Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spicy Ginger Chocolate Brownies

Was browsing through a book from the library last week called 'Christmas Cupcakes & Cookies', looking for inspiration for some Christmas baking. We also had an event to raise money for our local community centre, so I thought I'd grab the chance to bake something new (on the basis that chocolate always sells well). This photo represents the only one left, didn't get a good photo of the whole batch piled up in all it's gooey glory.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I mainly wanted to make these because I'd found some edible tiny gold stars and *needed* an opportunity to use them? A bit probably, but never mind... Tiny gold stars, yay! And on with the recipe:

For the brownies:
275g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
175g butter, diced
125 plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
Generous grating of nutmeg
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of salt
25g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
175g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp treacle
4 eggs
50g flaked almonds

For the ganache:
125g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
125ml double cream
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
A pinch of salt

To decorate:
More finely chopped crystallised ginger (about 25g) and edible gold sprinkles

1. Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment
2. Preheat oven to 170 degrees
3. Put chocolate and butter for the brownies in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Leave to cool slightly.
4. Sift together the flour, spices and salt.
5. Lightly whisk the sugar, syrup, treacle and eggs in another large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and fold in until combined.
6. Stir the almonds and the chopped crystallised ginger into the bowl. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin, spread level and bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or until the brownies are set (I did for 30 mins and they were still pretty squidgy in the middle, they were devoured without complaint, so I'm guessing they were ok... I'm never sure what constitutes a properly cooked brownie)
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. These brownies are best made the day before you decorate them, just make sure you wrap them up in clingfilm once cool.
9. Prepare the chocolate ganache - tip the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the cream is just boiling. Add the salt. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave to melt. Stir vigorously until smooth, then leave to cool and thicken slightly before using.
10. Spread the ganache over the top of the brownies, score with a fork to make a diagonal pattern, then cut into 16 squares. Scatter chopped crystallised ginger and gold sprinkles over the top to decorate.

There you go, migraine on a plate, but verrrry tasty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Work in Progress

Exhibit A - un-finished objects (ufo) basket
So what a weird October huh? So unseasonally warm I was almost relieved to finally dig out my woolly tights and fuck-off big boots this week. So what have I been up to? I've been offered extra hours at work during term-time, which is great in some ways, but does mean I have less time for creative stuff - boo!

Just before half term we made a magnificent family effort and created a Anglo Saxon warrior outfit for my 8 year old for a school 'wow' day. If he's not too embarrassed I will post some pics, as he did look pretty cool (although his main interest was the weaponry - he's normally a very gentle soul, honest...). Then during half term we had a big family wedding, which involved lots of travelling but was so much fun, and we now have an Official Auntie C. Managed to squeeze in a visit from my parents too, which even meant a bit of babysitting so that husband and I could go out at the weekend and watch 1930s horror films.

Eldest child (he of the Saxon warrior fame) then celebrated his exciting half term break by suddenly vomiting late on Sunday evening, just as we were all due back at school and our respective workplaces after a week off - timing could have been better. So another day off on Monday then, oh well, better use the time to tidy up the craft stuff, in between providing weak glasses of squash and dry toast of course.

Exhibit B - frog it don't slog it
I discovered quite a few unfinished projects, which I've now gathered together in one place (Exhibit A), in the hope that I might get on and finish them. There's a couple of things that are virtually finished already, so no excuse really. But one thing I've learnt about creative work, sometimes it's better to rip it up and start again, no point slogging away on putting work into something that you don't even like. Which brings me to Exhibit B, which was half a baby blanket that I just lost enthusiasm for, and then ran out of yarn, and then the baby graduated from university (sort of kidding). You know the story... So I frogged it, and now the yarn has the chance to be something lovely.

Or maybe sit in my stash for a while longer, let's not do anything hasty ;-)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Good Enough

Having been lulled into a false sense of security in the holidays, where all I had to do was drop the children at holiday club and then go to work, it was a bit of a shock to get back into the swing of everything that primary school brings with it. So now there's lunchboxes, after school activities, listening to reading, checking spellings, dressing up days, coming up with an Anglo Saxon village crafted from weetabix and string. Possibly...

It got me thinking about my life, and whether I am 'good enough' in different areas. It's something I've also spent time talking about with other women recently, and there seem to be common themes emerging. For instance, it feels like it's not enough to just hang about at home with a toddler and a baby doing the stay-at-home-parent bit. Oh no, now you have to do that (making sure that you're doing all sorts of worthwhile and enriching activities with them, *not* mainlining Cbeebies into their eyeballs) plus setting up your own business on the side, probably involving upcycling vintage milk churns.

My children are older and at school, and as I *only* work part time my tiny little brain seems to think I should have plenty of time for not just paid work but unpaid stuff sitting on committees, helping out at school, attending *all* school events (after all, I have flexible working, there's no excuse!), cooking delicious and nutritious meals from scratch every day. Preferably using ingredients either foraged from the hedgerows or shopped for daily from chi chi la la independent retailers with whom I have a deep and personal connection.

And then there's the creative side. A quick glance at Pinterest informs me that I'm probably slacking in the homemade gift department please don't mention fucking Christmas.  And I'm not drawing enough, sewing enough or or or or...

Except of course, this is ridiculous.  I'm doing this to myself, and I'm sure there are some of you out there who do it too. So I'm trying to say to myself that I really am good enough.

My children go to school every day - big tick
I go to work and get paid - big tick
We finally have new signage outside our local community centre - big tick
I'm going to WI tonight - big tick
I've just finished a pair of socks - big tick
We will eat tea tonight - big tick

And breathe...

Apologies for the rant, I have a cold and may be a little grumpy.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Harry Potter Party

It had to happen eventually, my bookworm boychild has read the full Harry Potter cannon and developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the Hogwarts world (he even shares Harry's birthday). So when asked what he would like for his birthday celebrations, the theme was an obvious choice...

There are some incredible ideas out there for Harry Potter parties, special mention goes to the My Harry Potter Party blog, which is possibly the ultimate in Harry Potter party planning. The books have a very strongly developed 'world', and while I was browsing the internet I found it heartening to see so much creativity sparked off as people made props, decorations and food.

We didn't go too overboard, as the boy just had a couple of his friends over, one of whom hasn't read the books. But it was fun making a few things, and I thought I'd share a couple of photos to show you what we did...

I made a simple set of robes for the Birthday Boy out of some super cheap black polycotton. After a bit of measuring of limbs, I cut out two large t-shapes, cutting the front piece in half down the middle. I was aiming for a sort of academic robe look. It was very quick & dirty and I finished them off just before the party this afternoon. Machine hems all the way!

My husband made these, and they really are pretty impressive! He collected likely looking sticks from the park and stripped the bark off. Then he took slightly larger diameter sticks to make handles, drilled a small hole and glued together. They were then stained and varnished.

We knew there had to be some potion making today, so I gathered up interesting looking bottles and filled them with a variety of liquids (in reality fruit juices and water with food colouring) and attached paper labels. For the record, my son would like to point out that Dragon's blood is in fact green. We also had strawberry laces standing in for worms and various sweeties.

There was a lot of giggling as they sloshed various 'ingredients' into the pan. One of my guiding principles in life is 'never drink a blue drink', one that today's party guests would concur with. When stirred up in my Maslin pan/cauldron, they ended up with this:

There is so much food in Harry Potter, another reason why it makes such a great party theme. We had normal party food (i.e. I made sandwiches, carrot sticks and hummus, and the children chose to take their calories in the form of hula hoops) with a few Harry Potter touches. So we had some Hagrid's Rock Buns, Butterbeer (Fentiman's Cola with a new label, served in glass mugs) and then chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour beans for party bags.

The chocolate frog mould came from Ebay, and other supplies came from Rajanis, possibly Bristol's best ever supplier of party tat. Including knock-off 'gourmet' jelly beans...

And finally...
I think this is the favourite thing that we made: Golden Snitches. Basically a Ferrero Rocher with two feathers hot glue-gunned to the sides. Talk about instant craft! We used these to play Hot & Cold (we judged that this would last longer than a free for all 'Hunt the snitch')

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Pink Knitting

I actually finished this ballet cardigan about ten days ago, but the recipient herself was a bit reticent about a photoshoot wearing a woolly cardi on a hot summer's day, just so her mother could tell strangers on the internet about it. Kids, eh?

She was in a better mood yesterday morning just before we went off to her class, so I seized the opportunity for a couple of pictures. I never had ballet classes, was always much more of a toyboy and couldn't stand pink. So I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the pink and princessy stuff that seems to surround young girls these days. But I can't deny that she does look rather cute, and we're looking forward to seeing her end of term 'show' next week.

This is a classic ballet cardigan, with wrap front and tie at the back. It's knitted from Wondersoft DK (only needed two 100g balls) using Stylecraft pattern 8044. I found it fairly straightforward, it's mostly stocking stitch, with garter stitch edging.

I also have to fess up and admit that this is the first knitted garment I have made and actually finished! (not including socks). I discovered that I do not enjoy making up as much as the knitting, but I pressed on and got there in the end.

And just to show an interest in ballet doesn't imply delicate flower, this cardigan also looks good accessorised with scooter and helmet (pink naturally).

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Getting Around

It started as a practical thing, when I went back to work last year I needed a way to get to work. As it was a short journey (but too far to walk) I dug out my trusty Ridgeback, that I bought when about 4 months pregnant with Oldest and then promptly didn't ride for about five years, oops.

Then I found myself using the bike for other journeys, I kitted myself out with lights and a hi-vis jacket so I could ride at night. The final straw came when I put bike panniers on my Christmas list. I have to face up to it... I am A Cyclist.

And I love it... I don't love near misses with vans on a narrow road, but in general I feel proud of being able to get around my city on two wheels, often while carrying quite a bit of stuff with me in the afore-mentioned panniers. I've never felt joy while driving or taking a bus to work, but I frequently do when on my bike. A year of pedalling up hills (plenty of those in Bristol) has had a positive effect on my fitness too, and means that I can justify cake eating.

And it's not just me, there are others. It may be the sunny weather, but I'm seeing a lot of bikes round here at the moment. Many with Heath Robinson-esque racks and baskets attached to carry shopping or tools.

I'm busy indoctrinating the next generation too, Oldest has been riding without stabilisers for 18 months and loves to go out with me on the Bristol-Bath cycle path at the weekends. Youngest is mainly interested in the streamers on her handle bars (although, I quite fancy some of those tbh) and dolly seat on the back of the bike than actually learning to ride it, but we'll get there.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Making Space

Compact and bijou
Last week was half term, and I took the whole week off from work so that I could be at home with the children. It was great to have a break from the school run routine of lunch boxes and book bags.

My children are getting older, and although they have (mostly) happily shared a bedroom, my husband and I decided that now was the time to give Oldest, who will be eight in the summer, his own room. But this of course meant saying goodbye to my sewing room, and we spent the long bank holiday weekend emptying the room, cleaning, painting, hanging new curtains (nope didn't make them myself, ordered them off interweb), heaving furniture around and of course the obligatory trip to IKEA that no middle class home improvement project can do without.

My son is now installed in his new room, which he absolutely loves as it includes a massive amount of Lego and a 6ft wooden bookcase bursting with books. It's the bookcase that I had in my room when I was a child. My mum tells me that she stood in the furniture shop pondering whether she should get the small one or the tall one. Knowing my bookish ways, she went for the latter.

In the space freed up by the bookcase downstairs, we created a mini workspace for me and all my sewing gubbins. I have an extra wide set of IVAR shelves, with one of them serving as a desk for my cutting mat and sewing machine. Above is storage space for bits and bobs and my fabric stash.

Obligatory bunting
The unit is pretty tall, so plenty of storage space, but I have had to be a bit brutal and only keep the things that I *really* love. I should admit right now that I have another couple of plastic boxes of fabric stashed in the loft. I may get round to painting the unit at some point, but suspect it may stay as unfinished wood for quite some time.

I've found that having the sewing machine downstairs does mean that I've felt more in the mood to sew. It's like the machine sits there beguiling me. I've taken the plunge and started piecing strips for a mad scrappy quilt. My aim to to actually use some of my lovely bright fabrics rather than saving them for some mythical 'special' project. Let's just sew them up and see what comes out...

Knitting wise I have just started a ballet cardigan for Youngest, who recently started classes at our local community centre. She has high hopes that it will be finished in time for Saturday's class, I have endeavoured to manage her expectations somewhat.

I love looking at other people's studios and workspaces and dreaming a little. But for the time being I'm happy with my miniaturised area...
Love a bit of orderly storage

Monday, 26 May 2014

Glorious Technicolour

Last weekend we had a craft group outing to The American Museum in Bath, which this year has an exhibition of Kaffe Fassett's work, the American artist who's probably best known for knitwear and his use of colour. Some of the pics are a little shaky, as no flash photography was allowed, but I just wanted to give a little glimpse of all the lovely colours.

'I'm flying high on colour' Kaffe Fassett
It was really amazing to see such a body of work together in one place, some cases included objects collected by Kaffe which had inspired particular pieces. At the centre of the exhibition space was a recreation of his studio, no white walls here! I came home itching to make quilts and stitch together scraps of contrasting colour.

I make no apologies that the rest of this post is basically 'ooh, look at the pretty colours'. I would definitely recommend a visit to this exhibition if you're anywhere near Bath. It's on until 2 November 2014, and there's more information on the American Museum website.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Party Frocks

Who's Queen?
My mum came to visit in the Easter holidays to look after the children while I went to work (thanks mum!). On my day off we asked my daughter what she would like to do, as her older brother was off at a friends house for the day. 'Go shopping' was her prompt response. Where she's picked up the idea that shopping is a desirable activity I don't know, not from me certainly!

However, I'm always happy to browse in the fabric shop, so after running a few errands, including buying more pegs (where do they all go?!) and visiting the post office, we headed to Fabricland. Having tackled blouses I picked out a dress pattern for me and some blue polka dot material. Needless to say this is still sitting in it's carrier bag, but I'll get there eventually...

My daughter loves to look at all the different fabrics and colours, and confidently announced that "You could make me a dress, couldn't you mummy". So I guided her over to the printed cottons (after explaining that stretchy neon swimsuit fabric wasn't the ideal choice) and let her pick one. We bought a metre for less than a fiver, although in retrospect probably would have been better to get a little more to allow for facings.

When we got home I made up a simple paper pattern for the top half of the dress, using one of her vests as a guide for size. I used some of the butterfly fabric for the facings. The skirt is just a straight piece gathered at the top.

I made it over the course of a weekend, including a bit of hand sewing to finish off buttons and hems in front of the telly in the evenings. There are a few things I'd change about it, for example I'd make the waist a little higher, but in general I'm pleased that I managed to take a flat piece of fabric and make it into something that is definitely a dress.

I am also mega chuffed that daughter has chosen to wear it to a birthday party this afternoon, without any prompting from me.

Do you like the lining?

Blurry back view - model getting wriggly

Hand stitched hem

Monday, 31 March 2014


Hello, we had our first real glimpse of spring weather this weekend and it was lovely. Bit breezy but plenty of sunshine. It was a weekend of pottering, doing jobs around the house and playing with the children. A friend came over on Saturday afternoon and we spent a pleasant few hours eating cake and making stuff. She brought her button stash along and youngest child was delighted to have a new treasure trove to trawl through.

I've been wanting to get myself a glue-gun for ages, and whilst making one of my surprises decided that I could do without one no longer and ordered a mini one from Hobbycraft. It came in handy on Saturday to make button brooches and earrings, plus I finished off surprise #4. The photo above represents one of my other surprises, which I delivered on a rather rainy Friday morning. They're hyacinth bulbs, hopefully they'll soon settle in at their new home.

In my day job I work for a charity that aims to tackle loneliness in old age. When I talk to our clients, particularly those in their 80s and 90s, it becomes so apparent that relationships and human contact are what really matters. It's really easy to get caught up in everyday life, but hanging out with friends will never be a waste of your time.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Who likes surprises?

I was going to blog last Friday, when I got caught up in running errands. Then on Saturday the rumbling earache I'd been ignoring for a week or so flared up into hot knitting needles of pain, leading me to sit sobbing in the NHS walk-in centre.

But anyway... after a week of antibiotics and strong painkillers, I'm now feeling much better and looking forward to a weekend that might actually include some sewing, hurrah!

Last weekend I was expertly looked after by my other half (I on the other hand am definitely not a Florence Nightingale, and really must make more of an effort next time he's ill) so a Sunday roast and probably some home-made cake will be on the agenda too, because I think he's earned it. I'm also lucky to have some great mates who helped out with school runs on Monday, you know who you are, and thank you!

Biscuits also played an important part in my convalescence, the tin above was a Facebook surprise present from my mate Jo. Knowing me as she does, she knows I appreciate biscuits, but even better than that, a lovely tin to put things in. Now it holds little more than crumbs, I shall find a space for it in my sewing stash - maybe for buttons? And now I'm feeling better I can pay forward the surprise, so here's the deal:

The first five people to post a comment on here or on the link I'm about to post on my Facebook page will receive a little surprise. It probably won't be biscuits, but it will be something nice...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Books, Books, Books

Today has been mostly about books. I have always been a bookworm, some of this I put down to the lack of a telly in my formative years. My parents weren't ideologically opposed to the box, but were undergoing an economy drive in the late seventies and the TV rental was one bill they decided they could do without.

Turns out they could do without the telly too, and they didn't get another one for ten years. They still don't know who shot JR...

But much as I moaned at the time (a lot) about not getting being able to watch Dr Who like all my friends, there were always books to fall back on. Also my father was an antiquarian bookseller who specialised in illuminated manuscripts and early printed books, so throughout my childhood and adolescence I got the chance to see some beautiful things. Although being a kid I of course took this for granted at the time.

These days I do have a Kindle, and I read plenty of novels on it, I'm not fussy about how I get my literary fix. But I do like to get books as presents (including the lovely one above, which was a birthday present, thanks little bro!) pick up secondhand stuff, and go to the library every couple of weeks. Not just for me but because I have two bookworms in training in the house, and we'd have to take out a second mortgage to keep up with the oldest's thirst for words. I discovered recently that you can access any kids books FOR FREE from the whole of the LibrariesWest area (which is pretty big and covers Bristol, Bath, Somerset and Gloucestershire). Oldest child has recently discovered Percy Jackson, so I ordered the second in the series for him when we visited the library today, I'll get an email when it's delivered to our local branch.

Having lugged our bag of goodies back from the library, I sat down with youngest and made her some quick instant books out of some ordinary sheets of A4 paper. She then set to work filling them with pictures (she's a bit of a reluctant writer at the moment). One of them featured a series of instructions for making cornflake crispy cakes...

'Basic Instant Book' from How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith
Interestingly, it was while flicking through How to Make Books in a bookshop nearly two years ago that I was inspired to make a little fabric baby book, which turned out to be one of my most viewed blog posts. How to Make Books has been on my wish list ever since, so I was very pleased to unwrap it on my birthday yesterday.

Another birthday present makes an appearance in the top picture, a fantastic new lamp. If you're me, then that's a super cool present, as my old lamp is busted, and having a really good light is essential for sewing. It's given me the push I needed to have a good tidy up my workroom and I hope to be spending some time over the weekend making stuff in here (it's where I'm sitting to write this post).

When a bit of winter sunshine comes streaming in, I'm reminded that this is a really lovely space to be in, and I just want to get on and make some stuff. Hope you enjoy a crafty weekend too.

Monday, 27 January 2014

New Year, New Knits

So January is nearly over, how's 2014 treating you so far? I note from my stats that most people reading my blog at the moment are from the US, which surprised me a little, power of the Internetz eh?  Must tell you that my children refer to the "Pesky Americans" fairly frequently, mainly due to the fact that my husband's American colleagues often phone him at work just at the time that he's supposed to leave the office (due to time difference they're just getting going as he's clocking off). So I'm afraid the Pesky Americans get the blame for Daddy not being home in time for bedtime, sorry about that.

Socks in waiting...
Anyway, this is supposed to be a craft blog, so how about some lovely colourful photos of knitting amd yarn? Winter is all about knitting for me. Knitting and listening to The Archers early evening is especially good (I've been listening to The Archers since I was a little girl, it's full of irritating people I love to grumble about). If you *are* a US reader, then you may not know the delights of 'an everyday tale of country folk', so here's a handy wiki page.

Socks in action

I've made some lovely warm socks for me (think the yarn is a Regia Kaffe Fassett but I've lost the label). I also knitted some for the Husband before Christmas as he approached me sheepishly and said 'you've never made any socks for me'. So a suitably manly yarn with blues/greys stripes was purchased and the resulting socks have proved very popular.

My five year old daughter asked for a red hat with snowflake patterns, so I had a go at some fair isle with reasonably successful results. I'm going to write a separate blog about this as my husband wrote a little computer programme for me to produce the snowflake pattern which we'd like to make available to other crafters. I'll link to it here when it's up.

And the last little project is a gift for a friend, such lovely soft yarn...

Work in progress

Hopefully by the time I've knitted a few more pairs of socks, winter will be on its way out. In the meantime, clickety click and tum ti tum ti tumpty tum...