Friday, 18 December 2009

Happy holidays

Have a sticky toffee Christmas and a caramel saucy New Year!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Getting festive

Here's a (slightly rubbish) picture of my christmas tree advent calendar, made from Laura's lovely hand dyed prefelt, and inspired by the trees she made for the Makers Market last month.
The tree itself has a wool prefelt backing with hand dyed leaves laid over the top, and I added a pocket in the form of a plant pot which can store all the baubles until the day for them to be hung. To save the tree looking a bit bare you could hang them the other way round and just turn them over to reveal the number as the days tick by. All that sewing, what was I thinking?
Happy 1st December!

If you're in London next weekend, pop along to the gloriously decadent Taste of Christmas for a whole heap of foody festive fun...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Ninja mittens

I have always fancied a pair of ninja mittens, I don't know why, but there you go....

Knit on 5mm needles with the lovely Colinette Art (bamboo/wool), from Twist of course. Maybe they're more like gecko mittens than ninja mittens in that colour. Pattern to follow at some point soonish.

In other knitting news, here's a baby kimono (hmm, Japanese theme emerging here, but Swedish colours) that I made for Olga's baby, very neatly due on Christmas day - I wouldn't expect anything else from the queen of schedules and timetables, congratulations Olga and Bjarne!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

High fibre cupcakes

Remember these? Well there's been a few additions to the collection to fill my lovely new cupcake stand that I bought earlier in the week.

After a couple of silly late nights to finish my items for yesterday's makers market at Twist Fibre Craft Studio, I'm very happy to report that my cupcake pincushions sold out! I was starting to feel quite negative about them at 2am the night before when I was struggling to sew on the 'cherries' but they have redeemed themselves now.

Big thanks to Laura and Peter for organising the event and bringing together some lovely exhibitors, and big thanks to Diane and Andrea for doing such a fantastic sales job behind the counter on the day. Well done ladies. They both made some very beautiful christmas decorations and gifts - I couldn't resist boosting their earnings by spending some of mine.
I think Andrea's sheep enjoyed the biscotti tasters...

And now it's back down to the 'real work' - Taste of Christmas is just around the corner!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Italian Eating

Well it's been a busy couple of weeks with work - gadding around with the Hairy Bikers, and then cooking up some disgusting mystery delights for the Big Food Fight which is currently showing on Channel 4. I've got into the rather pleasing habit of treating myself to a new bit of kit to celebrate each job, and this time I went for a pair of serious looking tool boxes to keep everything safe whilst on the road. I love them!

On my way back home I had time to raid my mum's garden for a bag full of fresh veg. She even let me swipe one of these babies...

I stuffed it with soft goats cheese and herbs then deep fried in tempura batter, mmmmm...
Very simple, but very tasty. It was the perfect dish to get me in the mood for a lovely trip to Milan for Fabrizio and Silvia's wedding. A big ex-Dundee crowd descended on Milan from all corners of the globe, and we did our best to consume everything that was on offer.

I had pizza 3 times in as many days (including a slice for breakfast!), and filled my bag with a nice selection of Italian cheeses to take home. It goes without saying that the bride and groom both looked stunning, and it was an honour to celebrate their marriage with them. Grazie Fabri e Silvia for such a lovely time, and for all your wonderful hospitality.

We tucked into beautiful antipasti in the garden of the villa after the wedding ceremony - the deep fried caperberries were great, and look at that parmesan! (can you spot the zucchini flowers too?) The hollowed out parmesan was later to become a cheesy bowl from which the radicchio risotto was served. Genius.

I seriously overdid it on the nibbles though, not realising that we were only at the tip of a formidable gastronomic iceberg:

Yes, that's a two-page meal folks. A feast indeed. I could barely breathe by the time we were done!

The next day we went for a stroll and stumbled upon a French-themed donkey racing festival with ju-jitsui demos on the side (even the Italians in our group seemed somewhat bemused!), and concurrent fungi festival. I particularly liked the posters warning us about what the more toxic species are capable of.

And no matter how much food has gone before, when it Italy there's always room for gelati at every possible opportunity.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Stripes still on the menu

I have to confess that I've got way too many projects on the go at the moment, nothing is really getting finished. Time to concentrate on a bit of WIP-busting I think.
In that spirit, I cracked on with a simple scarf project that has been on the needles for month. It's a 1x1 rib using two colourways of Noro Silk Garden a la Brooklyn Tweed. I've been creeping along with a few rows each week at knitting group, but picked up the pace when I got past the half way point and the end seemed in sight. Just in time for the rubbish cold weather we've been having recently. Bring it on, I'm ready!

Totally unrelatedly, here's a pic of the crochet scarlet macaw hand puppet that I made for William's second birthday last month. Pattern from Inner Child Crochet. My animals never turn out as cute as the ones in the pictures but hopefully he'll be fun to play with. I like the nice long tail feathers that swoosh around as he flies.

Again totally unrelatedly, I spent an entire weekend grappling with my ancient sewing machine recently. After spending a day cutting gorgeous fat quarters ready for a patchwork class at Twist Fibre Craft Studio, I couldn't resist taking a selection of them home and having a go myself. I'm not a good sewer (can't even cut fabric in a straight line, let alone sew it!) but I was surprised how easy it was, even for a novice like me. Three days of faffing later, and I've got 6 lovely new cushions to brighten up my sofas. Very pleased :)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Zigzag City

I've recently finished two patterns using the same combination of increases and decreases to create zigzags in the knitting. First, the previously alluded to jaywalkers (pattern by Grumperina), in a greeny bluey shade of Trekking XXL. I like how the colour changes show off the zigzags, and I am especially pleased that the patterning on each sock is pretty darn close to an exact match even though I wasn't trying - honest! I'd have no problem with completely different stripes on one compared to the other, but I don't think I could ignore it if they were a centimeter or two out from each other so I'm really glad this one turned out so well.

Second zigzag project is the chaton minet felted basket pattern from sock pixie. I used three colours of lopi roving from Twist Fibre Craft Studio, and added a few pattern repeats to make the basket bigger. Dilly seemed to go for it even before it was dry, so I'm counting it as a success for now. It remains to be seen how long before she returns to her penchant for piles of clean washing instead...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Chocolate and Cheese

This weekend marked the end of the Taste Festival season, with a trip to Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park. True to form for Taste of Birmingham the wellies were put to good use, but thankfully we didn't see a repeat of the previous two year's Glasto-Taste mudbath!
...umm, there might be a spot of rain on the way.....

Still, a good time was had by all despite the weather, and it was even fun to have my mum on board as the unofficial kitchen porter for the chef's theatre - she definitely earned her share of the demo dishes!

After the madness of Taste of London, it was luxuriously laid back in Birmingham. So much so that I had time to nip around the producers market and pick up a few bits. Few producers inspired me to part with my cash, but I did very much like the hand made chocolates from Gorvett & Stone.

Absolutely beautiful to look at (not too perfect... in a good way), and delicious. They had a lovely range of flavours - different enough to be interesting but not odd for the sake of it - and spot on with the texture. The milk chocolate truffles with sea salt were mouthwatering yet creamy, and the dark chocolate with chilli was perfectly balanced to give rich fruity cocoa followed by an addictive chilli tingle. My favourite was the strawberry with black pepper: a good hit of dark chocolate and strong strawberry with just enough pepper to make the strawberry sing. Yum. I'm still struggling slightly with the white chocolate with green tea however. I love both of those things, but remain to be convinced that they can be successfully combined in truffle form.

Gorvett & Stone's flavour name of strawberry with black pepper was correct in that it was strong on strawberry with the pepper playing a supporting role. On the other hand Berry Scrumptious, who were at Taste of Edinburgh, need to swap around their name to black pepper with strawberry!

Bitter dark chocolate, very hot full on black pepper at the back of the throat, and tiny flecks of freeze dried strawberry. I'm not at all questioning the classsic combination of strawberry and pepper, but when you've got that much of a cocoa and black pepper slap in the face, the strawberry gets a bit lost. This one would be just as delicious, and slightly less confused, if the strawberries didn't make it into the chocolate at all. I love the hot spicy kick of the pepper in their dark chocolate, good on them for not being afraid to use a decent amount of it. It reminds me of an unexpectedly fantastic meal I had in Sicily a few years ago with some very good friends.

On the long drive home from Birmingham, I made my usual pit stop at Tebay services on the M6 in Cumbria to visit Westmoorland farm shop. Tebay is the only small locally owned motorway service station in the country and it is a crime that there are not more like it. No KFC, no Costa Coffee, no minging burgers and soggy sarnies. They serve honest home-cooked food using local produce including beef and lamb from their adjoining farm (they do a mean curry by the way), and always have an irresistable selection of cakes. The farm-shop is also excellent although increasingly they seem to be stocking gourmet products from all over Europe, which is no bad thing, but somewhat detracts from the local angle that they are keen to push.

The things that keep me going on the long journey to Tebay are this...

1) A first-rate cheese counter in the farm shop. I always get a good hunk of Swaledale, and whatever else looks nice. I could easily spend 20 quid on cheese!

2) The cakes. Home made, interesting selection, huge portions, reasonable prices. What's not to like?? The coffee cake is exceptional, and pretty much a meal in its own right. Today I tried their baked cheesecake and found it rather good - high praise indeed from someone who is usually very disappointed by commercial cheesecake encounters.

3) The coffee. I don't know what beans they use but they make a mean macchiato. Just the job to keep me going for the final three and a half hours of the drive.

4) The views. And the ducks!

And so another foody trip comes to an end. I'm not sure what's next on the horizon, but in the mean time I've got no small amount of leftovers to eat! And my Westmoorland cheese, yum...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Summer Skirt

Here's the latest creation to come off the needles... or should I say the hook, for it is indeed a crochet project this time. I have made the 'walking after midnight' skirt from Doris Chan's Amazing Crochet Lace. Ravelry users check it out here.

I used the lovely Hempathy by Elsbeth Lavold, with 34% hemp and 41% cotton it's great for the hot weather, and has a nice soft but weighty feel which is ideal for this kind of project. Unfortunately it's not that readily available here in the UK, so it was made in Italy, shipped to a yarn shop in the states, then shipped back across the ocean to me. Let's not think about the air miles on that one.

I started this project way back in November when I went on a trip to Argentina to take part in Total Wipeout, thinking that it would be a good one for a long plane journey. I then let it sit for ages until I went on a trip to Spain in February. Another long hibernation period followed, before the final push which saw me finish just in time to wear it to Woolfest (thanks to Laurence for taking some pics!). Here I am just getting started in the dust and heat of Buenos Aires:

For most of the time I was working on it I had a feeling that it would be slightly disappointing when finished, hence the lack of pace. But as soon as I'd woven in the ends and given it a good steaming I was very happy. The underskirt is not attached by the way, and I quite like that, because it means that I can change it for a brightly coloured one to match whatever pair of silly high heels I feel like wearing...

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Pesto Power

All this hot and wet weather has made the garden go bonkers. Time to max out on the glut of yummy fresh herbs...

Classic Pesto: Shed loads of basil, toasted pine nuts, finely grated parmesan, and as much garlic as you like (roasted first if you want a milder flavour). Whizz it up with with enough XV olive oil to make a saucy consistency and then pig out! Great on pasta of course, but also in sarnies, on grilled portobello mushrooms with mozzarella, and layered with cheese and spinach in a quick veggie lasagne. I also like to add a few good spoonfulls into basic tomato sauce to give it a bit more depth.

There are endless possibilities for adapting the pesto concept, depending on your particular herb glut (Italians look away now!...) try coriander pesto to add to dishes with an eastern flavour, for example. My current favourite is parsley pesto - a truly English pesto if you team it with roasted pumpkin seeds, swaledale ewe's milk cheese and roasted pumpkin seeds... and you must call it 'parsleh pestoe' in your finest Yorkshire accent!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Feasts and festivals

Well it's been a very busy couple of months working on and at the Taste Festivals. With two down and one still to go (Birmingham coming up soon), things are crazy as always but going very well. Head on over to Meemalee's Kitchen for two lovely write ups of her experiences as a visitor and a worker.

Today I went to Cockermouth in Cumbria with Andrea, Diane and Laurence, to enjoy a festival of another kind. We had a very early start and were there waiting excitedly in the queue before the show opened, ready to do some serious yarny shopping at Woolfest 2009. There was certainly no shortage of beautiful yarn and fibre to spend our cash on, as well as a generous selection of interesting breeds... and some alpacas leading the way in summer hairstyling whether they liked it or not!

The Twist Fibre Craft Studio stand looked absolutely stunning, especially with all the hand dyed pre-felt that Laura has been working hard to create over recent weeks.

So now I guess it's confession time. I don't think I was the first of our merry little group to crack open my wallet, but I certainly didn't hold back once I got started. Ok, I'm going to just do this quickly so it doesn't hurt! Here it is...

Here's my recipe for oaty date bars - serious sustenance for serious yarn hunters:

225g chopped dates
3 tbsp water, 2 tbsp lemon juice

125g butter
160g golden caster sugar
1 egg
1tbsp golden syrup
1tsp vanilla essence
145g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
105g rolled oats
100g dessicated coconut

Gently heat the dates with the water and lemon juice until all the liquid has been absorbed and the dates have softened. Set aside to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg and golden syrup. Add the other ingredients and combine.

Press half of the dough into a greased 20x30cm, spread the dates on top, and then cover them with the remaining dough mixture. Bake at 180 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

This one is also great with other dried fruit fillings like apricot or cranberry.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Socks, books and hogs

Two posts in one week? Gosh, that hasn't happened for a long time.

I thought I'd give you a bit of an update on what I've been knitting since being in London. Mostly socks actually. Inspired to take more steps into the world of sock making after my first pair, I cast on with another ball of Regia Kaffe Fassett yarn as my travelling project whilst going backwards and forwards from the Ideal Home Show on the tube. I'm not shy about knitting in public normally, but for some reason I found it a bit strange knitting on the tube in such close proximity to other travellers. I certainly felt conspicuous amongst everyone else with their books and newspapers, especially when (on my first sock-knitting tube journey) someone decided that the sight of me doing it was worthy of taking a photo!!

The sock progress is a good illustration of how tired I actually was, because it took me an entire month of tube journeys to do about 2/3 of the first sock. Since coming back to London and doing my office work for Taste, I've completely finished the pair in no time at all even though my train journey is much shorter. Annoyingly, one seems to be somehow a bit shorter than the other, so I may have to go back and re-do the toe decreases once I've added in a few more rows. But here they are for now, let's call them 'finished'.

Also during my last London trip, I made a start on some fairisle fish socks. They are not with me this time however, so progress is currently halted at around 70% done. I've knitted both cuffs, and have just started the toe decreases on the first foot. I'm using Twist Fibre Craft Studio's basic sock pattern, plus a simple fish design:

Never one to concentrate properly on a sensible number of projects, I have cast on for another fairisle pair of socks. Lizards this time: on ravelry here and on the net here. The lizards have been named Gary and Dave by their future owner. I've knitted Gary's head and one of his legs so far, although I may have to go back and make them smaller, these are looking like the biggest socks the world has ever seen.

(sssh, whisper this bit.... I'm knitting a pair of the ubiquitous Grumpernia jaywalkers as well. There are literally thousands of them out there on ravelry. Any self respecting sock knitter should have some. This is my train travel project, although the double decreases have led to a few near-stabbing incidents on crowded trains due to the tricky angles!)
And while we're whispering about furtive knitting exploits, I'll show you the two pieces of my bodge-job make-it-up-as-you-go noro cardigan. A flared bottom bit knit sideways so the stripes are vertical, and a raglan top-down top bit. Quite how the two will ever meet is currently a mystery to me. More news to follow on that one.

In other news, I've recently acquired some birthday books: Jun Tanaka's Simple to Sensational, and John Wright's River Cottage Handbook on Mushrooms. Lovely stuff! I've admired the River Cottage Guide series since John kicked them off with his very informative guide to Britain's mushrooms. There are now a further 4 books covering preserves, bread, veg and the edible seashore (the latter being another of John's masterpieces), all of which are worth a look.

I've been waiting for the release of Simple to Sensational for a good while, and wasn't disappointed with the result. Jun takes a collection of straightforward delicious dishes and offers a 'sensational' transformation by introducing a few more techniques or twists. I've seen this concept labelled as a gimmick in one review, but I actually think it's rather clever, and a fascinating insight into the kinds of things that might happen in a resaurant kitchen to take simple dishes to another level. I'm getting very interested in how to present food in a more professional looking way lately, so this book comes at a perfect time. The photography is stunning, worthwhile purchase for that alone, but I can't wait to get my teeth into some of the recipes too.

Completely unrelatedly, I went on a lovely outing to London Zoo today. Of course there were loads of exciting beasts to see, but I was quite taken with a couple of types of pig that I've never seen before: the bearded pig and the red river hog. Look at these fabulous beasts!

Despite never having been a fan of pork in any of its forms, I couldn't help wondering how these guys taste compared to their more every day brothers...

MiMi - thankyou for the fabulous meemalee's kitchen virtual birthday baking. I love that photo, yum.