Archive for May, 2010


Activities for a rainy day

Apparently, making jam on a second-rate electric hob is entirely possible, though absolutely not advisable.

Not only will said hob short-circuit the house at least twice, but heat will deflect from the jam pan, burning the enamel surface below the ceramic hob plate. Also, the hob will fail to get the sugar up to temperature, leaving you with stewed fruit and sugar, rather than actual jam.

I am currently waiting for said mixture to cool to see what it tastes like finished.

Experimental Jam

All said and done though, until adding the sugar, I was pretty convinced I had stumbled on the perfect jam recipe. So, for your preserve-making pleasure, may I present a list of the fruits I used:

2 bunches of grapes – one red, one white
2 peaches
3 pears
2 apples
2 stems of rhubarb
a handful of cranberries
the juice from 3 lemons
the peel from 4 oranges (I have been freezing orange peel as I eat them for just such an occasion)
half a bottle of white wine
half a large bottle of ginger beer
a pinch of cinnamon
half a bag of sugar

The basic method is as follows: chop fruit and peel. Boil in liquids until pith on peel is transparent. Add sugar. Get sugar up to correct temperature (220F). Put in jars. Nom it all up.

This is what happens when I plan to go out in the garden – the weather inevitably turns and I am left to amuse myself around the house in other ways. At present, I would like to be winging my way to M-‘s pre-marriage-picnic, however obviously, the one time I hope my disclosure for work doesn’t come through, it lands on my doormat. The really annoying thing, is that there aren’t any shifts for me at present, leaving me to wait patiently by the phone in case I’m needed. Argh. Part of me wants to high-tail it north anyways, but I know that if I did, I’d be woken at daft o’clock in the morning to be told I had to be in Cambridge by half past stupid.

Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow and I’ll get out to plant some crops that should see us through autumn and next spring. I have some tomatoes, some kale, carrots, parsnips, swedes and savoy cabbages. Hopefully, I’ll do a better job with them than I did with my aubergine plants – currently a small crispy mess on the dining room window. I don’t know what I did wrong – the plants had green-fly and I distinctly remember Nan saying that you should just spritz washing up liquid and water over the leaves to kill off the bugs. Admittedly, the bugs are now dead but the plants have also shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving me with a little terracotta pot of autumn leaves…

Tonight’s mission: Clean up after S-‘s DIY in the living room, finish cleaning the kitchen, maybe start work on some top-secret sewing… who knows. Right now though, I need a gin and tonic.

Best dress it ain’t

I made my first ever dress today, using scraps from M-‘s wedding dress and a hideously kitsch sheet I bought in a charity shop.

front

I'm not posing, just holding my hair off the collar. ๐Ÿ˜›

It wasn’t a huge success, and I can’t help but feel that my day might have been better spent working out some kind of fence for my vegetable patch, but part of me is a little proud. In hindsight, I should have chosen something simpler. I think the clean lines of the 1960s pattern I used were somewhat deceptive though – it doesn’t look all that hard, but the skewy empire line was impossible. Also, the fact that the pattern was far too big – despite the envelope claiming that it was a size 12 – made it very difficult. I did take it in after sewing it, but it could have been better. A lot better.

It’s really hard to see something less than perfect come from your hours of labour. I had the most wonderful idea in my head of an exciting, stylish dress and though I like the colour combination, and the individual parts of the garment, I think it looks poor in combination. Bad craftsmanship shows, apparently. It’s frustrating that the only way to improve is to persevere through these initial problem stages and continue until the clothes coming from your machine are actually wearable. I definitely need more practice, and I need to have more self-discipline – you can’t just start on quirky cuts straight off. Learning the basics is vital to making something good.

In short, I’ve mixed feelings about this creation. Whilst I am a little disheartened, I will try again, perhaps with some specially bought fabric this time….

Rabbit rabbit rabbit

I will never be able to eat rabbits again.

Since S- and I got back from Denmark there’s been a funny smell, lingering in our bedroom. We presumed the cat had caught something, but on closer inspection, there were no corpses to be found. Until yesterday, when I put my hand into a writhing mass of maggots that had once been part rabbit, part slipper.

So S- got rid of the corpse, hoovered up the maggots and then I put biological washing powder down to neutralise the smell. Only the smell didn’t go. So a more earnest hunt began for another corpse and, not surprisingly, I found one… rotting on five years worth of sketches.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t draw anywhere near as much as I once did so it isn’t as though I’ve lost thousands of pages of work. But then again, I don’t draw anywhere near as much as I once did, so I didn’t have thousands of pages of work to lose – only about 10.

I’m trying not to let on how gutted I am but actually, I’m really upset.

I suppose this is ‘just one of those things’ which ‘builds character’.

Sigh.

Tea Rooms

I go to a lot of tea rooms.

This rather expensive habit started when I discovered that the tea in American coffee chains is dire – dunking tea-dust in luke warm water does not make a fine cuppa. Proper tea, characterised by large pieces of leaves and boiling H2O, is a completely different beverage entirely and should be celebrated for the magical liquid that it is.

Some tea rooms of note include Peacocks in Ely – a wonderful little place by the river with the biggest tea menu I have ever seen. Displayed as an appendix to their edible fare, the list of different teas far surpasses the number of food dishes they serve, which – to my mind at least – is exactly how it should be.

Betty's

Betty's

Obviously, Betty’s in York/Harrogate is well worth visiting. Again, the choice of teas is extensive but their food is also very, very good. The one in York is particularly special because of the mirror downstairs – signed with a diamond-tip pen by the servicemen who visited the cafe during the WWII.

Ludlow Caste

Ludlow Caste

Ludlow Castle tea rooms was also rather special. Not only were the scones some of the best I have ever tasted, but the setting was incredible too. Though the tea list was somewhat limited, they covered all of the basics with high quality leaves.

Ludlow Castle Tea Rooms

Ludlow Castle Tea Rooms

Clearly, there have been other tea rooms in various other places – Auntie’s in Cambridge, De Grey’s in Ludlow, The Bar Convent Cafe in York to name but a few – though these are the ones which stand out.

Once Upon a Time…

…two rather perculiar girls wrote a small section of story concerning googly eyes.

Then, they discovered that they could buy self-adhesive googly eyes and the world has never been the same since. Here are some of the finest examples.

The Aftermath...

The Aftermath...

On the train...

On the train...

Breakfast

Breakfast

Tea time again

Tea time again

Fruity

Fruity

Standing guard

Standing guard

Thumb

Thumb

Tomorrow, I will write a post in praise of various tea rooms and eateries, however for the moment, these rather silly pictures will have to suffice. I hope you like them! ๐Ÿ˜€

Proud

So here it is. It’s been a long time coming, and this is just a draft, but below are the first few paragraphs of my supernatural angst-filled detective story.
______

“Laz?” A pause, “I’ve found something.”
There was a long silence as Shayne Lazlo slowly opened her eyes. Her room was dark and cold – the stove had burned out hours ago – and she could feel the wind rocking her little boat against the bank. Dawn was still a long way off and the night air was bitingly crisp. Where she held the ancient phone to her ear she could feel her skin prickle against the chill, and so wriggled her way down beneath the layers of covers on the narrow bunk.
“Laz?” Green asked again, his voice crackling down the phone. She tugged at the zip to an old sleeping bag which formed the core of her cocoon and grunted something unintelligible.
“I’m at the dig,” Green tried again, “And I’ve found something that I have to get out of here. Come and get me.”
“How can you possibly have found anything? It’s still dark out.” Shayne sniffed and tried to tuck a woolen blanket that had escaped to the foot of the bed around her nylon shell.
“I didn’t want Roman to know what I was digging. I need you to come and pick me up.”
Tentatively, Lazlo glanced at the time on her phone. The bright blue of the display burned the numbers 04 03 on to her retina and she sighed, pulling the final layer – a large feather duvet – up and over her head.
“I can’t,” she tried to keep the smile from her voice, “I don’t have any petrol in the Figaro.”
“That’s fine – it’s not big enough anyway.”
“Then how could I come and pick you up?”
“Take the Defender.”
“It hasn’t passed an MOT in five years and I haven’t paid road tax on it in six. Don’t be stupid.”
“So what? It still drives, doesn’t it? You had the engine going last week.”
“Green,” her voice grew strained, “I am not driving across town at four in the morning, in a totally illegal car, to help you steal something from my boyfriend’s dig site.”
“When you say it like that, of course it sounds bad. Look, no one will be out scanning for illegal cars at this time in the morning, and the traffic will be none existant. Besides, once I’ve had a proper look at this thing, I’ll put it back, pretend it’s never been gone and let Roman draw his own conclusions from it. I just need you to come and get me now.”
“Why me? Why not Roger? He has a van.”
“You’re the only one I can trust.”
Shayne’s face folded involuntarily into a grimace and she sighed, “If anyone asks what I’m doing, I’m going to tell them that you threatened to kill my best friend if I didn’t do as you said.”
“Deal.” The line went dead and Lazlo closed her eyes.
Tentatively, she reached an arm out of the sleeping bag and began to fish around on the floor beside her. Slowly, so as not to disturb her stack of blankets, she drew a large woolen sweatshirt and a pair of dirty jeans into the bed.
Fumbling in the dark, she managed to extract the previous day’s underwear from what seemed to be a complicated mass of legs and tossed it across the room. Then, she pulled on both the jumper and the trousers over her pyjamas. With one last, bitter glance at the phone, she tossed her covers aside and stood, grabbing her glasses as she did so.
The boat was so cold that her lenses fogged up instantly due to the heat from her face and she swore loudly at Green, promising herself that she would never again let him talk her into something so utterly ridiculous. Still, she made her way to the back of the boat, slipped her feet into a pair of icy Wellington boots and a stiff woolen duffel coat, then hopped up onto the bank.

__________

My main concerns:

Is it an interesting enough beginning? Do I reveal too much at once? Are there too many references to other characters the reader hasn’t met yet? Is the writing rubbish because I’m trying to shove a year of planning into a few simple sentences?

In short, lots of concerns. If any are justified, please let me know. I really want to make this story something special. Shayne Lazlo is my absolute hero – I love her – so I want to do her justice. Any helpful tips would be gratefully received.

Home and Garden

The longer I live here, the more I come to love my little cottage and its wonderful field and garden.

Today I went out with the intention of marking what will become a vegetable patch, but was enjoying myself so much I ended up harvesting some lunch for myself, cutting some flowers and making some fertiliser.

I’ve said before just how much I love nettles. Not only can they be used for tea, but they also make fantastic fertiliser and incredible soup. I made both today.

The fertiliser is pretty easy and, though it smells foul when it’s finished, is an all natural way to improve your soil. You just need to pick a load of nettles, shove them in a bucket with some water and let them ferment somewhere dark for a week or so – then you can dig the mixture into your plot. When I strip the turf off my newly marked vegetable garden, I’ll be pouring over my icky nettle liquid and some shiny new compost so I’ll let you know how it works.

I can taste the effects of the soup now though and made myself a quick broth by picking young, tender nettles and frying them off in some rape seed oil with some garlic, coriander and spring onions. I added some chicken stock and boiled that up, then poured in some milk. To add a bit more flavour, I threw in a few chunks of strong cheddar cheese. The result was absolutely delicious and I made enough for the next few days too.

In addition to my nettley bounty, I also cut myself a bunch of Spanish Bluebells. These are not endangered, unlike the native English variety, so I helped myself to a goodly handful. If you don’t know the difference, Spanish bluebells come in three different colours – pink, white and blue – and are significantly larger than the native variety. The English plants are more compact and the flowers are a more intense lapis lazuli sort of colour. Both are very beautiful, but happily for my vases, it is the Spanish kind which are growing outside.

The rest of the afternoon, after a somewhat productive morning, will be spent having a bit of a tidy up and making the obi-like sash for Misti’s wedding, and possibly drafting another skirt pattern. We shall see.

This one is for my Mum – the shoe Queen. Not quite what I think she’d write about, but shoes nevertheless.

Her boots had not only seen better days, but worse too, and in all probability at least one of the world wars. Still, they were sturdy enough – and comfortable, which was the most important thing. She had begun to suspect that they wereย  held together through sheer will-power and layers of mud which coated what was once a leather surface, but she didn’t care – they had a good few miles left in their soles, and she intended that the boots spend their dying days strapped firmly to her feet.

Sewing again…

Yes, I’m a complete addict. And a shameless self promoter.

But here, for your viewing pleasure, is a link to the skirt of win that I made for M-.

Spidery Skirt.

Kitten’s recent kill count.

Artemis is certainly living up to her name. Recent kills of note include:

19.4.10 – 3 mice before 7 20am

22.4.10 – 1 vole, 1 hamster

23.4.10 – 1 manky looking bird, 1 vole (the smell suggests it was stolen from a Tom Cat)

28.4.10 – 1 mouse before 5.15 am

5.5.10 – 1 pair of Hello Kitty socks. Twice.

11.5.10 – 1 large rabbit (bigger than the cat)

There have, of course, been other kills – many, many mice and other small rodents – but these are the main ones of note. Hunting goddess indeed!