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

Snowy Saturday November 27, 2010

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 3:07 pm

By the time we woke up this morning, everything in this neck of the woods was covered in snow. Not too much – just a few inches – but enough to make everything white.

It was an odd kind of snow, too – when I went out in the garden this morning and looked at it close up it seemed rather fake, as though it was made of polystyrene.

As they day’s gone on, some of it has melted (from the trees and from the rooftops), but we managed to get to Wollaton Park early enough to see the snow in full effect. I’ve put a set of photos on Flickr.

It’s a beautiful building whenever you visit, but I thought the snow made it look even more old fashioned. I wonder what it was like in Elizabethan times, when this place was built – did the Elizabethans go sledging on snowy days?

Did it snow where you are? Hope you’re keeping warm! I have the luxury of being able to stay in for the rest of the weekend, and it’s nice to know I won’t have to venture out again until Monday morning – though I shall be popping into the garden every few hours to top up the bird feeders.


I know it’s too soon for Christmas stuff, but… November 23, 2010

Filed under: Christmas,Crafts — lauravw @ 8:46 pm

Amy Blackwell's festive cat creationsI am resolute in my view that it is not Christmas-time at least until advent begins, and even then I’m usually a bit slow off the mark in terms of putting up decorations and writing cards. I get cross when I see Christmas being celebrated too soon: town decorations being installed in October, mince pies for sale before we’ve even had Halloween, and so on. And yet… I have done most of my Christmas shopping. Already. So let me be among the first to wish you a happy Christmas (!), and then I can get away with telling you about some lovely Christmas projects I’ve seen around:

Amy Blackwell’s cat decorations, pictured here – I *love* these. I’m sure I’ve got some coloured felt somewhere around the house – though I suspect it’s in Halloween colours…

A simple Christmas bird garland over at Fabric Rehab. This looks relatively easy to make, and the end result is elegant – and it looks like the sort of project you could make with fabric you already have, thus sparing you from facing the shops in December.

The world’s smallest postal service, featured on Design Sponge – oh my goodness!

I also found some pretty stickers in John Lewis, which you can apply to windows to make them look festive. I bought a set of the bauble ones, for my mother to use in her house. She has glass double doors from the living room into the hall, so these will look really good there. (I couldn’t think of a good place for them in my home – we draw the curtains at dusk and so if I put them on our windows they’d be out of sight for much of the time we’re at home at this time of year…)

And in terms of Christmas shopping, I spent an evening pottering round the Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham, admiring some of the goods for sale at Lustre. It’s an annual event where you can buy high-end handmade goods. There’s a wide variety of stuff on offer – some of it not to my taste, but we’re all different I suppose… (I’m resisting the urge to name and shame, but there were some oddities for sale!). There were two things I really wanted to take home with me, but following a moderately expensive trip to the dentist that very morning, my purse felt a little empty and so I made myself choose just the one: a narrow woollen scarf, made in Scotland by Yungi. This meant I could not buy the lovely mug and plate sets being offered by Catherine Hammerton, which was a shame – but at the same time my kitchen cupboards are rather full and so I would have had to boot something else out to make room for one of those.

Photo courtesy of Amy Blackwell. Thanks Amy!


London in November November 14, 2010

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 1:55 pm

On Thursday last week, I went to London for the day. I usually have a day there once or twice a year – sometimes on my own, sometimes visiting a friend. I’ve been very lucky with the weather, but this time it seemed things would be different. The weather forecasters painted a picture of doom and gloom: high winds, torrential rain, plagues of frogs. I may have misheard the bit about the frogs, but in general the advice was to brace yourself, it’s going to rain.

I’d booked my train ticket and a day off work some time ago, so there was no easy way to change my plans. And as it turned out, things weren’t SO bad. There were very high winds, and at one point it rained in biblical proportions, but I was pretty fortunate when it came to avoiding the worst of it. When the torrent of rain started, I was on a bus bound for Tate Modern, and so was perfectly dry. I was shocked as the bus stopped to pick up passengers who’d been caught out by the rain: one poor woman in particular looked as though she had been thrown, fully clothed, into a swimming pool. The bus finally arrived near the gallery, and I ran straight from the bus into a nearby shop, where I waited for about 20 minutes for the rain to subside. There were dozens of people doing the same thing, and more arrived all the time.

Because the winds were so strong, the rainstorm was swept away reasonably quickly and replaced for an hour or so by clear blue skies – this photo shows some of the storm clouds disappearing off into the distance.

I went to Tate Modern to look at the sunflower seeds that have been in the news so much – it was certainly interesting to see them, but such a shame that it’s now fenced off and not the interactive exhibit it was created to be. After that I moved on to the Bankside Gallery, which was the real reason for my trip that day: an exhibition by artists from St Jude’s Gallery in Norfolk. I enjoyed looking at their work, and hope one day to buy a print for my home.

Earlier in the day I’d had a wonderful lunch at Wahaca, Thomasina Miers’ Mexican restaurant. If you’re in Covent Garden and like Mexican food, don’t miss out. The food is fresh and delicious, and the flan I had was amazing (I don’t usually even like flan, but something made me order it and I’m glad I did).

The rest of the day I spent pottering around shops – I really enjoyed visiting Heal’s and Liberty, and the Christmas decorations in Covent Garden are very stylish and tasteful (not words I’d usually use to describe Christmas lights in a shopping district – the ones on Regent Street seemed rather weak in comparison). I took a late train home and was back around 10.30pm – a long day, but a worthwhile one – although it has to be said that long train rides at night are incredibly boring since there is no scenery to look at.


Egg custard and subterfuge November 9, 2010

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 8:17 pm

As mentioned recently, I had plans to observe how my mother makes an egg custard, in the hopes that I would then be able to make them myself.

My previous attempts at baked egg custards have not been failures as such, it’s just that to me they weren’t good enough because they did not taste the same as when my mum makes them. I expect that everyone has dishes they look back on fondly from childhood, and this is one of mine. My mother is of the belief that if you are ill, you need an egg custard. This theory is applied equally to all forms of illness and injury: broken leg? migraine? stomach upset? Get some egg custard down you!

Before she arrived, I weighed my sugar jar and made a note of the weight. After she poured the sugar in (how can you not weigh stuff when you are baking? To me, a careful, better-safe-than-sorry type, this is just madness!), I weighed it again. She used 124g of caster sugar – whereas the recipes I’ve used have said to use 50g for the same amount of eggs and milk. I’m going to try to use 100g next time and see how that works out, as this one was possiblya little too sweet.

Egg custard – mum’s un-recipe

  • One pint of full fat milk
  • Four eggs
  • Teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 124g sugar (though I’d advise 100g)

Grease the bowl you will be using to bake the custard in. You need a second, larger dish to put the first bowl into, and then you half fill that with hot water before putting it in the oven – the old bain-marie trick.

You heat the milk in a saucepan until it’s pretty hot, but not boiling. My mother tested this by sticking her finger in it; you may have more sophisticated/hygienic techniques!

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Keep whisking while you pour in the milk. Nigella has you strain the mixture before baking, but mum doesn’t bother with this and so I’m also giving it a miss (one less thing to wash up!).

Pour into your baking dish (which is inside your other, filled-with-water dish), and grate a little fresh nutmeg on top before sticking it in the oven – my mother was horrified that I had neither a nutmeg nor a nutmeg grater. She has corrected this now and equipped me with both items. And I’ve not had cause to use either of them since, so perhaps it’s time I made another custard… Anyway, cook the custard 140 degrees – Nigella has you do this for between 60 and 90 minutes – it depends on the shape of your dish. It’s done when the custard is just set. Let it cool before you eat it – I like it chilled, but the Nigella book actually advises against this – it’s a matter of taste.

*Sorry for the rather poor picture – I was altogether too focused on eating the egg custard, and didn’t think to take a picture of until until I’d made rather a dent in it…