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

It’s on its way February 27, 2011

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 5:40 pm

Spring IS on its way. I say this with conviction, despite the fact that as I type this it is very cold and raindrops are drizzling down the windows.

But there are three things that make me know I can start preparing for spring.

First up is that the park near our house looks like this: a carpet of crocuses. I took this picture just a couple of days ago, and I hope the rain hasn’t damaged the flowers too much since then.

Secondly, while I was at the park I saw a big buzzy bee inspecting the flowers – the first bee I’ve seen so far this year.

And finally, I can see little tiny bits of green leaf appearing all over our willow tree.

It feels like it’s been a long, cold and dark winter, and we’ve lost quite a few plants as a result of the many days of way-below-zero temperatures. I’m very glad to see the back of winter this year – I love the light in the mornings, and the slightly longer evenings. (Although the light mornings mean our little cat wakes up earlier than before – and when she wakes up, she often likes to wake us up as well. Hmm.)



Fabric, edible Angry Birds, and shuttles February 25, 2011

Filed under: This and that — lauravw @ 2:10 pm

Time for another Friday Tidy – here’s what I’ve been bookmarking over the past few days:

Last night I watched the live feed from Nasa of the space shuttle Discovery as it set off to dock with the international space station. There are only expected to be two more space shuttle missions before the fleet is retired, and I feel sad about that. If you missed the launch, you can view it here – but you’re also in with a chance of seeing the space shuttle itself as it orbits the earth later today. (I suspect I won’t be seeing it – it’s very cloudy in Nottingham today.)

Kim at True Up has done a little preview of fabrics that are soon to hit the shops.

Some VERY lucky children had a playable Angry Birds birthday cake made for them. Wow.

I like this technique of using a paper punch to make a garland, very clever.

I like the look of these lip tints, but I suspect we can’t get them in the UK (yet).

That’s all folks – have a lovely weekend.


Lunch at Jamie Oliver’s new place February 23, 2011

Filed under: Food,Places to go — lauravw @ 7:04 pm

Jamie Oliver has opened a new Italian restaurant up near us, and it’s very popular. We had lunch there on Saturday, after waiting a few minutes in a short queue. I don’t usually queue for restaurants, but it was moving quickly and we didn’t have long to wait.

The restaurant is in a lovely old building in Nottingham – I’m always happy to see buildings like this being looked after, restored and enjoyed. Next door is the Paul Smith shop, which has also been very well preserved.*

We had a three course lunch (which made me VERY sleepy for the rest of the afternoon), and our table was up on the top floor, with excellent views of the city’s skyline.

There were quite a few vegetarian options, and the pumpkin and amaretti pasta I had was delicious. If there’s tiramisu on a menu, I will order it – Jamie’s version came with orange zest, and was more like a gateau than the tiramisus I’ve had elsewhere.

Something that amused us was the choice of music: the restaurants have clearly been planned to the Nth degree, with a particular target audience in mind. The music we heard while we ate our lunch made me feel that I *am* that target audience. It was an unsettling feeling – but at the same time, nice to be in a restaurant that plays ‘proper’ music (ie music from the 90s).

*Incidentally, I’m told by a reliable source that Paul Smith has a Paul Smith-striped Jaguar. So if you’re in Nottingham and you see someone driving a Paul Smith-esque car, it’s probably him.


More waxwings February 18, 2011

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 4:24 pm

I am a lucky girl: the waxwings came back, and I was able to get an even better look at them. And this time, I had my camera with me.

This is the clearest picture I managed to get – they are VERY fast-moving, and I got a lot of blurry shots.

I stood near the tree with berries on, and every few minutes a big group of them flew over to it to eat. They make such a lot of noise, and were constantly on the move.

I stood taking pictures for about ten minutes, and I don’t know what the people on that particular road thought I was up to: if they hadn’t spotted the birds, and I suspect they hadn’t, they probably thought I was a little bit odd. But no matter…

I love the little quiffs the birds have!

I’m also very lucky in that I can see the tree they were all perched in from my house, so I’ve been able to keep checking from the window whether they are there or not. (The neighbours probably think all the curtain-twitching is a little bit nosey, but again, no matter…)

And to top it all off, I took the bus to town today, and from it saw some redwings and a sparrowhawk, in an urban part of Nottingham. Nice to see wildlife doing well in the city.


Northern lights, photography and rice

Filed under: This and that — lauravw @ 9:25 am

Time for another Friday Tidy – here are the things that have been capturing my attention this week:

Chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow icing at Shelterrific – the marshmallow icing is made from Marshmallow Fluff, which I think might be vegetarian.

Chipotle black bean pizza at Craft.

Aurora Borealis to light up the night sky: “The possibility of seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland on Thursday and Friday night has increased after the sun unleashed a giant solar flare.” Watch the skies!

Nest cam launch for rare peregrine falcons – this is here in Nottingham, and I’m very excited about it. We saw a peregrine falcon in the wild on our road trip through California, Oregon and Washington last September.

How to cook perfect rice – The Guardian tested out many of the various ways in which people will advise you to cook rice (and there are a lot), and comes up with their own definitive recipe.

Ask the experts: How to become a professional photographer.


Waxwings! February 17, 2011

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 8:23 pm

Today got off to a really good start: as I walked to work I saw a tree near our house with lots of birds in. We get big flocks of starlings in our neck of the woods, but looking at these birds closely, I could see they all had little quiffs, and were definitely not starlings. They were trilling away happily, and there must have been 40 to 50 of them. They were waxwings!

This winter has been a particularly good year for spotting waxwings in the UK, but I’d not seen a single one until now. We’ve had redwings and fieldfares in our garden until recently, and I thought that now Spring is on the way, my chances of seeing a waxwing had waned. So it’s really made my day to see them, especially in such numbers. I must have stood on the corner of our road for ten minutes or more, looking up at the big tree they were all sitting in. Behind me was another smaller tree, heavy with red berries, and small groups of them kept flying over to that to eat, flying back to the larger tree whenever a car passed.

Of course I didn’t have my camera with me, so this picture comes from the RSPB website. If you visit the RSPB site, you can also hear a recording of waxwings – and there are some excellent photos of waxwings here.

I’ve only seen waxwings once before: some years ago, we saw a flock of them on a tree near where we used to live. But this year they’ve been over here in larger numbers than usual:

“Experts said it was the best year for almost half a century to spot the exquisitely marked bohemian waxwing, slightly smaller than a starling, with a prominent reddish-brown crest, black eye mask and yellow-tipped tail. In normal years fewer than 100 visit these shores, mainly wintering on the east coast of northern England and Scotland. Occasionally larger flocks, or irruptions, are evident during “waxwing winters” when the population outgrows traditional breeding grounds.

This year’s invasion is said to be exceptional, driven partly by severe weather in northern Europe and Russia. “This is probably the best for 30 to 40 years,” said Richard Bashford, the garden birdwatch project manager, who two weeks ago awoke to 26 waxwings trilling from a tree in his Cambridgeshire garden.

Flocks, which usually number between 10 and 100 and are rarely seen inland, have been reported in many parts of England and Wales, including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. They are attracted to the berries on shrubs and trees, especially rowan, found in gardens and around town centres and car parks.”

When I walked home tonight, I noticed that tree they’d been eating berries from still had plenty of berries left on its branches, so I will be going out tomorrow morning to see if they have come back.


Headed for Belgium February 16, 2011

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 8:54 pm

In three weeks I shall be setting sail for taking the Eurostar to Belgium. I have never been to Belgium, despite the fact that for the past 32 years I have been toting round a very long Belgian surname. My grandfather, who I never met, was Belgian – but I don’t know any family members from that side of the equation.

I’m going with my mother to Brussels for a few days of pottering around, visiting patisseries (I am SO looking forward to the baked goods!). We’re hoping to fit in a day trip to Bruges and/or Ghent as well – depending on the weather and our energy levels.

Despite my Belgian ancestors, it’s a place I know very little about. I’ve certainly inherited their love of chocolate though, and will make sure there’s space in my luggage so that I can bring plenty back (on a somewhat related note, I’ll be visiting Switzerland again later this year, where I will also be stocking up on the good stuff). I’ve not had much time to research things either, but the time I did have turned up this amazing-looking hotel, which is where we will be staying. It’s the Pantone hotel – as in the books of colours – and I had no idea it existed until I stumbled upon their website when looking for hotels in Brussels. My mother’s a fan of the Pantone merchandise, and so I’m pretty sure she’ll like the hotel too, minimalist as it is.

I’ve borrowed a couple of guide books from a friend, but if you have any tips you’d like to share, please do get in touch or leave a comment. Thank you!