31 October 2012

Pumpkins and Practicing My Patchwork

Wooohooooo It's Halloween and I know that some people say that it's an American thing but anything that includes sweets, chocolate and candles is ok with me.


Anyway, Halloween aside, today I have had a yearning for patchwork. I have been reading some lovely blogs with some truly beautiful patchwork pieces and I have always wanted to have a go at a really big patchwork project but have always found it a bit daunting. When my youngest daughter was a baby I did make a patchwork cot quilt which is still in one piece although a little worn around the edges but as it's almost 20 years old I guess that's only to be expected. So, this morning I grabbed some fabric squares from a pack I bought from my lovely local craft shop last year, that have been sitting in my fabric stash ever since, and I set too making some patchwork cushions with the idea that I should start small before I begin something massive.


I watched an online tutorial on making a disappearing nine patch quilt and I was amazed at how easy it was and how amazing it could look. The only problem was, having stitched my first lot of nine little squares together into a lovely big square, I didn't want to cut it up.  I'm not very good at using the rotary cutter, I don't seem to be able to get the hang of it at all and I'm afraid I'm going to ruin my lovely big square. Does anyone have any useful tips for rotary cutter technique that might help??

Anyway, this is how far I have got with my two cushions. Two fronts done, one with nine squares and one with 16, both of which are destined to be gifts and will embellished with beads, sequins and pearls before I turn them into cushions. 

30 October 2012

Annie Sloan Mini-Makeovers

Well, my gloom seems to have been lifted. I went for a lovely walk yesterday and when I got back, after thawing my fingers out over a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie, I grabbed my Annie Sloan stash and set too. As you might have noticed, I am a bit of a hoarder. I buy things and then put them in the spare room until I can decide what to do with them and where in my house I can find a space for them. 

A couple of years ago. I bought a lovely oil painting of a boat in a harbour from one of my local junk shops. Possibly not everyone's cup of tea but I thought it looked kind of like some of the little harbours in deepest darkest Cornwall, the kind that has managed to stay hidden from the hoards of rampaging tourists that descend on us during the summer months, (or maybe even somewhere in the Mediterranean) so, I bought it for princely sum of 50p. The frame was a bit ugly but nevertheless, I still really liked it so I put it in my spare room awaiting a transformation. 

Before
Cue Annie Sloan, a coat of Old White, some clear wax and YES ...... some antique wax as well!! I was feeling brave. As the picture itself is old-ish, I thought I should make the frame look older so I bravely gave it a coat of antique wax over the coat of clear wax and then rubbed everything back to expose some of the gold that was on the frame before I painted it. I have to say I am really happy with it.

After
The next thing to get the Annie treatment was a cute little trug. It was a present from one of my daughter for Mother's Day last year and it had some lovely primulas planted in it. Once the flowers had died back, I planted the foliage outside in my garden, where they are doing very nicely, and I put the little trug in the spare room with the rest of my stash of lovely things.

Before 
I initially painted the base, inside and out, with a coat of Greek Blue, a gorgeous sunshine blue like a Greek island sky. However, I then had a bit of an epiphany. My Christmas theme this year is red and white rustic and I realised that I should have painted it white so I could use it to put something Christmassy in. So, I set to and painted over the Greek Blue with a coat of Old White (although it might need a second coat, I haven't decided yet).
 Et Voila ....... cute little trug all ready for Christmas.

After

28 October 2012

Zombix

This post is for my daughter Meg. Four years ago, when I asked her what she would like as a Christmas present, the only thing she could think of was a kitten. And .... not just any old kitten, she really really wanted a ginger one (I guess she felt a certain affinity, being a fiery redhead herself!). Now, I don't agree with buying animals as presents as a rule, but all my children have grown up with a houseful of animals, and so, for Meg, suddenly moving away from home to a house with not even a goldfish was just too much for her and she missed the animals badly. I searched high and low for a ginger kitten and finally managed to track down two ginger kittens about 50 miles away from where I live. I drove out there one evening to have a look at the kittens to see if one of them would be suitable and fell in love. I brought home the cutest little ginger kitten and let him loose with our cats. It took about 5 minutes before he was charging around the house like a mad thing, finally collapsing on my bed 30 minutes later ..... fast asleep. When Christmas arrived, she was totally thrilled and according to Meg, he is the best present she has ever had.

So here is about 24 hours after I brought him home........


His name is Zombix and yesterday it was his birthday  .... he was 4 years old and now ....... he looks like this.  


Anyway, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce you to my other animals. 
I have 8 cats, 3 dogs and 3 llamas and in the past we have had everything from gerbils and rats to rabbits and chickens.

 So ...... here are our animals.





















27 October 2012

Autumn Splendour and a Draught Excluder

In an attempt to banish the autumn blues and seeing the sun shining outside my bedroom window this morning, I grabbed my camera, wrapped up warm and headed off to take some lovely photos. The leaves have been falling off the trees for a few weeks here in Cornwall and are crisp and crunchy underfoot and in the valley where I live, the colour are amazing.


In an earlier post, Time to Start Knitting a Scarf, I mentioned that I thought that this Winter was going to be a bad one and yesterday, the UK had it's first taste of what might be to come. It snowed in Northumberland and more snow and sleet has been forecast for the North of England over the next day or so and although it hasn't snowed here in Cornwall so far as the climate is a bit milder, I decided that it was time to start sorting out the house for winter. 

I live in an old house. It was originally workers cottages which were knocked into one many many years ago and as such, it can be quite draughty. The thing is, I don't mind this so much. I find houses that have been stuffed to the rafters with insulation and turned into hermetically sealed boxes quite stifling and I always seem to get sick if I'm in such a stale environment for too long. I sleep with my bedroom window open even in the depths of winter when there is snow on the ground and I feel all the better for it and I hardly ever get sick. 

Now I know there are people out there who will be horrified by this but this and bemoan my flagrant waste of energy but, despite all this, my heating bills are not huge. I am careful about how I heat the rest of my house. I don't have the radiator on in my bedroom so I don't waste money by heating a room with the window open, I don't heat bedrooms or rooms that aren't used and I am very fortunate in that the walls in my house are over a foot thick which keeps things cosy in winter and cool in the summer. 

My hallway though is quite another matter! It's always cold, even in summer and in winter, it's very very cold, mostly because of a very poorly fitting front door which, at the moment, I can't afford to replace. There is a big gap at the bottom of the door and even though I have fitted a bristle draught excluder to the door, it still blows a gale into the hall and when it rains I end up with a puddle there too. The fact that my downstairs loo is just off the hall and in there is my washing machine and tumble dryer, making it unpleasant to do laundry, I decided, this year, to make myself a draught excluder to stop the outside getting in!!

I rifled through my fabric box and pulled out a lovely piece of pink paisley Cath Kidston fabric and was on my way to grab my sewing machine when I realised that lovely though a draught excluder would be in this pretty pink fabric, when it rained, or when it was dragged across the floor by muddy dog feet, it would just end up a soggy mess so it was on to plan B.



Oil cloth! I turned an old oil cloth table cloth into a fantastic waterproof, mud-proof, dog footprint-proof draught excluder, which will hopefully make things a little warmer in my hallway this winter. 




26 October 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This week I have been feeling a bit like Eeyore ........ a bit gloomy.


I don't know if it's because the official-ness of winter  is looming when we put the clocks back this coming weekend or the gloominess of the weather but this week, I have been feeling a bit out-of-sorts. I haven't done any sewing or crocheting and I haven't baked any bread, or attacked anything with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, which isn't like me at all. So today, in an attempt to feel less gloomy, I lit my living room fire, made some chocolate chip cookies and put James Bond on TV. I know that some of my fellow bloggers have been feeling the same way recently so for all you ladies out there who are feeling gloomy, I though that this might help. It certainly cheered me up. 


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
75g soft light brown sugar
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g dark or milk chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5 and line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan. Put both sugars into a mixing bowl, pour in the melted butter and beat well with a wooden spoon. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl and stir them in, then add the chocolate. You should have a pretty sloppy sort of mixture. Dot heaped dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to the baking sheets, leaving a good 4cm between them as they really spread out. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are turning pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes to firm up. Then carefully lift the baking parchment on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.



Eeyore Image Courtesy of http://untitlement.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/eeyore-gloomy-place2.jpg?w=490&h=309
James Bond Image Courtesy of  http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02354/daniel-craig-trunk_2354027b.jpg

23 October 2012

A Good Old Jane Austen Brain Workout

At the moment, I seem to spend all my time either furiously scribbling and plotting an outline for my 50,000 word  NaNoWriMo attempt next month or coming up with things to blog about so, quite naturally, my mind is occupied completely by writing. I do, however, also love to read. It doesn't matter what it is, be it the blogs that I follow, a good book or my favourite magazine (the New Scientist ... but don't tell anyone!!) Every morning, I read the online versions of my favourite newspapers, The Times and The Guardian for the factual news and The Daily Mail, which I read purely for the gossip. At the start of October, I was fascinated to find an article in the Daily Mail which was almost intelligent. It said that reading Jane Austen novels was the cerebral equivalent of a brisk workout because, apparently, it activates the areas of the brain which are more commonly associated with movement and touch. Now, I don't make a habit of quoting articles I read in the Daily Mail because some of the journalism is, shall we say, slightly questionable not to mention  full of spelling mistakes, so when I do find something that interests me on the DM website, I always try and find the source of the article before I tell people about it. This is mainly so I don't look like a total moron when the article turns out to be something thought up by a desperate journalist on the tube into work, half an hour before the paper goes to print!!! In this case, I located a source at The Stanford University News, a well respected and reliable publication and as such I feel confident I won't look a total idiot if I mention the article.



Natalie Phillips, professor of 18th Century Literature and Culture at Michigan State University, who led the study, put test volunteers through an MRI scanner while asking them to firstly read a passage of a Jane Austen book by just skimming and then by reading the passage more closely. Preliminary results revealed that when asked to study the book closely, as opposed to simply skimming the book as we would normally do when reading for pleasure, a dramatic and unexpected increase in blood flow was observed to regions of the brain which differed from the areas of the brain used for pleasure reading. She concluded that how we read and by focusing closely on what we read, we can use reading as a sort of literary cognitive training and improve our concentration. How amazing. I confess, I find books by authors like Jane Austen and The Bronte sisters extremely enjoyable but it does take me a while to get into the language. So, in the spirit of giving my brain a good old workout, this evening, I will embark on reading my favourite Jane Austen book ........ Pride and Prejudice. I'm feeling brainier already.

Should you wish to join me in Nerdville you can read the rest of the article here 



21 October 2012

Catnip Cat Toys and Lavender Hearts

A few weeks ago, my daughter Megan asked me to make some things for her to sell at her local craft fair, so, I took inspiration from my eight cats and sat down and made them some cat toys.  My cats love catnip and there is nothing more hilarious than a herd of crazoid cats charging around the house in catnip heaven (is that what a whole bunch of cats is called I wonder?) It drives them crazy ..... so with this in mind, I decided I would make some catnip toys for them. The only problem was that I didn't actually have any catnip because it hadn't arrived, so technically, they were just cat toys. My cat, who is actually named Mouse, very kindly obliged and modelled my new creations for me and the toys were a great hit even without then catnip :-)



Here's a bit of trivia ...... a group of cats is not a herd it's either a Clowder or a Glaring ......... who knew :-

I also decided to make some lovely lavender hearts for her to sell along with the cat toys. I have to confess that my first instinct was to rush out and buy some gorgeous fabric and luscious trimmings to make the hearts, however, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my ethos is now, as far as possible,  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”, which apparently was a New England proverb and the mantra of the women of The Great Depression in 1930's America. I had previously ordered a kilo of lavender from the internet, and when it arrived, the package was HUGE! I had no idea how big a kilo of lavender would be but lets put it this way, I could be making lavender hearts for the next 10 years and I still wouldn't have to buy any more lavender :-)


I have to confess to being a bit of a hoarder and I have a particular weakness for beautiful fabrics and trimmings, but, despite my longing to hop in Chuck (my trusty old truck) and dash off to my fabulous local craft shop, Craft Box, in Liskeard, I went for a rummage in my spare bedroom to see what I could find. I have to say I feel very proud of myself, I admit that I bought some gorgeous mini bobble trim to finish off the hearts and some thin ribbon for the hanging loops because I couldn't find anything in my secret craft stash but on the whole, everything used to make the hearts I already had. I even recycled a fantastic Pip Studios cushion cover that my daughter Katie brought back from a trip to Germany a couple of years ago and that our dog Indie managed to put a hole in when he was a puppy. I was very proud of myself for not succumbing to the temptations of the craft shop and I really love the hearts. 

20 October 2012

Annie Sloan Mirror Makeover .... Before and After

A couple of years ago I bought a beautiful, if somewhat shabby, over mantle mirror from eBay for about £30. Some of you may have noticed that I get quite a lot of stuff from eBay .... it's rather  a bad habit of mine but there are so many bargains and I find them hard to resist ....... a bit like car boot sales :-)  Anyway, the mirror has been sitting in my spare bedroom ever since just waiting to be transformed. I have been itching to get started for ages and since I bought the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, it's just been a case of finding the time to transform it. That time finally came last Thursday.


I gathered my lovely collection of Annie Sloan paints together to try and decided if I was brave enough to paint the mirror any colour other than Old White ..... sadly, I wasn't, I chickened out again and so out came the Old White. I do feel slightly annoyed with myself. I have seen many beautiful items on other blogs where clever people have used the Annie Sloan products to great effect but I'm still not quite brave enough to give it a go on something really big and something that is eventually going to be in a very conspicuous position over my fireplace in the middle of my living room. Cowardly I know, but there you go. 

Before 
I know I said in a previous post that the paint is quite expensive and at £17.25 for a 1ltr can, it's much more expensive than the paint I would normally buy but, I must say, I am very impressed at how far the paint goes. I did two layers of paint on the mirror and as you can see, it's quite a big mirror and I barely even made a dent in the can of paint. I did find that I had to mix in some water though because the paint was very thick and quite hard to use, but once the water was added, the paint went on beautifully. It dries really quickly too and I managed to get the whole thing painted twice in about 4 hours. I was going to wax the mirror with some of the clear wax but I think the mirror is quite old and it's a bit rickety and I had to put parcel tape around the edge of each of the mirrors on the back because I was slightly worried that they would fall out and I didn't want to go near it with a hammer and nails, so I just buffed the mirror with a cloth to get rid of some of the chalkiness and hung it over the fire. 

After
It's now just waiting to be decorated with some mini-bunting, some cute little knick-knacks (Yipee, more rummaging in junk shops) and it will be finished. Actually, with hind-sight, I should maybe have painted the panels at the bottom a different colour, maybe a pale grey, or even a really pale pink but that will have to wait until I can get the thing off the wall again! It was quite a job to get it up there in the first place and took two of us several attempts to get it hung and straight so, unless I can figure out a way to paint it while it's still on the wall, it might just have to stay Old White forever. 

19 October 2012

Fairy House

I have been admiring the beautiful Fairy Houses on the gorgeous Used-to-Bees  blog and I really wanted to have a go at making one. I ordered some felt from eBay (super-fast delivery, combined postage and loads of lovely colours) and when it arrived today I couldn't wait to get started having a go at making one. I followed the pattern link on the blog but my first one turned out rather squished and I had problems with putting the decorations on, so this is attempt number two. I have to say I love it. I filled it with stuffing and dried lavender, so it smells nice as well as being cute. 













I'm thinking now that I have enjoyed the hand embroidery so much that I might have a go at making a picture. Maybe with little houses with wonky doors and windows with shutters. Maybe some trees. I'm feeling very creative at the moment, it's nice to feel creative again, it's been a while. To start with, I was a bit rusty on embroidery stitches but I found this fabulous site to brush up on the basics. The main problem is, I got rid of most of my craft equipment several years ago so now I have to start again building up a new stash. For example, the original houses have very cute fluted roofs, and they're cut with some amazing scalloped fabric shears to give the fabulous scalloped edge which, sadly, I no longer have. I still think mine looks quite nice for a first attempt though. 

18 October 2012

Mars Bar and Chocolate Rice Crispy Cakes.


Just a quick post to go with the quick crispy cake recipe. When I make these, I get my rice crispies from Morrisons and I buy their value range which are about 80p for a 440gm bag and I also buy the Morrisons own brand Mars Bar equivalent thingies, which are about £1.80 for 8 which makes these little crispy cakes quite cheap and really really quick to make. 

Ingredients
5 MarsBars
1 and a half oz butter
Enough rice crispies for the chocolate/caramel mixture to coat
1 bar milk chocolate

Method
Melt the Mars Bars and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water.
Add enough rice crispies for the chocolate/caramel mixture to coat each one
Press into a buttered tin and chill.
Melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of hot water
Spread melted chocolate on top of crispy cakes and put back in the fridge to chill until set.
Cut into squares and enjoy :-)

Gardening Club

For a while now I have been thinking that I need to get out more. Although I like my own company and I love to potter in my house and in the garden, people keep telling me that the time has come to re-join the real world. So, with this in mind, on Tuesday evening, I was dragged along to my local village gardening club by one of my neighbours. I love gardening ..... well I love Gardener's World  and I love beautiful gardens but managing to connect the two and get my garden to be anything other than a rectangle of scraggly looking grass and nettles, liberally dotted with weeds has so far eluded me. I seem to start out with fantastic intentions but somehow the reality never seems to be the same as it is in my head!! 

The gardening club is a fantastic bargain. It's £10 per year and included in this is a summer BBQ and a Christmas supper and also, during the year, a couple of trips to visit gardens from the National Gardens Scheme. When we arrived, I was surprised to see the hall packed with about 40 ladies of a certain age, along with a few brave men who, from the look of them, were husbands who had been  press ganged into going by their wives. The scheduled talk was supposed to be garden designs around the world but the speaker had cancelled at short notice. Fortunately, they had managed to get hold of a new speaker to fill in. He arrived slightly late, which to be fair was understandable considering he had stepped in with barely three hours notice and seemed slightly flustered to be faced with a roomful of women. He brought with him 3 huge buckets full of plants that he had picked from the gardens where he worked and he proceeded to gave a fantastic talk on what the plants were, how to grow them, if and when to prune them and he answered as many questions as were thrown at him. Very brave :-)


As the talk ended and I began to chat to the lady next to me about black stemmed bamboo, I watched in fascination as there began a most unseemly and unladylike dash to the front of the hall. Bewildered, I sat and watched, thinking that the ladies were simply keen to chat to the cute young gardener and take advantage of his extensive gardening knowledge. Imagine my surprise as they systematically stripped the tables bare of the plant specimens like a plague of locusts stripping bare a field of wheat. It was hilarious to watch, the prim and proper, Joules clad ladies were jostling and elbowing their way around the tables, vying for the best blooms. By the time I had made it to the front of the hall, the tables were bare and the beautiful hydrangea that I wanted to have a look at and take a quick photograph of, were nowhere to be found, which is why the images above are ones I had to find on the internet :-). 



I can't wait for the next one, apparently there is cheese and wine instead of coffee and biscuits next month, with a plant swap where you can take a plant you have plenty of and swap it for something new and the month after that is the Christmas supper. A very nice lady is going to bring me a cutting of her black stemmed bamboo and some pink fluffy flowers that I was admiring in her garden. I have no idea what they are called but they will look lovely in my cottage garden flower border.  I think that gardening club is going to be quite an interesting experience and I'm glad I decided to become a member and I can't wait to start collecting the beautiful hydrangea plants that I saw to put in my garden.

Hydrangea Images
http://images.whiteflowerfarm.com/m063149a.jpg  
http://www.talltreesgroup.com/Hydrangea%20arborescens%20'Annabelle'.jpg
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Single_hydrangea_flower.jpg

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Rc67mHR_4dY/T_Gbvti1lmI/AAAAAAAAA-k/kTyYJMO9BYs/s1600/Hydrangea-Blossoms.jpg
Bamboo Image
http://grow.ars-informatica.ca/images/black_bamboo.jpg


17 October 2012

Pasta and Cauliflower Bake

This is actually a recipe I tweaked after watching Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals. It’s basically the Cauliflower Macaroni recipe with the addition of Philadelphia cheese, which I add  because it gives the sauce a richer, creamier texture.  I also have to confess that I usually leave out the breadcrumbs because I can never be bothered to get the food processor out, but that’s just me being lazy. I also never use a whole cauliflower head and I don’t bother weighing the pasta, I just use enough florets and pasta to fill my favourite baking dish. I have to be honest, I never measure things when I’m cooking unless I’m making cakes or cookies or bread. Usually I do it by eye and it seems to work. The quantities are from Jamie Oliver, minus the sprigs of rosemary which I don’t like but you could add if you wanted. I don’t know how many it’s supposed to feed but I imagine the Jamie quantities would feed a fair few. I usually cook enough for 2 or 3 so enough for supper and enough for lunch the following day.  It’s also not cooked in the 30 minute way because I love to cook, I find it relaxing to potter in the kitchen with a glass of wine and my favourite DVD in the background  and I feel a bit cheated if I have to rush around like a lunatic when I’m cooking. You could always use broccoli instead of cauliflower or even a mixture of both. 


I know the dish looks a bit messy ...... I got a bit carried away and the cheese went everywhere ..... oooops :-)














Pasta and Cauliflower Bake

8 rashers of bacon or pancetta
500gms Pasta
1 Head of cauliflower
1 tub of Phliadelphia cheese ( I like the garlic and herb one but whatever you like)
250gms Mature Cheddar
1 250g tub of crème fraiche
2 Cloves of garlic crushed
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Parmesan cheese to top.

Method

Divide the cauliflower into smallish florets and put into a saucepan of salted water along with the pasta and cook until almost done and the pasta is slightly al dente still.

In the meantime grill the bacon until crispy and when done chop into pieces.

Drain the pasta and cauliflower, retaining about 1 cupful of the cooking liquid and place the pasta and cauliflower into an ovenproof dish.

Gently cook  the garlic in a pan with a tiny bit of oil and then put the cooking liquid back into the saucepan and add the bacon, Philadelphia cheese,  grated cheddar and crème fraiche to make a cheesey sauce. If at this point the sauce is really thick, add a little milk to make a sauce that is kind of like double cream. It will thicken in the oven when it’s cooking.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and cauliflower and mix the grated parmesan with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top.

Cover with foil and cook in the oven for about 20 mins until the pasta and cauliflower are tender and then take the foil off and brown the top.

Pinktober and a Mammogram


Initially, I didn't know whether or not to publish this post because I didn't know how people would feel about me writing about having a mammogram but as it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought that I would go ahead and publish it anyway because I feel that it's an issue that all women should be aware of and I think that anything that can be done to increase the early detection of breast cancer can only be a good thing. 

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from my local heath authority, inviting me along to the mobile breast screening venue for a mammogram. I was slightly shocked as I'm only 47, however, upon reading the letter, it turns out that they are extending the screening age range and that as I now I fall within that range, I was chosen, at random, to take part. In the past, I have had several suspicious breast lumps that have had to be investigated by the hospital which, thankfully, have turned out to be nothing serious so, when the offer of a mammogram came along, it seemed like a sensible thing to do.  I have to confess to being a bit nervous. Not least because the letter said the local screening location was in my local Argos car park! A bit draughty I thought :-) 


I arrived at the screening unit and was greeted by a very lovely radiographer who took my details and told me to take a seat. I was slightly nervous because a couple of people have told me that it can be quite painful so I didn't know what to expect. However, the lovely ladies who were waiting to go in before me, and who were obviously old hands at mammograms, were very unconcerned about it all and barely batted an eyelid. They were having a good old natter about Monty Don and Gardener's World and giving each other helpful gardening tips, which was oddly quite reassuring. I was then called into the mammogram room and manoeuvred into the machine by the kind but reassuringly efficient radiographer before a series of images were taken both top to bottom and side to side. Basically, it's not painful, it's a bit embarrassing and a bit uncomfortable and the sensation of have your boobs squished between two plates of perspex is slightly odd but it's not painful. I was told that my results would be sent directly to my home within about three weeks and that I shouldn't panic if I was called to the hospital. Apparently, quite a few ladies having a first time mammogram are called to the hospital because a doctor looking at the pictures of a first mammogram has no previous pictures to compare them with to see if there have been any changes. 

So, bearing this in mind when, last week, a letter from the NHS landed on my doormat, I took a couple of deep breaths and opened it. I was relieved to be told that there were no problems detected and that I would be invited back in three years to have the procedure repeated and next time, I will at least know what to expect. 

15 October 2012

Flapjack

I hardly ever cook sweet things, usually I prefer savoury dishes and snacks but at the moment, I'm on a bit of a baking mission and today I had the urge to make something sweet and sticky. It's been years since I baked flapjack and I found a lovely recipe today with a hint of ginger and lemon. I ran out of syrup so I used some of the fabulous maple syrup that my daughter brought back from her USA trek. The maple syrup went brilliantly with the ginger and they tasted absolutely gorgeous. 



Ingredients
175g/6oz butter
175g/6oz golden syrup
175g/6oz muscovado sugar
350g/12oz porridge oats
½ lemon, finely grated zest
pinch ground ginger

Method

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and line a 20cm/8in square baking tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter in a medium pan over a low heat. Dip a brush in the butter and brush the baking tin with a little bit of it. Add the golden syrup and sugar to the butter and heat gently. Once the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the porridge oats, lemon zest and ginger.

Pack the mixture into the baking tin and squash down. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, leave to cool for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a chopping board and cut into squares.


14 October 2012

Bread and the Divine Mr Hollywood ....... Yummy!

In light of the fact that this coming Tuesday is the final of my favourite program on TV at the moment ..... The Great British Bake Off, I have been watching my recent recordings of the series. Sad, I know, but I like to have something on in the background when I'm blogging or sewing, and I was watching the bread episode and it reminded me that I had used up the last of my bread the previous evening and that I needed to drag myself to the shops and get some more. I like being a bit of a lazy person on a Sunday and the prospect of fighting my way around my local supermarket was not something I fancied at all, especially when I had more of the lovely Bake Off series that I could be watching instead. So, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and make some bread! Having performed the obligatory Google search for bread recipes I found a brilliant link to the BBC Food page with a 4 minute video, featuring Paul Hollywood, on how to make the perfect cob loaf. What could be better :-)
Pictures Courtesy of http://beta.anobii.com/author/Paul+Hollywood/234690
Now I have made bread before but usually in a bread maker and even then, I have had mixed results, in fact one loaf of bread turned out as flat as a pancake. The video, however, made it look so easy that I couldn't wait to give it a go. After mixing all the ingredients, I followed Paul's tip on kneading the dough. Apparently the trick is not to use a floured surface because this can affect the structure of the finished loaf, but to use a surface that has had a drizzle of olive oil smeared on it. I was utterly amazed ..... it works. After five minutes therapeutic pounding of the dough, I shaped it and plopped it back into my mixing bowl and left it to prove ...... et voila ........ after an hour of proving, my bread was looking .... well ...... like bread, or at least how it was supposed to look after that amount of time. I was chuffed to bits. 

Proving in the bowl
After gently "knocking back" the dough ball to get rid of the air (see .... I even know all the bread making terminology now), I placed it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and left it to prove for another hour or so. Once it had finished proving for the second time, I criss-crossed the top with cuts after lightly dusting with flour and put it in the oven.
Another Paul Hollywood Top Tip - place a baking pan in the bottom of the over while you pre-heat it and just before you shut the door, pour a cupful of cold water into the pan. This causes steam which helps the loaf develop a lovely crust.

Proving on the baking tray for the second time
30 minutes later and the loaf was done. The whole kitchen was filled with that scrummy fresh bread smell, the dogs were drooling and even the cats were sniffing the air. I've worked it out, it cost me about 35p to make the loaf which is about £1.15 less than the bread I usually buy and there are no chemicals, no preservatives and a lots and lots of satisfaction.

The finished loaf of bread ........ YUMMY!!!!


I would also like to say congratulations to Mary Berry on her recent CBE. 
Picture Courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

I think in her case CBE should stand for Cake Baking Expert :-)

The recipe for the bread is on my recipe page in case you can't be bothered 
click on BBC the link.

13 October 2012

Crochet Hooks and Wool

I know what you're thinking .... wow two posts in one day but I just couldn't resist. Last week I ordered some crocheting hooks from eBay and this morning they arrived. I have been wanting to learn to crochet properly for some time now, ever since I saw some of the amazing things on some of my favourite blogs, so I thought I would take the plunge and order some hooks. They were a bargain too .... £4.75 for all the sizes you're ever likely to need. 


Of course, there is no point having crocheting hooks unless you have some wool too so off I zoomed to Trago Mill, my local cheap-as-chips-find-anything-and-everything store to hunt some down and I bought a whole load of fantastic colours for the total bargain price of £14.99. I'm beyond thrilled. Now all I have to do is find something gorgeous to make and get going ...... watch this space :-)
Ta ...dah ....... here is my very first attempt at a granny square. My fingers ache, I have cramp in my arm and my eyes hurt from squinting and concentrating but I'm very proud of it :-)


Portas Pilot

Picture Courtesy of www.maryportas.com/portaspilots

Earlier this year, the town near where I live was chosen to be one of the first 12 Portas Pilot Towns. More than 370 towns put forward a bid for the chance to take part, with the winning 12 towns being given £100,000 of public funding in order to re-vamp and re-vitalise the town in addition to being part of the TV series to accompany the project. What a fantastic idea and just what the town needs considering there are so many vacant shops in the high street, parking charges have gone through the roof and even on a Saturday the town is almost deserted.

I personally think that anything that can be done to encourage growth and community in small rural towns is to be applauded, however, it seems people are divided over the project and certain aspects have angered existing businesses. Part of the initiative, to encourage long-term business commitment, will allow prospective traders to utilise empty business premises rent free for a year. This has not gone down well with the traders who do pay rent and the consensus seems to be that the new businesses will take advantage of the rent-free period and then as soon as they begin to be charged, will up-sticks and leave and the town will be back to square one again. Hopefully this won't be the case and the town will begin to flourish once again. 

I have to confess to being totally in the dark about the Portas Pilot Project. If it hadn't been for the lovely lady in Zero to Vintage I would have been totally oblivious. I sort of remember seeing a few dog-eared posters in some of the shop windows but they were rather vague and I honestly had no idea that the project was even happening, much less that the town was involved. I also discovered that a new pannier market is going to be taking place twice a month and that there is a community garden in the town! Who knew? I didn't. You could be forgiven for thinking that I walk around town with my eyes closed, and maybe that's true to a certain extent because usually I nip into town, do what I need to do and then go, but quite honestly how am I supposed to know what is going on if no one tells me? :-)

The brilliant veg box advertising the community garden that I spotted the other day.
I only live about 8 miles out of town and I had no idea that any of these things were taking place. I'm all for helping re-generate the town but all the good will, hard work  and brilliant initiatives in the world aren't going to help if no one knows about them! How are people supposed to get involved if people don't communicate? If no one gets the information out into surrounding villages and homes? Time to get talking to each other again I think :-)

12 October 2012

Butternut Squash Soup and Winter Veg

Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. I love the smell of wood smoke as people begin to light their fires in the evening and the crackle of leaves underfoot as I yomp in the field with my dogs and I particularly love the seasonal foods that go along with the changing season. I'm not really a salad person or even a cold food person really, I much prefer warming soups and stews and casseroles. Good, hearty cold weather food. I love cabbage and broccoli and beetroot and cauliflower and sprouts and basically all things green and leafy (except lettuce!). Whenever I can, I prefer to buy locally grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables and try not to buy vegetables from the supermarket (although there are times when I find that a quick trip to my local Morrisons is all I can cope with) and my favourite place to get my veg is at a local farm shop. They have a fantastic range of seasonal fruit and veg and they look so luscious. The seasonal squash in the photograph below looked so perfect that I actually thought they were plastic and I picked one up to check! 


One of my favourite winter soups is butternut squash. It has a lovely sweet, buttery taste and once blitzed, it has a beautifully velvety texture. 

Butternut Squash Soup 


Halve your butternut squash. You will need about 2lbs of flesh but you can halve all then ingredients if you want to make smaller quantities. Scoop out the seeds and place in an overproof dish along with some unpeeled garlic cloves, a drizzle of oil or a knob of butter, a sprinkle of salt and some rosemary sprigs if it takes your fancy or maybe a few chilli flakes.



I usually put some foil over the tray to stop it burning too quickly and then I roast it in a pre-heated oven at 180oC (fan 160oC/355oF/gas 4) for about 45-50 minutes until the squash is nice and tender. Take the foil off for the last 10-15 mins so the squash gets golden. While the squash is cooking, peel and chop an onion and soften it in some butter. Once the squash is cooked and cooled, peel the skin off, which is now much easier to do than doing it before it's cooked and cut into chunks. Put the chunks into a saucepan with the onions and also squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the pan. Add one and a half pints of chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Blitz your soup, add a blob of creme fraiche or sour cream and top with either some chopped chives or some crispy bacon bits if the mood takes you. Serve with crusty bread, preferably in front of a roaring log fire while watching Gardener's World on TV ........ Yummy :-)



9 October 2012

The Wanderer Returns and NaNoWriMo 2012

Well it's been a while since I last posted anything as things here have been a bit hectic. On Friday, my youngest daughter Katie came back from her two and a half month trek across America. My middle daughter Megan, who is at University in Weston-Super-Mare, came down to Cornwall to animal sit (Thank You Meggy Xx) and after spending Thursday night in Bristol and driving in the pouring rain from Heathrow to Cornwall on Friday, we all gathered for the weekend to eat, drink, be merry and look at photos from the USof A .... all 6000 of them.

Image Courtesy of http://www.trekamericalive.com/Treks

Well the time is fast approaching for NaNoWriMo 2012. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It's for all of us out there who secretly know that there is a novel inside of us just waiting to be written and could be just the push needed to finally get that novel started. The aim of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel (approximately 175 pages) between midnight on the 1st of November and 11:59:59pm on the 30th November 2012. There are a few basic ground rules


  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
It works out at about 1667 words per day which I know sounds a bit daunting but while I was at University two years ago, doing my Masters, writing 2000 words a day was easily achievable, even while working practically full time to fund my studies and don't forget, you are allowed to to plan and plot beforehand. I have already signed up for this years challenge and I was signed up for last years event too but my laptop died halfway through and by the time my new one had arrived there was nothing I could do to catch up (although I did try writing the old fashioned way ..... long-hand in a note book ..... but I realised, after writing non-stop for almost a week, that a permanent RSI might be the result if I wrote the whole thing by hand).
I am determined to finish this year and will be charting my progress with a word counter on my blog so you can see how it's going and I will be continuing to blog as well so I think that November going to be a rather busy month.