Saturday, 29 March 2014

Carrot dip and hangover

I was hosting the Long Ashton clothes swap last night. Good excuse for a REALLY thorough tidy up - so thorough that I stirred up enough dust to make 2 guests sniff and cough all evening (I even got the Piriton out for them but the "Avoid Alcohol" note on the bottle made us reluctantly put it back). 10 ladies with enormous bags of clothes they didn't want. We usually have 2 trying-on sessions: one early on where we pick some great outfits and hold them back for ourselves, then the later one, after more wine, where anything seems possible and the pirate shirt feels like an edgy new look with a respectful nod towards Vivienne Westwood - until you try it on the next day and husband says "Ah hargh me hearties". This time there was a cable-knit waistcoat with leather buckle fastenings and suede shoulder patches that seemed perfect until someone very wisely said "Going shooting?" and I took it off. This time the advantage of being host means that I can this morning go through the gargantuan pile of leftover clothes with a more critical eye before jettisoning the lot to the charity shop.

Awake half the night with an evil headache behind my left eye, clinging to the bed in terror after a dream that rainwater had been gradually been dripping down the chimney and making the bedroom floor slowly damper and damper until it finally and suddenly disintegrated, dragging my wardrobe through a gaping hole into the living room downstairs and threatening to take the bed the same way. Do I need to get that analysed?

Great night had by all, if the kitchen floor strewn with crisps, pistachio shells and corks is anything to go by. And I have several people asking for my recipe for a middle-eastern carrot dip. To be honest I wouldn't have made it but I wanted to test it out before a North Somerset Arts get-together on Tuesday. It went really quickly to plenty of "ooh's" and did go very well with some cheese, sweetcorn and chilli muffins so both will be reappearing next week. I wanted the dip to taste like one I had at the wonderful Soukitchen in Bedminster and it wasn't far off once I interfered with the recipe a bit. Sorry I haven't any photos to show you but a) the food's all gone and b) I haven't had my whizzy new camera yet.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Dip (loosely based on a recipe I found online from a New Zealand magazine called Cuisine)

400g carrots (I had 3 very long ones)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
A good glug of olive oil, probably 2 tablespoonfuls or so
1 dessertspoon tahini - not too much or it makes everything bitter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 a small clove of garlic
1 dessertspoon agave syrup or maple syrup, or even honey - probably should be pomegranate molasses to be authentic but I didn't have any
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 5 or 190c. Peel the carrots and slice them, then put them in an ovenproof dish with the olive oil and cumin seeds, season, mix them so that they are covered in the oil and then cover with either a lid or some foil. Bake them until they are soft - mine took around 35 minutes. When they are cooked and still hot, chop the garlic up very finely and then put everything (include the juices from the baking dish as well as the carrots) into a food processor and whiz until completely pureed. I had to add a little water to get a properly dippy consistency. Taste and season - it needs to be properly tasty (read salty!) to officially be a dip rather than something resembling baby food. Cool and chill for a couple of hours to let those flavours mingle and do their magic.

Chilli, Cheese and Sweetcorn Muffins (reproduced without shame from The Hummingbird Bakery's Cake Days)

5g (1/4oz) butter
60g (2oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
300g (10oz) plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (I have doubled their amount)
250ml (9fl oz) milk
2 large eggs
85g (3oz) butter, melted
100g (3 1/2 oz) mature Cheddar, grated
60g (2oz) tinned sweetcorn
1 teaspoon red chilli paste (I just chopped up a chilli very finely until it looked like a teaspoonful)

This recipe is originally for 12 big muffins, in a deep muffin tin. I've made them like this but yesterday's experiment was halving the recipe for 24 mini canape-sized ones. The big ones go really well with some carrot and coriander soup.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 or 170c and line the tin with muffin cases if you are using them. Melt the 5g of butter in a small pan and gently fry the onion and herbs until soft. set aside.
Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a bowl - the book says "sift" but life feels too short for that to me. Add the milk and the eggs and whisk together, then add the melted butter, and mix again until you have a smooth mixture.
Tip in most of the cheese, the onions, chilli and sweetcorn and mix again. Spoon it into the muffin cases, then top with the remaining cheese. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden and springy. My mini ones took just 15 minutes. Cool impatiently on a wire rack. Or eat them while they are warm, up to you!

Monday, 24 March 2014

No felt, bad photos

I haven't posted for a while. Not because I haven't had anything to say but because I've come to believe that you need a good photo or two to make a decent blog, and I have been so mortified by my own photos on here since my recent encounter with professional photography that I didn't want to sink any lower. Today though - although my photography hasn't got any better - I feel able to face you again, simply because a) I have impetuously enrolled on a "Use your DSLR Camera" course to start at the end of April, every Thursday for three hours, despite not having one, and because b) said DSLR camera is on the way as husband has offered to get me one for my birthday. I have even made it a little present of its own:-

So already just by positive thinking, things must be improving. Watch this space, things will get better, I promise. I have a small but optimistic vision that if my photos get better, people will be more impressed by my art and I might be able to start up an Etsy shop. With bad photos, nothing will ever sell online.

I haven't done any felting for ages but I have been doing more quilting (would have done a lot more if I hadn't got sidetracked into camera investigation), and I have made a small and messy entrance into the world of dying and batik. I bought some white fabric, and ended up with these:-

I am quite pleased. I followed the wonderful Malka Dubrawsky's instructions from Color Your Cloth (and yes the camera strap pattern came from her too, I love that woman) and once I had amassed all the odd pieces of equipment (pans out of a skip, electric frying pan, jugs, washing up bowls, salt, vinegar, bleach etc etc etc) it took a few days of chemistry, hot wax, and cold wax shards all over the kitchen and threatening to clog up the washing machine. Shall I do it again? Yes probably. If you had asked me last week, I would probably have said no, as the effort of the tidying and cleaning from each stage was overwhelming, but as the memory fades and the fabric pleases me more and more, I can see more uses for it. And it is a very satisfying process. These two pieces are destined to become a dress (imagine the joy if someone says "I like your dress" and you can explain that not only did you make it, but that you dyed and patterned the fabric yourself too; you could be consumed with your own smugness). I have a vision of a tiered skirt with three different colours and patterns next. Sigh. So many things to make, so little time. I must stop typing and finish the quilt.

Felting has been causing me some heartache recently but I am coming to terms with the fact that I just can't get myself to do any. I've been talking to various people - artists, friends, shiatsu lady and anyone else who will listen and give an opinion - and have come to the conclusion that sometimes IT IS OK TO NOT DO WHAT I AM "MEANT" TO BE DOING. I will be back but for now it is fabric that is floating my boat and I feel more sure of myself. I will be back to felting soon but right now other things are pushing me on...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Happy ending

I said to someone earlier this week that without a personal story, a quilt is worth nothing. And the quilt in question (yes the one in the beautiful pictures that I didn't take, not that I'm bitter) now has more of a story than it did before. In terms of stories, I think it's already had more than its fair share. Already to have grown from leftover scraps, to obsess its maker to the point of distraction and then to have a roller-coaster of a trip on eBay for charity (not to mention a little journey to be shown off at the village market, which sparked off a panic that it had been stolen), it all sounds quite enough in the short little life of this quilt, doesn't it? But no, there's more...

It turns out that someone did fall completely in love with it. Someone who would never have had the money to outbid anyone on eBay for it. Someone who I don't know all that well but I believe she would help anyone out in any way if they needed it and if she could. The someone who was grief-stricken that it might have been stolen when it went on its trip to market. And someone who started a course of chemotherapy for lung cancer just yesterday. 

Now I don't know very much, but I do know that our house is enriched by the quilts, hand made for each child, that we have draped on our sofa. I have one over my knees as I'm typing now (well I am soon to turn 46: a friend's husband was quoted as saying at the weekend, "@$%king hell, we're hanging out with people who are nearly 50!" ). I can't tell you how proud I am that when the children feel ill, they head straight for a quilt to curl up under and a hand-made patchwork cushion to lay under their heads. I've often thought of my quilts as a permanent version of a hug, and it's definitely true that when we, as a family, wrap ourselves in one, life just does feel better.

Of course it would be preposterous to claim any medical benefits that might come from owning a quilt, but what could possibly be better? A permanent hug, just when she feels she needs it. And, I hope, one for her husband when he needs it too as he goes on this wayward journey with her.

I've taken it off eBay. 

I was hoping to raise a fair bit of money for the PTA with this quilt. I woke this morning thinking I'd be gutted if I didn't get £200 for it. I was missing the point. I have been idly wondering in the last few days if there is some way I could make a living out of making quilts; at the moment it is all that I want to do. Again, I have been missing the point. Quilts are not about money. They are about love and care. They are a hug.

As a final glimpse of the Tree of Life quilt, I think it's a fine opportunity for a small smiling sun...

Thursday, 27 February 2014


Well if ever there was an extra shove to push me in the direction of a photography course, I had it this morning. A bit of expertise and equipment and something has been transformed into some of the most beautiful images I've ever seen. And he did it for free! As my quilt is to be auctioned for charity, the lovely Rupert Marlow donated his time and a fab cup of coffee to produce these. He has a blog too with some more treats for the eyes. So much for me throwing my quilt over the wall and trying to get a quick snap of it before the wind blew up! Anyway let me just bask in the glory: today, for one day only, my blog can stand as proud as any other textile blog and be totally, utterly, astoundingly beautiful...

Friday, 21 February 2014

A year of thoughts and no wiser

I have just realised it's been almost exactly a year since I started writing this blog. It has been an interesting journey and rather an enjoyable one. Call me vain but I do quite like the sound of my own (written) voice. I annoy myself when I'm talking out loud: lots of missed witticisms, words mixed up, no time to think through my sentences so I sound like an eejit. But written down or typed out, I have more time and it all gets a little bit better. I started out this blog in a vague attempt to publicise my felted pictures and make some sales but as time goes on I think I'm actually just emptying my head onto the computer screen, and then editing it a bit to make sure nobody sees the really ugly scenes. I don't know who my target market is. Sometimes I think it's just for me - but if it was completely private I'd write some very different subject matter. Sometimes I write with someone particular in mind, in my fantasy world where everyone finds me fascinating. I know of just a handful of people who do look in on me every so often, and I installed the map thingy down to your right so that I might be able to get a handle on who pops in - but it hasn't given me much of an insight at all. On down days I get the feeling that most people who end up here do so by accident whilst searching for something else. On up days I realise that it's all a learning process and once I've really found my groove, I will get some steady viewing and enthusiastic comments left for me at the bottom of my posts. In the early days I discovered that sometimes I got more viewings if I put in a recipe than if I showed some felted art ("there's a surprise", muttered beleaguered husband) but there are thousands of food blogs out there and only a handful of felting blogs. Food, though very close to my heart, isn't what I was meant to be flogging. Not that I've shown you much felt recently. Anyway I am very close to getting my 4000th page view so it can't be too bad.

So, to myself, or to you, a friend or family member, or to you, a passer-by who was expecting something more useful and informative and looked in the window by accident, here is what I can show you today. I've finished it!

I have read every bit of advice online I could find about taking good photos of quilts, and this was the best I could do. Draping it over the wall on my own on a windy day in between showers was no mean feat; I had to weight it down with stones and was terrified I'd get concussed if the wind blew up any harder and the stones flew off. I'm still thinking I might need something professional done to really do it justice (and make it sell well in auction). But I am really rather pleased with it, and I have well and truly got the patchwork quilt thing back in my head. I have a new bit of inspiration, in the form of Malka Dubrawsky whose quilts are like the most fabulous SAD light, and whose fabrics I have been snapping up online left, right and centre. I am wrestling with the fact that I really need to finish my other brown quilt first and am trying to get my heart back into it. And then of course my head keeps coming back to the felting. Can I incorporate patchwork into my art somehow? Is the quilt above Art, as much as my felted pictures are? Could I try to amalgamate the two in some way? Would I want to? An identity crisis ensues. Or at least it will do when half-term ends and I have some headspace to myself. 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

My funny valentine

I have a confession to make. My head has been turned. It has been a while but there is a new love in my life. I couldn't help myself. I have been succumbing to bed-related fantasies, and every waking moment is consumed by my new passion. It's been two full-on weeks now and the relationship is developing very well. Blossoming even. I will be devastated when it, inevitably, has to end, as they always do. It is so frustrating to have to be distracted by silly fripperies such as dealing with the children, cooking, housework... I know, I know, I should be thinking about felting and making my next break in the art world, but it feels so yesterday.

So it's probably time I introduced you:-

Yes. A beautiful double-bed-sized quilt. It's actually come on a bit since these photos: it now has a border and I am about halfway through the quilting. I hope to get some professional photos of it once it's finished, to do it justice, as taking pictures of quilts is really not easy. Technically it's not the greatest and it wouldn't win any prizes, but when passion takes over, who wants to be measuring perfect quarter inch seams?

Aren't the fabrics great? I wish I could take credit but I didn't choose any of them (apart from a few around the border). In fact, in my darker moments, I think that the reason it looks so good is BECAUSE I didn't have any creative input with the colour scheme. Random is often so much better than a thought-out plan. The fabrics were in fact chosen by 28 lovely people who were making lampshades. My friend Ruth, from Quincy Lampshades, offered to have a Mass Lampshade Make at school to raise money for the PTA and everyone loved it. And I asked for everyone's leftovers. And here we are. It is an odd mix: about 50 per cent quilt fabrics, 45 per cent furnishing fabric and 5 per cent fine Liberty lawn, so some areas are a lot heavier than others. Until I had finished cutting squares out, I had no idea how big the quilt would be and whether I would need to supplement it with some of my own fabrics, but in the end only a few extras were needed for the border. And most of those were supplied by Ruth who kindly let me help myself to her lampshade-making scraps (cue the kid in the sweet shop, I tried very hard to look cool and not hyperventilate).

When it is finished, I shall take a big gulp, steady my wobbly lip, get some sleep and then publicise it with all my heart, and auction it off for the PTA. And yes before you point it out, I am fully aware that normal people have no idea of the true value of a home-made quilt, being used to buying things made in Chinese sweatshops, and that I will not raise the amount of money that this baby deserves to get. But I don't care, it's been a wonderful interlude and it's given me a tingling sense of being alive when the weather and the time of year were trying to suck that life away. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Artful dips and the view from Portishead

I've just been having an improvised lunch of leftovers. Mostly dips. Which sounds pretty unhealthy doesn't it? Well actually they're probably not that bad, given that I made them myself out of vegetables that might otherwise have made the compost heap in a week or so. North Somerset Arts had an Artsmeet this week, and I was in charge of Nibbles. I do hate that word; it makes it sound like food for rabbits and guinea pigs and not the sophisticated array of delicacies designed to make people drink more that I had in mind. Anyway an Artsmeet, if you've never encountered one, is a meeting of artists: the idea is that being an artist is a lonely old business and that it's rather lovely to meet others in the same position and have a bit of a social event. And it was. It was really heartwarming to see how happy everyone seemed to be to talk to each other, share experiences, talk techniques, discuss the future (how often do we do that?!) and for some, to agree to meet up again. People brought the most wonderful things they had made, in order to get a little feedback on their work. I met new friends and old and am certainly meeting up with some again. We had wine, beer donated by Butcombe Brewery and beautiful soft drinks donated by Lovely Drinks. And my dips. I do normally hate beetroot, but this was terribly moreish:-

Beetroot Dip (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem)

400g beetroot
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
100g Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon za'atar (this is the first time I've ever seen the point of this sesame and thyme-based spice mix)

Heat your oven to Gas Mark 6/200c. Wash the beetroot and put it in a roasting tin, and bake it for around an hour until a knife goes into the beetroot easily. When they are cooler, peel them and chop into smaller pieces. Put them, along with all the other ingredients, in a food processor and whizz. Check for seasoning: nothing worse than a dull dip.

The next one was roughly based on something I had at the Watershed in Bristol, but ultimately came out of my head:-

Butternut Squash Dip

1/2 a large butternut squash (no don't ask me for weights)
A smallish onion
A clove of garlic, unpeeled
A sprig of rosemary (about 3 inches)
A couple of spoonfuls of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat your oven, again to Gas Mark 6/200c. Peel the butternut squash, deseed if necessary and chop into pieces around 1cm square. Peel the onion and chop it into 8 segments. Take the leaves off the stalk of the rosemary and chop. Mix them all up with the olive oil on a baking tray, and season well. Bake for around 50 minutes until everything feels soft, stirring occasionally to get the caramelised bits off the bottom. Then let it all cool a bit. Take the skin off the garlic and put it along with everything else in a food processor and whizz. (At this point, after doing the beetroot as well, I was reminded of my days of lovingly and endlessly preparing baby food, only to have it spat across the room by a reluctant child. Ah how things have changed.) Check again for seasoning and I had to add a bit of water, just to ensure that it was the right consistency to adhere to a breadstick, rather than break the breadstick in two and suck in the bottom half like a welly in the mud.

I regretted not taking a piece of my own work along for a little feedback myself. We had specialists giving advice on painting, printmaking and ceramics, so you'd think a felted picture might be out of place. But it didn't feel like it on the night. The picture in question was based on the resident ceramicist's view from her house in Portishead so it may have been interesting to see what she would have to say about it. Tean has the most wonderful house perched on the side of a cliff overlooking the Bristol channel. Maybe I'll show her my paltry version of her view next time I see her if I feel brave:-

I'm not sure whether I like it yet. Time will tell. Or it might not be finished yet. More thinking needed.