Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Happy Halloween October 31, 2010

Filed under: Halloween — lauravw @ 8:55 pm

So here is my not-so-floral-after-all pumpkin.

The floral pattern just didn’t work out: I wanted to carve intricate little coriander patterns into it, just like on my Rachel Barker tea pot. It seemed like such a simple (by which I mean possible) idea – I can’t draw, and yet this seemed like the sort of pattern I could emulate.

I couldn’t. Not carved into a pumpkin, anyway.

I spent rather a long time carving the pattern carefully into my pumpkin, and then tested it out by lighting a candle in it to see if it needed tweaking. Hardly any light showed through, and in fact there was so little air getting in that when I returned to the room a moment later, the candle had extinguished itself.

So I did a bit more carving, widening all the little lines I’d carved. Then I added two round air holes on the back, to help the poor candle get enough oxygen. It was at that point I noticed that the side with the air holes looked rather better than the side with my pattern on. So I added a nose, and a mouth, and turned the whole thing around.

You can see the reverse side here – to me they look nothing like the pattern on the tea pot now – rather, they look like little creatures (aliens?) reaching their many arms out. So I suppose that fits the Halloween theme. What baffles me most is how the Americans, with their fancy pumpkin-carving ways, can turn out such ornately carved pumpkins so easily. Do they have sharper knives, better skills or is it genetic? Whatever it is, I am lacking it this year. But I’m pleased enough with how the pumpkin turned out in the end, and we had a few trick or treaters stop by, all of them polite and well-costumed*, so I’m calling it a successful Halloween. Hope yours was too!

*By the time the last bunch of trick or treaters knocked at the door, my bowl of goodies had just three bags of Malteasers in it – and of course there were four very young children. I asked them if they could possibly share, and while the mother accompanying them enthusiastically said they could, their faces told a different story. So three of them got chocolates, and the fourth one got to take home a toy snake I’d put in the bowl. I think he was happier with that that he would have been with chocolate anyway.


Halloween preparations October 25, 2010

Filed under: Halloween — lauravw @ 11:38 am

Halloween seems to have arrived rather quickly this year, and I think it’s going to have to be a quiet one. We’d considered having a small party but I don’t think I’ve got the energy to make that happen this time.

However, over the past few weeks I have gradually amassed a collection of little pumpkins: from the local farmers’ market, a WI fete, and the local vegetable shop. I’ve also bought a larger one for carving (I’m going floral this year, you have been warned), and was happy to hear that it was grown on the allotments at the end of our road.

The decorations are up, and I hope to get chance to prepare some seasonal food. (Although M&S are selling Halloween whoopie pies, complete with suspiciously green filling, and so there’s no need to bake if time’s not on your side.) The little card you can see in this photo was made by me when we were in Seattle: in Impress Rubber Stamps they had a little craft table set up with all the supplies and tools ready for you to make one of these. I love the black and white stripey string – I bought some in orange and white.

Megan has come up with a spectacularly simple idea for Halloween food: tentacle pot pies. I love how simple they look, and suspect they will grace many tables this Halloween night. So many Halloween recipes seem to involve crazy amounts of food colourings, but the ingredients for this one are all natural and the end result is fantastic.

While pottering around the Nigella Lawson website I found that she’s got quite a few Halloween recipes online these days, most of them are rather gory-looking and so I imagine would appeal to children. Also appealing is this free template for a Halloween garland from Allsorts – and be sure to check out the photo of her fireplace at the bottom of that post, it’s amazing.


Comfort food October 22, 2010

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 12:37 pm

It’s been terribly quiet here at Busywork towers: I’ve not been well (on the mend now though, I think) and so have for the most part been lying low.

I have had the opportunity to leaf through my new Nigella Lawson book, and also to try out a few recipes. One in particular has been a huge hit, and we’ve made it several times already: the Marmite pasta. If you love Marmite, I think you’d enjoy this recipe a lot.

Another recipe that has been tested is the one for chocolate banana muffins, which worked really well and is a good way to use up bananas that are somewhat past their prime. Our usual way of using up browning bananas is banana bread, and while the muffins make a nice change, I’m not sure they’ve edged out banana bread as the recipe of choice.

I’ve also tested out Nigella’s egg custard. I have rather a sweet tooth, and this recipe just wasn’t sweet enough for me – which surprised me as Nigella is not usually one to hold back on the sugar. I’ve mentioned before that my mother makes the best egg custards, but that she does so using a recipe that exists only in her head. She’s coming over later, and has promised to let me watch while she makes an egg custard, on the condition that I don’t interfere (!). She doesn’t even weigh things when baking, so my secret plan is to weigh the bag of sugar before she adds it to the custard, and then to weigh it again afterwards, so that I can calculate how much sugar she has used. Hopefully she’ll be unaware of this and so will not consider it an interference…

Incidentally Jamie Oliver’s new TV series has featured a recipe for Portuguese tarts, which are very similar to the kind of egg custards that come in a pastry shell. I haven’t tried it out yet but I plan to. We used to buy Portuguese tarts from a little bakery in North Yorkshire, and they were delicious.

And finally, the other recipe I’ve tried from Nigella Kitchen is for mexican lasagne, which was delicious and easy to make. It uses mostly canned ingredients (black beans, corn, tomatoes), and instead of lasagne sheets you use tortillas. We found it had a bit to much liquid in, so I’d reduce that next time I make it. And there certainly will be a next time – it was very good.


The big adventure: shopping for fabric and craft supplies October 6, 2010

Filed under: Crafts,Shopping,Travel — lauravw @ 12:18 pm

As we travelled through California, Oregon and Washington, there were a few opportunities to treat myself to fabrics, ribbons, craft papers, and so on. I’ve come home with a little stash of things that will keep me occupied over the winter months. I like the idea that things I bought on the other side of the world will be entertaining me long after the holiday is over.

In San Francisco, I bought ribbons. There is a shop there selling nothing but ribbons – it’s like the promised land or something. Megan told me about it before we even arrived, so I had been looking forward to it for quite a while. It was much bigger than you might expect a ribbon-only shop to be, and I was able to spend quite a bit of time in there.

In Oregon, I bought a little bit of fabric, and in Seattle I bought a little bit more. I also spent some time (and money) in Impress Rubber Stamps, which is a little crafting shop that somehow carries an enormous range of stuff. I could spend hours in there (perhaps I did, I don’t know).

I like paper crafts, but – how can I put this tactfully? – I find that a lot of the places that sell stamps, papers, etc tend to err on the side of tacky… with too much emphasis on hearts and soppy messages and things saying ‘best mum ever’ and those kits for making your own cards that come with everything pre-cut and pre-chosen, so that there’s no need for the person making them to possess even an ounce of creativity or imagination… I’d better stop there before I get cross, and just admit that I’m a bit of a snob about these things. Anyway, Impress is NOT like that – they have beautiful things, and the sample projects that are scattered around the shop are as inspiring as any I’ve seen.


The big adventure: from San Francisco to Seattle October 1, 2010

Filed under: Travel — lauravw @ 12:04 pm

We hit the road on a Monday morning, and San Francisco looked sparkly in the sunshine. I found it very exciting to start our road trip with a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – it seemed like the perfect way to start an adventure. First up was Muir Woods, somewhere I was very keen to visit. It lived up to my expectations, and I really enjoyed the hike we took through the tallest trees I’ve ever been near.

I get travel sick – pretty frequently, and sometimes it can make me feel very ill indeed. A road trip is perhaps not the best holiday for someone who suffers from motion sickness, and so I’d done as much as I could to stave off the dreaded nausea. I had car sickness medicine, boiled sweets, and salty snacks to nibble on.

For the most part I was OK, which I’m counting as an enormous victory. There was one day in particular where I struggled though: we were driving for several hours along a road that hugged the curves of a mountainous stretch of forest. It was such a beautiful place, but the terrain really was not on my side. A couple of times we had to stop and pull over so that I could have some respite. The first time, I staggered as I tried to get out of the car, and my limbs felt like jelly. I’m told I was also a certain shade of green. But once we cleared that stretch of road, I improved very quickly and things were mostly good from then on.

However, I seem to have developed somewhat of a Pavlovian response to the travel sickness medicine. The one I use is one you take before you set out. You can swallow it with water, or you can just chew it. Most of the time I just chew it – and so now I am finding that the taste of the tablet is enough to make me feel a bit sick. I’ll be taking it with water from now on!

Anyway, more about what we saw. I can’t do it justice, but if you were to follow the route we took, you’d find that it’s a region packed with nature at its very best. We saw HUGE forests, long stretches of spectacular coastline with deserted beaches (whenever we stopped to visit a beach, we nearly always had it all to ourselves), tidepools, sand dunes that stretch as far as you can see, Bigfoot, elk, whales, and all sorts of other lovely things. Oh, and breweries! We visited quite a few of those, and I don’t think they ever disappointed us.