Monday, 28 November 2011

a little Making Monday

Can you tell what is yet?

This is something I've been meaning to get back to for a while. Can you guess? Well, actually it's a base/stand for a loo-roll doll:

As you can see from this In Progress picture her legs are too long, so I've made the base with a hole in it to sort out the disparity in height. So far so good, but I started this project two years ago for my friend's daughter! The dress itself was a doddle (and really really good fun!) to make but the base has been a bit of a nightmare. I tried various things but ended up using layers of cardboard stuck together, which was okay, but putting papier-mâché on it to smoothe out the surface has not come naturally!

So anyway, today I finally went into a paper-and-glue frenzy and got it done. It's still drying but with any luck I'll be able to paint it tomorrow (pink naturally) and be finally done! Yay! Fortunately my friend's daughter still thinks such things are cool...

It's so great to able to write about something I'm making, however pathetic it is!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

More Reasons To Be Cheerful

Reasons To Be Cheerful are all I ever post at the moment - though that's not a bad thing of course!

I'm doing a lot of bloggy catching-up this morning, which is lovely. I seem to have missed a lot though! It's been a hectic week - my Beloved had a stinking cold and was off work for a couple of days, then he passed it on to me (so generous!) and the kids have had a busy week. But despite the snifflings and snufflings, I have Reasons!

Reason 1 - Miss Mouse had her very first dance exams this week. Due to a mix-up in the paperwork she actually did four when she was supposed to do three - she ended up doing Disco as well as Tap, Majorettes and Cheerleading - but did very well! Shh, I'm not telling her yet, so it's a surprise when she goes to her class this week, but she's passed them all. Actually I get the impression that with the little ones you'd probably have to have two left feet and hit the examiner over the head with a baton to fail, but nevertheless I'm very proud of her. Not least because it's so very far outwith my experience! Anyway, here she is as she was about to go in to the cheerleading exam:
A blur of pompoms

2) The Boy's tooth fell out! It hung in there until Tuesday lunchtime though, persistent thing that it was. It got to the rather gross state of being able to spin back to front and he was getting thoroughly fed-up with it but persistence on his part paid off. And very fortunately their school photos weren't taken until Wednesday morning. No picture of the momentous dental occasion as at the moment I only have one very blurry gap-toothed picture taken under electric light - it's so murky when they head off to school and much the same when they come home that photography in decent light is impossible during the week. And they're off at their Grandma's so I can't take one now - shame as it's a bright morning. We've had a wet week and three days of strong winds so the sunshine today is wonderful. The cats are outside making up for lost time! They were most offended by the weather and there was a bit of regression to climbing the curtains.

3) Tomato - there is an actual tomato on the Boy's tomato plant:

I think I may have mentioned it a few weeks ago, when it was still green, but look at it now! I never did get round to repotting the plant, but it doesn't seem to mind too much.

Secret knitting is progressing nicely, Christmas shopping is progressing (but I wouldn't say nicely), and I'm going to 'feed' the Christmas cake. I might even do some mordanting this morning..

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Reason 1. Wheeeeeeee - it's my trashy-telly-time-of-the-year! It's I'm A Celebrity..Get Me Out Of Here time! There's no defending it - I just love it. I love the the way Dec says 'may cost considerably more', I love z-list celebs I haven't heard of eating bugs, I love the inventive ridiculousness of the trials and celebrity chests. Add Stuart Hall wetting himself laughing and it'd be It's A Knockout all over again. I love to wonder whether I could do better than the celebs at the trials - in the case of Sinitta's one yesterday, almost certainly!

Reason 2. That incredible feeling of freedom you get when you get called for jury service but they don't need you after all! I thought I'd be spending much of this week at the High Court in Glasgow, but instead I've been doing things like Christmas shopping and going out for lunch with a friend.

Reason 3. The Boy has the wibbliest wobbliest wobbly front tooth ever. It should fall out tonight or tomorrow. The school photos are being done at the start of the week - will my boy have the most engaging gappy-toothed smile for his school photo? Will he? Will he?

Has anybody else got the same problem as me with blogging in November and December? Which is that I'm making things which I desperately want to witter on about, but they're Christmas presents so I can't blog about them in case the recipients reads my blog. Oh the frustration! I'll have to have a ta-daa binge on Boxing Day!

And just to finish, a picture which makes me smile and which I should have had for my last Reasons To Be Cheerful post:

Tap-shoes and scabby knee!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful

They're very small and domestic reasons to be cheerful this week!

1. My Peerie Flooers hat is progressing nicely. I've done virtually no knitting for the last week or so for one reason or another, so it's nice to get back to it.

2. Miss Mouse is enjoying her dance classes and it makes both laugh and smile to see her practising in the middle of the living-room. I never thought I'd have a child who does tap, majorettes and cheerleading! I was going to take a picture of her brand-new tap shoes to illustrate my point (she's so excited about them, she took them to school to show her teacher!) but it's too dark now.

3. Weird low winter light makes me smile. I took this picture yesterday when there was no direct sunlight in the garden but indirect sunlight (bouncing off the house) was lighting up what's left of the nasturtiums.

Looking at other blogs today and seeing various beautiful poppy pictures for Armistice Day, it occurred to me that I was sure I'd planted poppy seeds this year, but none came up. Odd. I'd thought they were supposed to be fairly straight-forward to grow. Maybe next year!

Align Left
Poppies at Kittochside, June 2011.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Christmas Cake

So this is how I spent my morning. A bit of frenzied weighing, chopping and mixing, then several hours of inhaling delicious cake-baking smells. Mmmmm..

Anyway, here's what I did!

This is not my own recipe, it's a Sue Lawrence Christmas cake recipe with a few tweaks for personal taste.

The tweaks being that I don't like cinnamon, ground cloves, mixed peel or brandy so I've made some substitutions - ground ginger instead of the cinnamon and ground cloves, chopped dried figs (and actually a few chopped dates this year as well) instead of the mixed peel, and whisky instead of brandy. I always use whisky instead of brandy in Christmas cakes and it always works well! And this is what I like so much about Christmas cakes, they with stand quite a bit of tweaking - I've tried quite a few recipes over the years, substituting when they call for such horrors as mixed peel, glace cherries, cinnamon and nutmeg. They've all been fine, but I like the Sue Lawrence recipe as a base the best so it's the one I've stuck with for the last few years.

I tried one recipe one year which called for a couple of tablespoons of treacle which was a bit of a 'mare because a) treacle is such a pain to work with and got everywhere and b) I don't use treacle for anything else so I had the tin sitting oozing in the cupboard until the end of time (or until I got fed up with it).


250g self-raising flour
1 ½ tsp mixed spice
three-quarters of a teaspoon of ground ginger
50g ground almonds
400g currants
250g sultanas
400g raisins
50g dried figs, chopped
50g dried apricots, chopped
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
50g whole (unblanched) almonds, roughly chopped
250g unsalted butter, softened
200g dark muscovado sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
5 large free-range eggs
100ml whisky (any cheap stuff). Plus will need some for 'feeding'.

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/330F/Gas 2, and prepare tin (grease and line with baking parchment).
[Actually I don't preheat the oven until just before stage 3 because it takes me forever to do all the weighing out and chopping]

2. Sift the flour spices and ground almonds into a bowl. Then add the currants, sultanas, raisins, figs, dried apricots and nuts. Stir thoroughly.

3. In a separate bowl cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one, adding a teaspoon of the flour mixture with each egg.

4. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with the lemon juice and whisky.

5. Spoon into the prepared tin. Level the top and bake for two hours. Very loosely cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and continue to bake for another hour, making three hours in total - but test for readiness after two and three quarter hours' cooking. The cake is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the sides have started to shrink from the edges of the tin.

6. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Once completely cold, wrap in foil and store in an airtight container 'til Christmas. removing every two weeks to 'feed': unwrap, prick the top with a long skewer and spoon over 1-2 tbsp of whisky. Reseal as before.

The original recipe calls for 350g each of raisins, currants and sultanas but I vary the amounts of each from year to year (providing it adds up to 1050g) - I prefer a dark cake so tend to use fewer sultanas and make up the weights with raisins and currants. Last year the proportions were 450g raisins, 350g currants, 250g sultanas, but this year I fancied a higher proportion of currants.


I have some dried fruit left so I'm considering making mincemeat next. I've never made it before - I usually buy a jar of mincemeat with good intentions, then not get round to making mince pies. Maybe I will this time!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bring it on

I have a snow shovel and weather-proof boots. I am ready*!

I carry a spade in the boot of the car in the winter but really a snow shovel is much better. My search for unwaxed lemons took me to the supermarket today and they were selling snow-shovels, so there I was at the checkout with a snow-shovel, a bag of unwaxed lemons, some onions and a jar of coffee. Somehow it would have felt less silly if I'd had a huge trolley of shopping with the shovel perched on top.

I found myself humming the Harry Potter film music as I shopped - eventually it occurred to me that it was because I felt like I was lugging a broom around!

I had plans to make my Christmas cake today but by the time I got back from the shop it was really too late to start - it takes hours to cook and I'm not the kind of person who can leave the oven on while going to get the kids from school. I'd worry the house was burning down the whole time. Ridiculous really - I mean nothing ever goes wrong with the oven when I'm in the house, why would it in the 15 minutes I'm out? But there you go - it's my superpower, excessive worrying. Hard to save the world with it, admittedly, but then superpowers aren't always practical are they?

I might go and cut a few of what's left of the flowers in the garden - the kitchen window-sill is looking a bit drab today:
We had a few days of cold bright weather and I cleaned the kitchen window on Sunday because the low sunlight was really highlighting how spattered it was with, I dunno, washing up liquid maybe? Now normal service has been resumed and we're back to dreich, I feel I needn't have bothered! But a few of the last sweetpeas might perk the window-sill up a bit. Look at the Boy's tomato plant though! It was grown from seed at school then brought home and left to me to deal with (ha ha..). I was just wondering if he'd notice if I chucked it out, though I always feel tremendously guilty throwing plants out, when a little tomato appeared on it!


What d'you reckon? Better?

*Actually I am not quite ready 'til I've got the kids new boots. Then I am ready.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The demon drink

Or to be more accurate, our first attempt at home-brewing. I love that picture above, it looks so peculiar. But it's just the bottles sitting inside the brewing tub.

So there we are. Doesn't look much but tastes quite nice! We used a home-brewing kit and had fun doing it.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Walk in the Park

After two days stuck inside with the unwell child, today the sun came out and Miss M had perked up enough for a trip to the country park.

I am actually Too Tired To Blog - good night!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful: the search for optimism

It's Reasons To Be Cheerful time again and I'm discovering that for me the end of the week is not the optimum time for optimism! I've had a peely-wally Miss Mouse off school yesterday and today so a lot of my time and energy has been taken with that. But there are always reasons, so here we go:

1) Things we'd forgotten. My brother recently got a slide scanner and has been working through a box of colour slides (remember them?) that our parents re-found among their stuff. They'd thought the slides were long lost so were delighted, but as their slide projector was long lost they'd no way of seeing what there was. So most evenings my brother scans a few slides and bungs them in Dropbox for us to look at. Here's a classic:

These are old pictures that haven't seen the light of day for decades (that's me in that picture). Some of the slides have quite a bit of damage to them - see the purple spots on that one? But just to see them at all is fantastic!

2) A bit of silly telly. New season of The Big Bang Theory - yay!

3) A smidge of sunshine and a coffee outside is better than nothing. I like being outside but sometimes there's not much opportunity. I've borrowed this idea this from The Philosophy of Lists, another Making Winterer, who has decided to try to have a cuppa outside every day. I know I won't manage it every day - the climate and my garden are against me - but every half-decent day I'll make the effort. Today I sneaked out into the garden while Miss M was watching Numberjacks and bloody blissful it was too (stir crazy? me?). I did the same thing yesterday and it was somewhat less blissful. Cat2 discovered she could climb up the old bit of trellis (remnant of a piece of fence) in the corner and get up onto the garage roof.

Getting down of course was less easy. It all got a bit farcical - Miss Mouse was feverish and asleep so I was tiptoeing around trying to extend a ladder quietly* while hissing at the cat. I got a ladder up but she was having much too much fun scampering about the roof to come anywhere near me. Eventually she made her own way down but I don't know how. Teleportation most likely. This cat has ladder phobia - the noise of ladders that is. Every time there are window-cleaners are in the street she runs round the house growling out of all the windows. Maybe this has cured her! What's funny about the growling is that our other cat, her brother, has picked up the habit from her and now thinks that ladders are a legitimate threat!

So, yeah, peaceful cup of coffee in the fresh air!

*Not possible.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Making Winter : toast

The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

It would have to be the twitter of Twitter for me, and I don't have a fender or a fireside unfortunately, but I do like a bit of toast.

This post is mostly because I was reading The Wind in the Willows to my son last night and got to the bit above in the chapter about the annoying Mr Toad's escape from prison. I can't stand Toad, the book would be so much better without him. Ratty and Mole pottering about in boats and bumping into demigods - what could be nicer? I do like that description of toast though, and it occurred to me as I read it how appropriate it is for Making Winter, finding pleasure in the small things in winter. Toast is all very well in summer but in winter it's an indulgence. All the better if it's made with nice bread, rather than the cheap brown bread I got in a hurry yesterday, but even cheap-bread-toast is nice on a cold day. My Beloved occasionally makes bread with our breadmaker (mostly used for pizza dough) and has recently branched out into making the most delicious oat-rich rolls. Honestly they'd make you drool...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Making Winter : baking

Aaah, it's all so idyllic - pottering round with the ingredients, happily sifting flour*, enjoying the warm smell of baking drifting through the house. So cosy, so familiar..

.. so disastrous.

I do like baking but sometimes it Just Goes Wrong, and that's what happened today. The recipe was for banana bread, which I'm not that keen on really, but I had some bananas going mushy and I thought the kids might like it. I'm not sure what happened - it was looking fine on the top, and the skewer came out clean but when I took it out of the tin the middle was mushy and the bottom third was glued to the tin. I bunged it back in the oven for a bit longer on the off-chance, but it didn't really work out. I'm not too worried - at least it wasn't my Christmas cake! I'm planning on doing that next week and I would cry if that went wrong! I'm not sure I can be bothered trying the banana bread again, though I think that was what my brother baked a lot of last year and his was fine. Maybe I should get his recipe.

Still, the house is full of baking smells, could be worse!

* Apparently some people hate sifting flour and icing sugar and begrudge the time it takes - it's my favourite bit of the whole process! I sift even when I don't have to just because I like it!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Making Monday and Making Winter - neeps and knives

This is a combined Making Monday and Making Winter post. Making Monday is, I suppose, slightly on hiatus because our glorious leader, Natalie of the Yarn Yard who started it, is away on holiday, snowed-in in Boston last I heard, but it's a good blogging habit now. Making Winter is silverpebble's and thriftyhousehold's idea for this winter, in an attempt to embrace the winter. I don't really have a problem with the winter, which is probably just as well, and Hallowe'en is the first episode of winter fun for me. Anything involving fire is pretty much a good thing in the winter - neepie lanterns at Hallowe'en, bonfires and fireworks on Guy Fawkes night, candles at Christmas, and then the most incandescent of the lot, Up Helly Aa, enjoyed vicariously by webcam!

Yesterday afternoon was spent doing one of my favourite things - making neepie lanterns. I pushed the boat out that this year (at 50p a neep I think I can manage it just this once) and made two. One was for putting in the living-room window and one to take out with us when we went out guising.

A neep is much harder work than a pumpkin and I always have skinned knuckles or blisters or both to show for it, but it's really worth the effort. Hallowe'en isn't Hallowe'en without the smell of singed neep!

This is my preferred method - slice the top off and cross-hatch the flesh with a sharp knife. This makes it easier to start gouging it out.

After that it's a bit of a free-for-all - knife, spoon, swear-words, all have their place. These two didn't actually take all that long to do.

This year I managed to convince the Boy to come out guising with us - it's not usually his cup of tea but I pointed out that he only gets few years to do this as a kid so he should enjoy it while he can. And actually he got quite into the spirit of it once we'd cobbled together a hobbit costume for him (brown Jedi robe that My Beloved had made for him from a bit of scrap brown material ages ago, One Ring on a bit of leather, wooden sword). We were going out with my friend and her kids and we all dressed up. I was a pirate, nicking the waistcoat and velvet jacket my husband wore at our wedding and the Jacobite shirt he wears with his kilt. Miss Mouse was a fairy, my friend was a rather slinky red devil and my husband dug out his re-enactment kit and was a mediaeval knight. Last year it was a beautiful night - clear, not too cold, dry and not windy but this year unfortunately it was bucketing down, so Frodo and the fairy had to wear raincoats on top of their costumes. We had a great time though! Much silliness..

The one on the left, with the handle, is the one that came out with us, though unfortunately it was so rainy I couldn't keep the candle alight, even with the neep's 'lid' on. I like his cheery expression - I don't like to make them too scarey!