Monday, 10 February 2014

A Beautiful Mess

Confession alert:

I have a problem.  

Hope you won't mind me sharing with you that I have a problem .... a rather large problem.
It involves addiction, excess and despair.

The addiction relates to an inability to stop buying fabric.
The excess relates to the amount of fabric I own.
The despair is how am I going to fit it all in to my workroom.

This year I hope to find the path to salvation/organisation.

Those of a sensitive disposition should stop reading now. What I'm going to show you now is not a pretty sight!

January 2014

But I'm on a mission and I think life can be different!

First tip: 

Accept any offer of help. 
Linda arrived in the nick of time to save me from submerging into my fabric.

February 2014

Second tip:

Get inventive.
Shelves in the open cupboard, peg rail to hang textiles from and a design board to keep the works in progress off the floor.

One week later things are feeling much brighter, and me too!

There are so many newly discovered fabrics whose charms were lying hidden under the amassment of material - I just have to curb my enthusiasm for starting multiple new quilts. Quilts need to be made one by one in this room for a while. 
It is so exciting and liberating to have the foundations in place for an organised space. 
I hope you can see a difference!

Now to get sewing some words onto fabric.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Talking Stitches

I'm feeling a bit frayed today - but in a good way. 

I was at the Time and Tide Museum with Linda and we found ourselves soaking up the emotional stories in the exhibition "Frayed: Textiles on the Edge".

The textiles in the exhibition were devoted to the use of fabric and stitch as therapy … still minds and busy hands.

The stories behind the pieces on show were extraordinary. Lorina Bulwer, for example, was an unwilling inmate in a lunatic ward of Great Yarmouth workhouse. (I can't imagine there is ever a willing one). She embroidered two 'letters', each more that three metres long, in which she poured her anger and frustration at being held there against her will. She stitched in capital letters, underlining phrase with solid stitched lines to emphasise her rage.
Here is just a small section of this unique textile:

Artist: Lorina Bulwer

The emotion that bonds the words to the fabric in each piece ensures that the text and images become part of the textile.
I have come home wanting to bring words to the next piece I sew… solace in stitch.
Seeing these diversely inspiring textiles has opened my eyes. I see the stitched words go through every layer of the quilt to create a structure where emotion is integral to the quilt.

Sara Impey conveys this beautifully in her blue piece 'Stitch Talk' - every letter of every word is free-motion quilted with her machine.  It becomes a magical piece of prose.

Stitch Talk by Sara Impey

2014 is the year I plan to explore creativity in textiles.
I have been on a slow boat getting back from China, but I hope by living on the edge with my fabrics, I can make meaningful work.
(And I don't plan to take another year to write my next blogpost)

Creating textile pieces fosters hope and a sense of achievement.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Searching for Soda Bread!

If you are searching for a bit of soul food 
      then you could do worse than trying my recipe 
               for bread and music to get you through a winter's day...

The key ingredients for me were Irish soda bread (taking less than an hour from brain wave to taste bud) and Rodriguez playing in my ears.

Not Soda Bread again you groan.
Yes I did give you a recipe here... but today I am back with a new and more delicious version that I discovered thanks to Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills cookbook.

 Just a couple of key ingredients are needed to make this bread - baking soda and buttermilk. If you don't keep a stock of buttermilk in your fridge, as I do, you can make your own version by adding the fresh juice of half a lemon to whole milk and letting it sit for 10 minutes to curdle. But believe me, its worth finding buttermilk because it makes the soda bread just tastes so good.

Irish Soda Bread

400 g stoneground wholemeal flour
75 g rolled oats (or porridge oats) 
75g plain white flour
1teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 egg
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon honey, treacle or brown sugar
425ml buttermilk (or soured whole milk) approx
sesame/sunflower seeds optional


  • Preheat oven to 200C / gas 6 / 400F
  • Brush inside of loaf tin 23 x12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2inch) with oil or line with silicone paper.
  • Put all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
  • Whisk the egg together with oil, honey and buttermilk in a separate bowl.
  • Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour all the liquid in.
  • Mix well, you may need to add more buttermilk/milk. The key is to keep the mixture soft and slightly sloppy. No kneading required.
  • Pour the mix into the tin. Sprinkle with seeds on top. 
  • Bake for about 50 mins - 1 hour until the bread is crusty and sounds hollow when knocked.
This bread keeps really well for several days and is so good toasted too. 

Settling down to enjoy a warm slice with some rather tasty but smelly Danish Havarti cheese, I was closely watched by my faithful Irish sous chef, Rufus.
Happily he was satisfied with the result, if not with the portion size I gave him!

After watching the movie "Searching for Sugar Man" this week, I just want to encourage you all to go see and be intrigued by the remarkable story and entranced by the fabulous music.
Let me know what you think... bread/movie/music/always great to hear from you.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A new start...2013

Sun rise at Dunwich
Round grey pebbles under foot
Basking in the light

The idea of welcoming the New Year in at sun rise seemed just right for Alice and I. A special moment shared and filled with hope for 2013.

It's been a long tough journey for us since my last blog post, but I'm back and looking forward to reconnecting.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Dunwich Beach, Suffolk

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fish and Food Fables at River Cottage

 How perfect that Tuesday was Fish day at River Cottage .

The Sea is the theme for the Tuesday exchange with Marji, do check out her great aquatic photographic inspiration.
I just hope you are ready for some gruesome goings on here ...
                                               excluding the first photograph of course!

Beautiful fresh crabs you think, yes ... but how would you feel knowing your first task of the day was to kill, cook and dress a crab?
I was not first in line with the instruments of death ( rolling pin and large nail), but let's face it if you are wanting to cook the crab and you can assure it will dispatched quickly and 'painlessly', then this is better than the crab being boiled alive. I do understand if you decide that you would never eat crab again if it meant you had to kill it yourself - but I honoured the crab by making the best dish I could from him. (I can assure you I do not plan to go higher up the food chain in killing what I eat, but it was a rite of passage for me as a cook.)

How about our mid morning snack of scallops, lightly seared with chorizo (homemade, of course) and wild garlic? I can honestly say that there is a lot of eating involved in this course - but all in the line of work, and very delicious work it is!

 I have to confess that I took the photo and thereby avoided having to remove the innards from the cuttlefish. Thanks Sue, you have been an amazing partner on this cooking odyssey.
But I did scrape the tentacles. Cuttlefish, brushed with olive oil and then sprinkled with chopped fresh chilli before being  grilled very quickly over the barbecue are so delicious.
If you then add a dipping sauce consisting of fresh red chills, olive oil, fresh crushed garlic and lemon juice, you have a sauce fit for the gods - I just hope you will give them a try. (Try asking the fishmonger to do the inky disembowelling  work for you)

Finally you catch Sue and I savouring our scallops and enjoying a few minutes relaxation before returning to gut a gurnard or two.

I promise more recipes from this incredible four day cooking extravaganza, but I need to get to bed now to gather strength for another day at the kitchens of River Cottage.

Monday, 26 March 2012

River Cottage Taster

Just a quick delight to share with you from River Cottage, the cooking base of Hugh (as in Fearnley-Whittingstall).
This was dessert and we wiped our slates clean, it was so delicious!
Orange polenta cake with salted caramel sauce and Chantilly cream

I can only get you started tonight with the salted caramel sauce...

Take Demerara sugar in your fry pan and heat. (It should be enough to cover the base).
Stir it as it melts and turns to caramel.
Add a pinch of sea salt and stir in.
Add a touch of cream, the more you add the paler and more liquid it becomes.

Now for the Chantilly cream
Whip cream in a bowl till it is stiff(but not butter).
Add golden icing sugar (Billington's or similar) and fold in.
Finally fold in full milk yoghurt- again it depends on your preferences. If you want to form stylish quenelles as in my photo, you need it stiffer-ie go easy on the yoghurt.

You can add these two sauces to your favourite polenta cake recipe or wait for me to come back with it later in the week.

Let me know if you try it. It was absolutely divine.

Hope to be back on my iPhone tomorrow with the latest from River Cottage... Maybe even a visit from Hugh!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Off to River Cottage...

Just wanted to share a loaf of bread with you
Image: Ingrid
before I head south for five days.

This is Hugh's soda bread with seeds, slightly adapted. I love baking soda bread - so tasty and so easy.
If you want to have a go, here is the recipe I used:

Irish Soda bread with seeds

500g wholemeal flour
350-400ml of buttermilk
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1-2 Tablespoons of each : poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, fennel seeds and sesame seeds
1 tsp salt

Mix flour together with all the other dry ingredients.
Add half the buttermilk and mix in with a knife
Add the rest of the buttermilk and gather together with your hands. It should not be too wet or too dry. Adjust with flour or liquid accordingly. Try to do this quickly without overworking the dough.
Form into a nice rounded ball shape.
Cut a cross into the top - don't pussyfoot around here, a deep slash is called for. It is essential to help the loaf cook through.
Brush top with a little buttermilk  and sprinkle a few more seeds on.
Set the loaf on a baking tray, lined with baking paper and add to centre of a nice hot oven, approx 200-220C for 30 -35 mins.
Keep an eye on the loaf as it bakes - it is easy for the loaf to get too brown before it is cooked through.
Enjoy this sliced with a nice strong slice of cheddar cheese or toast it tomorrow with marmalade.
Soda bread tastes best eaten fresh, so if you don't want to eat it all on the day it is made, I suggest you slice and freeze it. The loaf comes out perfectly fresh and ready to join a bowl of soup when you need a nice nutty flavoured bread.

Hope to be back blogging next week from deepest Devon with some ideas from the River Cottage cooking course I am heading off to join. Have a great week till we meet again.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Delicious books

It was a liberating moment when I read that Nigella Lawson had over 2000 cook books - now I really have a figure to aim for!

So you can imagine my delight at receiving a new title for my birthday last week - Scandilicious, a feast of Nordic cuisine.

  • Scandilicious by Signe Johansen is the perfect book to help me reconnect with my scandi family tree - even down to my blond roots. 
I liked the sound of this rye bread sandwich of the sea. This morning I was off to the Bungay Co-op to catch me a smoked scottish mackerel. Unfortunately fennel bulbs have not reached the Co-op yet, but mandolined celery made a good substitute.

Mackerel, fennel and horseradish open sandwich

2 slices dark rye bread or pumpernickel, buttered
2 tsp horseradish cream
1 large fillet cooked mackerel, bones out
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
fennel fronds, wood sorrel, chervil or parsley to garnish
 ~ Spread a thin layer of horseradish on the buttered rye bread slices
 ~ Gently flake the mackerel onto the bread and shave very thin slices of fennel bulb on top
 ~ Garnish with fennel, chervil or whatever greenness you have handy

Enjoy a delicious taste of Scandinavian cuisine, knowing you are feeding your brain with omega-3's.
Recipe from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen

Small world: the author studied The Anthropology of Food at SOAS, same university as Alice who gave me the book!

My other birthday books related to food included these two:
  • A Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester is part cookbook, part thriller, part hard to put your finger on what it is. But I loved this description of it: "Rest assured that the book you think you are reading at the start is not the book you turn out to be reading at the end...".

  • Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lancaster Brisley - just pure nostalgia and it is really the illustrations rather than the stories that I love. Here is a little taster... of potatoes like "muvver used to make"
Small world: well it was a small world MMM lived in.

One day, when all the boxes are finally unpacked, I will tally up my cookbook total, I'm guessing more than fifty but less than one hundred titles... so far

Any suggestions for cook books you think I need in my edible library? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tide lines ... Tuesday Exchange

"A tide line refers to where two currents converge. Driftwood, floating seaweed, foam and other debris may accumulate, forming sinuous lines called tidelines." Wikipedia

 Last week Marji and I started to explore the Sea and ways to interpret it in our respective art forms. Tide lines seems to describe us too - in that we are two artists converging on a Tuesday!

I started here with some stitching and finished the mat without needing to cut off the wording (sorry Chantal to shock you with my impetuous suggestion last time).
The material I used was some inexpensive raw blue Thai silk I had bought several years ago. The silk has a rough yet rich feel to it and just seemed to work well for my current watery workflow. (It is a bit of a pain to sew though, as it likes to unravel with abundance)
Lying amongst the silk yardage were a multitude of small strips that I had begun to piece a couple of years ago. They were abandoned when new ideas sidelined them to be buried under piles of fabrics.
Stitching these stripes together at the weekend seemed to fit perfectly with my words for this week - Tide lines.
I see the striplets coming together as a long stripy runner for our table - see below for how they are coming along... seems like low tide at the moment!
Lines of stitching are now needed to quilt and add character... sinuous describes perfectly what I want to achieve.

Any suggestions for what the tide could wash up onto this runner by way of stitching?
I'm open to all seaworthy suggestions.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

For Mothers Everywhere

Image: Jenni
Today is Mothering Sunday in the Uk.

Traditionally this is a day to honour mothers and mother figures. In centuries past, it was a holiday when young people working as servants could visit their own mothers and often took a gift of food to share. As this day always occurred during Lent, a period of fasting, the fast was lifted on Mothering Sunday and a delicious Simnel cake was baked.
If you want to try making a Simnel Cake here are two recipe suggestions: I shall either use Delia's or Waitrose's -depending on which ingredients I can rustle up.

I'm thinking of my Mum, who died last summer, and the joy she had in our garden. Here she is collecting apples. What pleasure it gave her. I think I'll add an apple to the cake when I mix it.

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