Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bread-Making made easy!

I've had two bread-makers over the course of the last ten years.  The first was a Breville, which I used a lot and always gave me good results.  When that went to kitchen appliance heaven, I replaced it with a Cookworks model (Argos own-brand).  That was ok, but wasn't as good as the Breville (but was much cheaper, it has to be said in its defence).  With both models, the bread they made was nice, but there was something about it that didn't make me think 'home-made' - I think the fact that the bread dough was mixed a lot meant it had a very close texture, more like a supermarket or bakery tinned loaf.

Yesterday, while I was looking about on Facebook, I spotted a post by Lucy at Attic24 where she'd linked to a no-knead bread recipe.  Ooh, thought I; that looks simple enough to do and I've got all the ingredients (although I had to take out most of the contents of my dry-goods cupboard to get the yeast, which was at the back; of course).

I measured the ingredients (all four of them) and mixed them in my glass bowl and left it to rise for 8-18 hours as the recipe said.  It rose.  In fact, it rose quite considerably and I thought that I'd make the bread last night.  That was slightly optimistic as once dinner's been cooked and the kitchen cleaned up, the last thing I generally want to do is more cooking or baking.  So, I put the bowl of dough into the fridge overnight and hoped for the best (even though I know that bread dough can be put into the fridge and will still rise, albeit more slowly than at room temperature).  This morning, it looked like this:

I put (too much as it turned out) flour on the worktop and flopped the dough onto it, then shaped it into a ball.  It wouldn't stay in a ball, so it ended up being a flattish disc.

The recipe said to cook the loaf in a Dutch oven, which is, I think, the US version of a casserole dish and is usually made of cast iron (like a Le Creuset casserole).  I don't have either of those, so used my large glass Pyrex dish.  The cooking pot is pre-heated in a hot oven for 30 mins while the dough rests.

An extra thing I did (because I was using a glass pot) was to very lightly oil the pan and I also used a strip of baking parchment long enough to go down, across and up the dish, with a bit of overhang.  I put the dough ball on this strip of paper and it made it a lot easier to put the dough into the hot dish and remove it after cooking.

After 30 mins of cooking with the lid on and 15 mins with it off (I reduced the temperature by 10C for the uncovered cooking as the loaf was already starting to brown after 30 mins) I'd got this:

You can see the paper under the loaf (with hindsight, because I used the baking parchment, I didn't need to oil the pot and the paper could have been a thinner strip).

It was very difficult leaving it to cool down enough to try it, but when I did it was very good bread.  A nice crispy crust and soft inside.  I had one piece with just butter and a second slice with some marmalade spread on it.

Next time, I think I'll make the job even easier by doing the mixing in my Magimix with the dough blade fitted (it all goes in the dishwasher!).

So, thanks to Lucy for posting the link on Facebook and if you want an easy, tasty loaf that has very few ingredients, give this a go; it's very good.  As it doesn't have the preservatives and additives that shop-bought loaves have (especially supermarket ones), don't expect it to last more than a day or so, but it should be fine for toast on the second day and could be sliced and frozen for future toastings.

I'd planned on fitting in one more crafting post before the year's end, but that's not going to happen because there's really very little to show.  I have got something new to show you, but that's upstairs and to be honest, I've been up and down the stairs so many times today that I'm staired-out for now so I'll talk about that soon!  My first New Year's Resolution for 2014 is to finish off the projects that just need a bit of work before they become completed.  Sewing in ends, sewing on buttons, blocking, that sort of thing.  I'm hoping to finish DD2's pink sweater in the next few days, so hopefully my first 2014 blog entry will be of the 'ta-da' showing off variety.

Happy New Year and may 2014 bring health and happiness to you and yours.


Friday, 20 December 2013

Last minute Christmas presents.....

You've got to love a teenager, haven't you.

Last Saturday, a voice wafted across the landing from DD1's bedroom to mine.

DD1: "Mummy?"

Me: "Yes?"

DD1: "We've decided that we will exchange presents this year after all".

Me:  "Who's 'we'?"

It turned out that 'we' is five of DD1's friends.  Oh, and she needed a present for her class Secret Santa.

Monday I was busy, so Tuesday, I went first thing to the hair appointment I'd got booked and then drove the 12 miles up to Colchester.

First stop was to Williams & Griffin, the department store in the town.  There, I quickly purchased six bars of some very nice Italian soap by a company called Nesti Dante.  These are heavily perfumed soaps and I've been using them myself for a year or so now and I keep them in my clothing drawers before they get put into use, where they keep everything smelling nice.

Second stop was to Franklins haberdashery store to buy some cotton yarn.

Can you see where this is heading?

I spent the next two days crocheting as fast as I could.  Yesterday, the Secret Santa present was taken in to school so they could do the unwrapping today (the last day or term).  I've been told that the recipient was very happy with her gift.

This is what I came up with:

A bar of soap and a wash-cloth in a colour to match the packaging.

Very simple cloths which I've done many times before.  Just rows of trebles, going between the stitches rather than through the V-chain along the top, or half-trebles, or a mixture of the two.  It makes a more open fabric and aids drying the cloths.  The light pink one is King Cole Cotton Soft DK.  The blue one and the lemon yellow ones are Sirdar Calico (a 60/40 cotton/acrylic blend).  The dark pink is some cotton that I bought in Lidl and the orange/cream one is Sirdar Baby Speckle, which is, again, a 60/40 cotton/acrylic blend.  After a quick wash, dry and iron yesterday, they were wrapped up and tied with some gauzy ribbon.

Except I should have bought more ribbon as I ran out, so I had a rummage through my sewing box and found some wide-ish white satin ribbon, so cut a narrow strip from that and tied it around the pink cloth.

The soaps cost £4.50 each and the cloths were probably no more than £1 - £1.50 each to make (I can get three cloths from a 100g ball of the Cotton Soft).

I hope the young ladies who've been given them like them.  We tried to match up each fragrance to the intended recipient as two of the girls are more sporty than girlie!

That's it - I'm not making anything else this year.  I'm going to be concentrating on DD2's pink Bulle sweater now.  I'm nearing the cuff on the first sleeve (I've had to order more yarn but could only get a different dye lot so I'm hoping that if I alternate balls the difference won't be too noticeable).

Before I go, I must show you the card that DD2 made for me at school.  It's to Mummy -- no mention of Daddy and she refused to add his name to it - oops!

Isn't it cute?  The reindeer heads are finger- or thumb-prints and then the antlers are drawn on and googly eyes and noses are added (the noses are little foam circles which have been coloured in).  I know that some of you have young children in your lives, so this might be an idea for next year :)

I'm hoping to get one more blog post in before Christmas, but in case things don't work to plan (do they ever at this time of year?), I hope you all have a wonderful festive time.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Photography Challenge 2

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd taken part in two photography challenges this year amongst a group of friends.  The first, that I blogged about yesterday, was to take a photograph to represent each word on a list of 50.  The second challenge was to choose a view and take a photo each month so we could see how it changed throughout the year.  Some people chose a view from a window in their home, one chap who lives just outside Reykjavik chose a stunning rural view of a mountain a shortish walk from his house.

I chose a view of our local church, taken across the fields from the common area on our housing development where I walk Jess.  I'm sure I've mentioned during snowy weather posts that we live halfway up a hill.  The hill is really the southern side of the valley of the River Stour (which forms a border between Essex and Suffolk counties), so the countryside is sloping (and I always forget how high up we are until I'm walking up the path from the train station which is on a level with the river).  I'm not sure if I've mentioned before but the little town we live in is an hour by train from London and few miles from the village of Dedham where the artist John Constable lived and went to school and the area where he painted several of his famous landscapes.  My photographed view will never in a million years be comparable to the works of Constable, but I'm quite pleased with the results.

January is top left, December is bottom right.

Here's a link to the photo set on Flickr.

I think we're going to do this challenge again this year.  I might do two views.  The field behind our house has had planning permission passed for new houses to be built so it will be interesting to see what happens on there over the coming 12 months and, if the building's delayed, then it's a field that usually has a crop of wheat or beans grown on it, so it would be representative of a farming year.  I might drive to a spot a couple of miles away and take photos of a view across Dedham vale to Dedham church.  Otherwise, I can go up onto the bank by the local supermarket and take a view down-river towards Harwich and Felixstowe ports and take a shot of that.  Choices, choices!

I did also do a reading challenge, but that's been a bit of a failure as I've found it very difficult to get into a book in recent months, but I think I've managed to read 18 or so books this year (there were several others that got started, but then were abandoned).

Today is going to be a day of sewing in ends and then washing and ironing some gift items.  I'll take photographs and show you tomorrow (or possibly a couple of days after that - DD2 is unwell at the moment, so won't be going to school for the last couple of days of the term).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

50 Words Photo Challenge - Completed

Last year on a web forum I've belonged to for, ooh, ten years now, we decided to have a few challenges - just for fun.  You might remember that one of those was a '50 words' photo challenge.  I blogged about in this post.

The list of words this year was:

It was a fun challenge and I think my photography has improved by doing it.  Like I did with the 2012 challenge, I made two 25-photo mosaics of my shots.

Here's 1-15:

And here are photos 26-50:

As with last year's photo's, the categories are listed in the mosaics to 'read' top to left to right, top to bottom (so photo 1 is top left, photo 25 is bottom right, etc).

Some of the photos you'll have seen before following my post about the mini-jaunt DD1 and I made to London (I don't think I told you about the second mini-jaunt to London, did I - I must tell you about that one as well!).

There was another photography challenge as well, but I'll tell you about that one tomorrow (it's also been completed).

Until then....

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Bulle Sweater - Progress

I haven't been knitting as much as I should have been in recent days due to everyday life getting in the way, but I have made some progress on DD2's bright pink sweater.

I got near the end of the fifth 50g ball of yarn from the nine I bought, so decided to put the stitches on waste yarn (dental floss, actually as that was what I had to hand), then picked up the stitches of one sleeve that I'd put on waste yarn, picked up stitches at the armpit area and have now started knitting down.  As the pattern's written with short, sleeves (I think they're a bit puffed now I come to think about it), I'm winging it a bit, although I've made several top-down seamless sweaters in the past, so it's not a big deal).  I'm decreasing two stitches every eighth round at what would be the seam if I was knitting flat to taper it down a bit and am using one of DD2's school cardigans to gauge the length I'll need.  I'm planning on putting a garter stitch cuff of 1.5 - 2 inches at the bottom so it matches the hem and neck of the sweater.

By doing the sleeves now, I'll know how much yarn I've got for the rest of the body.  Hopefully it'll be enough (the sweater's already nearly as long as one of her school cardigans, but I'd prefer it to be several inches longer than that to make it more tunic-like) as when I checked on the Wool Warehouse website the other day, they'd sold out of the yarn. Fingers crossed.

Getting my camera out to take the photo above prompted me to show you a little something I bought at the weekend.  I popped to our local supermarket and saw there were a few tables outside selling things on behalf of the local troop of Brownies.  With the help of parents and Brown Owl, they'd been making things to sell.  There was one table of cakes and another had home-made crafty bits, including some sewn things such as peg bags and what they were selling as glasses cases.  To be honest, some of the glasses cases looked a bit on the short side, but I though that one of them would probably make a nice camera case/bag, which it does (it's got padding inside for protection).  So, for the princely sum of £3, here you are:

As they were trying to raise money to subsidise their summer camp next year, I didn't begrudge them a single penny and would have happily donated the money without taking anything home with me, but that's not the point of making things to sell, is it.

As it's getting closer to Christmas, I'm getting to that stage where I'm having to stay in waiting for things to be delivered.  I've already had the postman deliver a box from Amazon this morning and I'm also waiting for a carpet cleaner (bought at a huge reduction in price because it has defective packaging, apparently) to arrive via UPS.  Yesterday, our new internet hub was delivered from BT (our internet speed improved as soon as it was up and running) and I also received by courier a case of 12 bottles of wine from Naked wines.  I'd received a voucher for £40 off a spend of £80, so with Christmas coming up, it would have been silly to not use it!!!

I'm also expecting a 'little something' I've bought for myself (I might call it a Christmas present to myself), but I'll share that with you after it's arrived.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spinning Hurricane

I had a bit of a busy crafting day last week.

Remember the alpaca yarn I made from raw fleece in the summer?  Well, I gave that yarn to my sister a couple of weeks ago so she could show it to the owner of Hurricane (the alpaca the fibre came from).  That spurred me on to getting the sack of raw fleece and carding some more.

I spent the morning off and on, in between other jobs around the house, carding.

I was sensible and lay down a piece of sheeting on the smaller table and then a couple of sheets of the Daily Mail (it seems quite fitting to use that particular sensationalist newspaper to brush grit, dirt and muck onto!) and started pulling pieces of fleece out of the sack, flicking them open to de-tangle and get as much dirt out as I could and then put the pieces through my drum carder.

I carried on like this for most of the morning and by the time it was lunchtime, I had a batt of around 50g which I carefully peeled off the drum and rolled up.

I told you alpacas are mucky creatures didn't I.  I've read that they do enjoy a mud/dust bath!

See the brush in the top left o the photo?  I don't have a proper brush that fits on my drum carder, but I'd read of people using a wallpaper brush to smooth the carded fibres down, enabling a bigger batt to be made.  You can see how grubby the brush was getting.  On the right are my hand carders.  The bits of fleece that I haven't put through the drum carder I've been hand carding into rolags for future use.

At 3.30pm, DD2 came home from school and after a snack, started to 'help' me.  At first, she turned the handle of the drum carder (once I'd explained that she needed to do it slowly), but after I'd popped into the kitchen for whatever reason, I came back into the lounge and she'd got my flick carder and was trying to brush bits of fleece, so I showed her what to do and she seemed to enjoy that for a while.

When it was time to pack everything away, tidy up and prepare dinner, we'd done a pretty good job between us and DD2 had even made a batt of yarn.

The two on the left are mine (a total of around 100g).  The lumpier one on the right I'll probably pull apart and hand card as I don't think it's spinnable in its current state!

I've started spinning some of it, but as you know, all my crafting efforts are expected to be put into DD2's pink sweater at the moment so progress is a bit slow.  I might do some spinning in a little while, so don't tell her!

Here's what I've spun so far:

Forgive the plastic bag hanging off the end of my wheel.  I have to put fleece and fibre in bags and keep them close to my wheel otherwise they tend to disappear and I find Jess with bits of fluff hanging from her mouth, or DD2 sitting at the dining table playing with it.

The photo of the spun yarn looks cleaner than it is.  I have to stop spinning every now and then to wash my fingers as they get very grubby.  The yarn's currently a beige colour but I know that once it's spun and plyed and has been washed, it will come out a beautiful off-white colour.

All this activity means I'm very disorganised crafting-wise at the moment.  I've finished knitting my grey Reine cardigan, but need to sew in ends and sew on buttons.  I've finished a pair of socks but haven't sewn in the ends of those and I started a scarf a few weeks ago that I was going to show you, but haven't got round to photographing yet.  On top of that, I need to clear out the corner where I keep my current crafting projects.  We have a hollow, bottomless footstool that it all goes in, but that's in the corner where we'll be putting up our Christmas tree at the weekend.  I'm also going to have to find somewhere to re-locate my wheel to as it will be too close to the tree.

The run-up to Christmas seems to be so busy, doesn't it!  Oh well, I'd better get on and 'do' - the washing machine's just finished its first cycle of the day.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Everything else is on hold

Last Wednesday, DD2 came up to me and said "Mummy to make pink jumper.  Little round neck, one button at the back".  She rarely asks me to make anything for her, so I was a bit surprised.

I did a pattern search on Ravelry and had a think about any patterns I might have in books that would do, but couldn't come up with anything.  So, I did what any sensible Raveller would and asked in the Patterns forum.  There were several suggestions (including one cardigan that I quite like for myself), but the one that best fit the bill was Bulle.  I bought the pattern and downloaded it and then had a think about yarn I might have in stash.  As is often the case, I didn't have anything suitable, so I went back to the pattern page on Ravelry and had a look at yarns people had used to make this cute sweater.  I noticed that a few people had used Drops Lima, so I opened a new tab on my laptop and went to the Wool Warehouse website.  Once DD2 was home from school, I showed her the yarn and asked her what colour she liked.  Unsurprisingly, she went for the deep cerise pink, so nine balls (because I need to make the sleeves long) were bought ---- and very promptly arrived on Friday (they're good, those people at Wool Warehouse - this was the second time I'd bought yarn from them).

I case on and started knitting straight away and, as I keep being told to "do knitting" every time I sit down (DD2 really wants this sweater!), I started the fourth ball yesterday evening and am three or so inches down the body, having divided for the sleeves when I got home from knitting group yesterday lunchtime.

Progress photo?  Oh, all right then.

The front.  It starts with a garter stitch section worked back and forth, with a bit of short-row shaping to make the back slightly higher than the front and one row of increases an inch or so in and then it's a regular raglan increase until the part where the sleeve stitches are put on waste yarn until it comes time to knit them.

I've pulled the back opening apart for the next photo so you can see it better.  After I'd made the buttonhole and finished the garter stitch section, DD2 then went into my button tin and decided she wanted three buttons instead of one, so I'll have to sew up the buttonhole (maybe do sew some duplicate stitches to cover the join) and will do some crochet loops for the three smaller buttons (the buttonhole's too big for the buttons she's chosen).

As DD2 is now 11 and 'developing', I did an extra three increase rows and adjusted the stitch count accordingly when I divided for body and sleeves.

Can you see the flared bit at the centre front and centre back?  That's a 'gather' made by knitting in to the front, back and front again of the centre 10 stitches, increasing that area to 30 stitches.

I'm rather pleased with progress to date.  I'm not going to make the pockets (too much temptation for DD2 to put all manner of things in there - bits of food, hair clips, etc) and I might knit straight down rather than doing the decreases the pattern calls for before the bottom garter stitch band.

For the sleeves, I'll pick up the stitches and knit straight down, decreasing two stitches every six or so rows for a bit of shaping, ending with a garter stitch cuff.

I'm hoping I've bought enough yarn.  It depends on how long DD2 wants the sweater to be.  I'm going to knit another couple of balls on the body, then I'll put end stoppers on the cable and do the sleeves before continuing with the body.  One good thing about Wool Warehouse is that there's an option to choose the yarn dye lot you want, so I can keep an eye on their stock levels and if it looks like there are only a couple of balls left, I'll buy them to be on the safe side (I can always make a hat if I don't need them).

Right - I'd better get knitting.  I don't want to get in trouble if there's no progress made by the time she gets home from school this afternoon!