Friday, 26 September 2014

Cake and quiche...

When it all goes wrong there is always cake. There was a bit of drama last night. Someone was trying to top my door slamming teenage behaviour, and she did. I think the last of my patience has gone.

So this morning, with that someone safely out of the way, I decided to make a Victoria sponge cake. I don't think I've made one before and I may never make one again. Yes it does look a bit flat but that's gluten free flour for you. Yes the buttercream looks a bit on the generous side but that was a lucky mistake that just happens to compensate for the dryness of the aforementioned flour. Yes the cake is perfectly round, it's just the dome making it look kidney shaped!

It was quite an adventure; I used nearly every bowl and utensil in the house, and I've well and truly mastered the Kenwood Chef. I love that thing. So simple to use and saves my arms from unnecessary work which means they're ok for crochet. That's the main thing ;-)

So quiche was next on my hit list. I found my idea of a perfect recipe on the Internet. It didn't call for ready made short crust pastry. It did call for lots of things that needed using up. We have a fridge full of tomatoes. A basket full of onions and a lot of farm eggs. Tomato and onion quiche. It should really be called tomato, cheese and onion quiche. There was talk of this being a thrifty recipe using up things you already have in the house (the chances of us ever having that combination of left over stuff again is very remote).

My inexperience in cooking in general meant that I didn't realise the pastry quantity would only make a tiddly little quiche in a tiddly little flan dish. Nowhere near enough for M's healthy appetite. I only realised this when I came to roll it out. I had to abandon my new flan dish and grab the smallest baking thing we have which is a glass Pyrex thing. I'm a bit disappointed my quiche doesn't have those lovely wavy edges. Pants. It smells good though, I just hope it's edible. (Update: yum, my first ever quiche, I wish I'd tried making one years ago!). M gave the cake the thumbs up too but he knows not to expect cake and quiche too often. My baking enthusiasm comes and goes!

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...

Remember that song? Oh the drivel we had to sing when we were kids.

Don't be fooled by that fixed stare, he's 'armless! Ha.

Man that head was fiddly!

Arms are next. Followed by mushroom hat. Woohoo!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Have you any wool?

This week is flying by. I can't believe it is Wednesday already. It's another lovely sunny day here. I popped into town this morning for a change of scene. M and I have been wanting a ceramic flan dish so that we can add quiche to our repertoire of meals. OK, so neither of the kids actually like quiche but my goodness it's only egg and pastry and they like both of those. I found exactly the flan dish I was looking for (plain white) in Scope for £1.50. It's perfect for a family of four.

We are still not having much luck with gluten free pastry and crumble. This is two years on and results are still hit and miss. M made an apple crumble yesterday and it was a miss. Ugh. The crumble was like eating plaster.

Of course I had a browse for vintage crochet books or patterns, and stumbled upon this book as I was leaving Oxfam (it was on one of their display units). It's 1986 and by Search Press and the text is somewhat chatty, like talking to a member of the W.I. :-)

E is a big fan of cacti and has a whole bedroom windowsill of them. All but one of the examples shown here are knitted but I'm sure I could make some crochet ones as a stocking filler present.

The garden is too sunny to photograph the pages in this book; everything just bleached out and indoors is a bit dark. Can you make out those wonderful knit and crochet gardens? They are amazing and made by the author. I love the way pom poms look like aerial views of trees or shrubs. We have a long narrow garden which could be immortalised in wool but it would have to be a fantasy garden. We have a couple of sheds, a bit of lawn and lots of big trees and that's it. See the little beehives in the close up? Oh yes please. I'd love a garden this organised. The author suggests what an ideal project this would be for a school class because 'even the tiniest addition would make a valuable contribution to the whole effect.' How lovely. Reminds me of when I helped one of Ella's primary school classes with weaving. Oh boy, that was an experience I wouldn't like to repeat.

The house and garden hanging would be a major undertaking but the colourful patchwork hanging is much more manageable. The seventies vibe obviously hadn't worn off by 1986. I just wonder how anyone ever had enough wall space with all these hangings! Macrame hangings, block print hangings, weaving and crochet hangings. I'm sure there were more. Currently our house has no wall hangings! Argh! I need to rectify that.

Oh and one last thought, can you imagine the look on M's face when I show him the title of this book, 'Have you any Wool?' Um, yeah, just a small cupboard full (sheepish face!) :-)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Wild swimming...

We've had several gloriously sunny days here in Lincolnshire. I know I keep on about it but I can hardly believe my luck to have found a whole nature reserve less than a mile from home and pretty much all to myself in the week. It's been really good for the soul. If I'm not smiling at the dogs I'm smiling at the clouds or the wild flowers...yes I know this is starting to sound quite mad.

It occurred to me yesterday, whilst Harvey was doing thirty laps of the lake, that the water looked extremely inviting. I was hot from the walk and it would have been refreshing to take a dip. There were two problems though, one is that I've never swum in a river or lake before and don't like the thought of swimming with fish or other slimy creatures and two there was a big sign saying 'no swimming'.

When my brother and I were small we'd frequently see people swimming in the river, with all the danger of boats and propellers, weeds, pollution etc. We were happy to stay dry in our little boat (pretending to be Swallows and Amazons) only having to worry about running out of fuel or losing the oars in the water.

I remember one quite scary incident with a lake that involved a friend and her dog. It must have been one of the winter months because the dog swam out into the middle of a lake in the woods behind our houses and suddenly lost the use of his back legs. My friend quickly stripped off her trainers and socks and waded in, by the time she got to the middle of the lake it was too deep to stand. Bear in mind here that she was a good swimmer and I only had my width badge (which was about ten metres!). Quick as a flash I was thinking about them both getting into difficulties or catching pneumonia. It was very frightening. Luckily this adventure had a happy ending. Both friend and dog made it back to the shore. We ran back to her house and wrapped her and the dog up in towels and then duvets. We didn't tell our parents until we were safely into adulthood.

I dread to think what my own children would do in a similar situation. They don't seem to have the common sense that my generation had because they have played in such a different way, mostly under the watchful eye of Mummy. I've never let them go off and play in woodland by themselves because of the society that we live in now, and that is a tragedy in itself. That's not to say that I haven't done my best to encourage imaginative play.

The biggest laugh today was watching Riley try to swim. Harvey glides through the water with the gracefulness of a seal. Riley on the other hand hasn't worked out that doggy paddle needs to be undertaken beneath the water level in order to be propelled forward. Hence the style looks similar to that of a drowning dog (see top pic)! In fact the first time we saw him swim we did think he was drowning and I was getting ready to take my shoes and socks off! Today Harvey must have decided that the lake was the perfect way to cool down. He ran at speed to the edge and launched himself into the air before splashing down a couple of metres from the bank. It was quite spectacular.

The cherry on the cake was spotting a Heron near the river bank on our way back. You can never get close to them and it spotted us long before we spotted him and took off with his ungainly body versus wings ratio. He was still rather more spectacular than Harvey's bomb diving!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hey dude!

A lovely sunny afternoon gave me the chance to do a little bit more of Paul. This was following our nice long dog walk... you can see the dogs in the second photo but thankfully you can't smell them. Eau de Pond with faint undertones of fox poo.

Paul is looking a bit strange with his long body and absence of arms, not to mention his unstuffed face. His eyes look low but I swear that is where the pattern suggests they go. When his head is stuffed I will be able to do his rosy cheeks and then he'll start to look a little cuter.

A spare basket is where he is living for the time being, with a scarf thrown over the top to hide him from nosy people. I'm only managing a short spell on him every day. The stitches are small and I have quite big hands and the thumb and forefinger grip on a 2.5mm hook gets painful, but I do love this intricately stitched look. I've not done anything like it before, and after Kira and Lupo I may not do anything like it again!

In other crochet news I've completed one Christmas gift and have more on the go. I'd like to be sharing the finished one with you now but the recipient reads my blog so it will have to stay secret for now. I can tell you that it was made using a gorgeous alpaca yarn that was very nice to work with. I purchased the pattern via Etsy and it suggested the time taken to make it would be approximately ten hours. I've no idea whether it took me that or more but it was a very manageable project considering I am making two and have left my gift making much later than I would have liked. I will take some photo's and share them with you after they've been unwrapped.

autumn walks with Harvey and Riley...

It's funny how we shift and adapt to the seasons, sometimes without even realising. Over the summer I favoured certain dog walking routes and now I seem to have returned to those I favoured during the winter. There's not much logic to it. Perhaps the summer ones were a little shorter because it was hot. Perhaps the autumn/winter routes are full of interesting trees, fields, hedgerows. I've already harvested some crab apples that no-one seems to have spotted. Harvey and Riley have harvested thistle heads and grass seed mainly, they transport them home in their long curly ears. I suppose that's the gun dog design for protecting the inner ear from such things. When I had my two other Springers in the New Forest they used to collect mainly heather in their ears and that was a lot easier to brush out.

There are plenty of rivers and streams on these local walks. In fact this last week or so the environmental agency have been dredging them and cutting down all the stuff growing on the riverbanks. It's revealed a network of burrows, most likely water voles. It has also uncovered a whole host of interesting smells according to the dogs who have been up and down the muddy banks with their noses doing overtime.

Eventually we come to a nature reserve which is really one of the area's best kept secrets. It was created by three sisters who bequeathed the land to the community when they died. Volunteers have planted all sorts of saplings on newly acquired neighbouring land which have grown considerably in just two years. They've also introduced lots of wild flowers, most of which I've missed having been busy elsewhere for most of the summer (cricket mainly!). There are hundreds of flowers which have now gone to seed and I don't think they'd miss a few seeds would they? The top half of our garden has huge trees down each side which prevent the grass from growing healthily. We've been thinking of introducing wild flowers but it's an optimistic thought... the dogs have no respect for plants.

Autumn is most definitely my favourite season, what's not to love? Perfect temperatures, beautiful colours, seed heads galore, blue skies, muddy dogs...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Puur Haken... Pure Crochet

There must be a bit of a shortage of good crochet books. When I browse through Amazon to see if there's anything new and inspiring I get the same old titles. So when I saw this one on the 'My Rose Valley' blog I thought I'd give it a go. Yes it's in Dutch and no I don't speak Dutch. I do know someone who speaks fluent Dutch though, but in the meantime my ability to read crochet charts or diagrams is improving all the time. The charts in this book have handy row one and row two etc markers which the Italian ones didn't.

It is a very dark  and overcast day here in Lincolnshire so the photo's are a bit rubbish. I have my eye on those place mats which would look rather good in our rustic kitchen. (It's so rustic we still have bare  plaster on two walls!) I like the aran style scarf which uses front post trebles but not in a way I've tried yet (diagonally?). The egg cosies are on the to do list too since we've been getting through trays of 36 from the farm up the road. Why, my sixteen year old daughter has finally learnt how to boil on egg! Despite that though she still only has them for breakfast if M happens to be home and offers. Lazy.

There are several projects that look simple but effective. This is a book I would have loved when I was just starting out in crochet. I could have tackled the simpler projects but still had some for when I'd learnt how to do front and back post trebles, join as you go, puff stitches and bobble stitches etc. There's a simple floor rug using t shirt type yarn with a simple bobble stitch. I need to spend a weekend cutting up Jake's old t shirts. The last time I sorted out his chest of drawers was last year when he was 12, I came across a whole load of age 9-10 t shirts which he'd grown out of when he was about 7. He hates to part with things, I think he's going to end up like those hoarders you see on tv!

Progress on Paul is still happening. The neck and the beginning of the head was a bit of a nightmare. The pattern writer says she wrote the pattern for beginners. Nooooo way! You'd have to be a darn good beginner to get through this.

Friday, 12 September 2014


A progress report on Paul! He's a bit fiddly. I suggest if you make one try and choose a wool that's not 'splitty'. I'm not sure what the technical term for that is! Trial and error maybe. This Phildar Phil Folk 50 stuff is hairy and splitty (70% wool) so it's a bit tricky to handle with a 2.5mm hook but not impossible.

I am forcing myself to do at least a few rows a day so that progress is made. I've only roughly stuffed him at the moment so he's a bit lumpy in places. Stuffing is an art form in itself I think. In the meantime I keep marvelling at the tiny tiny stitches. Marvelling through reading glasses that is.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lalylala Paul...

If you crochet you can't have missed these. Lalylala. If you have, just google 'lalylala crochet' and you'll see what you've been missing. They've been around for nearly four years I think. That's before I learnt how to crochet and roughly how long it's taken me to convince myself I could make one!

Ella gave me the nudge. She spotted them whilst I was browsing for crochet patterns on the Internet and immediately requested a 'Paul the Mushroom'. I did protest that making a toy with a 2.5mm hook was a bit like eating baked beans with a cocktail stick but she reassured me I would be able to make it.

The pattern was emailed within 24 hours but the wool took a little longer to source. The suggested sock yarns are not easy to get hold of in the UK so I had to find a range of sock yarn or 4ply or anything requiring a 2.5mm hook with as many of the colours in the range as possible. I'm sure wool from different brands would work too, I just wanted to be sure it would all be the same guage. It's always tricky choosing colours from a screen and the brown is a lot lighter than I'd imagined and the green is more sagey than grassy but I think he'll look ok.

Even though E has chosen Paul and knows I'm making him, he will still be made in secret whilst she's at school and squirelled away for a special birthday present in December. He comes with both a mushroom hat and a toadstool hat. I'm glad she's chosen this one, he looks fairly straightforward, and the 2.5mm hook isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I quite like Kira and Lupo myself. There are a few finished ones on Etsy but they charge a small fortune for them, no doubt because they take a while to make. Just as well I've got a few months before her birthday then!

Monday, 8 September 2014

GF baking day...

Ah Monday! It finally came. Both children back at school. Peace.

I'm not so chuffed to be transporting them to school once more (I thought we were done with all that at the end of primary school). Whilst it is a legal requirement to be at school until you are eighteen now (I think apprenticeships might be the exception) you suddenly get treated like an adult when it comes to getting there. J still has his free bus pass but E's bus pass to the same school would cost a whopping £454! Bit silly. So, it's cheaper to take them both. Rather tedious though since the route goes past three primary schools and I end up crawling at 15mph for most of it.

I've eaten some stuff I shouldn't have eaten lately and pretty much got myself back to square one. I ignored most of the problems until they became a bigger problem and then had a small strop about the lack of tasty gf food. One of the big issues is bread. M has baked a large number of gf bread recipes for me and none have come out remotely edible. So whilst moping around this morning I suddenly thought to contact my pal, the genius when it comes to all things gf, Tess. T suggested scones. I googled 'simple recipe for gf scones' and found one that used ingredients I already had. Half an hour later and they were done. They tasted better than they looked, in fact they tasted great, and what's more there is scope to bung in some cheese next time. Happy days! So sod the bread, I shall stick to scones from now on.

The other thing I made was a gluten free oaty, sticky date thing. It's a layer of boiled to syrup dates in between two layers of oaty stuff. It smells far too buttery for my liking although I used dairy free butter. I may have to drown it in custard.

Tomorrow I'm going to use up three ripe bananas and make sugar free flapjack, and a batch of cheese scones so I'll be stuffing myself with all of this and not missing tasty bread at all (who am I kidding?).

Apart from baking I also spent my first back to school day walking the dogs. It was perfect weather. The tractors were out in force ploughing the fields for the next round of crops. I hope they plant something more useful than cattle grade broad beans. I have been known to come home from a dog walk with a pocket full of fresh peas!

Our garden is full of Red Admiral butterflies at the moment. Masses of them and I could only manage to snap one in situ. Every morning there are twenty or so on our beech hedgerow. They quite like the bamboo too. We've never had this many before, they flutter round while I do a spot of crochet on the deck.

Finally, just before picking up time I managed to squeeze in a film I'd recorded the other day. This guy (Audie Murphy) I usually see in cowboy films but this one was a WWII film and as ever I kept my eyes open for crochet! See that blanket? It's joined with some kind of lattice stitch. Any colour combination seems to go with crochet blankets!

So, a lovely back to school day. Oops I forgot to do any housework. Oh well, that can wait.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Random Ramblings and The Fantastic Forties...

I have a brief window of peace today. I've waved M and J off. J dragging a cricket bag large enough to sleep in. M forgetting his special scoring pens, he will be cross about that, he is very particular about the way he scores.

E is meeting a friend in town. A male friend. Today we have reached that rather awkward milestone when your daughter brings home a boyfriend. Oh boy. Not only have I no back up, and by that I mean socially and a back up pair of ears, I'm also part way through trashing the dining room in order to get to every single last book in there (did I mention it was two million?!). We have a kitchen which is half done (but hey the sink is plumbed in at last) and two stinking dogs from their early morning twenty lengths in the nearest boggiest river. I'm out of scented candles so I've had to light an incense stick. He will surely expect me to appear in hippy attire with a woven band round my forehead.

In between stressful situations like the boyfriend and the bookshelves I will be finishing off another oatmeal cowl. The last one was 'gifted' as they say across the pond. I'm modifying a free pattern I found and will share the details on that soon. It was one of those leisurely projects that whips up in a day, leaving the decision about the final few rows for at least another week.

I've also done a HUGE amount of surfing online for vintage style cardigans or sweaters. I've concluded that in the old days they pretty much crocheted with dental floss and a toothpick. Even 4 ply wool is too thin for me but imagine doing an intricate sweater in 2 ply! No thank you. There are some sensible knitted versions to be found (thanks T) but my wrists won't thank me if I start a knitted one.

I eventually found a crochet cardigan pattern which appears to use something close to DK. The suggested hook size was G, which roughly translates to 4.5mm according to online sources. You can see in the photo that it's called the Americana Cardigan; 'a sweater to live in will be such a help in your wardrobe..bejewel it for an evening and dancing, wear it with a dicky for everyday or team it with slacks for active service.' Well slacks it is then! Active service clearly means, mopping floors, bathing dirty dogs, sorting books...

I've worked up a few rows just to see whether the pattern is decipherable. I've chosen random wool leftovers which will run out before I'm done with the pattern sequence but in the spirit of Make Do and Mend I'm using up what I've got to see whether it produces a wearable item and whether the size might need adjusting before I purchase the 400g the pattern calls for (doesn't sound nearly enough to me!). I thought the colour combo was vaguely vintage but Ella thought it was revolting! So helpful.

There is a reason for this garment. I've told a few close family and the reactions have been decidedly luke warm. Perhaps only Mum 'gets it'. I do wish my Nan were here to advise, she'd also get it, very much so. I'm going to be cough, forty cough five, next month and I wanted to do something fun. I've always liked the forties look and fancied a forties makeover! From 45 to 1945. Yep, I know, it's slightly mad.

Mum has big rollers, Ella has bright red lipstick...I may even have a forties style cardigan by then. Do you think that raffia crochet handbag would pass for forties? M keeps pulling funny faces about it and I just say that once I've done my cardigan I need to measure him up for a fairisle tank top. That shut him up!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Italy Road Trip #10 Parma

I rather lost the will to jot all these Italy posts down, but need to, so we can look back on our holiday. So where were we? Goodness knows but I'm going to cut to Parma. Wonderful Parma. We arrived one evening when everything was slowly coming back to life after the long quiet afternoon. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful the pastel shade buildings were. There seemed to be more variety and always pastel. That obviously hadn't been the case until now, because I'd been studying buildings, doorways, general architecture, even the stones the roads and paths were made with and not noticed a town or city with so many pastel shades before.

We had a stroll around Parma and spoke to a lovely man in their equivalent of tourist information. I asked him if he spoke English and I got the by now standard reply. 'A leetle'. A little will do me just fine because my please, thank you and expertise at ordering pizza isn't going to get me very far!

I asked him what he would do if he only had one day to spend in Parma and had two teenagers in tow. He said there was plenty! So we came away armed with lists and maps and suggestions for the following day in Parma. Once again he seemed fascinated by the children, and by now I'm wondering whether the Italians just love children or whether they are trying to work out whether they actually belong to us, one being ash blonde and the other being various shades of dark brown.

Sometimes the heat got to us and we found ourselves not always very hungry in the evenings. Our first night in Parma was like that. It was unanimously decided that we would try out the open air pallet wood cafe that had caught our eye on our arrival. I'm sorry to say this kind of thing really floats my boat. There were signs saying something about a community project so I can only guess it was some random initiative but what a brilliant one!

We settled down on the rough wooden trestle tables, ordered food (it was very slow but who cares?) and realised that some live singing was about to happen. Brilliant though M and I. Boring thought E and J. They didn't see the point in listening to someone singing ina language they didn't understand. Huh, welcome to my world! TV without subtitles, radio and songs without subtitles are just like listening to a foreign language for me, get over it. So I made them sit through as much singing as I could get away with.

At the beginning of every song was a very very very long speech/chat/interview by the singer or with the singer who may or may not have been telling everyone about her battle with cancer. When Ella suggested that and I asked how she knew she said that every now and then the word cancer in English would be said in the middle of a stream of Italian.

The amazing thing was that she had quite a lot of die hard fans. I say amazing because every song sounded the same to us. They were there with their fold up chairs, humongous bottles of wine and tiny movie cameras on tripods... and they knew every single word of every single song.

I'd had quite a lot of strong fizzy wine and began to feel quite happy. I swear a little fizzy wine is ideal for coping on holiday with the husband from hell (btw he left that ogre in Italy!). I started to really enjoy the music, swaying and joining in with any la la la bits (and there were quite a few). The kids grew increasingly embarrassed but hey, you only live once! It nearly all backfired when the singer turned herself towards me and sang straight to me. I was careful not to catch her eye after that! Tipsy or not! Later she pointed the microphone out to random people and they sang in Italian, phew! That could have been awkward! You can see one of the cameras on a tripod and the singer holding the microphone in one of the photos.

The evening had to come to an end much sooner than M or I would have liked and that was simply because we all needed the loo! There aren't many public toilets in Italy and the general way for men, it seems, is to pee up a wall or tree (it really whiffs in places) but there was no way I was going to allow M or J to do that. In fact with the general standard of toilets in Italy I was really quite upset about it by the end of the holiday. The last straw was a cafe with a hole in the floor. I nearly cried. It just didn't seem too much to ask to plumb in a damn toilet.