroidery silks.  We’d occasionally go into Canterbury on the weekends where there was a large fabrics shop called C&H Fabrics (which a quick search reveals is still standing, I’m pleased to say).  My mum would peruse fabrics to makes curtains and I’d head straight down to the haberdashery section to pick colourful silks off the towering display wheels adorned with its rainbow colours.

I was so happy to partly recreate this part of my childhood when I came to stitching to the dala horse.  The suggested fabric was 20 count linen which I had to buy online as I couldn’t find anywhere local that stocked it despite living 5 minutes from 2 fabric shops and a knitting shop that sells embroidery silks to boot.  Progress was immensely slow as I have never in my life stitched on linen, which is much finer than aida.  Indeed the pattern suggested aida for a faster finish, but I don’t mind spending the time when I know it’s something that I’m going to keep forever.  Having never stitched on linen, or with split thread, or read a cross stitching pattern for that matter I made a fair few mistakes in my counting which then I dutifully unpicked, determined to make the dala horse perfect.  Three months of stitching solidly in my free time gave me everything that I wanted and I was awash with pride at my creation.  I bought a cushion pad and some red striped cotton fabric and quickly machine stitched an enveloped cushion for the dala horse to reside on.

Dalahorse 002

Unfortunately, with there only being two of us in our house, and our house being very little, I don’t have a charming, cosy armchair for him to reside on.  There simply isn’t the space or need for a third chair, as much as I would love one, so the cushion tends to reside on one of the dining chairs.  However, as we’ve got a nice sunny day, I took it into the garden to photograph, coincidentally enough next to a miniature christmas tree that I bought in December that is still going strong despite my neglect.

Dalahorse 006

I have since cross stitched a couple more things, but again, mainly due to monetary constraints they are, like poor christmas robin, awaiting finishing.

The Knitty Kitty

Well WIP Wednesday may have to wait until a) I’m paid and can afford materials for a new project and b) my camera resurfaces from the depths of its hiding place.  Fortunately, I have outsmarted my camera’s intentions for I have pictures of my first ever knitting project.  Let me explain: knitting has always been a big bug bear for me.  Although I never had any parental tuition in crochet despite both my parents apparently being able to, although I never saw either of them crocheting, when I started teaching myself it just seemed to come naturally. I understood fairly quickly how to read patterns, but more than this I quickly and easily found my own way of controlling the yarn, holding the needle.  I still made mistakes, but more often than (k)not, I could seem where I had gone wrong and correct it.  Knitting, however, is an entirely different matter.  My mum tried to teach me on several occasions, but I never got beyond knitting scarves that were far too small for even the smallest human being and they were too big even for my dolls, essentially straggly, holey swatches.  I couldn’t find a comfortable way to hold the needles or control the yarn, and mistakes appeared out of the blue and it just took so bloody long to produce anything.  I never tried to knit again for another 20 years and then I discovered crochet.

Knitting and crochet seem to be inextricably intertwined.  As I got more into crochet, the more I saw about knitting.  I’d be searching out patterns for crochet and find knitting patterns that I prefered.  Not being able to knit had me feeling left out: all those beautiful thing that I could make if only I could knit!   I even owned knitting needles, after expressing my desire to learn I was given some for Christmas presents.  So a couple of months ago, mired in the frustration of the poverty portion of the month where there is not enough month to buy lovely yarns, I decided to have a look through my stash and found a pair of still packaged 5mm needles.  “Enough is enough” said the inner voice, so I grabbed some needles, some aran yarn and a knitting tuition book (also a gift), marched downstairs and began, once again, to teach myself to knit.  Within a couple of hours, somehow, I had picked it up.  I had to work at it much more than I did crochet and mistakes were frequent, but the tuition book really helped me to see what I’d done wrong, and came with a the sage advice ‘never be afraid to undo your work and start again’.  I discovered that I knit tightly, a problem I had when I was 8.  I just couldn’t get the needle through the stitches after my first row so I had to force myself to knit loosely.   After a couple of holey, and subsequently unpicked, swatches later a perfect one emerged.  Oh the pride, the joy!

In a flurry of excitement, I bought my first knitting magazine.  After flicking through various patterns for sweet little baby clothes, a beautiful fair isle type red dress for a little girl (that I will make one day!) I realised I still didn’t really know how to follow a complex knitting pattern.  Tucked in the last pages through was a pattern for a toy,  a sweet little cat.  All stocking stitch with a few increases and decreases.  The yarn was Drops Baby Merino which is so soft and quite fine so I bought new needles, and set about the pattern.  The magazine had conveniently come with a free row counter, a piece of kit I’ve never had cause to use before.  It was like it was meant to be!  I discovered that I enjoyed knitting with finer needles and yarn.  I can understand why chunky needles and yarn are recommended for beginners, so that mistakes can be seen and whatever you’re knitting knits up quickly, but I found I much preferred the opposite.  Little knitted stripey legs and arms appeared on the side of the sofa and not long after I started I was ready to assemble and stuff the knitty kitty, as he came to be known in my home.

knittykitty

Here he is.  I’m so pleased with him.  After not being able to knit for so long, and feeling almost left out, I’ve begun to make inroads into knitting.  I’m also quite pleased with my fairly ropey embroidery skills as the mice, claws and facial features, apart from the eyes are all embroidered.  I’m desperate to improve my skills though, and I’m not particularly a scarf person, but I think I’ll have a go at some mittens and a blanket, and then hopefully progress on to knitting some clothes.  I’ve read that local knitting groups can be a good place to learn new skills, but I feel a bit bad just turning up to mooch instruction, so I’m going to try working on it by myself for a while.  I love cardigans and I’m rarely spotted not wearing one so would love to knit my own selection of cardis.  I also love knowing that when I eventually get round to having children, I’m sure I’ll be able to knit them something.  Indeed my first child will be the one to have the Knitty Kitty.

Work in Progress (WIP) Wednesday

I’m going to try and make ‘WIP Wed’ a weekly thing, but I have to bear in mind that generally towards the end of the month I run out of funds to fuel my hobby and work ceases until my next pay day.  This week, however, I do have something for show and tell,  that being the blanket that I’m crocheting that I mentioned 2 post below.  It needed, the now discontinued Debiie Bliss Como, so I’m making it with some hairy, super chunky Twilley’s Freedom wool in a lovely forest green colour.

Green Bobble blanket

I’ve decided to try, when selecting new projects, to try and do something that I’ve never done before and although this blanket is essentially all double crochet, I loved learning how to make the bobbles, a process much easier than I had anticipated.  The pattern is from Melody Griffiths’ book Crocheted Throws and Wraps which is full of lots of things I intend to make.  I’m about a third of the way through at the moment; that didn’t stop my older cat deciding it was done enough for her and has taken possession of it.  Her actions got me thinking and whilst perusing one of my favourite online yarn stores, I found that they had an offer on Drops Eskimo which is another super chunky yarn, making it just a little over £1 a skein.  Seeing as I’d already run out of yarn to continue with then green blanket and it will be a while before I can get some more, I promptly ordered some of the Drops yarn to crochet a little version to serve as a cat sized, fireside rug.  The yarn arrived late yesterday morning and apart from some sewing in of ends, I have now finished it, border and everything.  Here’s Poppy the Cat showing her usual outpouring of gratitude and appreciation…

PoppyBlanket 001

I doubt that my offer of a blanket exchange will work and  it may be some time before I can have the green one back.  At least in the mean time I have plenty of the Drops yarn to make a cushion cover for a spare cushion I’ve got floating around upstairs.  I really love the colour which is a light greyish blue, and I’m thinking a cushion cover in that colour will look quite ice in our duck egg coloured bedroom. I’m thinking a bobble front with a textured back of some sort, a big swatch of a type of stitch.  I’ll  perhaps use that to work on some new types of stitch.  I’m grateful for any suggestions as to what would make a nice 40 x 40cm swatch with  super chunky wool!  Just name the stitch and I’ll find out the pattern!

I really do have a big crochet itch to scratch at the moment.

A Milestone in Making.

I thought it time I really update this blog on one of my completed works, mainly my first ever big project that I completed after learning how to crochet.  A good ol’ granny square blanket in beautiful spring time colours.  the yarn is Rooster Almerino DK and is wonderfully soft.  It doesn’t normally live on the bed, it is at the moment for display purposes, but it’s usually thrown over the back of the sofa ready to wrap us up when there’s a draft or a sudden case of napping.  The cats are rather fond of it too.

Crochet Blanket

I must say, I’m rather proud of it.  18 months ago, I couldn’t crochet at all and knew nothing of yarn and now I created and own this wonderful blanket.

Crochetpics

Making for yourself.

“Why is yarn so expensive?” I ask my mum rhetorically over the phone.  “Oh I know” comes the response.  Debbie Bliss yarn is mentioned.  I needed DB Como for a crochet blanket I’m making -£10 a ball , my mum had bought DB Cashmerino, I’m guessing £5-£7 a ball, for a hooded jacket she knitted for my nephew when he was a toddler.  Mum: “I don’t think they ever put him in the jacket.  I wish I’d kept the yarn for myself”.

We’re both on tight budgets.  Indeed, I write this now mainly because I’m putting off paying the council tax for another hour or so.  I was paid yesterday and I want my hard-earned money to rest in my bank account for just a short while before I send it to be spent on councillors’ biscuit supply or to fill a pothole.  As a fairly recent newcomer to crocheting and buying yarn, I took off my training wheels and decided on a project from a book, that being the blanket mentioned in the previous post.  Excitedly I head to the website with the intention of buying all the yarn I need to make it.  Add it all to the basket, and £200 is the total.  A whole third of a month’s wages for me.  I’ll have to do it in stages.  How many squares can one person crochet in a month anyway? I reassuringly ask myself.  Still, this is my first big project for my new-found hobby, I will bite the bullet and buy the suggested yarn because I want it to be just how it looks in the book.  I buy 5 balls of Rooster Almerino DK per month for a few months and eventually I got there.  I made it for my family, for my home, but ultimatelyl I made it for myself and not being one for expensive clothes or shoes and seeing as I don’t wear jewellery, I don’t own a car, drink or eat out, I do have my hobby and I wanted nice yarn to make a beautiful blanket that I hope will be in the hands of my grandchildren one day.  If I were making for someone else, I don’t think I’d have been as finikity about it.

The thing is, when you’re new to the world of yarn buying, you haven’t the confidence to break rank, trust your knowledge of weight and colour in order to break rank and buy a cheaper option.  You want it to look just like the pictures, to feel as soft as you imagine and last forever.  All are qualities you’re not entirely sure cheaper, usually synthetic, varieties of yarn will supply.  Then comes the day when your hand is forced.  The Debbie Bliss Como mentioned above is discontinued  the peril of owning pattern books.  I research it and find it to be a superchunky, blissfully soft blend which also has a tendency to disintegrate over time.  Whether that last part is true or not, I feel rewarded for not desperately searching for stash sales.  I need 22 balls of the stuff! My knowledge is limited, but as with most things in life, when you’re limited, start with what you do know.

The DB Como is 50g a ball and superchunky.  Online shopping, for all it’s great points, has its limitations.  Pictures can’t tell me how it feels.  So I search  out local yarn shops and find one I never would have discovered otherwise.  In it I find a yarn that I think will make a fine substitute.  It’s not the same, and is what I would call ‘hairy’ yarn.  I buy one ball for £3.15 as a tester, go home make the first bit of the pattern and while it doesn’t of course look exactly like the pictures, it looks close enough for my liking, and I even prefer it.  It looks more rustic (translation; messy, far from perfect).  In the book the DB Como blanket is draped over a huge pristine cushioned coffee table/giant footstool in equally immaculate neutral surrounding.   If I were photographing my version for a book it would look more at home in a little room with mismatched, tea stained furniture, sagging misshapen cushions, scuffed coffee table and with cat fur on every possible surface.  Which is just as well because that is exactly where this blanket is going to find itself.

I guess I’ll go pay the council tax now.  I know I can’t get through the day without a chocolate digestive.  Oh wait. Yes, I can.

I hate you local council.