Thursday, March 25, 2010

time goes quickly when you are having fun

I baked fairy cakes yesterday and as I removed them from the oven and their warm, sweet scent filled my senses, I was whisked back to my Grandmother's kitchen. My memories of Nana are strongly linked to those fairy cakes, she always made us fairy cakes and apple pies. The little cakes were never iced for she was a country woman and it was 1974, icing would have seemed frivolous but she sometimes mixed in sultanas, or my very favourite treat - shining, artificially coloured, bright glacé cherries. The memory came so strong, something I hadn't thought of for years but suddenly crisp in my mind, the excitement of visiting Nana, her kitchen filled with the smell of these cakes and me going into her little glass lean-to room to eat them. Sitting on the floor, surrounded by geranium cuttings, playing with the basket of shells and eating cakes. For a few moments I was four years old all over again.

These fairy cakes are destined for Tilly's school, each class takes turns to sell cakes on the last Friday of the month and she insisted that our contribution would be fairy cakes, but iced of course, iced by Tilly.

Before packing them into their tupperware I thought it would be rather fitting if I arranged them for a blog photograph. You see, it seems somewhat unbelievable but it was four years ago today that I wrote my very first blog post.

The longer I blog the more it becomes about the pleasure of writing and photographing the posts, the satisfaction of feeding the blog rather than just a place to record crafting pursuits. I enjoy the way this space exercises a part of my brain that I have little call for these days.

My voice has changed I think, I am surprised to read those early posts and see how stilted I sound, now the words flow easily, my confidence has grown and I post freely on whatever takes my fancy.

And I think I can thank all of you for that. For helping me find my voice, responding to my words.So of course, in the true tradition of the craft blog, there must be a give-away. I am not going to reveal what will be in the parcel (because in the true tradition of the last minute crafter I haven't finished it yet) so by entering you are taking a risk, it could be hideous! But go on, live dangerously.

To throw your name in the hat just leave a comment on this post before Friday 2nd April.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guilty, gleeful pleasures

I have a few. I keep a jar of Green & Black's chocolate spread hidden in the pantry and I spoon it out, straight into my mouth, when in need. I do not share this jar, it's just for me and it is an ever so slightly disgusting habit for which I would most certainly reprimand any other member of the household caught doing the same.

I sometimes sip a glass of wine whilst cooking Sunday lunch, it feels so very early in the day to be drinking and it feels ever so slightly naughty, it gives me huge pleasure.

But my current greatest guilty pleasure is Glee. I love it, the Technical Advisor and I have both been watching the show avidly, we are a little ashamed, indeed, The Technical Advisor claims he is merely keeping me company. We know we should not be enjoying it quite as much as we do, we know this is not the sort of television that will raise our intelligence at all.

I am afraid we like it so much that we even bought the soundtrack. Whilst cooking that Sunday lunch, I am sipping my wine and singing as loudly as I can to "I bust the windows of your car". I stir the gravy while getting on down to the, couldn't be more camp if it tried, cast version of "Gold-digger". I fill my lungs with air ready to diva out to "Defying Gravity".

Feel free to shake your head in despair at my my bad taste.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Caution, the following post may contain actual knitting content

I know it's been a while, but I do have some actual knitting to report upon.
Bloom, from Rowan 36, was one of the very first things I knitted for myself. Up until that point everything had been tiny, for babies or children and this was my first attempt at an adult sized garment. Save, that is, from a brief foray into the world of knitting back in my student days when I ambitiously decided to knit a very complicated cabled sweater in spite of the fact that my knitting experience was limited to small garter stitch doll sweater made under my Grandmother's careful tutelage at age 8. Optimistically I made good use of my student grant money and bought a giant sized ball of something (whispers) acrylic and cast on with the help of a charity shop book, circa 1973. With a blissful disregard for words like gauge I bravely knitted on and finished the sweater, indeed I wore it and compared to some of the other items in my wardrobe at that time it actually wasn't so very bad.I digress. So Bloom was my first knit for me and it has been one of my most successful knits ever. By successful I mean, I actually wear it a lot, it is in regular rotation in my wardrobe and I love it. Considering it is about 6 years old now it has worn surprisingly well, Felted Tweed how I love thee.

So I decided to make another, this project has the added advantage of being reasonable inexpensive to knit and there is enough short row shaping to make up for the tedium of all the stocking stitch. The front is completed and I am romping across the back, at this rate I may even have some actual finished garment pictures to show you next week!

Hopefully of a rather better quality than this picture of my existing Bloom which I hurriedly snapped in a poorly lit bathroom mirror this afternoon while many children ran wild through the house.

Now I do hope none of you passed out with the shock of seeing actual knitting on this so-called knitting blog, I suggest you all go and have a nerve steadying glass of wine, after all it is Friday night and everyone knows that Friday night is wine night.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blue sky thoughts

As I type I am listening to that harbinger of doom, the weather forecaster, who assures me that it's not to last, indeed I can see the clouds beginning to gather to the east of me.

But I live in the moment and the moment is filled with blue skies and sunshine. Yesterday I got to hang out my washing for the first time in months, an act that thrilled me way too much but while the sky was clear the wind was cold. Today the same clear skies but the air feels warm and I ate lunch in the sunshine. Just perched on the step, dog at my side, both of us soaking it up. I ate mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and a little smoked ham, I drizzled the lot with rich balsamic vinegar, it was the perfect lunch to eat in the sunshine, a lunch that looks forward to the warm days ahead of us.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Give us this day

The line about bread was the one that always stuck in my head during those primary school daily recitations of the Lord's Prayer. It was years before I actually saw the words written down so most of it was just a mumbled chant with odd words picked out here and there, but that line, the one about daily bread, I knew that one, the words were crisp and clear and made perfect sense.

I have always loved bread, I flirted briefly with the Atkins diet, I think I even bought the book, but to give up bread? Just too hard.

When I moved to England at 18 to go to college I was initially horrified to find that my daily breads were not readily available. At that time most of the, now quite fashionable, Irish breads had not made it to the shelves of English supermarkets. There was no wheaten bread to eat with my soup, potato bread was scarce and not as good, soda farls - the essential accompaniment to a fried egg, were noticeable only in their absence and worst of all, no Veda bread. Back then I could have eaten a whole loaf of Veda, thick slices toasted on the Aga, eaten dripping in butter. In fact I could eat a whole loaf now but the results would be rather more obvious on my hips.

As a student I worked evenings in a London Irish bar where a kind middle-aged mammy took pity upon me and brought me a loaf of home-baked wheaten bread once a week, it was perfect, a little taste of home, I had to hide it from my house-mates.

I suppose given my fondness for bread it is no surprise that I would eventually start to bake my own. I began, like so many, with a bread machine, eventual frustrations with its limitations and I began to knead the dough using the dough hook in my Kenwood and then one day, I started kneading it myself. That's pretty much how I always do it now, i still use the Kenwood for very sticky doughs but mostly I knead by hand and what once seemed an impossible chore is now second nature and no trouble at all.

I make plenty of Irish breads too, using baking soda and buttermilk, their craggy exterior breaks open to a dense, chewy interior, best eaten warm with cold salted butter.

Sadly I have yet to perfect a recipe for Veda bread and it does not seem it will ever make it over the water, it remains ever a speciality of the North of Ireland. When my dad comes to visit, he is instructed to bring as many loaves as he can and you can bet he isn't the only one crossing the water with a bag filled with Veda bread. A dark malted loaf, no fruit, it is impossible to find the exact recipe but I'll keep trying, keep experimenting.

The bread pictured in this post is a White Soda Loaf, made following a recipe in the Rachel Allen book, Bake

Monday, March 08, 2010

This weekend
This weekend last we travelled north a little way and met with the dearest of friends to celebrate a 50th birthday. I find it hard to believe that my friends are turning 50, it seems like only yesterday we met. Life moves so very fast these days.
We enjoyed some very good food, toasted in style and I am afraid some of us (mmm, that would be me) drank too much wine.....

Friends, old and new, found common ground, talked and laughed. And laughed and laughed. Absent friends were missed fondly.

A group of people all linked to each other in some small way, all friends of the birthday boy. The writer bantered with the apple buyer, the Icelandic beauty laughed with the racing driver, the lady with the very surprising job in television made the blogger shriek with hysterical memories of childhood ballet festivals. People from different corners of the world swapped tales with neigbours and ex-neighbours and the 50 year old sometime surfer looked forward to his seventy-fifth and perhaps hoped that he might just get his De-Lorean by then.

Children, some of whom had never met and others who grow and change so much between each meeting, played and ran as though they had been together for years.

Dogs fell in love (but perhaps the less said about that the better).

Not a do nothing, go nowhere weekend but certainly the best of alternatives.

I was rather thrilled to see that Fairy liquid had returned to its original bottle design in honour of its own 50th anniversary, I remember many childhood crafting moments with this bottle at their heart, it was everything from a castle turret to a space rocket and once, perhaps my earliest crafting memory, it became Dougal, the Magic Roundabout dog.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Going nowhere and doing nothing

I loved reading this recent post on Raining Sheep, I was interested in the things that shape someone else's day and it got me thinking about my own weekend pleasures and rituals.

My favourite weekend ritual is a slowly paced Saturday morning breakfast, sometimes pancakes, sometimes eggs, maybe something altogether more exotic. Breakfasts that take a little longer to prepare and can be enjoyed at a slower, more relaxed pace than during the week, breakfasts that are more of a pleasure and less like re-fuelling. After the children leave the table I tend to sit on for a while, in no great hurry to tidy up, sipping coffee and perhaps reading a book or flicking through a magazine while the radio hums in the background.

I must confess that my very favourite weekends are often the ones were that involve going nowhere and doing nothing. Last Saturday I did not leave the house once, it rained an incredible amount and the house was warm and cosy. I did nothing more taxing than help Tilly bake a cake and then let her lose with the decorating materials.

To my great surprise she was rather restrained, I decided to reign in my control freak side and let her run with it so it was quite a relief to see that she had exercised considerable contol in the matter of pimping her cake.