Monday, 25 April 2011

A Hairy Green Windfall

My friend Loretta has swapsied me some wonderful hairy green yarn. I looked at this yarn and I thought, Liesl. Loretta said she looked at this yarn and thought, terrible hairy eighties jumpers, and she felt she could not go back there emotionally. I am going to confess to you now, however, that one of my great Style Icons is Tiffany singing I Think We’re Alone Now on Top of The Pops in a big hairy jumper, so I was delighted with this yarn. Also, it is soft and non-shedding and not like the mohair my mother used to buy for me from the bargain bin in the local Wool Shop when I was a small child practicing my garter stitch on a multi-coloured scarf which has not survived the years, which is sad as I suspect the combination of my mother’s bargain colours would have rivaled Missoni.
Hulk green! Perfect for a cardigan
It left me with a dilemma, though, which was that I had already bought 3 skeins of Malabrigo Worsted to make a Liesl with. For those of you who are reading this and thinking, what happened about yarn being too expensive, to those of you, all I can say is, yes I know, but, 3 skeins (which is more than enough for Liesl) cost me £25.50, and that is below my £30 rule for a jumper. I know it is difficult to think of Malabrigo Worsted as a bargain yarn, but, it is actually cheaper (priced per metre) than some Debbie Bliss or Rowan arans (these are the UK yarns it is easiest to walk into a shop and buy), and that tells you all you need to know about the price of yarn in the UK, pity me and let’s all hope Kemps never go out of business. Anyway, despite having to use such rubbish cheapo bargain yarn, I decided to make Verdant.
Admire my velour tracky bottoms. Let myself go? Surely not
I do not like winding wool. I feel I have spent quite enough of my life with my knees propped open in front of the TV. I think Malabrigo is quite a small company, I am not sure, and perhaps they are too busy wrangling their woolly creatures to put their yarn into balls which is fair enough, but when it is a big commercial yarn company selling skeins I don’t like it. I am sure they have a sensible reason for doing it, but I sometimes wonder if they do it because they think it looks more homespun and high-end. I hope not because that would make me feel like this attractive easter card which Partner bought me.
I think words are redundant with this one
Can you imagine a more appropriate card for conveying the miracle of Spring and rebirth? It is not even an Easter card. He crossed out the Happy Birthday. I sometimes think it is for the good of mankind that I have taken Partner off the market.
Lots of stocking stitch, and I am worried it will grow and I will be flapping about like a pterodactyl
I have nearly finished Verdant and I think it will be fine (there is an error in the pattern, I shall write it up when I have finished and do my project notes). I am experimenting with knitting things I think I will actually wear – and then wearing them! The problem with this is that the things I would actually wear often involve acres of stocking stitch and are not the most fascinating things to knit. I have tricked myself psychologically into thinking that ‘making things that fit is a skill in itself!!!’ but sadly I do not think this would get me through an entire Featherweight Cardigan, which is exactly the kind of thing I would love to wear but would rather do anything than knit.
Always make sure you match your yarn to your teacup
Anyway, the cheapo bargain Malabrigo is beautifully soft, it really is. I could be cynical and say, and it will go bobbly as soon as someone looks at it funny, but, we will see and a razor can do wonders if one is determined enough. I shall go off and finish my sleeve, then I can seam it tomorrow and wear it this week! (And then I can start on the hairy yarn! Work = cut out! At least I don’t have to wind it).

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Cooking with Keith. Paella

I have a recipe for us from Keith. Keith and I used to work together and you would not ever have looked at him and thought he liked cooking (just trust me on this one, you really wouldn’t. It would be like imagining Gordon Brown doing modern interpretative dance in a thong leotard), so, subsequently, whenever he shows any signs of knowing where the oven is I am specially impressed, and I want to pat him on the head or pinch his cheeks and say, look at you, aren’t you clever. I don’t do this, obviously, because I sometimes feel there are social limits to playful irony. Anyway, he is in Spain at the moment, and, not only has he put together this recipe he has taken photographs of it being cooked on a large scale.
Whatever you do in life, a lady of a certain age will appear to check you are doing it properly
I am slightly ashamed to say to you that the only paella I have ever cooked is a Vesta one when I was a child. I imagine I would like paella very much. Perhaps I should have a go? (I mean, I made something edible out of nettles, certain people’s Gaviscon notwithstanding. How difficult can it be?).

My version of Paella
Keith Bennett

Chop up:

1 large onion
As much garlic as you like
Some green beans
Some mushrooms
Some green peppers (if you can get the Spanish type, all the better)
Two chicken breasts

Pour a large slug of olive oil into a paella pan (if you don't have one, a wok will work or a large frying pan) and heat until smoking.

Put all the chopped ingredients into the pan and cook for a bit on high heat stirring constantly. 

Add about a teaspoon of Pimenton Dulce (paprika is not a substitute for this) and a bit of any herbs you like (I like oregano). [Note from me, for those of us who do not live in Spain, I think you can either get this on ebay or use smoked paprika. He will email me now and say, no, smoked paprika is not the same! But if it is good enough for Delia it is good enough for me].

When everything's coated with the Pimenton, pour in about half a litre of chicken stock and a good slug of white wine.

Put in a large handful of peeled, cooked langoustines or prawns (don't use frozen ones, they're tasteless. Peel them yourself you lazy bastard!) [Note from me, I am going to have to quote the very funny Gingerbread Lady here: 'If you wish to change to attic24's blog, please do. She photographs tulips and ladybirds and squees at baby toes. I don't think she scolds her readers.' Also, I would not know what to do with an unpeeled prawn if one walked into the house and introduced itself to me, but you all may be better people].

Keep on high heat and keep stirring. 

Add about half a mug of washed, short-grained rice (I like brown rice - "integral" as we call it here)

Turn heat down and simmer until the rice is "al dente", stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. 

Eat with a good Rioja while listening to "Variations for Electronic Orchestra" by Keith Bennett - available from iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and eMusic. [And I think we are all admiring the subtlety of Keith’s plug here. Unfortunately because of the way his site is set up I can't do an internal link - you have to go to the link I have given you and look for Variations].
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Thanks Keith! Hope your weather is good, we are having delightful sunny days here (says she, smugly. Ha! You may have pimenton dulce but we have nice weather. For once).

Gone to seed

Fluffy! Nice! Not waiting to take over my garden at all!
I have failed to deal with the dandelions in my garden and now they will multiply like vampires. What’s worse is, I kind of find the seed heads quite pretty so on the scale of things to worry about I don’t think I am giving it the correct priority. Never mind! They can fight it out with the nettles, brambles and mare’s tail. May the Best Weed Win.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Shopping local and risking looking foolish with the fish man

Now. For those of you who have been with me since last year (and gosh, well done if you have), you may remember that the Truth was revealed to me in the middle of Sheringham, and I decided I was going to do more of my food shopping in small independent shops and less in supermarkets. Then I read Shopped and various other anti-supermarket books and bored all my loved ones with my discoveries, became righteously indignant about various encroachments Tesco was making into North Derbyshire, and rang the man from the Clay Cross planning department and alarmed him with my questions about how much of Clay Cross Tesco now owns (he wouldn’t tell me. He was very nice though, we had a long chat. I think he was worried I might be an incompetent Guardian reporter). So I like to update you periodically with how I am getting on with my efforts to bring down the supermarket monopoly single-handedly by buying my sausages from the butcher down the road and not from Waitrose.
I can call in for a sausage and then pop in to town via the river and it is much nicer than trailing round the artificially lit Mordor
Partner says I am just making my life more difficult and he thinks I have masochistic tendencies. He says instead of my various things I do i.e. knitting my own socks and similar, perhaps instead I could just hit my hand with a hammer as this would give me the same effect but with less trouble. As soon as he sees me heading off looking grimly determined with my Hemp Shopper, he mimes hitting his hand and says, ‘Ow! Ow!’ and then laughs. It has not yet palled for Partner. He also says my life is now like this Monty Python sketch of John Cleese in a cheese shop, I have to tell you that I do not find Monty Python funny. Not any of it. Not the dead parrot, nothing. I have watched this sketch all the way through to check there is nothing obscene before I link it, and my opinion of MP has not changed.

Anyway, it is all very exciting because I thought I would try shopping in independent shops for a week and then give up and go back to Tesco. However, I have not, I now shop in independent shops more than when I first started and was keen. I do still do a weekly shop at Tesco, but for fewer and fewer things (although I’ve found it hard to replace the supermarket for things like washing powder and toilet rolls. Ecover stuff is twice the price at the wholefood co-operative). I have found that I spend far less on food, and, actually, it is much cheaper to buy some things at small shops, like, free range eggs, vegetables, and meat (I never bought the really cheap meat, though). Instead of doing a weekly shop in just one place, I now go shopping about 4 times a week. I do the supermarket and the wholefood co-operative at the weekend, then I do a quick run to the butcher, the farm shop for fruit and veg, and the cheese shop on Monday morning, the veg box comes on Tuesday, then on Wednesday I go and get some fish from the fish van.
I actually go to a veg stall just out of shot on the right and the man says to me 'don't have the plums, they aren't sweet enough. Have this rhubarb!' and I am impressed by his honesty and product knowledge. It doesn't take much
Now, you are reading that and thinking, God that sounds a performance and she’d never manage to do that if she worked in an office. Well, readers, this is where I am going to surprise you, because actually it is easier than the once a week supermarket shop (honestly), and, if I went back to working behind a desk 12 hours a day fortified only by coffee and fury, then, knowing what I know now, I actually would do a version of it. For instance, it is no more trouble to get the bulk of our stuff from the wholefood co-operative and then get the rest from Tesco than it is to only go to Tesco: it’s actually easier, because going to the wholefood co-operative is on the way, and is much more pleasant, so I enjoy my shop there. And the veg box comes anyway, so whatever hours I was working it would be easier to have one delivered than go schlepping about dragging back potatoes. And I might be able to go to a butcher/ fishmonger near where I was working.

I never realised until I stopped doing about 50% of it quite how much I hated supermarket shopping. I really hated it! The fruit that you buy even though it won’t taste of anything, having to predict what you’ll want to eat all week when really you’ve got no clue, pushing your trolley round like a pratt thinking, God, where have they put the harissa. I felt like I never really wanted to eat what I ended up buying. Also the person at the till always tells me how fed up they are. One person gave me a long explanation about how Tesco always stiffed her on overtime and how she missed her old job, where she’d done something completely horrendous like work for a major pharmaceutical company poking guinea pigs with a bodkin, but at least everyone knew her name (I don’t go round asking people how Tesco is treating them, I want you to know, she did volunteer the information ;-) ). And a man once in Asda gave me a long explanation of how Asda was manipulating me as a customer. I mean, he was quite right, but the man in the fish van never tells me how I’m being cheated. He looks like he thinks I’m getting some rather fine fish. And I am!

One thing I have found with shopping in independent shops is that it was a bit of a learning curve. For instance, I have become very fond of a cheese called Cornish Yarg which I buy from the cheese shop and which is wrapped in nettles (cheese shop cheese is seriously an entirely other breed). When I last went in to buy my Cornish Yarg I had a sudden panic that I was pronouncing it wrong and that in fact it should be pronounced Yurglurglurgle or something ridiculous, like Belvoir is*. I have found in circumstances like this I have to be brave and ask. The thing with supermarkets is, you never risk looking daft as you never have to talk to anyone. You just pick up your item in a packet and then you go to the till and grunt. Whereas, in a small shop, you have to chat and say things like ‘how much braising steak is 500g’ or ‘what is your cheapest fish today’ or, ‘I would like just one very large potato please’. I always feel I will walk in and a spotlight will shine on me and a voice will say, this woman has no idea how many grams of Red Leicester is an appropriate amount for two adults for lunch for three days, because she is insufficiently middle class. I have decided this is my own insecurity and so now I just smile sweetly and ask my silly questions or gesture with my hands (‘this much!’) because the alternative is ending up with a small piece of fish which costs £7, as once happened to me. I decided that as a one-off I would look upon this as an Idiot Tax, but my budget does not allow for too many Idiot Taxes, so now I interact.
The cheese shop appears to do pork pies as well, be still my beating heart
Anyway, those are my Independent Shopping Adventures and I look forward to many more. It seriously is loads more fun, also it takes me wandering around the back streets of Cambridge and I have discovered that the area I live in is not as depressing as everyone tells me it is, it is actually quite nice. And I can stop and stroke unfamiliar pussycats, some of them are rather furrily striking (and terrifyingly trusting. Pussycats! Be cynical!). I accept I haven’t quite brought down Tesco yet, but on the plus side, we’ve had some really amazing cheese. Is there a better kind of activism than that?

* Beaver. I know you know but just in case you don't.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A possible disaster

Next week I am going on an exciting expedition to Edinburgh to my aunt’s 50th birthday party with my mum and dad. Due to none of my family answering their phones (they are all probably outside admiring the rhubarb, giving Milo Husky who is moulting a good hard brush, and talking to Beryl next door over the hedge) I have booked the guest house unsupervised, and I appear to have booked us into Chintz Hell. Note to self: check Tripadvisor before, not after.

Off to google Edinburgh Yarn Shops.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mum's blog: Words From The North

Well, it’s Wednesday fortnight and it’s time again for my blog within a blog. For those of you who might have started reading in the last fortnight (hello! {waves}), my mother has very kindly started writing a blog post once a fortnight, here is her introduction so you can get started at the beginning, and is sharing with the world her thoughts on things as diverse as the Queen Mother’s knickers to the rampant theft of handknitted items from Minis in the 1970s.

Although this is all getting a bit meta, I feel I do have to assure you that this is indeed by my mother and I have not written it. I would also like to tell you that my mother used to write me letters just like this (with bonus clip art) when I was at university, and I used to go and pick them up from the Porters' Lodge when everyone else had got stiff white invitations to posh things and letters about internships in large accountancy firms. My Aunty Kath used to send me letters also in the same vein, only hers were on old-fashioned printer paper in large handwriting so when I lifted them out of the envelope all the sheets were joined together with perforations in the side and my letter would be 6 feet long.


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WORDS FROM THE NORTH

This first paragraph is in response to Susie’s request for ‘Whatever Happened to‘? [Note from me, we were talking about this after Blog Week and really I felt my mother’s experience should be included].

Whatever happened to... MY ARAN CARDIGAN?
When I was 27 years old, I knitted an Aran Cardigan. The pattern required me to give up my social life and stay at home every day for one year reading the instructions of each row as I knitted it, the cardigan and I were inseparable. The cardigan wasn’t perfect, I somehow managed to knit the left front three inches longer than the right front, but if I lifted my left shoulder and leaned slightly to the right, I could almost lose its imperfection. On a very hot day in June I finally finished it, my pride was immeasurable . I had to wear it even though it was unbearably hot, but when the temperature reached 80F I reluctantly decided to take it off and carefully placed it on to the back seat of my blue mini whilst I happily went shopping. One hour later when I returned, some discerning thief (b******)  had broken into my car and stolen it. The policeman who took my statement and fingerprints (I’m not quite sure why) said, ‘we will notify you when we catch the thief’, I’m still waiting…………………
My mother's rhubarb, photographed in the early evening. There are normally sheep over that hedge and sometimes cows
On my last birthday I decided that for one year I would try to experience one new thing every week. Last week I exceeded all my own expectations and managed two. I went to watch a football match and ate Nettle Crumble [my nettle crumble ;-) ]. Apparently, Chesterfield FC is heading for promotion and the family insisted that I needed to be there. The crowd was very rowdy and the gentleman sitting next to my other half informed him that he was recovering from a recent heart by-pass operation and his doctor had told him not to get excited. The man said ‘I’m all right though because I’ve brought my daughter with me just in case’.
The nettle crumble was a delicious surprise, thanks Susie but I took a spoon of Gaviscon, ‘just in case’.

I recently visited McArthur Glen Shopping outlet off Junction 28 of the M1 motorway and purchased a genuine Radley handbag for half the RRP which is currently being asked in the House of Fraser. My son says I am becoming a Chav.

Finally, thank you to every-one who took the time to read my words and send in such lovely comments. I must admit that after giving the royal family a mention I did think they might have reciprocated by sending me a small token of appreciation, perhaps a tiara would have been nice. I mention this because I have been invited to a 50th birthday party in Edinburgh on the 29th April, dress code Tiara and Black tie and I seem to have misplaced mine.

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Thank you again mum! And I am frantically looking for something for the party which is not Birkenstocks and a cardigan and costs no more than £7.99, I think this will be easy to find. Mum will be returning again in a fortnight unless Hello magazine snaps her up in the meantime, or they start a programme called The Real Housewives Of The High Peak in which case understandably she may be busy, so we will make the most of her while we can.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Reality vs slick photos. Which do you prefer? (or, Veg News, you were foolish).

I don’t know about all you other people who blog, but, when I am blogging I occasionally have a conversation with myself about how much of the crappy stuff to show. Because (violins), sadly my life is not (and I know you will find this hard to believe) absolutely completely aesthetically perfect all the time, and often I read blogs admiringly where beautifully tended gardens, photogenic cats/ children and apartment therapy-type homes are in evidence and think, God, I ought to redecorate/ pave over the back garden/ hire a biddable photogenic cat (I imagine biddable cats are very easy to find) before I take any more photos.
Game! Spot the biddable Pussycat, crossing Islington High Street
Well, if you have ever had that conversation with yourself and thought, how far should I go in the pursuit of photographic attractiveness at the possible expense of honesty, you need wonder no more. Because we have an answer, and it is, not as far as Veg News. Veg News (which I didn’t know about before – we don’t get the print mag in the UK – but I’m afraid that isn’t going to stop me giving you my opinion) is a vegan magazine with (I think) features and recipes. It includes attractive photographs. Sadly one of the reasons those photos are so attractive is that they are standard stock photography of meals – not real photos of the recipes at all - photoshopped to high heaven. And what is worse, sometimes they are photographs of meat versions of the meals. With the bones photoshopped out! Well, this was pointed out on Quarrygirl, and the response from Veg News was underwhelming (it is here). They basically said, we are a bit annoyed that you noticed, no-one understands how hard we work and it is difficult getting photos.

Now, I won’t go into the whole meatiness of it because I do eat meat so it would be hypocritical (although, if I were operating a vegan magazine, ‘save money by using stock photographs of meat, don’t credit them and hope none of our committed vegan readers notices’ might perhaps not be the top objective on my business plan) but I will tell you what I suspect happened here. The stock photos have a certain professional gloss which is difficult to get if you are an amateur photographer not photoshopping things. I think Veg News thought having photographs with this professional gloss was more important in terms of selling its magazine on the newsstand than actually having real photographs, and this was the cheapest and easiest way to get them (I mean, I think that kind of indicates odd priorities and a lack of ability at getting photographs. But I bet that was it).

Anyway this made me think about blogging and photographs and honesty. One of the things I think you do when you are writing a blog (look, I spent a large part of my youth with people in leafy quads muttering to me about types of discourse, I think about things like this) is, you are saying, look! I made a widget! I want to tell you how I made my widget, because I want you to know how to make a widget too! Because your widget might go a step further and be Superwidget, and then you might blog about how to make Superwidget and we will all be the wiser! I mean, you are saying other things as well, but I do think that’s part of the dynamic. So, I think admitting to imperfection is a good part of that process, or at least it is for me, because I find it encouraging.
Bravely showing you our weatherbeaten imperfect garden table although I would like to point out that the Lucozade is Partner's
While I love really nice photographs, and I also like looking at stock photography on people’s blogs (which is often used in a really witty way), I don’t have a problem either with seeing a less-than-perfect photo of something a bit wonky and reading about how the process went slightly wrong. Because if all we were ever presented with was beautiful airbrushed images of perfect flawless Widgets and Lives we’d just feel inadequate and lie down on the sofa in our jogging bottoms eating Doritos and whimpering, surely. And I’m sure every single reader of Veg News would have said that they preferred to see actual photos of the recipes rather than a photoshopped beefburger, however attractive a beefburger that might be.
Blossom in my Purslane which I carried back in triumph from the farmers' market in a reusable hemp bag. Go me with my aspirational eco lifestyle
I think it’s a bit like if you meet a friend who you haven’t seen for a while and they ask you how you are: you don’t set your face in a rictus grin and say ‘fine. I’m absolutely fine’ even though you’re just on your way to have your leg off, but also you don’t stand moaning for an hour about how miserable you are*. (No. You ring your mother to do that). You present perhaps a slightly upbeat version of reality, but a version of reality just the same. In blogging, so in life. I won’t quite go and take photographs of what the sewing room looks like at the moment though. As Eliot said very wisely, mankind cannot bear too much reality. (I misquote).

Where do you stand?

* This is exactly what I used to do when I was doing the Job Of Doom, though. (‘And then he said… Can you believe that? Don’t walk away Goddammit! I haven’t told you in forensic detail what happened at the last Management Committee meeting and how someone raised an eyebrow during Any Other Business and that means he’s going to try to cause trouble at the away day! I don’t care how bored you are. Get Back Here!’).

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Friday Interview: Erik and Amanda from Made By Hippies

Hooray! I have another interview!

One of the things I just love in this world is tie-dye. I love everything about it. I love the colours, I love the patterns, I love how you can either go full-out hippie with it or dress it up and do ironic juxtaposition with more formal clothes. I love it. The first thing I tie-dyed was a pair of Gap chinos, years ago. I just tied 2p coins into them, bunched them up, sat them in a sink full of purple dye and they came out great, but I really like the hippy multicoloured spirals and since I’ve discovered how to do them I’ve never looked back. I also love how it is still kind of the Underground Fibre Art and the links with all things alternative (I think they used to do it on The Farm).

I particularly love poking round etsy and admiring other people’s tie-dyeing, and I have had my eye (in a non-stalkerish, non-scary way) for a while on Made By Hippies, (also see their website, here), whose tie dyes I really love because they are so beautifully colour-saturated. So thank you very much, Erik and Amanda, for letting me interview you and put your lovely things on my blog!

1/ Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?
Made By Hippies is Erik and Amanda. We do it all from making everything we sell to writing all the html code for our websites in notepad.We first met in 2005 after being introduced by Erik’s sister Sarah who studied with Amanda in the Yucatan, Mexico during college. We started out making polymer clay beads together and then started experimenting with tie dyes. Amanda was the tie dye teacher at first but since making thousands of tie dyes we have both become master tie dyers working together to make our colorful creations.
Erik and Amanda
2/ How did you get into tie-dyeing, and how did you develop your craft?
Amanda first started tie dyeing in 2003 as part of her love of fiber arts. Erik started learning in 2006 inspired by recreating classic hippy designs and inventing some new ones. We started simple learning the basics of the colors and how to apply them and get a good result on the fabric. Many of the techniques we have come to use in tie dyes we have stumbled upon by accident but they all add up to the little difference that make every tie dye artists tie dye unique from each other. We try to have a lot of full color in our tie dyes with very little or no white left in the background. When we look back at all the tie dyes we have made we can see our patterns and colors have evolved over the years as we keep refining our skills and learning more about the craft of fabric dying and tie dye.

3/ It says on your website you make your tie-dyes using renewable energy. Do you try to incorporate eco principles into the things you sell?
We think handmade and being environmentally friendly go hand in hand which is why we are PGE Renewable Energy customers.

Another aspect of this is selling our tie dyes at the Gresham Farmers Market and other open air markets and festivals whenever we can. Participation in open air markets is how people originally traded with each other and really ties in what all handmade crafters do with the rest of the community by allowing them a place to engage with their local community. Everyone wins!

4/ What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever tie-dyed?
I guess the straight up answer would be this person who responded to a craigslist ad for tie dye I had posted back in the day and she wanted her coat that have been coffee stained tie dyed so we made it up for her.

But we have had a few oddball returns where the people get the tie dye then they freak out because it’s not what they thought they ordered and send it back to us so we refund them but we just wonder what they were thinking about when they ordered the tie dye from the photo?
Amanda tie-dyeing (and also wearing a nice one!)
5/ What’s your favourite thing that you’re making at the moment?
Our favorite tie dyes to make lately are our tie dye galaxies. Each tie dye galaxy is a totally unique creation in both pattern and color and the Universe itself is our inspiration for the designs.

Here are a few examples from our etsy shop:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/60378672/

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/33070388

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/33324326

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/33035385

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/32602887

http://www.etsy.com/transaction/32708305
Tie-dye galaxy. Fabulous!
6/ Do you have a typical customer, and if so what are they like?
Really the cool thing about selling tie dyes is finding out that really everyone secretly wants to wear tie dye, even if they won’t admit it to themselves. [Note from me, this is completely true ;-) ]. We have sold tie dyes to babies that aren’t even born yet to 90 year old ladies who have been wearing tie dye for years and everyone in between. But if we had to narrow down one customer type at the market it’s the mother and daughter teams who buy the most tie dyes and then online probably just hippies who want a new tie dye that is Made By Hippies.

7/ Are there any other tie-dye artists you particularly admire?

Yeah there are definitely a lot of cool tie dyers out there making tie dyes. Sometimes at festivals we will see someone wearing a really cool intricately designed tie dye and we will study it and try to imagine how it was folded up and how it was dyed and then later when we get back to the tie dye studio try to recreate it. There are lots of great tie dye artists on etsy too. Although there are some poorly made tie dyes out there (more the mass produced stuff) that I definitely do not enjoy I admire everyone who makes their own handmade tie dyes.

One last thing I want to say, please check out our free tie dye instructions at http://www.howtotiedye.net and then our websites at http://www.madebyhippies.com and http://www.etsy.com/shop/madebyhippies and http://www.youtube.com/user/madebyhippies and http://www.twitter.com/madebyhippies

Peace!

Erik and Amanda

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Thank you Erik and Amanda, really enjoyed your interview and I love your tie dyes (also, do look at their really helpful tie-dye instructions – I had never thought of putting the fabric on a draining rack or letting it dry first, and I think it would really help so I am going to try with my next batch. I see much tie-dyeing in my future. Indeed mum wants a tshirt 'that will co-ordinate with beige'. It's a bit of a challenge but I'm going to have a go).

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

How we can defeat global capitalism by knitting socks

Right. Following my previous post about how much we spend on crafts, I have had further thoughts and now I have a Theory which is going to embrace all sorts of things from the marginalisation of the craftsperson to Heartless Global Capitalism, so I would go and make a nice cup of tea before you start. (Thank you so much to everyone who left interesting comments which made me think further, and especially to Rachel over at Growing Things and Making Things, who wrote a very interesting blog post referencing my blog post, which I agree with. So now I am going to write another blog post referencing her blog post, and thus the world turns).
Circle shrug. I did not have a shawl pin but never mind! I had a leaky biro!
This is my Theory About Knitting. Although many people have been knitting all the way through, I think it is fair to say that in internet and Meeja terms, knitting had a bit of a renaissance in the last 10 years or so, and I think part of the reinvention of knitting – and of craft in general – was people making an effort to show that crafts were not cheap embarrassing things, but that they could produce desirable, luxury products. Now, I agree: I am completely sold on this. I think handmade things are better, and I thought this when I had no time to make them myself, too. And if I was a process knitter producing beautiful complex lace/ colourwork/ entrelac socks and really enjoying every single yarnover, I can’t see any reason why I wouldn’t want to spend every bit of disposable income I had got on the yarn and the tools. I can’t see why I would want to economise, because it would be a treat purchase (assuming I had the money, obviously) – the yarn I liked would make the process much more enjoyable, and the enjoyable process and the luxury end product would be the whole point.
Shalom cardigan. It is very warm
However. As I have said before (and I hope they don’t take my Ravelry account away ;-) ), I’m not a process knitter. I’m not really a process anything. (although I like writing. I am a process writer. You can tell, I blog too much). And one of the things I would like to do is make things that are better and more economical (not necessarily cheaper up front, but more long-term economical) than things I could buy. At the moment, I feel like a lot of craft supplies are marketed to encourage people to make small luxury accessories, because I suspect most people can’t afford, on a regular basis, more than about 2-3 skeins of a lot of the yarns that are out there. 200m of something soft and handpainted for a cowl? Lots of lovely choice. But if you want to buy a job lot of affordable hardworking yarn to make a functional jumper to wear in the garden, you’re perhaps not quite so well catered for.
I cocked up the buttonholes a bit. But it's fine! I can force a button through!
Now, I think it is fair to say that the people who are making the small luxury accessories are making much more interesting things than Mr Gradgrind-type people like me would knit, but, for me, the joy of craft is in making things I would normally buy, not only in the art of it (I suspect this makes me unusual. Don’t hate me). So, if I can only afford enough yarn to make an Ipod cosy, however beautiful that Ipod cosy might be, that just depresses me. Because although having beautiful luxury Ipod cosies out there in the world is a wonderful thing, for me, I think only having (metaphorical) cosies (obviously except killer rabbit ones, which are both useful and wonderful), encourages the idea not that craft produces beautiful high-end things – which it does – but that it is something you do as an extra hobby, not something that could realistically replace the things you buy. And that marginalises it.
Right everyone, put down that alpaca laceweight and start knitting wonky garter stitch trivets like me. What? Do I hear dissent?
I don’t want to go back to the days where you had to walk about with your great big long double pointed needles in a leather sling knitting a jumper for your husband to wear down the mine while you were milking 50 cows (or whatever), but, look, I am sitting here knitting anyway, I would like to knit something that I find useful. Because, as I have bored on about before, I think being able to make things is very powerful. It stops us being sheeplike (ha!) consumers: it implicitly makes us informed critics of capitalism.

To me, it is a bit like cooking. Whenever I watch celebrity chefs on TV, there they are waving their truffle oil about and banging on about the importance of good quality ingredients, or going visiting people down country lanes who are producing honey from heritage bees and charging £10 a pot. Well, I agree that the world needs the £10 honey, and there are many reasons (political/ eco ones, too) why good-quality ingredients are better. However, the truth is that if you make a Victoria Sponge out of value flour, random jam you made from foraged hedgerow bits, and week-old butter from the corner shop, it will still taste nice, and it will taste much better than if you had bought one ready made from the supermarket. And I think sometimes celebrity chefs banging on about expensive ingredients – which most people can’t afford, or get regularly – means people are discouraged from using basic, cheap ingredients everyday, so cooking becomes a thing you do for special occasions rather than an everyday thing. But I have found the important thing in terms of taste, health, cheerfulness, everything (and I am conscious of the irony of this after the fondue post) is that you cook it yourself. Great when you can get excellent ingredients, and make an effort to get them by all means: but if all you can get/ afford is a tablespoon of lard and a floppy carrot from the local co-op, cook anyway. I feel the same about knitting/ crocheting.

So this is a manifesto for everyday knitting/ crocheting, making things we use. Not all the time, obviously, because I still want to knit a dalek and also I saw a Gargoyle on tatknitcat’s blog the other day and I might want to do him. But let us use our knitted items, sometimes make boring functional things, and wear the things we make, proudly. Let us get out there with our beautiful shawls and make non-knitters jealous. Let us knit socks which are a million times better than the ones you buy in a threepack (like condoms! And actually practically no more durable!) from Asda.
Good functional socks drying on the radiator. Now Elizabeth Taylor has sadly shuffled this mortal etc etc someone has to fly the flag for Glamour
Let us think about what we buy, and think if perhaps we want to make it instead, because making it instead is a radical act (although I agree we don’t want to do it all the time. I knit very slowly. Right hand thrower, hand off needle). I know this doesn’t help with the ‘yes but yarn is very expensive and that is actually the whole reason you are doing this blog post’ issue, so I am going to go away and think about what things I have knitted that are actually, truly cost-effective, and ways of making the whole thing financially manageable with a view to doing another post at a later date. In the meantime I shall go and weave in ends.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Last Fondue

Today is Partner’s birthday.
Remote control and corkscrew. We are sophisticates
So he gets a treat. I have let him have a cake from a shop. Partner and I clash slightly on matters culinary, I am the type of person who makes my own yoghurt, Partner is the type of person who laughs at people who make their own yoghurt. We have also had his other favourite food from a shop this week.
I think that's my hand in the corner, I'm frankly puzzled to think what other body part it could be
Fondue. When Partner was with his ex-girlfriend, a fine woman who had a proper job and didn’t crochet mad things as far as I know (nearly finished that shrug! It’s a killer!), he used to live for half of the year in Switzerland. He has retained two significant emotional impressions from this period. The first is the memory of a big fat white cat he used to watch from the window of the third-floor flat they lived in. This cat lived in the block of flats opposite, and every day it used to climb carefully out of its window and walk all around the block of flats, three floors up, on a very, very narrow ledge, while Partner watched in anxious horror to make sure it got back in its window again. He says he can only theorise that the big fat cat had discovered the very narrow ledge when it was a small thin kitten and they were a better fit, and as it got older and wider it refused to accept that the whole thing was no longer practical, and because it couldn’t turn round on the ledge once it had started it had to keep going. He used to suffer agonies expecting to see it one day plummet to its doom. All this says to me is that even when capricious Fate scoops Partner up and sets him temporarily down in a penthouse overlooking Lake Geneva, he will find something completely bizarre to obsess about. The other thing he retained was a love of fondue.
Aspirational couple + melted cheese
Fondue is pretty much my favourite thing you can buy in a packet (although if anyone Swiss is reading this and wants to tell me it would be much better made from scratch, I will go out and stock up on Kirsch and have a go). We have it quite often (indeed I am possibly the only person alive who has ever worn out a fondue set) and the best one is the one from Waitrose, ^^^. It is expensive (about £4.50) but it is a complete meal for 2-4 people (do I sound like a fondue advert copywriter?). We just dip bread in it, or bread and potatoes and it is a good way of using up bread that is a bit stale. If the beginning of the asparagus season is cold enough to have fondue (which sadly it sometimes is), I sometimes have a bit of asparagus with mine as well. We love fondue because it is cheerful and warming, although sometimes it is a bit of a challenge buying the fuel for the burner. I once went into every shop in Ely and no-one had any, I was quite indignant until I thought, Susie, get you with your middle-class non-problems, so I went home and ordered some on Amazon. Anyway, now they have them in Divertimenti in town so all is well, I try not to look at all the cake decorating things when I go in as I have always had a bit of a yen for cake decorating and the very last thing I need is another hobby.

Anyway sadly I think that will be the last fondue this year as the weather is getting warmer. Obviously I love summer food as well, but there is something special about fondue, being able to poke things with your little fork and the smell of the burning fuel etc, so I will be pleased to see it roll round again come Autumn.

Monday, 11 April 2011

How much do you spend on your crafts?

When I was a young stripling, homemade equalled cheap. If you were wearing something homemade, people thought it was because you couldn’t afford to buy a proper one from a shop. I can still remember (violins please) the first garment I got from a shop, so it must have been a big deal: it was a nylon puff-sleeved blouse with an elastic bottom from Littlewoods, with a neon geometric print on a white background. I was beyond thrilled, and I wore it to a disco with my cousins John and Richard, you can imagine how stylish I looked. Anyway, now we have reclaimed homemade and we call it handmade, much excellent outreach and activism has been done on getting people to value handmade and not see it as a crappy cheap alternative. So here is my confession. Sometimes I wish it was a crappy cheap alternative. Although, emotionally, I am right there with everybody who is happy to pay £150 to get wool which has been gathered at dusk from the underbelly of a llama fed only on the finest tunnocks teacakes, financially, one of the things which really put me off knitting when I started (and stopped me quilting for years) was the thought of having to spend all that money on materials.
The John Lewis remnant bin's finest + a load of scrotty old bits. Hooray! Another quilt!
When I started, I mainly had access to Rowan knitting and quilting books, where if you buy the recommended yarn you are looking at about £70-£100+ for a jumper, or about £150 for the fabric for a quilt. Because I was dim and hadn’t discovered Internet Knitting/ anarchist guerilla quilting (I made that up), I didn’t realise you didn’t have to spend sums like this, and it really made me think that knitting and quilting were not for such as I, but were for nice wealthy ladies with long arm sewing machines, endless money for Kaffe Fassett fabrics, and houses big enough to lay the quilt out in (… and obviously this would be easier. But hard-up scruffs like me, we can quilt too!).

Not only do I not have that kind of money to start with, I would be reluctant to spend it anyway on projects I am practicing on, because I would feel I couldn’t make a mistake, my mad unhealthy perfectionism would kick in, and I would never get it finished. On the other hand, I don’t want to use materials that aren’t nice to use, and don’t make a finished product I am pleased with, and I don’t want to use materials that exploit people or are worse for the environment than I can help. So I wondered (because the crocheted shrug is eating up yarn and I am having to go poking about at Kemps to buy more) – how much do you generally feel happy about spending on a project?
I am the Giant Multicoloured Yarn-Eating Circular Shrug and I wish to be fed more DK, slurp slurp
Me:

For knitting/ crocheting projects, I don’t like to spend more than about £30 for a garment, and if possible I like to spend a lot less. This means essentially that I buy most of my yarn from Kemps. If Kemps are not selling it, I am probably not knitting it. I also buy yarn on sale from The Black Sheep, and I think the Araucania clearance at Stash fine yarns is great. If I get my yarn from Kemps, though, I can get enough yarn for a cardigan or something for less than £20. This means I feel happier about making mistakes, ripping out, and treating projects as a learning experience. For smaller projects i.e. one or two skeins, I don’t mind buying a much more expensive yarn, and I don’t think sock yarn is expensive at all, even if it works out at £15 for a pair of socks. Superior socks, people, superior socks!
Bargain yarn of thrift and utility. Wait...
I am only on my second proper quilt, but, I like to make them with the scraps from fabric I have got left over from other sewing projects, and I try to keep my purchasing of actual new fabric (front, back and binding) down to about 2 metres and preferably none. So my quilts so far have each cost me no more than £16 for fabric + £17 for batting each (the first was made entirely from stash fabric). This is dependent on having a large fabric stash, it is true. I normally acquire my fabric either from remnants bins, from old clothes cut up, charity shops, or random stash packs from etsy or Ely Cycle Centre. I do buy some full price yardage occasionally, but I tend to enjoy the scratting about, so if suddenly I got lots of money I don't think I'd do any different.

For sewing clothes, I like to make clothes out of upcycled things anyway, so I am happy to use inexpensive materials (indeed! I enjoy it!). If I am making something out of actual new fabric, I tend to use quilters’ cotton, which is relatively inexpensive (and I tend to buy the lines which are discounted because I am not, shall we say, fussy about pattern). So I would expect a dress or a skirt (thread/ needle excluded) to cost about £10-20, because normally you don’t need more than about 3m, but I would be happy to pay £30 or so (very occasionally). Beyond that, I would start to get very, very twitchy.

Does that all seem cheap or expensive to you? I am interested. How much would you spend on a project?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A celebration of nice weather. And another rhubarb recipe

We have had lovely, lovely weather this weekend. When it is warm in Cambridge everybody goes out and finds a patch of grass and then sits on it.
Divided but together, staring into the middle distance
I count myself exceptionally fortunate to have my own patch of grass i.e. the garden to sit on. It has been possibly my favourite week of the year in the garden: as I am not much of a gardener, I cannot say that our patch is a cornucopia of earthly delights with new and thrilling blooms every month of the year. No. We have a few ratty daffodils and that is about it. We do, however, at the very beginning of summer, have the cherry blossom tree, which has survived my lack of pruning, and an ivy which is trying to strangle it, and has done its magnificant cherry blossom thing again.
You see, if that was a quilt you'd think it was a bit garish
Partner has also been enjoying the garden.
Partner in shades and not properly attired. God knows what the neighbours think. They probably think, there goes the neighbourhood
The squirrel who comes and eats the nuts I put out for the birds is completely furious that Partner is encroaching on his turf. Completely furious. He cannot forgive. He sits on the fence and stares at him. I am hoping he does not move from passive aggression to active resistance, but Partner is very laissez-faire about wildlife (there was an incident recently involving a spider in the bathroom) so I am leaving him to fend for himself.

Mum and dad came to visit this weekend and brought me some rhubarb. We have been having lots of rhubarb since it came into season and I was happy to have it again as I am enjoying it this year. Mum said she was about to take a knife to her rhubarb patch when she was apprehended by Beryl, who is my mother’s next door neighbour, peering at her over the hedge. ‘Put that knife down!’ Beryl said. ‘I will give you some of my own rhubarb to take to Susie. Because my rhubarb is bigger’. So my mother feels her own rhubarb has been unforgiveably dissed, but we all enjoyed Beryl’s rhubarb and I have sent her some marmalade to say thank you. I feel I have essentially moved to a barter economy and perhaps I may end up like the man who started off with a paperclip and ended up owning something like prime real estate in Manhattan (or perhaps it was a slightly larger paperclip). Anyway, I shall share with you my rhubarb-using-up recipe. Because, it uses lots of rhubarb (and I am suspecting rhubarb oversupply might have become a bit critical in Chesterfield if people are fighting over who is giving theirs away) and is so easy you can cook it when your brain has gone awol, which mine has this week. I always think that would be a fine recipe book: Recipes You Can Cook Even When You Have PMT or Have Started on the Gin. I cooked it with a migraine! - For those of you who get them you will know the flashing lights do not help with difficult culinary manoeuvres.

Rhubarb Fool – serves 4 people (or thereabouts).

500g rhubarb
150g sugar
250ml double cream

Chop up the rhubarb into smallish pieces. Put it in an ovenproof dish with the sugar, give it a good stir round. Again, you can use any sugar you have got, I always go digging at the back of the cupboard where I seem to have an endless supply of muscovado sugar which I have not consciously bought for years, it is a mystery where it comes from. Cover the dish in foil and cook at about 190-200 degrees C for about 40 minutes, then take it out, poke it with a fork, and if it is soft then good, it is done, if not, leave for about another 15-20 mins. When it is done, sieve the juice into a separate jug and save it, then leave the rhubarb to cool. Then whip all the cream into soft peaks, squash up the rhubarb and fold it through, and fold through a splash of the juice. Then you can add the rest of the juice to taste when you have served up the fool.

Delicious. If I had had energy and no migraine I would have made some biscuits to go with it, shortbread would have gone really well. I have no photos sadly because we ate it really quickly, so, you might want to take the lack of photo as, counterintuitively, a really good sign. Happy rhubarbing.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Why I love Doris Chan

I’m crocheting a shrug.
I am indeed planning on wearing it in public
It’s this pattern from Lion Brand (you have to register for the link – here it is on Ravelry but you have to register for that too, sorry!). I’m just about to divide for the armholes but the way they ask you to do it in the pattern is completely mad so it’s possible I will get no further. I am going to try to codge something up with Doris Chan’s foundation chain technique (using double instead of single crochet) but we will see how I get along. Now occasionally amongst the mad rambling on this blog I tell you something useful so, grit your teeth as this is one of those moments. For those of you (and I am sure there must be some because I was one) who gave up on crochet because crocheting into the foundation chain is so completely appalling, there is no need to do the various fixes you might have thought of, like, for example, making the foundation chain with a hook 10 sizes bigger, getting a harder friend to do the first row, or getting drunk to do it. No. Put down that Cabernet, stop crying, wrestle your hook and yarn back from the cat, because there is no need to resign yourself to a crocheting career restricted to only granny squares (although, what a fine career that would be, as granny squares are my favourite thing EVER). Try Doris Chan’s technique, which is very simple and creates an initial chain made from single crochets, which gives you a fighting chance of being able to crochet into them on the next row. Hooray! The world rejoices. There is some info on her blog here, but there is a full explanation + diagrams in her book Amazing Crochet Lace (possibly in the other books too, it’s just that that’s the only one I’ve got), and I think for me that alone justified the price of the book. Also if you google ‘foundation single crochet’ you will get various instructions on blogs etc or here.

A world of crocheting scarves lengthwise awaits us. We’ll have a go at world peace next week, but for now I hope that was helpful. Thank you Doris.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Introducing my new regular guest blogger! Words from the north

Well readers, I have a treat for you today. I have a special new guest poster who is going to do a blog post every other fortnight. It is my mother. Yes! Because she sends me such surreal emails that I have been saying to her for a while, mother you should start a blog, and then I thought I might be making a rod for Dan my brother’s back and I thought, a blog within a blog! So this is my mother’s inaugural blog post EVER and I hope you enjoy it. I must say, it has surpassed even my highest expectations, because I did not think even my mother would be able to insert the Queen Mother’s knickers into her first blog post. I reflect thoughtfully on the fact that we don’t call her Hyacinth for nothing.

My mother is the queen of bargain hunting, and in future blog posts will no doubt be sharing all her thoughts about how one might acquire a Radley handbag with so many cumulative discount coupons that the Radley shop ends up paying you and giving you a free pie, and the best place to have a cup of tea in the Peak District. In the meantime here she is introducing herself. I could not quite extract a picture of the waistcoat or Foster Dog, but we are working up to pictures in the next blog post when my mother has wrestled the digicam from my dad and worked out the macro button. In the meantime here is a picture of some stranded yoked colourwork I spotted in the wild, Sarah Lund eat your heart out.
I may occasionally sneak up behind people in woollies to take their photo. Don't be scared, residents of Cambridge
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

WORDS FROM THE NORTH

Well, the men folk have gone to the football match leaving ‘foster dog’ and I sitting side by side in front of the computer screen, silently watching and waiting for inspiration.

I like to think I have been asked to contribute to the Useless Beauty Blog because I am a very creative person but sadly I think is more to do with nepotism. When I read Susie’s Blog I am amazed at the variety and quality of pieces she regularly produces. I on the other hand tend to find one thing that I like and make many of it. I once knitted seven jumpers from the same pattern because it was quick, easy and baggy. I also like the process of sewing a garment to be quick, e.g cut out in the morning, sew in the afternoon then wear proudly in the evening. I am currently knitting my third waistcoat from the same pattern, so, if there’s a condition called Repetitive Quick Knitting/Sewing Syndrome, then I‘ve certainly got it.

I live in a beautiful corner of north Derbyshire, right on the edge of the Peak District National Park and just over the hill from Chatsworth House which belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The public road winds gently through the grounds of the house, where deer and cattle wander freely and so do we. We recently wandered freely through the grounds on our way to Matlock where John Smedleys were holding their wonderful Factory Shop sale. Hundreds of bargain hunters come from miles around to purchase jumpers and cardigans priced at £15 each (seconds) £25 (perfect) and a further reduction if you purchase three items. It was chaotic, just like a feeding frenzy at the salmon farm, people were stripping to their underwear and a lot of them were pensioners. I didn‘t strip but I did buy three items. Prince Charles and Camilla frequently visit Chatsworth House so I wonder if they buy anything from Smedleys sale, I know for a fact that the Queen Mother always bought her knickers from there, obviously not in the sale though. (The family have warned me not to mention anyone by name but I don’t think the Queen Mother counts.)
I mention the Factory Shop sale because I love finding a genuine bargain.

I have worked in various jobs during my working life, the last sixteen years as the Manager of a Citizens Advice Bureau in Nottinghamshire where luckily all the Factory shops seemed to be. There were four Marks and Spencer Factory Shops surrounding the bureau and one Jaeger Factory shop sited conveniently on my way home. It is no coincidence that I retired at the same time as Marks and Spencer closed three of these shops.
My other half is a retired housemaster who unbelievably liked his work but now likes taking tea in the countryside better.
Foster dog is just visiting until he finds a better place to live.

Thanks Susie for being brave enough to invite me, your Mother to contribute to your Blog.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No, mother. Thank you! Mum will be returning the Wednesday after next so check back then and in the meantime she will be checking nervously for any comments, so if you want to say hello, do feel free ;-).

Monday, 4 April 2011

Susie the fearless forager

At the moment chez Useless Beauty we are practising Thrift, Thrift in all things, whipping up corsages from the bits of fabric only a lunatic would keep, and making dinner from nettles, (especially after seeing the gas bill which came today). So I would like to turn your attention to Mumma Troll’s blog where she is going to be co-ordinating a thrifty food challenge (Challenge 35) on the week beginning May 8th. The challenge is to feed yourself and your family for a week on the number of people in your household in pounds per day. So for partner and I, that would be a week of groceries on £14. Mumma Troll has some rules on her blog here, and Partner has invented a special supplementary rule which is, wine is excluded from the £14. He and I may have to discuss that nearer the time. I almost invented a further supplementary rule for myself which was, veg box veg are also excluded from the £14, but then I decided that was cheating a bit and I might as well decide that it doesn’t count if it comes from Waitrose or something. So I will be doing the challenge properly, but with some trepidation; because I literally cannot think of one meal which costs under £2. I hope Mumma Troll will be gentle. If you would like to sign up too, I am sure she won’t mind having more people. And it will be fun! (says she nervously).

However, having said that, I did actually make dinner from nettles over the weekend and I imagine the meal I made was not expensive at all. Firstly I went out and picked my nettles. I was a bit nervous that I would pick something that wasn’t a nettle but was in fact deadly nightshade in disguise or something. I found these growing in the border I am digging over at the moment
With the luck I have re gardens, this is probably Japanese Knotweed
And to test whether they were nettles or not I grabbed them to see if they stung me. Well, they didn’t sting me, which was very strange, as they look like nettles to me, apart from the white flowers. So I thought I should not risk it, and I went and picked some nettles (wearing my gloves) from under the apple tree and put them in my colander.
Scary nettles
Then I made dinner as follows: I fried an onion and garlic in a pan, and added thyme (just dried, from a packet), and some jerusalem artichokes chopped into discs. I cooked them for about 5 minutes, then added the nettles and wilted them, then I added a splash of double cream and some vegetable stock, boiled it for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid, and put in an oven dish. Then I topped it with breadcrumbs (just torn-up bread), some oats, some butter, and some grated cheese, and cooked at 190 degrees C for about 30 minutes.
The reason this looks unappetising is because I took the photo under artificial light
This is my bastardised version of the proper recipe which you can find in River Cottage Everyday, which is an excellent book which you should buy (or be thrifty and get from the library). And actually, it was completely delicious, and cost practically nothing to make as the nettles were free, the jerusalem artichokes came in the veg box, and everything else was just bits of leftovers that were hanging around. As I make more of an effort to plan meals properly and not have any waste, I realise just how many recipes have been invented to use up leftovers, indeed some weeks I feel like we only eat leftovers created anew into exciting new dishes but there must have been an original meal – an Ur-Meal – at some point. Possibly some time in 2008.

Anyway I have more leftovers now, because I couldn’t eat all the jerusalem artichoke and nettle bake in one go; so I have stashed it in the freezer from whence it will reappear in splendour one day when the cupboard is bare.

Friday, 1 April 2011

And now for something completely different. 2kcbwday5

Good morning everyone. This is our brief for today:

experimental blogging day to try and push your creativity in blogging to the same level that you perhaps push your creativity in the items you create.

Well, I thought of doing a video but I ran out of time, so I wrote a poem instead. It is the Ballad of The Lonely Plastic Knitting Needle. This one was starting to rival the Aeneid but I have got it down to a manageable length hopefully. What more can I say? I wrote a poem about a knitting needle. Even I think this is a bit peculiar.
How did that loose thread get in the photo???
The Ballad of the Lonely Plastic Knitting Needle

I am a plastic needle.
My life, it is so tragic.
Yet once, I was in constant use.
How did I lose my magic?

Though some needles were metal
Most once were plastic too
Like me. We nothing knew then
Of perspex and bamboo

When I was young and vibrant
And knitting DK till it
Formed wild and stripy jumpers
In lovely bright acrylic.

I got a lot of use then.
I knitted things for babies.
Sturdy moss-stitch cushions.
Lace cardigans for ladies.

I whipped through static Fun Fur
And giant balls of aran.
I never dreamed that one day
My purling would be barren.

But winds of change were coming
To wool shops through the land.
What once had been de rigeur
Now seemed a little bland.

First came a certain Zimmerman.
My gloom’s been incremental
Since she persuaded everyone
To switch to continental.

Yes I know whose the fault is.
Do not think I do not.
It’s people on the internet.
It’s Ravelry and that lot.

It’s those newfangled patterns.
I blame that Debbie Stoller.
And Drops, Knitpicks and Knitty.
One Claps and they all foller.

I blame the knitting bloggers.
I blame the top-down raglan.
No-one loves straight needles now.
They pretend they never had them.

My mate, he took it badly.
Despair, drink, drugs then rehab.
Now he’s staking runner beans
Behind some old darling’s prefab.

I can’t get on with circulars.
I snubbed a couple once.
I thought they were peculiar.
Now all I meet are tons

Of circulars and doublepins.
And snooty Malabrigo.
I’m oppressed by natural fibres.
I think they are all ego.

Begone, handpainted yarn.
I am so over qiviut.
I disapprove of Knit Pro circs
Because I am not with it.

I want giant balls of aran.
Pink double knit for babies.
I want boring stocking-stitch
On v-necked vests in navy.

Moody men on patterns.
Of acrylic I want oodles.
I want seams up backs of socks
And cosies shaped liked poodles.

Because those fickle winds of change
Could blow the other way.
The world might tire of Addis
And I might still have my day.

I’m a plastic knitting needle
And I hope my future’s brighter
Filled with wool, fun, life and patterns.
It’s a good job I’m a fighter.