Sunday, 31 October 2010

Neepie lantern

Traditionally in Scotland neeps (Swede/rutabaga) are used instead of pumpkins though nowadays most people use pumpkins because they are so so sooooo much easier to carve and are easily available. I tried a pumpkin one year but stick to neeps usually because to me the smell of slightly singed neep is a big part of Hallowe'en, and I want my kids to have that kind of sensory memory. So I don't care about the bruised knuckles - or not much. At least I didn't skin my knuckles this year!

I'm particularly pleased with the wire handle - it was just a bit of wire left over from a piece of fencing we took down in the summer (and I'd saved because, you never know, it might come in handy..). Miss Mouse and I went out guising with some of the other kids (and mums) in the area and I carried my lantern the whole way round with no bother at all. When we came home Miss Mouse had so many sweeties that she looked as if she'd been visited by St.Haribo of the Rotten Teeth :-D.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

magazine treats - it's this or booze

The other day I took the kids to the dentist for their check-ups. The Boy is absolutely fine about this, Miss Mouse less predictable. She has a history of refusing point-blank to open her mouth and for all the poor dentist knew she might have only had two green fangs. Last time we went I bribed her (with a plastic tiara) and the dentist was able to check and count her teeth (20 and white, yay!). This time however she went shy again and was scared of the chair and the big scarey shining-in-mouth light. It took five minutes of coaxing and cajoling before we got her calmed down - in the end I sat in the big chair with her on my lap and she was fine then, though I was tense and stressed by this time and in need of a whisky!

We took a wander round to the papershop afterwards and I got the kids a 'comic' each as a sort of reward (hey, she didn't bite the dentist like my friend's daughter did..), i.e some piece of tv/film tie-in rubbish with a crappy plastic toy attached to it. Naturally the kids adore these but it's a rare treat. I felt thoroughly justified in rewarding myself with something too (in place of whisky!) and to my surprise found the Debbie Bliss magazine.

To put this in perspective I've never seen this anywhere outside of Borders or maybe in the John Lewis knitting/sewing/whatever department. To find it in a wee RS McColl's in East Kilbride was a surprise, though actually the magazine selection in there is really impressive for a smallish shop. I'd never read it before so it was a new experience for me. The patterns were interesting, some unusual stuff in the Scottish Eccentrics 'story' though honestly Argyle patterns and intarsia Scottie Dogs go a bit beyond eccentricity and should be considered a crime against aesthetics. The interview with Anna Wilkinson was fascinating. I don't know if I'd buy the magazine often but I was taken by the Fair Isle stuff as I'm in a Fair Isle mood at the moment.

Miss Mouse looked at the cover earlier and said 'She's very pretty' pointing at the cover. It made me laugh actually when I looked at the cover properly because it reminded me of a sketch in a comedy programme (possibly Smack the Pony?) years ago - 'people who look Irish..' in which a girl with tumbling auburn curls ponced around in the scenery doing the kind of things that models do in fashion shoots with an Irish theme or in adverts for the Irish tourist board. The same can clearly be done with Scotland - 'get someone ginger but not too freckly'..

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

a bit of colour for the kitchen

My kitchen window-sill has been looking a bit drab so I treated myself to a bunch of flowers to cheer it up, however briefly.

This'll teach me to blog when tired - this post was supposed to be on my picture-a-day blog, but actually I like having these colours on this one so it can stay. It's kind of appropriate anyway as I'm going to participate in silverpebble's splash of colour. I like the winter but there are definitely times in the greyest depths of winter when I crave some colour. And despite living in a house that looks like an explosion in a toy-shop, there's a difference between beautiful uplifting colour and dismembered-doll-in-a-pink-tutu colour (sssh, don't tell Miss Mouse but I chucked that doll out).

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Some colour

One of my new Year's resolutions this year was to learn to crochet - enough to make granny squares. Well I'm getting there with that, but it's slow going. One day I'd like to make a blanket but today is not that day! However I saw this in a charity shop (labelled 'knitted baby blanket') and realised Miss Mouse would love it, so for £3.50 it was mine. So she gets (more) pink in her bedroom and I get something to aspire to!

Another half-resolution was to do more with the garden this year. I've certainly achieved more in the way of flowers, but also ta-da..!

Carrots.. little 'uns grown in a pot. What I'd forgotten until I pulled them up was that I'd planted the rather groovy not-just-boring-orange carrot seeds but er, white too. Next year I plan to grow the purple ones as well. What I'd also forgotten is how fantastic carrots taste straight from the garden!

Friday, 22 October 2010


It took me half an hour of muttered swearing to make a banner for this blog. In order to calm down and pretend that it's not bucketing down outside I'm going to stare at this picture.

I took it last week when we were up at Mum and Dad's. Calming isn't it?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Boiling cabbage

It doesn't sound like the most entertaining thing to do does it? And the smell was, I must admit, fairly unpleasant and very reminiscent of school. To be fair to my school I don't actually remember boiled cabbage ever being on the menu, but perhaps primary schools in the '70s automatically smelled of boiled cabbage regardless of the efforts of the kitchen staff. However, never mind that - what was I doing boiling cabbage so enthusiastically? Dyeing of course!

Bear with me if you're remotely interested in dyeing as this is a bit epic!

I have Natural Dyeing by Jackie Crook out from the library at the moment - I love this book, so pretty to look at and shows some of the different shades achieved using various mordants and afterdips. Also it mentions some plants and bits of plants I'd not seen mentioned elsewhere.

So I decided that red cabbage was going to be a cheap option for my next dyeing session. And aside from the stench, fairly easy too.

After the cabbage has been boiled into revoltingness the water is encouragingly pink. I did two skeins, one big and one small, in it initially and they came out fairly pink. On reading that acid makes the colour redder/pinker I sprinkled some white vinegar on the small skein, and simmered the larger skein in a vinegar/water solution.

It looked gloriously pink but unfortunately the larger skein lost almost all its colour on rinsing. The book mentioned rinsing in water of similar acidity or alkilinity as the afterdip to hang on to the dye, but perhaps I didn't put enough vinegar in the rinsing water. The smaller skein hung on to its colour much better, looked nicely rose-pink on the washing-line and turned out a pretty pale pink when dry.

The book had suggested that with an alum mordant (which I'd used) you might get a greeny-blue colour but mine were very definitely pink! Perhaps I'm not using enough alum in the mordanting - measuring the quantity of alum is pretty hit and miss. It doesn't bother me, I'm enjoying the unpredictability of the whole process and I'm learning from it. I imagine it'll become slightly more predictable as I get the hang of it all.

I had a third skein, this time of 4-ply blue-faced leicester (bottom skein in the pic above), so I dyed that in the cabbage water and as the book also mentioned trying a soda crystals afterdip I thought I'd give that a go. And this was amazing, truly magical for someone who never really got to grips with chemistry! When the pink yarn went into the soda crystal solution it turned green straight away. I left it simmering gently for 5 minutes or so and when it came back it was the most gorgeous green.

This time I was careful to rinse in a soda crystal solution and although the colour lost some intensity when dry it is very definitely green, my first green! Unfortunately it doesn't photograph all that well so you might have to take my word for it.

At some point I should wind these skeins into balls and start knitting with them. In the back of my mind I'm thinking Fair Isle fingerless mitts, lots of peerie patterns I think rather than using a big design, and using as many of the colours as possible! Some of the Fair Isle I saw round me as a kid tended to shriek a bit, so I'll be pleased to be trying very soft subtle colours with these.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


That steriliser has come in handy!

So marigolds again - tagetes that is, not calendula. Last time I tried these I just chucked a few marigolds in with the horsetail dye-bath. This time I decided to use up the remaining marigolds from my garden to see what the effect is like when it's just marigolds. As usual I've mordanted the wool with alum and cream of tartar and as you can see the effect is pretty good! In the picture above the yarn is still wet so the colour's more intense, but even when it dried it's a rich clear yellow.

In this picture the skein on the right is the horsetail/marigold effort from before. It's hard to see in the picture but in reality the difference is quite marked. Today's marigold only skein is a clearer yellow, the horsetail one is a bit murkier.

I'm happy! I have another skein just drying which has been dyed in the remains of the marigold dye-bath. So far it looks a paler yellow - can't wait to tomorrow to see it in daylight! I've also been mordanting more wool this evening so will be dyeing again tomorrow. Yay, successful weekend!

Go to Flora and Purl..

.. for her autumn giveaway - ending tomorrow! Thanks to her I've put a button on a post for the first time.. *embarrassed* Luddite,moi? Looking that way!

Friday, 15 October 2010


I've got to share this cake recipe because it's so easy and so brilliant. I originally found it on the Beeb website's recipe-finder thingy - but I was never able to find it again (why? why?). Fortunately I'd printed it out so now I use a very dog-eared printout for every birthday. It's a Mary Berry recipe and is quick and completely idiot-proof.

Mary Berry's Chocolate Victoria Sandwich Sponge Cake
2tbsp cocoa
3 tbsp boiling water
225g/8oz soft margarine
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 eggs
225g/8oz self-raining flour
2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and base line 2x20cm (8") sandwich tins with greased greaseproof paper.
2. Blend cocoa and boiling water in a mixing bowl and let cool slightly. Measure all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and beat well until thoroughly blended, then pour into the tins and level.
3. Bake for 25 minutes or until well risen. Leave to cool, then turn out onto a rack.

Al's chocolate butter icing
6oz icing sugar, 2oz cocoa powder, 8oz of butter. Mix, mix, mix, drool - no, not into the bowl!

One thing to note is that mixing all the ingredients up in one go (instead of 'cream butter and sugar, add flour, add eggs blah blah blah') is both messy and satisfying, but also (and crucially, if you're me and disorganised) quick. The amount of mixture seems huge at one point but actually is just right.

Al's chocolate butter icing is so-named because I couldn't find the proportions for butter-icing so asked on a forum I'm on and Al replied with hers. It is wonderfully thick and darkly chocolatey, not the beige, only vaguely chocolatesque butter-icing I've had from other recipes which let the cake down. This makes the cake. These amounts make enough to use for the filling as well as the topping.

Decoration - as you please. I used chocolate buttons for the number and allowed the four-year-old free rein with the pink sprinkles!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Fork 'andles

What was I going to say? Can't remember! I write whole blog posts in my head but the moment I get near a 'puter I go blank. Anyway today was fork 'andles day in our house. Much excitement for Miss Mouse.

On a less exciting note, last week I made her a hot-water bottle cover from cheap Lidl 'Fontana' yarn. The hot-water-bottle itself is half-size, perfect for tiddlers, though actually she so rarely feels the cold it's only for the extremes of winter. Miss Mouse takes after her father; I on the other hand am constantly chilly. I had my doubts about the suitability of this yarn as it's quite thick and I thought it might be too well insulated for feet-warming purposes, but actually having test-driven the hot-water-bottle and cover the last few nights (yeah, ice-cold toes and it's only October), I can confirm its eminent suitability.

Excellently modelled don't you think?

Friday, 1 October 2010

Hello October

I seem to have blinked and missed September somewhere along the line. I like this month's picture on the calendar, very cosy. But before leaping into October here's a few highlights of the last week of September.

As it was a holiday weekend last weekend the kids and I had headed off to Loch Fyne with my mother-in-law for a few days. On the way we stopped at Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond, had lunch and let the kids loose in the playpark, which is where I saw this gorgeous orange flower. I haven't the foggiest what it is, but the colour was fantastic. Gorgeous weather that day too.

While at Loch Fyne we made numerous trips don't to the beach and the kids collected shells to decorate the garden (we go to my mother-in-law's partner's weekend place).

I loved the colours of the wood on this boat.

We went to Dunoon one day - this is the view from Castle Hill, looking down the Firth of Clyde. The weather was mixed to say the least but we had a good day.

We had lunch at the Yachtsman which has a fantastic view of the water - it absolutely chucked it down while we were there, but brightened up a bit later. It's a nice cafe, slightly shabby but comfortable, for lack of a better word. I felt very relaxed there. I'm a bit of a scruff. (For anybody old enough and from Shetland it reminded me somehow of Solotti's).

We had a mooch around the shops of Dunoon and in the Knitting and Sewing Centre (small wool-shop) I got this gorgeous yarn. That's to add a bit of colour to this post which you'll notice has got gloomier and gloomier thanks to the weather!