Thursday, 27 December 2012

Post-Christmas Peace


Today I'm mostly writing frantically to get my project write-up finished. It's almost there and then I'm going to go and have a wonderful time in East Anglia with boy. Lots of relaxing and adventures and just being free, enjoying they boy's company and taking lots of pictures. It'll be glorious.
Please wish me fortitude in my hours of writing, I'm so close to the end!
Here's a lovely read from Elizabeth to leave you with.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wonderful re-use of the Easter window display by The Arch House Deli
 Just a quick post to wish everyone visiting my corner of the interwebs a very happy christmas :)

Life advice
P.S. Don't forget my Wellington Pattern Pyramid giveaway, it's open 'til the end of the year.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Wellington Pattern Pyramid - Giveaway!

Parcel from New Zealand
I think my address blurring was rather successful, given that it was done in MS Paint
This week I received the Wellington Pattern Pyramid (2) parcel sent by Kat of Modern Vintage Cupcakes. As if being the pyramid starter wasn't generous enough, Kat included a length of cream lace for me too :)

Parcel wrapped in lace with a postcard

Now that the original six patterns have made it halfway around the world I've chosen one to keep and am holding a giveaway for the remaining five.
Kat posted the details of the patterns here (this is pyramid two) but do ask if there's anything you'd like to know about them. More photos by me can be found here.

Stack of six sewing patterns
The Wellington Pattern Pyramid follows Karen's original rules:
  • Anyone, anywhere in the world, can enter by leaving a comment on this post by midnight GMT on Monday 31st December 2012, but you must have an active blog.
  • I will randomly select a winner, Person A, and post them the collection of 5 patterns.
    Person A will then pick one pattern to keep for themselves, then host their own give-away They will randomly select a winner, post the remaining patterns to Person B.
  • Person B will pick a pattern for themselves and promptly host their own give-away and post the remaining patterns to the winner, Person C. Person C will do the same and so on until there is a last pattern winner…you get the idea.
I'm making it a rather long giveaway since it's Christmas and everything is rather busy right now. Hopefully this will give people plenty of time to enter and to mull over the possibilities :)

All the patterns together
If you'd like any details on any of the patterns just let me know in the comments. I can easily upload more detailed photos or shots of the backs of the envelopes.
I'm keeping the Style pattern at the top left, but here are the ladies on the envelope front closer-up. Is it me or do they have the same face?

Hopefully one can't go too wrong with a simple shirt-dress. I'll probably be tackling this early next year as I'm frantically finishing my university work and am off gallivanting after Christmas.

Speaking of giveaways, the copy of DIY Fashionista I won from Kathryn of YesILikeThat arrived this week. It's a lovely book and full of exciting ideas - she really does make everything look a lot easier than I'd expect. Someone might have to stop me from glittering everything I own.
I included a couple of other nice things in this photo - exciting stamps from a Christmas card and the three films I've finally got around to having developed. It's good to stop and appreciate these things when most of my time is spent writing furiously and staring at code.

Right, you've got 9 days to enter my giveaway, go go go!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

This Week

I have been...
  • Amused by this Christmas decoration in Home Sense. It is indeed "exactly what you weren't looking for". 
  • Won a book! Apparently wins come in twos :) I've won Kathryn of Yesilikethat's DIY Fashionista giveaway - the book is by the lady who writes A Pair & A Spare, which I've had in my Google Reader quite a while. It's a blog with a refreshing attitude - see something you like & make it. It's a fashion blog that's not about "buying into" looks. Hurrah for that, I say.
  • Spending a lot of time nursing cups of tea and coffee while battling with Java and the Android API. Sometimes I can find the answer I'm looking for instantly, sometimes it takes an hour of re-formulating the question and repeated Googling.
  •  Drinking tea! I've decided that I *do* like tea, but it's best hot and accompanied by cake of some sort. Having a pot and a small cup means it doesn't have time to get cold in the cup. The other afternoon my sister gave me a fondant fancy too :)
  • Missing the Boy. All this work and freezing cold weather doesn't make me feel the best, on top of being far away. It'll be over soon and I've made a big list of little steps to get me there.
  • Being visited. Yesterday I was in town while my sister was working; Boy was at a loose end and made the spontaneous decision to hop on a train down and join me. It was a nice afternoon of coffees and sofas and doing not much. Definitely made me feel better.
  • Crocheting: I was wondering what to make for a friend (won't say who in case she's reading) and found this pattern for crochet cats in my "Making Things" bookmarks folder. I pulled out some soft green yarn from my stash & made this little chap. His nose is a shank button and his eyes and whiskers are leftover wool from another project. He doesn't stand up very well because his body is stuffed with old popcorn - I think it's ok though, he's just a lazy cat :) He was really very easy to make, I recommend the pattern. It's written in UK notation and requires nothing more complicated than dc2tog.
  • Cooking: I made lemony chicken tagliatelle one night and a curry of assorted vegetables another, both of which I've done many times before. To go with the curry I made my first attempt at naans using this recipe but with dried coriander and black onion seeds (nigella) which I added to the dough, instead of  the chilli and fresh coriander. They turned out considerably flatter and more tortilla-y than the recipe photos but they did rest for too long and I may have under-done the baking powder.
Right, back to work! I hope everyone's staying warm & has most of their Christmas shopping out of the way :)

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Sprinkling Of Spring


These photos are from a walk I took with the boy when we came down to my parents' house for my birthday - being there now and seeing the grim, grey emptiness of the weather makes me wonder at how different spring is to winter. I don't curse winter for being here - I enjoy being snuggled up and cosy, eating the sort of hearty warming things winter makes you want, and receiving a steady trickle of Christmas cards from distant friends - but I do look forward to my toes being less like blocks of ice.
For those who're struggling to find much enjoyment in the coldest season - here's a bit of Spring to remind you that it's not permanent :)


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Midweek Linky-Bits

branch silhouettes in black and white
I couldn't find anything that seemed appropriate so you get nice trees instead
Here's a little collection of nice & interesting things I've come across around the interwebs:

  • Sarah Rooftops has made a list of 33 things she learned before turning 34. She's a wise and thoughtful lady and I'll be trying to take them in. To Ms Rooftops herself: Happy Birthday!
  • Interesting musings on social media from Ashley. The phrase "I think part of what I love so much about travel is that it gives me an opportunity to be me in a completely new context." definitely strikes a chord with me. I think finding my own identity and being confident in knowing what I like and want is important as my sense of self-determination can get confused sometimes. Striking out on my own gives me a chance to clear both my head and my heart. That's not to say I don't want the company of others ever, or that I want to escape from my current life, but it's refreshing to do something on my own and just for me every once in a while.
  • Ashley also wrote about "purging" - getting all those swirling thoughts down on paper and spring-cleaning your mind a bit. I like the sound of this and even managed to do it this week. I kept thinking of little things about my new flat and bits of organisation we should do and it was getting in the way of other things I was doing. I made a Google Doc and just allowed my brain to vomit house-related thoughts into it, then I tidied it and shared it with my new flatmate so we can both add-to and develop it. It also helped me get an idea of the scale of things I needed to do and what needed to be done when, which has reduced the stress and confusion involved.
  • Speaking of my new house, I've been pondering the question of furnishing. I've got the luxury of my parents' living nearby and the limitation of my continued project work so it's not my number one priority or a dreadful rush... yet. I really like the idea of having a large-ish table for eating/working/sewing at  - there's no obligation to buy something that's specifically a desk or a dining table and there's more potential for future adaptation. I thought this looked like a possible winner.
  • Zoe expressed her frustration with gentrified charity shops, as well as a fear that donations might be getting filtered to meet the perceived tastes of customers. I don't know if it's to do with the type of shopper I am (hate being hassled by over-zealous sales assistants - let me browse in peace!) but I really enjoy hunting through the treasure trove that is a traditional-style charity shop. Over-done boutique-style ones leave me cold - would you pay £10 for a new set of teacups that's one saucer short? No? Then why would you expect someone to pay that for secondhand chipped ones?
  • These chocolate-raspberry brownies  sound lovely. They might even tempt me away from my go-to brownie recipe, or possibly just inspire an adaptation.
  • I've also seen a few naan recipes about recently & quite fancy making some.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Another Week In Photos

shadow of a tree on a wall

Last weekend I came up to Bristol for the last round of house-hunting with S - we found somewhere!
After a week of forms and referencing we were able to get our keys on Friday. The flat is furnitureless and neither of us were able to bring anything straight away but it's exciting nonetheless.

A sunny, empty flat
Photos courtesy of Boy, who I took to inspect my new abode yesterday

If Boy sees a cat he must try to befriend it. He's been bitten twice this week but his enthusiasm is undimmed. I got a phonecall this week that consisted of eight minutes of conversation and ten minutes of him talking to cats. I am nothing if not patient.

I made another successful cheaty tarte tatin. It seems that cutting the slices of apple pretty thin is important. My Mum made a less successful one that looked more like a heap of crumpled apple.

I've been enjoying said tarte with coffee as relief from coding - which is itself getting less arduous as I approach the end. Cat has visited multiple times and come in at least once.

Photo borrowed from Modern Vintage Cupcakes

Yesterday morning I woke up to an e-mail from Kat saying I'd won her giveaway for the first round of the Wellington Pattern Pyramid! This lot will be on their way to me soon and I'll be holding my own giveaway in a week or two :)

This weekend I'm up in Bristol again (to get my keys). Yesterday I split my time between this new café/laundrette in Stokes Croft and Café Kino. Café @thewell has lovely decorations and decently priced food and drinks - I had a little pot of Clipper Earl Grey, and a brie, bacon and cranberry panini.
Last night I went for a curry with Boy and some of his friends, I had my first visit to the new Brew Dog bar which was good, if busy. The one cider they had was tasty and there were even a few beers I might consider drinking myself - if they weren't over £4 for a half!
Today I'm working in cafés again but over on Whiteladies Road. I'm feeling a little stuffy-headed and appreciating not having to move! Give me Wi-Fi and warmth and you'll never get rid of me.

A House, A Home!

Photos by the Boy
Last weekend I came up to Bristol for another round of house viewing with S. We viewed two flats - one which was rather a disappointment - small, electric heating, single glazed windows on a noisy road - and another which had everything we wanted but furniture. After a little discussion we decided to go for it and dashed across to the lettings agent to put ourselves forward. This was the third time we'd done this so we were pretty much expecting to be turned down or pipped at the post by employed people. However when they phoned the landlord he immediately said yes - no letting other people view or waiting 'til Monday, just immediate acceptance. We put down the required deposit and left, still not quite believing that we'd finally found somewhere.
After a few days of anxious waiting we got an e-mail saying that the referencing had all gone fine and all we had to do now was sign the tenancy agreement & pay up. I spent some time dabbling in comparison sites, trying to work out the mysterious world of insurance, and on Friday we went in to sign up. I was a bit nervous of the lettings agents as the lady we dealt with first was rather scarily efficient and professionally unfriendly, but it turned out we only had to see the accounts lady who was lovely and put us much more at ease. It even turned out that she's a keen sewer! S got a new crochet book out of her bag to show me while our card payments were going through and we all got distracted for a few minutes while she told us about her duct tape mannekin and the vintage patterns she'd just ordered.
Anyway, we got our keys and decamped to a coffee shop to recover ourselves and have some lunch. We spent the afternoon in a haze of organisation - getting council tax, water & sewerage, and TV licensing all sorted on top of completing the 29 page inventory. Phew.
It's been a somewhat stressful month and the fact that neither of us has been living in Bristol has made it a bit frustrating to organise but we finally have a home. Now all we need is some furniture...

Monday, 3 December 2012

25 Before 23 - December Update

So now it's December. I feel alright about that. I think that this list project might be helping me feel more on top of things than usual. Time isn't rushing by unaccounted for, I have written down what I've been up to and I can see that I have achieved things each month.
I've had four months working on my list (half way!) and have made progress on almost all of the points. None of them feel out of reach and some of them are just a small push away from being completely done. It feels good, and I'm glad the list is here.

25 Things

  1. Finish my final project - deadline is 03/01/13, going to try and tie it up in the next two weeks
  2. Get a job - CV is up to date and I've applied for one job and started a cover letter for another.
  3. Move to Bristol - Let subject to references!
  4. Sew a dress - Almost finished my Simplicity 2451 skirt - just needs hemming.
  5. Make 10 of my recipe bookmarks / pins - 10/10 I've added American-style apple scones and this minestrone soup to my list. For the soup I used chinese leaf instead of cabbage, had no celery and added courgette but was otherwise true to the recipe. The scones were really simple and surprisingly good - the apple chunks stopped them from being too stodgey.
    I'm sure I'll continue to make new things, I really enjoy it. I could be more strict with myself and demand that I have a pre-existing recipe bookmark, or even make a specific list of things to make? One to think about.
  6. Send parcels to far-away friends - Have started on the second scarf for my friends in America.
  7. Go to Southwold at least once
  8. Get rid of my Flickr backlog - in chronological order. Currently: film - August '11, digital - March '12
  9. Get a grip on my finances - I've gone through my old stuff, shredded some things & re-organised. I also found $270 I'd managed to forget about since 2009! For someone who thinks of themself as being organised... I'm not very. I've now swapped it with a friend who's going to the USA for Christmas so we both got a better deal than we would have with Travelex.
  10. Sell my eBay pile, swap my swap pile - Sold one dress on eBay.
  11. Mend & alter my mending & altering piles - Put off 'til Christmas
  12. Read a newspaper regularly - my parents are back so breakfast is no longer time to myself & I'm not getting through Weeks as fast. Might have to allow myself to skip bits. I have a strange habit of reading every last section (business, opera reviews, The Archers summary...) except the main headlines on the first two pages.
  13. Weekend away by train - Done Plymouth. Would like more.
  14. Buy good shoes - Bought some low-top converse rip-offs which are pretty good so far. Still need some serious leather boots/smart shoes. I tried on a lot in Jones the other day but most were too narrow :(
  15. Crochet 3 items from stashed wool - 0/3 Finished a new-wool Christmas item with no left-overs so it's been stash neutral. Might start making Christmas octopi with my scraps :)
  16. Get a new phone
  17. Read 3 good/classic books
  18. Print more photos - Found a free £5 from Bonusprint on and got a few done for presents, plus a passport-sized Boy for my wallet :) Would like more general pretty prints in albums, I can use one of those 40 6x4 offers or something.
  19. Watch 3 good/classic films
  20. Exercise regularly - Walking to work will count when I have work
  21. Scrapbook - the pile is looking at me, perhaps I'll buy some PVA glue and start working away?
  22. Have a picnic - If all is well with the flat we could have a housewarming one. Putting rugs down to sit on is the perfect way of looking after the new beige carpets!
  23. Visit a city farm
  24. Visit my sister at university - Put off 'til after project
  25. Cycle from Bristol to Bath - Still need to buy a helmet
 Any tips on cycling helmets? I'm pretty flumoxed about what to go for. I know that ordering one blind off the internet could be a bad idea with my large head, and I don't even know where to start style-wise. I might make my sister accompany me to Halfords to try some on, I should pay more attention to what Lady Velo wears.

 I've just had the idea of making one list item an item-of-the-month - something that I'd like to do/get done in each particular coming month . A monthly goal, if you will. I'd set a new one each month alongside my update. The company of the other items would make it seem less of a let-down if I didn't/couldn't get it done but it'd help my list feel up to date. I think at some point the list items left will be only those that take special effort or are more long-term - I will have got all the easy ones done. Having a new item each month would keep it fresh. On the other hand I've only got another four months on this list anyway. Something to think on.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Brean Down In Black & White

Brean Sands

Last August the boy & I visited Brean Down. It was a very windy day, I was in the second day of one of the worst hangovers I've ever had (never buy reduced wine), and our romantic picnic lunch happened at 4pm. Not the best memories of the place, but at least we took some nice photos.

  . . Steep Holm
These were all taken on my Pentax ME Super with Legacy Pro 100 film - more photos from the day can be found in my Flickr set.
Sadly I didn't take any photos of the goats, perhaps I'll go back one day and have a nicer time!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

This Week I Have...

... been amused by this sign in the local indoor market

... been very glad to see this beast after he worried us by staying away for a few days


... received postcards from my parents, and prepared for their impending return. Lots of gardening.

... baked American style apple scones

... cosied up with my crochet, a cup of coffee and Grand Designs

... nearly burnt my face off trying kimchi-fried rice

... enjoyed brief moments of sunshine amongst the torrential rain showers Somerset has experienced

... cooked up a LOT of veg curry - this has homegrown garlic, swiss chard, courgette and pak choi

... had some peaceful sewing time with Simplicity 2451 - it's getting there

... and started on the leftover curry mountain.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Middleterranean Lamb Stew & Tabouleh

On Tuesday afternoon I was home alone and felt like breaking my chiefly vegetarian dietary habits so I opened up the freezer and looked for inspiration. The only thing that wasn't in a huge family-sized packet was some lamb leg. Probably something my Dad bought back before his heart scare, we've been policing his meat intake fiercely since then!
Anyway, I'd already planned to make tabouleh and bought parsley for it so I thought I'd make something sort of middle eastern / Mediterranean from the lamb to go with it.

Bowl of stew and tabouleh with a fork

The lamb became a sort of tagine with spices and apricots, sweet and warm and a good counterpart to the fresher, sharper taste of the tabouleh. I made a couple of changes to what I'd usually do to fit with the ingredients I had - cous cous instead of bulghur wheat and an added courgette in the stew (we still have several kilos in the fridge) and a purple halloween carrot! I made my tabouleh while the stew cooked but it could be done in advance and left to sit.

lamb stew in a pot, tabouleh in a bowl


The first tabouleh I ever had was in a small Lebanese café near the seafront in Santa Cruz (CA). My friends' parents made friends with the owners and chatted about being Lebanese & Israeli in California. They encouraged me to have a tahini-heavy falafel wrap and share their tangy, lemony tabouleh, scooped up in lettuce leaves.
The tabouleh was made in the Lebanese style - more parsley based with just a sprinkling of wheat. Many commercially available taboulehs are grain-based & only seasoned with herbs. To me this is missing the point. Every time I make this I think back to the Santa Cruz sun and the lovely day we spent visiting the UCSC botanical garden, seeing sea lions on the pier, and cycling along the coast path.
  • 1/4 cup bulghur or cous cous
  • handful of cherry tomatoes or a couple of larger ones
  • 3 spring onions
  • large bunch of parsley (I used a whole large pack from Sainsbury's)
  • handful of mint leaves
  • juice of half a lemon plus more to taste
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
 First soak the bulghur in water (The Book of Jewish Food has you use cold water first & then leave it in the tomato juices for a while) and let it fluff up. Make sure you strain it well, we don't want tabouleh gazpacho (although that might be quite nice?). Put your drained grains in the serving bowl, then chop up the tomatoes into little chunks and add them.
Now chop up the spring onions, parsley and mint. Add them to the bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over the whole lot (look out for pips!). Season with oil, salt & pepper and leave to infuse.

Tabouleh in a salad bowl

Middleterranean Lamb Stew (serves 2)

I've made North African style tagines previously but wanted to find out what Lebanese people might do with lamb. The recipes I found had some similar ingredients but the most significant difference was sumac. I didn't have any sumac. It's only occurred to me now that my sister's pomegranite molasses (not like normal molasses) might have been a good addition.
  • Olive oil
  • Lamb leg, in chunks*
  • One carrot, chopped small
  • Small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • lump of ginger  (about the same size as a big garlic clove)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsps ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • half a red pepper, cut into chunks
  • one medium courgette, mine was in semi-circular shaped pieces
First put the olive oil, lamb, carrot and onion into a pan with a lid (I used my Mum's Le Creuset enamel-y thing) and press the garlic and ginger** into them. Add the spices and salt and pepper and begin to heat gently. Stir occasionally and allow the meat to brown, and the onions and carrot to soften. After a while add the tomato paste & keep stirring until the meat appears cooked.
Add the courgette, pepper, and half of the herbs, then give it a bit of a stir and put the lid on. This should allow the courgette to soften and mush down a bit. Once it has done so, give it another stir.
From now on you could call it done at any point, but I think it's worth keeping going. Keep the heat gentle and stir it plenty.
Eventually your stew will start to look like this:

At this point it has reduced a lot and the meat falls apart quite easily when poked. The courgette had mostly disappeared now. It did pretty well at bulking out what was probably a rather mean portion of lamb.
Just before you want to eat it, stir through the rest of the herbs.

* I'm afraid I don't know how much I had as I threw the packaging away. I do know that I couldn't quite pick it all up with one hand.
** Ginger can be pressed quite easily IF you get it the right way around. You want to have the strings running down, as though they'll go through the holes. If you get it the other way you'll most likely hurt your hand and flatten the ginger without getting anything useful out!