Monday 23 September 2013

Out and about and back home again

I suppose it's inevitable but I am gradually turning into my mother. I used to think it was terrible when she refused to watch news on TV or read the newspapers. She said she couldn't cope with all the horrors and unhappiness. I'm beginning to feel that way myself - it seems that everyday there's yet another tale of child neglect and abuse, of terrorism and disaster. Our society seems to be broken and beyond repair. And then, without being trite about such things, we have a day out at a National Trust property and order is restored. The people you meet are so civilised, the food in the restaurant is local and organic and all of a sudden all is right with the world. I honestly think I could live in a National Trust shop - it's so wholesome and worthy. It may not be the real world but in many ways it's preferable!

This is the front facade of the house at Baddesley Clinton. It has had many additions since it started out as a farmstead.

Much of the present house was built in 1500 and is surrounded on all sides by a moat.

And there are several tranquil fishponds dating back to the 1400s when they would have been a useful source of food. Although it looks so peaceful now it has had its share of drama - home to 12 generations of one family for 500 years, the house was a sanctuary for persecuted Catholics in the 1500s and a number of secret hiding places still exist today.

After such a lovely day out, and with faith in human nature somewhat restored, I felt more positive and it was time to get to work back home. I have made a decision to paint all the birds that visit my garden. Not every individual bird you understand - just one of each variety. In preparation I started work on the wooden panels and why would anyone paint one when you can paint four or five almost as quickly? The paint is out and the brush is wet after all!  Now they've had their undercoat of red acrylic paint  they'll have two layers of gold metallic next. The red under layer glows through the gold to give lots of warmth to the areas around the birds. I've made a list of birds and it's a long enough list to keep me busy for quite a while.

If you're already a DMTV member you'll recognise the Banjara inspired quilt above. I'm pleased with how authentic it looks sitting on top of my old pine box. This was so enjoyable to stitch I will certainly make more. In fact I've already found out the fabrics I'll use for the next one. I warn you, it's compulsive!

It's very satisfying to finish something isn't it? I'm not the only one being productive though - Anne has recently finished her Creative Sketchbooks course with us and was kind enough to let me share a few images of her hand made sketchbooks with you.

She's produced some beautiful prints and put them to great use as pages and book covers.

Thank you Anne!

It's good to get out and about to recharge the batteries from time to time and this last week Laura and I also escaped the office to visit the current exhibition at Bilston Craft Gallery. If you'd like to see a few pictures please drop by her blog.

I'll write with more news soon. Thanks for reading - Linda

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Mellow fruitfulness

The damson harvest is upon us but it may take a little longer than usual this year.

You can never start them helping too early can you?

Getting her to relinquish the fruit and throw it in the bag wasn't so easy though!

This was what we were after - lovely purply blue damsons and a few little red plums.

Never one to hang about, here's the pot bubbling away just minutes later. I simmer the fruit until it's soft enough to push through a sieve. I hate the stones and the skin! When I have a smooth puree I add sugar and boil until setting point is reached. Using a thermometer takes all the guess work away and makes sure I get a lovely concentrated jelly to eat with cheese. Bring on the Brie!!

There will be lots more damsons to deal with this year and then all I have to do is find a few recipes to make the most of these beauties! They have grown out through the fence and into the neighbouring field!!

Thanks for visiting today. I'm off now to do a bit of quilting while the jelly cools down enough to taste.

Talk again soon - Linda

Friday 13 September 2013

Time to celebrate

It's hard to believe but baby Amelie has had her first birthday this week. We seem to have been celebrating for quite a few days, with a big, noisy family party as well as a day in Birmingham at the Sealife Centre. Laura posted some lovely baby photos a few days ago on her blog if you'd like to see more.

Birmingham hasn't enjoyed a great reputation for its architecture and probably with good reason but the canal area around Brindley Place is really attractive with a fascinating mix of old and new. That's where the Sealife centre is as well as The Ikon Gallery, Symphony Hall and the NIA concert hall.

The latest addition to the city centre is the fantastic new library. You may have seen it featured on the BBC's Culture Show this week. Our friend Steph Redfern has been to visit and she has some amazing photos over on her blog. I've added it to my list of things I must do.

There are loads of restaurants around the canal basin too. We opted for Cafe Rouge - who'd have thought Amelie could read French already!

Back home it's getting harder and harder to keep up any pretence of sophistication. We are gradually being taken over by everything plastic and gaudy. Why does it have to be so pink!!

Amongst the partying and days out I have been making time for a bit of painting. This little guy only has his first few brush strokes of colour. I shall be adding much finer feather detail when I have a minute to spare. I'm planning to paint all the birds we see in our garden - that penpal challenge has a lot to answer for!

I've also rescued this quilt top from the 'to do' pile. Now that the text has been added I'm excited to start the quilting but!!!! When I was searching through a crate of hand dyed fabrics for something completely unrelated to this quilt I found a glorious piece of fabric that could have been made to order!

Here's a close up that I think shows why I have to add it to the quilt in some way. I hadn't intended for the quilt to be very big but it seems it will be have to be a bit bigger!

As DMTV members will already know, the words on this piece are a quote from Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. It's all about hot, white beaches - well I can dream can't I?

When Laura and Jamie printed the old boat image for me I commissioned this one too. It's also going to have text from the same book. This one will say, 'In his dreams he heard the surf roar'. I think as autumn has arrived so abruptly this week I shall enjoy working on these beach and fishing boat inspired pieces. Maybe memories of the hot sun and the white sand will shorten the miserable winter months for me!

Thanks for visiting - I love to know you're out there! Linda

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Not more food please!

Last week I catered for Laura's Txt Message workshop at our local Village Hall. The students seemed to enjoy their lunch and asked for recipes so I promised I'd post them here. I can't take any credit for being original - I just find a great recipe and follow it! The bread I make most regularly is from a book called Dough by Richard Bertinet. I would urge you to track a copy down if you're serious about making your own bread. I make mine at least twice a week and it never fails. It also freezes perfectly so I can simply double up on the quantities to keep us in toast and sandwiches for the whole week. The ingredients are fairly straightforward but it's the kneading process that is quite different to the way I was taught at school. Luckily Richard's book includes a DVD showing his technique.

Our everyday bread is his Olive Bread recipe. For this you take;
500g strong white flour
20g semolina
15g instant yeast
10g salt
320g water
50g olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and pour in the water and oil. Mix to a wet dough. It is very wet so don't panic! Tip the mix onto a clean worktop and bring together as well as you can - it will stick to your fingers and the worktop - that's normal. With both hands cupped under the mixture lift the dough and fling it down bringing the end you are holding back over the rest. Continue doing this until the dough behaves itself.

It's always difficult to explain a technique which is so easy to understand when you see it demonstrated which is why you probably need to buy the book. Basically he lifts the really wet dough with both hands up above the worktop and slaps it down and over on itself so the air is trapped at every fling. At first it's really sticky but in a matter of minutes it begins to firm up and soon becomes smooth and elastic. I usually do this flinging stage for 8 to 10 minutes whilst listening to the Archers on Sunday morning! At this point, shape it into a ball and place in an oiled bowl until doubled in size - usually about an hour. When it's ready, remove carefully from the bowl and shape for a single large or two medium sized loaves. Give the loaves some tension on the top by stretching the sides to the middle and place the untidy join underneath for baking.  I place the loaves onto tins sprinkled with semolina both to give a nice crunchy crust and to prevent sticking. Prove for another hour or thereabouts until doubled in size again. If you have a really sharp knife or a breadmaker's lame you can score the top now and then pop into a preheated hot oven to cook until golden. Loaves will take approximately 25 minutes and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Rolls will need less time but should have some colour on the bottoms too. To achieve an even bake you will need to rotate the tins once or twice during baking.

I use this as my basic dough for both loaves and dinner rolls. Depending on how generous your rolls are that quantity of dough will make at least 24. Lots of recipes call for spritzing your oven with water to create steam. I've tried it with and without and not noticed a great difference. Of course, once you become an obsessive baker like me you need to have all the gear. The Bertinet Kitchen website can mail you everything you crave! There are also some great videos showing techniques from his new book Pastry - I feel a purchase coming on!

While we are on the subject of food, the cake we had at the workshop came from a lovely cookery book I was given a couple of years ago for my birthday.

I choose to make the Birthday Cake recipe where the secret ingredient was courgette. And not just a token amount - it used 400g of them peeled and finely grated. The recipe also called for the zest of 3 lemons in the mix and lemon juice to make the butter cream topping - all I can say is YUM. I don't know if you can feel entirely virtuous eating this but it probably would count as one of your five a day if you ate enough of it, especially as it was layered with my homemade summer fruits jam.

I promise not to talk so much food next time - who knows I might even get round to showing you the progress with my latest quilts and more little bird paintings.

Bye for now,