Saturday, 9 August 2008


Regard: My first woolly Ebay purchase. It gives me a real sense of acheivement. Not entirely sure what to make with them now.
This seems to be a recurring problem: namely wondering into a shop like a child in a sweetshop, picking up nice fat balls of wool I like the look of, vaguely thinking, "oh yes, that WILL be useful, better get two, or three." then arranging them prettily on a shelf at home and never turning them in to something else.
Worst Offenders:
This very exciting all natural, all heritage wool from a tourist shop improbably placed halfway up a hill in the Scottish Highlands.
(Naturally bought three as I wouldn't be coming back. Too scratchy to wear, maybe it will become a nice beret?)
This unidentifiable but so pretty haul from the bargain bin in Shoreham...I'm frightened it won't be as beautiful if I were to unwind it and knit it.
This Rowan wool aran, which I couldn't resist in a sale. I wanted to make myself a little hat, or gloves but have gone off the colour after looking at it everyday for six months.
These two prized treasures carried off triumphantly from Venice because they reminded me of radicchio. And then realising how thick it is, and worrying, as usual, that I won't like it so much knitted. Maybe they'll be too much white? These two especially induce guilt.

I'm hoping that all these problems and more can be solved by Ravelry. I admit it, I was sceptical at first, but but but, you can just stick the yarn in and find out what everyone else has been doing with the same...brilliant.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Woolly thoughts in Wales

Went on a little holiday to Wales last weekend.
We were coming back from Ireland on the ferry, and drove from Holyhead, through Snowdonia and then stayed overnight on a farm in the Brecon Beacons.
Wales is beautiful, and I felt so lucky to be able to see such different landscapes in one day. Although I did nearly cause a car crash when I got over excited about seeing a big pig leaning out of what I thought was an abandoned cottage window.
We had lunch by a waterfall in Snowdonia (although managed not to take any pictures sadly) and tea in a village near the sea.
I couldn't believe my good fortune when we stopped there and had a nose around, only to find the most enormous sack of wool outside a charity shop for five pounds. I snapped it up and discovered an unfinished knitted patchwork blanket hiding inside.
Now most likely this is the unfinished work of a lovely old Welsh lady who died and left her family at a loss of what to do with her knitting, so I have promised to finish her lovely blanket for her. Watch this space.
We also saw an awful lot of happy woolly sheep, just growing their hair to turn into lovely knitted objects. The Colonel didn't like them much, but all I could see were dozens of tea cosies/socks/jumpers wondering around.
It made me want very badly to upsticks, move to the Brecon Beacons and start my own wool farm/knitting pattern/cookery school/B and B there.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Little Miracles

Miracle of miracles- the butternut squash seeds have germinated! I am so happy, especially after everyone laughed at me for planting them.
And as I was tending to my geraniums, I found a propeller seed (I'm not sure what their real names are: are they a specific tree or do lots of seeds disperse like this?) had also taken root in its pot. It was incredible to think that in all the places it could have landed in London's concrete jungle, it somehow found its way to my geranium pot and managed to come to life. It is such an inspiring and special though.
I'm going to try and leave it alone, as all of my seed interferences have so far led to disaster.

My gardening week

On Tuesday, another lovely leaf day, I had the day off and vowed to accomplish great things on the balcony.
I replanted some parsley and sage seeds, the last set having given up the ghost. I had a little funeral for them as I put them in the rubbish, felt very sad and vowed to try harder. I think I am too impatient. I also abandoned the egg box scheme, and bought peat pots. The cardboard kept going mouldy and it was so hard to pot the seedlings on without damaging their little roots.
I put the garden centre buys into their jolly pots and spent some considerable time admiring the colour clash they effected.

And I did what I should have done last year and staked my sweetpeas. I'm staggered that they managed to survive the whole winter outside in the cold, and decided to show my gratitude by thinning them, and tying them on stout little poles. I hope I didn't disturb their roots too much, and they will repay me with beautiful flowers in a few months time.

An Easter Simnel Cake and some lovely eggs

Being a traditional sort, I jump at the opportunity to bake something festive at Christmas and Easter, and this year I decided to make an Easter Simnel Cake, having missed the chance on Mother's Day.
I love the idea that you can recreate something that has been baked over hundreds of years, and bring an old recipe to life again. The same feeling of resurrection and renewal of an old way of life hits me when I knit something from an old pattern, such as the new tea cosy I'm knitting from an old magazine I bought on ebay.
I always felt very sorry for Judas when I sat in church as a little girl, and always thought he was rather unfairly vilified, so I decided to give him a little break and reinstate him as the 12th Apostle on the top of my cake. However, my mother objected and I ended up eating him instead. Poor Judas.
I made the cake using eggs from my cousin's French hens that he gave us as an Easter present. They came covered in mud, and they yolks were a really custardy yellow, and I think they gave the cake an extra deliciousness.

Easter Simnel Cake (loosely based on the old 1982 Crank's recipe book)
8oz butter
8oz sugar
4 eggs
10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
16oz mixed dried fruit
1tsp dried cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
splash of milk

For the marzipan
4oog icing sugar
250g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons orange juice
5-6 drops of almond essence

First make up the marzipan and set to one side. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, and stir in the ground almonds. Beat the egg yolk and add slowly, followed by the orange juice and almond essence. Stir hard, until a sticky paste has formed. Add more icing sugar and beat, so the mixture can be handled without sticking too much to hands.

Then cream together the butter and the sugar.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt and spices together, then stir in the fruit. Add the beaten eggs to the sugar and butter, and then pour the lot into the flour and fruit mixture. Beat well with a wooden spoon and add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.

Grease and line a 24cm round cake tin, and add half of the cake mixture. Divide the marzipan in two, with one bigger than the other (this is to make the apostles for the top). Roll out the smaller half to just under 1/2cm thick, and cut into a 24cm circle. Put this on top of the cake mixture (roll out onto a piece of clingfilm if it is still sticky, so you can transfer it easily) and then pour the remainder of the cake mixture on top.
Bake in an oven preheated to 160 C for 1- 1 1/2 hours.

Remove and cool.
When completely cool, roll out a second circle of marzipan and place on top. Make 11 small balls for the apostles and place on top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and toast under a moderate grill until the top has browned. Browned, not burned.
Remove and accept admiring glances.

Blissed out

After the long term mitten project, I wanted to make something simple, but useful and so settled on this large spot cushion from the Debbie Bliss 'Home' book.
I spent some time trawling various shops, real and online, to find some bargainous Debbie Bliss Merino wool, but, after another fruitless search I was forced to acknowledge the following:
1) Debbie Bliss does not knit for the more improverished among us
2) I am knitting a cushion. To sit on. My bottom does not need merino wool
3) I have some pretty fushia and pink acrylics just sitting in a box in my house

And so with a sigh, I abandoned my financially ruinous hankering of a scattering of pure wool cushions, and settled for the acrylics. To be fair, it doesn't knit all that nicely, gets stuck on the needles, squeaks at bizarre intervals and gives me clammy hands, but at £1.50 a throw, I'm not going to complain.
I even prefer my clashing pink-on-pink colour combination. It reminds me of fushia flowers bursting in on the garden, with their cavalier disregard for genteel tastes. The first bud has formed on mine and I'm looking forward to a spectatularly trashy display. I hope they will make it through in time to clash with the last of pink tulips.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A walk in the woods

Went for an enjoyable autumnal walk in the woods today. In spite of all the stirrings of Spring and the various pleasantries of tulips, daffodils and primroses making themselves known again, I do enjoy a good tramp through the rain and mud to admire the effect on the trees. Rain in the city, I acknowledge is considerably less fun.

I was particularly happy to go on this walk because I wanted to work out a colour scheme for the dog jumper I'm planning. The dog seemed to take particular care to pause (paws?) and pose in front of especially becoming colour schemes: russet red, moss green and rich dark brown. I am thinking of knitting him something from the Rowan or Debbie Bliss tweed ranges.

I'm a little worried about the whole dog jumper idea though. I don't want to make something that will make him look cutesy or stupid, or humilate him in anyway, and I especially don't want to make something that expends huge amounts of money and time, for the dog to turn his nose up at it.
But I DO want to challenge myself, and make something a little more complex, and in the absence of any babies to make a jacket for, the dog will have to be the beneficiary of my efforts. I think I could always wash it, unravel it and make him a blanket if he turns out not to be a jumpery type of hound.
I was so absorbed in these thoughts that I slipped in the mud, slide some way down a hill and covered myself in mud.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

If at second you don't succeed..

...I don't see what a harm a spot of cheating can do.
Today I went to a nice big garden centre in Sussex and bought myself a little rosemary bush to kick start the herb garden. Hopefully it will inspire all the other little seedlings to do their utmost to grow up big and strong.

I also treated my geraniums to new terracotta pots in nice bright colours, with all the rain and gloom in London at the moment I thought they would cheer up the balcony no end.
The garden centre did remind me slightly of IKEA, with its trolleys and fixated Saturday morning visitors, but it was a much happier experience than I've ever had buying flatpack furniture, pottering about with my mum and admiring the flowers. On a side note I have never, ever seen so much compost in one place. I never knew that there were so many variations of mud on the market. If I were the quiting sort, I would no doubt have been inspired to knock up a 'compost quilt' or some such.

The day was slightly soured by a man and his wife standing behind me in the queue in the cafe who would not stop MOANING about how awful everything was. It started over a bath bun (there was only one left) and ended with the cost of bedding plants. Honestly, there are people dying in the world because they don't have anything to eat, and they wouldn't shut up because they had to have a toasted tea cake instead of a bath bun. And most people don't have the privilege of even having a plot of earth just for growing things for themselves to enjoy in, and yet there they were niggling over the price of a pansy. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
I have resolved to stop complaining myself, lest I find myself in 10 years time whingeing about doughnuts.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Knitting resolutions

1) I am going to learn to cable
2) I am going to knit a hat for the Colonel on circular needles with some cabled details
3) I am going to get really good at stranded knitting
4) I am going to knit my dog a jumper
5) In a colour that won't clash with his ginger fur
6)I am going to find a really good supply of lovely wools that won't bankrupt me
7) I am going to knit a series of tea cosies
8) And a series of cushions and a blanket
9) I am going to make socks
10) One day, I will have knitted a jumper

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Tea for one

Simple things for simple folk, as they say back in Sussex, but today I wouldn't mind being called simple for squeezing the most obscene amounts of happiness out of the following things.
1) Stepping out into the rain without an umbrella, getting soaked and feeling miserable, when all of a sudden the sun broke through a cloud and made all the water drops hanging from the trees glitter and the puddles on the pavement shine.

2) Finally finding a teapot that fits the tiny tea cosy I struggled over, and it being the exact same shade of pink as my favourite mug.

3) After a three week search, managing to source some cream of tartar, and making macaroons.

Meaning that when I finally got home and out of the rain, the sitting room had returned to its usual suntrap self, and I could settle down to an utterly self indulgent tea for one, and read my book. And the tea stayed hot throughout.

Lunar gardening: an experiment

As I mentioned a few postings ago, I've been reading "Gardening and Planting by the Moon", and it isn't all as crazy as it might seem. Apparently the phases of the moon can influence the moisture and mineral content of the soil, and provide the right aspects for sowing either root, leaf, flower or fruity plants. Since Satirday was a leaf day, and today a fruit day, I decided I may as well sow and see.
The leafy herbs I sowed on Saturday do seem to be doing better than last time, but that might be because I was putting a little more care into them, and I'm still waiting to see how the fruits get on. Annoyingly, I forgot to sow the courgette seeds I bought last week and was saving to plant today and now its too dark to do it, so will have to wait for the next fruit day. Sigh.

waste not, want not

I have a perverse enthusiasm for recycling, and get a particular kick out of reusing things. Call me a cynic, but I do find it hard to believe that Lambeth council does anything with my dutifully washed out milk cartons and lovingly sorted newspapers that contributes in any way to their rebirth as a pencil, or a loo roll.
So being able to reuse things that would have otherwise been thrown away does make me happy, and the development of the garden has afforded more than one occasion for a spot of home recycling.
I've been saving up egg boxes all year to use as seed trays, have found that newspapers make a brilliant blanket for chilly geraniums, and last week fashion a rudimentary flowerpot from a soup can.
I've also boosted my own eco-rating by collecting the seeds from the vegetables I've been eating, and planting them. Today was the turn of the butternut squash, the chilli and the red pepper (at last) If I carry on like this I'll be self sufficient in no time.

Scouring of the charity shops continues in search of a pure wool jumper to undo and turn into a lovely cabled cushion. Waste not, want not indeed.

If at first you don't succeed...

I attempted to salvage what I could from the mess that has come of my embryonic herb garden, but, thinking that nothing's a mistake if you know how you made it, I optimistically started again.
This time, I wrapped the egg boxes in cling film and popped them in the airing cupboard to help them germinate, and lo and behold this morning, there were several little shoots poking through.
I've now moved them to a sunny spot and am waiting with baited breath to see if my herb dream might come true.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Unexpected pleasures

I work at Victoria, and have got far too used to trudging around that bleak, busy and anonymous part of London. With the exception of lunchtime trips to Westminster Cathedral (which remains for me one of the most (awe) inspiring buildings in London. But I digress...) it can, with its blank commuters and busy buses, get to be a depressing place to escape from my desk to.
But, having given up supermarkets for lunch, I turned left onto Wilton Road in an effort to find myself something to eat and stumbled into what seemed like an entirely different world. It even looked as if the sun was shining especially brightly on the little rows of shops there. Not only did I come across two of my favourite things (charity shops and knitting shops) combined in one rapturous whole to nose around in, but also one of those lovely old fashioned florists dripping with the first shy hyacinths of Spring. Bliss.
Best of all was the Italian deli that I finally settled on for my daily bread. Alongside the bread, cheeses and vegetables on offer, there was also a rack of Franchi seeds and I greedily snapped them up.
I now daydream about the kitchen garden that will be here in a few months almost as much as I daydream about getting a pug and driving it around in one of the old mini coopers.

And finally some knitting

This blog was supposed to be mostly about my enthusiam for knitting, but has got rather taken over by the trauma of killing baby seedlings.
However, the copy of Debbie Bliss's 'Home' dropped through my letter box this morning and almost took my mind quite off it. Ever ambitious, I want to make her large spot blanket in a nice ocean blue and green to cheer up my boyfriend's lonely flat, although I fear he may have moved out by the time it gets finished. One of her cushions would be good practice though, and I will crack on once I have finished these bad boys:

Venetian inspired fishy mittens:

This pink (Sublime cashmere meriono silk- the most luxourious wool I have ever treated myself too) is almost the exact shade of Venice, and I got ridiculously over excited in Morley's of Brixton when I found some silver lurex to knit it with. The colours reminded me of the beautiful fish in the Rialto market, and the theme was complete when I found these fishy beads in Brighton that also cover the holes where I messed up by increases.

When they are finished, I be able to put them on and transport myself out of London and back to the hazy Italian sunshine. The length makes me feel like a japanese anime character and ready to cope with anything that London throws at me in the meantime.

Today's jobs

I must must must plant the pepper seeds I saved from my pepper pasta meal last week.
Also: cling film what remains of infant herb garden, and replant my basil, thyme and rosemary seeds.
According to 'Gardening and Planting by the Moon' by Nick Kollerstrom, today is a root day, and I should avoid planting leafy seeds until Saturday. This is a fascinating, if a tiny bit mad book, still any advice is better than none, so maybe I should hold off until the weekend. By co-incidence, I did plant the tomatoes under the right lunar influences and they seem to be doing just fine.
He also says I should be watering the fushias and pelargoniums. They certainly look like they could do with a drink.
I'm a bit worried about my garlic. I think my enthusiasm for an early spring meant I left them at the mercy of the elements too soon.

Waiting for Basil

My herb garden is starting to remind me of a Beckett play. Everyday I dutifully check to see if any seedlings have pushed their way out of the soil. Sadly there is still no sign of the basil. I think I may have killed the seeds. The packet said I'd have something by now.
I went away for the weekend and the rest of the seedlings shrivelled up, I have given them a restorative drink but fear I might have to start again on that one. I covered the new tomato seeds with cling film, just to be safe.
I'm sustained by the thought of fresh tomato and basil salads in the summer. I can't wait.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Venetian Pink

I have recently returned from a perfect long weekend in Venice, and got all inspired by it. I know its a cliche, but the the light reflecting on the water gave the whole city an other worldliness that allowed you to properly escape from real life. And I always thought Canaletto was using his artistic licence.
One of the most striking features of Venetian vistas was how the city was dominated by the colour pink: It seemed as if it was everywhere: on the buildings, the bridges, even the streetlamps. In the hands of other towns this preponderance for pink might look effete, but in Venice it was just right.
My favourite part of the trip was the happy morning spent pottering around the Rialto fishmarket in search of lunch. Brixton fish will never taste the same.

Beginning at the beginning

On January 12th 2008, I received the following for my birthday:

1 chintz apron
1 set of salad tongs
3 cookery books
1 set of red vintage scales
1 vintage tea tin
1 set of size four knitting needles
2 50g balls of wool
1 knitting pattern book
1 drill
5 packets of herb seeds

The things I didn't receive maybe say more than the gifts that did find there way to me that day: nothing to do with my job, degree, or anything that has much to do with who I am outside my home (although my boyfriend did very generously and sweetly pay for me to be reblonded at Toni and Guy)
I moved into a new flat in Brixton with a teeny tiny balcony at the start of September and some kind of nesting instinct kicked in. The day before moving, I found an unloved mini greenhouse which I took as a sign to clear the rubbish from the new balcony and refurnish it with flowers, vegetables and herbs. The kitchen is only small and dark, but we vowed to fill in with homely baking smells, so we would feel we were stepping into a country home rather than an inner city high rise.
That was six months ago, and the cover of the greenhouse blew away in a particularly violent storm (another sign, I fear) but it is now functioning as a passable shelf, so all is not lost.