Friday, 27 January 2017

Make, Bake, Sew, Grow

It's Friday night, the house is clean (well, clean for a dog-owner's house), the fridge is full of food and there are rainbow tulips on the kitchen table. These things all make me feel very happy and grateful. I felt like doing one of my round-ups of what I've been up to lately on the domestic and creative front.

{ Make }

I recently moaned on Instagram about how hard it is to find preserve labels with a modern styling - they tend towards the bunting/country kitchen/shabby chic style which is lovely but not really me. People had loads of brilliant suggestions but in the end I found a roll of those boring plain white office labels and used those. They're a bit thin, but they do the job and I had a lot of fun making them. 

I made a trivet from wooden beads. It's about the size of a saucer and perfect for my coffee pot. 

It honestly took about ten minutes. 

You just make three small rings which increase in size, sitting one inside the other. 

It's important that they fit very snugly together and there is no movement, so that you get a nice stable mat. I am now thinking about making one from felt balls. 

And, of course, I have been arranging and re-arranging the mantel. I removed everything and then just put back a few things. This was really hard but I think it looks better this way, lighter and fresher.


{ Bake }

I recently tried this spelt, lemon and maple drizzle cake from the Waitrose magazine. I did deviate from the recipe a bit though, using wholemeal spelt flour rather than white flour, and this did not make for the lightest of cakes. Also, I am too tight to pour almost a whole bottle of expensive maple syrup into one cake so I used sugar. It caught a little on top, hence the lemons. The spelt flour did give it a very nice nuttiness, but I think I still prefer my usual lemon drizzle cake recipe.

Much more successful was this chocolate granola, based loosely on Sue's granola recipe although I fiddled around with it based on my preferences.

4 cups oats
1 cup seeds (pumpkin or sunflower)
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar/syrup
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp cinnamon 
1 cup cranberries or sultanas

Combine everything except the dried fruit, and spread on a couple of baking trays. Bake for an hour at 140°C, stirring a couple of times. When cool, store in an airtight jar.

Don't be tempted to add too much cocoa - it's very bitter. Chocolate chips would obviously be amazing in this, should you fancy more chocolate. 

I eat mine with a little milk and a lot of Greek yogurt. The tartness of the yogurt makes the granola taste sweeter than it is.


{ Sew }

This week I've mostly been working on my Wool And The Gang Rose cardigan. It's cotton on a 6.5mm hook, so it makes quite a loose fabric.

At the moment it just looks like a scarf, but this is part of the front and back panel. The colour is so gorgeous, and the cotton such nice quality - I'm really excited to see how this turns out.


{ Grow }

Plant life is firmly based indoors at the moment, as my passion for house plants continues. I recently bought a small pilea plant (those things are tricky to find!) and was delighted to spot a tiny shoot on it the other day.

I carefully removed it and planted it in a small pot, where I will lovingly tend to it until it's bigger, then I'll give it away. I am nurturing it on the kitchen windowsill, which is where plants stand a really good chance of growing in this house - partly for the light, and partly because I don't forget they're there.

Less happily, my beautiful new monstera plant was damaged. I arrived home from work one day to find it lying on the floor in the living room, the pot smashed and two large stems snapped. I can only blame a certain four legged friend who really wanted to look out of the window. 

I removed the snapped stems and have placed them in a glass of water where, I'm told, they may grow roots and I'll be able to re-pot them. Or they may end up on the compost heap. Luckily the main body of the plant is intact, it's just been moved to a more, err, secure location.


It's been a long and busy week and we have a full weekend ahead. Some nice things are planned, like dinner with my lovely friend tonight, and tedious things, like going shopping to get John a new suit tomorrow, and hopefully a lot of ordinary like cooking, dog walks and pottering in between. John is going out with some of his colleagues tomorrow night and I'm so excited about my night alone, I have planned my whole evening, what I'm going to eat (rice bowl, which John does not consider a "proper dinner"), what I'm going to drink (Sauvignon blanc) and what I'm going to watch on TV (The Crown or possibly a romantic comedy). 

Happy weekend lovelies. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Frost Upon Frost

The frosts have been spectacular over the last week of so. It's been so cold that they don't seem to melt away, but just form layer upon layer of tiny ice crystals on the leaves, trees and plants. The woods we visit daily were transformed earlier in the week and I really, really wished I'd taken my big camera with me. A really heavy frost - like snow - has the ability to transform the most everyday route into something really magical.

It was brutally cold. There was not a breath of wind but freezing mist hung in the air and the weak sun slanted through the trees. 

It's been very cold at work - especially on Mondays after the heating has been off over the weekend - and I've taken to wearing a thick woollen cardigan over my usual dress, tights and boots. Due to lots of staff birthdays, there has been an almost daily supply of cakes, biscuits and doughnuts in the staff room over the last few weeks. I've done my bit to keep myself padded. Shivering must burn calories, surely?

Angus was delighted to find that the standing water inside the wheelbarrow, watering cans and bucket in the back garden had frozen solid. He took great delight in smashing it all.

But I'll take cold and sunny over wet and mild any winter's day and it's so good to see the sun shining into the house. Lately I've really noticed how much lighter it is each day compared to a month ago. Now, when I get home around 4.30pm, it's still light when I play with Molly in the back garden.

I have been surrounding myself with my usual January comforts and rituals; baking, a new crochet project, making marmalade, buying hyacinths, cooking hearty meals like sausage stew and Shepherd's Pie.

I have just begun a lightweight spring cardigan in the softest of pinks. The cotton is so soft and has such a soft, matt colour, it's gorgeous. 

Something for when the days are a little warmer.


Thank you so much for your comments on the quilt - I'm so glad I shared it with you. Thank you also for the dog-related comments and advice, we do appreciate that a lot. Formal training sessions start this week although I am trying my own recall training in the back garden, for as long as I can stand the cold. I also bumped into a very nice lady yesterday with two retired greyhounds. We chatted for a long time and swapped numbers, and she told me all about the things happening locally for greyhounds - there's loads! It's a whole other world. I had no idea. 

I'll leave you with a photo of today's dense fog. Spooky!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A Quilt

I was recently rummaging through the box of blankets that we keep under our bed when I came across this quilt. I don't think I've used it since we moved here two years ago, or for quite some time before that. I'd gone off it a bit, grown bored of it, and packed it away.

But I found myself looking at it with fresh eyes. There are a lot of memories in this quilt, a lot of our family story. It was one of the first things I made on my sewing machine, the first big crafting project I ever completed, and I was so proud of my efforts even though it's full of mistakes. I made it back when Angus was a baby, long before I started this blog, and worked on it in the evenings when the kids were asleep.

There are a lot of memories in the fabrics. The quilt started when John cleared out a load of old shirts - mostly blue or white - from his wardrobe and I decided to cut them up and use them in the quilt. I was deep into my "make do and mend" phase then (we were probably quite skint, too) and so I tried to spend as little on fabric as possible and I think this does show. I bought very cheap, too-thin cotton from places like Hobbycraft and some fabulous bold-printed slightly-too-heavy cotton from IKEA (the pattern with the log cabins) which really would have been better suited for something hard wearing and utilitarian like a peg bag or cushion cover. I then splurged on tiny amounts of Cath Kidston cotton and Liberty tana lawn which I used sparingly. 

I'm not saying I know much more about quilts or sewing now, but I think it's probably best to try and keep the weight of the fabric fairly similar and consistent. Also, if I was going to make another quilt again like this, I think I would spend a little more on good quality fabrics that I really love.

The pattern is simply squares of fabric sewn into long rows which are then joined along the lengths. Once backed, you then sew diagonally over each square, corner to corner, to create the quilted effect. It's beautifully simple and a great beginner's quilt. 

Some of my corners line up perfectly, others are way off. The back of the quilt - an old double bed sheet -  is an absolute dog's dinner. I didn't have a quilting foot so just pushed the top, bottom and wadding through my poor sewing machine, scrunching it all up as I went. Now I would know to pin, pin and pin some more, using safety pins to keep the layers in place as I sewed. Or I might even hand quilt it.

The fact that it's a bit rough around the edges means I'm not remotely precious about it. It's been through the washing machine many times and makes a good mat to sit on in the garden. It has quite a country feel about it, don't you think? Not perhaps what I'd go for today, but I like it's softness. I think that's maybe what a quilt should be about, softness and comfort ultimately, rather than perfectly executed geometric patterns (although I would strive for that too!)

Thank you so much for your comments on my last post, particularly those around dog training. I've really felt this week that I'm failing at dog ownership (well, dog training really) because she's not perfect and definitely has some areas that need work, so it was really helpful to be reminded that this is still early days for Molly and for us and that we are all doing ok.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Fairy Lights Are Still Up

Well, considering I've got a stinking cold, it's been quite a nice weekend all in all. John got up with the children so I could lie in, walked Molly (twice) and he cooked roast chicken for dinner. I haven't even had to leave the house today and it's been quite lovely. I read my book, did some crochet, baked a cake. 

We are clinging on to the last Christmas vibes here. Fairy lights twinkle in the kitchen and the poinsettia is still going strong. I've resisted (so hard!) buying tulips or daffodils just yet and continue to eat up the stollen and slurp away at the occasional sloe gin. I've decided that diets and dry January are lunacy - why deprive yourself of pleasure and cheer in one of the darkest, coldest months of the year? Instead I am striving for a balance of sorts - healthy meals, but not punitive ones, and lots of treats, and regular exercise in the form of very brisk daily dog walks and my weekly yoga sessions. Molly doesn't do slow walks, but trots along at such a pace I am almost jogging, not walking. I take her to the woods every day before I go to work and I took my big camera with me this week. At first glance it's all brown and grey, bare trees and mud, but there is so much beauty and colour hiding away there. I'm looking forward to watching winter unfold into spring through out daily walks, and think I'm much more connected to the seasons through them.

There was talk of snow on the weather forecasts all week, and we did actually get a little sleety snowfall on Thursday night but nothing settled. Of course, working in a school, there is endless speculation about closures and traffic and roads being open and the possibility of a snow day - which everyone is hoping for - but sadly it wasn't to be. Heavy snow fall down here is very unusual. It's still chilly though - we went to the beach yesterday and it was bitterly cold.

We're all still very in love with Molly, despite all her many and various misdemeanours which include: weeing on the bed (you try getting a kingsize winter duvet in the tumble dryer....), randomly chewing the edges of furniture despite having lots of delicious bones in her basket, and stealing food - while John was unpacking the shopping the other day, she tore through two layers of packaging to steal a frozen chicken nugget. You have to question whether it was worth it, don't you? Yet we adore her! She is gentle and playful and every day more personality appears. You will notice that she is pictured on the bed above; it's not so much that she's allowed, more that I can't always stop her...and then the kids jump on the bed and start cuddling her and before you know it there are four people stroking a bemused dog. She gets a lot of love and it feels like she's been part of our family for a lot longer than six weeks. We need to work on her socialisation with other dogs and recall training though, as we would love to be able to let her off her lead and watch her run around on the beach. I have been recommended a trainer and will investigate - any tips gratefully received!