Monday, 31 December 2012
Or rather, GINspiration...
It feels like everything I've made this month has been inspired by the season, so what better choice than my advent calendar?! I have enjoyed sipping my way through these, on the rocks with a big slice of lemon. I must admit I am still only up to the 14th - making advent last into 2013. No Dryathlon for me.
Something I Made
A special New Year's Eve dessert of my own creation - Mont Blanc brownies.
My new starry jumper - perfect for this month!
Parpy Jo bought me this silver cake stand. It's so pretty.
As mentioned in a previous post, we always top our tree with a Mexican hat from a bottle of Cuervo.
Make sure you go and have a nose at everybody else's! Next month Starla is hosting, so if you want to take part, pop over and leave her a comment.
1. Go Spinning 50 times.
I didn't do this. I made it half way to 25, which isn't too bad. I got quite behind by the summer and could have caught up, but it would have involved more commitment than I was able to give when also training for a run. So I made the conscious decision to stop, which was probably a mistake, as there were several times I booked into a class and then shirked it. Naughty.
2. Do the Sodbury Slog.
Oh yes, I definitely managed this one.
3. Learn to crochet.
Yes, I did this. FINALLY. Definitely don't prefer it to knitting but I think it will be handy to do both.
4. Finish knitting my first pair of socks.
Yes - another FINALLY! I am already planning my second pair. I have the yarn and the pattern ready to go. Now just need the time. I can't believe I didn't blog about them - how reticent of me. A beautiful red lace pair, with golden sparkles. I wore them as much as possible over the holidays.
5. Say no to more work things. Once more, I find myself hopelessly over-committed. I do NOT want to feel like this next year.
Yes, I did this. In fact, this term has been relatively relaxing, thanks to a combination of saying no and some things I said yes to being cancelled. I have still taken one a new project, but just the one. In April I was asked to do quite a big project but I said no; the recruiter actually thanked me for being honest and then in the summer gave me some review work on the project, for which I was paid more about four times what they promised! So it seems to pay off to say no a bit.Also, I don't feel hopelessly over-committed.
6. Do something outstanding at work.
I'd like to say yes, but really I have just been plodding along and trying to keep my head down. The business of last spring really put me off my step and the new headteacher is keeping things interesting. However, I am on the teaching and learning team now and we do quite a lot of whole-school stuff. I also got a lot of teachers hooked on using QR codes, which was a pretty big achievement. I think I might count this as a win, though it doesn't look how I expected it to.
7. Sell 30 things on ebay.
No. The same 13 perfumes that inspired this goal in January are still sitting on my desk. For shame! I thought I would try and cheat and so yesterday I went onto ebay to list them all, thinking I would at least sell these 13. Ebay has limited me to 10 items a month. So, I have listed seven and I'm sulking.
8. Get shelves put up in the spare room so that I can get it looking slightly tidier.
Yes and no. I got a really massive shelf built for my knitting books, but because it means the bed no longer fits in the room it's actually slightly messier in there now. I also intended to get more shelves put up and never got round to it. But the one I did get made is very lovely, at least.
9. Blog more than 127 times. The last three years look nice to my bit of brain that loves patterns, but I think I can do better.
I was quiet for too long in the first months of the year. I could have squeezed in an extra post over the last couple of days but it seemed pointless to ruin the nice pattern for the sake of achieving this goal, when it hasn't made me blog more regularly through the year. Roughly once every three days has been good enough for me for the past four years; maybe next year I will manage more.
10. Lose weight.
Well, I'm not going to weigh myself right after Christmas to find out! I did lose some weight in the autumn. However, I gained some weight earlier in the year. This is probably a no.
Six out of ten! Quite happy with that, actually. I have also passed that ski course, and paid off my student loans, and finished writing my first book, and finally got my sitting room curtains made up; and views of my blog passed 20,000 this week which is quite exciting. All-in-all, in spite of a couple of notable negatives, 2012 has been a pretty good year. Here's to 2013!
Sunday, 30 December 2012
It has been something of a slow year for knitting. I don't think I will ever reach the dizzy heights of 2009, but then that year did involve two lots of snow days and almost three weeks off sick with my gall bladder and swine flu.
This year, I finished 16 projects, 14 of which I also started in 2012. I learned to crochet and busted quite a lot of stash. I designed a pair of mitts and heavily modified a hoody - good for keeping the creativity sharp - and I finished my first pair of socks. I cast on for four projects that remain unfinished, but one of those is going to be quite long-term, being felted flowers to upholster a chair.
Next year I really hope to finish a few more of my long-term UFOs and knit up some more stash, notably at least two of the yarn lots I bought at Wonderwool, before it's time for Wonderwool again. We're going for the whole weekend this time. God save me.
Saturday, 29 December 2012
The second picture is much truer in terms of colour - this is knit with Debbie Bliss Andes which was in the sale at Get Knitted and I thought matched these buttons, from House of Alistair, perfectly.The yarn is maybe a little fluffy for the pattern; I am hoping gentle blocking will calm down the halo I created whilst knitting it. I really love the definition of the twisted rib and they are gorgeously soft and warm. I cast on and knit the cuff rib in November but didn't pick it up again until Christmas Day. Now I am ready to cast on the second one.
However this is also taking my attention.
It is for Parpy Jo's one year old son. She wants a hoody that zips right up the back. The Welsh dragon motif was my idea - I think I mentioned it before. It is going superquick. This King Cole merino is lovely to knit with, especially after the splittiness of the Andes.
My goal is to finish at least one of them before 2013! We'll see...
Friday, 28 December 2012
It's Rekorderlig Cider, in "Winter" flavour. My friend Crabby and I had an amusing Twitter conversation last month about what flavour winter is, during which I hypothesised that it was a combination of salt crust scraped from a car, leaf mulch and frost, while she hoped for a mix of reindeer, glitter and snowflakes. She was, at the time, eating a Mr Kipling winter pie and was unable to identify the flavour, which prompted the conversation.
Rekorderlig helpfully tell you what they flavour their winter cider with. I have to say, I was given pause when I first drank this (dressed in a Santa costume, after the Santa run) - who needs to say their cider tastes of apple? REALLY? But actually, what that does is give it that fruity, appley taste you normally get with non-alcoholic apple cider (or, as we call it in this country, pressed juice) alongside a little kick from vanilla and cinnamon.
I mentioned this to Sib and his girlf at the weekend. She wrinkled her nose up. "Yes, we sell a lot of that at the pub where I work," she said, "but it is too sweet for me...I haven't tried that flavour though." Having since tried the mango and raspberry flavour I can see why; that was very pleasant but I would not have identified it as a cider in a blind taste test. This is not as sweet, and definitely has the good appley flavour. It is also (or was also) on sale in a British supermarket which colours its branding orange, at three bottles for a fiver. I'm only sorry I drank my three bottles so quickly; I should have bought more, but there is always a certain danger associated with smuggling non-West country cider into the house and on this instance Mr Z was actually paying so it's probably just as well I didn't push my luck.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
I made my first pair of red Malabrigo Evangelines in December 2010 and I blogged about it here* - the story is basically the same, except this time I did only four repeats and I double stranded with some glittery red Kidsilk. I didn't knit any thumbs either, because I ran out of yarn. I weighed it carefully before and after the second mitt and I thought I would be OK, but I ran out of yarn on the 4th row of ribbing on the second mitt, so I had to rip back the first one a little so it matched, and so that I had enough yarn to finish binding off the second one.
This was what I had over. Efficient.
They were well-liked by the recipient, and I liked how the red striped. It's useful to know, too, that if I had kept it to 5 repeats I'm pretty sure I would have got two pairs out of one skein of Malabrigo worsted - not bad.
Knitting with it has made me lust after some more Malabrigo, unfortunately. Like I don't have enough yarn already. The whole point was to stashbust, but as with Nanny Hand's hat, this may unfortunately lead to some more stash.
* Incidentally, this is probably one of my most popular blog posts ever, because it has my version of Big Bang Theory's Penny's Santa Hat in it, for which people Google ALL. THE. TIME.
If you stumbled across this post because you're looking for that hat, I highly recommend Etsy. There are always versions for sale on there in the run up to Christmas.
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
Tuesday, 25 December 2012
1. Marc Jacobs Dot perfume, from Mr Z. Mmmmm! And such a pretty bottle!
2. A silver fold-out cake stand from Parpy Jo. We saw one in a cafe at the start of the month and I was quite taken with it so she found me one on ebay. It is beautiful to look at!
3. A red and white enamel flower brooch from Crabby, with a blue stone in the middle.
4. A beautifully soft leather travel wallet from Aliboo, which fits my Kindle in it and is the most gorgeous bright blue colour.
5. A blackboard mug from Sib and his girlfriend. I have written "brat" on the bottom already...can't wait to use it in school ;)
6. A painting from Mother Hand, called the Drunken Roman. It is bright colours and has loads of little motifs to spot and interpret.
7. Also from Mother Hand, as part of the stocking, an OS Map of Ancient Britain. I could spend hours looking at this.
8. A signed book of Tiffin recipes from my friend Paul at work. His friend wrote it - I can't decide which recipe to try first.
9. A variety of lovely bits from my secret swapper over on That Forum, including some very pretty beaded stitch markers and some novelty bookmarks I can write notes on - genius.
10. Money from the Parents Z, some of which I am hoping to put towards my purchase of a Kenwood Chef.
I feel very lucky this Christmas!
What's everyone else having?
I left out most of the candy for this version, to make the most of the ultra-Christmassy sprinkles. It is even more delicious than the original; it felt like the cinnamon in the crust of the first version competed a little with the flavours of the mincemeat.
The new tin worked really well, too. I was a little sceptical about a ceramic base and a silicon ring, but it appeared to keep all of the water out and was extremely easy to get off at the end. I might even brave it without foil next time, since it was impossible to get it in smoothly.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you've had a great day and Santa brought you what you wanted.
Monday, 24 December 2012
I love turkey. I particularly love it cold, after Christmas. We always goes to the Parents Z for Christmas day so I roast a massive turkey crown on Christmas Eve and see how long I can make it last. It's in the oven as I type. Mmmmmm!
I also make a stuffing for it. I only ever make it at Christmas. I mentioned it in my Tuesday Ten last week and I saw that some commenters thought I meant a dressing - it would be lovely as a dressing but I wouldn't have a clue how to get started!
Here is my stuffing recipe -
Small white sliced loaf (400g) decrusted and made into breadcrumbs
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 small red peppers (or one and a half large ones), finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
1 packet pine nuts
1 egg, beaten
Heat the butter and oil in a large pan and cook the onions and peppers on a lowish heat until softened and translucent. They should be chopped finely enough that they almost liquefy in the pan. Stir in the rosemary and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, then stir in the pine nuts and turn the heat up a bit to get it sizzling. Watch it carefully because it shouldn't colour.
Tip the whole lot into a large bowl with the breadcrumbs and stir together. Leave to get cold (or the egg will cook, and anyway you shouldn't use hot stuffing in a cold bird), then stir in the beaten egg (you can leave this out if you prefer a more crumbly stuffing texture). Use to stuff the bird, or roll into balls and place around the turkey crown.
Enjoy. It is delicious!
Sunday, 23 December 2012
I mentioned Nanny Hand in this post about the hat I made her (which she loved - it may be the most pleased anybody has ever been with something I made for them). I also mentioned her at Christmas party night with my Bristol bezzies on Friday night. Jo was surprised. "You've still got a granny? I've got granny envy!"
Yes, I still have one left, and I think I should probably make more of an effort. Traditionally I was close to Mother Hand's mum while Sib was closer to Father Hand's parents and I think, unfortunately, that has been in the back of my mind in spite of the fact Mother Hand's mum passed away in 2005. So, I probably don't make the effort I should and I will probably regret it.
However, I am very much hoping I take after her. She is still sharp as a pin, at 88, though quite deaf. She is a busy deacon at her local church, drives herself around (though scarily) and does all her own shopping and cooking. She's on Facebook. And last night, at my cousin's wedding, I asked her up to dance and she can MOVE. Excellent rhythm and pretty fast - when Footloose came on I thought she would leave but she really gave it some, and even let me spin her.
I do hope I'm like her when I'm 88.
Saturday, 22 December 2012
One girl in particular was very engaged. She put her hand up often, guessing often, getting it right sometimes. She caused a pause to the lesson briefly when she identified a student in my tutor group, whose names are all on the wall in an attendance tracker, as the brother of one of her friends. She was a cartoonist, she told me, and so the Bayeux Tapestry was right up her street.
This all reminded me a little bit of myself, or how I think of myself at that age at least. At the end of the session we were sat together in reception waiting for her mum to pick her up, having a chat. "I've always wanted to be an authoress," she said. Then I knew she was a lot like me at that age.
Keep working at it kid - you'll get there in the end!
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
1. It is imperative that I drink too much at the staff Christmas party and take lots of photographs.
2. Our tree topper has to be a Mexican hat from the top of a bottle of Cuervo.
(At this point I feel compelled to explain that I am by no means a big drinker, but it just so happens that these two happened to be the first two I thought of).
3. Turkey dinner on Christmas eve, with pine nut and red pepper stuffing.
4. Christmas lunch with the Parents Z.
5. Blueberry bread and butter pudding for Boxing Day breakfast, made in the slow cooker.
6. Doing my tax return on Boxing Day (it has to be done while there is some festive cheer around or I think it would be too depressing).
7. I always have a wreath for the front door. This year's wreath is a bird feeder wreath and the metal staple fell out so it is hanging over a tree branch by the door. More accessible for the birds there, anyway. A post-Christmas tradition is usually that the wreath then gets tossed into the front garden undergrowth until such time as it has rotted away to its metal frame (roughly 6 months) at which point I retrieve and recycle the remains.
8. Sending Christmas cards from the Natural History Museum. I only discovered these last year when I staffed the school visit there and ordering them online was painful (postage as much as the cards!) but the images, from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, are so beautiful and I am so happy to support the work of the Natural History Museum that I don't mind the splurge.
9. Seeing my family at a point that is not actual Christmas, when shops and restaurants and cinemas are open once more and the pressure to enjoy each other's company is off. Mother Hand is coming for Christmas this year, though. There was been immense unnecessary dwama about seeing the rest of my family which I won't go into; by maintaining our usual tradition we usually manage to avoid dwama.
10. Attempting to make the leftover turkey, along with the ham, pickles and mountain of cheese, last until New Year so that no cooking needs to be done.
So, more than half of those are to do with consuming food/drink. Hmmm.
Monday, 17 December 2012
These are another pair of Evangeline mitts (incidentally, annoying that a free pattern now costs and I don't have it in my Ravelry library anymore....I had to go hunting through a hard drive), which I have knitted twice before. This time I am knitting them for Sib's girlfriend and I will actually give them to her, instead of sending them away as a prize to somebody from The Forum who never even acknowledged their arrival (definitely not knit-worthy).
They will be shorter than the last red pair because I only had 44g of Malabrigo left and I needed 56g for the 6 repeats. So they're 4 repeats only, but I have stranded it with some Rowan Kidsilk Night (I think) - red with a little silver sparkle in it. It's very subtle and adds a lovely halo and a smooshy softness to the finished article. The first one knit up yesterday afternoon and the second one needs to be done by Saturday, but I don't think that will be a problem.
I also finished these -
Stars. They are knitted in King Cole Glitz and are for a swap I am doing on Ravelry. A bit of a faff, knitting each point and then sewing up, but I think it's quite clever how the ends form the stuffing. If I had to weave in all those ends I'd probably not have made them at all. As it is, I am intending to make enough for a garland for next Christmas. I'll probably remember that about this time next year.
My last effort with coffee and walnut is here but I wanted to try a different recipe; initially I was going to adapt the one I baked from the Dan Lepard book (mustn't have blogged about it, but it was coffee and brazil nut and very delicious) but it was a bit worthy for a birthday cake, with the wholemeal flour. So I dug out the Delia and adapted something from her How To Cook book one.
1.5 tbsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
175g plain flour
3.5 tsp baking powder
175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
2 cups strong filter coffee
The grounds from said coffee
One vanilla pod, split and scraped
150g coffee chocolate (mine is Divine coffee milk chocolate that I bought by accident, thinking it was their normal milk chocolate, which is my favourite...I was disappointed when I started eating it and realised my mistake. But then I knew those bars would eventually become something for Yakob. One doesn't often come across people who love coffee-flavoured things so he is a bit of a novelty.)
75g double cream
Begin by making the syrup. Put everything for the syrup in a small saucepan - I guess I used maybe 4oz of sugar, half light muscovado, half white, but you will need to taste it really. Some peopl like their coffee very sweet, after all. Boil rapidly until reduced by two thirds - 20 minutes or so. Strain through muslin and taste for sweetness - it should be quite a syruppy consistency. Leave to get cold.
Toast the walnuts in the oven at 180 degrees C for 6 minutes. Put 12 halves to one side for decoration and then chop the rest roughly.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add all the other cake ingredients except the coffee and walnuts and beat until smooth. Beat in the coffee and stir in the walnuts. Turn into a 10 inch tin and bake at 180 C until a skewer comes out clean - about 35 minutes.When it comes out of the oven, skewer all over and pour over the cold syrup. This is my best tip for syrupping cakes - always cold syrup on hot cake, or hot syrup on cold cake. Leave in the tin until completely cooled.
Make the ganache by melting the chocolate together with the cream in the microwave (or however you prefer) and stirring together until smooth and combined. It is two parts chocolate to one part cream; I had 150g of chocolate. There was plenty for this cake. Pour generously over the cake and decorate with the reserved walnut halves.
You may note the bubbles in my ganache. This would be because I beat it too severely, but that coffee chocolate did NOT want to melt.It's nice and glossy, at least. Also, for some reason, the cake rose more on one side than the other. That might be because I am so lazy about preparing cake tins I now always use my massive silicone tin; in a smaller tin, in two layers, I doubt that would happen.
Tasting tomorrow! Can't wait.
Saturday, 15 December 2012
I found this recipe on my current favourite baking blog, Sprinkle Bakes. "How pretty!" I thought, and ordered all the ingredients bar the sweets in my online grocery shop. Then I went round the local shops up the 'wood for the sweets. At that point I realised, we don't really do red and green sweets for Christmas here. Oops.
Luckily I found a few things. I spent a while picking out just the red and green jelly beans from the Wilkinson's pick'n'mix (a lady who was stood next to me with her daughter leaned over and said, "Oh thank goodness - I thought it was just me who was OCD enough to pick out the flavours I like!" and looked sheepish when I explained that it was for a particular purpose). I found a packet of leftover red, white and blue M&Ms from the Jubilee and removed the blue ones; and matched them with the red and green ones from a regular packet of M&Ms. I found some decidedly pastel red and green sprinkles, and then Asda came up trumps with Christmas tree shaped marshmallows. A few smashed up white chocolate jazzies and I was done!
I adapted it a little because I had digestives that needed using up, from my last Sprinkle Bakes recipe effort I think; and I added mincemeat because the M&S Christmas pudding cheesecake they used to sell at this time of year is a fond memory.
This went down extremely well at work and lasted a whole week. My tin was not waterproof, even with the double foil lining, but I really pounded the biscuits and packed them very tight so they did not disintegrate. I have bought a new tin now; well, I say tin: it has a ceramic base and a silicon removable ring so we'll see how that works.The cookshop where I bought it had some awesome red and green spirnkles - much better than the rather anaemic ones I used this time. So there will definitely be another outing for this over the holidays.
2 cups digestive crumbs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2lb cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-3 heaped tablespoons mincemeat
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (16 ounces) full fat sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 9-inch springform or loose bottomed cake tin with two squares of foil (I say loose-bottomed, but see above - the water definitely got into mine so this might not be the way to go. But if that's all you have, give it a whirl, because not having the right tin should not be a barrier to eating cheesecake).
Melt the butter and stir in the rest of the base ingredients. Press onto bottom and 1-1/2 in. up the sides of the spring-form pan. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack. Let cool completely.
Beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and mincemeat until smooth. Add beaten eggs and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated. Pour into the base.
Place cheesecake pan in a larger baking pan and add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Reduce oven heat to 160°C and bake for 1-1/2 hours or until centre is just set.
Combine the sour cream and sugar and stir until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the surface of the hot cheesecake and spread with the back of the spoon to cover. Bake for 5-7minutes longer.
Remove the tin from the water bath and allow to cool on a wire rack until it is cold enough to go in the fridge. I may at this point have put it in a cake tin and put it outside to get it cold quickly. When it is well chilled, remove from the tin and garnish with your choice of Christmas candies.
I loved these when I saw the recipe, and when I saw some chocolate-covered pretzels in the supermarket I knew I had to make them. They were very tasty, although a little dry - I think I left them in the oven a bit long. Mr Z did the eyes with a declaration of "I'm helping." Since the website suggests making them with children I had to giggle a bit.
125g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
200g self raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa
100g dark chocolate, melted
50g dark chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp double cream
Giant chocolate buttons
Red Smarties (I might use cherries next time - it took three tubes to get enough!)
Black writing icing
Mini marshmallows, sliced
Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well combined. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix until combined. Fold in the milk and melted chocolate.
Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until well risen and lightly firm to the touch. Remove the cakes from the tin and set aside to cool on a cooling rack.
For the icing, heat the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat until the chocolate has melted. Whisk the mixture until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.
To decorate the cupcakes, dip each cupcake into the icing to coat the top. Press a chocolate button onto the cake as a nose, then stick a crisp-coated chocolate on top using a little icing. Stick on two slices of marshmallows as the eyes, and use the black writing icing for the pupils. Stick on the pretzels as the ears.
Friday, 14 December 2012
I played this to my classes today at the end of the lessons because it was absolutely pouring. It was totally lost on them, unfortunately!
Monday, 10 December 2012
(This photo makes me cringe a bit, as photographs taken at this time of year are rarely flattering. Lack of sun, lack of exercise, over-tired from work... I am just going to focus on the frolics we had and ignore it!)
Last week I frolicked like this. It was the Santa run in bath. We got a Santa suit each (though I managed to break both my beard and my belt before we even started) and dashed around Bath on a 2km route with about 200 other Santas, in aid of Children's Hospice South West, a very worthy cause. Then we frolicked off to a pub for a Rekorderlig cider (their winter cider is a new favourite thing) and it was rammed with very comely young university students having a Christmas meal. The men were overjoyed. I guessed they were the cheerleading society, and I was correct. A whole pub full of tipsy cheerleaders? Frolics ahoy.
Look out for a new word from John this week. Thanks for the inspiration Mary - sorry it's so late!
Tuesday, 4 December 2012
1. My chunky, fuzzy, Iceland socks
2. When my hair looks good and not too fluffy
3. Diet Coke in a cup with a straw from the drive-through McDonald's
4. A game of Scrabble or cards
5. Beautiful blue scenery pictures*
6. Snugs with Mr Z
7. A deep and bubbly bath
8. Gin and a nap - the ultimate cure-all (this will be the title of my memoirs)
9. Thank yous and compliments from students
10. Cake. Even pictures of cake is enough.
* I am so very sad Google made the personalised images on their homepage go away. I had a beautiful blue picture of Tahoe. Every time I opened a new browser window I sighed with a little more calmness than before. Why are Google always getting rid of the features I use?
I sort of miss daily blogging, but when I rolled into bed at 10pm last night I did say to Mr Z, "I am SO glad I am not blogging every day this month!" Sometimes it is just too much to be able to write a little something. But I am pleased I managed to complete NaBloPoMo (even though I am Interna really) for the third year running. Hope it didn't get too dull.
Also - this is my hundredth Tuesday Ten post!
Sunday, 2 December 2012
This is a lovely word to say but it had me a bit stumped, until I remembered my current favourite item of clothing.
This lovely skirt is made of cord and it is the most beautiful rust colour. It's not as red as it looks in the picture and not as brown as it looks on the Boden website, but somewhere in between. When I ordered it I was convinced I would be sending it back - it formed a mega order from the autumn preview and I hoped to send more than half of it back, cough cough. I don't regret keeping it at all, though. Just looking at it makes me cheerful and it really brightens up the dull cloudy days. It goes well with a wide variety of other clothing and makes me feel good when I wear it. Look at this colour!
It's actually past due a wash, but I keep sponging it and airing it because I don't want any of that beautiful colour to fade away. The pictures don't really do it justice. Ferruginous indeed.
Thanks for teaching me a new word, Carmen! Looking forward to reading the other posts this week.
It really is a pain when months finish on a Friday! I am never able to get everything posted in time.
All through November I have been focusing on Christmas. Planning Christmas gifts, Christmas meals, Christmas parties, secret Santas, what to knit, what to bake, what to wear...I have rather wished autumn away this year, but I certainly enjoyed looking at it. It's just, I am feeling excessively festive.
I have, however, been buoyed by the beautiful autumn foliage as detailed in this post and the many birds I have seen both at work and at home as the weather has turned. Blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, blackbirds, chaffinches and something reddish coloured I have yet to identify have all been around and reminding me to dig out the fat balls. (The Google search is going to have fun with this post.
No birds - they're always too quick for me to catch and I think they like it that way. Pretty leaves instead. One of the Maths teachers at work collected some, laminated them and hung them in her kitchen window. Genius.
Something I Made
I've started a lot this month, in terms of knitting projects, but the only thing I have finished is Nanny Hand's hat and I have already shared that. So take a peek at my Christmas cake!
My usual Creole Christmas cake (booze varieties adjusted for personal choice/what was available), this time baked in the star shaped tin. I wasn't sure if it would work and took advice from The Forum (tm) who recommended wrapping the tin in brown paper to stop the edges catching and a very good buttering/flouring, which I usually do anyway, since the tin can't easily be lined. When it was time for turning out, Mr Z came and stood nearby for moral support and I flipped the tin over with a gasp, envisaging the ruination of pounds worth of fruit, booze and bu....oh! It had slid out like a greased weasel. Like, so quickly I nearly dropped it. That would have been ironic. I need to add a glazed nut topping because the butter/flour tin coating has left a bit of a crust which needs disguising, but all in all - success.
Fireworks are like really good moonrises - never meant to be captured on film. Too beautiful to be done justice by even the speediest shutter! Here's my attempt on Draw Something.
This was a month in which a huge number of History projects came my way, being The Big Handing In Of The Big Homework Tasks Invented By The New Head. However, I have not taken pictures of any of them, because I am forgetful. I did get a pyramid made out of sugar cubes, though. And another made out of lego. And another which feels as though it has been crafted of lead.
Instead, here is a sneak peek at a concept map from my book. I made several of these, painstakingly putting them together in Smartnotes. This is the only one they kept, in spite of them being an excellent value-for-space way of presenting information. My HoD is always teasing me for my love of spider diagrams - I guess it really isn't shared by everybody.
The shed was demolished at the very start of this month. In the shed was an enormous amount of paper that at some point in the mists of time we had stashed there - it must have been pre-paper-recycling collection, and the mice were enjoying it. Between that and the shed, Mr Z has had a lot of bruning to do. I used the multishot function on my phone and made this little animated gif of the burny bin...
Picasion. It was very easy. Impressed.
Go and have a look at everyone else's pictures if you want to know what November looked like for other people. Thanks for the topics Emma! And here are December's.
Friday, 30 November 2012
Happy weekend everyone (and a weekword tomorrow, I promise).
Thursday, 29 November 2012
I'd have spent the day sunbathing here -
(bit difficult because it's a different hotel I think) and swimming in the hot springs, generally spa-ing it up and recuperating from ... meh, well, it hasn't been the busiest November ever by a long chalk.But I still feel like a bit of sun and warmth wouldn't go amiss, since we've had weeks of cloud and dismal rain, recently replaced by bitter cold. I had to scrape my car windscreen both to drive to work this morning, and to drive home. That's not fun. In the words of Father Z, "That ain't right".
I've never been to Santorini but it is on my list of places I'd like to visit. Looking at pictures of it is one of my favourite things to do on Flickr. I think it would be best in the spring when it's not too scorchio.
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
I worked at a restaurant at Stirling Corner near Barnet in 1996 when I was taking a gap year before uni. Tom Cruise and the whole family were living nearby during the filming of Eyes Wide Shut at Elstree Studios. He came into the restaurant with his adopted kids (no Nicole) and ordered dinner, and I cooked part of the meal that was served to him. I didn't meet him, get an autograph, or even see him - it was all quite low-key at the time. We used to get a lot of actor types in that are locally famous. But now I can always say I cooked him dinner!
As for my book - getting a real kick out of being searchable on Amazon! As you see, not the most scintillating tome in existence (unless you are studying for this particular exam, in which case it's a fascinating and very topical read with lots of great activities and tips) but it's very exciting nonetheless. I always wanted to be a writer growing up (or an authoress, as I used to constantly refer to it - definitely a flair for the dramatic) and I never imagined that teaching would be a way into it for me. I've enjoyed researching and writing it and it's given me a taste to get my teeth into something similar in the future.
Thanks for your visits and your interest! Looking forward to touring your lists at the weekend - my new favourite Saturday morning task.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Ten Things I Have Done
1. Visited five continents. Only South America and Antarctica left, and I don't know if I count Antarctica.
2. Seen the Northern Lights - bizarrely, from a field in Wisconsin in July, and not in Iceland, which is where you'd expect to see them.
3. Been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans - twice. Rio next.
4. Written a book, shortly to be published. It's not a very exciting book, but it's a start.
5. Seen the sun set, and rise, at Uluru.
6. Skied the Hahnenkamm....and the Olympic halfpipe and women's downhill in Italy.
7. Cooked food for Tom Cruise.
8. Been selected for, and attended, Google Teacher Academy - the first one in this country. I still feel pretty proud of that.
9. Kept a blog for 13 years (happy birthday blog for last month, missed that again). I don't think there are many people who are at 13 years at the moment.
10. Completed a mud run. Still feeling quite proud of that as the muddy trainers are still sitting next to my back door!
I'm sitting here gazing into space, certain there are other things I could write but desperately short on time and with work still to be completed before bed. Everything I can think of is to do with travel! Really fun thing to list this week, thanks for the inspiration!
Monday, 26 November 2012
(Oh look - could it possibly be that Christmas is on the way, with a spread of colours like that?)
Clockwise from left -
Flip-top mittens for Mother Hand for Christmas, knitted in the sumptuous Debbie Bliss Andean Silk. I have some very lovely buttons with tiny purple flowers on for buttoning back the flip. These mittens have a lovely cable pattern and I really like how the twisted rib looks in this yarn.
Christmas socks. I'm ready to turn the heel. This is the second sock - I WILL be wearing them to school in the week before Christmas, by hook or by crook.
Yarn for Elise's fingerless mitts. I knitted her a pair two years ago and then they had to be hastily gifted elsewhere. This time I will strand the Malabrigo with this slightly sparkly Kidsilk I've got knocking about.
Baby jumper for Baby Parpy Jo. She requested a hoody that zips at the back, all the way through the hood. She requested a neutral colour which does not show up the dirt too easily (this matches Parpy Jo's ideal decor). I am giving her a Welsh Dragon intarsia. She does not yet know this. Her consolation will be that he will grow out of it quickly. She is against fancy dress but I think all 1-year-olds need to be dressed in picture knits at some point.
A sparkly Christmas decoration for a swap.
In my copious free time - a few more Yule trees, with any luck.
The awkward thing about all these projects is that none of them are at the "knit whilst catching up on Game of Thrones*" easy, non-pattern-referencing stage at the moment. This kind of cuts back on the time I spend on them. Tonight, for example, I have done no knitting and watched one episode of GoT. I really need to get a tree or a mitt cast on, either of which will fly by with very little concentration from me.
* Still can't decide if I love or hate it. I am getting quite absorbed in the characters but it has a slightly cheesy edge which I am not used to experiencing with things made by HBO.
Sunday, 25 November 2012
I was reminded to come back and post this recipe on Friday, when the librarian and I shared a slice of banana sponge with passion fruit icing, lovingly baked by Waitrose, and discussed what it was that was wrong with it. It was delicious - but it didn't taste quite right. We agreed in the end that banana, when in a cake, is best when it's a bit more earthy and wholesome as a bread or a loaf, and that it was a little sweet and fluffy with that icing.
I found this banana bread recipe earlier this year when I was looking for something that would use up (a) my brown bananas and (b) some of that wholemeal flour I almost never touch. This is a Dan Lepard recipe, him what wrote the baking book that is my solid favourite these days, but he wrote it on the Guardian website so I have no qualms in pinching it from there and tweaking it with my changes. Of course it wasn't quite right as his says wholemeal bread flour and I'm pretty sure mine was just wholemeal flour, but it worked anyway.
300g ripe bananas
15ml lemon juice
125g shelled walnuts, chopped (I use the walnut pieces as I like a chunkier nut, personally)
75g unsalted butter
175g dark soft brown sugar
50ml walnut oil
1 tsp mixed spice
3 medium eggs
325g wholemeal flour
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Line the base and sides of a large, deep, 19cm-long loaf tin or similar with nonstick paper, and heat the oven to 180C. Peel the bananas and in a medium bowl mash them and the lemon juice with a fork until smooth. Stir in the walnuts and leave to one side.
Melt the butter in a large bowl the microwave, then add the sugar, oil and spice. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until everything is evenly combined.
Sift the wholemeal flour and soda into a bowl (pick out any bran caught in the sieve and add to the flour in the bowl). Beat half the sifted flour into the egg mixture, fold in the banana and walnut mixture, then fold in the remaining flour gently.
Spoon the mix into the lined tin and smooth the top. Bake for about 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer poked in comes out barely clean.
I'm pretty sure I used light brown sugar when I made this (twice, now - it got a request at work)because I never have any of the dark stuff in. It tastes delicious and quite worthy at the same time; a rare combination, I think.
Whilst typing this I have just remembered that banana cake can be fluffy and cake-y when it has plenty of chocolate chips in it. If I have brown bananas next weekend (and this seems a distinct possibility) they might become chocolate banana cake.
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Anyway. It's proper cats and dogs outside and has been all day. Waiting to wake up in the morning and discover what new bits of the southwest are underwater. So grateful for living on a hill!
Friday, 23 November 2012
The mitten has a cave when we wash the bedding and hang it over the banisters to dry. She loves it, especially when there are fireworks about. How snug she looks! I can forgive her not wanting to sleep on our bed when she looks this content.
Happy weekend, all.
The Snug Routine
1. Place warmest PJs on hot radiator (I have some made from fleece. These are ideal.)
2. Wedge thick socks on there too.
3. Change bed sheets. Clean sheets are definitely snugglier.
4. Make hot water bottle and place this in the bed.
5. Squirrel out fluffiest towel. If you have a tumble dryer I suppose you might dry it for 5 minutes to fluff it up a bit.
6. Run warm bath. Bathe, using snug-inducing bath products, which for me would be anything spicy or with lavender or rose.
7. Dry thoroughly in fluffy towel.
8. Put on PJs and socks.
9. Dive into bed.
10. Acquire All The Pillows.
11. If there could be some sort of fluffy animal, such as a cat, this would presumably make it even better, but our mitten does not do snuggling so I can't speak from experience.
12. Now there should be some reading, playing Draw Something on a device of some kind, and possibly some sipping of a hot beverage, possibly laced with some kind of warming spirit. I personally find gin to be a very warming spirit.
This makes me warm just thinking about it. I think I may run through part of it now, to see how it works.
Just a solitary weekworder this week - please go and see what Carmen has to say on the theme of SNUG - and Carmen, I am tagging you back for next week since we're the only ones playing!
Thursday, 22 November 2012
Now, because driving sideways rain and gale force winds is ideal for an evening out, I am off to the theatre to see a work friend play the lead in the Sound of Music. So, just a quick one tonight.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
I'm feeling pretty happy about this, not least because of the small spike in income it will create. But it gives me pause: I advise students I teach often not to fret too much about university costs if they want to go because, hey, nobody ever avoids buying a house because they don't want a mortgage (well, not many people I'll bet). However, it has taken me until now - 15 years after I started uni - to finish paying and my loans were miniscule in comparison to today's, since I paid no fees and received a full grant. One year's fees now as about 50% more than my total loans for my first degree. Those debts they're coming out with really will look like a mortgage.
Maybe I had better direct them to student finance instead and keep my mouth shut.
Interestingly, I bumped into an ex-pupil recently who was in to do some observation before applying for teacher training. He did some kind of medical degree at Cambridge. He was complaining that in his final year he had been offered 4 hours of lectures a day. When he revealed this he paused for effect but I wasn't quite sure whether this was a good or a bad thing - in my final year at uni I had 4 hours a week and I thought it was great. He thought the opposite. "I mean, we're paying the same as the students on the such-and-such courses, but they get 8 hours a day!" he complained. Hmm, yes. I never thought of it like that. Value for money didn't really come into it when it wasn't paid for directly.
I wonder what impact this will have on degree courses in the long term.
Meanwhile....I PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOANS! Woop.
Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Ten Things on my (Fantasy) Christmas List
1. This light. I haven't decided on a letter. Send them all in all colours and I'll pick my favourite. Just kidding...don't send yellow. I don't like yellow much outside of nature.
2. A Do it Later! 2013 Planner (or Non-Planner) for the Creative Procrastinator, from The Literary Gift Company, who unhelpfully do not have item-specific links on their website, meaning I have to basically browse their entire website every time I want to find something I've looked at. Such a CHORE. Anyway - it is pointless me buying a diary because I have tried, and failed, to use them for writing appointments and the like down (I basically keep all that stuff in my head) but it still looks like it might be a fun thing.
3. Some Scrabble cushions - as last year. We have decided to buy a couple of Ws, and then I will knit some nautical-themed cushion covers with anchors on them, and arrange them saucily about the place. In your own time.
4. A Kenwood Chef. I have decided I need one and I am willing to sacrifice my coffee pot to get it. It has planetary mixing action. IT CAN MIX. ACTUAL. PLANETS. Also it might help me successfully create meringue buttercream icing.
5. Somebody excessively green-fingered to come and repot my endlessly multiplying ginormous Aloe Vera without killing it in the process. Mother Hand is coming to stay though so this might be a possibility.
6. As always, additional time. I would settle for five extra secret days. I'd like to be able to take these one at a time whenever I like in the next calendar year, without notice.
7. A rebuilt garage with a lovely, palatial room over the top with windows on all sides so it is really light, and a roof terrace accessed by a spiral staircase. Overlooking...hmm, the neighbour's garden, so not the best thing ever but it would have a lovely view out across the hills at the back.
8. A case of English Sparkling Wine, as reviewed in this blog post. My ideal home has a cellar in it, in which I can keep large quantities of wine and a variety of other things. At the moment I'm still working my way through the Cava we bought but didn't drink at the hen night I went to in the summer.
9. To be supreme queen of the world for the day. I have a LIST.
10. A Giraffe Manor holiday. I am becoming obsessed with visiting this place.
Making these lists is always fun but takes a long time! I think it only takes a long time because I am very blessed already. Maybe I should have things for other people on my Santa list, but I don't think that's quite the point.
Monday, 19 November 2012
The word I am picking for this week is snug. A good word for a blustery November week, I think. It has been so windy today that all those beautiful leaves are largely blown off the trees, and now my two big exercisey tbhings are out of the way and the training day I had to contibute to today, I feel it is time to settle in and start thinking about enjoying winter.
So, your best efforts on the word snug please, for Friday - leave me a comment and I will link to everybody.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
So, I thought I would share a little proud with you. Yesterday I pass a ski qualification. It doesn't really mean anything; I didn't desperately need it, or even a little bit need it if the rumours about the changes in trips policy are to be believed. I have managed to run several ski trips (six, actually) without it and nothing awful has occurred. When I took the course last October (here is a little mention of it in my blog), I really did think that I might not pass, but I wasn't too concerned because it was a formality.
In spite of thinking this, on the penultimate day, I overheard the course tutor chatting with his second on the chair lift behind me, saying that I was not good enough. It made me cry. So much so that I faked a painful knee so I had an excuse to hang back and bawl my eyes out as we went down the next slope. I mean, I think I had a bit of altitude sickness and I was over-tired, but I was properly sobbing.
I had worked quite hard to pass, you see. The whole point of seeing a personal trainer - who has now been a weekly fixture in my life for over two years - was to fitten myself up for the intense amount of skiing that needed to be done, and I'd taken a ski lesson here and there and made a point of really attacking the skiing on my previous trip. So, it was hurtful to know that I hadn't quite made the grade, however much of a brave and stoic face I put on it after that first dreadful hour.
Yesterday saw that work all, finally, come together - and in fact, it was almost better than passing it first time. I know my skiing improved massively last year when I was on the course, because we were working 2:1 with one of the most experienced coaches around and another teacher of many years' experience - under their tutelage I couldn't help but improve. However, there is something a lot more satisfying at knowing that I took their advice away and worked on it by myself for three more ski holidays and was able to make enough of an improvement to pass - with the same tutor, I note.
I've not ever seen myself as a sporty person. I was deeply unsporty as a child and teenager. My interest in exercise was minimal until I started skiing, since when I have been well and truly bitten, and today Cara actually scoffed when I said I didn't think I was sporty, so ridiculous did she find this statement. It all comes down to working hard for this course, I think. Without it I would never have started seeing Jenny the PT and that has made a big difference in my life.
So I am having a proud now, as the minutes tick closer to midnight. Very proud that I passed that course because it did not come naturally to me and I had to work really quite hard to be able to do it. 94% on the written test means nothing without the physical ability, which did not come naturally to me - but I was able to conquer it. Woop woop!
Normal service (less boasting) will be resumed tomorrow.
Saturday, 17 November 2012
I have to admit that this played right into my hands, almost as if she had read my mind, because since I wrote this post about my local library as a child and how disappointed I was with the local library where I work, I have had cause to be extremely impressed with the local library where I live.
Shamefully, when I went there to look for a course book, my library card was so old it had to be replaced. And it turned out my gym membership card (local authority gym) doubles up as my library card. And they send me an email to remind me to renew my books so I don't incur late charges. AND I CAN DO THIS ONLINE.
Hellooooooo, sexy new library - where have you been all my life?
Online is the handiest bit. I can search the catalogue and reserve books, and request a book from any library in the surrounding counties to be delivered to my local library for the princely sum of 50p. And when I go and check it out, I can do it via a machine. A MACHINE! It doesn't even need a person to stamp it! Which means that the librarians are free to ring up parents and ask if they're bringing their offspring to the next reading circle, which seems like a much better use of their time.
I realise none of this is probably news to the library-going population, but I am a fresh new convert and all prepared to be evangelical about my new discovery. Why would the government cut funding now when they've got so good?
I do have one bugbear, though, which is that when I went in last week, I perused the History section and saw there was a biography of Edward VI on the "Recommended" shelf. I rolled my eyes at the tagline which was something about the search for England's soul, thinking that it sounded like a vanity project for some bored historian. Then I realised it was penned by our local MP. I reckon he'd been in and put it up there himself.
Thanks, Carmen, for tempting me back! You're like a library, you are :p
Friday, 16 November 2012
I don't know why I think it is better this year than previous years. It feels like usually the season changes quickly, during October, when I'm not driving to and from work, and then when the journey restarts all the trees are bare - but not this year. Maybe it's because we've had such a wet year. There is still plenty of foliage left to admire and the grass at work is carpeted with what is finally beginning to fall. I only wish I had more time to spend outside, the better to admire it - or that there were a few more golden blue days and less cloudy grey ones, because they look even better in good sunlight.
But I'll take whatever colour I can get as the grey deepens towards winter! I swear it was getting dark at 3.30 today....
Blogging via the official Android app today which doesn't get amazing reviews - wonder where the pictures will end up?
Thursday, 15 November 2012
before but for me, on that day, it really was a little slice of paradise found. A 20 minute hike up and down in muddy, slippery jungle, in flip flops - but totally worth it.
I've been teaching a Geography unit about coasts recently and keep playing them this as background to their lesson activities. Had to stop when one of them told me it was making them desperate for the toilet - but I find it really soothing!
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
At Geneva airport, in the duty free.
It is LYCHEE AND RASPBERRY flavour vodka.The small print reads "For Women Only". I had a look around to see if there was a male equivalent that tasted of cigars, gunpowder and saddle leather, but there was nothing of that ilk. I can only assume this is aimed at the sort of delicate flowers that can't handle neat whiskey ... I don't like neat whiskey but I wouldn't drink this on principle.
Am I getting grouchier as I age? I find myself more appalled by things like this (which I think would be described on Twitter as #everydaysexism) than I ever used to be. I found this letter from Lady Curd today that I quite liked, for example. I do wonder what has happened to make me feel more strongly about topics like this over the years, but I can't pinpoint it.
Incidentally, and while on the topic of that blog, I also LOL'd a lot at the reader letter featured in this particular post. I have not read Lady Curd's reply because, tbh, it's late and I think I can probably guess what it's going to say. The letter is gold, though.
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Here's what you get:
I do love a good spider diagram. This is how I do my to-do lists, so I can split them up into the different sections of my job. Helps me prioritise. And of course, it has to be in red pen....even though the new regime at work insists on green for marking, I'm rebelling. Sometimes. When I think nobody is watching.
Aimee Artsyville has the double whammy of killer red shoes and beautiful socks in that post I linked to, so go and see her and look at some other blogs while you're at it. Blog-graze, if you will.
Monday, 12 November 2012
In its unblocked state.
Pattern: Through the Woods
Yarn: Araucania Azapa (now, tragically, discontinued)
Needle: 3.75mm and 4mm
Mods: Knitted the rib with the smaller needle, as I did the first time I made it.
When I spoke to Mother Hand last weekend she told me Nanny Hand was in need of a hat. "She complained that her hair is getting thin and her head gets cold," related Mother Hand, "but that she thinks she needs a hat with a strap on it, because she hasn't got much of a neck anymore." (Nanny Hand suffers from osteoporosis...that thing with grandparents where they seem to be shrinking but in fact you're growing? No, she's actually shrinking.)
Mother Hand suggested a slouchy beret so I had a flick through my patterns and stash and remembered that Through the Woods had been nice and quick the last time I knitted it, and pretty to boot, and that last skein of Araucania would make a very snug hat and suit Nanny Hand's iron and black hair perfectly. I did consider adorning it with buttons and knitting a detachable strap but ... well, I might still. It will be meeting its recipient on Saturday so I still have time, potentially (second book proofs are back this week though so maybe not).
I decided whilst knitting this that Azapa is up there among my favourite yarns and that I should find a source of it now Get Knitted no longer stocks it. That was when I discovered that it appears to have been discontinued. #sadface. Luckily I found a few cream skeins left for sale so I have restocked; I marked this project as a stashbuster but I don't know if it counts when it inspires me to buy more yarn!