Projects, projects

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Phew! Long time no blog (time to develop a blogging schedule!).

After the long drawn out weariness of the winter I am suddenly overwhelmed with different projects and plans. My plan for this year was not to buy ANY YARN unless I need to for presents etc. At my last count I seem to have 2 cardigans (including big grey cabled cardi), 2 summer tops, 2 jumpers, and 2 pairs of socks already on the needles – that’s 8 projects! Then I realised I had to get going on my Dad’s 60th birthday present if I want to finish before his birthday. This required some purchasing of yarn. I’m going to be a bit cagey about what it is, just in case, but I don’t think he reads this so I am probably safe to post a picture of the yarn at least!

Gansey yarn

It’s dark greenish navy – Falmouth Navy – from Frangipani. Tough and hard-wearing stuff. The real colour is more like the shaded corner of the picture (you can just see my sweet pea seedlings hiding behind on the right).

Currently I’m slogging through endless stocking stitch which is tedious, but hopefully I’ll make it through to more interesting stuff soon. Had to buy some lovely new needles too (these ones from Loop) because my cheap ones snagged the yarn on the join every time I tried to slide the stitches past. I got so mad I even binned the old ones!

In the meantime, I’ve been getting into some sewing again. My poor sewing machine has been languishing in the cupboard.  My inspiration is ‘By Gum, By Golly’ by vintage blogger Tasha, which I can’t believe I haven’t come across before because a) it’s awesome and b) I’m sure I’ve come across her knitting on Ravelry. Anyway, I’ve been cheering myself up at work by reading back through the posts, and as I can’t rush out and buy a 40s/50s wardrobe (I seriously wanted to) I’ve got all excited about sewing something instead.

After rummaging through our stash of fabric (mostly stuff from L’s cross stitch days) I discovered I had bugger all of interest, but I did find a knitting bag that had been waiting to be revamped. Pretty grubby and ugly polyester crimplene type stuff. I ended up choosing vintage fabric from my Nanna’s that I used a while ago to make a skirt, and some pale pink linen that was an offcut my friend Claire’s historical re-enactment petticoat (thanks Claire!). This should have been an easy project… but I discovered sewing is not like riding a bike. Some very very wonky seams and multiple rippings-out followed. Eventually though:

Knitting bag (before)Knitting bag (after)

Ugh – terrible photos. But you get the point.

And in action:

Knitting bag inside

Yay!

Soo… now I’m getting cocky. Admiring the birthday dress on By Gum By Golly, I thought “That looks comfy. And pockets! I like pockets… She says it’s easy to make… no real fastenings… wonder if I could find a pattern like that?” I couldn’t find one just the same but I did find lots similar. The tricky part is getting the right size in vintage patterns. The following pattern has now been purchased:

Photo dress pattern

Pretty! This one doesn’t have a button at the top, and just ties at the back. Turns out, in 1960’s sizes I’m a 16! (12 in today’s sizes). I read quite an interesting post about changes in dress sizes on ‘Gertie’s NewBlog for Better Sewing‘. Clearly an issue that invites controversy, but I liked the point someone made that partly why so many smaller-sized vintage patterns are available now could be related to the fact that they didn’t get used so much – the larger sizes were used to death by women over the years and didn’t survive. Problems of extrapolating from available data and surviving examples, similar to trying to work out how the poorer and lower class people lived in earlier periods when most of the related objects were used until they wore out.

Anyway – I thought this pattern looked pretty easy, not that many pieces and no facing. Hmm… having read through the instructions and thinking about cutting bias binding from the dress fabric I’m beginning to have my doubts (bearing in mind even my seams are wonky!). Still.  I am determined. I will take it step-by-step, and not get frustrated ; ) First things first – trace the pieces (so I can use it again). I found information here and here useful. Unfortunately my workspace is not the best!

photo(6) photo(5)

Incidentally – got these cutting mats with really good reduction and Cowling and Wilcox. £11.80!

Can you see L’s yellow baby cardigan blocking?

Next step – choose cheap fabric, and work out how to adjust the waist measurement on my pattern. 36 inch bust ok, but I am definitely not as hourglassed as the pattern suggests!

Flower fabric Cherry seersucker BOat fabric

I like the cherries, but think seersucker a bad move for a beginner. Little boats or flowers?

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Perfect and simple home-made pasta

Pasta

March is a depressing month. Grim weather, cold, grey and right now, pissing down with rain. Winter food consists mostly of meaty things with plenty of fat, slow cooking, and acres of cabbage (what, it doesn’t for you?), probably partly because by now I’ve run out of imagination for after work dinners! But by now I am craving vegetables and fresh tasting things,  without relinquishing the soothing comforting side of things.

So – fresh gluten-free pasta and tomato sauce. Especially good after a person has overdone it on the roast pork front…

I’d only seen (gluteny) pasta made twice before this, and neither experience made me think that this would be as easy as it is. I remember my Mum making it for us when I was small, rolling it out by hand. There are six of us, so the kitchen was festooned with strings of pasta laid out on tea towels. It must have taken her ages to make enough for all of us, no wonder I only remember her doing it once!

The other time was at a school friend’s house with a proper pasta maker, rolling it through again and again until it was thin enough and slicing it thin. Lucy’s family had the house and lifestyle I wanted when I was a kid, big old rambling house full of old things, with an Aga in the kitchen and ducks in the garden. They made proper food like real pasta and mayonnaise, and bought their cheese from the only delicatessen for miles around. Her family used proper tea cups and cloth napkins at the table. I realise now that they did that because they enjoyed it, but at the time it made me feel even shyer than normal as I didn’t think I had the proper manners for the occasion.

Still, a boring job is good for something, and that’s to give you the urge to investigate ways to achieve what you crave. I had been reading Smitten Kitchen at a slow moment, and a comment mentioned making their own noodles for chicken soup – obviously I needed a way to do this gluten-free! (It was raining then too…).  A bit of googling around brought up Gluten-free Girl‘s recipe for pasta. I’ve amended it a fair bit to fit the paucity of gluten-free ingredients in British supermarkets, but it still makes ace pasta, and is much quicker than you would think – definitely doable on a weekday if you are up for some rolling out.

The sauce is a basic tomato sauce, but I recently read (on Rachel Eats) that Italians always make their tomato sauce smooth, whereas I’ve always left it chunky like my Dad’s. Once you think about it though, the smooth texture of the sauce lubricating and coating the pasta, sounds really really good. I pushed mine through a sieve, because I find when you blend it, it goes kind of orange. Still tasty though, so whichever you find easiest!

This amount will make enough for one with seconds (!) or you could share it.

Gluten-free Pasta and Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce:

Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes
Pinch brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Pasta:

3 ounces Doves Farm Gluten Free flour
1/2 tsp xanthum gum
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch nutmeg
1 medium egg
1 medium egg yolk
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water

Method:

I make the sauce and the pasta at the same time, because the pasta dough needs time to rest and the sauce needs time to cook down. But you could easily do one and then the other if you have the time or don’t want to rush about – I would on a weekend.

Start by putting on the onions to gently cook in the olive oil in a saucepan.

While that is cooking, bung all the dry pasta ingredients in a food processor and give them a whizz. Beat the egg and the yolk together with about half the oil and water, and then drizzle into the food processor to combine – it should stay in big crumbs but look sticky enough to come together. Add a spot more oil, and a spot more water if it still needs it. It shouldn’t be too squidgy and wet.

Stir your onions!

Turn out the pasta dough onto a board sprinkled with flour, and give it a bit of a knead – push it out with the heel of your hand and pull it back in. It should come together and feel smooth. Wrap it in a bit of cling film and put it to one side. It needs to rest at least 30 minutes.

Back to the sauce. It’s just basic tomato sauce, so make this your preferred way if you have one. The onions should be translucent and gently golden. Add the tinned tomatoes, and season. Add herbs (oregano, marjoram) if you want. Bring to the boil and then turn down low and cover and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. You want it to cook down till it’s good and thick and tasty. If it gets too thick, add a spot of water.

Once it’s ready you need to sieve it. Careful, it’s hot! Put a sieve over a big bowl and pour in a little of the sauce at a tim. Push through with a wooden spoon, mixing it around to get as much sauce as possible. Then put it back into the pan and to one side.

Pasta time. Sprinkle a little flour on the board and give it a bit of a knead again. Rolling out is the important bit – it will plump up when you cook it, so you need it ridiculously thin, and then thinner. Keep rolling it one way and another, but try and keep it oblong. Then use a sharp knife and to slice into tagliatelle-ish pieces – be slow, it’s easy to snag.

Almost time to eat! Put on a big pan of water to boil and add plenty of salt. Put the sauce on to gently re-heat, and check the seasoning. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add your pasta and give it a gentle swirl. It only needs 2-3 minutes to cook – best way to find out if it’s done is to test a bit – you want it with bit of a bite but not floury tasting.

Drain your pasta, and try and arrange it on a plate as beautifully as I have (ahem). Eat, and glory in the knowledge that the world of pasta is now your oyster. Ravioli, anyone?

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Summer Holiday (British style)

We’ve been away for a week in Brighton for a Great British summer holiday. As we’re neither of us sun-seekers, and we just wanted a week to relax, it seemed easier to stay in the country rather than head off somewhere we didn’t know. Also – we want to live in Brighton! Good practice.

Perhaps not the best week to choose (not that we had a choice). After watching torrents of rain fall on the Jubilee weekend (poor street-partyers!) we were hopeful it would improve for us. Well, some of the time it did at least. It never got hot, but at least we got some walking on the beach in the sun time! We stayed in a flat near Brunswick Square, so it was very handy for catching unexpected sunshine after tea.

But (adorably) well wrapped-up. Winds got to gale force by the end of our week. It made trying to walk into town for some food … interesting. By the time we got there, something light had turned into a joint craving for steak and chips.

Most of our focus was knitting, and eating. And knitting while eating. Here’s a look at a view of the places we visited:

Nia is usually our first stop, because they are comfortable and spacious and do good coffee, excellent cake and usually tasty meals too. I say usually because on one of our trips for lunch we had a bit of an unpleasant encounter with a kedgeree that included capers, pomegranate seeds and a sort of cheesy garlicky sauce on a poached egg… This was good if messy – literally – the Nia mess. It looked bizarre, like 3 purple nipples in individual pools of yellow lemon curd. Damn good though. Also, one of the waitresses is a knitter.

The Marwood cafe was found by happy accident when we were looking for some good coffee and a snack in town. It calls itself quirky, and dammit, it is. But maybe a little too much so, so it feels a bit ‘vat-grown’. Possibly I am wrong about that. It did bloody good food and coffee, and there seemed to be a steady stream of regulars. I had the green eggs and ham (hold the toast – which they were fine about) – and that, my friends, is PROPER HAM. Yum. You may have noticed that we usually remembered to take photos after we had started to dig in. We also sat and knitted and discussed seats made out of apple macs until a group of numpties turned up to make stupid jokes about knitting… grrr.

Here’s L sampling a flat white. Decaff is declared ‘not cool’ behind the bar, and is subject to a 20p surcharge. Not that we are uncool enough to drink decaff. They did tease L with her raspberry muffin though by positioning it in eye-view but failing to hand it over until prompted. Bit harsh.

We ventured down the road to visit Hove’s best cafe Treacle and Co on a drizzly day. This is a cafe that does quirky classily. Usually they have a good selection of gluten-free cakes, though I had only one choice this time – pistachio and orange-water – bit too sweet for me, but very good. Lauren had a sausage sandwich that was rather excellent, with home-made chutney. We sneered at the bloke who wanted his sausage sandwich with just sausages.

Interested parties will be pleased to know that Debbie’s cardi accompanied me around Brighton, and we paused at every possible moment to have a spot of knitting with the last dregs of the teapot.

Obviously, there are other places I have missed out here (fresh rejuvenating juices, coffee and sandwiches elsewhere, the afore-mentioned steak and chips) but nothing else was blog-worthy except my venture into whelks… We went to have conveyor belt sushi at Moshi Moshi, and I thought I would give them a try. I’m hard enough. Well, not again thanks. Probably cooked with plenty of garlic butter these would be good. These were super chewy, and marinated in something like soy sauce and mirin. Meh. I gave up after a while and spat it out (discreetly!) – probably good thing too, as most soy sauce contains wheat, and my tummy grumped later on.

We did spend a fair amount of time snoozing on the squooshy sofa at the flat, and spent the most of Thursday stuck indoors out of the rain till it finally blew over at 4, so other knitting did occur too!

I finished my monster orange cardi (ravelled here) and bought some extra buttons from Fabric Land on Western  Road as my Liberty ones were too big. Late afternoon sunshine gave us the chance to photo-shoot on the beach – along with some odd pirates.

I’m pretty happy with it though unsure about the short sleeves. I think I have enough left to make them three-quarter length, but L thinks they look good. Soo cosy though, and I was glad to have it by the end of the week.

Anyway – back now, and trying to settle in to the idea of work. Bandit was quite glad to see us back, but now seems to be disappointed that it means Kate won’t be coming round every day. He is also miffed that I took his window-seat:

The snails got some of the garden, and the rain has been at some of the rest, but all in all, looking good, so hopefully be back here soon to tell you about it!

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Honest Burgers and some Fair Isle Knitting

Honest Burgers. Not exactly an unknown entity for most savvy Londoners who use the internet, but I wanted to start this post just to say I love this place, cos they do tasty burgers, but also – they are really, really nice. And it is so reassuring when people are actually good.

We’ve been partaking of these most tasty, and peculiarly English, burgers for a couple of months now after we (finally) made it in to explore Brixton Village Market. What can I say? We’re kind of recluses. Reclusi. Funnily enough, the first time we went for a wander, we did indeed see Jay Rayner standing larger than life, presumably considering which of the many options there were for his lunch.

Anyway! The burgers. Oh my god. Very good. Yes. And gluten-free. Their specials look great but it’s the honest burger that I can’t resist.

Beef burger, pink in the middle (always) with pickles, and cheese – choice of English cheeses – and onion relish, with rosemary fries, crispy and delicious. They have the perfect crunch. And a gluten-free bun from the WAG (Wheat and Gluten-free) bakers down the end of the market. They work pretty well although I am still jealous of the glazed buns the gluten-eaters get! This is what made me fall in love with Honest Burgers – when we waited for an hour for our oppurtunity to sit, we found out they had run out of gluten-free buns. Sheer horror on our faces prompted our waiter to dash down the hall to the bakers to beg a bun – he came back with a loaf, gratis, only to be told they had already restocked! So he gave us the loaf. Now that is class. Stuff all this careful waitering – give me someone who will RUN for my dinner any day.

Then we went to the Ritzy cinema to watch The Avengers, a perfect day perfectly ended. Maybe I should get L to expand on that though! I just enjoyed the film. Ahem. Sorry.

I think I must have worn myself out effusing now, I have nothing left. Sorry, but it really is how I want to talk about them even in person!

After all that getting out the excitement, time for some settling down for a day of knitting. The bottom picture is how I started, and how I usually work. Not pretty. So the top picutre is how I cleared my mind to try and get somewhere!

I’ve had a stash of Shetland yarn culled from charity shops in Aberdeen for some time, and I am determined to knit a fiar isle jumper from them. It’s hard to resist the sheer endless numbers of patterns and colours and combinations of fair isle. The skill and the difficulty of it is making it work in a balanced way, so that the patterns work in harmony with the colour changes, while the patterns don’t overwhelm each other. Knitting is not hard for me, I like the challenge and learning different techniques. But choices! Not my forte. And trying to decide on which patterns to go for and how to use colour is really really hard. L does it almost without thinking, because she has a real talent for it, developed with seriously beautiful cross stitch samplers that she used to do… before I hooked her on knitting.

At the moment, I am whittling down my colour choices, focussing more on the blues and greys as my main colours. But I need a contrast colour too. THis is much harder when you have a limited palette! I wish I could just choose all the Jamieson and Smith colours. I am determined not to add to my stash this year though, unless there are mitigating circumstances… like, I dunno, an awesome sale, orr…

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Tiny Veg Patch Adventures

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Ahem. Actually, I’ve TONS of thinks I’ve been going to blog about, but I’m still trying to find the balance of doing the things I want to do, and writing about them (and, you know, working full time – but that bit’s the boring part).

So I guess you are just dying to know what made me break my two month break, huh?

Whoop whoop! Can you tell what it is yet?!

We’ve generally been moaning about our little back garden, which is half decking, half patio, and the mess that the rest of the garden is in – it belongs to our landlords who are going to expand their garden into it. And I’ve been making plans about how to maximise my veg-growing potential with a North-facing patio and tiny south facing concrete box in the front of our basement flat.

Luckily for us, our landlords have decided it’s too much for them to handle in one year, and asked if we wanted to use some of it this year? HELL YES!

Faster than we could blink (sorta) Tim had some steps put in the slope at the end our patio, and Karen had cleared the ivy. In the pictures above you can see that me and my sister have been busy with large amounts of string and some sticks marking out our plot.

We didn’t really get started till this Saturday past, when L kindly lent her labour and her mother came round to generally encourage and beautify our patch.

We switched things around only slightly – L’s Mum decided that seeing as we were allowed to use the brick rubble from the dividing wall, we should edge all the beds in it, and because our ‘official’ garden is down a steep drop, we extended the path of paving slabs round the front! I’ve been picturing myself weeding and falling off the end…

Bandit was interested, but preferred sunning himself on the cardboard our landlady is using to protect her veg patch! He definitely approves of sunny paving slabs at the top of the slope though.

So far the plan is to grow:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Jerusalem artichokes
  3. Runner beans
  4. French beans
  5. Peas (mange tout and garden)
  6. Cavolo nero
  7. Spinach
  8. Beetroot
  9. Lettuce
  10. Radishes

What?! Optimism is a good thing… so I’m told.

The tatties are new potatoes that were sprouting in my cupboard, so I won’t be surprised if they don’t come up. I’ve planted them on the East side next to the wall, so I’m expecting even less light than usual there. The jerusalem artichokes were originally to go at the bottom of our slope to screen the patio from the landlords patch, but they have just been bumped up to the top instead. My Dad suggested them – he grew them way back when we lived in London [before me?]. They should grow 6 foot, so we’ll have to include some supports if they come up. Another re-purpose in a way, I bought them from a friendly French lady selling them at Brixton farmer’s market.

Beans and peas will go along the sunnier West wall where the curve ends in what ued to be the outhouse (it still has the toilet-roll holder!). Incidently, I am trying to convince L that the outhouse would make an excellent chicken hutch, any internet support gratefully received…

The other greens etc will be stuffed in every space we have and the central patch. We’ve planted one row cavolo nero, beetroot, lettuce and radishes so far. L got to do that to make up for her having to put up with me teaching her how to dig!

I’m still going to try the tomatoes and some beans at the front, along with some flowers (sweet peas, morning glories, nasturtiums).

The rest of the garden has been tidied up, but I need to some proper planning to work out where my seedlings will go and whether I need to find some more containers. I hate that the garden is North-facing, but am trying to see it as a challenge! Also, it will be better in summer than a sun-drenched space, so we don’t over-heat out there. Got to admit for a desire for sunshine well-developed in the hearts of all Scots I think. I will soothe myself with some of those figs you see in the picture on the right there. [Figs! Growing! On a tree! Free for me to help myself all summer! Swoon…]

A reward for all that hard work came from L’s amazing cooking and her Mum’s amazing recipe.

But more on that next time.

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I made a pie!

I am pretty damn chuffed with my pie. And with L for suggesting it. It’s what I’m going to call a chicken pot pie… although maybe I should find out what that means first. It has a chicken, leek and pea filling (leftover, very frugal), and a gluten-free shortcrust pastry top.

Leftover filling came from an attempt at Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for chicken and dumplings – my gluten-free dumplings came out a bit lumpy and chewy. And the gloopiness of the sauce did not impress L (even though I put in 2 tablespoons less flour). I think of floury sauces like that as being particularly American in style, but maybe not actually – I remember my Mum making some tasty chicken casseroles with one of those packet sauces things that were pretty solid. Nom.

Anyway – the pie used up the leftover gloop nicely. I made the pastry in the food processor (much quicker), fished out the leftover dumplings, and reheated the sauce before I put it in my lovely enamel pie dish from Utility. I rolled out the pastry between two layers of cling film, which I hadn’t tried before but seems to help A LOT when trying to get big pieces of g-free pastry moved across.

And … can you see my little pie support? My Nanna let me take it home when she moved North to be near my Mum. It’s little and white and the glaze is crackled. It belonged to my great-grandmother, and I was so chuffed to get it back in action. Don’t know what they are actually called though?

It was supposed to be an Apple Sharlotka, but I don’t think I cooked it long enough, and then trying to flip it onto the rack failed miserably. The bits around the edges were tasty though. ;-P Bandit says :

“This human is mine”. He is sorry that we are both mostly recovered from our various bugs and has no warm bodies to lie on during the day. He made the most of the weekend though, which is more than I can say. The cold has prompted me to cast on two more projects, but more on those next time.

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Lurgy leads to knitting epiphany

Today I am off sick with the terrible lurgy. Well, actually I was off yesterday too. I was going to say the good thing about this is I have found time to finally encourage myself to pick up the blog again, but the truth I have mostly been feeling dreadful and actually declaring to myself that I would rather be healthy EVEN IF that meant I had to go to work. Yup.

Still, by this afternoon, I had drunk enough tea and lazed around enough that I felt able to actually manoeuvre my limbs. I’ve been working on my grey fluffy jumper since Christmas because after a fair amount of Christmas knitting I was desperate to knit something just for me. I had in mind a jumper that would look good but be comfy and cosy without being too thick and heavy – something I could grab and pull on in the house. I picked this one from a rather old Interweave Knits magazine, because L was scrutinising them, and the yarn is from a bunch of stuff I got at the John Lewis yarn sale 1 or maybe even 2 January’s ago…

Of course – as soon as I started I realised I still had to finish off Jon’s scarf (sorry Jon) and Debbie’s vintage cardigan (sorry Debbie). Luckily – I had a crafty plan! (No pun intended). I can take Jon’s scarf to work as ‘work knitting’ and Debbie’s cardigan would be picked up when the jumper was in between stages (blocking and so on). Ahem… yeah….

So – on to my point. I’ve blocked parts, knitted the cowl neck on, FINALLY managed to sew the sleeves together and into the armholes (not fun). So all that needed finishing was sewing in the ends. Boring, endless sewing in.

BUT! And this is the exciting part. I wasn’t happy with the way they looked when I sewed them in to actual knitting (rather than into seams). I never have been all that happy with my sewing in, but this time I did some internet research. And found my life changing news (honestly, it is. really.)

Right side showing sewing in ends

See how on the right there is a clear pucker? And just to left of it… ok, a slightly puckered BUT LESS SO part? Maybe you can’t. Well – it’s there. This is the effect of duplicate stitch sewing in ends.

Wrong Side showing sewing in of ends

I read about it in an old article on Knitty, Techniques with Theresa. It’s not really a good explanation, and I’m not sure my photo makes it any clearer, but it definitely works. My usual way was just to weave in and out the purl bumps on the wrong side. Instead, you need to follow the yarn through the stitches (see right hand side above). You use two rows of purl bumps instead, weaving exactly the same way as the yarn is going through the knitting on that row. Th trick is not to pull it any tighter than the knitting is to minimise how much it shows up on the other side. It’s also much stretchier than just weaving in because it mimics the knitting.

Phew. Well, it may be boring to a non-knitter, but it’s fucking AWESOME if you’re a similarly ignorant knitter like me!

In other news. Hoping to sort out my recipe pages soon so that I can post them directly there and make it more user-friendly, but that will have to wait until I have a brain. Bandit would like Siberia to stop sending us their weather now – he keeps going outside and realising the sun is just an evil lie and it’s actually freezing out there.

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