Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Read it... and weep :(

Over recent months I have been looking through craft books for inspirations or in the vain thought that maybe I could do it better.  Usually I try to get them from the library so that I can see whether it is worth investing my hard earned pennies in a copy for me or if it is never going to cross my threshold ever again.

However in recent months I have been getting rather peeved, this weekend my sister gave me a book.  It was beautifully done, smelling of that lovely uncut pages, filled with glorious images of vintage close ups of wooden cotton reels and fabric you dream about finding and to cap it all it had a ribbon to use as a book mark… I was in seventh heaven until I made the cardinal error of reading it!

Now I am not an expert but I do have a pretty good knowledge of a number of crafts – knitting, sewing crochet, quilting, papercrafts – but this woman could not be bothered with such things.   The comment about covering a jar of shop bought jam with a remnant of fabric and claiming you have made it... priceless.  I could not believe it, this is a craft book, supposedly sharing with me the secrets of amazing gifts from vintage sources.  However my current favourite was the idea of displaying plates by means of gluing ribbon onto the back of your most cherished bone china and then pinning the ribbon to the wall… the pics looked gorgeous, but then I got to thinking how long would the glue be able to cope with the stresses of gravity?
Were we back in the days of the Araldite man being lifted into the air by a chopper when he was stuck onto a billboard?  He did not fall off, I think due in no small part to the copious amounts of glue that was used!  In the States they stuck cars to billboards, I wonder how long they would last on the US highways today?
So I then posted about this to one of my fave forums, UK Craft Forum, and someone mentioned another issue.  In TV, it is known as reversioning, when you take a pre-existing programme, repackage it and release it under a new name… and yep, this has spread to books too.  Not only do we get the variety with new covers and titles, but we also get the sliced and diced versions… a few projects from one publication, others from another publication and so on.  It is so frustrating when you think you are getting a lovely new book from a tried and trusted author and all you get is a rehash… and I do like hash (note to self… this should be an item for Foodie Friday).
So here is my plea to publishers, don’t do it, we don’t like and we will stop buying it, SO THERE!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Chilli'd Out - Friday food... on a Saturday Morning!

Not sure about you but for me this is the time of the year for comfort food, big steaming bowls of it.  Either something that I can make ahead of time or that will cook slowly and that is also what my mum would describe as "cheap and wholesome" and let's be honest, chilli ticks all those boxes.  But best of all is a meal which tastes even better the next day... I was talking to a friend (OK, it was the lovely Miss Weston of the hat and scarf ensemble) about her fave meal of the year and for her it is Christmas leftovers... bubble and squeak, cold turkey, ham etc.  Well I have to tell you now, next day chilli is simply the best, especially when it is made in one pot... and the tastiest!
So let's get started, you will need the following for 2 - 3 people:

1llb (500g ) minced beef
1 small finely chopped onion
1/2 sliced green pepper 
8 - 10 oz (300g) sliced Closed Cup Mushrooms (cos I like em!)
12oz (350g) can of tomatoes
1 tblspn of tomato puree
1 tspn of sugar
12oz (350g) can of kidney beans
1/2 pt of beef stock (yep, an Oxo cube)
1/2 tspn of chilli powder
1/2 tspn of cumin
Salt and Pepper

I like to make this in a pot which can start on the top of the stove and move to the oven, so get a pot with a lid or a frying pan and a casserole dish ready.

Put the mince into your pot over a medium heat and cook until browned, now add in your onion, peppers and mushrooms stirring regularly for about 5 mins (or until the veggies are soft but not browned.  Drain off the excess fat... no matter how expensive, organic or refined your mince is, there will be quite a lot of fat.

Add the tomatoes and drained kidney beans and stir them in.  Now we are going to be quite miserly, crumble the Oxo cube into the tin that contained your tomatoes, add the cumin and chilli powder, use the boliing water to float your tomato paste off the spoon as you pour it into the tin.  Stir the paste up in the tin and add to the pot on your stove.  Bring it up to the boil and stir thoroughly, then pop it into you stove (this shows you that I am really old!) at Gas Mark 4, 180C or 350F for a good hour... longer is better, I usually give mine a couple of hours, stir it occasionally and if you think it is getting too dry add more water.
It will make your house smell of your childhood and coming home from school with a delicious home cookeded meal waiting for you.  Although most people like to serve it with rice, I love it spooned into a bowl and served with a freshly baked baguette which you can dunk into the chilli.  Now if you can wait, it is even tastier left overnight and reheated... Winter bliss!

And to do you food prep, what better to listen to than , Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chitlins con Carne.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Midweek Mini-Tute - Mini Bunting

I don't know about you but I love little things, and I recently was looking at my scrap bag, alright I admit it, I was looking at just one of my scrap bags that I could see and realised that not even Poppy Treffry could use all of this in a month of Sundays.  
So I sat looking at my sad living room and decided that what my shelves needed was some down and dirty mini-bunting to cheer them up.

You will need:

A bag of scraps, at least 2.5"in length... although 5" will be better
Rotary cutter, pinking wheel, cutting mat and ruler or pinking shears
5/8" Bias binding - 54" long or bunting tape
Iron and ironing board
Tape Measure
We are going to cut triangles which are 2" across the base and 2.5" to the apex... but to make it even easier, take a piece of fabric which is 5" in length and fold it in half so it is now 2.5" long and press it.
Starting on your cutting mat with one end your ruler at zero, place the other end at a diagonal to 1", using the pinking blade cut across and then cut on the opposite diagonal down to the 2" mark, repeat the 2" triangles.  We are making a yard of bunting, with 9" ties, we will be using 18 flags with 5/8" between them, so you need to decide whether you want multicoloured, or tastefully matched... Obviously I have gone with the tasteful version... Ahem *raises eyebrow*
Now here is where we get down and dirty :)  As we have used a pinking wheel we are going to sew on the outside because the pinked edge means it will not fray, sew up the sides (with the reverse sides facing each other) but not the base using just 1/4" seam allowance, you might find it easier to keep the edge of your foot by the edge of your fabric as a guide.
Take your bias binding or tape and fold it in half, and press it firmly.  Now tuck your mini flag in the fold of the bias binding and pin it into place, measure along 5/8" and pin in the next flag (the end of most tape measures is actually 5/8" so you could use that at a guide), continue to do this until you have used up your flags.
Then sew the tape together either using a straight stitch or using a contrasting thread with an embroidery stitch.
And there you have it... mid-week mini-bunting... I think I might even make some for Easter to complement my Easter Tree.

And I am afraid I am cheating a little this week, but I had rather a busy weekend, so this is also my submission for Handmade Monday (hangs head in shame)... but I promise to do better next week... honest!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Zip it, flower! A recycling tutorial

My mother could mend anything and if she could not mend it, then it was saved just in case, which would explain why, when she was knocked off her bike in her 70s and had stitches, she was able to find a sterile stitch cutter in her sideboard so I could take her stitches out.  

Now you will remember that the quality and capacity of her button jars were legend along with her useful bits of twine collection, however I am wishing that I had kept a hold of her zapped out zip collection because that is just what you are going to need to today to create these edgy, flower corsages or hair barrettes.
You will need:
A zip, of between 18 - 24" long depending on how big you want the flower to be
Needle and Thread
Scissors... not your good dressmaking scissors
Glue gun
Brooch backing
Buttons (optional)
Matches or a lighter
Shot glass
Take your zip and cut the bottom of it off, this may be quite difficult if you use a heavy duty zip but I really like to use these as the flower looks really edgy.  Then using your matches, flame the end of your zips to ensure that they will not unravel, a gentle burning will seal them shut.
Take one side of your zip and fold it to make petals as is shown in the picture.  
Now there are two ways to sew this together with a double thread, you can make all five petals together and hold it in place with a couple of pins... but remember you will be sewing through 10 layers, which is possible although you should know that I managed to stab myself with the needle, so be careful. (I wonder if this counts as an industrial injury?)  
However with the next layer, as the petals will be shorter and therefore there will be more layers so catch each pattern individually.  There are a number of ways that you can finish your flower...

With my larger heavy duty zip, I left a couple of inches over at the end and rolled it up like a rose, and oversewed the edges and then sewed it through to the base.
For the lighter zip, I went through my buttons and beads and sewed them into the centre of the flower.

Cut out two circle of felt using the top of the glass and then one circle from the cardboard using the base of the glass which will be smaller.  Sew the larger flower into the centre of one of the felt circles.

Heat up your glue gun and dob your glue on the centre of your big set of petals, then place the smaller set of petals into the middle... then hold it in place of if you are doing several use a clothes peg to hold it together.
Glue one of the felt circles to the base of the flower, then smear a little glue onto the  cardboard and place it on the middle of the felt disc which has the flower attached to it.
Sew the brooch pin onto the remaining felt circle.  Place this disc on top of the other disc attached to the flower, now you could just glue it but we are going to do a superb finish by using a small blanket stitch to sew around the edge... just like the one we learnt back in January.
Now find a garment that is lovely enough to attach your fabulous flower corsage  and then whilst you are thinking about that, off you go an look at the crafting loveliness that is Handmade Monday.

And while I think about it, let's all send get well soon wishes to Little Harriet who usually contributes to Handmade Monday and is in hospital utilising some heavy duty antibiotics to tame her CF... mind you, I think she may have taken her fabulous crochet in with her, so I am expecting great things from her in the weeks to come. :)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday Night Fish Pie - Foodie Friday

My mother and the Catholic Church in concert tried to make me loathe fish but they failed miserably!  As a child, we always had fish on Fridays... usually cod and tolerated because of my mum's marvellous chips fried in home-made dripping.  However, worse than this was the invalid's food... a piece of fish poached/drowned in milk with any semblence of flavour removed.  This pie is the total antithesis of this,  it's tasty and filling, and should feed four hungry adults.

Below is a pic of my local wet fish shop, taken this this morning, all I can say is Mattacks for marvellous fish!
You will need:

1lb (500g) A fish mix (use your local fishmonger if you are lucky enough to have one and he will make up a mix for you), containing some of the following: cod, salmon, hake, monkfish and if you want a smoky flavour a small proportion of smoked haddock
4 oz (120 g) Cooked Prawns
A small onion
6 Closed Cup Mushrooms
1 Hard boiled egg
1/2 pt of Milk  
2oz (50g)Plain Flour
2oz (50g) Butter
Parsley ( l like to use curly as it has a stronger flavour)
A knob of butter or oil to 
4 good size Potatoes 
4 Spring onions

Cook your potatoes, I popped my egg in with the potatoes and whipped it out after 10 mins, remember to dunk it immediately into cold water so you do not get the nasty black ring around the yolk. Then mash them up, adding a slurp of milk and butter.  Chop up a couple of spring onions and add them to the potatoes and set aside.

Melt a knob of  butter in your frying pan and add the finely chopped onion, you do not want the onion to go brown but just to become translucent, then add your sliced mushrooms and cook these through.  Pop these into a dish on the side.

Now put your fish mix (which will be in bite sized chunks) into the pan so that it is just one layer and cover it with milk (don't worry we are not going down the invalid route), cover the pan and let it simmer really gently for 3 - 4 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

Whilst this is happening, make your roux by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan and adding plain flour and a pinch of salt, mix the two together until it resembles ear wax and then cook it on the hob for a minute to make sure the flour is cooked, set it aside.

With a slotted spoon remove the fish mix from the milk... if you spot bones, now is the time to go after them and remove them and put the fish into your bowl with the onions and mushrooms.  Chop up your hard boiled egg and add it to the fish mix.  Mix gently and place into your pint sized, put your cooked prawns on top of the mix or you can use smaller dishes to create individual pies and freeze any extra.

Decant the liquid left in the pan into a jug, and add it slowly to the roux you have just made, to thicken it bring it up to the boil and add the chopped parsley, stir it in gently and then taste it, if you need to adjust the seasoning.
Pour the sauce over your fish mixture.  Then cover it with your mash... now some of you will be artistic and pipe out the potato but I am a demon with the dinner fork and have gone for the rustic look.

If you are going to eat this immediately you will need to put it into a pre-heated oven at 180', 350 F or Gas mark 4 for 12 - 15 mins or, if like me you have made it in the morning to be eaten for supper it will need to cook it for 30 mins at the same temperature.
And here is something to listen to whilst you are cooking your fish pie, the legendary Louis Jordan with "Saturday Night Fish Fry."

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Oh Knickers! - The Knicker Bag Tutorial

Yes, you read it right, this is the knicker bag tutorial and is I think the very first bag I ever made way back in the early 70s when the craze for them hit the Convent.  It was such a great bag for carrying books and files to school, although I never quite managed to get the Peak Freens biscuit tin in there for Domestic Science!

As you can imagine the design is based on an outsize pair of knickers, with the gusset becoming the handle and the waist being sewn across to create the base of the bag... now before you think I have lost the plot I can tell you that no lingerie will be harmed in the making of this bag, so let's get started.
You will need:

A heavy cotton for the outside (32" wide by 28" long)
A lighter lining fabric ((32" wide by 28" long)
Pins, needle, tape measure, cotton and scissors or rotary cutter, ruler and mat
Water soluble Pen
(Greaseproof paper)
Side plate
Iron and ironing board
Sewing machine

Iron your fabric, then fold it in half verically (you need to fold your pattern vertically as if  you do this horizontally you will end up with one side of your fabric headed in the wrong direction!).  Measure up 14" and draw a line across with your pen creating an oblong 16" wide by 14" long.  Make mark 2" in on both sides on your square, then move to the top of the fabric and mark it at 5 1/2"  and mark again at 5" from that spot.  Draw a line 7" down from the top, the place your side plate against the end of your 7" line and against the spot 2" in and draw around the plate to create a quarter circle curve. 
If you do not feel confident doing this directly onto your fabric, then use greaseproof paper to draw your template on.   Now cut out along these lines - DO NOT DISCARD THE CENTRE SECTION - we are going to use that to create your pocket in the bag.  On the bag, cut along the folded edge.
Using your top fabric as the template, place it on your lining fabric and cut around it.

Now sew down the side, across the bottom,  and up the other side using a 5/8" seam allowance.  Press the sides seam open so that they lie flat.  You need to create a right angle (the corner of a square and get the seam to bisect it at 45', which will be slap bang in the middle).  
Measure an inch from the corner on each side and sew across which creates a triangle and cut just above your seam allowance.  
This will create the base of your bag so that it will sit nicely when you  put it on the floor.  Finally sew the handle together at the top and turn the bag the right sides out.

Using the centre section, measure 7" down from the top and cut straight across, you should have a piece of fabric measuring 10" x 7".  
Press a seam all round of 5/8"... now we are going to mitre the corners, this is really easy to do if you follow the pics below.
First fold a triangle across the lowest point of your square.
Now, fold one seam across to bisect the triangle and repeat it with the other seam and look at the lovely sharp point corner you get, pin them both down.  
Now run a seam across the top of the pocket.
Pin the pocket in 3" on both sides and 4" up from the bottom of the fabric.  Sew around the pocket.  Then divide the pocket up (I use my mobile phone so that I have a place for it) and sew another seam up the pocket.  Now sew up the lining just as you did with the outer fabric.
Leaving your lining inside out but turn your outer fabric so that it is the right way.  I now want you to turn the raw edges under 5/8"... you will notice that on the curves this is really difficult, which means we will need to ease the fabric by cutting triangular notches, just short of the fold, makes the fabric much easier to manipulate, doesn't it?
Now match up the seams at the top and at the side and pin the lining to the outside of your bag, using your machine top stitch it 1/4" from the edge, I find it best to use the edge of my foot as a guide.
Finally if you feel that the lining is a little bit loose, catch it with a little stitch on the corners at the base.
Now off to Wendy's Homemade Monday for the first in Year Two's offerings!

And finally this week's tute is dedicated to Marion's ageing crafting hippies in their home down in Wales, let's hope they shake their Zimmers to the infamous Big Panty Woman posted below:
Bet it made you smile :)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sometimes Lemons are the Bestest Fruits - Lemon Curd for Weekend Brekkie or High Tea

Before we start you need to know some things about my family.  My mother was a marvellous plain cook, she could make proper pastry... you need to have seen her making puff or flaky pastry at 10.00pm on Christmas Eve in the days before frozen pastry, or pursing her lips at at a recalcitrant steak and kidney pudding that was refusing to leave its bowl.  However, her  major forte was the jam making BUT this was done on an industrial scale... for weeks, nay months we would collect the jam jars and she would smuggle extra bags of sugar used to convert Summer fruits into Autumn and Winter jewels into the larder.  

We are moving towards the Spring... so what better to make for Breakfast or High Tea on Sunday than some really special Lemon Curd and just enough to fill a couple of jars rather than trying to set up as alternate to the Tiptree Jam makers?
You will need:
2 lemons - unwaxed
2oz / 50g Unsalted butter
4oz / 110g Caster Sugar
2 Eggs and an egg yolk (use the left over egg white for meringues)
Weighing scales
Lemon Juicer
Tea strainer
Wooden spoon
Small saucepan
Fork or whisk
Kilner jars or other jam jars... but have a small Colman's Mustard jar on stand by

Turn on your oven to gas mark 4, 180'C or 350F, wash your jars and pop them into the oven for at least 15 mins to sterilise them unless you enjoy scooping through nasty looking blue mould and spending some time courtesy of your local hospital.

Beat your eggs together, and then strain them through your tea strainer, yes, I know this sounds odd but you want to to get rid of the squirly white bit called the Chalazae (bet you want me on your pub quiz team now) and putting the beaten eggs through a tea strainer is the most efficient way of doing this.  Put the eggs on the side and now start in earnest.

Grate both your lemons and squeeze the juice from them into a jug.

In your pan melt the butter gently, then add in the sugar and stir it in.

Now gently stir in the lemon juice and zest of the lemon, smells  great doesn't it?  Now add the eggs and stir them in... make sure that the heat is really low as you do not want to end up with lemon flavoured scrambled eggs

Over a low heat and using your  wooden spoon  keep stirring it... don't be tempted to wander off, keep stirring and you will feel it start to thicken.  You may also notice that the mixture is getting shiny, this is the oils from the lemon zest releasing themselves into your mix as it warms up. You think it will never thicken but stick with it and do not be tempted to turn it up... it will start to thicken, and what you want it to do is coat the back of spoon and not move... bit like a teenager who will not be moved from a sofa.  

Pour it into your jars and leave it to cool. This is where that little Coleman's Jar comes into its own for leftovers/tester pot.  Do not be tempted to put the lid on when the jar just feels warm because this will just allow condensation to form, which will create another mould related to the blue stuff mentioned above.

When it is cold, seal the jars, label it up with the variety, the date and your name.  Then pop it into the fridge and see if it will last the weekend!  The curd should last a couple of weeks.
You can make a lime curd, using four limes and more sugar (taste it to make sure) but same amount of eggs and butter.  Only warning is that it is not a pretty colour, a bit khaki if I am honest, so consider cheating with a touch of food colouring!

I doubled up the mix as I have a couple of friends, who have asked for a jar which will be doled out tomorrow. 
And just to help you stir your mix, here are Peter, Paul and Mary singing Lemon Tree.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Winter Wonderland

Can you believe it?  I am looking out of the window and it is only trying to snow again, so I wondered if I put up my pictures from my jaunt out in the snow on Sunday if that would make it stop as we have had our share for the Winter?
First you have to actually get out of the house... I loved the way that the snow had filled in the spaces in my gate.  When I was little I really wanted a gate, our house did not have one, then I moved to London and lived in flats so it was not until I turned 40 that I had my very own gate. And the reason why I wanted a gate was a children's TV show called Sarah and Hoppity and she swung on the gate... the first night I spent in my new house I crept out surreptitiously that evening and swung on my very own gate... it was worth the wait, I promise you!
If you walk round the corner, you see the view that makes me smile every day, across the graveyard, you can see the estuary and in the distance the coast of Kent.
As you can see it is not just children who get excited, I spotted these three twentysomethings headed down to the cliffs to try out their brand spanking new sledge... not  for them the tin tea trays of my youth... bet they never had a go cart made from the wheels of a Silver Cross pram teamed with a real tea chest!
This is one of my favourite trees in Leigh, it is a Monkey Puzzle tree, it look beautiful in the Summer but oh my, doesn't it look makestic covered in the snow?
I wish that you could hear how quiet the snow made the world seem here on Sunday, even the church bells at St Clement's which were pealing seem really muffled.
And finally, here is the view down Church Hill, I love the way the snow has caught on the balconies, it looks fantastic a night when the Victorian lamps are lit.  And best of all is the mix of Victorian houses, juxtaposed against the the Essex clapboard houses... when I grow up I think I would like to live down there:)