Friday, 27 January 2012

The view from here

It is the time of year where I buy a bunch of daffodils every time I happen to be anywhere near a supermarket.  These ones from Waitrose are glorious - a fluffy cloud of yellow sunshine on the mantelpiece for only £1.99.

January daffodils

I have come to realise that if I don't take photographs, I don't write blog posts.  I've been cooking, knitting, writing, stitching, thinking and planning a great deal over the last few weeks, but not blogging about it. I've stayed around the house, and the house is dark, so I've not been taking photos.  But in a way this suits January, which I love for its quietness, wintriness and sense of hibernation.  I'm happy to have some daffs on the mantelpiece and a hot cup of coffee on my desk.  I'll be out in the world again soon enough.

Daffs on the mantelpiece

So from my desk, my kitchen, and my computer, this is what I've been doing lately.

  • Loving this panoramic photo, taken from London's newest skyscraper, The Shard: 
  • Adoring this blog post from the awesome and talented Teen Granny.  If my daughter ever knits a model of me, I will burst with pride.
  • Thinking of a great group of women I met twelve years ago this week.  Some of them are amongst my very closest friends, and two of them have lovely blogs.  I just wish I still lived close enough to Nina that I could pop round for a coffee and eat some of her cakes!
  • Cooking in my slow cooker (and not photographing the results). 
  • On Tuesday I made lemon chicken: a whole chicken sat on a bed of chopped carrot, onion, fennel, rosemary and garlic, with a whole lemon chopped into chunks tucked underneath too.  150 ml of chicken stock poured over and left on low for about 6-7 hours.  Then chicken removed and the meat pulled off the bone.  We ate the veg, half the chicken and the lemony sauce with rice and peas.  The other half of the chicken will become a pie.
  • Yesterday I made Indian potatoes: about 6 big potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice, along with an onion, a tin of tomatoes, a spoonful of curry paste, a spoonful of mango chutney and 100ml of vegetable stock.  Cooked on low for about 5 hours, and then stirred in 100ml of double cream before serving with naan bread, cucumber and yogurt.
  • Putting all the postcards we've received this year into a tin, so that in December I can make one of these.
  • Loving these two new London food blogs - The Skint Foodie and The London Review of Sandwiches.
And in between, gazing at the daffodils again.

Daffs and cards on the mantelpiece

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Winter knitting

Knitting basket
My knitting basket

This winter I've been steadily knitting.  My basket comes everywhere with me and I knit in the school playground, at a 2 year old's birthday party, at friends' houses, on the tube, and in the evenings while I am watching all this fantastic winter tele that's on at the moment (Sherlock, Call The Midwife, Edwin Drood and Earthflight - what a great month it's been on the BBC).

Victoriana shawl
My Victoriana shawl

Just before Christmas I finished my Victoriana Shawl, and I have worn it pretty much constantly ever since.  I love it - the yarn is soft and thick, the shawl is stylish, and I can use the hairpin I wore at my wedding as a clasp.

Cam's circus socks
Circus socks for C

Last week I finished some socks for C which had been hanging around in my knitting basket for a shocking eleven months.  I don't honestly know why they took me so long - the yarn (a Regia 4 ply sock yarn called Circus) was lovely, the pattern was a straighforward one I'd knitted many times before.  I guess I just wasn't in the mood for socks in 2011.

All I said was "Can you please model your new socks"

Circus socks for Cam - with room for growth because his feet grow about 2cm a month at the moment

C loves them though.  I knitted them with growing room, because his feet are practically expanding in front of my eyes at the moment.  They also fit me, so when his feet are so big that the socks no longer fit (which won't be long), I can have them. Cunning heh?

Junior Toast for Livvy
Junior Toast for O

My winter knitting for O has been much speedier.  It only took me a month to knit this pair of purple armwarmers for her.  I used the very popular Toast pattern on Ravelry, and adjusted it to fit her slimmer, shorter arms.  They fit her perfectly and she loves them.  If you want to make Junior Toasts of your own, you can find all the details here.

Toast armwarmers for the 9 year old

And now that my knitting obligations to my children have been discharged, I am back on the shawls again.  I am knitting myself a very simple lacy shawl using all the little balls of leftover sock yarn I have. 

A multicoloured sock yarn shawl
Sock yarn leftovers - to become a shawl

I don't know how big the shawl will end up.  I'm just going to keep knitting until I've used up all my leftovers.  The pattern is this one, and is as simple as the name suggests.  I think simple is good with all this crazy multicoloured yarn.

Shawl progress
Multicoloured sock yarn shawl

I am hoping to get it finished before camping season, as I think a warm, multicoloured lacy shawl around my shoulders as I sit by the campfire drinking mead, will be just the thing.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

10 things

Big bag of kumquats

  • I have a big bag of kumquats and no idea what to do with them.  We tried eating them raw but they are horrid.
  • I don't like making or eating marmalade at the best of times, and I think making it with teeny, tiny kumquats might send me over the edge.
  • Check out this recipe.  The writer de-piths and de-seeds the kumquats before turning them into marmalade.  Once I'd seen how tiny the kumquats were, and how many of the little blighters there were in my bag, this task seemed truly epic and way beyond my levels of patience or enthusiasm.
  • A friend suggested turning them into a compote, with almonds, which sounded nice.  And simpler.
  • But kumquat compote (try saying that quickly) sounds to me like marmalade in disguise.
  • Another friend suggested adding them to vodka.
  • But I don't really like vodka either.
  • The BBC Good Food website - my failsafe recipe search engine - has just three recipes involving kumquats.  One of which uses a single kumquat as a garnish.
  • I was wondering if the hens would eat up the kumquats for me.  But I suspect not.
  • Any other suggestions of what to do with them would be VERY gratefully received.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday afternoon

It is the end of the week and my mind is full.  Full. Of. Stuff.  I feel a little spaced out as I walk to the tube station to pick up O from school.

Everywhere I walk I see patterns.

Diagonal stripes


Quilted squares and lines



Adder diamonds marking the gutter

Railway tracks at South Woodford


The exercise and the cold sunshine did me good and cleared my mind.  This weekend I shall mostly be reading Dombey & Son, in an effort to fill my mind with Something rather than just Stuff.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The ordinariness of January

I love January for its ordinariness - its everyday qualities.  After the excitement, busy pace and indulgence of December I relish the plainness of January.

First daffs of the year

The first daffs are in my glass vase above the fireplace, good meaty things are in the slow cooker, and I write and read as much as I can, immersing myself in imaginary worlds which contrast nicely with the ordinariness of life in January.

Yesterday morning I went to the British Museum to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.  Visiting this exhibition is to enter into someone else's madly imaginary world.  Perry has created an exhibition celebrating the life of unknown craftsmen through the ages.  The exhibition has a great deal of Perry's work alongside objects from the British Museum's collection, arranged in themes to do with death and the afterlife such as pilgrimage, worship, magic and relics.  

There was so much humour and thoughtfulness in the way the objects were selected and displayed.  I wandered around with a big grin on my face, chuckling at the captions beside the items and the cartoon-like quality of the big, beautiful ceramic pots that Perry has made.  Everybody else in the exhibition was smiling too.  Have a look at the little 2 minute film on this page to hear from Perry himself about what he was aiming to do with the exhibition.  It exceeded my expectations, which were very high to begin with.

Grayson Perry's motorbike, with Alan Measles stand-in at the back

His beautiful pastel-pink custom made motorbike, which is on display just outside the exhibition, is anything but ordinary.  It dazzled the senses against the beautifully plain cream stone and clear glass of the rest of the museum's Great Court.

The Great Court roof at The British Museum

January - I love your ordinariness, and your calm.  But just a little bit of colour and jazz is very welcome too.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Art ideas for older children

Pastels and pencils
Pastels and pencils
I have been thinking lately about inspirational art resources for older children - nearly-teens and teenagers.  Both C (who is now 12) and O, (9) love art, but in very different ways.  I want to find some more art books to inspire them and keep this love of drawing and painting going. 

C's love of art is relatively recent - spurred on by taking some Warhammer painting lessons, and the more serious-minded approach to art, which suits him very much, at his new secondary school.  His favourite thing to use are Caran D'Ache Aquarelle pencils.  At the moment he mainly draws cartoons - usually inspired by Asterix or Calvin and Hobbes.

Cam's drawing cartoons

Cam's Caran D'Ache pencils

O's love of art has always been with her, and is much more eclectic.  She constantly draws, paints, cuts and sticks - anything she can think of.  She will use pastels, paints, pens, pencils, glue, ink...whatever she can get her hands on.  Anything goes with her.  After a summer of making magazines, at the moment she is making posters and experimenting with some lovely watercolour paints she got for Christmas.

We do have a number of books already, which are much used and loved.  For years the Usborne Art Ideas range has kept O busy with ideas, but they are starting to seem a little young; she doesn't want to draw princesses or teddy bears any more.  Some of the Usborne range is still going strong though.  These 50 art ideas cards are excellent - the projects are all straightforward and well explained.  O can do them by herself (very important for her), and the pictures are generally things she wants to draw; animal pictures feature heavily.

Usborne idea cards
Usborne art cards - we love these

However, there isn't anything in the Usborne range for teenagers.  I wish there was - the quality of their books is wonderful, and it feels as though my children have grown up with them.

Other books that still inspire and are used regularly are the Ed Emberley books, an excellent bubble writing book, and a few Klutz art books.

Ed Emberley

Bubble Writer

Klutz paper fashions

A recent, and absolutely excellent, addition to our shelves is the Kids Crafternoon - Papercraft book.   O received it for Christmas, and got stuck in right away.  She particularly loves that there is an envelope of full sized templates inside the front cover (something that I always love with sewing books too).

Kids Crafternoon - papercraft
Kids Crafternoon - a wonderful book for older children

There are some good Manga books out there to inspire older children.  A friend recommended this one, which her 10 year old daughter loves and has been making fantastic pictures with.  This one looks very good too.  I think I am going to get one and see which of my children (or both, maybe?) it appeals to.  Do you have any manga books that you would recommend?

What other art books do your older children love?  Are there any drawing or painting books that keep teenagers inspired?  I am after ideas, so all recommendations are very welcome indeed!

Manequin in a brushed cotton ensemble
O's desk - with pens and a mannequin in a brushed cotton outfit

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Little wee things

I am beginning the new year by sewing some very tiny little garments for a new baby who is due within the next month. My family are very excited about her impending arrival. I've already made this baby a cosy red kicking bag, and a flower fairy quilt, but I think she still needs more. 

She now has some little bibs - made from my last remaining scraps of Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric, and a favourite Cath Kidston print.

Hungry caterpillar and Cath Kidston bibs

I've been making bibs like this for years.  The pattern comes from the first sewing book I ever bought: Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol.  The bibs are very satisfying to make because you can sew a whole batch of them easily in an evening, and they look so organised and useful stacked up together.  They are backed with soft brushed cotton and have little snaps at the neck to get them on and off easily.

Sweet bib made from a favourite Cath Kidston fabric

While I had the sewing machine out, I thought I'd use up another precious but tiny piece of leftover fabric by making a wee little skirt - desgined to fit a newborn baby in those very first few weeks.  Because tiny, newborn babies really need pretty skirts.  They do.

I had to rummage around the internet quite a bit to find waist and skirt length measurements for newborns.  In the end two outrageously cute designs which people had put up on their blogs helped me out - this petal skirt, and this jersey ruffle skirt.  I want to make both of these skirts too now, but I only had the very smallest bit of fabric to work with, so I made a simple ribbon-hem A-line skirt with an elastic waist.

Wee elephant skirt, for a newborn baby girl

It is hard to tell from the photo just how tiny and adorable this little elephant skirt really is.  But the final skirt length is just 18cm - go and look at how small that is on a ruler!

Having been so impatient to meet this new baby for what feels like the longest time, I am now thinking she can stay where she is for a few more weeks so that her auntie can make her some more of these little skirts.  I have just the right amount of red polka-dot cotton for a baby skirt, neatly folded at the side of my desk.  I have a feeling she might also appreciate some cotton skirts in bright, cheerful Kaffe Fassett prints.