Archive for April, 2010


Nettle Tea and the Good Life

After a sunny weekend with my friends from Norwich and my father-in-law’s homemade schnapps, I’ve been somewhat inspired to get out in the garden more. My problem though, is that I am very impatient and lose heart when I can’t make fruit pies from the second my plants hit the soil. To combat the fact that I have to wait for my berries, I decided to go foraging in the corner of the field to see if I could find some ‘free range’ edible lovelies.

Past attempts at foraging have been somewhat disastrous. M- and I read the Deathstalker novels by Simon R Green at a rather impressionable age, and as the only fanciable character in the book had something of a penchant for eating flowers, we thought we would try doing the same. Not only did we end up rather spacey for a day, but my stomach still turns whenever I see certain blooms. Heaven knows what the inhabitants of Pringle Avenue were growing in their borders.

In any case, armed with my camera, cat and a set of robust gloves, I set out into the hedgerow around my field.

Nettles seemed the obvious choice since I know them to be edible and because they seem to be out in abundance. I’ve had nettle soup before and thought it was delicious, though few other people – kitten included – seem to be willing to try it. This being the case, I set out to prove whether or not nettle tea really does change colour when you add lemon to it.

I started out by picking only very young leaves because apparently they get increasingly bitter with age. After separating out all the bits of grass and rinsing them, I tossed them all into a pan of what I call ‘champagning’ water – just below the boil.

I decided to presume that making nettle tea was similar to green tea, in that the longer you soak the leaves in high temperature water, the bitterer the taste becomes. That said, my nettles were in the pan for around a minute, if that.

As you can see, when the leaves are strained off the tea is a sort of sensible straw-green colour. As you might expect from a green plant.

Less sensible is the notion that by mixing something green with something yellow, you get something pink. Still, this is exactly what happened.

This is where you’re going to have to take a leap of faith with me, because the end colour of the tea is rather subtle. I think I’ll be able to illustrate this better with the ice-cubes that are currently in the freezer, though. Bottom line – it’s a kind of Nissan Figaro Topaz Mist rather than a berry pink.

Speaking of berries, those I planted up in the garden seem to be doing rather well. I found some old sections of terracotta pipe up by the barn which I’ve used to make a strawberry and garlic border by the drive.

In addition to strawberries and garlic, the gooseberries I planted a while back are coming through well…

… as are the blackcurrants.

Even the raspberries, which I thought were going to be a huge let-down, have come up. I am going to be a very happy cook presuming they all give fruit this year.

I planted chamomile seeds as well, so I’m hoping I see some sign of those soon. If they appear in the future, I’ll make some tea from them and let you know the details!

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Simple Pleasures

Every now and then, life will throw you one of those rare, magical moments that you’ll remember until all the Facebook status updates about Twilight finally melt your brain.

I took the bus into Newmarket the other day to pick up the Polo. It had been raining as I’d set off, but on arrival the sky  cleared a little, leaving fresh, dewy air and the early evening sun in its wake. As I stepped off the bus, I realised that the shopping centre I usually used as a short-cut was locked for the night, so rather than walk around the multi-storey car park which lay between myself and the high street, I decided to cut through it.

The ramp which appeared to lead up to the main road beyond was just opposite me, though deserted of its usual push-chair traffic. The whole place felt abandoned, the noise of the rush-hour outside echoing off the pillars within like the ghost of the morning commute. Seeing this place so empty, so different and other, made me slightly giddy. I felt as though I was trespassing – a strange interloper in a world which belonged firmly to four wheels.

I continued up the ramp regardless – defiant – however I was met with a barrier, separating me from my destination. The path I had been following continued on though, doubling back on itself and rising above its original course. I checked my watch – I had time to see where it went.

I climbed on, emerging beneath a flat concrete roof and behind a small shed. I had no idea where I was, but the covering led me to believe I was still within the building proper. How wrong I was. Stepping out from behind the small structure, I found myself on the top of the car park, staring at a chess board of empty parking spaces.

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun by myself. The total freedom on that roof was intoxicating – there was no one there to watch me, to see me run around in silence with arms stuck out pretending to be an aeroplane. There was no one to see me skip down the up ramp to the level below and run, hell-for-leather, back up again. When I’d finally finished playing out my frustration at all manner of insignificant things, I walked back down, cut around my secret playground and rejoined the world of adults going about their business.

A life in sewing patterns

1950s skirts, a late 50s wedding dress, 60s maternity clothes, baby clothes, a man’s night-shirt, dresses for a little girl, 70’s flares in teenage sizes, a 1980’s wedding dress, 90s soft toys.

As I’ve said before, I take part in a local freecycle group and recently put out an ad begging for an electric sewing machine. I got one – by the way – but due to time restraints, I haven’t yet been able to try it out. I was also given a crate of patterns, as described above.

I’m always pretty touched when people give me things I’ve been longing for, but this really humbled me. In my two carrier bags, told in pictures and pattern numbers, is the story of a woman’s life in the last half of the last century. These two simple containers hold the happiest day of her life, the birth of her little girl, the infant’s early years and subsequent teenage rebellion, and finally her daughter’s wedding.

I will let you know as and when I make the various patterns. It just so happens that their previous owner was exactly my size…

New Job

So panic sets in – that stupid, irrational sort of panic which says, “They’ll make you an outcast because you haven’t bought a new item of clothing since 2007,” or, “They’ll hate you because your bag has been mended a thousand times and is literally held together by a single thread.”

I don’t know why I get like this – I’m inevitably fine, and I’m actually pretty good at talking to people, despite my deep, underlying contempt for the species as a whole. It’s not the change of pace in work-life that bothers me – frankly, this is going to be a step down compared to my usual mad rush from pillar to post throughout the day. It’s the bag that fills me with a sense of dread.

I like to have everything I need, contained and within easy reach. I like to have space to throw my jacket should I get too warm, and somewhere to stash a spoon for the afternoon break, when I consume my packed lunch which I didn’t have at noon because of the tempting canteen food. Waste not want not, afterall. Most of all, I like to be able to fit everything I need to carry into one convenient parcel so I’m not worrying about leaving more than one thing behind.

And my folder doesn’t fit in my mended bag. It’s killing me.

Especially because I have a new sewing machine just waiting to be tried, and some PERFECT spring-green Kath Kidston fabric which would make a glorious tote. I even have some cream cotton to line it with and it would Fit The Folder In It.

But it’s getting late – I have writing to finish and I am being ridiculous. No one will care about my bag and the fact it doesn’t hold my ring binder. I don’t need another bag anyway. I just don’t want to turn up for the first day of what promises to be a good, long-lasting career sort of job with my Pucca lunch box, my Haynes wallet and my rainbow-stripe crochet bag. And though I LOVE all of those things with a passionate, great love that will last through the ages, it will look as though a teenage emo wardrobe has thrown up on me.

I hate starting new jobs. I think I’ll call in sick.

Thrifty

I was talking to my 83 year old drinking buddy the other day about sunglasses. I told him about how I wear Dad’s old shades from the late 80s and laughingly added that it was because I was too cheap to buy new ones. My friend informed me that in years gone by, folk would have called me thrifty and that said thriftiness would have been an attractive quality.

Funny how the world changes, isn’t it?

Somewhat inspired by the thought of my Yorkshire blood and Scottish upbringing yeilding something other than an obscure accent, I began to apply serious thought to the two weddings I’ll be attending in June. The bridesmaid dress for one has already been delivered – a gorgeous chocolate brown offering from Styleshake, designed by myself and M-‘s sister – however the other is something of a challenge.

M-'s bridesmaid dress

This wedding – in which I am best man – takes place on Skye, with highland greens and purples as the colour theme. I bought some fabric a while back for a sash, with the intention of slinging it around a store bought grey dress. Since then, however, it has become apparent that Charlie Micra will need a service and MOT, and has just been road taxed. The Groom – one of my many J-s – would understand my sacrificing clothes and neatness on his big day for the sake of my car, but I still don’t want to let his lovely bride down.

So I decided to take drastic action. I raided my sewing box.

I have two half-finished dresses to choose from. One is grey and was made from pre-cut sections of wool.  It is also 10 inches too big for my waist.

The second dress is one I drew free-hand on some cheap green cloth from John Lewis. I reckon with a little work, and absolutely no change in weight, this one might be perfect. Still, when I put it away last time, it was because I couldn’t decide how to fashion the straps and I’m still at a bit of a loss. The waist is incredibly tight fitting – and looks gorgeous – so I need something I can pull on over my head. I’m thinking pinafore, but with thin ribbons in heather purple instead of buttons. I’m not trying to be clever and arty by suggesting this, I might add. Button holes are the devil.

This is the closest I could get to the shape of the dress I've made

This is the closest I could get to the shape of the dress I've made - it's done in 4 full length panels though, not as a top and skirt

I’ve already got some of this fabric to use for a sash:

Superbuzzy Purple Tea Rose

so I could, hypothetically, either cover some buttons with it, or snip some into ribbons…

I plan on wearing both dresses with white tights and a pair of brown Mary-Jane shoes – only one set of accessories to carry! I’ll get some gold-coloured costume jewellery from a charity shop to go with the greeny purple frock, and some pretty pink beads to go with the bridesmaids dress. The brown dress also needs a sash and an underskirt, but I’m tempted to just get some nice cotton, some netting and some pink dye and go to town….

Thrifty? I hope so… Not counting the money I spent initially on the shoes:

Brown Mary-Janes

Brown Mary-Janes

and the fabric for the green dress, I reckon I only need to spend just over a tenner on some opaque white tights…

Now it’s out with the sewing machine to see what can be done about those straps…

Good advice

M- sent me a link to this ‘blog post today, which I thought was just magical. Not only are the cakes pretty, but I like the sentiment too.

‘If you keep doing what you are doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got’.

Time for a change…

Charlie Micra

Here is a post to explain some of the lack of posts. I’m not dead – to the best of my knowledge – however I have been without a car for… 29 hours now, so all conscious thought seems to have ceased.

I do all of my best (read: only) thinking behind the wheel, so being without Charlie Micra has caused something of an epic brain fail. He’s fine, worried car fans, and can be found taking S- to and from work whilst husband’s Polo is getting a new cam-belt fitted. Still, his bitter absence – Charlie’s, not S-‘s – reminded me that I meant to update you all on how to input the security code into the K12 stereo.

Apparently the most searched for thing on my ‘blog, after Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers of course, is how to get the stereo working again following a disconnection of the battery. You do so as follows:

1. Find your code.
2. Attempt to enter it.
3. Fail, and be met with the ‘Wait 1 h’ sign.
4. Wait 1 h – ‘h’ does not stand for hour, I might add. It seems to represent an unknown unit of time invented by Nissan simply to piss me off.
5. When 1 h is finally over, touch nothing.
6. Find your code again.
7. Note that the code is composed of 4 digits and that the numbers on your stereo only go up to 5.

Your stereo front should look something like this:

1 — 4
2 — 5
3 — TA

with ‘— ‘representing the CD slot.

Button 1 corresponds to the first digit of your code, button 2 to the second digit and so on. Button 5 is the ‘enter’ button. If your code was 3582, for example, you would need to press button 1 three times, button 2 five times, button 3 eight times and button 4 twice. Then you would press 5.

Thus your stereo will spring to life in a thunderous cry of Living on a Prayer, which in turn will spook thousands of pounds worth of Newmarket race horses. Win.