Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tennis on the TV

I am not generally a big sports fan, but I do like tennis, and today was the Australian Open Men's Final, with Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Very conventiently for me, alongside TV, I love to knit, and I had a variety of unfinished items to get on with, the only problem was that Federer wiped Murray out in 3 sets and did not give me enough time to finish what I wanted.

Nonetheless, one headband finished, a combination knit and crochet.
Three flowers crocheted ready to be beaded and attached to a hat I finished knitting a while ago.
One headband finished with hand made loomed flowers and some vintage buttons.
One knitted cloche hat finished with a flower detail.

Luckily my beautiful model made it home in daylight hours, so managed to get these photographed and they are now ready for listing in my etsy shop.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Monochrome Photography

Today's project is all about how beautiful the garden and surroundings look in the snow.

After dealing with the starving hordes - and treating my slightly delicate head after the night before with some cold pizza - I decided to brave the cold and take my camera for a walk before the snow settled in for the day.

I love black and white photography and snow just looks spectacular in monochrome.

I have had my Canon for 10 months now, and am still trying to learn all of its features, it is currently outfitted with a 70-210mm zoom lens, that I find a little heavy and am not accustomed to supporting, luckily digital allows me to take lots and lots and lots of shots until I get the steady one I want.

I have uploaded today's shots to Flickr - which is playing on the slideshow on my blog screen, and some shots to my redbubble site also.
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Friday night is quiz night

We are having a quiz night tonight, so that means plenty to eat and drink, always high on my priorities.

It is a buffet style, serve yourself, with jacket potatoes that have been cooking in the bottom of the Rayburn oven for 5 hours, some pizzas, quiche and sausage rolls. 

We all love pizza, and our favourite toppings can be categorised by what is lurking in the back of the fridge, therefore comprise of slices of some forgotten cured sausage, a lone piece of ham, some rock hard cheese, and that old standby, the sprouting onion in the veggie basket.

I make my pizza bases in my bread maker - I have found that the results are certainly worth it, the dough is lovely and smooth, and crisps up beautifully when baked.

210 ml tepid water
2 tsp olive oil
pinch salt
350g plain flour
1 sachet of dried active yeast or if using reactived yeast, reduce the amount of water by the 15ml used to active the yeast otherwise the dough is too wet.

This makes about 3 12 inch pizza bases or 4 if you prefer thinner bases.

I have my own tomato sauces that I made earlier in the year from our harvest that I bottled up as various flavours, either basil, or oregano, or garlic, but for pizza I like the garlic sauce, then just liberally apply all of the toppings, bake until cheese is browning and bubbling on top.


Quiche is another of my quick and easy standbys, and is also based on leftovers. 

The base is whizzed up in the food processor and I use the French flan pastry method

200g plain flour
pinch salt
115g butter (never margarine - it does not taste the same) straight from the fridge
1 egg yolk
a couple of drops of lemon juice - either fresh lemon or ones of those squeezy bottles of lemon juice
2 -3 tablespoons of iced water

Chuck everything apart from the water into the food processor and pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flour, then add the water, one tablespoon at a time, you may not need 3 to create the pastry ball.  Once made, refridgerate again (wrapped in cling film/saran wrap or in one of those waxy bags from a ceral box) before rolling.

For the filling I use leftover cooked veg like broccoli, peas, sweetcorn or chopped french beans, and chopped meat - either some ham or some cooked chicken, but my favourite is some chorizo sausage.

Whisk together 4 eggs, a teacup of milk with a couple of table spoons of creme fraiche (alternatively one of those little cartons of cream), and add plenty of seasonings - I normally add salt, pepper, a generous pinch of paprika and some either fresh or dried herbs like parsley or oregano.  Then top with a sliced tomato.

Bake until it rises then falls and is brown on top. 

As I do my baking in the Rayburn - I have no firm temperature settings or time allowances for these recipes and so I judge it is done by how the finished product looks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finishing touches

Today is all about finishing touches, with the first being those headbands I made yesterday.  These have now been beautifully modelled by my daugher and uploaded to my Etsy shop.

Having got the camera in hand and a willing (ish) subject, I took a few more and uploaded those to my flickr site
absinthe fairy photos

Now there are just the roses to finish knitting to add the final touches to the hat I finished knitting yesterday - look out for that too on Etsy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

With a needle and thread

Today's project was to get my handmade headbands finished ready for Etsy.

These have been made from some black elastic from the Clermont Ferrand Sunday flea market, some feathers kindly donated from my ducks and guinea fowl, some black sequins, and those black bugle beads I removed from a dress earlier this month on a different project.

Now I just need some daylight and a hair model to finish the photos and look out for these on my Etsy site.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

If I knew you were coming .......

........... I'd have baked a cake.

Last summer in a fit of domestic goddess insanity I did a swap for some cake tins, then put them to the back of the cupboard for six months and desperately tried to forget I had them.

Whilst I am now in a culinary place mentally where I can whip up a quiche or a pizza or a savoury tartlet without thinking, when it comes to flour and sugar - well for me it is like trying to mix oil and water - they just don't go.

But my friend and neighbour bullied - and I do mean bullied - me into dragging them out of the cupboard. She found me a set of simple recipes and sent me forth on my mission for today - to make a cake.

Say hello to:
Gateau de pommes a la noix de coco - or - Apple cake with coconut

For the base: mix 200g plain flour, with 8 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 12 tablespoons of milk, 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon baking powder, pour into a tin that has been lined with baking parchment or well buttered to stop it from sticking.

Peel and cut 3 apples into thin slices and layer, pushing the slices well into the mix.

Bake at 210 C for 20 minutes.

For the topping: mix together 100g of melted butter, 1 egg, 100g of caster sugar, 100g of dessicated coconut then spread while the butter is still soft over the baked base, and put back into the oven for another 10 minutes to finish cooking.

Sprinkle with some more dessicated coconut to finish.

Just waiting for it to cool down enough to sample now - will let you know whether it is a success or not.
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A Project in several parts - Part 1 - Washing the fleece

The Fleece

As some of you may be aware, Ernie our lamb met his maker in December - and very tasty Christmas dinner he was too.

At the time, mostly due to the deep snow and freezing conditions, I neglected to do anything with his fleece, and then as the snow melted away and the ice thawed it was gradually revealed lying around in the garden.

Now everything has had a go at it, the dog has dragged it around a bit, the chickens have pecked at it, a buzzard pulled it about a bit and the magpies tried to fly away with it.

Which means there is no flesh left on it all.

So having neglected it, I decided that now was the time to do something with it. I began by collecting up the main body of the fleece and spreading it out over the branch of the apple tree that came down after a lightning strike to continue drying out. Very Jason and the Argonauts.

The remainder of the fleece that had been spread out in bunches across the veggie patch and in the grass verges, I gathered together and started washing yesterday (Monday 25th January), it was washed with lukewarm water and soda crystals, rinsed then washed again for a total of five times. From the pictures you can already see it going from dull brown to much whiter. It is now laid out on top of the Rayburn plate rack to dry, thankfully smelling much better than it did when I first bought it in.

I am not really sure where I am going with this project, I have a couple of ideas in mind to make some felt and to stuff a couple of cushions with it, but the next step will be to make a fleece comb of some desciption and then a spinner perhaps, to have a go at making some wool with it.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A bit more green

Some time ago I decided to introduce a bit more colour in our living room, which is mostly shades of brown against white walls. Brown floor, brown sofas, brown rug, brown furniture, brown cushions - you get the picture.

So on a trip to Ikea I thought I would get all creative and introduce some green to the living room - and mostly that consisted of some new soft furnishings therefore a perfect excuse for buying some lovely soft throws and squidgy soft cushions - what is it with men and cushions, as if introducting a degree of comfort to the sofa will have some violently detrimental effect on their masculinity?

Anyway some new cushions, a new throw and some green candles later and I ran out of steam - interior designer I am most definitely not.

But whilst I was on a green shopping fix, I found these gorgeous felt leaves and had the wonderful idea of creating my own cushion covers with them, needless to say they have been gathering dust for the last 4 months in a corner and the cushions they were intended to go on have been used and abused by the cats.

Therefore today's project was to clean up the cushions - done, dried out beautifully on the plate rack on the Rayburn, and the felt leaves have finally been sown on, with a dab of glue in places to help keep them in place.

They look so lovely, I cannot believe how long it took me to get around to doing this. Now just need to convince the cats that they are not allowed to sit on them, oh - and Brendan too.
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

If music be the food of ............... something

Today has been a lovely day of quality sales shopping time with my daughter.  With her birthday falling in Feb, we tend to get her birthday pressies in the post Christmas sales, and this year has been no exception.  That just leaves me with a couple of bags of clothes and some new boots to get wrapped up. 

But whilst that was a very enjoyable way to spend a day, it does not really qualify for a project.

I hit the new technological age at Christmas myself with some fancy new gadgetry that I have been sternly advised I cannot on pain of death call a walkman.  It is an MP3 player, and so tiny and cute looking that I am quite in love with it, accompanied by a docking station to give me a stereo system in my studio.

(Somehow I just cannot get MP3 player to trip off my tongue though, so it is and forever will be a walkman - have to whisper that bit in case the teen police are listening).

Therefore today's project was to actually download my albums onto it, because the first time I managed to hide albums in folders that then would not play on the random shuffle option - total technophobe here.

The random shuffle option now has me listening to Latin Divas, next to Garbage, next to the Doors, next to Lily Allen, then some Evanescence, followed by some Bjork, with some Metallica and Pink in the mix.  Hmmm - eclectic anyone?

I had forgotten how much music affects my mood, and sets the tone and pace of a day - what bliss now to do my housework plugged into my tiny earphones.   Well almost bliss, truthfully just slightly less than a bore chore when I can dance around and sing really really really badly while changing the beds - until poor Brendan had to come and take my new toy away.  He said something about his ears bleeding due to my tone deaf caterwauling.  Cheek.  Oh well hopefully will get it back tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thank crunchie for Friday

Today is a collage of projects - time for that sewing needle to get busy.

I started with the torn sleeve on a shirt that I have not worn since summer, when I tore it on an apple tree and never got round to fixing it.

Then the button that popped off my waistcoat a week ago - luckily managed to catch it when it hit the floor so did not have to replace all the buttons to match.

The finally the black dress.

As some of you may be aware my main new year resolution this year is not to buy any new clothes. I am allowing myself second hand clothes and Fairtrade, but really with a bulging wardrobe I should not require any additions to it for at least 5 years.

This black dress I bought on ebay last year, but hated it on once it arrived - one of the drawbacks of buying clothes on ebay - but I really liked the slashed sleeves and the bead detailed v-neck, so decided to keep it and turn it into a tunic top to wear with jeans. So I promptly shoved the dress on a hanger and forgot about it for 9 months.

Today while I had the sewing box to hand I cut 15inces off the bottom of the dress, so it now hangs to mid thigh, and removed some of the extra beading that looked a little overdone and a bit too bling for me. Just need to get the sewing machine out to finish the hem neatly, but that will be a job for another day as we are off out for a meal tonight with friends so need to get out of my work clothes and find something to wear!
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Made bread instead and ended up eating it straight from the tin, hot with melted butter - yummy - making me hungry just thinking of it.
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At a loose end .......

Struggling to find a project for today and not really sure why as there is no lack of things that need doing.

Unfortunately my motivation seems to have wandered off for a walk in the sun today.

Yesterday we had a day of visits with the morning taken up with friends and then the afternoon too, so very pleased we managed to fit the essential wood cutting in over lunchtime.

I have a number of schemes running through my mind but can't seem to get down to actually doing any of them - first and foremost is the thought that having given away my surplus suitcase of clothes, I have not tackled the clothes in my wardrobe, which are now hanging 6 to a  hanger and the door won't close unless wedged.

What I have acheived today is to pass on my cheats chilli recipe in French to my client, no easy feat, considering my poor written French.  Being the sort of person to abhor wasted food of any description and having seen the meaty chicken carcass she was considering throwing away, I picked it clean for her, and made up a batch of very mild chilli, so I hope they enjoy it. 

Cheats Chilli
a bowl of any sort of left over meat
some wrinkled old tomatoes chopped roughly
that onion at the back of the veggie basket that is sprouting green shoots, chopped roughly
a forgotten tin of red kidney beans, or any other beans or sweetcorn knocking about
a dusty dented tin of tomato puree, or the final squeeze from the puree paste tube at the back of the fridge
garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and chilli

Chuck a bit of oil in a pan (the greasy juices from the leftover meat will do), fry the garlic (if using fresh chillies add these now and fry with the garlic), add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes, add the meat, stir in chopped tomatoes, add some water, season, add paprika, add beans and the puree, and let simmer for about 30 mins, sprinkle with chilli flakes, simmer for a couple of minutes and to finish stir in a spoonful of creme fraiche.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can't see the wood for the trees

As wood is our primary source of heating - actually reading that back makes me smile, because it sounds so posh, in fact our secondary source of heating is one ancient oil fired radiator for emergency use only in Thea's room.

So as I was saying, wood is our main source of heating, with the kitchen Rayburn running two bedroom radiators and wood burners in the bathroom and living room, we have to spend quite a bit of time making sure we have wood stocks in place for the winter.

We buy aged oak from a local supplier and also have a small hamlet coppice for our use - this by default - it used to provide the wood for the hamlet (a grand total of seven houses) but as three are now permanently empty, one is a modern electrically heated bungalow, and the other two are occupied by very elderly ladies who benefit from diesel fueled central heating now, we are the only house that requires wood. It is mostly birch, of varying ages, and there is quite a bit of tidying up to do there, but we are very lucky to have it none the less.

In order to make life easier for himself, Brendan hand built a death saw, a large mounted cutting disc run by a petrol engine - a Moteur Bernard. The motor came from our neighbour's barn where it had sat for nearly 15 years under a pile of sand.

Brendan mounted the engine, drive belt, cutting disc and a movable platform for the logs on a steel frame, and that is now our main way of cutting wood, much quicker and safter than the chainsaw. An hour on the death saw and we can have a week of wood cut ready for use. The larger pieces still need splitting by axe for the smaller wood fires, but this can be done in the barn in the relatively warm and dry.

You may have gathered therefore from the direction this entry is travelling in that today's project is to cut wood. We normally have full wood bins beside each fire, as well as a couple of spares in the hall, and a couple of weeks worth ready in the barn, but stocks are low, therefore a couple of hours of hefting logs and splitting ahead of us this afternoon.

Brendan's death saw project was featured in Brit Chopper magazine last year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday 19th January - Recycling day

Today's task is to get the recycling sorted out as it has attained a life of its own in the pantry.

We have been recycling for some years now, and were lucky enough in the UK to live in one of the first regions to have kerb side recycling schemes for our glass, tins, paper and garden waste.

Now we recycle even more and have reduced our landfill waste to one 40 litre bin liner a month - or as Bren would have it - I have just taken to hoarding more stuff.

I only throw out what I really cannot use, so our bin mostly has unrecyclable plastic in it.

All of our food waste goes to the animals or as a last resort to the compost bin - which the chickens like to raid anyway.
No material gets wasted - what can be reused goes for the dog's bed or the draught excluders, zips and buttons are kept, and the rest goes for rags.
With wood burners every little bit of paper is zealously guarded for fire lighters.
Glass bottles with screw tops and jars are all reused for my pickles, oils and sauces.
Yoghurt pots are either used for freezer pots or for seedlings in the garden, and clear plastic tubs make good propagators for spring too.
I wash and reuse the plastic bags that you buy your fruit in here in France and those little net bags that the clementines and oranges come in too.

I could say that I am being really green - but Brendan just believes it is because I am really really tight - Thanks Bren.

Monday, January 18, 2010


This should be tomorrow's project if I don't get a chance today.

This is one of a pair of hand carved wooden flowers I found in a brocante (an antiquities / flea market type of store in France.

My project - to clean them up and varnish them and then to mount them on the wall in the bedroom - despite what my husband says - walls need decoration, bare white is too stark.
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Dried chillies from above the Rayburn, ready to go into some olive oil with some fresh garlic cloves and some peppercorns.
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The lovely old telephone that we bought with some friends in mind, who decided that they did not want a turn dial phone, now just sitting on the window sill.

365 days - 365 projects

Day 18 - Monday 18th January

Today's project is to remember my password to get into my blog site - done, and to upload where I started from in Facebook with my project for 2010.

And here it is...........

I will write up what I have done so far - but that will be a project for another day - so for now here are this weekend's projects.

Thursday 14th January - clean windows

We do suffer with damp in the unheated rooms in the house and unfortunately mould is a side effect of that - so today was window cleaning and curtain washing day. All the windows got cleaned, mould from the frame in the spare room and the office was bleached away and the net curtain in the spare room got a hand wash. Mundane and dull I know.

Friday 15 January - relearn to crochet

Crochet is something I pick up and discard almost as quickly because I just cannot seem to make my fingers and hands remember how the stitches are supposed to go. So I sat myself down and forced myself to complete something crocheted - and viola! one new headband finished and a new stitch - the treble crochet - learnt.

Saturday 16 January - spend time with friends

Now this should not be something that you have to schedule as a project I know - but sometimes when your friends live 1h30 mins drive away it can be easier just to email and phone and not to make the effort to drive over and physically spend time together. So on Saturday I got my act together and packed up all those old clothes from the suitcase under my bed and went and spent the day with a couple of girl friends and did some clothes swapping - and then a bit of sales shopping, as well as lunch and a glass of wine.

Sunday 17th January - animal caretaking

Another put off job - to be fair the weather has not exactly been amenable for outdoor working recently so when the sun came out this morning it was definitely not a day to waste. Out came the shovels and wheelbarrow and all the rabbits got a clean out and fresh straw, the quail got new sawdust and hay, and the chicken and duck house had a thorough cleaning. Bagged up a couple of sacks of sawdust from the death saw in the barn and spread the rest through the housing

And the catch up was -
Jan 01 - recover from hangover with some home made remedies and finally put away all the books I received for Christmas in my library by auther name - very Virgo I know.

Jan 02 - make a gift for my guests - with friends visiting from the UK, I made a gift box of chocolates decorated with pretty ribbons and sequins.

Jan 03 - replenish depleted stocks - having used lots of my flavoured oils over the holiday period I took some time to make chilli and garlic oils ready for cooking.

Jan 04 - back to work - hard to find a project for today but then it was made easy for me, as soon as I got to the village where my client is, I spent 30 mins going around kissing everyone and wishing them a happy new year, so when I got home, I did the same in our village with our neighbours - it is very traditional in France to visit and have a little drink - an apero - to wish your neighbours a prosperous and healthy new year. Toddled home quite happy.

Jan 05 - mundane stuff - chasing up missing paperwork from my current agency - this may not seem a huge project but when you have to write in French it soon becomes a gargantuine task.

Jan 06 - Funeral - another hard day for a project, when your mind is totally distracted. This was the funeral of one of my summer clients from last year where the whole family have become good friends of ours, he had cancer that spread rapidly and took him on the first of the new year. Started a new knitting project in the evening.

Jan 07 - Off to get my health cover sorted - or so I thought. The French love to have dossiers of information on everything and you would think that after 3 years I would have got my head around it all but no - missing some paperwork so back home to find that and get it photocopied ready for the next meeting.

Jan 08 - Off for a meal with friends tonight - heavy snow on the forecast so it won't be a late night, finished my hat project and a couple of decorative knitted flowers for decoration. Look out for this listing on my etsy site.

Jan 09 - LOTS AND LOTS OF SNOW - today's project - clear areas for the chickens and ducks to feed from, a path to the wood pile, and an area of straw for Milla (my horse) to stand on, although mostly she just wanted to run around kicking snow into the air.

Jan 10 - redo CV - with a meeting with our employment advisors scheduled for Monday, I took the time to sort out my CV for this year - updated with last years working experience and sent it out to various agencies via email. While I was sat at the computer I also wrote a couple of long catch up letters to friends. I am not one for telephone conversations - too many memories of work related credit calls to feel comfortable with chatting on the phone, I would much rather write a letter, but when I leave them all for so long they become a chore - which is wrong - so must resolve to write more frequently. I prefer to write by hand to be honest but with money so tight I can't afford the stamps - so emails it is.

Jan 11 - ANPE meeting - today's mission - to get them to do something about French classes for Brendan - got them to sort out some contacts for lessons, they are coming in the post so that we can get Bren learning some French - some vocabulary other than car and tractor part names!

Jan 12 - UK tax Returns - finalised all my UK tax returns before the 31st January deadline. Horrid chore but finally done - the problem with such a long deadline is I always seem to put this job off until the last minute then panic in case I have any queries and they don't get resolved in time.

Jan 13 - visit a neighbour - with one of our neighbours feeling unwell, I made some soup and popped in for a quick visit to make sure she had enough wood for her fire and something to eat. Then finally uploaded some of the photos I had taken over the holiday period and logged back onto redbubble to get them on there and enter a couple of photos for various challenges.