Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cold August. Hot Salad.

So, that was August. Apparently the Met Office officially summed up the month's weather yesterday with the word 'changeable'. It didn't seem to manage to change to summer at any point though, did it? Oh well... on to autumn with conkers and hats and bonfires and pumpkins and much more seasonably reliable weather.

This driserable* August has made it hard to decide what to eat. It's summer, and there are lovely salady things everywhere. But I've got ski socks on and am wrapped in a quilt. Conundrum.

I have compromised with what I always call (in my head) a hot salad. Bear with me...

I know it looks like soup, and I guess it sort of is, but it always seems more salady to me because you don't cook any of the component parts.

It was inspired by the miso soups you can get that have things floating in them, and in particular the seven vegetable one they sell in Itsu. (I work above an Itsu and its constant sushi-temptations. Interesting fact: it's the one where that poor chap got polonium-ised. Doesn't seem to have had much of an impact on their sales...)

It's also, as is often the case with my recipes, a useful way to Use Things Up and, as such, doesn't have a proper recipe:

1. Empty fridge of random bits of vegetable. (Mine have so far included carrot, mushroom, cabbage, beetroot, beetroot leaves, anything else leafy, spring onion, green beans, tomato and courgette. The only thing that I'm not sure would work is cucumber...)

2. Chop them in to bite-sized bits.

Feel very welcome to use a clean carrot. I obviously prefer mine grubby for added grit.

3. Add some chopped tofu or halloumi or cooked chicken if you want to up the protein.

4. Put it in a saucepan.

5. Boil the kettle and, in a jug, make up some stock/broth/soup to a quantity that would cover the veg in the saucepan. I use Marigold Bouillion powder, but I'm sure lots of other things would work as long as you like the taste. Miso soup is the obvious choice...

6. Pour the stock over the veg and pop it onto the heat very briefly. You don't want it to boil or cook the vegetables, just to make sure it's hot through and to start to wilt the leafier things.

7. Slosh into a bowl (I always end up having to use a small mixing bowl as I make too much) and douse liberally with soy sauce.

8. Eat and feel virtuous.

*A useful word to describe the British weather, being a portmanteau of miserable and drizzly. Possibly the Met Office should have plumped for that one instead of changeable. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Feel the fear and screen print anyway?

A day to yourself is a treat, isn't it? I'm not confessing to being some sort of misanthrope - lots of people are lots of different kinds of marvellous - but, just occasionally, it's perfect to have a day just for me and to do something only I want to do.

This Saturday was one of those. Nick was going to SW4 (a festival featuring music of the sort that makes my soul shrivel a little bit) so I decided, on something of a whim, to go and do a screen printing workshop at Print Club London.

(I like this squid)

I was a bit nervous. I'd seen them at a print event at Somerset House earlier in the year and it looked very exciting. But... it's in Proper East London where people are painfully trendy and would probably be full of Proper Artists. And I'd feel uncool (it's not even cool to say cool any more, but now I cannot think of any other words at all) and like a fraud and people might not talk to me.

But I did it anyway. And the people were indeed trendy and cool but also lovely and sweet and very welcoming. And I had a wonderful time. Some of them were Proper Artists, but lots weren't and it was a beginners workshop so no one really knew what they were doing.

We had to take an image that would work well as a black and white print, so I took the gallopers drawing I made for my grandad a while ago.


All my horses, drying.

The different prints from our class.

Such a lovely feeling to do something new and learn a new skill, and I'm so pleased I ignored my nerves and went. I'm now working out how I can create a screen printing studio on my kitchen table... I think it'll be possible and don't mind if it doesn't result in perfect images; one of the things I realised I like about the process is that you end up with images that are not digitally flawless, that there's always a little bit of personality in each one.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Crafty Photo Scavenger Hunt: August

As promised, this month I've been looking for things to photograph for Kirst's inaugural Crafty Photo Scavenger Hunt. I think I might be first with my pictures, but it felt like a Friday sort of post and next week will be too late!

With no further ado...


Yes. That's my bed. And no, I'm not about to reveal any inappropriately inspiring suggestions for sexual acrobatics. I just find that this is the place where I'm most likely to come up with brilliant ideas. Of course, sometimes I wake up the next morning and realise they weren't quite as brilliant as I thought, but still...

Something I Made

Another t-shirt flower, I'm afraid, but this is my favourite so far. I love how the raw edges of the t-shirt material curl into the petals.

Motifs: Birds

Obviously, in an ideal world this would have an actual bird on it but they seem to struggle to find it. Or possibly just don't like scones, which is what it's currently full of. Anyone know if birds like fruit scones?


These are the raw materials for the next quilt. Still very raw, but it's slowly making progress. The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot that it's got some of the material from my bedding (spare pillowcases - no relationships had to end to inspire this one!) so it's, eventually, going to go on the bed.


From our camping trip to Devon in July. I think I actually took this by accident, fiddling with the camera whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, but it just feels like it captured that moment perfectly.

Looking forward to seeing everyone else's pictures. Head over to the Leopard Anchor for a round-up.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Apples. Again.

More apples, I'm afraid...

Weekends are about indulgence. Of course. But that means that weekdays have to be a bit more restrained, to prevent constantly having to buy bigger frocks.

So, despite the fact that cooking apples are pretty much designed to go with sugar and butter, I've been trying out recipes that manage without them.

Two crumbles, one made the usual way and one that was sugar-free. 

This was the tradition chap, apple and blackberry with a sugar/butter/flour crumble topping. He definitely needed sugar as both the apples and the blackberries were rather sharp.

And here's the sugar-free one. This was apple and plum, with a muesli topping. The plums were very ripe so added the much-needed natural sweetness to the apples and the muesli contained dried fruit so that bumped up the sweetness there, too. To try and make the muesli topping a similar texture to a butter and flour version, I soaked half of it in milk for a while before layering it onto the fruit, and then scattered some more over the top to crunch up.

No real recipes for either of these, as I find that crumble quantities really depend on what you're making your crumble in. My usual method is to chop fruit and throw it in the crumble-receptacle until it's full (bearing in mind it'll squash down a bit when cooked). Cook the fruit in a pan with a bit of water (if needed, depends how 'wet' your fruit is) and add sugar to taste. Then pop butter and flour into a bowl (you need slightly more flour than butter but, again, how much depends how big your crumble is and how deep you want the topping!) and rub together 'til it's breadcrumby and fork through a few spoonfuls of sugar before scattering over the fruit. 

Um, that was rubbish. Here's a proper recipe.

I've also made more Dorset Apple Cake. Following an interesting theory, based on the fact that apple sauce often replaces butter in vegan cooking, I tried one with some of the apple sauce I'd made earlier.

Success! Still needed the original amount of sugar, so I wouldn't say this was healthy, but no fat and added apples definitely count in its favour. It was a bit heavier than the original, possibly more of a pudding you'd serve with custard than a light sponge, and needed longer in the oven to cook through. But it used up half my jar of apple sauce and must count as one of your five a day now!

Only about five apples left now...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Sunday Exploring: Brixton Market

As hoped, no grouting this weekend! There were indeed more apples, but also a little trip to Brixton Market.

Despite it not being very far at all, I'd never managed to venture over there and, following the riots, a bit of local shopping seemed quite timely.

We went on Sunday as there's a little farmers market and getting some bits for a roast dinner seemed like a good idea. We bought purple cauliflower. Pretty much entirely because it was purple.

And there were sunflowers (50p each!) so I felt obliged to take pictures.

(Sunflower News: Mine have petals, and I think might manage to open up this week!)

The street trading bit of the market isn't open on Sunday, and only some of the covered bits were, so we'll definitely make another trip on a week day or a Saturday to see the rest.

So. It's a little bit schizophrenic... Some of it reminded me of Tooting Markets (where you can buy bits of animals you might rather not think about, vegetables you've never seen before, 'designer' goods and sink plungers, and where there's also an unusual smell that simultaneously makes you hungry and a little bit nauseated...) and then other parts had an almost painfully trendy vibe.  

That might just be a pretty good summary of Brixton, actually

I liked the giant lampshades hanging from the roof in the Market Village.

Before cycling home we refuelled with a vegan cupcake from new favourite Ms Cupcake. Nick went for boring old vanilla, which meant I had to have the much more exciting cookies and cream.

Other news: A couple of links I've been looking at this morning, to brighten a Monday.

- A 2008 speech from David Foster Wallace (he of Infinite Jest) about what matters in life. 'You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.' Wise and thought-provoking.

- Great Cake Places. Looks like the website's still under construction, but they have a facebook page. Always on the lookout for good cake!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Flowers. Better than t-shirts?

I like making things out of other, old things. Like my quilt. I'm not a hoarder (although I know a few people who are... that's probably why I'm not) so for me to keep something it's got to be Practical or Attractive. Preferably both. It's a Life Policy.

Just recently I've been thinking about what I can do with old clothes. Obviously nice ones go to eBay, or get swished, and some go to charity shops. But it seems silly to spend lots of money buying fabric for crafty endeavours when there's generally a pile of it in my 'charity shop bag'.

Not surprisingly then, after my flowery fascinator, I've been making old t-shirts into flowers.

Here's the current t-shirt in question. I liked the colours and the softness of the fabric, but not so much the fit.

(Please excuse my expression and the grumpy ladies in the background. Clearly some sort of malaise in the air of Holland Park that day...)

And here's what it's become, so far:

I think they're probably going to end up as brooches, but I also have thoughts about headbands and belts. And maybe even figuring out how to attach them to stems so they can be in bunches with other ones.

Have a happy weekend! Mine is definitely not going to involve any grout this time round. I suspect there will be apples, though.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Apple Day(s)

This week, I have been mostly cooking with apples. Because my kitchen is full of them.

My friend A (he of the unseasonal cake) has an apple tree in his garden which has brought forth unquantifiable bounty. Unfortunately, this results in unquantifiable wasps which prevent them from going out their back door unless the apples are picked up and disposed of. 

They're cooking apples and really very sharp, so can't just be eaten willy-nilly.

Being a generous sort, I offered to take a load of them off their hands and see what I could do with them.

(Note: Apples are heavy. If you fill your backpack with them and try to cycle home, things can get a bit imbalanced.)

Lots of apples. Precariously balanced and tumbling all over the kitchen at a moment's notice.

So far I have made a massive jar of apple sauce, just by peeling, chopping and throwing them in the slow cooker for a few hours with a little bit of water and lemon juice. I didn't add any sugar or seasoning as I figured I could pop that in when I use it, if needed.

That cleared enough apples to be able to see the kitchen table.

I've also made a spiced apple cake, with a sticky honey glaze. This is a good one as it'll last a few days, if you happen to be feeling a bit full of appley products...

and two Dorset apple cakes. (I'm from Wiltshire, but it's close enough...)

I couldn't find my big baking tray (it later turned up lurking in the bottom of the oven) so made it in two round sandwich tins instead and it worked perfectly. Also made me think about making it into a sandwich cake with some sort of creme patisserie in the middle... 

The Dorset cake is possibly my favourite; sharp apple, light, vanilla-y sponge and a crunchy sugary topping.

I still have about the same number of apples to get through, so any more apple-recipe suggestions would be very welcome!

(Apple Day is actually a thing, and on October 21st. I'm just a wee bit ahead of the game.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Weekend Snapshots

My weekend was mostly spent like this:

...getting increasingly covered in grout whilst trying to tile my bathroom floor. I have learnt that I am quite good at tiling, but really not at all good at snapping tiles to useful sizes. The flat is currently littered with tiny bits of tile as a constant reminder of my failure. 

Depressing. And I've still got grout stuck to my feet.

As endless bathroom-pictures are not very thrilling, instead I'll tell you about Deen City Farm which we walked to last weekend. It's just down the Wandle Trail, between Tooting and Merton, and where we met these rather disgruntled alpacas. They'd just been shorn and so were all knees and elbows, apart from their fluffy hairstyles!

Nick, holding alpaca food instead of fruit for a change.

The same walk also took us through Merton Abbey Mills, an arts and crafts market housed in an old water mill and workshops that were owned by William Morris and Liberty at various points in their history. There's still a working water mill which powers a potters wheel.

The DIY all got a bit much for us on Sunday, so we plotted an escape up to Balham for coffee, cake and a little peer round The Vintage Event  at the Balham Bowls Club. It was all very lovely, but I was feeling a bit too grubby and exhausted to have a proper look through the stalls. However, I felt suitably smug when we walked past a charity shop just after leaving and I spotted this vintage frock in the window, which is now mine for a mere £12.50.

Not sure it will go too well with grout-smeared legs though, so I'm saving it for a more sophisticated weekend...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Tea Towels. Better than CDs.

One of the chaps I work with is in a band. I'm pretty sure it's for the love of it rather than the money and fame, as he shows no sign of giving up his day job. This theory was backed up when he told me that, instead of having CDs to sell after their gigs, they wanted to offer tea-towels. They think, probably quite rightly, that no one really listens to the CDs they buy after a night out, but everyone uses tea-towels.

I liked this idea. (I liked it even more when he said they were also considering a line of home-made jam and mugs.)

Why am I telling you this? Well, they wanted someone to design said tea-towels and he asked me to have a go. They had quite a specific brief... line drawings of each member of the band in a grid sort-of format.

'Oh', I said. 'Like that Blur album?' He looked at me blankly. Blur had clearly been an influence, but it appears a subconscious one. So my design is vaguely Blur-inspired, but with a definite country slant.

And gosh, isn't it nerve-wracking to draw people based on a few photographs of them? I was pretty sure my pictures looked like the photos, but I had no way of knowing whether the photos really looked like the people!

Thankfully, they apparently do. There is further work to be done though... We're upping the 'country' with the addition of some cowboy hats and more text. Watch this space for the final design in the near future!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rather British Meatballs

I fancied meatballs the other day. What's more, I fancied cheese stuffed meatballs. A quick google suggested they should be stuffed with mozzarella. That sounded great, but I didn't have any and I currently have a Grocery Policy which involves not going to the supermarket until there's nothing left in my cupboards except dry crackers and a shrivelled potato.

I did have some (rather old, in need of shaving) mature cheddar. So I decided to go with it.

In my mind, meatballs generally seem Italian. Or American. Or, of course, IKEA'n. Cheddar is none of these things. So I started thinking about British meatballs. 

(If you ask Wikipedia it suggests the only British meatball is the faggot. Now... I like faggots. But they're a very different kettle of fish. Or offal.)

Anyhoodle, due to the cheese being quite old and strong I felt they needed some fairly robust seasoning. So I embraced the Britishness and added Worcestershire sauce as well.

And they were good. Very good.

Rather British Meatballs

500g beef mince (could be replaced by pork, turkey or (probably) any other mince)
1 egg
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 small onion, chopped up as small as possible
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheddar cheese, cut into 1cm cubes

This is really very easy... Put everything except the cheese into a nice big bowl and mix until it's combined, first with a spoon then with your hands.

Once it's mixed, form into small balls in the palm of your hand and poke a square of cheese into the middle. Squidge the meatball shut around the cheese so it shouldn't be able to melt out.

I made twelve, but that will obviously depend a bit on both the size of your hands and your cheese chunks.

Brown the meatballs quickly in a hot frying pan with a tiny bit of oil to stop them sticking. I like to serve mine with tomato sauce*, in which case I drop them into a pan of sauce and let them float about for fifteen minutes to make sure they're cooked right through. If you're serving them 'dry' make sure they're cooked before the come out of the frying pan!

*My tomato sauce is just softened onions/garlic, a tin of chopped tomatoes, can-full of water, tbsp of vegetable stock powder, grated carrot, and a pinch of sugar left to simmer in a pan for as long as everything else takes to cook.

Serve with pasta or, as I did, a strange colcannon-ish mix of potato and cabbage.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I have, as promised, added an About Me page, and another new one for all my favourite links (the Oh, Look!). I've even now got a fancy contact me button, if you'd like to Tell Me Something. Please feel free to use them and tell me what you think!