Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bread, TED and Elderberry Juice

image of spider web glistening with rain drops

Wow what a fab lot you are!! Thank you so much for your lovely comments about my beach hut bunting. It was a pleasure to create and share them with you. It really was. x

Autumn has well and truly arrived. The butterflies have more or less disappeared and the spiders, oh boy the spiders, are everywhere! They are setting up home in the car, the garden, the garage and in every room, window and doorway in my house. They take great pleasure in abseiling onto my head when I'm just about to get into the shower of a morning. Good job I don't get freaked out by them and will happily scoop them up out of harms way (thankfully no Black Widow's or Tarantulas in this country!). I do freak out though when I see people take leave of their senses to squish and kill them - get a grip people, be cool... leave them alone!

Speaking of which the one thing, no two things I've managed to kill off in recent years has been my much loved bread makers. They were completely knackered from over use...and I still haven't got round to buying a new one. There really isn't any comparison to home-made bread - the shop bought, mass produced sliced stuff is of poor quality and completely tasteless. I also miss the breakfast time scrum to get to the plate of hot buttered toast in the morning - it really was a case of 'if you snooze you lose'. No sooner had I put it on the plate it was snatched up and gobbled like they hadn't eaten in days. Now it's a different story - we go through a lot of cereal, there is no fight for the cardboard looking toast, which sits unappealingly on the plate which is why we now have very fat pigeons lurking around outside the kitchen window every morning!
So when I saw this recipe for Easy bread made by the lovely Marie over at The English Kitchen I just had to give it a whirl. I'm not used to baking bread by hand so was a tad sceptical it would work out for me. There is no kneading involved - liked the sound of that, and only a few basic ingredients are needed - liked the sound of that too. First stage is to add the ingredients together, mix, cover and leave overnight for 12-15 hours, easy-peasy. 

image of easy bread dough

Then comes the messy fun part. You have to somehow get this sloppy slimy dough out of the bowl onto the work surface where it needs to rest for a further 30 minutes (word of advice:- DON'T cover with clingfilm like I did, it's a pain to remove and a lot of dough adhered itself to it so cover with a large bowl instead). Next it's slip slap slop into a casserole pot then bake. It was at this point the doubt set in. I was used to making bread with oil or butter and sugar - none added here - won't it be tasteless? How was this sludgy heap going to turn into bread? I've called this my Miracle Bread because that's simply what happened when it was baking in the oven. I was gobsmacked when I opened the oven door to see a perfectly baked, rustic loaf.

image of home made bread

It smells and tastes like REAL bread should. A perfect companion to go with home made soup this Autumn. Definitely be baking this again as it's great comfort food now that the nights are drawing in and we'll soon be cosied up in front of the fire watching T.V. Actually I don't watch much T.V. nowadays, but I do have nights when I just want to veg out in front of the box and watch something interesting after a long busy day. I usually end up switching it off - disappointed with what's on so I pootle around blog-land, Pinterest, and Ravelry - far more interesting and informative. I would like to add another recent find to that list which I must share with you - it's TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. In their words..

TED conferences bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).

On, we make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free.
Our mission: Spreading ideas.
We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. So we're building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

Some of these talks are completely amazing and inspiring. Here are my top three favourite talks -
A magical, inspirational, unique and emotional musical experience. Eric (a very cool hip Californian composer) unites the world through his virtual choir. (Chrissie you'd love this!)
Great speaker, powerful and educational talk. A must see.
We all need to see this! So informative, a fantastic talk.

If you have any personal favourites then please let me know! 

O.k back to the home made stuff...

image of harvested elderberries

I was so disappointed I hadn't made any Elderflower cordial this year. No excuse really as the bushes grow in abundance in my locality. So it was when I saw this  that I knew it wasn't too late to make use of this wonderful plant and all the benefits it has to offer. The berries are ripe at this time of year and can be harvested to make juice, syrup or wine. I thought I'd have a go at making the juice this year. It's said to be an amazing treatment for warding off winter colds and flu - you'll find much more info about this, and all about  harvesting and preparing the berries if you click on the link above. Make sure it's the black berries, not the red or green ones that you harvest - there are some very informative clips on YouTube on how to harvest and clean the berries (wish I had seen this BEFORE picking the berries. I didn't realise I had a lot of red ones too so had to pick them out one by one - tedious! I didn't like the smell of them so had my doubts as to how it was going to taste. Apparently you can eat the berries raw but seeing as they lack sweetness I gave it a miss!

image of ripe elderberries

That was the hard part over the rest is pretty straight forward. Pop them into a pan, bring to the boil (smelled like rhubarb at this point - a huge improvement) then let them steep overnight. Sieve the juice, discard the berries et voila a home made remedy to ward off the winter sneezes and snuffles. It should be mixed with lemon juice and honey, and can be drunk cold or warm. I prefer it warmed and diluted a little. It tastes very much like a mixture of prune and cranberry juice. I think next year I'll be a bit more adventurous (and prepared) to make both the juice and the syrup to last me right through the winter months.

image of home made Elderberry juice

The juice is a beautiful rich plummy red colour - packed full of antioxidant flavonoids which stimulate the immune system. Just what I need at this time of year.

Phew! Each one of these topics deserved a whole separate post of their own really, but I wanted to pack it all in together so I can carry on with my Autumnal bunting which I will share with you soon. X

Monday, 16 September 2013

Cute Stuff

image of two rainbows

close up image of rainbow

Sunshine and showers = beautiful rainbows. Mother Nature's reward to us for putting up with such grotty weather of late. This one was stunning - a double bow. The colours were so vivid and intense I just couldn't resist taking some pics. Summer is taking a serious nosedive's soggy, windy and cold - blah!!

During the summer whilst frantically trying to finish this project I had to have another WIP on the go just to keep me sane. Here it is completed...

image of pink amigurumi bear

Isn't she cute! I am so pleased with how it turned out (the face looks a bit like The Pink Panther). I used my left over stash of Katia Mississippi-3 and it worked up into a nice size (started using Drops Paris but it was too bulky for this). The pattern is free and was produced by Jaimai. It has been translated into English and can be found at Sayjai's blog kandjdolls. There are lot's of adorable things here that are on my must make list. The pattern is sooo easy to follow, you don't even need a stitch marker as there is a ch 1 at the start of every round...brilliant! As long as you keep counting the stitches at the end of every round you just can't go wrong. Also, there are a few pattern corrections written further down the page so make sure you refer to those first if you fancy giving this a go.

image of reverse side of bear

I loved the way Jaimai had created the face so I wanted to keep it pretty much the same, the only difference was I made the nose with felting wool. I hadn't realised that sewing it up together at the end was an art in itself. The legs in particular were incredibly tough for me to get right - I think it took me three goes before I was perfectly happy with the way they were aligned, and OH! the ears - same as the legs it's a doddle attaching the first one, but then you have to make the other ear match the position of the other - Aahh. Got there in the end though, and I'm chuffed to bits to be able to gift this to a new baby girl.

image of pink crochet bear

I really hope she loves this bear as much as I do. I think I'm going to have to make another one to sit on my headboard.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Crochet Sea Life Motifs and Lifebuoy Wreath

image of crocheted lifebuoy wreath with sea life themed motifs

You can tell by the photo above that I'm just not ready to leave the summer behind just yet even though the weather outside isn't behaving nicely. The project pictured above all started whilst I was pining for warm sunshine last winter. The seeds for this idea were planted in my brain which grew and snowballed so much that it consumed every precious spare moment I had to dedicate putting a pattern together from scratch! There were many times I wanted to ditch the whole thing in favour of easier crochet projects, but I was bitten by the bug of designing a project to call my very own. So I set to work and this was my first idea - lovely fun, summery beach huts. You can find the free written pattern on this post here

image of crocheted beach huts

Couldn't quite believe there were no beach hut motif patterns out there already. It's an easy pattern to follow- just a basic square with a triangle on top to form the main part, with a single row of crochet work to form the roof. These can be used for bunting, wall hangings, wreaths or sew them on as decoration on cushions, blankets, clothing or accessories. So super duper simple and quick to make which is an ideal beginners project if you want to start with something a bit different to the good ole granny square. My mind is still buzzing with alternative ways to achieve different looking beach huts - very cute and addictive. Alternatively you could turn them into a bird house by adding a circular many possibilities.

image of crochet beach hut bunting

I couldn't just stop there as I needed other nautical themed motifs to go with my beach huts I came up with another six motifs. Here they are...

image of crochet sun with seed beads

A pretty sun.

image of crocheted sailboat on waves

A sailboat on the ripply waves complete with splashes. The sails and the mast are worked together, the hull and waves are each worked separately then sewn together at the end.

image of crocheted fishes

Cute tiny fish with mouths. (The grey one has more of a shark face for some reason and looks meaner than the blue one which has more of a dolphin smile looking up at the other - does it look like that to you or do I need to get out more?!)

image of crocheted starfish and shells

Starfish and shells. There are two patterns available for the starfish depending on the type of look you want. The one shown above is a more delicate shape and the other star fish pattern results in a more chunkier looking motif (shown below). You have the choice to make two different shaped shells - a scallop and a spiral shell.

image of a crocheted star fish

All seven motif patterns are available as a pdf download from my Ravelry page. The written pattern is aimed at the more confident intermediate/skilled crocheter as there aren't any photos to go with the instructions. 

There is also an e-book available for absolute beginners or for those who need a more comprehensive tutorial. It contains step by step instructions with plenty of photos on how to make the basic crochet stitches, how to make a foundation row, and a chain-less foundation, how to start working in the round by means of a magic loop or chain loop, how to change the shape of the work by increasing and decreasing the stitches, how to join in a new colour, work over tail ends, examples of the different ways to add detail by surface stitch crochet, chain stitch embroidery, and felting wool, how to block and stiffen the work. 

Here's another way of putting them together...

 A lovely wall hanging - now gifted to a friend for her holiday home by the sea.

If you do fancy giving this a whirl then I really hope you have as much fun as I have creating it. I'd really love to hear what you think about this project - your feedback would be very much appreciated. Thank you xx

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A Sunflower Story

image of a peacock butterfly on purple buddleia

I really love summer with a passion, and this year it's been a good 'un. It's been flip flops on for the majority of the time, and the flora and fauna have been particularly spectacular - especially the abundance of butterflies and bees. 

image of sunflower

Meet 'Goldie' (obligatory name chosen by my 5 year old daughter. She planted the seed in her class project then brought the tiny plantlet home for us to nurture). It's our first home grown giant sunflower - what a whopper! It attracted sooo many bees and insects - I never knew until now that the centre circle of the flower is composed of hundreds of tiny little flowers obviously where all the lovely nectar and pollen is housed. The flowers on the outside of the circle open first, the following ring of flowers are next to open...see in the picture above it has still some way to go. You can see how the flowers are gradually opening towards the centre circle in the photo below. We would all gaze at it in wonder each day...nature certainly bowled us over with this one.

image of sunflower

It just kept getting bigger and bigger.

image of mature sunflower

Until it became top heavy and droopy. On a windy day I did fear it was going to topple over but it never did I'm delighted to say. I do believe that bee is the same one on every photo. One evening I went out into the garden just to take in a lung full of sweet summer air, and to watch the bats swooping and chasing each other around the house. I had my LED headlamp on (always wear it when I'm crocheting of a night- a super bit of kit) so was able to take a closer look at Goldie in the dark and that same bee was still there. I did think it was dead but it shied away from my touch when I stroked it's furry back... must have been fast asleep.

This beautiful sunflower is now a mere shadow of her former self. All the tiny flowers are going to seed - her glory days are over. It's funny how something as simple as growing a sunflower can bring so much joy and happiness. It's so sad to see it this way, but there will be next year to look forward to so that we can nurture her off-spring, and the race will be on in my household to see who can grow the biggest. Here's hoping we have a long row of these beauties along my garden wall...finger's crossed!