Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas

Just writing this while waiting for my smoked salmon. Have a lovely restful day x

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clever and Ugly, or Stupid and Beautiful?

Would you rather be clever and ugly, or thick and beautiful?

Personally I would much rather be thick and beautiful. I know what it’s like to be clever and ugly, and frankly it’s not all it’s cracked up to. I’m clever enough to realise the wider implications of my ugliness, clever enough to have an understanding of the messed up world around me, and clever enough to philosophise internally until I’m depressed.

If I was thick then I would be able to live my life in happy ignorance. I’d be too stupid to understand why it would be advantageous to be clever. I’d be so beautiful that I’d look in the mirror and like what I saw, and so go through life happy with my image. As a result I’d be super confident and so probably achieve lots in life.

What would you rather be?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You remind me of a dog

My colleague Ian is having a tough time with one of the builders on his site. Today they had the following conversation.

Builder: You remind me of a dog I used to have.
Ian: oh yeah? Why?
Builder: Always on at me, never leaving me alone, worry worry worry worry
Ian: I see. And what happened to the dog? Have you still got it?
Builder: I shot it.
Ian: Oh.

Thought for the day

Would you trust a hairdresser who habitually wears a floppy crocheted woolly hat?

When I made the appointment she was wearing the hat. I assumed she was having a bad hair day or it was a fashion statement. But since then, as I walk past the salon, I have come to realise she wears this hat every single day.

What is under the hat? A hairdressing faux pas? A disastrous dye job? A cutting catastrophe? Should I be concerned?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Missing carrot

As discussed yesterday, I embarked apon my Christmas pudding preparations last night. I made a special trip to Sainsbury's and bought the ingredients, and went home ready to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.

Half way through the mixing and grating process I realised I had forgotten the carrot so I had to go out again to buy one. I felt a bit of a nincompoop at the checkout, handing over 13p for my single root vegetable. The checkout girl must have wondered what strange detox diet I was attempting.

The rest of the pudding making process went without a hitch except I could only fit in 4 hours of steaming. I will put them on again tonight for another 3 or 4 hours.

Nick admitted that he once went to safeways to buy a nubbin of root ginger. He didn't want a whole root so he snapped off a knobette, weighed it, and it came to 1p. That's all he bought.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Recipe for Christmas Pudding

My granny was an excellent cook of the old fashioned English kind. She made dishes like Lancashire lamb chops with peas, amazing Yorkshire puddings, perfect shepherd pies (her recipe for this is here) and all manner of traditional English puddings, many involving large amounts of suet.

I don’t have many regrets in life but one of my biggest is that I never wrote down all my granny’s recipes before she died. I used to spend hours in her kitchen as a child, helping to shell fresh peas, or whisking up pudding batter. I know a few of her recipes, but most of the food she prepared seemed to materialise magically, and I never learned exactly how.

She died suddenly when I was 21 on my graduation day. I think if I had been older I would have appreciated what she knew much more, and made an effort to record her recipes.

Luckily I do have the recipe for one of her most famous family puddings: ‘Granny’s Christmas pudding, there’s no flour in it you know.’

Every Christmas dinner, as we were all tucking into this most delicious of British Puddings, my Granny would wave her knife at us and pronounce ‘Mmmmm. Do you know what makes this pudding so light? There’s no flour in it you know. Just breadcrumbs.’ And every year we would humour her and pretend that she didn’t tell us this nugget of information every year, without fail.

Having said this I can confirm that her Christmas pudding was the best I’ve ever tasted. It was actually really light, and shop bought puddings I’ve had since have been so heavy and disgusting in comparison, and full of hard lumpy bits of peel.

The Christmas after Gran had died we found a pudding in the cupboard that she had made the previous year, and I swear it was the best ever. We all savoured the delicious light texture, waved our knives and asked each other ‘Did we know why it was so light? No? tell me why! Because there’s no flour in it you know!’

I made my first pudding last year. It wasn’t quite right because I didn’t make it early enough, and I didn’t have a steamer big enough to fit my pudding basin in, but it was a pretty near approximation. This year I have left it far too late, and will be making my pudding tonight. This is a slight disaster – the concoction has to steam for 7 hours, so I will be setting my alarm for 2 in the morning to go and turn it off. It is also supposed to mature in the larder for a couple of months. A week will have to suffice.

Last year I made 3 puddings, and saved one for this year. Unfortunately I threw it out in September when we moved house in a fit of de-cluttering. How silly of me. A Christmas pudding matured for a year would be a pudding fit for the Queen.

So lucky you, I’ve decided to share this secret family recipe. Only because I know you’ll never make it. And that’s your loss, because it truly is the best pudding you’ll ever taste.

½ ld Breadcrumbs
½ lb currants
½ lb rasins
½ lb sugar
½ lb suet ( I use vegetarian suet)
Large grated carrot
Large grated apple
5 eggs

(NO FLOUR you know, that’s why it’s so light)

Mix all the ingredients together and divide into 3 pudding basins. Cover with muslin or foil and tie around the rim of the basin. Gather up the skirt of the muslin and tie on the top. Steam for 7 hours. Leave to mature. Steam for an hour before serving. Tip out of the pudding basin. Douse liberally in brandy or rum, turn out lights in dining room and set on fire to huge whoops of joy. Apply brandy sauce or butter and tuck in. Don’t forget to wave your knife!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A good day in my new studio

My studio is finally finished and fully functioning. Yesterday we put up the final bit of furniture: a fabric storage unit with cutting table on top. (that's the Royal 'We'. Nick built it. I stood and watched helplessly, handing him wooden dowels periodically and offering snippets of advice.)

Getting this lovely big surface to cut on has meant that at last I could work on my huge piece that was started in Ohio. It is 7 ft square. I've worked all day and managed to get the whole quilt top pieced together ready for assembling and quilting.

On the whole I am happy with it. There are a few sections that aren't quite right. It could have done with further work by cutting into it more and adding more circle fragments, but frankly I am just pleased to have got this far. It is by far the most complicated piece I have ever made, both in compositional terms and in the construction. Sewing curves and keeping it all flat ain't as easy as it looks!

When I had finished the bulls eye quilt top I decided to have an experiment to see what I could come up with. After 2 hours of happy play with acrylic paint, string and a roller I ended up with this:

It's very different to what I usually make and I'm quite intrigued by the possibilities. I like the idea of painting a regular(ish) grid and then cutting it up and restructuring it to make everything slip.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pink Floyd obsession returning?

I find lots of things Nick does really hilarious. This is because I am in love with him, and everyone accepts that when you love someone your humour filter gets a bit warped. I will be falling about in hysterics, tears in my eyes, whereas other people will just raise their eyebrows and wonder which planet we've both stepped off.

This happens alot with Nick's 'impressions'. I put them in inverted commas because, if I turn on my normal humour filter, I know they are verging on the terrible. However, I listen to him wailing on like Roger Waters all dewy-eyed like a love struck teenager and recommend in all seriousness that he should apply to go on Stars In Their Eyes.

Nick can do 3 impressions to a passable standard:

1) Roger Waters form Pink Floyd. This involves lots of wailing and sounding anguished.
2) Elvis Costello. A more Nasal version of the above.
3) David Bowie. A slightly less wailing version of Roger Waters with more gaps.

I'm concerned that Nick's Roger Waters obsession may be returning. He confessed to me that when he was 15 he was fascinated by Pink Floyd and practiced his Waters singing technique compulsively. Recently I've heard the dulcet tones of the real Roger Waters drifting out from the living room with increasing regularity, and today Nick announced that he had downloaded the entire Pink Floyd catalogue from Itunes. 2 days ago he was watching a documentary on the band whilst eating his breakfast.

Were it the not the case that Pink Floyd are actually brilliant I would be worried that Nick was suffering some kind of mid 30s crisis by trying to regress to his 15 year old self. As it is I am glad for the revival currently in progress in our house. Long may it continue.

(cut to a Water's wail.....fade to nothing)

new hit counter

36 hours ago I put a new hit counter on the side bar of this blog. I am already obsessed with collecting new flags! a visitor from Japan? who knew!

I also didn't realise that I would get 130 hits in the space of a day and a half, so thats cool too. Admittedly about 6 of those hits were me testing it out, but still.

The Neocounters guys have loads of different innovative ways of showing the locations of your visitors. I love the bubble flags, but I didn't want to clutter up my pages so went for the simple table version. Ever the minimalist.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Spectacular U-turn overheard in Ikea

Two posh bohemian looking women discuss a huge brown rug:

Blonde: Oh I say… Look at that. (points at rug) That’s stunning.
Brunette: Oh yeeees. Faaaaabulous
Blonde: Amaaaazing price….
Brunette: Living room?
Blonde: Hmmm maybe yes
Brunette: Just as a temporary measure, until we get the tufted wilton
Blonde: (tilts head to one side)
Brunette: It would have to be temporary
Blonde: Yes. Couldn’t live with it for long
Brunette: No, you wouldn’t want to look at that for more than a month.
Blonde: Wouldn’t want to look at that for more than a day.
Brunette: You’re right, It’s really quite awful
Blonde: Horriffic.
Brunette: Cheap and tacky looking
Blonde: Come on, lets look at the candles...

Christamas decorations

I mentioned the other day about Nick’s Tatty old tinsel that he insists on displaying every Christmas. Here it is in all it’s glory:

Tracy had the brilliant idea of turning it into a bauble, which is exactly what I have done. I wrapped it around a wooden sphere thingy, and tucked the ends inside. Ta daaaaa.

We are both happy with this arrangement and marital harmony has been restored to the Simons Household.

I've also been busy making other decorations for our tree. I sprayed lots of pine cones a deep red and covered the tips with glitter. They are finished off with ribbon that Lisa over at Primrose Hill sent me in a crafty swap last summer.

I also sewed some little chickens with beads for feet. I love these, even though I now have more fabric hens than I do real hens. (Omelet’s still alive by the way.)

The flags on the tree are a Norwegian tradition of Nick’s that I am happy to buy into as they look so pretty and cheerful. A patriotic lot, those Norwegians! I need to make some more because every year they get hopelessly tangled in the loft
and I have to cut more off.

I have also made some garlands for the fireplaces and staircase. Since my new house is very Victorian I decided to make them from real evergreen foliage, which looks great and smells even better. I’ve never done this before, so I was making it up as I went along, but the result is quite good.

First I wired up some sash cord onto every third baluster. Then I went out in the pouring rain and cut a huge bag load of branches from the hedge that surrounds our back garden. This will probably be the only time I am pleased to have such a fast growing lalandii hedge! I spread them out on the kitchen floor to dry and for the cat to catch all the creepy crawlies that came in with it.

Then I made little bunches using thin wire to bind the ends.

These were then twisted on to the cord, starting from the bottom. Each bunch over lapped the previous so in the end you can’t see any of the cord or wire.

That was all a bit tedious, but after it was much quicker. I wrapped around some fairly lights, and some red satin ribbon. Then I made big bows from wired ribbon and fixed those at the points where the cord was fixed to the balusters. I was planning on attaching some pine cones as well, but by then I was a bit bored of the project – these photos only show about a quarter of the staircase. It winds up and round and then goes back along the landing.

I also did the fireplace which was more elaborate and has dried slices of orange and cinnamon sticks wired into it. Mmmm, smells fab, and very Christmassy. My brother-in-law asked me why I'd fixed bundles of cigars to the garland but what does he know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quilting question answered!

Thanks to Patty, I now have my previous quilting question answered. This is why I love the world wide t'interweb.* How else would another lady halfway across the world have been able to help me within the space of half a day?

Patty emailed me with this picture of a detail of one of her quilts, along with the answer I was looking for.

Here are a couple of pictures of my quilt in progress, showing how I have been doing it so far - hundreds of separate rows of stitching, instead of the single snaking row like Patty (very sensibly) does. The second picture shows a row of threads that I now have to thread onto a needle and hide inside the quilt. Sigh. I've started so I'll finish.**

*I wonder if you Americans get that rather Northern British joke.
** Another British reference revolving around a long running TV quiz show.

Question to quilters

I have some queries about quilting that I hope someone out there can help me with. Twila maybe? Christine?

I have recently been sewing my lines of quilting much more densely, generally in parallel lines about ¼ inch apart. I saw many wonderful quilts in Ohio that were done this way, like Terry’s and some of Nancy’s machine quilted pieces. This is dead easy when the beginning and end of the lines run off the edge, but if I want to quilt a section that starts and stops within the edges it is taking me ages.

Currently my process is this:

Start the line leaving a couple of inches of thread
Sew to the end point.
Lift the presser foot
Pull away a bit and cut, leaving another couple of inches.
Pull through the bobbin threads to the front of the quilt and tie off
Repeat with next line making sure I don’t catch any of the loose threads. (pulling them to the front makes this possible – leaving them on the back is a disaster)
At the end of the section of quilting I thread each pair onto a needle and tuck inside the quilt.

It is this last bit which takes so long and is very boring indeed.

I tried rotating the whole quilt so that I could sew down one line, and then back up the next without cutting the thread but with big pieces it’s just too cumbersome. I have tried sewing down one line and then reversing up the next but it’s really hard to control my direction because I can’t see where I’m heading and my lines were unacceptably wobbly.

I have thought about pulling all the threads to the back, tying them off, leaving them hanging there and then sewing another backing to the quilt at the end, thus covering all the mess. Somehow this seems like cheating but I’m thinking it might be a solution. I could sew another backing to the front, then flip it inside out. I would have solved my messy thread problem and bound the edges in a single move. Does anyone do this? Or are you all perfectionists and tuck in your threads individually and properly?

I’m a busy person and the one irritating thing about quilt making as an artistic medium is simply the length of time it takes to complete a piece. You could knock out 50 paintings in the time it takes to make a single quilt. I enjoy the meditative process of sewing, but I’m always looking for ways to speed up the procedure.

Any tips gratefully received.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Overheard in the supermarket

Woman: What about getting some of these tomatoes?
Unhealthy looking man: What do you want them for?
Woman: I could try putting a slice inside your fried cheese sandwich.
Unhealthy looking man: (grunts) Suppose so.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tatty Old Tinsel

I know that Christmas is a time for family and forgiving and acceptance, but I’m really struggling to allow Nick to drape his 2 foot long piece of raggy old tinsel on our otherwise spectacular tree.

He claims the short length of tinsel was part of his childhood, and that the reason it looks all chewed is that his cat did actually chew it. In places there are no sparkly bits at all, just the bare centre string, and in other places the merest covering of sad looking, crumpled up, was-gold-20 years-ago, shreds of tinsel. It currently has pride of place on the tree. I have considered the consequences of a mysterious disappearance of the tinsel, but have decided that I would rather have a moth-eaten looking tree than a sad puppy looking husband.

The tinsel has a stay of execution. For this year anyway.

More Chicken deaths :-(

More sad news on the chicken front. Scramble, Nicks favourite chicken, was taken by the fox at the weekend. That’s the 2nd hen gone in 8 days. I feel guilty because I was out Christmas shopping and by the time I got home it had been dark for 4 hours. The fox had been and gone before I had a chance to shut the door to the coop.

Now poor Omelet is on her own and I rate her chances of survival pretty minimal if I’m brutally honest. The Fox knows she is there, and knows how to get in. I only get home at 6.00pm by which time it has been dark for at least 2 hours, and the fox has access to an open larder.

I have researched into some fox precautions and have seen an automatic pop hole device that is linked to a simple light sensor. When it gets dusk the pop hole on the coop closes using a little motor. This would be excellent for us as we simply can’t be home at 4.00pm every night of the week.

I’ve also seen chicken houses that are high up in the air with long ladders down to the ground. Apparently the chooks can climb ladders but foxes can’t, meaning you don’t need to shut up the coop at night. Has anyone heard if this actually works in practice?

Nick has been doing his bit by weeing around the perimeter of the enclosure. The smell is supposed to put off the fox. Frankly it’s putting me off as well, so this isn’t a good long term solution.

The other consideration is trying to protect the whole of our garden boundary. 3 sides would be ok but the longest side is lined with shrubs and hedges: easy for a fox to wriggle through but impossible for a human to get in with fencing materials. Foxes can jump over 6 feet, so fencing the whole garden would be no small undertaking.

The final option is to use electric fences around the chicken run itself. I have issues with this on aesthetic grounds and also on practical grounds. The require a lot of maintenance, are costly and I suspect it couldn’t be as nicely hidden as the current fence which weaves it’s way through the plants. Am I right in thinking that nothing must touch the fence or it shorts out? Would I have to make sure no plants touch it at all?

I feel terrible admitting this but part of me hopes that Omelet is taken by the fox soon. The reasons for this are a) hens like to live in a flock – she will not have a nice life all by herself, b) this will give us time to re-evaluate the chicken enclosure and protect it better for the spring when we can get a new flock and c) if we go chicken-less for a few months the fox will stop prowling around and might forget to come back in the spring. I promise I will not intentionally leave Omelet open to attack, but if she meets her end then it might be better for the future of our long term chicken keeping.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

more home improvements

Nick and I spent a very uncomfortable 5 hours last weekend insulating our loft and eaves spaces. It’s very small and low up there, you can’t stand up, and it’s not boarded out so you have to constantly move around on little kneeling boards being careful not to crash through the ceilings below.

If you have the choice, pay a man to insulate your loft – it’s a horrible, itchy dirty job. If you are skint and frozen (like us) then go ahead, but beware. These are my tips:

Wear protective clothing, gloves and a mask. Here is Nick in his all-in-one suit. Buy the extra large size because when you are kneeling down you will split the crotch open resulting in an itchy groin area.

Don’t attempt to work using lamps with normal bulbs that blow with the slightest knock or you will be plunged into darkness fairly regularly, and the risk of skewering your head on a slate nail increases exponentially.

Try not to kneel on nails or other small metal protrusions that lurk in the loft.

Bribe a small child to crawl into impossibly small spaces behind and on top of dormer windows and the like. We could not find such a child so Nick sent me in. You never heard so much grunting and swearing. Quite obscene.

Go to a proper builder’s merchant to buy your insulation, rather than a DIY store. I got the price down from £26 a roll in Homebase to £18 a roll of similar product at the builder’s merchant by going in there, being nice, and asking for the trade price.

We were amazed to discover that large sections of our roof had no insulation at all. I can’t imagine how the previous owners managed all those years without getting hypothermia. All that was between us and outside was an inch of plaster, and a plank of wood with some slates nailed to it. No wonder our house is Baltic and our gas bill was £170 for 6 weeks. Hopefully we have rectified that now, but there are some areas that we simply could not get access to without cutting into the walls. I’m hoping we have compensated in other areas as most of the loft now has 350mm of mineral wool. It’s like a fluffy duvet for the house that’s not quite big enough and it’s toes poke out the sides!

Many interesting things were discovered in the loft, including this thing.

Nick says it’s a wasps nest. Is it? It’s amazing whatever it is, but I didn’t dare poke it just in case. At the time of discovery I was tightly wedged in behind one the eaves walls and could only get out by crawling backwards, so the idea of a swarm of wasps attacking me was not pleasant.

Other home improvements this week: We had our chimney swept yesterday in preparation for the new log burning stove arriving in January. Because nothing in our new house is ever simple (or cheap) we were informed that the inside of the chimney is knackered and needs lining to stop bits of sandstone falling into the new stove flue. This adds another £450 to the price of the stove. I was at work when the sweep came so I couldn’t tell you if he was a cockney with soot on his face, but I like to think he was.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beer Python

Here is a little bit of pub-speak you can use to impress your mates next time you're down the pub. The tube that delivers the beer from the kegs in the cellar to the bar is called a beer python, which I think is wonderful use of language.

We are currently building a new bar for a hotel client up in the highlands, and one of the trickiest problems we have had is finding a suitable route for the Python. Customers will have no idea that their freshly poured pint of beer will have travelled on a tortuous route from the beer storage room, through the gents toilets, under a concrete path, up through the kitchen floor, behind the fridges, out though the roof, along the top of the kitchens, and back down into the bar itself.

Just ponder on that next time you sup your lovely pint. It might have been hanging around in the gents all afternoon.

this is a beer python.

Urine a dilemma

Nick is constantly annoyed at me for leaving socks strewn about the house. After finding another pair on the sofa last night, he stuffed them in the back pocket of my trousers so that I wouldn’t forget to take them upstairs.

Later on I went to the loo, and, unbeknownst to me, the socks fell in the toilet whereupon I weed on them. Luckily I noticed the presence of the socks in the pan before I flushed. This was a blessing – our Victorian plumbing leaves a lot to be desired on a good day, and I doubt whether the attempted expulsion of a pair of socks would help matters.

I fished them out, all warm and dripping. I let the worse of the wee run off, slapped them in the sink and rinsed them in under the tap. They are still in the sink. I don’t know what to do with them now. My conscience says not to be so daft, stick them in the washer, but my stomach says bin them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cleavage misdemeanour

I have just reached down into my cleavage to surreptitiously scratch an itch, and discovered the large blog of toothpaste that I lost at 7.30 this morning. I'm all sticky, but smelling minty fresh.

Margo becomes lunch for a fox :-(

Poor Margo. She was eaten on Thursday night. At least I presume she was eaten. There was LOTS of Margo coloured feathers all over the garden and no sign of carcass.

On Friday morning Nick discovered that something, most likely a fox, had managed to force it's way through the wire fencing, snapping several heavy duty staples, and get into the chicken house where our beautiful girls were roosting. Wily Fox probably looked at the three of them and decided that Margo looked the tastiest - she was definitely the fattest of the flock.

Scramble was also missing, which upset Nick the most because she was always his favourite hen. Amazingly though our neighbours alerted us to the fact that Scramble was wandering up and down in the front, not hurt, but definitely very nervous.

Friday night came and we began our new regime of Fox protection, which we will probably have to continue forever now he has discovered the location of a new fox take-away restaurant. On Sunday morning we found that he had tried to have another go to get in, but hadn't managed to break through the mesh this time. Both remaining girls are present and correct at the time of writing.

So, Margo has gone to the big hen coop in the sky. I hope she had a happy life in our garden, and we appreciate all the lovely brown eggs she laid for us last year. x

Here are the hens when we first got them. Margo is on the right:

Here she is on her first day out of the run:

and this is Scramble, who had a narrow escape from Wily Fox:
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