Monday, 26 November 2012

Work in Progress

This is a little update on the homemade advent calendar front. I've nearly finished the backing sheet, just have a few more buttons to sew on, and have made a start on the little decorations. The first three are shown here, I have another seven done, so still a way to go before I'm finished. Something tells me I may spend a few evenings during advent frantically sewing to have one ready for the next day.

I'm just using these three colours for the decorations, keeping the design simple... and it was also the colours of felt that I had in my stash. Each decoration is cut out of a doubled over piece of felt - I made myself a pattern for the star but the baubles are freehand so a little more 'organic' in their form (or skew-whiff if you're being uncharitable). I then use a few stitches to secure the hanging ribbon on to the back  piece of the decoration, and embroider the number onto the front piece.  I then used blanket stitch to join the two pieces together. As suspected, I am cussing slightly for committing to blanket stitch rather than a much less labour intensive running stitch, but I do think they look rather lovely.

And I'm getting quite good at blanket stitch now... If you fancy having a try, this tutorial on Cherry Menlove's blog gives step by step instructions.

I didn't manage any stitching or blogging this weekend as we were hosting a bit of a family shindig. Roast dinner for a table of eleven was served up to an appreciative audience. It was an emergency chairs and bedsheet for a tablecloth type of occasion - I love that sort of thing! Just great to have so many of us around the table.

The weekend also saw the tasting of the first of the carrot chutney that I made a couple of weeks ago. I'll share the recipe on here when I get a chance. Ta ta for now.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cupcakes and Bunting

Photo credit: Anna Gordon
This post has been mulling since Saturday night, when I crawled into my bed just before midnight, after spending the day at Mumsnet Blogfest.

Which incidentally was bloody marvellous!  From the opening keynote speech from Miriam González Durántez right through to Caitlin Moran's hilarious closer, and in between with useful sessions and best of all loads of other inspiring women to talk to, and later swig fizz with. It was great to put faces to internet sprites stitch this and Dillytante

I've always had an appreciation for Mumsnet, I discovered it just before I got pregnant with my first baby, seven years ago now. I felt that as 'Mum' was in the title of the site, I couldn't actually post until I got pregnant and so had a valid connection with parenthood. Luckily I got the little blue line shortly after this and jumped into an ante-natal thread where women who were due at the same time talked about pretty much everything to do with early pregnancy. I can remember ranting about my super advanced pregnancy sense of smell and the awful reek of fellow travellers on public transport. And because I was talking to other women who were going through a similar experience, I didn't have to bore any of my 'real life' friends (who weren't pregnant or mothers) with the minutiae of gestational gossip.

Since then Mumsnet has given me plenty of support on all aspects of parenthood and on a more flippant note Mumsnet is also the reason that my husband and I can't talk about Centre Parcs with a straight face... (if you're curious, google Centre Parks Mumsnet, but maybe not at work).

So apart from having a marvellous time, yakking and swigging, what did I learn from Blogfest?

1. That the best way to get better at writing is to get on and write
2. That there really is such thing as a sisterhood
3. That if you hang around talking until the bitter end when chairs are stacked on tables, they'll probably run out of goody bags... oh well

And I'm not really bothered that a certain Daily Mail columnist is scornful of my type of blog, mainly because I'm a desperately earnest woolly liberal Guardian-reading type. I like knitting, so shoot me. And cakes are tasty. Blogging is my hobby, not my life, it's just something I try to fit in with all the other things that fill my days. And my life is full, and I am grateful.

Update:
I've submitted this post to the Mumsnet Bloghop, click here to see more posts about the day.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Bundting Marvellous (well sort of)

Photo of failed Bundt cake
I think one of the important thing about a craft blog is sharing the things that didn't go quite to plan. Hence the photo here...

I've always wanted to make some kind of Bundt cake, but didn't have a tin - it's one with a hole in the middle. Then what should I find in Aldi on Wednesday but a half size Bundt tin, with lovely swirly patterns on the top. Thus equipped I set about making a cut down version of Nigella's 'Snow-topped Spice Cake' from Domestic Goddess. I reduced the recipe by half. It is a little faffy as you have to separate the egg yolks and whites (and whipping egg whites to a soft peak is a bit of a bastard when doing it by hand) but the texture of the finished article was really fluffy and tasted delicious.

However, when I came to turn out the tin (with lots of shaking, poking and muttered curses) a bit of a disaster occurred. Half of the cake remained stuck in the crenellations at the top of the tin, leaving the less than impressive item that you see above. Oh and I realised that I'd left out the ginger, which was kind of the main flavour of the cake. Oh well...

Of course we had to gobble it up as quickly as possible to hide my baking shame. If you'd like to have a go, the recipe is below. And apparently the proper lubrication (smirk) for such fancy cake tins is the impressively named Cake Release. Other baking supplies retailers are available, but I'm happy to tart myself for a free sample if anyone from Lakeland is reading this ;-)

Ingredients
2 eggs separated, plus 1 extra egg white
62ml vegetable oil
62ml water
1tbsp runny honey
100g dark brown sugar
38g ground almonds
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp all-spice (although I didn't have any of this)
good pinch of ground cloves
zest of 1/4 of an orange
50g caster sugar

How to make
1. Preheat oven to 180 (conventional) or 160 (fan)
2. Grease your tin *thoroughly*
3. Whisk together the yolks and oil in a large bowl, then mix in the water, honey and dark brown sugar.
4. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, spices and zest and fold in gently
5. In another bowl beat the egg whites into soft peaks then gradually add the caster sugar
6. Fold the whites into the cake mixture in the large bowl.
7. Pour the mix into your Bundt tin and bake for about 35 mins or until the cake is springy on top and starting to shrink away from the sides.
8. Leave to cool in the tin for half an hour before attempting to turn out.
9. If you like you can make up some Royal Icing to decorate, but I think it was perfectly good un-iced.

That's all from me for today. I've also been doing some 'real' work, and making carrot chutney, so I'll be spending the evening washing the smell of cider vinegar out of my hair and getting ready (otherwise known as fretting about my outfit) for Mumsnet Blogfest tomorrow. Going to be on a train at stupid o'clock in the morning <yawn>

Monday, 5 November 2012

Countdown

Photo showing green printed fabric with a white button
Having packed the children off to school and preschool this morning, the house is suddenly quiet, perfect opportunity to update the blog. Since I started sewing again, I've had a fabric advent calendar on my to do list. Last year I got as far as thinking about it, this year I've actually made a start. Based on this timescale I may have it finished in about 2014...

I looked at various designs with little pockets that you can put chocolate in, but I wasn't feeling inspired. Then I came up with the idea of making a Christmas tree shape that we can hang numbered decorations on, so last night I got out my Big Scissors and made a tree shape with this lovely green and gold fabric and sewed it on to a plain calico backing sheet. I now have to sew on twenty-four buttons to give the ornaments something to hang on, I did some last night in front of Downton Abbey.

I then plan to make twenty-four felt decorations, all hand stitched. It's at this point that the swearing will probably set in, but it's good to have a plan, right?

And I make no apologies for planning for Christmas in November, as I like to have things organised ahead of time so that I can enjoy lazing around nibbling snacks and sipping gin when the school holidays start (yeah, ok that's a bit of a fantasy, probably should say something worthy about having some quality time with the children yada yada). Also some genius decided that it would be a great idea to host a family get together and present swap at the end of November (yes, it was me, why do I do these things?!) so a fair amount of shopping and wrapping has to happen before then.

I have however put the first of the festive snacks in the 'Christmas' cupboard, a pack of savoury biscuits in case you're interested. This tradition started when we were incredibly skint and tried to spread the cost of Christmas food over a few months, but now I feel all domesticky to have some bits squirrelled away.

Watch this space...