Saturday, December 31, 2011


We had a great Christmas. We put the tree up a few days before (we leave it up until 6th January), and also had a poinsettia that a friend had given us.

The nativity scene was a little dwarfed by the knitted wedding figures on the mantelpiece. Obviously there were giant knitted wedding figures at the birth of Christ, not to forget the giant knitted robin too.

And I did get the Christmas cake finished on time! I took a day off work the week before, when I got the marzipan put on, then did the icing just before Christmas. Unfortunately I didn't realise until the last minute that we don't own a holly shaped cutter, so this is my attempt at cutting out holly shapes with a knife (much to the amusement of the OH and my Mum). There were also rude comments about my anaemic green holly leaves and "pink" holly berries. Next year we'll go for e numbers rather than the "natural" food colouring...

Someone in the US wanted to know what mince pies are. So this is the batch I made to take into work (I decided to make mince pies for everyone instead of doing Christmas cards).
 This is just normal shortcrust pastry, made with flour and fat, which has sat in the fridge for a few hours, then rolled out. I didn't make my own mincemeat, so this came in a jar from the supermarket. Mince meat (which used to be savoury with actual meat in it) is a mixture of dried fruit, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, suet and booze. This sort uses vegetable suet so it's vegetarian.

 You cut the pastry into rounds of two different sizes, and put the bigger ones into a greased Yorkshire pudding tin, then fill with mincemeat and put the smaller round on the top, after wetting the edges of the bottom with water.

 Then bake in the oven. I usually put a cross in the top as well, to let the steam escape, but I forgot this time.

I got the Christmas presents I was making done in time. This is part of a batch of lemon curd.

And a laptop case for Mum's laptop. I made the pattern up as I went along, the yarn is King Cole Riot Chunky, bought when we were on holiday in York. I was a bit worried about whether it would fit, as her laptop is bigger than mine, but, as you can see, it fitted perfectly!

 I lined the case with cat fabric, purchased at Gillie's Fabrics in York.

And what did I receive? Some really cool presents. These ones are shared with the OH - a gravy boat to match our crockery (amusingly we opened presents after Christmas lunch, when we'd had to use the milk jug for the gravy. If only we'd opened the presents earlier we could have used the gravy boat!). Some chocolate. And a kit to make raisin bread, with the dry ingredients, homemade marmalade, a bread tin and recipe included.

 And, for me, some gardening things, including Alan Titchmarsh's The kitchen gardener which I'd been wanting to read. A magic tool for making little pots for seedlings out of newspaper and some seeds.

 And this is my present from the secret santa at knitting group - a set of Chibi needles and some locking stitch markers. Cool or what?!

The on Boxing Day we went for a walk on Staines Moor, which looked suitably desolate and windswept, despite being so close to both Heathrow and the M25! Bit of a contrast with last year when it was so icy we didn't dare leave the house.

Hope you all had a great Christmas too!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Knitting for babies, children and me

I can post pictures of some of my most recent knitting now. I made this jumper for a friend's baby, born at the end of November. I was really pleased with the pattern - the Seamless Baby Sweater by Sarah Stanfield, which I first saw on someone else's blog. It was a really fun knit, with just the armpits to graft and no other sewing up (always good). In fact, I knitted a large proportion of this whilst camping at Greenbelt in August and it was a great knit for a festival as most of the time you can knit away without looking at the pattern. The yarn is Brown Sheep Wildfoote Luxury Sock yarn, which I got a while ago in a yarn swop with someone in the US. It's nice yarn to knit with, and I love the colour, it's more purply than it appears in the photo.

Oh, and I've been asked to be Godmother to the recipient of the jumper! Cool or what?! I've got two Godchildren already, but they're both boys (the nephews) so it will be nice to have a girl to knit for as well.

The recipient of this hat and bootees hasn't been born yet, he's due on New Year's day, but his Mum (one of my work colleagues) went on maternity leave last week, so I gave her these before she left. It's the hat and bootee pattern I've used several times before, using Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. Several people were heard to say "Gosh, that looks so good you could have bought it in a shop", which surprised me (I thought handmade was better than bought-in-a-shop but there you go). I won't be knitting for them...

And these are my nephew's finished slipper socks. They're for his 7th birthday (how on earth did I get old and wrinkly enough to have a 7 year old nephew?). Pattern is Garter Rib from Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch (I love that book) and the yarn is King Cole Merino Blend DK. It's nice yarn, easily available and sensibly priced, as well as being 100% wool and machine washable.

I squirted glow in the dark fabric paint on the bottom to make them non-slip.

And I'm still knitting my Isabella jumper, which keeps getting relegated behind other projects. This is the first sleeve, I knitted this far, then realised I wouldn't have enough yarn to do all the shaping at the top (I have one ball of it left, which I've divided in half using my digital kitchen scales). So after taking this photo I frogged it and am now knitting the sleeves from the top, reversing the instructions...

I also finally got round to doing some sewing, whilst watching the Downton Abbey blu-ray disc the OH bought me as a surprise. This is one of the tea towel loops I've been meaning to sew on some tea towels for about the last six months. This sort of sewing is OK, as I can do it in front of the TV (where I do most of my crafty stuff). I still haven't turned up my new work trousers (bought 9 months ago) because that involves getting the sewing machine out.

And I've done some more batch cooking whilst I had a day at home waiting for the man-who-clears-the-gutters to appear. This is Spicy Pumpkin and Sweetcorn soup, from the Waitrose weekly newspaper thingy, and which I can't now find online. As I now get a FREE lunch at work every day I've started making soup to have in the evening, as I don't want two cooked meals every day. It has actually made life a lot easier as some evenings before I started the new job I was producing a veggie and a meaty evening meal.

And this is vast quantities of tuna pasta sauce - I don't eat fish, but it's what I usually dish up for the OH on a knitting group night when there isn't much time for cooking!

Christmas knitting update to follow after Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Books read in November

 In no particular order, the slightly eclectic (eccentric?) range of books I got through in November.

The living garden: a place that works with nature by Jane Powers.
This was part of my leaving present from the old job. I read it once over the summer, then read it again! It has a nice, chatty style, with titbits about plants interspersed, with more detail at the end where there are suggestions for planting for different seasons and types of soil. It's a good read, and a great book for dipping into at the end of the day.

Love wins by Rob Bell.
This one's attracted a lot of controversy, but I suspect from people who haven't actually read it. The style is a little annoying - lots of tiny paragraphs with big spaces inbetween in quite a big font, as is the questioning tone, but it doesn't actually say the things it's been accused of (heresy, for instance). It is good for making you stop and think, which is probably what's scared some people away from it? Should be compulsory reading for hellfire-and-damnation-style preachers everywhere, but they'd probably spontaneously combust...

The good parents by Joan London
This was a random choice from the "quick picks" selection by the issue terminal in the library. It follows Maya, an 18 year old Australian, who disappears following the death of her boss' wife. And it also follows her parents search for her, which takes them back through significant parts of their lives. I found it very compelling. One of those books when you actively look forward to the commute as you want to read some more of it. It was also nice to read a book that wasn't set in either Britain or America! There are some incredibly evocative descriptions of the country. I hadn't read anything by Joan London before, but I've now reserved Gilgamesh from the library.

How to be a woman by Caitlin Moran
This seemed to be compulsory commuting reading for a while - everyone (who's female) was reading it on the train! The title also mystified the OH, who pointed out that he thought I'd already know how to be a woman. She didn't say anything I didn't know already, and some of the assumptions were a bit annoying (no, I've never liked wearing heels, unlike apparently most women, surely that's not true? No, I haven't been planning my wedding since I was a toddler) but I liked the way she told things. Some parts are particularly graphic - which did nearly give me the giggles on the train as I wondered how many of the Very Serious Looking other commuters reading the same book were reading the same section...

Give me time by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
As the new job is a lot busier than the old one (where we actually had time to stop and have a tea break at 11 and 4 every day, complete with giant teapot) I thought I'd get something from the library at work about time management. This one is quite easy to dip in and out of, and also up to date (the first one I got out had been published in 2000 and felt the need to explain what email is (!?!?!) and thought the answer to all your problems was a fax machine). There are some very sensible parts of it - working out what aspects of your job (or your life) you can change and what you don't have control over, as well as working out what times of the day you function best, and then planning your time around that. It sounds obvious but I hadn't stopped to think about how the flexi-time in the new job helps me with this. I now work earlyish hours (usually around 8.30 - 4.30) whereas some of my colleagues work 10 - 6, or 8 - 4. It's made me stop bombarding them with questions at 10 when they arrive for work (because they're barely awake) but has also given me ammunition when someone suggests that 4.30 is a great time for a meeting... Apparently delegating is also key, although I suspect this is less easy if you're at home without anyone to delegate to?!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Garden at the beginning of December

I'm beginning to get caught up with myself. The warm weather we've been having meant the garden didn't stop growing when I thought it would, so I've been gardening at weekends when I thought I'd be doing crafty things and preparing for Christmas!

As you can see, this shot from the beginning of the month shows that not much has stopped growing yet. At the point the photo was taken we hadn't even had a frost, although we've had one now, but only for a few hours one night. 

Yes, we're even growing raspberries in December!

And the fuchsias are still producing new buds instead of looking like dried up bits of twig, which is what they would normally be doing by now.

The squirrel's disappointed it's eaten all the walnuts from the tree though, and is frantically trying to remember where it buried some. Wonder how many embryonic walnut trees I'll have to dig up next year? I found several this year...

It does seem a bit bizarre - it doesn't feel like only a week before Christmas. This time last year we'd had loads of snow!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stir up Sunday

OK, so I know you're meant to make the Christmas pudding on Stir up Sunday, but I'm not making Christmas pudding this year, so I made the Christmas cake instead.

I went for the cop out option, a box of ingredients from Waitrose. This really is incredibly funny - you don't even have to measure things, it's all just packaged up separately ready to go in the mixing bowl. Like they used to do it on Blue Peter.

 Although they don't prepare the cake tin for you, had to do that myself!

Otherwise you just empty the lot into a bowl in a particular order and mix it all together. It didn't really feel like proper cooking! A few additional ingredients have to be added - orange & lemon zest, butter and 5 eggs.

 Put it in the cake tin:

 Shove it in the oven for 4 hours and lick the bowl out whilst you're waiting. This was also enough time to cook a roast dinner in t'other oven, watch Casualty and read the paper.

 And ta-da, one Christmas cake ready for marzipanning and icing at a later date.

The bonus of using the box kit was, I think, that it was a bit more economical than buying the ingredients separately. I'd have had things like the flour, sugar and spices in anyway, as I use those fairly regularly, but I'd have had to buy the black treacle, almonds and some of the dried fruit specially, and most of the rest of packets of that would have been wasted. Although it seemed a bit wasteful on the packaging front?

The extra ingredients were OK, as I use butter and eggs in cooking anyway, so had those in. I did have to buy an orange and lemon for the recipe, but I ate the orange, and sliced up the lemon to put in the freezer ready for future gin-and-tonics so it didn't go to waste.

Forgot to add - it's the Delia Christmas cake recipe.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Knitting update

This is the first of the pair of slipper socks for my nephew's birthday. Only took me a week to knit it, which I thought was good going! The pattern is from Sensational Knitted Socks, and it's DK 100% wool on 3mm needles.

And I had to wait to post a picture of these, which I made last month. I have been busily knitting away on various projects, but most of them can't be revealed at the moment!

The pattern is Polka Dot Bootees and Hat by Zoƫ Mellor. It's in the book "Adorable knits for tots". Although I didn't use the polka dots this time, just stripes! The yarn is Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. This is for the baby of someone at knitting group, who is due at Christmas. We gave her presents at knitting group tonight, even though the baby isn't here yet! First time I've participated in a "baby shower".

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Garden at the beginning of November

Hmm, slight problem. I now don't see the house/garden in daylight on week days. This was my attempt at Garden on the first of November using the flash. But you can't see much out there.

[Incidentally, when the clocks went back last weekend - I remember the days when this was Wildly Exciting because if you were having a sleepover you had an extra hour in which to watch videos. Now that I am ancient it means an extra hour of sleep.]

And the garden this weekend. So we're still in the first week of November, anyway. Again, not a lot has changed. We're having unseasonally warm weather - it's still been in the high teens temperature- wise most of the week, and is only going to be dropping to 14-16°C this week. No sign of a frost yet and it's November! The leaves haven't really changed colour that much either, they've just fallen off, so it hasn't been much of an Autumn. There were leaves all over the lawn earlier that day, but the OH cleared them all off before he took the picture!

We have been doing exciting things in the garden though. We got rid of this HUGE buddleia and two yew trees as they were stopping anything growing around them and were a bit too close to the house. The buddleia must have been planted by the previous owners of the house and hadn't been pruned back in goodness knows how long, so, although it flowered, it flowered at about roof height, which isn't great for seeing the flowers or the butterflies!

Amazing what a difference it makes! I've planted three pyracanthas (in red, orange and yellow) there, and the Silver Hedghog Holly we bought on my birthday instead, plus moved the ceanothus over to that side of the garden too as it had got too big for its original place. I've also planted lots of daffodils, tulips and crocuses here too. The idea is for the pyracanthas to grow up the wall, providing lots of berries for the birds to eat through the winter.

 The ceanothus was bigger than me. We bought it on honeymoon and it was a tiny little thing in a pot, which easily fitted in the footwell in the car then. It would fill the entire car now!

That seems to have taken up most of the weekends recently. It's surprising how fast the time goes when you're outside gardening.

This week I also paid a visit one evening to the Women's Library, in the East End, for a talk and tour. It's a really interesting place and well worth a visit or a look at their website. Their current exhibition is "All work and low pay - the story of women and work".

I also paid a quick visit to Carlyle's House, which is now shut for the winter, but I got to see behind the scenes! ;-) It was most fun and I'm planning a trip back there when it re-opens next year. I have actually been meaning to visit it since 2006, when I read "The Carlyles at home" (published by Persephone Books) but have never managed to get myself organised to go.

One of my nephew's slipper socks is now finished, I'll post a picture later this week when I can do a knitting update!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cambridge, and some knitting

It probably seems like we've been zooming around the country a bit. We haven't really, it's more that it's taking me a while to update the blog so it looks like we're travelling around in a short space of time!
Last weekend we went to Cambridge to visit some friends of the OH's. It's somewhere I've visited many many times before, but we went to two places I hadn't been to before.

The first was the Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences. We dropped in here on the way to somewhere else, but had enough time to have a look at some very groovy dinosaurs, including an Ichthysaur found in Lyme Regis, as I read about in that novel earlier in the year! There was also a display about Mary Anning, as featured in the same novel.
This is a model of the skeleton of an Iguanodon.

The icythyosaur on display.

A display case about Mary Anning.

 And a giant deer, which became extinct about 10000 years ago and is presumably a friend of the one we saw at Warwick Museum in June?

After that we ventured on to wander round the University Botanic Gardens. We bumped into Caught Knitting en route to the Botanic Gardens, who looked very surprised to see me wandering around in Cambridge!

I think I liked the glasshouses best, especially the bananas!

 I started up a craft group at work this week, which seems to have gone well - 17 people interested, which meant we didn't fit in the room I'd planned to hold it in! I've also done some knitting that I can actually blog about. I started off a pair of slipper socks for my nephew's birthday in December. I'm using the blue variegated King Cole superwash DK 100% wool I got in York, on 3mm needles, so had to do a tension swatch.

 I'm pleased with the way the fabric worked out - nice and thick and squooshy, which should be good for slipper socks. So I cast on a pair of garter rib socks for him last night. The pattern is from Sensational Knitted Socks, which I've used before and enjoyed as it goes quite quickly and is extremely easy to remember.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

York (part 2)

So, it's a month since we were on holiday in York, so this is just a round up of what we got up to.

We left these two in charge of the house.

We stayed at a cosy little flat, about 15 minutes walk from York Minster. It doesn't have such a dramatic setting as some cathedrals, but is still pretty cool! This shot was taken from the city walls, which we walked all the way round.

Inside was very impressive too.

Although some bits gave me vertigo.

We did a day trip up to Newcastle on the train to see my BIL, who had very thoughtfully researched some wool shops to visit. This is Wooly Minded in the centre of Newcastle, which had a nice range of affordable yarn.
And did some wandering around Newcastle, admiring the views.

Before heading out on the Metro to Segedunum, where Hadrian's Wall starts and there are remains of a Roman fort. Amusingly the Metro signs at Wallsend station are in Latin!

After exploring the fort and indulging in a scone or two, we travelled on to Whitley Bay, where there was another wool shop (Ring a Rosie), which was about to shut as it was 5pm, and some lovely views over the bay.

We spent another day exploring Castle Howard, which had big display about the filming of Brideshead Revisited, and extensive grounds to get lost in.

Back in York, we enjoyed the York Castle Museum, including the Victorian Street, which we had virtually to ourselves.

And next door, Clifford's Tower, which had a LOT of steps to climb.

One day we headed over to the coast to see some friends. This is Flamborough Head, where I did my GCSE geography coursework many many years ago. There were lots of stairs here too. I fell off the bottom one and landed very gracefully on my bottom on the sand, which the OH thought was hilarious.

And there were TWO wool shops in the centre of York, in streets very close together. I visited both Poppy's and Ramshambles (see below) and liked both of them. They have different stock so it's worth a trip to both.

And these are my purchases (I also visited Gillie's fabric shop,, a short walk from the two yarn shops). Mostly for Christmas presents so I can't reveal more at the moment!

Phew, think I'm all caught up with blogging now, which is good as I'm back at work tomorrow.