Saturday, 24 January 2015

Mashed words

I've been doodling a lot and messing with words.  I like how you can mix it all up and join letters at slightly wrong angles and mash them together.  In the one below, the arm in the"r" of birthday forms the cross of the "t" but looks a bit spindly.  If I were doing it again I'd make that arm a bit thicker.  I came up with two designs.  Here's the first before I added any colour...
And here it is coloured with gelly roll pens which I love, love love.

The second one was made for a colleague who is leaving.  I can read it (I should be able to, I drew it!) but Himself didn't see it at first.  It's coloured with pencils and only a little clear glitter pen but the glittery stuff doesn't show up very well in the photo.
 What do you think?  Develop or drop?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Frugal Home Made Mascara Remover!

I've nominated 2015 to be my year of living frugally.  I'm seeing it as my financial detox after the excesses of Christmas.  But I'm not going to go crazy with it.  My plan is simply to try and make things instead of buying them.  My first challenge is make up remover which I've run out of.  Even the best (and often expensive) ones never seem to work really well and just leave you with panda eyes.  So can you make your own?  Google says yes.
The simplest recipe I found was 50% olive oil mixed with 50% witch hazel. I bought a bottle of witch hazel from a local chemist (about £2.00 for 250ml) and mixed it (in a small  decorative souvenir bottle from Morocco) with standard cooking olive oil.  Then I applied a lot of mascara and let it dry.  I shook the bottle and put some on a cotton pad and swept it across my eyelashes....
Actually amazing!  It removed everything nice and quickly with only two wipes.  I shall never need to buy "proper" make up remover again.  This is well worth trying.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Christmas Cottage

The nicest time of the year, for me, is when you arrive at Christmas.  All the thought and preparation is done.  There's glitter everywhere, things shimmer and shine, everything and everyone has been thoroughly hoovered and we can huddle warm inside.  The house has food stuffed into every spare space you can find and always, always too much chocolate.  Just in case there's a shortage.  You never know.  I don't just get ready for Christmas, I plan for a 2 month siege, ignoring the fact that the shops will only be closed for 2 days at most and if we don't have it, we probably don't need it.  Every year I promise myself I will be sensible next year and every year I forget.  I blame it on my Scottish childhood when we were regularly snowed in and needed to stock pile mince and tatties.  Hoots.  So here we are in the Country Cottage, ready for a visit from the fat man.  Santa (I'm told) likes a large Port to keep him warm on his sleigh and Himself is very considerate about checking the Port is good and hasn't gone off since it was opened the day before.  The reindeer get one carrot between them and this singular carrot doesn't need to be checked at all apparently.   (Note - the Port has been checked so conscientiously there's only the Very Best Drop left in the bottom of the glass.)
There's a candle wrapped around with some free foliage we found in a forest.

And we look all festive and welcoming.
The table is filled with all good things (which means naughty, bad things) made in advance and frozen throughout the autumn.  So we have mince pies (a la Bertinet) macarons, raspberry and white chocolate cakes, rum and cardamom truffles, fennel  seed and chilli snaps (from Ruby Tandoh's book "Crumb"), sea salt water biscuits, ham, cottage pie, veggie pie (with puy lentils it's lovely and even the meat eaters like it), ciabatta with truffled parsnip (yes, really) and some melon slices sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint because it makes it look more Christmassy.

Because one of our guests was a veggie with a nut allergy we had some special festive meringues piped with red and green colours since nearly everything else sweet was nut based.
And of course there were little gifts on the tree for the guests.  Buy a pot of plain Play Doh, roll it out flat between two sheets of baking paper and use a biscuit cutter to cut out appropriate shapes.  I did snowflakes for boys and hearts for small girls.  Use something pokey to make a hole in the top to take ribbon or twine and write or stamp the names of the recipients.  Leave them to dry for about 48-72 hours somewhere warm.  Apply children's name tags to little gifts.
Apply adult name tags to mini bottles of Blackberry Liqueur.  (If you ever get round to making this gorgeous liqueur you'll only gave away mini bottles too.)
We generally fill the house with people on Boxing Day.  It's a great chance for all the cousins and relatives to gather and I consider myself off duty once the Boxing Day Buffet lunch is launched. Santa brought me some lovely books this year so 2015 will be filled with new recipes!

Bertinet Christmas Baking Class

After all the travel, kitchen fitting, insurance claims etc, it was a relief to have a day off to go to the Bertinet Baking School Christmas Baking Class.  I'd booked up in the spring because we were promised that knowledge of stollen, rum and cardamom bread, poppy seeded star shaped rolls and edible mince pies would be shared with us and I guessed that would book out pretty quickly.  Although I hate mince pies, I was up for the challenge of stollen. The bakery school is in Bath which is lovely any time of year but especially in the month before Christmas with the market stalls open and sparkling, festive twinklyness all around.  Below is the view from Himself's office.  Not jealous.
Et voila!  C'est Monsieur Bertinet.  The man who has taught me (via books, DVD's, a couple of classes and a lot of flour) to bake bread and pastry you can actually eat.  Boff!  (Below, rolling out stollen.)
I wasn't kidding when I said I hate mince pies.  What is the point?  Too much soft pastry half filled with too few gloopy raisins.  Turns out Monsieur B agrees and came up with this version instead.  It's a mini sweet pastry baked to a crispy crunch and filled with home made mincemeat but (this is the clever bit) topped with an almond cream (with added rum 'cos it's winter) and slivered almonds sprinkled on top then baked.  I still hate standard mince pies but I love these!  Click here for the recipe.  Because the almond creme is piped on top of the mincemeat, there's no gap where there should be ... something.
Below our basket of prune and cardamom rolls.  Ridiculously tasty.
And here's the maestro gathering up the goodies at the end of the class.  You pick up so many extra tips too, for example we were shown how to properly wrap and store or freeze the things we'd made so that in return for spending one day in the kitchen you can make enough to last through the whole of Christmas. Finally our little class of 12 enjoyed a splendid lunch with too much wine and plenty of warm festive fuzzy warmth.  (Or that might have been the prunes soaked in rum and dropped into our coffee, try it, really!)

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.