Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Frosty walk

For the past few weeks when I've finished work and taken Buster out for his walk and wee it's been dark, damp and gloomy. Today, however we have had glorious sun and cold, cold, frostiness. For me this is a good thing. I like that blast of icy chill that reaches deep into your lungs and clears them out - like a lungonic. This is the first winter our puppy has experienced and he's been curious about the crunch of frosted grass and spiky branches but he's quickly learned to avoid icy puddles because he sliiiiiiiides.
We went round the corner and down the lane where you get nice views over the valley and since everyone walks their dogs and horses down there it's always full of interesting smells. I assume so anyway, given how long it takes Buster to nose his way along. We caught the sun creating long shadows....
In the bottom of the valley is a field which lies north facing and too low for this weak winter sun to reach and so it has kept its white glow of frost all day.
The sheeps wool caught in the barbed wire looks like straggly prayer flags.
We headed for home and a mug of hot tea as the sun sank below the distant hills.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Needle Felted Puppy

I wanted to see if I could replicate Buster the Puppy in wool and had a go at a needle felted version of him. This is pretty much the look we are greeted with whether we have been out of his sight for a few minutes for a few hours. He is always pleased to see us - because we might throw his ball for him. Or give him some sausage.

He started from a very basic sketch. I knew the shape I wanted him to be and that I wanted his nose pointing upwards. His legs would just be hinted at ('cos I can't do dog legs) and I'd worry about his ears once the body was done.

With a rough idea of what I wanted, I got started.
I used a length of wool roving and folded it in half to build bulk in the base. Once I had a form that would stand I pinched some shape to create the forehead and left about an inch of wool to form the snout.
Having firmed the shape up with a bit of needle stabbing, I pushed some black headed pins in where I thought the eyes would go so I had a sense of his character. These helped a lot while leaving me flexibility about final eye position. The legs were created by pushing a deep ridge in the centre of the body and on the. outside edge.
It took several attempts to get the ears small enough, I had over estimated the amount of wool needed. I also needed to decide if I was going to allow the colour on the muzzle and body to be contained within a sharp edge or leave it fuzzy. In this experiment I opted for fuzzy.
Fuzzy mutt.
His colour is a real mix of cream, light brown, grey and black. If I were doing this again I'd stick to block colours for ease. Trying to get all the colours in complicates what is a small shape.
The finished version stands about 4 inches high.

Soothing a cold

Colds aren't tragic and usually you just push through but every now and again one comes along which moves in, steals your mojo and leaves you feeling flat. I'm in day 14 of something which started as a head cold, moved south to give me a throat lined with sandpaper, a tight chest and wretching cough and has now gone north again to bung up my sinuses and block my ears. I'm fed up. Over the counter medicines have had no effect and I've fallen back on a recommendation from an Indian friend who told me when he was ill his mum gave him a cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of honey and half a teaspoon turmeric powder. The story is that warm milk acts as a carrier for the honey which soothes your throat and the turmeric has antibacterial properties which reduce inflammation. Indian mamas clearly know something because It's the most comforting thing I've taken so far.
Other home made remedies have included lemon and ginger in hot water and pear, kale and ginger smoothies to counter balance the illness fuelled obsession with toast, my go-to lazy, comfort food. If you find yourself in the same fog of infection, try the turmeric. You're welcome.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Far Breton

I'd never heard of Far Breton before finding it in one of Richard Bertinet's cookbooks.  (Regular visitors will know I'm a fan.)  A far is a type of custard pudding and is a specialty of Brittany.  A sweet batter is poured over rum soaked prunes and raisins and baked.  Very sensibly is also eaten for breakfast and is not limited to just being a pudding.
It's simple and, as I'm finding with many sweet French recipes, benefits from the batter being made in advance and left to rest for a few hours or overnight.
The illustration suggests making individual puddings by baking in a flat based large dish and using a round cutter to create nice portions.  I opted for a big dish of pudding we could all dip into depending on how greedy we were feeling.  This is an ideal, comforting dish for rainy days.  We are having too many of those just now but this is a heart warming treat to chase away the winter gloom.
It's a bit like a clafoutis but a little more dense.  Most of ours disappeared while still warm from the oven and we finished it off cold the next day.  Both ways it was lovely!
I've seen some suggestions online to make this with apples instead of prunes. Maybe the addition of Calvados would be a good idea.  I certainly plan to try it out :)

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Spring is springing

It's been so mild and wet here in the south west of England that the plants don't know what's going on and are popping up to have a look. Daffodils are well advanced.
The honeysuckle round our shed is getting greener by the day.
These rather scruffy looking primroses are providing a burst of unexpected yellow even before any snowdrops have appeared.
And the buds in the trees are...budding.
There are splashes of white and pink blossom in the hedgerows.
Very pretty but very early. I can't remember seeing signs of Spring arriving late December. These pics were actually taken a couple of days ago around the new year and blossoms and buds have been more and more visible. Each time Buster takes me for a walk, we notice more signs of how our unseasonably mild winter is impacting plant life. If I start hearing swallows and martins I'll know we're all going to hell in a hand cart.
I'm never sure if these are catkins or pussy willows.
Big country, small dog. This was a very muddy, overcast, grey walk indeed but after days of rain was one of our rare chances to get outside for a decent leg stretch. Buster found molehills, miscellaneous poo, horse tracks and all kinds of unsavoury gloop which he relished. We had him on the extendable lead so he had freedom to run around. In the village he's on a short lead due to his habit of jumping up to greet people with his muddy paws and chasing cars. The cars are a recent interest. I'm not sure if he's trying to chase them, race them or scare them. We've discussed his behaviour with him. He listened then ran off to play with his ball. I suspect the answer will turn out to be sausage related. Bribery is a wonderful thing.
We're also becoming adept at dog washing. You expect if if the ground is wet or muddy. You don't expect it after a breaking and entering escapade because the lure of dusty coal is too strong.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Project round up, quilts, cushions and bags.

I was planning a review of the previous year and came across unused pictures of completed projects so here is a gleeful collection of things I'm glad I finished! The first is a Union Jack quilt begun in my patchwork classes about 4 years ago. I'd had enough of the very prescriptive accuracy demanded by a standard quilt and wanted to go off piste with a rag style. If it looks easy, chances are, it isn't. This wasn't. Union Jack's are hard and as you can see below. I got it wrong. (Bottom right corner - no idea how it overshot it's implied rectangular shape). This wrongness made me so frustrated, I hid the unfinished quilt top, moved house and made Other Stuff. I rediscovered the unloved squash of fabric in a bundle last summer and tried to save it. I failed to mend that design error (grrrr) but I did learn to love the quilt because it offered me a chance to do some freestyle quilting on a large scale. And gave me the opportunity to get to know my new sewing machine with its massive 11 inch throat.
Here it is wafting in a summer breeze. The fabrics behind are pre-washed ready for the next quilt. For the quilting, I wanted the effect of babbling brooks starting from the centre, feeding into larger rivers, washing over pebbles and eventually becoming the sea surrounding the British Isles.
It worked out just as I wanted and was a real joy to do. The fluid movements and swinging the quilt around took a little getting used to and there are a few sharp angles to begin with but once you find your rhythm it's great fun. I'm going to stop writing about this one now because sitting here looking at the pictures I'm seeing even more errors. Ho hum, it sits over the end of my bed and has been used for curling up with on cold evenings. I've learned a whole lot about "easy" quilts and never giving up and at least I got a cuddle rug from it.
Here's a cushion cover. This was designed to match a quilt made a couple of years ago for my sis-in-law-ish. The colour choices had been hers and it was a good challenge to find ways to lighten the colour mix and stop it looking like a bruise. (Something I nearly managed on several design tryouts). I came to really like the impact of the solid black against the soft, feminine pinks.

And my final quilt (although not final quilty thing) of 2015 was this chevron design quilt in male colours for a male man. Just like I'm never doing rag quilts again, I'm never doing chevrons again! I had to have a mass cutting out of these shapes because every time I did some work on it and walked away, by the time I returned, I'd forgotten how to cut the angles. I kept spending 30-40 mins figuring it all out again. Sheesh! And I was already feeling the pressure because I needed to have it ready to mail to Scotland as a Christmas present.
Of course, in the end, like an opening night at the theatre after a dreadful dress rehearsal, it was all fine. The angles sewed up nicely once the cutting out was done and the top came together quite quickly. Genius alert... what I have learned with quilts is to lay out the pieces and play around with the design until it's just right, then take a pic to refer back to. You're welcome. I think that will turn out to be my only genius gift to the world of quilting and I'm sure has already been claimed by many, many others. I am learning to love the imperfections I manage to add to each quilt I make, happy in the knowledge that when a quilt is wrapped around your shoulders or over your knees, all you're aware of is the cosy warmth from those layers. Delicious.
My final quilty thing was a basket from a pattern bought at last November's stitch and quilt event. I fell in love with the bold colours of these when I saw them on display and since a crafty girl always needs a bag for Stuff, I had a go at the largest bag.

Nice and easy to bring together using darts and some fun quilting. This is it inside out having it's base attached.
And the finished item. I use it to store needle felting wool for current projects. (See previous post about my slinky fox.)
The final, final project pre Christmas was this birthday board. I've seen these all over Pinterest (I'm addicted, send help) and had to have a go at making my own. Let me be quite clear, freezer paper is BRILLIANT! You decide on your text, make it go backwards (invert it?) print it on the shiney side of some freezer paper already cut to fit through your printer and with the ink still wet, use the back of a spoon to transfer the lettering to a piece of wood. I think I may spend 2016 transferring all sorts of words onto bits of wood. Use shrink plastic and a big hole punch to create the discs, write name and date in permanent ink, punch a hole in the top and bottom then shrink. Finally, spend the next five nights making your eyes go bandy in your strongest reading glasses, swearing at how fiddley the dang thang is.
Hang in pride of place and say to everyone who asks "Oh the birthday board, no I didn't buy it, I made it. Yes it is a good idea isn't it, yes I thought it up all myself, no I've never heard of Pinterest..."