Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Christmas Stocking Felt Cutlery Holders Tutorial

I had all kinds of plans for what I was going to make ready for Christmas but this year I really did run out of time.  However, there was one item I was determined to make.  I'd seen knitted Christmas stockings on Pinterest with cutlery inside them set out on Christmas lunch tables but since I can't knit I needed another way...  First buy some red and white felt.  Then draw yourself a sock shaped pattern with the long straight edge on a folded piece of paper.  Cut out.
These are the sizes I cut mine to but you go with the size you need.
Then pin the pattern to the red felt and cut out as many sets as you need.  You can see below I decided against the central cut away of the boot base in the pattern above and just went with a straight cut boot base.
I measured this depth of white felt to form the top of the stocking and cut it to the width of the top of the stocking.
Fold the white felt in half and pin in place on either side of the top of the boot so you have a sort of sandwich with the red felt in between the white felt.  Then sew in place.  I just sewed from the front using a blanket stitch.  (Because the white felt is folded over, the sewing on the front catches the felt on the reverse.)

Decide which is inside and outside and fold, pin, sew all around the stocking (except the top opening) and turn the right way out.
Add some ribbon or butchers twine (which I've used here) or whatever you prefer round the top of the red part of the boot and if needed sew a couple of stitches to hold in place.
Here's one where I've added a white felt snowflake and forgotten the twine.  Doh.
Here's how the final version should look!  Fill with cutlery and place beside each setting for your Christmas lunch. 

Germany and a Weihnachstmarkt

I had a weekend at home between Hungary and Germany so we gathered up the boys and headed for a wintery walk followed by a pub lunch.  (The lunch was unique in being the only occasion when, on requesting a menu, we were told "Lamb or Beef".  We won't rush back.)  Anyway, how spooky does this look?!  There was a blue sky but it was partly shrouded by a very atmospheric and sinister fog. 
This was the focus of our walk.  Officially it's the Tyndale Monument  but is known locally as Nibley Nob. We climbed to the top for a great view of...more mist.
I had a hideously early 3.30am wake up on the following Sunday morning for an early flight to get to a meeting in Germany for 11am.  Lots of coffee got us through to the early evening when our colleagues took us to the local Weihnachsmarkt.  And the tiredness fell away and we soaked up the pure magic (and gluhwein) of a true German Christmas market.  I'd been to the one held annually in Birmingham in the UK but this was different.
We wandered round the various stalls sampling warming drinks (which we needed quite a lot of because it was a very, very cold night).  The stalls were selling thick hats, fluffy socks, candle lit decorations, all standard things and I tried to work out why this was different.  Maybe the hats?
There were the same type of festive things we get in our markets.
Even the same type of stalls.
I sat with my gloved hands cupped round a hot chocolate and pondered. In the UK we have Christmas markets designed firmly for Christmas, selling gifts and trinkets.  So far so good but we become a captive audience for selling other things not associated with either winter or Christmas ie wooden ties, chilli oils and swanee whistles.  But the German markets are winter markets.  They are where you meet up and share a drink with friends and stock up on winter requirements which will  get you through a harsh, snowy months and which will genuinely warm you both externally ie hats, slippers and gloves and internally ie spiced wines and the most fantastic real chocolate.  I loved it.  By the way a great recipe for hot chocolate is to heat a mug of milk and whisk in 3 teaspoons of nutella.  It's not as good as the hot choc I had in the pic below but it's lip smacking good.
Finally, flying home again with slightly heavier suitcases than we had arrived with.
And here's a flying home doodle.  This is a style of representational doodley drawing I may try and develop.

Kitchen Capers

We had been planning our new kitchen for over a year and decided November would be the month to get it fitted.  We were doing most of the work ourselves and only needed a plumber to fit the double ceramic sink and an experienced worktop fitter to cut the solid oak tops we had bought.  We spent many miserable hours getting lost in Ikea and:
  • queuing to collect what items they had in stock
  • queuing to arrange delivery for those they didn't
  • explaining that if Ikea choose to warehouse their goods in Peterborough that's their choice and therefore we are not paying additional delivery costs (we won)
  • paid, in fairness, a reasonable sum of money
  • arranged to work from home so we could take delivery
  • re-arranged our working from home days when the delivery got changed
  • piled the 70 plus boxes into the shed thoughtfully emptied for us by the October robbers
  • booked a long weekend to get started
  • bickered like children as we both tried to organise the other (I let Himself think he'd won.  Psychology in action)
  • remembered that between us we had 3 European business trips in Nov.  
Below shows what we lived with for a few days while Himself went to Germany.

Then we had a weekend of this...
 and this...
Here's what I left when I went to Budapest one week and Germany the week after.
And this is (more or less) what I came home to.  The new (stupidly heavy) sink is in and hasn't fallen through the floor, the worktops are shaped around it and behind, going deep into the window and the new corner cupboards with an integrated microwave are installed.  Ikea messed up on the two drawer fronts you can see missing and promised we'd have them 5th Dec, then 22nd Dec, now 21st Jan.  Ho hum.
On the other side - the worktop is fitted beautifully and fairy lights are strung round the range.
The wooden kitchen table had it's legs sanded and painted in a sheeny cream colour ready for Christmas.  We have more work to do to replace the corner cupboards in the top right of the picture below before we can finish off with the under cupboard trim stuff (don't know what you call it), downlights and then the tiles can go on. So we've nearly finished this massive job which started 18 months ago with Himself tripling the size of the chimney so it could take the 110 cm range cooker I wanted to bring with me when I moved in a year ago.  Phew.  Then it's only fitting new external doors, laying flag stones in the front and back porches, replastering the living room, bedrooms and staircase, fitting a new bathroom, moving a couple of internal doors, fitting velux windows in the roof and replacing some windows to go.


Work took me to Budapest for four days at the end of November.  Unfortunately our work and meeting schedule didn't allow much down time to explore the city so we were limited to a couple of hours during daylight on day one and two hours on our final evening.  Below is a photo of a bar opposite our restaurant where we ate on our first night since we were keen to experience local life.  People lovely and friendly, food less so.  (Although the hotel had the best fresh muesli I've tasted.)
I'd been warned I wouldn't be able to pronounce the street names.  True.
There were some very elegant if tired looking buildings. 
We made it to the river.  This is probably where you see Budapest at its best but the weather wasn't kind to us and the whole of our visit was conducted under grey, clammy skies.
I love a tram, me!  
And here are some heroic sculptures...
Our big adventure was taking the underground to visit a market on the other side of the city.  It took us 10 mins to work out how to buy a ticket and the escalators are the steepest, fastest and deepest I've experienced.  The photo below was taken when we were half way down.  

We visited a market with colourful displays of paprika, garlic and vegetables...
...and salami.  (I panic bought a salami and now have no idea what to do with it.)
We tried the local tipple.  Don't try this at home.  Really.
Almost before we knew it, we were back at the airport.  I don't feel qualified to say much about the city because I'm pretty sure it would be different if you were there on holiday in summer with time to wander around and enjoy it.  So mostly I think I should just share the photos.  
On the flight home I did a little doodle.  So Hungary did leave an impression on me, if only a vague one.

Lightening Strikes

September and October were to be our nice socialising months before we got stuck into fitting the new kitchen and preparing for Christmas.  We went to a couple of supper clubs organised as part of the Great Bath Feast (greatbathfeast.co.uk) and had a couple of trips to the theatre.  One show was in Glasgow so we combined that with a visit to the family and a very nice time we had.
Having landed at Edinburgh airport we decided to try out the recently installed tram system.  Nice.  Slow, but nice. 
The SSE was the venue for the show we'd booked for in Glasgow.  The locals call this the "bunnet" because it looks like one, a bonnet that is.  If you ever get a chance to see a BBC Scotland TV show called "Still Game", see it.  It's about pensioner pals Jack and Victor living out their twilight years on a Glasgow high rise council estate.  It's OAP's behaving badly (and often laugh-out-loud rudely) but written and played with a rare wit, warmth and wisdom.  As soon as I heard there was to be a live show, I booked.

Then two things tripped us up.  One night, a few out-buildings and sheds in our village were targetted by thieves and we were one of those who had a break in and several items were stolen. Two weeks later there was a terrific thunder and lightening storm in our area.  While we were admiring the storm (they don't usually last the 3 hours this one did) our house took a hit.  The electricity blew but we presumed all would be well in the morning and went to bed early thinking the worst that might happen was that we'd lose some freezer foods in the power cut.  (I wish I'd taken the photo below but it appeared in the local paper, the Bath Chronicle.)

Next morning we woke to find anything with an electrical circuit had been fried so there was no broadband or phone connection.  The boiler was affected so there was no hot water.  Two TV's, two games consoles, a PC monitor and the dishwasher had broken.  We traipsed round the house flicking switches to see what the storm had left us with that worked.  Thankfully the cooker and kettle were still operational and nothing looks too bleak if you can wrap your hands around a comforting cuppa.  Many of our neighbours were in the same predicament but the small group who gathered round our garden gate to offer help (mostly to those without working kettles) knew enough plumbers and electricians to begin the repair work.

October wasn't our best month. Neither of us had ever claimed on household insurance and suddenly we had two claims within two weeks.  Bah.

We cheered ourselves up by taking to boys to Wookey Hole, aka The Wookey's Hole, the Hole of the Wookey etc etc make up your own rude names.  It's a series of caves and you can visit as part of a guided tour.
Spookily lit lakes.  Rubbish photos.
This is one of our favourite wacky days out in deepest Somerset with lots of odd added attractions - so giant dinosaurs are found next to a clown museum which is beside a 1950's seaside style penny arcade. The boys go for the crazy golf and ice cream and I go for the cave aged cheese which is rather good and stored in nice photogenic shelves in the caves.
We took home a 1.8kg truckle of finest cave aged cheddar.  I think the excuse was we needed it for Christmas.

Friday, 31 October 2014

How to not burn macarons

Generally I've been quite satisfied with the results of my macaron experiments. A few weeks ago I worked my way through the splendid "Mad About Macarons" book and I turned into a feeder both at home and in the office, pressing macarons on anyone within the same postcode as me. My book said bake at 160 fan for 8-12 minutes. But this gave me a problem with browning which spoiled the aesthetics (though not taste) of the smooth shell surface. Having got most of the rest of the techniques right, I really wanted to crack this one. And I was keen to stop making the ugly monster macarons of earlier blogs.
I had already switched to powdered food colourings, having read that liquids and some gels are not heat resistant and decided to conduct scientific experiments with temperatures and timings. I started by checking my oven temperature by sticking my sugar thermometer on shelves at the top, middle, bottom and sides of the oven starting at 140 degrees (fan). It was giving a reliable temperature throughout so the next test was to prepare a batch of macaron batter and be willing to sacrifice it in experimentation. I drew up a list of temperatures, each with a range of times beside it and piped 5 macaron blobs onto my baking sheet, 4 in each corner and 1 in the middle to make sure I was checking all extremes of my oven. Starting at 140 for 18 minutes, I baked and crossed my fingers and got not one but two nice surprises. You are advised to rest the batter for 30 mins to allow the top of the shells to dry out before placing in the oven. This is important in forming the little ruffled foot at the base of the shell. Because I was testing for browning I didn't bother with this step and popped the piped shells straight into the oven and look what came out....Lovely little ruffles and no browning in sight. Great!
I decided not to rest any of them and had no issues with feet not foarming, they all came out beautifully. This will be a real time saver in future!
The shells did have a slight hollowness which isn't a problem I've had before so I did a second batch at 140 and gave this one 20 mins. Perfect. Naturally I then wanted to check the key colours pink, yellow, orange and green. This lead to a bit of a macaron fest...
See the goldy shines one below? It's some food glitter powder which I applied using my finger.
One of the useful things about making plain white shells is that they are neutral in flavour terms so you can fill them with any coloured filling and not worry about having a mismatch of shell colour and flavour. Below is salted caramel. These were simply gorgeous and I had to freeze them immediately or risk eating the whole lot. I love that about macarons, you can freeze them and defrost as needed. Make sure you defrost them inside a bag or a sealed box. If the air gets to them as they defrost the shells go mushy. Keep them covered and they come out crisp and just as good as when you put them in the freezer.