Saturday 29 May 2010

Inheritance :: the quiche dish

Inheritance :: possession by transmission from past generations
Chambers Concise Dictionary

I've not inherited many pieces of cooking equipment, so the few items I have mean a great deal to me.  Cooking equipment is essentially straightforward and practical - but it is also intensely emotional.

This is a ceramic quiche dish from the 1970s.  The decade in which a quiche appeared at every summer lunch party and Christening around the land.  This one was my mother's second best quiche dish and she passed it on to me about ten years ago when she and my father moved house.  There was a great deal of clutter busting done by my parents at that time.  My mother decided that she didn't need two ceramic quiche dishes in her life and passed this one on to me.

I love this dish.  Principally because it ties me to my childhood and all the delicious quiches that my mother cooked in it.  My mother cooked a great many quiches when I was small.  You can read about her very tasty tuna and tomato one here

I like to cook quiches too.  Often just with whatever vegetables and herbs I have languishing in the fridge, and need using up.  The one above, which I made earlier in the week, was made with leeks, courgettes and dill - and was a roaring success.  Quiches taste even better the day after (at room temperature though, not straight from the fridge) and make an energising lunch along with a big pile of lettuce leaves and a sharp, vinegary dressing.

I also love this dish because it is so of its era - brown and speckly like wholemeal bread, with very dated-looking illustrations in green and yellow and the classic 1970s recipe for Quiche Lorraine printed inside.  The dish will get passed on to O when I am no longer making quiches, and maybe someday she'll share with her children some of her favourite quiche recipes - including that tuna and tomato one which her Grandmother and Mother liked to make each summer.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Hot weather sewing

The hot weather we had last week turned my mind to hot weather sewing.  First on my list was a sunhat for my littlest nephew.  A proper floppy-brimmed, tie-under-the-chin sunhat to shade him in the sunshine.

The pattern I used was Butterick 5056, which I bought from here. I liked this pattern very much.  There are always a great many pieces to trace and cut out for hats, which is a little tiresome, but the sewing part was very quick.  The pattern has nine different styles and five different sizes, so if you've got babies and toddlers to sew for it is good value.  I didn't get a picture of Leo modelling the hat (too busy exclaiming at how sweet he looked) but the hat looked even better on him than it did on the bear.

And then I was hoping to make a tiered skirt for O, from McCall's pattern 5310.  But I completely failed to check the fabric requirements.  Tiered skirts require a great deal of fabric - even for 8 year olds!  Despite having shelves and shelves of fabric, it turns out that I didn't have the necessary quantities of three fabrics which go well together.  I really can't justify buying any more fabric at the moment (yes, shelves and shelves...) so I made her a simple Lazy Days skirt from the free Oliver + S download instead.  I have made nearly a dozen of these skirts over the past couple of years, and they take me less than an hour to rustle up, from start to finish - very happy about that.  I cut up the Amy Butler Anna tunic that I blogged about here because I really wasn't happy with the fit, and O now has a gorgeous green William Morris skirt with a pink ribbon hem.

All of which meant that I really needed another summer dress to replace the Anna tunic.  This time I made the Trapeze Sundress from Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing.  You can see a whole load of inspirational sundresses and tops made from this pattern here.

The brown mark is on the mirror, not the pristine white dress! 

I still haven't got a remote control for my camera, so I've squeezed myself up against the hall wall again for these photos.  The sundress is long - long enough for me to be happy wearing it as a dress in hot weather, although it's over jeans today.

Trapeze sundress, front on

Trapeze dress, back pleat

I put two box pleats in the front of the dress and one pleat in the back.  The pattern is unclear about how many pleats to put in - the picture differs from the instructions - but as long as the dress panels fit the bodice, it doesn't really matter how you approach the pleats.  Next time I would probably stick to two pleats in the front, but replace the back pleat with a few gathers.

Trapeze sundress, back view

I really love how the dress fits.  You attach the straps inside the front bodice, and then try the dress on, pin the straps where you want them at the back (you need an assistant for this) and sew them in place.  This means you can fit the dress to be as high or low, at the front and back, as you like.  The other wonderful thing about this dress is that it has deep internal pockets, which you can just about see in the last picture above.  I do love a pocket.

For this first attempt at the dress I used some more of the thick, white cotton sheet I used for a summer blouse here.  Now I know I like the pattern, I'll make it again in a patterned fabric.  The trim on this dress is a Phillip Jacobs one from Rowan.  I do love a bit of Phillip Jacobs too.  The pattern didn't specify the bias trimmed hem, but with so much white I think it looks better with some extra contrast.

So as with all the other Heather Ross patterns I've made, I really love this dress.  Its shape, its versatility and its simplicity all appeal to me.  I think I'll make a shorter hip-length version of it to wear as a top next.

Sunday 23 May 2010

The black stain of death

Three things that have been ruined forever by bicycle oil this year:
  • My best jeans
  • My second-best winter coat (my best coat was a 2009 victim)
  • The lawn

And pretty soon I think there'll be a fourth - my sense of humour.

Friday 21 May 2010

Cinnamon rolls - blink and you miss them

There is a new obsession around here.  When I ask the family to give me nominations for which cake to make next, I mostly get three different requests from them (and then I will frequently veto them all and bake the one I wanted to in the first place - baking democracy is flirted with, rather than actually embraced, in this house).  So when both children requested cinnamon rolls three times in a row, I decided I'd better listen.

The first batch disappeared in record time (thirty six hours).  Helped along by G discovering that he too has a passion for cinnamon rolls and eating FOUR while working at home yesterday.  There were almost tears when Livvy ate the last one for pudding yesterday evening. 

Cam has a friend coming round to play this afternoon - sorry 'hang out'.  "We don't exactly 'play' at our age any more," said Cam, "we just hang out together."  He pleaded with me to make another batch of cinnamon rolls, so that his friend could have one too.  Livvy made her eyes big and bambi-like and G's face lit up in a way that it never does when I mention chocolate cake. 

So I've done an unheard of thing - cooked the same cake twice in a row.  How long will this batch last?  Till tomorrow morning?

The List Writer's Cinnamon Rolls
  • 1 batch of white bread dough - enough for 1 loaf
  • 25g butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
Make a batch of plain white bread dough - enough for one regular sized loaf.  I do mine in the bread machine. 

Get a large baking sheet, and cover it with baking parchment; even if it is non-stick.  Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl, and melt the butter and vanilla together in a small pan.

Tip your bread dough on to a floured surface, and roll it out into a rectangle.  Bread dough does not like being rolled out at all - it will be very elastic and springy, but persevere and it will come good.  I find it easiest to divide the dough into two and work with two smaller pieces.

Brush the melted butter and vanilla over your rectangle of dough, and then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the melted butter.  Roll up the dough into a long sausage, along the long side of the rectangle and then cut the dough into thick slices - about 3cm long.  Put the pinwheels of dough onto your baking sheet, reasonably close together, and leave to rise.  You want the rolls to just touch each other once they are risen.

Bake at Gas 7 for 12 minutes, and serve with a glass of cold milk or a cup of coffee.

I think of these rolls as quintessentially American.  I came across them a great deal when I lived and worked there.  I would guess they are part of the whole Scandinavian/German heritage of the Midwest, which is where much of the bread-based American baking originated.  In America these were always served drizzled with icing, or even spread with cream-cheese frosting, but I don't have a sweet tooth and prefer them unadorned.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Hand quilting - the best part

After a back-breaking couple of hours spent moving furniture around, taping enormous pieces of fabric to the floor and then pinning it all together, the really good part of making a quilt can start. 

The long weeks of hand quilting are the part I like the best. A chance to curl up on the comfiest, saggiest chair with a big quilt on my lap, and sew by hand while G and I listen to some new music, or work our way through a backlog of old films or tv series we've missed from LOVEFiLM.

For this quilt I've gone back to using the Heirloom Premium Cotton wadding I bought by accident for Cam's quilt.  It makes for a weightier, denser quilt than the Quilters Dream Poly I used for my first quilt, and the quick-slow quilt I made for myself earlier this year.  I would recommend both waddings, but I prefer the Heirloom one.  I dithered over the backing fabric for this quilt for a while and eventually plumped for an Anna Maria Horner print in flannel, which I bought from The Fabric Farm's Etsy shop.  The fabric is of a very high quality, which has been the case for all the Anna Maria Horner fabrics I've bought.  It is stunningly soft, not too thick, and doesn't set my teeth on edge like some flannel and fleece fabrics do (or is that just me?).

And of course Livvy is very excited to see her quilt coming one step closer to completion.  She has been very patient.

Friday 14 May 2010


I do love maps.  I don't have a SatNav in my car because I am so wedded to my gorgeous A-Zs of London and the Collins Road Atlas of Britain.  Physical maps and atlases are so much nicer to pore over, and dream from, than flat screens.  Not least because you can do such dreaming in a comfy armchair, accompanied by a cup of tea and a bar of Green & Blacks.  I am like this when I visit a place as well; I'd much rather have a guide book than internet access.  I'm not usually such a luddite, but with maps and travel guides I think I always will be.

At the moment these lovelies are on my reading pile, as I plan a European trip with the children over the long summer holidays.  This year might be the only time I have the entire six-week school holidays off with them, so I am going to make the most of it and do some travelling that I've never been able to do before. 

Switzerland is definitely on the itinerary, as is France.  And I am also drawn to those little, tiny countries that I only know about from general knowledge quizzes: Andorra, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg.

Really, I'm almost as excited about our trip as this Michelin man - surfing his way across central Europe!

The only bit of online assistance I've had has been Mappy - an excellent European wide route planner, very similar to the one the AA does for the UK.  I love how it calculates the cost of your trip for you - petrol and tolls.

And in other map-related love, I am very excited about the free exhibition, Magnificent Maps, which is on at the British Library from now until the middle of September.  When I've finished going through my own stack of maps and guidebooks, I shall be paying it a visit.  And I bet there isn't a TomTom or Garmin anywhere to be seen.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Spring colour in the garden

For probably the first time in the eleven years we have lived in this house, the garden is a riot of spring colour.  Turns out all I needed was a wet winter, a sunny spring, and to spend a few quid on geraniums and wallflowers.  Super easy.  I rather like gardening now.

Sunday 9 May 2010

The Anna tunic by Amy Butler

There is another summer top around here - an Amy Butler Anna tunic for me, rustled up yesterday evening, when I should have been sewing for other people.  Yes, I really do need more summer tops.  Honestly.

I've made Amy Butler patterns before, and I like them.  They are involved but straightforward, and the way she constructs things makes sense to me.  I am starting to think that with sewing patterns, an ability to think like the person who is writing the pattern, is important.  The Oliver + S Ice Cream dress pattern just seemed unintuitive to me - the way the pieces are not cut on the fold, the stitching along seam lines, the extreme avoidance of hemming.  And I have problems with Butterick too - the order of the different steps in their patterns always seems illogical to me.  Whereas Heather Ross patterns, Amy Butler patterns, and most Simplicity patterns just make sense to me, and they always come together quickly.  But other people are different.  Most reviews of the Oliver + S patterns can't praise them highly enough, and many people have struggled with the patterns in Weekend Sewing.  So I guess, like so many things, it comes down to personal taste.  If you find a pattern you like, and you find straightforward, chances are that you will enjoy other patterns in the same range.

I didn't check my measurements terribly carefully before I started this - just dived straight in and cut out the pattern pieces in my usual dress size.  Now it is made, I am in two minds about the fit.  I like the length, I like the fit over my hips, and I love the whole 1960s style, but it feels a bit too small around the bust.  G maintains that it fits me pretty well and has suggested that I am just not used to wearing such a fitted style of top.  He could be right.

The yoke does come up pretty high though, and I think this may be because the top is just a little too tight around the bust.  Next time I'll go up a size and see what happens.  Or maybe I will redraw the yoke pieces to be shallower.  In the photo below I am leaning my head forward so that you can see the buttons, but you can also see that the back yoke does come up terribly high.

It doesn't feel tight, and is very comfortable to wear. I love it for being nicely funky and different (especially is this outrageous William Morris print from Rowan, which I bought from John Lewis to make house trousers for G but didn't get enough of).  The dress is fully lined, which I probably would not bother doing if I used quilting weight cotton again - I wonder if without the lining, the fit would be a little looser?

The pattern comes in four different lengths.  I made this using the second longest, which is the mini-dress length.  There is no way that this would ever work as a mini-dress on me - it would be thoroughly indecent.  But I am a tall 5'10", so I often have this problem with dresses.  I wanted to wear it as a tunic over jeans, and it has ended up the perfect length for that, so I'm happy.

And because it feel more like February than May outside at the moment, it has been worn today with a green, lambswool cardigan which tones down the enthusiastic pinkness of the yoke.

On balance it is a hit, but there are modifications to be made next time.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Revisiting patterns I've made before

I really need to get a remote control for my camera.  And some full length mirrors in this house.

Here is yet another (and the last for a while) summer blouse from the Heather Ross Weekend Sewing pattern.  Can you tell how much I love this pattern?  The swingy shape means that it works really well in thicker cottons, and as soon as I got this stiff, very old, very white cotton sheet from my Grandmother, I knew part of it would end up as a summer blouse.  The trim is a Kaffe Fassett quilting cotton - one called Henna, in navy, which you can see towards the bottom of this page.

Although I still think it is slightly wierd to make so many outifts from the same pattern, I love seeing how they work in different fabrics.  And once you've made the pattern before it comes together so very quickly - no tracing pattern pieces, no cutting out of pattern pieces, and no headaches working out the instructions or wondering what modifications to go for.  Lazy sewing with impressive results - perfect.

Another pattern that I have revisited is the Oliver + S Ice Cream Dress that I moaned about here.  This time I made the top version, and I like it much better.

Some things about this pattern still annoyed me, but I knew they would and I worked round them.  The unfolded pattern peices bugged me.  Usually, for dress pieces that are symmetrical - like the front of a dress or top - the pattern piece is for half of the top, and it is cut on the fold.  Oliver + S pieces (in this pattern at least) are symmetrical but printed unfolded, and last time I found arranging the pattern pieces on the fabric rather tricky; I ended up with a great deal of wasted fabric.  So this time round I simply folded the pattern pieces in half and retraced them.  Much easier. 

These fabrics were much easier to align than the tiny gingham I used last time, and preparing the yoke made more sense because I'd already done it before.  I do like this notch detail on the neck.

It fits Livvy okay - but not well.  She is a tall 7 year old, and I made this top in the size 8, which matched her height.  Next time I'll make the size 6, but extend the length to the size 10.  I still think - as for the dress - that it comes out too short and wide for older children.  The pink polka dot fabric is from Cath Kidston, and the contrast fabric on the top of the yoke is an old IKEA fabric, which I've used in so many things and I'm now nearly out of.  The top is hemmed with an ordinary hem, which I liked much better than the double pannelled hem on the dress.

And then I added some ricrac, because you can never have too much ricrac.