Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Pictures, Picnics, Paddling And A Postbox

Our Tuesdays have been crazily busy lately - I am in London this week for WWDP - but last Tuesday Bob and I had a whole day off together. We packed it full of enjoyable activities.
In the morning we went to The Pictures, following Steph's recommendation, to see The Lego Batman Movie. We got 'Senior' tickets, and took in a bag of cheap sweets and thermal mugs of coffee, in order to keep our costs down.
We really enjoyed it. The film had loads of references to other films and earlier incarnations of the caped crusader. We both watched the B&W Adam West TV Batman in the 60s and chuckled at some of links there.
Clearly aiming at audiences both sides of the pond, there were "English Robots" [aka Daleks] in evidence.
I think this will appeal to all ages - so if your kids or grandkids are pestering you to take them, then do go. I am sure you will have fun too *****
After the cinema, we drove on into Bournemouth and parked up on the East Cliff near the Red Arrows Memorial. The area remains fenced off, following the huge cliff fall last April. We walked down to the Russell Cotes Museum, and ate our picnic lunch sitting in the garden near the grotto. We first visited RCM in September 2015, and have always intended to go again.
 Bob was keen to look at the current exhibition "Meeting Modernism"  and I wanted to look at the drawings by Violet, Countess of Rutland. When we lived in Leicestershire, the "Kathleen Rutland Home for the Blind" was just up the road from where we lived. Violet was Kathleen's mother-in-law. She belonged to a group of aristocratic intellectuals who called themselves "The Souls" and drew portraits of many of them.
We spent a couple of hours looking at these two special exhibitions and generally enjoying looking at many of the other paintings and sculptures on display in this lovely house.
At one point I looked out of a bedroom window down to the beach below - it was a cool spring day and a little breezy.One or two people were walking on the sands.
RCM has loads of pictures and sculptures of bathers - not surprising given its location.
I thought these two, with mothers persuading their sons to have a paddle in the sea were great.
One is holding her son as he gingerly steps in the water [he's naked and she's in a diaphanous robe] The other, on the left, has her son in her arms- he looks a little more anxious. 
On closer inspection, she appeared more modest, wearing a finely knitted swimming costume. I have always believed knitted costumes are OK as long as they never get wet [at which point they sag uncontrollably]

I also looked at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 'Venus Verticordia' [Venus, the turner of hearts] This is an oil painting - but the artist subsequently painted it again as a watercolour. The watercolour sold at Sotheby's in December 2014 for £2.8 million pounds!![Unlike Bob, I am fond of the Pre Raphaelites]
We walked back to the car, and I saw a lovely bed of golden spring daffodils, planted up with purple hyacinths and gold and purple pansies at their feet. Such lovely colours together.
The motto of Bournemouth Borough Council [I was confused by all the 'BBC' signs when we first moved] is Pulchritudo et Salubritas, which means 'beauty and health'.
The crest was on the street sign just beside the daffodils. 
I had to take a picture of the Victorian Pillar Box - one of the 'Penfold' design. There aren't many genuine Penfolds still in use!
Then after such a lovely day out, we returned home for a pleasant evening in with TV and a curry. 
There are more bulbs blossoming in our garden. These daffs are "Narcissus Sunny Girlfriend". Bob's sister and her husband gave them to us for Christmas- all planted up in the tub. There are 2 other sorts of bulbs in there as well - it will be exciting to see which ones bloom next.
Fine Art is wonderful - but the design and colours of nature are even more stunning.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Manchester "T" Cosy

One of Steph's early comments about her new company was that she loved the fact that the team drank plenty of tea during the working day. However, they did not have a teacosy. So she volunteered me to provide one [well, not many Mums can say their they have had teacosies exhibited in Norwich Cathedral] Things sort of spiralled out of hand - Tangible Branding is a consumer research company specialising in improving brand performance through discovering insight, making connections and generating ideas. 
They thought they'd like one with a 'Manchester' theme. That ruled out a simple knitted one. Unfortunately the office teapot is not a regular round Brown Betty, but the 'coupe' shape. So here's what I came up with...
The brief—to make a tea cosy for the team at Tangible Branding. This was to fit the existing white china teapot, which is not the traditional round ‘brown betty’ shape.
The cosy should have a ‘Manchester theme’. I decided to avoid football, music and TV links, and consider instead the architecture of the city.
1; because of the shape of the pot, I opted for a cuboid cosy—this reflects the idea of bricks and building
2; my base colour is grey—to reflect the rain for which Manchester is famous, but more importantly, the steely determination of the industrialists and entrepreneurs who built this city.
 3; I chose 7 landmarks, recognisable by their silhouette—the Town Hall, the City Library, Beetham Tower, Urbis, IWM North, the Hulme Arch, and the Lowry Millennium Bridge. These were created in felt with machine stitched embellishments. These were then handstitched to the base.

4; Then I picked 8 streets—Deansgate [of course!] Corporation Street, Canal Street, Quay Street, Albert Square, King Street, Piccadilly and Exchange Square. These names were embroidered on evenweave linen and attached to the base.
5; The top was decorated with a spiral of machine stitching—which leads into [or maybe out from?] the centre– where there is a button with the Tangible logo.
6; Finally the cosy fastens underneath the handle with a button and loop closure. Again I stitched a T for tangible
I stitched a label with all the details, and put that on the inside. And then I posted off their Manchester T cosy

[I have to say thankyou to Bob, who provided lots of encouragement during the process - including the name]

Monday, 20 March 2017

Steaming Mad

How do you clean your microwave oven? Mine is cleaned on a fairly regular basis, when my culinary creations become creMations. Bob says there is a particular distressed sound I make when I open the door to find the custard/beans/milk/porridge has boiled over! Mind you, he managed to explode an egg in there in January. 
After rinsing the plate and wiping off the displaced food, I usually boil a pyrex jug of water so that the steam lifts off the grime. I add a little acid in the form of a squeeze of lemon, splash of vinegar, or some citrus halves. Quick easy, and fairly inexpensive.
But here's my Pointless Gadget of the Month - an Angry Mama, aka Steaming Stella [apologies to all Mamas and Stellas out there- I did not choose the name]

You fill her with water and vinegar, and she will steam clean your microwave oven.
Prices vary from £2 to £10. You can choose other colours, but they are all female. 
This gadget is just so wrong from so many points of view!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pause In Lent #3 - Walking By Faith

It's funny how things in life connect up sometimes. When I was away in Albania, I missed the local Churches Together Songs Of Praise Evening [held at UCF, well attended, fantastic tea, superb singing, by all accounts] So I never met Father Dylan James, the new priest at the RC Church. He'd asked for "The Footprints Hymn" to be sung. We knew the poem [which I continue to credit as 'anon' because three different women have claimed that they wrote it] but not a hymn.  Some research unearthed this piece, written by a Rob Atkins, Baptist Minister from Wales [who trained just after Bob, at Spurgeons College] Rob wrote it while sitting on a sand dune on holiday in Bordeaux. The hymn fits the tune of Londonderry Air. 

A number of people here have since said how much they liked this piece, so here it is...

Upon the shore, I walked with Him at even
And I looked back upon the path we’d trod
And in the sand I traced our way at even
And I was glad I’d walked through life with God:
For side by side we’d journeyed through together
All through the world’s wide wilderness of care
And side by side we’d journeyed through to even:
Safe at His side the Lord my God had brought me here.

But in my joy I caught a strain of sadness
To give me pause when thinking of my way
For on the shore I saw He’d left me lonely
When I had most the need of Him to stay:
When I was tired He’d left me worn and wandering,
He’d left me lone when I was fighting fears,
He’d let me tread the steepest slopes in solitude
Before He came back to my side to dry my tears.

But then the Lord drew near to me in comfort
And in His tenderness He made it plain
That in the times when dread and darkness threatened
He was my shield and shelter from the pain:
For on His shoulders He was gently bearing
And on His shoulders I from harm was free:
The single trace of footprints of the Master,
The single trace of footprints shows He carried me.

So on the shore I walk with Him at even;
I face the latter days of life secure,
For if my pilgrimage reserves me sorrow
The footprints show that He is strong and sure:
If I am near the gates of heaven weary,
No longer strong enough to stride alone
The footprints show that He is there to carry me:
The footprints show the Lord my God will bear me home.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Going Like The Clappers

The Gentle Author has just published an update about the campaign to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry [read it here]  There is an online petition organised by the East End Preservation Society [click here to sign] I hope this succeeds very quickly, as the auction of machinery is scheduled for the end of the month.
btw, nobody is quite sure if going like the clappers refers to the 'tongues' of the bells, but it seemed to me like a good title for this post.

Home In The Daytime - But No Home At Night...

In a recent blog post I mentioned my newly re-covered ironing board. My blogfriend Frugally Challenged asked what became of the remainder of the circular tablecloth which I had used for the previous cover. 
There was a small amount left, so yesterday afternoon I made another doll's dress for 'Lucy'. I cut it very carefully to make use of the curved hem and the border print. 
I think it has worked well.
I'm making clothes for two American Girl Dolls now, so I also produced two little tops using a piece of striped shirting fabric someone gave me. They have elasticated necklines and cuffs, and fasten down the back with Velcro.
I have been incredibly busy with a rather special sewing project recently, so spending an afternoon with the Sewing machine was a pleasant diversion. 
Last night was something completely different altogether. 
Our youth group at church have been thinking about the problems of refugees and they did a [short] charity sponsored walk round the area in the early evening. When they got back to the church car park, it was quite dark. They found a refugee lying huddled in a sleeping bag, under a tarpaulin strung between two trees. They had the chance to ask questions and discuss how it must feel.
I was playing the part of the refugee, and dressed in my brother's ancient NHS donkey jacket, my SILs 1980s dungarees [normally worn for painting] and an old long blonde wig. I wasn't recognised [except by a couple of very bright teenagers who know me quite well] 
Bob's photos taken in the dark didn't come out very satisfactorily. Interestingly I walked to church through the town. I noticed people looked at me, but if I caught their eye, then they immediately looked away. I sat down at a bus stop, and the woman at the other end of the seat [who had been looking all round at things before I got there] turned away and moved up to the other end of the bench. That didn't feel pleasant.
Once at the church, I was so tired I actually fell asleep lying on the ground. So when the kids came back, and stood round shining their torches and whispering, I was genuinely startled.
If I could feel uneasy over just a short time like that, in the town where I live, and in the grounds of my own church, what must it be like for genuine refugees wandering alone in search of safety and shelter?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Check Your Tension

Last week there was a pile of knitting patterns at my craft group, and a box for charitable donations. All women's and children's clothes, except for this one. After buying it, I realised that it was for 12" dolls, not 18". And for 3ply,  not DK. 
was going to recalculate the pattern, multiplying everything by 1.5 to get the correct size. Then I had a thought. I checked the pattern for the tension  details. 
32 Stitches to 4" for 3ply. I knew that on 4mm needles with DK, 32 stitches measures 6". That's 1.5 times. So I knitted the party dress pattern using thicker wool and larger needles, adjusting length by a factor of 1.5. It worked beautifully. The leaflet suggested edging the neckline with a row of double crochet .  I did all the edges with a random yarn. The tie belt and buttons on the back look good too.    

I have never tried knitting a pattern with different sized needles and yarn before, but this has worked really well. I Perhaps I'll have a go at the little coat next! 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Super Swedish Semlor

About 18 months ago, Liz took me to the ScandiKitchen in Great Titchfield Street. We had a lovely light lunch and I enjoyed looking at the goodies on sale in the shop. I just picked up the March 2017 Edition of the Waitrose Magazine, and there was a picture of Bronte Aurell, food writer and co-founder of ScandiKitchen. In Sweden they like food in a seasonal pattern [there's a season for saffron buns, and also for fermented herring. I shall skip that one!]
She said in her article that Lent is the season for Semlor. These cardamom buns with whipped cream and marzipan are a huge tradition in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia. Traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, they are now enjoyed from January until Easter. You can freeze the unfilled buns, but once filled, they should be eaten on the same day. 
Prep time: 1 hour, plus proving and cooling. Cooking time:10-15 minutes
Makes: 10 large of 15 small buns
·         75g very soft unsalted butter
·         250ml whole milk
·         2 x 7g sachets dried active yeast
·         50g caster sugar
·         1 egg, beaten
·         400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
·         ½ tsp fine salt
·         ½ tsp baking powder
·         30 cardamom pods – shake out seeds and grind them finely [1tsp]
·         vegetable oil, for kneading and greasing
·         150g marzipan
·         150ml fresh custard
·         300ml whipping cream
·         2-3tbsp icing sugar
·         ½ tsp vanilla extract
·         icing sugar, for dusting
1. Warm the milk gently, add the yeast, 1tsp sugar,and stir. Cover with cling film and leave 15 minutes to activate [it should bubble up slightly]
2. In a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook add milk,sugar and yeast to the bowl. Mix flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and cardamom in a separate bowl. Add half the dry mix to the yeast mixture then beat in the softened butter  and half the egg [reserve the remainder of the egg]. Add remnaining flour mix and beat for 5 minutes until the dough comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.  Cover bowl with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size – 40-100 minutes.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead again for a 2-3 minutes. Divide and shape the dough into 10 uniform balls [or 15 for small ones], then space well apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Cover with clean dry teatowel. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 200˚/fan 170˚/gas 6. Gently brush each bun with reserved beaten egg and bake for 8-12 minutes, until a rich brown colour and baked through; keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a clean, slightly damp tea towel to prevent the buns from forming a crust.
5. When the buns are completely cool, cut a ‘lid’ off each one (about ¼ of the way from the top). Scoop out about 1/3 of the inside of each bun and tear into a bowl. Add the custard, grate in the marzipan. The mixture should be spoonable, not too runny. 
6. Spoon the filling back into the buns. Whip the cream with 2tbsp sugar and vanilla until just firm, then use a piping bag – fitted with a star nozzle if you have one – to pipe it into all the buns. Put the lids back on and dust lightly with remaining icing sugar. 
Above is the picture from the magazine. Here on the right you see my attempt.  I was rather pleased with them. I made half the quantity and divided it into 8. However I did end up with leftover custard. Next time I think only I'd use one third of the quantity. The cardamom flavour was really different, and we both enjoyed these.
I'd definitely make them again.
If this sport of thing matters to you, then one of my small buns contains about 225 calories!