Thursday, 31 December 2015

Slinky fox a la Gretel Parker

I've had Gretal Parker's lovely book for a few months now and have used it for techniques and general tips but not made any of the creatures from it.
I decided over the Christmas break to put some time aside to make a silly monster for my 1 year old nephew but my attempts were too scarey and weird looking. Turns out, monsters aren't that easy.
That's when I reached for Gretel's book, with the idea that I'd make my nephew a new creature for each birthday and Christmas. What I loved about the slinky fox design was how elegant and sinuous it was. I wasn't very confident of my ability to get that result but I got started, following the instructions to the letter...
Adding the feet...
Sorting out the nose and sticking in some black headed pins for eyes to get a sense of a character....
But the body simply didn't have the elongated lines I so liked. It looked like a dinosaur. I had a look for solutions online, how do you re-structure and can you cut bits out/off?
I couldn't find an answer so I just got the scissors out and gave the dinosaur a trim.
Looking foxy but still a bit snouty.
The shape was much better so I tidied it up before adding the layers of fine wool to give a smooth finish. Nearly finished, a little white added to the bushy tail....
...and a nose for him to scent his way about...
..and he's finished!

He's lovely, I adore him.
The end of the year is a good time to count your blessings. Himself and I mostly have our health, each other, a scruffy little dog and a cosy cottage roof over our heads. We have jobs and hobbies we enjoy and friends and family to share it all with.
It's also a time to remember. A few days before Christmas a work friend died. We had grown intensely close for a brief time when work threw us together, although we were very different people. What remains is sadness that her darkness overtook her, that she left before the rest of us could verbalise the arguments that might have persuaded her to stay and she slipped away before we were ready to be without her. Sleep well friend.

Monday, 28 December 2015

The Christmas wreath competition

Each Christmas our village holds a Christmas wreath competition. Below are just some of the wreaths displayed proudly on the doors of the high street. Some are wacky and imaginative and some are really beautiful. How do you choose a winner from these....

And the winner is....
I can see why it won. Not only is the wreath beautifully constructed, it tells a story complete with silver Angels watching over a nativity scene. Very seasonal. Finally, here's the village tree twinkling in the twilight next to the war memorial. If only we had snow it would be picture perfect. Maybe next year.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Kipferl biscuits and a dog in a jumper

These lovely, light biscuits are worth sharing. The recipe is from Konditor and Cook, a chain of bakeries in London with the emphasis on German baking. I do like German biscuit recipes and if you try this one you'll see why.

INGREDIENTS (this link takes you to the Telegraph from where I got the original recipe.)
50g ground hazelnuts
60g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla extract
125g salted butter, cut into sugar-cube-sized pieces
200g plain flour
for the vanilla sugar
If you start from scratch and want ‘instant’ vanilla sugar, use 1 vanilla pod to about 250g caster sugar. It’s more economical, however, to mix scraped-out vanilla pods with sugar and infuse it for a longer period (ideally at least a week) in a tightly sealed jar. For this recipe you will need 100g vanilla sugar.
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Spread out the ground nuts on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and toast them in the oven for five to seven minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
In a mixing bowl, blend the caster sugar with the egg yolk and vanilla extract, using a wooden spoon. Add the cubed butter and mix until the pieces have broken down a little. Add the flour and toasted ground hazelnuts, stir, then knead to a smooth dough with your hands.
Divide the dough into three pieces and roll each one into a sausage 16-20cm long. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut each length into 16 pieces (half, then quarters, then eighths and so on). Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palms of your hands, shape it into a small, tapered crescent moon. Don’t make the ends too pointy or they will burn.
Place the cookies 1cm apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 12 minutes, until pale golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or so, then push all the cookies towards the centre of the tray and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar. It’s best to cover them completely. Leave to cool. When the cookies are completely cold, lift them out of the vanilla sugar. They will keep in an airtight container for up to two months.

In puppy news - I had to work really hard to resist getting a cutesy Christmas jumper for my daft dog. Then a friend saw one and bought it. So now we have a jumper for the dog. He enjoyed unwrapping his gift....

A bit cute, a lot scruffy and still a lot of fun. We've come along way together in the past 3 months, from the first 48 hours when I wondered what on earth we'd done to now, when we wouldn't be without our mischievous, friendly, muddy, scruffy pup. His paws are permanently dirty, he believes we only exist to play fetch and our (few remaining) cushions are his personal property but his tail is set on autowag and he is always pleased to see us and that's difficult to resist.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas comfort

How do you create Christmas comfort? We don't turn the whole house into a christmas grotto (anymore!). We focus on making a few areas in the house really festive using soft candle light, fairy lights, scents and food, of course, food!
I drew a simple wreath on our chalk board and surrounded it with flickering candles. This sits on the mantlepiece above the log fire and sheds less pine needles than a real wreath!
The Noel sign is at the centre of a string of fairy lights strung over the fire.
And I have a couple of identical oil burners which are always filled with cinnamon, clove and winter themed scents. I suppose something is only special if it's not what you do all year round. In summer we rely on natural light to cheer up the cottage but in the darker months I prefer not to blast artifical light into the rooms from a central overhead bulb. Pools of light in various corners feels much more cosy.
Biscuits are a must and these were actually made for some overseas visiors we had. Of course in winter, Scotland mostly looks like it's covered in icing sugar.
The apple, cinnamon and custard pie which is rather splendid is from the mad about macarons website. Enjoy :)

Monday, 14 December 2015

Teaching a dog to get downstairs

Regular readers will know we have a puppy. He's a Parson Russell and we've been getting to know each other over the past 3 months. His territory is Downstairs. He is not allowed Upstairs, that's our territory. But having found he'd sneaked up, I took it as a training opportunity. So the best way to teach your daft dog to get downstairs is bribery. Position his favourite snack on the step below him.
Watch him get close enough to sniff it...
And close enough to lick it....
Then move it to the next step down.
If he wants it badly enough he'll find a way. Finally, buy a baby gate to sit at the bottom of the stairs to stop it happening again!