Category Archives: Hero

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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Chicken Noodle Soup

This is the chicken noodle soup that L asks for when she feels sick, or fed up. It’s easy to make but tasty and soothing! The chicken thighs make it unctuous and add an extra chickeny flavour. you could use breast if you wanted but it would add less flavour.

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped
Butter and a little oil
2 cloves garlic
1 leek (or two), diced
4 boned chicken thighs, without skin
About 1 litre chicken stock (I like those knorr jelly cubes, fresh chicken stock would be even better!)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
Small tin sweetcorn
Salt and black pepper

Your choice of noodles – I use broken up gluten-free spaghetti, but L likes teeny-tiny bows

Method:

Melt the butter with the oil, and gently sautee the chopped onion until soft. Add the diced leeks, and cook gently until the leeks are softened but not brown. Crush or chop the garlic cloves and stir in. Cook for a minute.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add. Turn the heat up a bit to brown the chicken slightly. This is easier if you can be arsed to take the onion and leeks out of the pan so you can get the pan hot without overcooking it – I don’t usually because pale chicken doesn’t bother me. Stir in the parsley,  bay leaves, and the salt and pepper.

Pour in the chicken stock, bring to the boil, and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Cook your choice of ‘noodles’ seperately, as normal, until al dente.

Drain and rinse your sweetcorn and add to the soup. Cook through for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and add a bit more chopped parsley. Put your noodles in a bowl and top up with soup. Eat piping hot with toast. Nom!

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Hero’s blog is live!

Merry Christmas!

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Sticky chicken thighs with lemon and honey

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Eryn’s bagette is finally in, and just in time!

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