Monthly Archives

April 2013

Crochet Elma Finished

All wrapped up

14/04/2013

Crochet is my self taught skill; I don’t know whether any of my relatives can wield a hook but I took a class, read a book, stood on my head in the herculean effort required to sort out English vs American crochet terms, and figured it out (sort of).  I’m nowhere near as fluid or fluent as I am with knitting but that’s just a matter of practice. 

But to spend my precious crafty/writing time practicing crochet, there needs to be an incentive, a ‘drop everything and make me now’ kind of an incentive, and until very recently, that’s been somewhat lacking.

I know knitting went through a bit of a dark ages in the 80’s and early 90’s, that time of yarn nightmare, when the marauding hoardes of sparkly snowflake skeins laid siege to the last bastion of Rowan, but I can’t claim to have really noticed or suffered unduly at the hands of the all pervading acrylic, as at the time my knitting extended to teddy scarves, snowflake gloves and a memorable jumper that was far more about process than product; I knit the front and then lost interest, Mum knit the sleeves and the back, we sewed it up together and no photographic evidence of my wearing it exists. Thankfully. It was the 80’s after all, the pattern was batwing Breton stripes with inverted triangles in navy and white.

Happily now if you look on Ravelry, or just on the internets generally, there are hundreds of patterns for gorgeous knitting designs that you both want to knit and wear, without having to wholly embrace the hippie-homespun style unless you really want to.

Crochet, well crochet has been a little slower off the mark.  There are some great designs out there but there is still a bit of a prevalence for the slightly scary frilly matinee set style of designs, often rendered in the squeakiest of neon pastel ‘baby’ yarn.  Lets just say it’s not really my style.

And if that was all that was out there; well I wouldn’t really bother.  Whilst I want traditional skills to survive, I’m not going to make something if I don’t love either the process or the product.  On the not unreasonable assumption that I’m not the only one who feels like that, the crochet-sphere is wide open for a wave of beautiful designs so that this rather ingenious craft doesn’t just survive, it thrives.

Happily for all us, the crest of that particular wave seems to be racing to the shore.  Not only do we have the newly minted The Crochet Project (brain child of Kat Goldin and Joanne Scrace) whose first edition, entitled ‘Botanicals’ is full of jaw droppingly beautiful designs, including a couple of shawls that call me by name, and a little dress that would be just the thing for Kitty and Elma if we get a summer, but Kat’s first book, Crochet at Play, plopped happily through my letterbox just in time to take on our Easter holidays.

Before I say anything about this book, if you haven’t seen Kat Molesworth’s trailer, then go here, and watch it now.  I promise you won’t regret it.  Kitty has watched it, entranced, far more times than I can either remember or possibly admit too, and was placing orders long before the book arrived,

“Mama, I really need mermaid tail now!”

It has never failed to make me smile.

The book itself is a collection of quirkily wonderful patterns for the things that Kitty loves to wear and I love to dress her in, and if the requested mermaid tail might have to be for her small sister instead, I may be forgiven if I offer bribery and corruption in the form of a twirly skirt or an octopus cushion.

The first chapter has some really great drawings to illustrate the different stitches, and a very helpful guide on translating pattern shorthand.  If I were to sprinkle any salt into what otherwise might rapidly deteriorate into a gushing fan girl review, it would have been handy if the ‘how to’ chapter had included a note on how to decrease, but it’s easy enough to look up elsewhere (Inside Crochet magazine’s ‘how to’ section has some good instructions), and I’d always far rather have book space dedicated to patterns above generic technical information.

It’s been a good while since any crafty book has had so many designs that hit the ‘drop it and make me’ vibe, and you have no idea how hard my fingers were twitching to get started once we got back home on Easter Sunday and I was reunited with my stash.

And there, perched almost at the top of one of the yarn overflow piles, were two smooshy little balls of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK in the sea green that perfectly suits my dark haired, blue eyed littlest daughter.  It was time to try a little Wrap Around, a nice beginner pattern to oil the rusty cogs of my crochet.

The pattern is beautifully written and easy to follow, my chief hitch was entirely of my own making as I clearly still crochet as if I’m diffusing a bomb.  I started with a 4.25mm hook because for some reason my set doesn’t have a 4mm, but when I got to the half way mark and my wrap would scarcely have circumnavigated Elma’s little arm, I measured, frogged, and started again.

At 5.5mm I still wasn’t getting the right row gauge but I called it quits as all the hook changing was started to impact the width of what should be a shallow wrap, and just added a few extra rows in the central section to make up the length (and accordingly dipped into my second ball of yarn).

I finished a week to the day I started, but it’s taken a little while to block, to choose buttons, and to find a quiet enough day with a smidgen of sunshine to take pictures.

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It’s turned out to be a really useful little wrap; Elma’s car seat has a zip up cosy cover on it and this wrap perfectly covers all the bits that aren’t necessarily covered by the cosy, without superheating her arms or tummy, and if she’s happy, Mama’s very happy.

By the cooing noises, and the concerted efforts being exerted to take a chomp on the collar, I deduce that Miss Elma is happy and snuggly warm.

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As to whether I’ll ever be a crocheter in the same way that I’m a knitter, only time will tell, but if books like this keep being published I’m in a fair way to being pushed firmly over the edge.

I’ve just got one question; matching Mama-daughter hedgehog mittens – a step too far?

Baking Family {this moment}

{this moment}

12/04/2013

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Joining in with {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.  It’s Spinach and Almond flan – recipe, and the backstory, to come soon.

To see more, check out the comments to Soulemama

Baking Cooking Family

Nor good red herring

11/04/2013

Most of the time I think my cooking tastes better than it looks.  I’m not the queen of pretty presentation, although I do try from time to time, and my icing skills are on a par with my ability to draw; easily outdone by a five year old.  I’ve always said that your insides can’t see what it looks like, but they do know how it tastes, and for the most part it tastes good.

But I think I’ve baked something that looked a lot more impressive than the taste.  It is supposedly Potato Focaccia Pugliese (of page 62 fame),
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which sounds a lot more exciting than when H, eyeing the accompanying sausages with a lot more enthusiasm, asked:

“you made … potato pizza?”

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t taste bad per se, and the potato topping went very nicely with the sausages (think bangers and mash sandwiches), but it is potato pizza, and it’s just a bit, well, ordinary.

We love a good pizza around these parts (and occasionally the sort that a man in a van brings), but if I want pizza I’d top with spicy tomato sauce and pepperoni, or thinly sliced butternut squash, sage and buffalo mozzarella, or continue my quest to replicate the slices of steaming hot Italian ham pizza H and I bought for lunch from a little side street bakery in Rome on our first holiday together.

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Topped with potato it isn’t really just bread, but it isn’t a meal by itself; an uncomfortable halfway house.  Perhaps that’s what it’s meant to be, and my uncultured English taste buds are rejecting it for not being slathered in melted cheese, but if that’s the case, bring on the cheddar.

So from one that’s not on the repeat list to two recipes for chicken that really really are, both originally courtesy of Pablo’s menu links on French Foodie Baby

Firstly, Roasted Chicken Thighs with Clementines, originally an Ottolenghi recipe from Jerusalem but tweaked by Sassy Radish for those of us that just aren’t that keen on fennel and that aniseedy sort of taste.  We made the version with extra onions and orange juice and oh my! Gently caramelised clementines and tender chicken and a lick your plate kind of a sauce.

We gave H’s brother and his wife Jerusalem and a ‘kit’ of all the things that might be a bit difficult to pick up in the supermarket for Christmas (I can’t take credit for the idea, it came from the very wonderful Sous Chef *), and I’m so pleased to know that at least one recipe will be a hit.  I shouldn’t really have doubted, the only time I’ve been to an Ottolenghi shop in London I could have eaten my way down the display, so mouthwatering were the salads, and that was before you got anywhere near the cake!

And if chicken legs happen to be on special offer in your butcher’s this week, let me introduce you to Buttermilk Brined Chicken.   I made half quantities because there are only two and a half of us eating supper at the moment, and that was plenty for three thighs and drumsticks, and I tweaked the recipe a little to use mild smoked paprika (because that’s what I had) and skipped the olive oil over the top of the chicken before I put it into the oven (because that’s what I didn’t have).

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It’s another recipe that produces melt in the mouth chicken, this time with a slightly smoky salty flavour.  It reminded me most of summer suppers after you’ve spent the whole day on the beach or in the surf and the sea has impregnated your skin so that everything has that slight tang.

We don’t have any summer yet as it is, alas, raining yet again, and we’re a long way from the sea so anything that conjures up those kind of memories has got to be a hit; food for the soul as well as the tummy.

So there you have it, my moral for the day; don’t bother with potato pizza, eat chicken instead.

*On a side note, I can’t rate Sous Chef’s customer service highly enough; part of the kit had split in transit, I phoned to let them know, and they parcelled up and sent out a replacement straight away so that it arrived in time for Christmas.

Family Kitty Motherhood

Everyday days

08/04/2013
Oh the whole, life around here is very much as it ever is; a little crafting, a little baking, a lot of parenting and good times spent with friends.  It’s not the stuff thrillers are made of, although for those of you who’ve been on tenterhooks about the state of my washing machine, it died theatrically at the end of the spin cycle on a load of nappies and its successor is shortly to be delivered by the internet.
But there are things that I want to crystalise, to write about my lovely eldest daughter before they get lost in the jumble of every day; things that seem so funny and treasured now but that might slip away in time.

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I watched her pottering around the lounge the other morning with her pink toy bucket emptied and upturned on her head, and after a fair amount of galloping and knocking on her pink head, I knocked myself, thinking she might be playing some convoluted form of Peepo.  But no,
“Mama! I the Great Stone Dragon! Wrraaa!”
Of course you are.  She’s been watching Mulan recently as part of a reward scheme that also includes copious Disney Princess stickers, (to great effect although at not insubstantial cost to her parents; Mulan is cheaper), and loves it, and truth be told, of all of Disney’s princesses, Mulan has personality and backbone; she could do a lot worse.  While I’ll give full credit for the imaginative play, I think we might need to go back to just stickers for a while, not least because the Great Stone Dragon’s devoted parents now find themselves singing the theme songs. A lot.
H would claim he’s become completely girlified with the arrival of a second daughter, but I think Kitty had him wrapped around her little finger from her very first hour; Elma’s simply claimed the other hand.  But then he isn’t the only one, at the weekend we went down to the park to kick a ball and soak up some sunshine, and there at the mini funfair, devoted Daddy after devoted Daddy lined up with their tiny offspring for a ride on the little train.
Once we’d persuaded Kitty that she didn’t fancy a ride on the ponies (real ones) by simple dint of promising her a pony ride if she could say hello to the ‘horsey’ first (fine with the concept when the pony was some distance away, utterly out of the question once it got within 10 feet of us), she latched onto the ‘Choo choo train’, and as saying yes excused us from the seventh circle of hell, otherwise known as the children’s playpark on a sunny Saturday afternoon, H took her off to buy two tickets.
I’m reliably informed that her opening salvo to the lady in the kiosk was along the lines of;
“I need to go choo choo train!”
H reminded her to ask nicely;
“I really need to go choo choo train!”
Still, we know she enjoyed it; this afternoon when the butcher asked whether we’d had a nice weekend she chirped up “I went on pink choo choo train!”
The arrival of April seems to have come rather suddenly this year. The fact that my studio calendar is still on February may have something to do with that, but I’m very conscious that Elma is growing rapidly before my very eyes, and that my days of pootling around at home are finite and thereby all the more precious.  This afternoon we stopped off in the park for me to nurse a loudly hungry Elma; Kitty curled up in the sunshine on the bench next to me and we sat quietly fascinated as an adventurous squirrel hopped around the path before bounding carefully onto the feet of a lady in a flame red coat a few benches over who was feeding him morsels of her snack.
I asked Kitty what she thought the squirrel might like to eat;
“Mmmm, maybe … pasta shapes.”
and we giggled.
Little ethereal moments of motherhood.
Elma Family Kitty

Easter

06/04/2013

Technically it’s still Easter week right? At least, it is if I manage to finish typing, do some sort of vague approximation of proof reading, and press the all important publish button before the clock ticks over into next week.

Anyway, regardless of day or month it’s still time to jot down a little taste of our Easter celebrations.

We headed north last week, ostensibly to surprise my lovely mother in law for her birthday that day.  My father in law can usually be relied upon to do something which even if it doesn’t exactly give the game away, rather suggests that something is up, but this time he’d excelled himself, and her momentary confusion as to why he’d bought enough bacon, sausages and eggs to feed an army was simply attributed to pre-Easter shopping.  We rocked up as evening turns to night, and snuck Kitty through the front door where her delighted shouts of “Grandma! Grandma house!”, were matched only by Grandma’s expression of joyful shock.

I love it when a plan comes off like that.

And that’s the last I saw of my eldest daughter until we packed up the car to head home.  Well not quite, but when you see Mama every day she’s really very ordinary compared to the fun of Grandma and Grandad, who elevate even the most ordinary of supermarket trips to something really exciting and are easily persuaded into presenting you with chocolate bunnies and even a “maggie-een”.

It helps that I suspect my mother in law has never thrown away any of her three children’s toys.  Every major childhood craze from the 80’s can be found in her loft (it’s a big loft), save for the few that we’ve liberated to our house.  A little bit of careful unpacking and Kitty had the pick of a Tomy electric train set, two dollies with pram, cot and bath, and her Auntie’s Sylvanian families’ house, complete with extensive clans of bunnies and foxes.  She was in seventh heaven.

But nothing compared to Grandma’s grown up doll’s house, meticulously decorated over many years and hopefully only slightly put into disarray by Kit.
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And of course having surprised one relative, we saw no reason to stop.  The last time we went to Yorkshire on a whim we met Great Gran (H’s paternal grandmother) for lunch, sending Kitty running on ahead of us into the garden centre café; Gran spotted Kitty and turned to my mother in law exclaiming, “That wee girl has a real look of our Kitty about her!”, only then recognising, H, Elma and me, crouching behind the seed potatoes.

This time she took one look at Kitty;

“Oh! They’ve done it to me again!”

My poor parents in law, they’re going to be completely unable to go out for lunch without Gran searching for relatives behind the geraniums.

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Awesome all round; Great-Gran and her two (and only) Great-Grandaughters.

And the outtakes!

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And then there was Easter Sunday itself.  We’d originally planned to go home on Good Friday or possibly Easter Saturday morning at the latest, but Kitty was loving the novelty of new scenery after weeks cooped up at home, her grandparents were enjoying her company and coping manfully with the exhausting demands of a toddler who thinks you are her new pet, and H and I rather liked having someone else cook for us (thanks Mum, it was delicious), and the chance to sit down next to each other without a tiny voice demanding, “Daddy! We do circles now!”.  So we stayed. And if the girls weren’t in their Easter dresses for Sunday church, well, it’s not the end of the world. 

I did draw the line at foregoing the traditional Easter egg hunt mind, and we made full use of Grandma and Grandad’s garden,
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Elma supervising from a favourite vantage point

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and their garden ornaments.

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Complete sugar heaven!