Friday, 31 December 2010

Carrot & Wensleydale Soup


Inventing something that the world has never seen or tasted before as a way of ending 2010 isn't something that I was actively seeking to do, but this spectacular finale to the year has been thrust upon me at the 11th hour (I am of course slightly miffed that this outstanding achievement doesn't have anything to do with sewing, but one must take greatness wherever one can find it).

Yesterday I woke with a sudden desire to make a Carrot and Wensleydale soup, yet I was launched into utter shock when Google returned no exact matches for that search term and couldn't offer a single recipe for such a thing from the entire world wide interweb (the only thing even vaguely similar seems to be a red Pepper and Wensleydale soup...which is not at all what I had in mind). This made me double think my idea for a moment: if the whole world has decided that Carrot and Wensleydale soup is not a good idea, then do I really want to venture down a path that seemingly ends in culinary disaster...and at Christmas time? Happily I was nudged into soupy experimentation by thoughts of what a winning combination these two ingredients are when paired together in a Marks and Spencer's sandwich....I believe the sandwich dates back to Stuart Rose's rein....so I would like to thank him personally for the inspiration and confidence to plough on and also because I've always thought he's a bit of a hottie...which is something that I've chosen to keep to myself until now, but the man has been knighted (admittedly for his services to the retail industry rather than slaying dragons), so maybe the fact that he's a hottie is now something that's just univerally accepted.


Anyway, it seems I finally have a way of thanking you for accompanying me on my sewing adventures this year: Carrot and Wensleydale soup all round. Here's the recipe - it should feed four or five people with incredibly generous portions (I'm a soup fiend and the potential to not have enough makes me feel jumpy...people with more moderate consumption rates might have some left over for another day). You will need a hand-held blender or food processor to finish this soup.

700g carrots
2 onions
2 large leeks
2 cloves of garlic
1.5 pints of vegetable stock
Very generous pinches of paprika, cumin, ginger and black pepper
80g of Wensleydale cheese
Semi skimmed milk (or double cream if you're feeling self-indulgent...but really wholesome soup tastes so much better and saves precious calories for post-soup chocolates)
A large pan with a lid
A liquidiser/blender/food processor

1. Chop all the vegetables and crush the garlic. (I cut the vegetables into small enough pieces to cook relatively quickly, but as you'll liquidise the soup before eating there's really no need to be too careful)
2. Place the vegetables, stock and spices into a large pan and leave to bubble away on the hob for 20 minutes with the lid on. The lid being on is important as it means that your soup won't catch on the bottom of the pan and also that all the lovely vegetable juices are retained rather than evaporated.
3. Remove from the heat.
4. Add a splash of milk...I don't like to give too many measurements...but if you're forcing me then I'd guess that I add around 250ml. Stir this in.
5. Liquidise or blend the soup until it's your favourite consistency - all the vegetables should be completely blended, but we like to stop blending ours while it's still nice and thick, before it flows off a spoon like water.
6. The Wensleydale should be chopped into the finest pieces you can manage - I'd say to crumble it in, but this could be a very risky move if you happen to let some large bits leap excitedly into the pan before you've managed to quash them - you want the cheese to blend into the soup, rather than float around on its own, so be patient and chop the cheese finely on a chopping board first.
7. Serve immediately with crusty brown bread.


I have now made this two days running and the children love it and Mr Teacakes declares that it's the best soup he's ever tasted (which makes him sound like a creepy sycophant, but really, you have no idea how many times I have endured his slightly pained face when something doesn't meet with the approval of his highly critical taste buds...which only makes his praise now all the more delightful).


The table shots...they could have been better, more symmetrical, have had the correct amount of table mats present:  I know there was a better shot of all the orange loveliness out there, but one only likes to stand on one's chair fleetingly for fear of teaching the rest of the people at the table bad habits.

Wishing you a simply wonderful 2011,
Florence x

*Wensleydale is an English cheese originating in Yorkshire...I'm assuming that it has migrated around the world, not least because of its high profile in Wallace & Grommit productions, but also because of its complete perfection as a cheese. It tastes perfect with Carr's Water Biscuits...or enjoyed in solitary, cut straight from the block and hurried into a waiting mouth...but obviously, can also be sampled to great delight in soup too.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The good bits...


Here are some of the bits from our Christmas that have made me feel happy:

This duck, above, which nestles annually in amongst the branches of my parents' Christmas tree


New things to wear which feel especially exciting and Christmassy: one pair of golden, cashmere Brora gloves that make me wish summer would never come; one tube of Beauty Flash Balm, something that I've wanted to sample for at least a decade; one grey snood, beautifully knitted for me by my husband's mother.


A drive home in the fog, where everything felt strangely muffled and silent and the car was so warm and cosy that we agreed we'd like the journey to go on forever so as to avoid unpacking the car's boot once home.


Rolling orangest clementines from their net and into a bowl next to these jolly roses that my sister bought for Mr Teacakes a few days ago.

Unphotographed delights:

- Eating liquid fudge from a spoon with my sister-in-law
- Finding, as we looked through a box of birth certificates dating back to the 1800s today, that my husband's great, great grandmother was called Minnie Rosetta. I'm not sure there could be a more perfect name. I wish that she was alive to know now.
- Stealing the children's new roller blades while they were watching a film with their grandfather and test-driving them with my sister (this is the joy of having very small feet and a house full of rapidly growing children).
- Drifting in and out of sleep while designing a dress in my head...I seemed to be dreaming the dress and then waking briefly to think through construction methods, before going back to sleep and dreaming more lovely dress details. Unfortunately the dress I dreamt of may be beyond my pattern-making capabilities.

I hope there have been lots of wonderful bits to your own Christmases.

Wishing you a happy few days before the new year,
Minnie-Rosetta's Great, Great Grandson's wife  x

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas


December 24th. I can't quite believe how quickly it's come around this year, but I just wanted to quickly post my wishes of a merry Christmas to you and to say how very much I appreciate the year-round loveliness of my readers: the time you take to leave comments letting me know what you think, asking questions, giving advice or suggestions or sharing a little of your own life; the lovely emails you write (and your forgiveness and patience when I take a day or two longer than I should do in getting back to you - efficacy in this department is something that I aspire to for 2011); the links that people send me for things they think might interest me; my tutorials or patterns that you use or choose to buy and the lovely photos that I receive of things you've made from them; the other bloggers who kindly link to my blog; and the general warmth of the online sewing community that I so love being a part of - it's a source of endless inspiration.  


I can't wait to come back here between Christmas and New Year and begin sharing with you the things that I've been working on to give as Christmas gifts...they are all now finally finished and safely wrapped up beneath the Christmas tree, some of them bearing these lovely handmade gift tags that I bought from Paper Dolly - unfortunately I don't think they yet have a website to link to, but I do adore these tags and have even considered giving one to Mr Teacakes to label one of my own presents with so that I can have one back to keep for myself (yes, the spirit of generosity and giving has got right into my very bones).

But for now I must return to the land of endless board games, stories, film-watching and baking.

Wishing you a lovely, sparkly and very happy Christmas,
Florence x

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Three good things


Happiness inducing things this week are:

1. Finding that Colette Patterns have introduced a shirt for men to their range of sewing patterns. Nearly two years ago a young man working in Fabrics Galore revealed to me that he was wearing his own self-made shirt (the shirt in question was a perfect fit and doing some very clever things with the print direction of stripes that left me wishing that I'd spent my time at fashion college rather than winneting around with an unhelpful sociology degree). I've been itching to make a shirt for my husband ever since and I think this pattern could tip me over the edge into action. I've yet to use a Colette pattern, but hear so many good things about them that I feel most excited by the idea of this shirt.


2. When I was very small, before I could read, each week I used to watch Jimmy Saville making small children's wishes come true on the television show 'Jim'll Fix It'. It came as a complete surprise to me to find many years later that his name wasn't actually Jimel, but that the title had simply included the abbreviation of 'Jim will', which had made it sound that way. A few weeks ago, feeling rather like a hopeful child writing to 'Jimel', I wrote to Kate (proprietor of M is for make...) and trying my hardest to be non-pressuring, I suggested that I might not be able to carry on living if she didn't take it upon herself to make up little sample packs for sale of the new Anna Maria Horner Innocent Crush range. This desperate plea came as the result of a severe case of Purchasing Indecision and a wish to have a better idea of what the whole range is like in the flesh. Kate may now be a shadow of her former self having spent hours cutting up squares without the help of a rotary cutter, but she was enthusiastic about the idea and so does now have the whole range of voiles available to purchase as a sample pack of 5" squares, so that you can flick through them and ooh and ahh over them to your heart's content. Hurrah! You can find them here, priced at an insanely reasonable £2.50. I think Kate is entirely worthy of being rechristened Katel for her efforts to make seamstress' dreams come true, but can understand that she may wish to distance herself from any further Jimmy Saville comparisons, so I will just say instead that I am very thankful indeed and that I am enjoying leafing through my Innocent Crush samples very much.

I wish this kind of thing was available for every fabric range - there's something so lovely about being able to colour match and feel the weave and weight of a fabric in your own home, without the guilt of asking for lots of free samples not knowing whether you'll definitely want to buy any of them (I feel more comfortable paying for my indecision)....and really, even if you have no intention of sewing from a certain range, sometimes there's an inexplicable need to just possess a little snippet of certain fabrics (I'm finding this increasingly with pink fabrics - I have little need for them, but that doesn't stop me from wanting them). The voiles are different though - I can see myself working my way through every one of these lovelies.


3.Quite a while ago I purchased a copy of Oh Comely magazine. I didn't blog about it at first because I couldn't make up my mind what I thought of it. A few of the articles made me feel a little old (my feelings of premature aging began when one of the writers was impressed enough to mention his interviewee tearing apart the furnishings of a hotel room in an attempt to improvise a corkscrew from them), but in retrospect I think I'm willing to suffer the indignity of feeling pensionable at 33, because so many of the other articles were really fascinating, well written and focused around interesting people. No matter how much I enjoy an article while I'm reading it I rarely remember it beyond that week, so it's taken me by surprise that a few months later several of the Oh Comely articles have stayed with me - one about urban night climbers, another about the motivations of a female taxidermist who uses her skills to create pieces of art (I'm sure there were some bird heads assembled in a way that first made you think it was a flower arrangement), as well as some really fantastic articles written by the magazine's creators about, amongst other things, their own attempts at some small scale guerrilla gardening, commenting simply on the day to day process of this and the problems they encountered in doing it (I loved this one particularly as the activities took place in Old Street only metres away from where we lived when we first moved to London well over a decade ago...a place in dire need of some guerrilla gardening). It's unlike any other magazine and I think this is what makes it so memorable, as well as that it seems to be put together by really nice people whose personalities come through on the pages.

Florence x

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

An early Christmas


Every time I look at this little lovely I have to pinch myself. I've been dreaming of having a vintage mannequin for over a decade. The longing has been almost entirely based on how the mannequin looks and the feeling of history that is bound up in the form and very little to do with it being a practical aid. But despite this, I've always wanted the mannequin to be the same size as me and finally, after other Decembers spent looking fruitlessly, this one appeared just as my husband was doing his Christmas present research this year.


You might be wondering why she's shed her wrapping and taken up residence before the 25th. That is because when she arrived she had some height issues. Although we share almost identical dimensions (in theory...in reality she seems slighter than me and as though she likes Milka Daim a little less) when she arrived it became clear to my husband that this is how I might have looked had I grown a little taller...for she wasn't just a few inches taller than me, but nearly as tall as my husband who stands at 6ft 2. The website she came from advised him on how to make her shorter, but it involved some sawing and he was hesitant to do this without my viewing her first. So I viewed, I squealed and then we sawed.


Isn't she beautiful?! I added the corsage yesterday after some debate about her attire - the rest of the house felt that she needed to be accessorised in some way, so we took inspiration from how she was displayed on the website and added this lovely pink and gold rose.


There are names to be thought about. My mother-in-law, who was visiting at the weekend, is certain that were she to come alive then she would be a flapper, so in keeping with the era, shortlisted names are Henrietta, Bea, Beatrice and Evangeline (yes, the last two are taken straight from The House of Eliott - how I long to watch again that series about the two dressmaking sisters). Unlike my other more functional mannequins which live in the garage and come out only to have pins stuck in them, this lovely will be very much a part of the house. Mr Teacakes loves to have things around that have a sense of history, so despite her girliness, he was very happy for her to reside in the dining room on a permanent basis (although amusingly, when the children arrived home from school with their friends this afternoon one of them asked why I had 'a body' in the dining room).


And the chair in the foreground of this photograph - you might remember it from this post, when it was falling apart and really just a broken wooden frame. Despite your generous encouragement that I might actually be capable of upholstering the chair myself, we eventually decided that it might be better off going to see someone more experienced. It arrived back with us a month or two ago...he has done an amazing job with it...but I am less than sure about my fabric choice...I think it might look a little like an old lady's chair (the old ladies who I come into contact with are all incredibly stylish and would almost certainly be in possession of a hipster's chair...the old lady I refer to is a mythical creature, possibly sighted only fleetingly at bus stops in my childhood and I worry that she may have sat in a chair a little like this one when she got home).  


But I'm wondering if it might be brought alive by the right cushion? I have so many ideas for fabric in my head and they all include light creams and golds...gold seem to be something that rarely crops up in fabric collections, so in the new year I'm hoping to put aside some time to experiment with printing onto cottons with gold paints...that sounds hideous, I know, but I can see exactly how I want it to look in my mind...and at least while it's up there, it looks very lovely.


Right, I'm off to gaze upon my lovely mannequin again....I am completely in love with her.

Florence x

Monday, 13 December 2010

A different way to wrap...and some thoughts


In early November, Kristin of 'Sew, Mama, Sew!' loveliness wrote to me and asked if I'd like to help with something. She and the Green Bag Lady (also known as Teresa) were putting together a campaign to encourage people to wrap this year's Christmas gifts in handmade reusable shopping bags. The benefits of this being four-fold: you double your gift giving as the wrapping becomes a gift in its own right; you can dispense with sellotape and wrapping paper; the recipient has a lovely reusable shopping bag to use throughout the year cutting down on landfill; that reusable shopping bag is lead-free (yes, that's a shocker - many of the 'green' reusable bags have been made in China and have been found to contain lead).


So when Kristin approached me and asked if I'd be happy to put together some ideas for how one might go about wrapping Christmas gifts in reusable grocery bags (without it looking like you'd wrapped gifts in reusable grocery bags), I was delighted to give it a go. Inspiration was drawn directly from the traditional Japanese method of wrapping presents in cloth - Furoshiki - to create sculptural wrappings that don't pretend to be wrapping paper. The bag handles can often be incorporated into the wrapping to create bows and billows that add to the impact, along with ribbons, flowers and paper butterflies - all of which can be used again. My full blog post on these wrappings, along with suggestions for how to wrap some commonly shaped presents can be found here. I used the pattern written by the Green Bag Lady to make my bags (although I made my handles slightly differently to conceal any raw edges), which you can find here. You can find alternative grocery bag patterns here and then a few more here. It's worth saying that the grocery bag is probably one of the simplest items to make...it's a perfect project for someone who has never sewn a stitch before.


For those of you who, like me, regularly read the Sew, Mama, Sew! blog, you may already know that Teresa has given her working life over to this cause, but this had somehow passed me by until Kristin contacted me directly about this cause, so it seems worth mentioning again, as I find it truly staggering, as well as inspiring. Teresa has now given away (yes, completely free) over 13,000 reusable shopping bags made by her and her team of 'bagettes'.


I know that Kristin and Teresa would be delighted for you to run away with this campaign and make it your own: either by making bags to wrap Christmas gifts in; writing about wrapping Christmas gifts in reusable bags on your own blog and encouraging others to do the same; adding to the ever-growing bank of free grocery bag tutorials and patterns available....or just self-gifting and making a grocery bag for your own trips around the shops.

I find this issue a really interesting one generally. Aside from providing reusable bags that have lead in them (which I'm sure won't have been their intention) I think that the supermarkets' role in raising awareness about carrier bag use has been amazing (although I do feel affronted that they have done so little to tackle their own excessive product packaging problems). I now feel toe-curlingly embarrassed if I forget a reusable carrier bag and have to ask for a plastic one to pack my grocery shopping in, which is as it should be. To have got to this point of plastic bag use being a social embarrassment in less than a decade is a real achievement. I love that people are continuing to think of ways to change the tide further and that Kristin is now moving her thoughts to the worldwide waste that Christmas, with all its other loveliness, creates.

Sometimes things can feel overwhelmingly huge, a solid, immovable social construct of our society. Three years ago my little girl had a birthday party at home, to which we invited over 20 of her friends and my parents were both here to help out. After the party my daughter excitedly began to unwrap the 20 presents that her guests had brought for her. As she unwrapped, unpackaged, exclaimed and did all the other things involved in the process of a six year old girl unwrapping a large pile of presents, my father became increasingly quiet and withdrawn. Afterwards he told me that he had suddenly realised that this scene would be being played out in millions of homes every day all around the world...and the excessive amount of presents, the packaging and the wrapping made him feel utterly depressed. Some things seem hard to change: that was the last big birthday party we had for her, partly for that reason, but also because as she's become older her parties have naturally been smaller and as a consequence the gifts that she receives are always thoughtful and chosen with care by children and parents who really seem to know her and what she might like. For the friends that we know very well, my children often suggest something that I could make them for their birthday gift, but for those that aren't family friends, they'd find giving a handmade gift embarrassing and I have to respect that (and can understand that too....I often choose not to give handmade to people I don't know well), but I often feel I'm buying a gift that may go unused when I'm not sure of the child's tastes or interests. I'm unsure what my conclusion or firm thoughts about this ramble are as I love giving presents (and must confess to enjoying receiving them hugely too) so I have no desire to entertain the idea of a scrooge-like ban on present-giving...but I share my father's uneasiness about the whole thing. What are your thoughts? How do you give gifts? Have you found an interesting way around this that sits well with you?

Florence x

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hexagon Love


I try to use the expression 'I haven't had this much fun since the pigs ate Uncle Billy' sparingly. First uttered by Katie Putrick on The Word in the 1980s, it's a phrase that delighted me and my sister as teenagers and has become a part of our own lexicon for expressing extreme joy ever since. A quick blog search reveals that I have only allowed myself to type those words on one occasion in relation to a fabric marking pen back in September 2008. It worries me as to what I will be left with to convey supreme happiness if I go sprinkling this phrase liberally over everything that delights me.


So hand piecing hexagons: truly, even more fun than the pigs eating Uncle Billy. The pigs would have had to have started in on Auntie Sue too to have beaten this. I have fallen in love with the whole process: from hand cutting every paper hexagon, to tacking the seam allowance around the paper, arranging the hexagons in a pleasing order and then piecing them together in rows using beloved ladder stitch (I never tire of this stitch and its ability to disappear into the fabric), and then finally joining the rows to one another. What delights me most is that every element of this process is small, transportable, done by hand and needs very little concentration. I have finally found something that gives me all that I wanted from knitting (a sociable, portable activity), but that I failed to find due to my lack of competence. I have pieced hexagons while we watched family films, while I've done homework with the children and in between stirrings at the cooker and because it is slow, slow work, it has that lovely feeling of being a long project that it's pointless to try to race through.

Being December, I can't show clear shots of anything, so for now, I'm sharing the backs of my hexagons...which I love almost as much as the fronts. I am so excited to show you what I was working on when January arrives.

In no particular order, this is what else I have been up to this week (this only covers the sewing elements...I really do get up to lots of other things too).
  • My husband wants a quilt for his January birthday, so I have been stalking the online fabric shops for prints suitable for a Man Quilt...it has been necessary to order from three different places and I've yet to decide on the backing for it. Oh dear. I have an idea for this quilt that leaves me so excited that I feel unjustifiably annoyed that people are using the Royal Mail to do normal things like sending Christmas cards, meaning that deliveries of fabric supplies may take a few days longer. 
  • I have been doing extra intensive ogling of the Anna Maria Horner's Innocent Crush fabric line which has now arrived in England - available at Seamstar and at M is for Make, which also has the full range of voiles from this line. Quite simply, breathtakingly lovely.
  • I have been feeling extraordinarily indecisive about which Innocent Crush fabrics I love the most...but not for much longer, I think...more on that soon hopefully.   
  • At his request I've been teaching my husband to sew...and he is stonkingly good at it and puts my own hand-sewing to shame. He will not be making his own quilt though.
  • When not hand-sewing, I've been at the machine. Yesterday I made my way through over 500m of thread...which, divided between the spool holder and the bobbin, surely means that I sewed at least 250 metres, no? I'm still hankering after a sewing machine milometer...
Florence x

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Advent


A few weeks ago my father arrived with a beautiful (or beautifully tasty) advent calendar for me and Mr Teacakes. It is a Hotel Chocolat calendar especially made for a pair, with a truffle each for every day of advent. There's something wonderfully romantic about these little twin truffles and the idea of not having to share is most delightful (she said, with her trotters at the ready to open door number 2. I started writing this post yesterday - the trotters have now already broken their way through door number two).


However, a few days ago I realised that I wanted to make sure that my father's own advent had daily makers. Unsure that I could beat the loveliness of a Hotel Chocolat calendar with anything left in the shops, I decided to make a calendar myself and could think of nothing that my mother or father would more enjoy opening each day than a message from the smallest Teacakes. With them enthusiastically in on the plan I began sewing until late each evening to have it ready in time for December 1st and the small ones have been busily creating the cards to be put inside each pocket.


I spent a long time drawing out grids to achieve an even pocket placement...and got some of the way through writing this up to share with you, when I realised that it may be a tutorial to save for next year as few people begin making their advent calendars on the 1st December. This may be a good thing, as the pictures for it would have been gloomy (or cosy, if one's looking at things in a positive light), when all the sewing was carried out late at night by lamplight so that Mr Teacakes could try to sleep.


Here it is finished...nearly.

The photos of this are truly awful - I'm sorry. The sky is so full of snow that no light seems to be getting through.
I thought that I'd finished, but then I realised that a Christmas tree motif might look nice in space number 25...


Here are some of the cards that the Teacakes made - I left them completely to their own devices with these and they are far more humorous and lovely for it, complete with idiosyncratic spellings:


December 1st arrived, the calendar was finished, the pockets were full, but the car was immobilised by snow in the driveway. So after school yesterday we decided that it would be a lot of fun to carry out a surprise delivery and make the four-mile round trip to my parents' house on foot....we would almost be like Father Christmas. We had such fun and it was our first outing with the beautiful wooden sledge that my father had given us during the summer (I know that he would want it documented that he winkled this beauty out for a mere £2. Yes, he is a deluxe bargain hunter extraordinaire). I found that for much of the way I was able to pull both of them on it and they encouraged me by singing loudly and telling me to go slower, so that I would feel encouraged by how fast I was managing to go (they stumbled upon this reverse psychology when they realised that when they implored me to go faster it resulted in my gradually slowing down). After making a pit-stop at my parents house where they delightedly received the calendar and plied us with cherry juice and biscuits, we returned home. It's not a route I would normally venture down alone after dark, with woods on both sides, but lit up by the whiteness of the snow, it felt completely unscary and more Narnia-like than Watcher-in-the-Woods. Mr Teacakes walked out and met us nearer home for an annual visit to the chip shop and pulled me some of the way back on the sledge while the small ones ran along beside - I'm not sure anything could be more fun. Eager that he shouldn't miss out we found that the sledge is perfectly capable of holding the weight of a 6ft 2 man and that I am perfectly capable of pulling this weight. My muscles are HUGE today! Eager to pack a year's worth of arm-toning into just one week we are off out again soon.

I hope you are having fun wherever you are.

Happy advent,
Florence x