Friday, 17 November 2017

A November Cowl

Some crochet projects require a lot of planning, some a lot of yarn, some a lot of money. Most require a good amount of time. And then sometimes, a wonderful little crochet project pops into your head that requires the smallest amount of planning, a little yarn, no money (yay!) and only a short amount of time and, since it's an easy project, it's the most relaxing kind of crochet that can be done in front of the TV when you've had a glass of wine or two and you're actually a bit sleepy and really should go to bed, but, you know, just ten more minutes....

I began this project a couple of weeks ago when I was going through my stash of yarn. While I haven't exactly been on a yarn diet this year, I have made a massive effort to reduce the amount I buy and, particularly, to use up or give away half used balls that I know I don't want to use again. While sorting the yarn out, I came across a bag full of cashmerino scraps (I never throw that stuff out - too blooming expensive!) which I had collected and added to when my mum gave me a load leftover from a cushion she made. Mostly grey, with some pink, yellow and pale blue, they weighed together around 200 grams, the same as four new balls. Definitely enough for a project.

I decided on the simplest of patterns, a granny square cowl. I used this pattern from the brilliant crochet blog Annaboo's House as a starting point, but shortened the starting chain quite a lot, and used my own colour selection.

I don't know why, but I find it inordinately satisfying when a project uses up every last scrap of yarn. It's so pleasing, and with this in mind I decided not to break the colour changes at the end of each row, as you usually would, but to continue them up into the next row, and use them until they were completely finished, knotting in the next colour as I worked. 

This brings differences in the colour play, as some colours are next to each other for a short amount of time before another is introduced. The only real planning I did was to make sure I kept back enough black yarn for a final round at the end of the cowl to balance the black starting chain and first round at the start.

I love it. It has just the right amount of drape and the colours all came together really nicely. Plus that cashmerino is a dream to work with, and to wear, and it's neither too light or too chunky.

The colours feel quite November-ish to me, dark and grey with the odd pop of colour, but nothing too light or bright, just rich autumn tones. I think of it as my November cowl. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

November Days

I feel like the days are racing past us at the moment in a blur of school, work and dog walks. I can't believe we're almost half way through November already. Bonfire Night, with it's fireworks and parkin cake, already feels like a long time ago. 

The weather has turned cold. It's often frosty in the morning and the wind is biting. We light the stove most nights and we've all put blankets on our beds. Ziggy has a very smart new coat, a dark green waxed jacket with sheepskin lining. He's snug as a bug in it, but it is a little on the large side, so he looks like he's been eaten by a well dressed monster, but at the rate he's growing I'm sure it will fit him perfectly in a month or so. Our weekend walks have been a pleasure, if a little muddy, and it's wonderful to take Ziggy to all our favourite places and let him sniff and greet other dogs. The woods are beautiful at the moment, especially when we go out for walks late in the afternoon and the light is low and golden.

I feel a bit better about Christmas. I've written some serious lists (with sub-headings and everything) and feel more in control. I mean, if it's written on a list, that's half the job done, surely.

I finally made that pumpkin pie cheesecake. The recipe is from the first Smitten Kitchen book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and is a cheesecake base filled with pumpkin pie filling, then dotted with cheesecake mixture. You swirl the two together and bake it. I found it lighter than the more traditional pastry-encased pumpkin pie although I suspect it probably contains just as many calories. I really do love pumpkin pie. I'm not American but it's become something I'm starting to seek out and and bake every autumn. I just love the way the pumpkin puree is the perfect carrier for all that ground cinnamon, ginger and clove. Autumn spices. 

Thank you so much for your warm reception to my last post and the Making the Seasons idea. I love to know what you all think, whether you agree with me or not, because I know that crafting is probably as important to you as it is to me.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Making the Seasons: November

Over the past couple of weeks, my friend Lucy (of Attic24) and I have been emailing back and forth, hatching a plan to start a little crafting project over the coming months. It was sparked by the discovery of the most wonderful craft boxes that come through the post, by Craftpod

I decided to treat myself to the autumn box and loved pretty much everything about it; the fact that it fits through the letterbox, the modern feel of the contents, the attention to detail, the way the two projects had been so beautifully planned, designed and put together. I cannot begin to tell you how much this little box of creativity lifted my spirits in an otherwise busy and nose to the grindstone kind of week. 

The box contained everything you needed for two projects; a framed embroidery hoop designed by Carole of Maggie Magoo Designs and a kit for two little stuffed owls by Jo of Craftpod herself.

Lucy and I decided to make time to do a little crafting last weekend. Nothing so special about that, you might think, but knowing that we were going to do this together forced me to push some domestic tasks aside and make some time for myself. My mind wandered as I stitched and I thought about Lucy, about how lovely it is to find friends through blogging, about how much I used to enjoy our coffees together at Salts Mill when I lived in Leeds. I listened to The Archers and just let my mind drift and wander while my hands were busy.

 Something I especially liked about this embroidered mushroom hoop in the box was what a great beginner project it was. By stitching on top of an already printed design, you quickly create a effect that you'd otherwise have to get with hours and hours of stitching. 

The pattern was clear and very easy to follow and I would love to think that someone who perhaps had never embroidered before, or who was nervous about it, might discover that actually sewing is really fun and easy. It was a good reminder to me, especially after my France Holiday Diary, that an embroidery project doesn't always have to be this huge undertaking - it can be small, simple and just as rewarding. I also love the way embroidery hoops make such great, cheap frames.

The two little owls are completely adorable and came with a brooch clasp, in case you wanted to turn one into an accessory. I had initially thought that I might give them to a some small people I know, perhaps for Christmas, but I find I am rather fond of them and they are currently sitting on the shelf with my autumn bits looking down on me.

But again, the beauty is in the size of the project - it took maybe an hour or two to make these from start to finish.

I believe the autumn Craftpod box is no longer available but you can order a very similar toadstool embroidery design from the Maggie Maggoo Etsy shop and the winter Craftpod can be pre-ordered now if you like the look of it. 

Two months before the end of the year might seem like a funny time to start a seasonal crafting project, but I know that when the days get shorter and colder my thoughts turn to crafting. (Ok, and cake.) The aim, if there is one, with Making the Seasons is to follow the months and the turning of the year with small, quick and fairly easy crafting projects. It's about making in the widest possible sense: crochet, sewing, knitting, papercraft, cooking, gardening - whatever is your thing, as much or as little as you like. Perhaps you might like to try something new. 

If you feel inspired to celebrate the seasons and share you crafting projects with monthly posts then we would absolutely love that, and you can also tag your images #makingtheseasons on Instagram. You can read all about Lucy's experience with November's making here. Happy crafting! 

(And yes, as you can imagine, I am already pretty excited about whatever I may make for my Christmas Making the Seasons, and have already shoved all thoughts about the Christmas presents I said I'd make to one side while I distract myself on Pinterest....)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Crochet to calm a noisy mind

There are so many things buzzing around my head at the moment and the biggest one is Christmas. I know some don't like to think about it this early but I need to get my head around the planning now, before it all gets too busy. Where are we going, what are we doing, what is required of me? Do I need to order a turkey? That sort of thing. There are children's wish lists to be coordinated and gift ideas distributed among family members, budgets agreed; with a large extended family and six December birthdays, we plan these things with military precision.

I haven't yet made Christmas cakes or preserves yet, something I usually do in October, and I've missed this seasonal task of mine as it's one I always enjoy. I am thinking about Christmas crafting, something I really can't leave until the last moment; gifts for the children and my friends, perhaps something decorative for the house too. Teacher gifts: do I want to make individual Christmas cakes? If so what shall I bake them in? And I better get a move on and buy the ingredients. 

I've been trying to make a pumpkin pie cheesecake for the last three weeks. I keep buying the ingredients (gingersnaps, digestive biscuits, cream cheese, double cream) and every weekend I run out of time to bake it, and the biscuits get eaten, the cream used in something else. I'll make it though if it kills me, I didn't buy overpriced tins of Libby's pumpkin puree for nothing.

Work should be starting on our new roof any day now. I need to check when the scaffolding is going to arrive. I am mostly in denial about this huge piece of home improvement, and the holidays and other things we're sacrificing to get it done, and the cost. 

I need to get in touch with the puppy training place and see when we can start taking Ziggy to some puppy socialisation classes. We also need to work a on the house training more. I'm getting kind of sick of cleaning the floors. We are enjoying some lovely autumnal woodland walks with him though, especially over the weekends.

I am tired and a bit grumpy. I'm sneezing a lot and my throat hurts, so I'm fairy sure I'm coming down with a cold.

We only have one episode left of Stranger Things to watch. It's been so good, I don't really want to watch the final episode though because that means it will be over.

The weather has turned colder and we've been lighting the fire most nights, and candles too. Bella has given herself the job of candle lighter and enjoys lighting them for our family meals, or just a couple in the living room when we're all in there together. I've got lots of candle stick stubs and tumble dryer fluff and I'm wondering whether I could make some homemade firelighters with them. Pinterest will have the answer, I feel sure. 

We had an hour long power cut last Friday night, around tea time. It was a major pain, although I did feel justified in all my candle stick purchases because let's just say that we were amply lit. But quite a few times since then the lights have flickered and dimmed, and John and I look at each other and think, power cut?

These are just some of the thoughts buzzing around my noisy head tonight (is yours the same?) and when it gets like this I reach for Soothing Crochet. Something I don't have to think about - nothing to count, no decisions to make, no pattern to consult. I have for some time now had a bag of rather nice cashmerino yarn scraps, half and quarter balls left over from various projects over the years, and some my mum gave to me left over from some cushions she'd made. They are mostly black and greys with some pinks, reds, pale blue and a sort of charteuse yellow. Together they weighed around 200g, or the equivalent of four new balls, so enough for a project. 

I made a long foundation chain, joined it, crocheted into it in double stitches. Then I started working in clusters of three trebles, to create a sort of granny stripe but continuous. I reach for a colour and work with it until it runs out, changing the yarn midway through a row if necessary.

It's about half way through now. With every row it grows in structure and density. I don't want it to be floppy, I want it to have some substance to it. 

My plan is just to crochet until the yarn is gone. I have kept back enough for the final row, in black, but other than that it's just all rolling together, one continuous cowl. I like how dark and moody the colours are, perfect for a dark and wet November day. I think I might go and hook a few rows now, in fact, with a cup of tea and some chocolate. 

Joining in with Jennifer at Thistlebear's Winter Project Link Party.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Cookery Calendar Challenge

Once again I am joining in with Penny of The Homemade Heart and her Cookery Calendar Challenge. My chosen book for October was Scandinavian Comfort Food by Trine Hahnemann, a book I was given for my birthday last February but which has sat on the shelf ever since. What a waste, for this is a real gem of a book and I think one of my favourites of all those I've tried this year, although I did have to make a special shopping trip for things like rye flour, quark and rye bread. It's a beautifully written, photographed and produced book, made up of larger chapters (Family Meals, Soups, Salads, Bread etc) but interspersed with charming mini-chapters (Summer Nights, Christmas Lunch, Easter Hygge) containing just a few recipes and lots of words and photos which create wonderful vignettes and very inspiring meal ideas.

My first recipe was actually from the Christmas section; Kale and Pancetta Tart, with a pastry crust made from spelt flour. I tend to think of quiches, or savoury tarts, as summery food, something eaten with salad and perhaps some new potatoes, so I was keen to try this one. It's easy, but not perhaps that quick. 

You begin by making the pastry in a way I'd never tried before with spelt flour and quark. I'm usually quite scared of making pastry (and will buy ready rolled whenever possible) but this was very easy to roll out and handle. While the crust is baking, you fry the pancetta with some onions, then add in kale and chopped boiled potatoes, before mixing in the beaten eggs and quark at the end and pouring it into the pastry shell.

Everything about this recipe works; kale and pancetta work well together (I always think anything pork and cabbage related are cooking friends) and the potatoes give it all a bit more solidity and make it a filling meal. The spelt pastry was a revelation; crisp, nutty and full of flavour. We ate it warm for dinner and cold for lunch the next day.

Next, a breakfast dish: Rye Bread Porridge. I was really keen to see how soggy bread could in any way translate into a tasty breakfast, but I had the rye bread (which, actually, I love and have started buying every week) and so I gave it a go. You soak two slices of stale rye bread overnight in some water, then chuck the slightly grey, revolting looking slop into a saucepan in the morning. 

As you simmer the bread and stir it, something amazing happens; the bread breaks down and absorbs the water, turning darker and velvety as it does. After five minutes or so you add some lemon juice and zest, then serve it with a little cream and syrup. It's not exactly a light option, definitely a weekend treat, but oh my goodness it's incredible. The slightly rich, dark taste of the rye is balanced by the freshness of the lemon and the syrup and cream just make the whole thing heavenly.

Finally, I made some bread. I had wanted - especially since I cooked all these over the half term break - to have a go at making my own sourdough, or perhaps some rye bread. But I just couldn't quite get my act together and felt like I had enough on my plate with a puppy and two children to feed, without nursing a sourdough starter too. So I made Easy Morning Spelt Rolls. I freely admit I was attracted to the word "easy" and what do you know, the recipe does not lie.

You make a very straightforward bread dough in the food mixer  - you just thrown in the spelt flour, yeast and water and mix for ten minutes - then you put the bowl in the fridge overnight. In the morning, it has more than doubled in size and is ready to go.

It's a very wet dough, so it needs knocking back and kneading with a generous amount of flour. Bella and Angus enjoyed this process very much.

Then you divide the dough into around twelve rolls and bake for twenty minutes. 

I froze half my dough and defrosted it this afternoon and have just baked the other six rolls for the week ahead. I will need to make more though because - and this was quite unexpected - the kids really, really, like these rolls. They don't have that hard a crust, and are soft and chewy inside with a flavour that's a bit like sourdough, and they keep really well for three or four days. They are now requesting them in their lunchboxes. Angus even said they were "lovely". Lovely! I don't know when I've ever had such a positive response to something I baked.

So, this book was full of surprises: spelt flour makes incredible pastry, rye bread porridge is delicious, and my children like spelt rolls. I feel like I should write the author a thank you note. 

November's choice is Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons, which seemed an appropriate choice for a dreary month during which I will mainly be comfort eating.

I hope you are all well. We are all good here, and mightily relieved that Ziggy doesn't seem to be remotely troubled by the bangs from fireworks as, for those not in the UK, it's Bonfire Night tomorrow. I've just remember that I was going to make some parkin. Maybe I'll bake some tomorrow.