Thursday, 24 February 2011

A White Album

Inspired by The Crafty Cripple, who has been taking part in the weekly photo challenge on Shutterboo and keeps posting some very alluring photographs, I thought I would jump in myself and have a go (the flickr group is here). Well, this week’s challenge was ‘white’ which was interesting because I have been having a tie-dyeing session, so not much white there! I was hoping the big fat white cat from 2 doors down might come and sit and look at me and then I could take his photograph (since we had the new fence done, he comes every day and sits looking at it, with a furious expression. I know you are thinking, how can you tell, but I can. I can only assume it smells wrong or something, or it is on his patch and we ought to have asked his permission). Anyway, no big fat white cat, he must be busy staring furiously as something else this week, but it did strike me that All The Things before you actually tie-dye them have this strange white vulnerability: pure, glowing white but you know it won’t last, because as soon as you open the procion dye pot, boom, there it is, all over. So I experimented with a photo of my tie-dyeing equipment beforehand.
Actually, look. Don't use thin white bin bags for tie-dyeing. COVER EVERYTHING WITH THE THICKEST ONES YOU CAN FIND!
But it wasn’t quite right. Then I got distracted by some white bubbles on a dish I’d just washed up.
Finest Ecover bubbles because I save the environment while I am washing up. Smug, moi?
But the one I liked most was the one of the soda ash being dissolved preparatory to soaking all the cloth.
Fixative! Very important! Do you want your tie-dyeing to run in the wash and turn your pants all murky?
It was a fun challenge because there are a surprising amount of different shades and variations in white, and keeping the colour simple means you can focus on the texture. Next week is 'large' - this holds no fear for a woman with a small plastic gorilla, ha!

You know what I really like is colour, though ;-). So this is what I ended up with after I had done my tie-dyeing (well, there was more than this. I just didn’t want to haul it all up onto the fence. The neighbours think I’m odd enough as it is).
Sunshine! Get the camera out! Rush out and hang that tie-dye on the fence!
I was intending it as the centre panel for a quilted wallhanging but I’m not sure. I like it but it turns out that the idea I had in my head was smaller and more colour-intensive (who knew? Not me until I’d actually done the dyeing!) so I’m going to dye another batch next week.
I am on my fourth block and I am losing the will to live
And this is a bit of a taster of a new quilt top I’m piecing. 900 2” squares. Did you all wince in unison? Good ;-).

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Friday Interview - on Tuesday. Amy Orange Juice

Today’s interview is with Amy from Amy Orange Juice.

I noticed Amy’s lovely glass work when I was poking about looking for a glass suncatcher for the kitchen window (Amy’s shops on Folksy and on Etsy). I am as yet undecided as to whether a suncatcher would work because of my condensation issues (have I bored you about our house recently? We have condensation issues in the kitchen! I am redoing the garden! It is all very difficult! ;-) ), but I thought her things were so nice I wanted to share them with you.

In my mind I always think glass, or indeed anything involving heat, is scary and hardcore. This is because I once took a jewellery class (don’t ask, I was rubbish) and one of the things I couldn’t get through my head was, when you have heated the silver with the blow torch, do not then pick the silver up with your hand. So, I am always impressed when anyone does anything which involves soldering, because if I had carried on for much longer I would have had no skin left on my fingers. I am also too frightened to ignite anything, which holds you back when blowtorches are involved. This is a whole other story and one for which I blame my upbringing; but you can see it is safest and generally best all around if I stick to fibre. So, I admire glass artists lots; but I admire them from a safe distance. Take it away, Amy!
12 beach huts. I believe I once saw a sky that colour, it seems a long time ago (sigh)
1/ How did you get started with making stained glass?
I have always been interested in stained glass, I really love working with colour so I guess it is a good medium for me. I studied art at university but after I graduated I started working with homeless people (as a mental health worker) and I really needed a creative outlet to relax, so I did a stained glass course in the evenings for 2 years. It was love at first cut and I was soon making things for friends and acquaintances; 3 years later (when I was pregnant with my first daughter) I was made redundant, which gave me the perfect opportunity to change career and become self employed. I have not looked back and I can work around my young family. [Note from me, I also used to work with homeless people. As a benefits adviser. However at that time my creative outlet was mostly focused on eating cake and spending too much money at TK Maxx. Stained glass is more constructive].

2/ Could you just explain briefly how the process works? 

Use several techniques, primarily I make traditional leaded stained glass windows, little has changed in the process for 1,000 years! [Note from me, gosh, and I mean that non-ironically]. You make a design, cut the glass, fit it all together in lead came (which has channels for the glass to fit into). Then you solder all the joins together, cement the panel to fill all the gaps between the lead and glass (to make it water tight) and then finish with a patina acid to darken the solder joins and polish with stove black.

For smaller, lighter items I use the copper foil technique which is where you cut the glass, and then cover the edges in adhesive copper tape, these pieces are then fitted together and soldered together.

Finally, I use applique and mosaic techniques, basically gluing pieces of glass to a transparent surface (applique) or onto a solid backing (mosaic) and then grouting the whole piece.

I use etching techniques to affect the surface of the glass and I do a lot of acid etching.

I am saving up for a kiln, so I can start fusing glass together and painting the surface with enamels.
Art Deco Columbine Flowers
3/ I love how your bold graphics translate into glass. What are your biggest inspirations for colour and shape?
Thank you! I get ideas of colour everywhere, I am lucky enough to live in Devon and it is a really beautiful part of the world, from the coast to the moors there is a view everywhere. I am very inspired by Art Deco and I love vintage fabric designs [note from me, me too!] and repeating patterns. Mostly I do a sketch and then try to reduce it to as few lines as possible. I don’t even try to get the realistic colours of nature, you can do that with other media, I want to celebrate the beautiful effect of light on coloured glass and I choose my colours to create a ‘mood’ more than a realistic interpretation of what I see. 
Commissioned window in situ. Isn't that lovely? I bet they don't have condensation. I bet their cutlery drawer opens
4/ Which of the things you make are you most excited about at the moment?
Probably my commission stained glass work at the moment, I am booked up till sometime in the summer with a steady flow of bespoke windows for people’s homes and I love the whole process from having a nosey round some lovely homes to seeing the finished piece in its new home and happy customers (I have been hugged and kissed several times!)

But I am always excited by the next project…I have to think of something to make for a couple of sculpture exhibitions later in the year, I just need to find the right old rubbish to get inspired by! 
Kaleidoboat! I think this fabulous. Also I want to go and live near the seaside
5/ I love your Kaleidoboat, above (link to the story here!). Do found objects/ upcycled stuff feature a lot in your work?
The first thing I remember upcycling was old cigar boxes given to me by my next door neighbour when I was about 13, I would decoupage and paint them with all sorts of designs. I did A Level Textiles and did a project on make do and mend clothes in World War II and I have really been upcycling ever since! All of my art work has included found objects, when I was young it was out of the need for cheap materials but I also like the challenge of incorporating found objects into my work.

I use found objects much more regularly than just in big mixed media sculptures, I also make lots of bottle top brooches, mosaics layered with broken jewellery and all of my boat mobiles,  mosaics and many of my other small pieces are just found pieces of waste stained glass pieced together into pleasing shapes.
Junk Plankton
6/ Are there any other glass artists (or other general artists) you admire?
Oh lots, too many to choose, but at the moment I am especially blown away with the Japanese approach to contemporary stained glass and there are lots of artists on this website who I like to snoop at

You can see more of Amy on her website, or in her Etsy or Folksy shops. She also has some events coming up – a landscapes exhibition at Otterton Mill from 5th March – 29th April (this is one of the pieces going into the exhibition), and she’s making a new range for a new shop in Scotland in May. She’s also going to be doing an art fair at RHS Rosemoor on 10th-11th April. So if anyone is in the Devon area you can go and have a look at her lovely things (and you could buy some as well! Or you could commission a window! You never know ;-) ).

Thanks Amy for being interviewed, I enjoyed it very much. Best of luck with all your exhibitions and fairs and I hope you get your kiln because I can imagine your enamel work would be lovely x

Monday, 21 February 2011

Spiky veg and a great big ball

And on the plus side, it's a really excellent photo of that tree trunk
Just a couple of things I wanted to show you. The moon through the trees the other night.
If the garden ended there I could probably cope with it. It does not
My bulbs! They grew, they flowered! They inspired me to cut out a yellow and blue quilt and now I have Quilter’s Bottom™ from hovering over the cutting board! (I know that table looks scruffy. Go and google ‘teak garden table prices UK’ and then try and find it in your heart to condemn me).
I grew something! I know it doesn't count!
Close up of the hyacinths, in full bloom. They are just lovely. The smell is permeating the entire kitchen. Obviously it has done a bit of a number on my hayfever, but I try to be brave.
I have to say, I don't know where to start with this one. Thank God for the internet (crosses fingers)
A spiky vegetable. How hopeful are we that I can turn it into an edible dinner? Me = not hopeful at all, especially after the man in the shop told me it was ‘very bitter. Very very bitter, and excellent for people with diabetes!’ with real enthusiasm. Yum, I thought. Yum. It is called Kerala.
20% wool! Be still my beating heart!
A giant ball of aran. This is the slippery slope. Not only am I no longer a cool person (because, the highlight of my day today was getting my National Trust membership pack. I am so excited! I am going to go and read the handbook and plan excursions!), I am also no longer a cool knitter. Cool knitters do not have giant balls of aran. They have handspun laceweight which they have fashioned themselves from the soft underbelly of an alpaca they rescued from difficult conditions. They do not have enormous balls of an acrylic mix in questionable colours. I shall just say this though: £7.45 for over 900 yards. And it’s soft. Is it looking any more attractive now? (Non-UK knitters, do you even have these giant balls of aran, or is it something that doesn’t translate overseas?).

And, do you remember my interviews? Do you, hey hey hey? Well I have started them up again and I am going to do one tomorrow. Yes, because it has been a long time, I am going to relax my Friday rule. I know, it’s anarchy, don’t feel too disorientated. At least there’ll always be the giant aran balls (really, there will be. They’d survive a nuclear winter. The first shop that started up after the nuclear winter would probably have giant aran balls, Take A Break, and Pot Noodles). So, tomorrow’s interview is with Amy from Amy Orange Juice who is going to tell us about her lovely stained glass work, do check back for that. Now I go, I go to cut out more quilt squares. I try to see this as a form of Pilates and I am hopeful that not only will I have another quilt at some point but I will have buttock muscles you could crack nuts with. Watch out for my forthcoming DVD, Tone Your Bottom Through Quilting. I am not sure how well shots of me hunched and groaning over the cutting board will translate to TV but perhaps it will find a specialist market.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Preserving Passion Chapter 4

In the interests of preserving family harmony rather than passion (because my mother rings me up and says 'have you written another chapter yet? Write another chapter!' as if I were not trying to make the garden habitable and make enough money to live on as well chiz chiz), here is chapter 4 of Preserving Passion. It is a chapter with a strong moral tone and a warning to those of you who mix your drinks, and if Kahlua and Barley Wine becomes fashionable I would like you to remember that you read it here first.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

I always think it's a bad sign

When you look down at the carpet in the pub
Winter/ spring = Ugg boots, summer/ autumn = flip flops. I know it's the slippery slope. I have let myself go
and think, ooh, that looks like a Babette Blanket. I wonder if I want to crochet a Babette Blanket. (Answer: no. I don't. Or, at least not this minute, not when I'm cutting more 2.5" squares out to make another quilt. I'm a quilt masochist, that's what I am. 148 in orange! Lucky I have a neverending fabric stash).

I had my hair cut today at the local FE college training salon. £8. £8 as opposed to £55 when you go to a city centre salon! (I obviously don't pay £55 at the moment, I have no money and when I do I rush off and buy a fat quarter, sod personal vanity. But I did when I was working). And not only did she not tell me off for having hair that grows in the wrong direction on my neck and never using a hairdryer, she didn't try to sell me any 'product' and she's cut it really nice. So I shall be going back. (I have tried to cut it myself, before you say, but I can't do the back although I'm not averse to having a bit of a trim of my fringe. And I do cut Partner's. The first time I did it he looked a bit like Blackadder in the first series and he spent the afternoon afterwards sitting in the dark listening to Leonard Cohen. But now he looks perfectly respectable. You'd never know).

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

WIP Wednesday: The WIP that made me lose the faith

Ok, it’s work-in-progress Wednesday again, and I’m going to do something a bit different this week. I am going to show you my most recent failed WIP. It is a WIP Flop. You may wish to sympathise with me in my irritation or you may wish to tell me a way in which it was my fault, either is welcome as I would rather it didn’t happen again (and I don't really know why it happened this time!).

Now, the thing about me is, I am not a process knitter. I mean, I do like the process, but, I don’t do it just for the good of my health, I want a functional woolly item at the end of it. And this is why I don’t knit a lot of garments, because I have trouble making them fit, and I do not know if it is me or the pattern. I had some chunky yarn which I had bought to make Cheadle, but, I couldn’t get gauge, and, instead of just cutting my losses and selling it on ebay, I decided to have a go at the Corrugated Asymmetrical Sweater from Loop-d-Loop instead. Because I love the way it looks in the book, the pattern looked easy, and I thought it would be a quick knit.
So far so good! Oh wait let's check the measurements
Now where I think I went wrong initially is, I decided to knit the Medium size. Because I always wear a Medium. Despite the fact that the Medium would have been a 37” chest which would have given me precisely no ease. I don’t actually know what I was thinking there (well, I couldn’t quite get my head round how small the sizing was. Do you not get to knit jumpers if you’re bigger than the large sizing, which would have been about a size 12-14? (US 8-10?) ), so, it is fair to say even in perfect circumstances this jumper would have turned out a bit unattractively snug. So that was a bit dim. But, I knit a gauge swatch, and I was dead on. Hooray! I thought. I completed piece one, and I measured it against the schematic in the book. Again, dead on. Hooray x 2! I thought. By the time I had done the second body piece and was knitting down the sleeve I thought I would just put it together and check it would come out at the right measurement.
9" negative ease is not often recommended for a big chunky jumper. It looks very dramatic
Yes. 14”. This jumper would be a 28” chest. I have pinned it together and tried it on just in case the wool had any special properties that meant it completely defied the laws of physics and, gosh. I'm glad I didn’t take photos. I have a bust that makes me look like Ena Sharples at the best of times, you can imagine what bulky corrugated wool with 9" of negative ease did for me. Anyway (imagine dramatic flounce here), I am done! I am so done with pieced jumpers and nasty surprises at the sewing-up stage! I went off to Ravelry and asked for advice, and people were very, very helpful about How To End Up With A Garment That Fits. A kind person recommended this book,
I love you, Wendy Bernard, you and your helpful explanations
which I would never have bought in the normal course of things because I’m not wild about the pattern on the cover (how shallow am I?!). Well, that would have been a mistake, because this book is brilliant. It is fab. It is other slightly outdated adjectives to express approval and enthusiasm. It shows you patterns to do top-down and top-up jumpers and cardigans, with raglan and set-in sleeves, and explains how to adjust them and make them fit. Although I am not going to guarantee that I can make something devastatingly attractive, I am going to bet that I can make something at least good enough to wear in the garden from this book, and I am going to sell the Bulky Wool of Doom on ebay and start again. I am officially giving up on things knitted in bits. So, goodbye Rowan and other pieced patterns, goodbye forever! I have accepted my own inadequacies and it feels better ;-). (I’m not going to admit to myself that I’ll never be able to play the guitar yet, though. That one’s some way down the line).

To see other, successful, sexy, non-failed WIPs, and discover new crafty blogs, go and have a look at Tami’s blog. And if anyone with a 24” chest (I’m leaving you room for ease) wants an asymmetrical chunky jumper, well. You know where to come.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

I came, I saw, I quilted

++ a bonus picture of the new fence! Fabric and hard landscaping united!
Well, you absolutely aren’t going to believe this, but the quilting fairies never showed up. Never showed up! I had to quilt that quilt myself! I know! Now, it is very rare that I ever make something and think, oh God that was a performance and it would have been easier just to buy it (cough {croissants} cough) but I shall tell you this: hell will freeze over before I ever handquilt a quilt. I will pay £200 for a quilt from John Lewis which has been produced in questionable conditions rather than get out my needle again. I think Denise of Knitting Kitties commented on my blog before saying she had handquilted more than one, and so I am forced to state officially that Denise is a better woman than me, because I managed one tortured row before I gave in and machine-quilted it. Without a long-arm machine or a walking foot. Now, for those of you who are masochistic enough to ever want to do the same, here is my advice (this quilt is about 72” x 72”, so, a small double quilt – I could probably have gone about 6” bigger all round without it being any worse than it was).
Admire my failure to stitch consistently in the ditch!
- Use cotton wadding (I used Quilters Dream Cotton Select Weight). I once quilted a small quilt with fluffy polyester wadding and it got all round the presser foot, and also it was practically impossible to do without a walking foot. With the cotton wadding I did get a few bits where it bunched a tiny bit but honestly by that stage I would have been happy with anything short of a big hole in the middle of it. And now it is finished you can hardly see the dodgy bits.

- My wadding said you could quilt as far apart as 8”. My squares were 8” so I was initially going to just do lines down the quilt 8” apart, but it really wouldn’t have been enough, so I ended up doing 4” checks. I think you need to quilt it at least this close together.

- Use a strong needle. I broke three needles before I worked out I should use a bigger one.

- Quilt all over first, then fill in after. I was much happier when I had quilted enough that I could take the pins out of my quilt because it had been like wrestling with a demented hedgehog.

- I didn’t use mitred binding, I used Denise’s square binding technique and frankly I think it looks as good as the mitred.

Since I feel I have been through quite an experience with this quilt and am thus going to do the quilting equivalent of an Oscar speech, I would also like to thank Mumma Troll who made a beautiful quilt as a Christmas present for her mum* which inspired me to start my own. Thank you Mumma Troll for sharing your inspirational quilting skillz with the internet! I am now going to go and watch Judge Judy in a slightly cross-eyed fashion and continue crocheting the hideous article which is going to make me look like Mrs Weasley, but in a really bad, non-ironic way.

Quilting. More like an extreme sport than a domestic skill!

* Mum. No.

Cambridge Creatures

I'm not entirely sure what it is but it has a mohican
Creature on the gate of St John’s College (I think it was St John's). Partner did his PhD there and they occasionally try to get him to go to High Table to which I say, go, go let someone else feed you, and bring home a doggy bag and then we can cut down on the food bill and I can buy a shed. But no, he prefers to sit at home complaining about having to watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
You'd be supercilious too if you had eyebrows like mine
Creature on the steps as I walked home through Portugal Place. This is Fat Grey Pussycat who has featured on my blog before but this time deigned to actually pose, albeit in a slightly contemptuous manner.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Preserving Passion Chapter 3

You see, you thought I would give up but I haven't, so now Aunty Kath will have something to read in case it is quiet while she is in the shop tomorrow. So for those of you who are following Chardonnay's tortured path towards true love, arguing about where things are in the fridge and walking round Homebase looking at laminate flooring (run, Chardonnay! Run!), you click on the read more, and for the rest of you, I will try to find something intelligent to post next week. I will try but I may fail but the trying surely counts for something.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The change of season. + Me being effete and feeble.

It’s been a funny kind of week where getting anything done has felt like wading through treacle, and I've felt like I'm not accomplishing anything. Just like the weather. Some days have been sunny and felt just like Spring was round the corner.
Bulbs! Quick everyone rush out and get your vitamin D!
But before anyone could get excited it started raining again.
How unhappy do those ducks look? 'Hmm. Nice weather for ducks. We don't think so!'
I think we are in the Goddess as Maiden phase at the moment where she is dramatic and changeable. In real life she would be reading Twilight, worrying about her acne and spending too much money in Claire’s Accessories.
I don't know what that carpet is made of but we once upended a plate of tomato sauce on it and no stain. Kryptonite?
I got my Valentine card from Amy’s Valentine swap – isn’t it lovely? It’s from Andrea. Thanks Andrea! I have placed it carefully on our cd rack next to the lava lamp. Partner was interested. ‘Who is sending you a card that says “thinking of you?” ‘ he said, sarcastically. ‘Is it Milo?’. Milo is my brother Dan’s husky. When the only other creature in the world your partner can imagine forming an emotional attachment to you is a Husky I suspect that is a bad sign.
All things bright and beautiful la la la
Still, my daffs have come out really beautifully! I bought these from the tiny greengrocer down the road and when I brought them home, unpromising isn’t the word. But aren’t they cheery? One of the things I sometimes think I should do to, how shall we say this, incorporate my spirituality more fully into my daily life, is have an altar. A pagan altar is obviously not a huge great thing to sacrifice goats on like in Rosemary’s Baby, it is just a small space you are supposed to set aside and place symbolic things on to focus yourself. However, not only is our house very small and without clear horizontal surfaces that have not got books on, I am allergic to ornaments and it is going to irritate me just as much whether it is a gonk or an Athame. So I am not keen on an altar. So instead I am trying to bring things which are symbolic of the season and put them in the kitchen, which is where I do most of my creating stuff, so is like a giant altar. That is my theory anyway. Don’t make me go and clear a space to balance an Athame on.

At least this week ended with cake.
Cake with fruit! It is a health food. It is part of my five a day. I must make sure to eat enough of it
This is Dutch Apple Cake from Bake by Rachel Allen. If you like baking (I do like baking) I recommend this book, it has some lovely recipes.

Well, hopefully next week I will be able to get more things finished, because there’s quite a lot on my list. Soapmaking, tie-dyeing, preparing for a craft show in a few weeks, planting the new hedge, stuff to do. The one thing above all others I need to not do is start eyeing up another hobby, thoughtfully. Which is why I am absolutely not going to google anything about dyeing yarn, I am absolutely not. Because making yarn into something incredibly brightly coloured is not something that would interest me at all. No, it definitely wouldn’t. Not going to google. No…

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Like Apartment Therapy. But quite a lot more rubbish

I thought I would show you our kitchen now that I have decorated it. It will be like Apartment Therapy, but, not very good and with paint splashes in surprising places. I thought it might be at least interesting for Aunty Kath, though, because she has a shop selling kitchens and will be able to look at my photographs and think, poor Susie would be much better off if only she could rip it all out and install a Poggenpohl. And yes I would concur with this sentiment. But, you know, we have no money for Poggenpohls because I squander the household income on Orla Kiely ceramic items which I have now got to take back to John Lewis because the seal is dodgy (I know! And I have got PMT and may end up unintentionally giving the poor people in the kitchen department a piece of my mind. Hmm perhaps I should leave it to next week when I am human again).
The veg box is behind the table in the corner on the wine rack. You would be surprised what you can fit into a tiny kitchen if you are determined
This is my dining table. I can get 5 people round this which is quite impressive when you consider no-one wants to sit near Partner, as he is liable to drink wine and say sarcastic things in Latin. When we moved into our house, you had to see the kitchen to believe it. It is actually quite large for Cambridge, but the people before us had, as they would say on Phil and Kirsty, used the space in a rather eccentric way. They had built worktops all round the room so you couldn’t get any appliances under them or any furniture. Partner took one look at it and said ‘this is just silly’ and pulled the worktop away from the wall and rearranged it all so we could get a table in. This gives you an idea of the quality of the build. The worktop is not actually attached to anything, it is propped up on legs. I do not think this is normal.
At least we get sunshine
This is the worktop and my Dualit toaster which was bought for me by Aunty Kath and has seen daily use ever since. We had to install that light because when we moved in we had strip lights which, shall we say, had seen better days. One of them had seen better days to the extent that it was actually just wires hanging from the ceiling.
Daffs and garlic. There's a name for a blog right there
Pans, spices and cookery books. I would love to find a spice arrangement which means they do not all drop on my head whenever I am rootling at the back for the Asafoetida, but if I put them on the worktop they breed like ground elder so they have to be contained.
I painted those cabinet doors too. Before, they were exactly the same colour as a truss. Who wants that?
A panoramic view of the sink. You may be thinking, is that safe having a gas pipe behind a cooker, and the answer would be, it possibly isn’t ideal, no, but, I work with what I have got. You can see out of the window next door’s fence which is the only fence in our row which stands at the correct angle, go you John next door, and the paint which whoever painted the window outside got on the glass. I have actually never seen such terrible painting as the person who did this house before me, I think it was a trained orangutan. In which case obviously it is very impressive. Anyway if you too are dealing with the results of training an orangutan to paint, I can tell you that you can remove paint from glass by scraping it with a razor blade held at a 45 degree angle (or a ceramic hob scraper).
Hyacinths! ++ Something!
Bulbs! Reduced from Marks and Spencer, waiting to be snapped up. Lavender outside the window, waiting to take over the world. There is mare’s tail in that bed and I have discovered today that that is actually as bad as having Japanese Knotweed. I win, I win the Difficult House competition.

Do you all have proper, non-mad, not-codged-up kitchens? I bet you do ;-).

Monday, 7 February 2011

Cook *all* the things!

At the moment I find myself Cutting Back On Spending, apart from the Orla Kiely kitchen storage jars I have just ordered (and my mother shamed me! She said, ‘how can a storage jar possibly cost that much money!?’ – I am comforting myself with the idea that it would have cost us quite a bit more if I had not decorated the kitchen myself and now I am exhausted and have paint in my eye, chiz chiz. But yes I do feel bad! On the other hand, look at those patterns! Handmade in Portugal!). Anyway, I am Cutting Back and I find myself making good use, like a culinary Womble, of the things that I find in the Veg Box. And I have had a realisation. And I am afraid it must be shared.
Poor thing struggling through the undergrowth (not my garden I hasten to add). But look! It's Spring!
The way to make cooking hard is this: have a society where it isn’t expected that people cook from scratch every day, and so sell them lots of things which bear some resemblance to actual food, and pretend to be just as good as actual food, but which taste rubbish. And then put on cookery programmes either where people make cooking look as if it is something you just would not want to do – like Heston Blumenthal, where his head might look like a potato but none of his food does – or Nigella, where all the ingredients are expensive and are only used in one dish so every meal is costing you £20.
Pussy Willows! See! Spring! Hooray!
And, the way to make cooking easy, actually, and however counter-intuitive this sounds, is to cook, from scratch, for every meal, and cook only seasonal things. Because then not only do you have leftovers, but your choice of what to eat is vastly reduced. And this is a wonderful thing. Because normally, in supermarkets, you are presented with an infinite choice of foods, none of which is really much good, whereas if you eat seasonally (either with your trusty veg box or with your own veg if you are clever!) you have very little choice, but it does taste of something (you may not feel like this when you have had Swede in your box for the fifth week running, but, bear with me). And it is always much better, and more freeing, to have some kind of boundary round any kind of creative endeavour, and so I would much rather be in the position of thinking, what shall I cook with this aubergine from the veg box/ have to go with the leftover stew from Saturday, rather than thinking, what shall I cook at all. Because the first position leads to homecooked delicious new ideas, the second to despair and a meltdown in Marks and Spencer.

Now I have made myself sound like a food snob and a princess and you are hating me, I am going to make it even worse and tell you what I really think. I am still doing some of my shopping at Tesco, I will be honest, because it is difficult to shop conveniently for some things elsewhere (I am slowly chipping away, but, it is going to be a while yet!). So, upcoming hypocrisy acknowledged and apologised for. However, now I am cooking everything from scratch – which is actually (you might not believe me on this one, and I myself would not have believed me a year ago, but, it is true!) no more trouble than buying things ready made – I walk round Tesco and I look at some things and I think, how can people eat this. There, I said it. Why are we eating it? The quality is dreadful. Why do we put up with such terrible quality from the big supermarkets? Things that look like food, and taste a bit like what they are supposed to taste of, but, a bowdlerised, dumbed-down, watery version. I am tempted to go off into a great big digression about the Evils For Society of people as consumers only ever being offered things that are unsatisfying and unreal and make you hungrier even as you get fuller, but instead I am going to just give you comparisons here of things where the difference is so egregious I cannot understand why we are not storming supermarket headquarters and saying in a diffident British way, look, this is a bit rubbish. We wondered if perhaps you might be able to divert some of your profits to, ooo we don’t know, making things very slightly better quality. No? Too much trouble? Oh ok then, we understand. Enjoy your dividends!
Mordor. Do you see the Eye of Sauron? I do. I see it
1/ Compare a ready-made sandwich bought from any supermarket with one you have made yourself, using fresh homemade bread, and butter. In particular, imagine a homemade sandwich made of fresh bread, butter, sharp cheddar and thick-sliced beetroot still warm from the oven. No? Prefer an Asda Egg Mayonnaise?

2/  Compare oven chips to chips you have cut up yourself and oven roasted.

3/ Compare a fruit scone you have bought, which will do that awful sticking-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth and drying-your-tongue thing, with one you have just made, fresh from the oven.

What do you think?

OK, off to practice what I preach and make an omelette for dinner. With veg from the veg box! Go me! Although I have to confess to you that I have no idea what to do with my pumpkin :-(.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Preserving Passion: Chapter Two

I am painting the kitchen so no intelligent blog post or piccies but here is the next chapter in the saga in case anyone is interested. You will note that a certain personal obsession may have been introduced, I think this is often why people write books, so they can bore on about their interests in a sneaky way. Also those of you who understand Nature, especially the lovely readers who have followed me from Ish, will note that I have absolutely no clue as to what might be found in a field in February. This is because I am wussy and urban but, as extensively documented elsewhere, I am sorting out the garden so soon may have more clue about such things (so bear with, as Miranda's mother says).

Here we go, for those of you who are interested, click on the read more thingy!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Pretentious? Moi?

I have been taking part in Amy's Valentine Card swap (other participants look away now, potential spoiler alert!), and I had trouble finding inspiration. Then it came to me right at the eleventh hour and I produced this.
The stray glue doesn't look as bad in real life. Honest
Yes. I am the proud sender of the most pretentious card ever produced as part of a card swap. I posed it on Ulysses for the photograph to make it worse. I have no excuse. On the bright side if I ever have to send out any ransom notes I could do it quite quickly now. (I did get a bit of glue on the front, but, I am working on being less perfectionist and neurotic. So I left it. Oh, my swap partner has much to forgive).

(It means: I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask. I don't know, but I feel it happen, and I am tortured. It is by Catullus and I do think it pretty much says all you ever need to in a love poem, and if western society had just left it at that, we could have done away with great swathes of Shakespeare and probably quite a few of the Metaphysicals. Never mind though, nobody ever listens to my fantastic ideas about literary utility).