Thursday, 23 October 2014

Summer Stitches

First, thank you so much for all your comments on my slow cooker post. Your hints and tips are very useful and much appreciated, all of them. Also, thanks for the fantastic response to the giveaway - it's now closed and I'll announce a winner on Saturday. But, in the mean time... I can finally show you my Summer Stitches embroidery. I feel both relieved and sad to have completed the last quarter of this seasonal series of mine. (You can see my SpringAutumn and Winter hoops if you like by clicking on the links.) I really struggled to get motivated with this one but then, as is so often the way, once I got going I became engrossed and didn't want it to end. 

The tree, the anchor in each picture, is in full leaf. I was in French knot heaven here!

I had enormous fun sewing these hollyhocks...

...and this lilac. Or it could be buddleia, I'm not really sure to be honest.

My favourite part is these sunflowers.They were a joy to sew. 

One of the things I most like about embroidery is it's tactile nature, and you can see how much texture the different elements have. 

Here they are, lined up in a row. This is not the best way to display them, but I just wanted to show you.

For now I've hung them vertically on a pillar between our dining room and play room. It's not the best place, and I do think they'd look better hung in a square, but it'll do for now. The nice thing about hanging them here is how often I see them, since it's a part of the house we're all in all the time. 

I love them! Of course I do, how could I not? I really enjoyed putting as much colour into my summer hoop as I could, but I think my favourite might be Winter, the least colourful of them all. Or maybe Spring, I don't know.

Do you have a favourite one?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Adventures With My Slow Cooker

I recall that I may have promised (over-promised, I think) weekly slow cooker blog posts, during which I'd share my recipes and recommendations and spread the crock pot love. But, I'll be honest with you: I've only used it twice. I know that people have mixed feelings about slow cookers. Like bread machines, some swear by them while others think they are a complete waste of space and money. Well, my slow cooker and I, let's say that we are still getting to know each other.  I've used it twice with mixed success and am learning as I go, but I am not giving up. When I have used it I've loved the flexibility of it. Often, on weeknights, the kids eat around 5-6 pm while John and I eat later, when they are in bed. It's often tricky for us to all eat together with after school activities and clubs, and John's shift patterns. So, I love the way things can just simmer away for hours without drying out in a slow cooker, but I'm still working out what it's best for, versus what is better cooked in the oven.

I bought 200 Slow Cooker Recipes a while ago, and you lovely lot recommended Ultimate Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis, The Complete Slow Cooker by Sally Wise and Easy Slow Cooker, and thank you all very much for that. A Year Of Slow Cooking is a great website and I'm sure there are many, many more. So many actually that it all gets a bit overwhelming. 

My first experiment was chicken stew. I didn't follow a recipe, but just chucked in the meat with some chopped vegetables (onion, celery, carrots and potatoes by the look of it, and some garlic too I recall) then covered with stock and seasoned it. I was making it up as I went along really. 

So far so good. 

I did this at midday, and after 4 hours on the low setting it was looking ok. A little watery, but otherwise fine. I learnt my first lesson - you don't need to put much liquid in a slow cooker! In a oven, that would have dried out really fast. But the best thing about it was that I gave the kids some for their tea (they like stews, especially when I mash the veg down so Angus can't protest) about 5 pm then, a few hours later, John and I had some too and it was still fine. But my stews done in my beloved Le Creuset casserole pots in the oven are better. 

My second attempt was much, much more successful. I made Coconut, Tomato and Lentil Dahl and this recipe is one where you brown the vegetables and spices on the hob first, then transfer to the slow cooker before adding the liquid ingredients. It smells amazing.

Again, I did this at lunchtime and left it to cook on the slow setting. By 4 pm it looked done, so I just switched in on to the "keep warm" setting until we were reading to eat a few hours later. It was absolutely, completely delicious. I love dahl anyway, but this was the best one I've made so far. John and I ate it (no way the kids are going to eat this) with yogurt, coriander, naan bread and some leftover aloo gobi that was in the freezer. The recipe made enough for 4 adults so we froze the other portion. 

I'm definitely making that dahl again. 

I am of the opinion that the good thing about slow cookers is the flexibility, and as a household with a busy weeknight schedule I appreciate that. But the other good thing which I had not anticipated is the delicious feeling of smugness. That feeling of knowing that your evening meal is sorted at lunchtime, knowing you've got it all ready to go and it's just cooking itself. Oh, dinner? It's in the slow cooker. I will not be that person shouting "Agh, the pesto's got mould on it!" while looking for the pasta, or groaning because we ran out of fish fingers (how is that even possible?). 

At least twice this month I was organised and smug and it felt good. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Friday Happies

1. Flowers in the house are always a good thing, but when a ray of light peaks out from behind a cloud and hits them just so, then that is even better.

2. A lovely and unexpected gift of six eggs, given to me by a lady at school and laid by the school chickens that very same day. They have actual fresh chicken dirt (probably poo) on them and everything. She is responsible for the chickens, gardens, vegetable patch and woodland area (among many other things) and is a kindred spirit. I poached two of them for my lunch and they were as good as I hoped they would be, with the brightest orange yolks. 

3. It's time to get the blankets out of the blanket box.

4. Stitching sunflowers onto my summer embroidery. This long overdue project has languished in the WIP basket for some time now, but this week I found my sewing mojo and have been enjoying working on this so much, to the point where I don't want it to end.


Thank you SO much for the response to the Cable and Cotton Giveaway. I have loved, just loved, reading all the comments and hearing where you are all from. It's disproportionately pleasing! You hail from all four corners of our land, and all over Europe too. And it's particularly interesting to hear how many of you have moved around before settling where you are now. Thank you for indulging me there. 

I wish you all a wonderful weekend. John is working so it's just the kids and I and a merry-go-round of swimming lessons, play dates and shopping for winter coats. Not quite wonderful, but it's the stuff of life and that's fine with me. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cable and Cotton Lights - A Giveaway!

What's the weather like where you are? It's raining here, and has been all day. A dark and gloomy day, the dreariest of autumn afternoons and on a Wednesday too, of all days. But luckily it's the season of fairy lights, blankets and candles, and I am really delighted to be able to offer you a fantastic giveaway today - a set of Cable and Cotton Lights! You know that I have been a fan of these lights for some time now and have written about them before as I really do think they are quite lovely.  

Cable and Cotton are kindly offering one 20 light string, and you can choose between one of their Pre-Selected collections, or pick your own. All you have to do is leave me a comment. Just tell me your name and where (roughly) you are from. Humour me here, I would just love to know whereabouts you all are. No need to tell me your choices yet - when the giveaway closes I'll contact the winner and do it that way, so if you are an anonymous commenter, you'll need to leave an email address. Once all the details are sorted out, Cable and Cotton then will send the lights directly to you. 

I am really sorry but this giveaway is only open to UK and European readers. I tried my very hardest to make it a worldwide competition, but this limitation is to do with things like plugs and wiring, which are beyond my control. 

The giveaway will close at midnight on Wednesday 22 October.

Good luck! 

This giveaway has now closed. Thank you.

Monday, 13 October 2014

A Crocheted Zigzag Wall Hanging

Sometimes I can plod away on various crafty projects for weeks at a time, head down, disciplined and motivated. But then at other times an idea becomes so lodged in my brain, so tempting and exciting, that I drop everything else to make it, and enjoy every second.

I teased you on Friday with a glimpse of a new crochet project. It did look an awful lot like a scarf, that is true, but I have made a wall hanging. I have been really inspired by many woven wall hangings I've seen all over the place lately, and loved that slightly, wintry, nordic feel of them - the wood, the woolly lines, the tassels - and wanted very much to make one. Not possessing a loom I thought I'd crochet mine instead, and I'm so happy I did. I love the colours, the fringe, even the twig that it hangs from. Angus collected that twig from a recent woodland walk, and I found it in my coat pocket the other day. 

It's hard to gauge scale from these photos but, including twig and tassels, it's 19 cm wide and 29 cm tall. It cost me nothing to make as I used yarn I already had. I used a mixture of Rico Essentials and Annell cotton yarn with a 3 mm hook. This gives a very tight stitch which is actually quite hard work to crochet, but I like the woven, dense look of it. The pattern is adapted from one I've used a few times now, the Zali ZigZag Blanket Pattern from the blog Meet Me At Mikes.

How to:

I made a length of crocheted fabric around 21 cm long by 13 cm wide. I chose zigzags but I think that irregular stripes would work just as well. Before blocking, the crochet looked like this, very bumpy.

But after blocking it's very much flatter, as you can see.

To make the hanging part, I folded over small a small section of the top (which neatly hid the slightly messy first couple of rows) to create a flap, which I stitched in place.

I made it wide enough for my twig, but you could use a piece of wooden dowel. Anything that keeps it straight and rigid would work. 

To hang it, I opted to use some more of the pink yarn. I wrapped it around either end of the twig to secure, then using a needle I threaded the end back on itself under the yarn and snipped the end off. 

I decided to finish it with a fringe of little tassels. I love the way they add length and a slightly alpine, retro look. You don't need to be able to crochet to make tassels, but you do need a crochet hook. I used the same cotton yarn I used in the wall hanging and I've put together a little tutorial for you below.

First, push the crochet hook up into the stitch. Have your tassel looped in half with the loop end by the hook ready to go.

Using your other hand to hold the looped threads steady, catch them on to the tip of the crochet hook.

 Gently pull the hook and yarn threads through the stitch.

 Then draw the long ends of the yarn through the loop...

...and tighten.

And that's all there is to it! Don't worry about the length of your tassels while you work, as you can trim them all to the desired length once you've finished. 

I hope you like it. I'll be back on Wednesday with a lovely giveaway for you. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Friday Happies

1. Sun after rain and the way it makes everything look, inside and out. Glittery.

2. A thrown together lunch which was surprisingly delicious: soup to use up a bag of on-the-turn spinach and some very stale bread, toasted.  Also, that pink and green look jolly nice together.

3. Playing hooky. Abandoning all WIPs for the lure of another chevron pattern. That soft pink with the dark grey...gorgeous.

4. Hot sauce. 

My local supermarket, despite being the size of Luxembourg, has always had the most rubbish range of "exotic" products. I remember a time when they didn't even stock coconut milk. Waitrose it is not. But now, they have a "World Foods" aisle and it's a treasure trove of interesting things with colourful labels and brands I've never heard of. I could browse it for hours, and do. Food shopping often makes me happy.

And the hot sauce was fantastic on my fish finger sandwich, and also on another lunch that used up some dubious looking veg and a opened packet of noodles I found in the cupboard which was annoying me because it kept falling over and scattering bits of dried noodle all over the place. So I ate them.

It occurs to me that one of the best things about being at home is the things I can make and eat for lunch. It is definitely my favourite meal of the day because I can please myself and I'm not in a hurry. Yes, lunch makes me happy too. Make that number five. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

On The Mantel: October

October. It's properly autumn now, and one of my favourite months of the year. The air is cooling, the leaves falling and the mornings are damp and chilly. Clocks go back and afternoons shorten, while gardens are tidied up for the winter and bonfires lit. It's a smoky, mellow, misty month, when the woods are heavy with the scent of decay and full of feathers, conkers and pine cones.

I'm continuing with my monthly mantel project, marking the seasons and rhythms of family life with a hotch-potch of things that were found outside and in, things that were given to me, things that are precious, the old and the new. On the mantel this month: lots of pine cones, collected from the school playground and strung into a garland. (You can read about how I made it further down.)

A vase full of rambling rose hip and a smaller one full of feathers. We've been collecting feathers for weeks, with the aim of doing something crafty and creative with them. So far, they are still sitting in this pot.

A beautiful handmade wooden spoon I bought last weekend. (I am also using it to eat with, I've not gone completely mad.)

A clay bowl Bella made in school, filled with berberis berries from the garden. I like their bright orange colour, a nod to Halloween at the end of the month.

Feel free to join in! I should mention that Karen at A Quiet Corner has been documenting her monthly mantel displays throughout this year since January, and her blog is full of simple, beautiful seasonal ideas. Blogland is, as always, an interesting and inspiring place.


How to make a pine cone garland

I'm not ashamed to admit that this perplexed me for quite some time. I spent hours squinting at images of all kinds of pine cone craftiness, trying to work out how on earth people had attached the string to the cones. I gave up and found the answer in Bella's box of beads.

You will need pine cones, a glue gun, some small wooden beads, a needle and thread.

Glue the bead to the base of the cone. Let it dry. Drink your tea. That's it.

I am probably the last person in the world to figure this out so feel free to mock me. But I do love my glue gun.

Thread a needle and draw the thread (I used regular cotton thread in a colour to blend into our fireplace) through each bead, going around the bead twice. This stops the cones sliding around on the thread, but still gives you room to position them evenly. 

Then, since it's Autumn now, light that fire.