Sunday, January 31


A quick heads-up about the recipes from the Hairy Bikers programme. They seem to have been written down by the women who cooked them on the show, and many of them contain errors of omission which extreme familiarity with a recipe can bring. P made a delicious Key Lime Pie from the show yesterday, but as the recipe forgot to mention that one should add the caster sugar in the list of recipes to the egg whites for the meringue, and he's never made meringue before, the topping was not as successful as it might have been. (It was still yummy.) I had a similar problem with the Pakora recipe but fortunately it was fairly obvious that they should be fried (plus I'd seen the programme).

I've had a little moan about this on the BBC forum about the show. I expect they'll leap into action and double check them all (!), but in the meantime take care with them and if it's a recipe you aren't at all familiar with, perhaps google and compare with another similar recipe just to make sure nothing obvious is missed out.

Making connections

It's funny how things come together.

A few weeks ago I filled in an application course for the snappily entitled 'Diploma in the Theraputic and Educational Application of the Arts'. I had to think hard about myself as an artist: something which I probably haven't done for several years now. A day or so later I had a very vivid dream in which I found myself apologising to someone for the fact that I hadn't finished any prints recently. When I woke up my first thought was 'well, that's ridiculous, I haven't done any printmaking for five or six years', but the dream lingered and my vague feeling of missing something in an artistic sense got a little stronger.

The other day I found an old friend's blog. In the middle of pictures of his lively sculpture, found objects and paintings, Tadeusz writes about the protestant capitalist ethos where everything must have a profitable end. Reading this it occurred to me that I have slipped into this trap with my creativity: I make things for people to wear, or for people to eat, and occasionally I make cards for birthdays. I love making these things, but I rarely do anything nowadays which doesn't have a discernible use. I think that's OK really, but maybe it isn't enough.

On the interview day for the above course yesterday there was a moment when we were asked to respond to a piece of music. We had firstly to dance to it, and then when the music was played again used pens and paper to draw our response. Having overcome my initial horror at the thought of dancing in a room full of strangers plus someone with a clipboard with my name on it, I managed to forget myself and dance. Later I sat with my felt tip, absorbed in the music, drawing shapes on the page. I managed for a while to stop caring about what I was drawing, or whether it was a 'good' drawing which might lead on to some Actual Art that Might Sell, and just drew. When we 'shared' at the end of the session I poured out words (mainly about how good a time I'd had), something which I'd been singularly unable to do earlier in a painting session.

It seems to me that somewhere along the way I have lost the knack of pleasing just myself with what I do, and of just playing around for the sake of it. The trick now of course, is to do something about it.

Sunday, January 24

Diary of a sock pt1.

I've been meaning to knit socks ever since I started knitting about two years ago. It may even have been the sight of someone knitting a sock in the pub at a blogmeet which triggered the desire to knit. There is something special about knitting a sock; such an ordinary item which we wear almost without thinking, which makes it a desirable thing to make for myself.

I've been working up to it for some time now. I bought myself a Regia sock kit in the sales after last Christmas, and spent some time staring at the coded pattern and eyeing the incy wincy teeny weeny double pointy pointy needles. Terrifying. I managed to lose one of the needles in the kit almost instantly and after a month or so shoved the rest of the kit under the sofa (which is where my knitting yarn stash lives).

A while later I bumped into a fellow knitter at a Londonist meetup, and she suggested I try the magic loop method. I spent hours on Ravelry trying to find out about this (for free: I am an internet cheapskate), and eventually got to grips with it when knitting the hat for my Dad this December. This meant I was Ready For Socks, or so I thought. In the inevitable post-Christmas Amazon splurge (or is that just me?) I ordered two books about knitting socks. One for knitting from the toe up, and one for magic loop knitting two at a time (a boon for impatient folk such as I, surely?) I cannot fail! I thought. I cannot fail to be more confused, it turns out. Back to the incy wincy teeny weeny double pointed needles and the original kit pattern. Back to cursing and swearing at thin yarn slipping through my fingers, dropped stitches and mis-counting. I can't deal with those needles, however easy other people seem to find them.

Luckily the other day I stumbled upon a magic loop tutorial for one sock at a time, and I have now managed to both cast on and knit about an inch of cuff. Inevitably, I have cast on four stitches too many (I was confused, alright?), and as usual it took three goes to do that. I am not at all convinced that I have the stamina to make it through two whole socks with yarn not much thicker than button thread, and I am steadfastly ignoring the bit in the pattern where I have to go around a corner, but at last I am knitting a sock!

Sunday, January 17


Let me just begin by saying that the Hairy Bikers irritate me. They are no substitute for the Two Fat Ladies, and many of the eleven year olds I teach are more mature and infinitely funnier. Usually I give their programmes short shrift.

Having said this, I have become strangely addicted to Hairy Bikers: Mum Knows Best. If you are not familiar with the format, the hairy pair travel the country talking to mums and collecting their family recipes. If you can overlook the rampantly sexist assumption that only women cook for their families, then there are some genuinely interesting and manageable recipes. The segment when the hairy ones cook in front of an audience indicates that their banter works live, too.

This week's gem was the Pakoras. I've never fried anything in more than a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil, let alone attempted the sort of Indian street food I salivate over in Plumstead, but it turns out that they are ridiculously easy to make, and delicious. Apparently Garam flour does not absorb oil as much as wheat flour, so they are virtually a health food, too.

Ooh, they were yummy. I suspect they would have been even crispier and yummier had the gas flame not gone out without me noticing for a while. I used carrot, onion and chard (from the garden!) in ours. Next time I shall also make some fresh chilli and coriander chutney to go with them. I'm salivating already.

A hat actually for me.

Every time I knit something, I have to cast on at least three times. Don't ask me why, it's just one of the mildly irritating idiosyncrasies of my knitting life. This time though, I excelled myself. Not only did I cast on several times; I actually started three different hats. The first was a cloche style which I quickly realised might look as terrible on me as all beanies. The second was a straightforward beret which three inches in I realised was boring me stupid and therefore never likely to be completed, and the third was this Star Crossed Beret. You will need a Ravelry account to access this free pattern, but if you like knitting even a bit then you should get one. I'm on there as cheerfulone: add me as a friend.

There were several hairy moments in this 'ideal first cable project', mainly brought about by my inability to reliably count a pattern of three lots of three (you will begin to understand why I have no intention of ever attempting any Fairisle.) Fortunately I am adept at knitting backwards. You have to be, when you can barely count to three. The stickiest moment was when my stitch counter fell off and I began to cable a row I'd already cabled: something which it turned out I was unable to knit backwards, but the pattern is forgiving and if you can see the mistake I'll thank you not to mention it.

With a cast on of 72 stitches and 8mm needles it's a quick knit even with backwards knitting and trying to knit in semi-darkness whilst watching Max Beasley dig people out a heap of rubble in Survivors. It took me about four days and I am the world's slowest knitter. Knitted in Rowan Cocoon it's nicely hairy and warm and just in time for the snow to melt.

I'm going to attempt socks next. Pray for me.

Monday, January 11

Who you gonna call?

I made me some Coldbuster. It had better work as I've had an on and off cold for about a month, which I am now extremely bored with. It's a pre-made version of my 'quarter a lemon and slice a lump of ginger put it in a cup with a spoonful of honey then pour boiling water over' cold cure. Arguably it's more convenient, and it has a snappier name, too. Plus I like making things with lemon, for some reason. I am a fan of the lemon.

Coldbuster comes courtesy of the Leon book which we were given for Christmas.*According to the book they keep a bottle by the kettle all winter to help ward off colds. I'm guessing that they drink it, and that the liquid does not have actual magic powers. Though if it does: hooray!

It consists of the juice of 5 lemons (that's 200ml to you), 5 tbsp of honey, 2 big wodges of grated raw ginger and about eight inches of rosemary. You warm up the lemon juice, add the honey and stir until it melts and then add the rest of the ingredients. Then when it's cooled you bottle it, put it by the kettle and wait for a miracle. Or alternatively you can pour half an inch into a mug and top it up with hot water. It tastes very nice, especially with the addition of another teaspoon of honey. It might taste even nicer without the hot water and with an inch of whisky, I am thinking.

*I kept nearly buying this book and then deciding I honestly didn't need it, but now that I have it I am glad. It has lots of interesting information inside (including posters and pull out stuff) and really is
more than a straight recipe book. The recipes look good too.

Sunday, January 10

A little bit of spring

Back in October, my mum handed me a paper bag with five brown bulbs in. 'Put them in the bottom of a tall vase with some stones in and fill the vase with water so it just reaches their bottoms' she said. I took the paper bag and stashed it away in the bread bin (where else?).

At the beginning ot the Christmas holidays I duly followed her instructions, and three weeks later this is the result:

They're paperwhites. Ain't they purdy? They smell nice, too.

Friday, January 1

Oat cakes

When I got the River Cottage bread handbook for Christmas I was excited to see a recipe for Scottish oat cakes. I love oat cakes, and what doesn't taste better homemade than shop bought? Home made oat cakes: must be a definite yum yum. In between casting on another hat and ripping it out again and swearing and casting it on again and ripping it out again, I dived into that recipe the moment I had a moment.

I had a false start involving a misunderstanding about oatmeal* (you can't food process porridge oats and use that instead of oatmeal, OK? It's different stuff despite also coming from an oat.) A trip to a health shop later I returned to the recipe armed with proper actual oatmeal (chopped rather than rolled like porridge oats), and set about combining them with equal parts porridge oats, a pinch of salt, 2tbsp of sunflower oil, some just boiled water and a hefty pinch of salt.

Things didn't look too bad as they went into the oven: They held together in the cookie cutter I was using and went into the oven undamaged. Thirty minutes later we were standing over the oven waiting to taste (and waiting to go out for lunch).

I am sorry to report that my oatcakes mainly taste of plain old oat, with perhaps a hint of sunflower oil. A rather noticable and not very pleasant hint. I realise that given the ingredients this should not be a surprise, but somehow I expected them to taste a bit better. They may improve when introduced to some mature cheddar, but I suspect that the oatcake will have to be balanced on the cheese, as they are considerably crumblier than is practical for the other way around.

It is a disapointment: I cannot lie. I suppose I'll have to go and cast on that hat again.

EDIT: We tried them with cheese. Not only did they not taste that good, but they were incredibly hard work to eat. Hours of chewing.

*confusingly, the Americans call what we Brits call 'porridge' 'oatmeal', so if you google it you get a lot of pictures of porridge.