Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Homemade Soap

I've been wanting to make my own soap for some time and my Aunt's birthday presented me with the perfect opportunity to try. It's very simple and there are endless combinations of scents, textures and colours to experiment with.

We started with colourless, scentless soap which we melted down

After that it's just a case of deciding what sort of soap you want it to be! You have to work quite quickly as the soap starts to set almost immediately. We used red colouring to make pink soap and added a few drops of honeysuckle essential oil as a nod to summer. To make it a little special we added a few petals from my Dad's hydrangea plant. 
We used rectangular metal dishes to let the soap set, but you could use any shaped metal container, so long as the top is a little wider than the bottom (or you soap won't come out after it has set in the freezer!)

A present for a special Aunt

I need to troubleshoot to find out how to get rid of any air bubbles that surfaced and I also need to be more organised so I can work quickly to get the flowers in before the soap has set. I will definitely be making more soap though. Perhaps a creamy soap with sand or some kind of grain to make an exfoliating soap...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Wild Flowers Hunting Expedition

One of the very worst things about living in one of the most densely populated areas of the world is the lack of access to wild flowers and fields. Instead you have to go to the supermarket and pay to have fresh flowers in your home. I don't have much money at this minute so after work I explored my local neighbourhood to search for wild flowers, not expecting to find much outside of people's summer gardens. I was pleasantly surprised however.

Perhaps I crammed too many in the vase but I still think they look beautiful

Found by a rubbish collection area for residents, in a brick wall, on a grass verge and in a car park.

Ethereal at dusk

A few in a bowl with candles

Very pleased with the fruits of my hunt. They smell lovely too..

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Homemade Cheesecake

My sister has always wanted to make a cheesecake. I've always wavered as it sounded like a lot of effort but since the hedgerows are full of ripe blackberries, I decided it was the perfect time to succumb to the cheesecake. We used the Mary Berry Recipe here which worked well.

First up, the base

There is a lot of cream cheese but the lemon helps cut through the richness. Also, the egg whites folded in at the end make for a surpringly light cheesecake for all the cream, butter and cheese. Even my mum, who is not a fan of diary products, had two slices!

My sister ventured in the rain to the local park to pick the blackberries (alas no wild strawberries though). Not surprisingly, nobody complained about tart blackberries.

The base edge is not perfect but it was addictively good nonetheless.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Welcome to Our Garden (A Tribute For My Dad)

My summer would be woefully  incomplete without the sounds of our resident gardener-my Dad. The rustles in the garden under my window, the hollow echo of the watering can being filled, snipping and snapping...
These montages are a tribute to my Dad, who always makes sure our garden looks beautiful, and indeed to all the gardeners out there who look after the plants and flowers for me, and others like me, who prefer reading to weeding...

(click on the photos to enlarge!)

In the summer the flowers come alive. Clockwise form top left-a voluptuous hydrangea, scented honeysuckle climbing the trellis by the bench, a rose bush planted in memory of my Mum's parents, a lovely fuschia...

It's not all pretty flowers. A Gothic Romanticism lurks in the darker corners of the garden-angels hide under bushes, a bench with a beautiful metalwork back sits under the honeysuckle, berries grow and a beaded candle holder from Turkey has found a new home in an English garden.

Surprises and humour abound too. Stone creatures, who may or may not come alive at night, sit contentedly in the flower beds and other corners. Gnomes smile cheerily all year round, come rain or shine. The ubiquitous green sets off the beautiful red leaves. A stone wishing well guarded by the tree and a clear blue sky in June.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Christmas Starts Early for a Slow Cross Stitcher

My first completed cross stitch. Hopefully I'll get neater as well as quicker. I made a few errors, not least, running out of the correct colour of yellow thread. Also I didn't secure my ends tightly enough at the beginning resulting in some unravelling. Who'd have thought that the threads would be so keen to escape through the holes?

The 12am bells herald my pay day so I'll bypass Smith's tomorrow and purchase graph paper to think about doing some of my own designs which would be a lot of fun and even more satisfying I think

I have another far more exciting cross stitch project lined up too but I'll reveal more later.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Hat Project

After successfully completing my first 'crochet round', I decided to jump in the deep end and bought some discounted chunky yarn and a 8mm hook to start crocheting my first hat.

The pattern is actually very easy-the difficulty so far has lain in the wool being rather fuzzy and thick so the stitches are very indistinct. As a beginner, it's very important that I can see my stitches. Still I saw no point in beating around the bush by crocheting dead end circles, so we'll see how my first project goes. If it all ends in tears, I can always unravel the hat (or whatever it has metamorphosed into) and start again...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Obiturary to My Favourite Shoes

These shoes have traversed the urban labyrinth of south-east England. They've kept me company on nightly strolls which lasted hours. Two weeks out of the box and they were on my feet as I boarded a plane for a 14 hour flight to Bangkok in January 2007.  They've stood on tropical Thai beaches and sheltered sand inside which took weeks to shake out, and allowed me to stand on a warm beach long after I returned home to England. They took me around the streets of Barcelona, following the footsteps of Miro, Picasso and Gaudi. Whatever I wore, these shoes had an uncanny knack for just matching. They visited the land of some of my ancestors with me when I stayed in Krakow for a few days. Across the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and somberly walking the eerie cells of Alcatraz...the Rocket Dogs particularly liked San Francisco.

They skipped me over bridges in Venice and twirled with strange Italians to a cafe orchestra in St Mark's Square. They've seen the lofty mountains of Austria and tracked the Moors around beautiful Andalucia. They've pounded the streets of Central London during Christmas mania...and survived.

They've visited Enchanted Gardens, leaf-carpeted forests in the autumn and sat by my side in parks, briefly unused in the first glorious bloom of spring. They've danced atop the battlements of English castles and through beds of bluebells, to emerge pollen-covered and dirty. They've trodden the very same wooden boards walked by Anne Boleyn and a besotted Henry the Eighth and strolled around Los Angeles' star-filled streets. These shoes have lived.

"I think he put them in the wash because he thought they were dirty"
 "No, that's just the colour they are now. I've tried to wash them. They just look dirty, that's all."

Dirty with life, a million adventures and a love of walking.

Today, my four and half year old canvas Rocket Dogs finally fell apart.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Me, The New Football Match Spectator

I had my first date with Gillingham Ladies PC as one of their photographers. Getting decent images of fast moving objects is something my camera struggles to cope with with. I suspect I've hit my basic DSLR's limitations. I'm hoping to start saving for a new lens, and possibly a new camera, after my holiday in September. I say hope, as it's impossible to make plans when you have a 13 year old Fiat as your sole means of transport. I'll share a few of the better images from today anyway. As the season progresses I hope to get to grips with the art of sports photography. It's always fun to be involved with something new.

Good action shots are challenging to get. I think an element of luck is involved!

The team's website is http://gillinghamladies.clubfans.co.uk/

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Corsages From Scraps

While sorting through my Miscellaneous Box (namely old and broken things) I found, amongst many other things, some leftover pieces of green wool, paper flowers and a ring face which had broken off the ring (I had planned to glue it back together but never got around to it). I realised I could probably make some wool corsages as I have quite a lot of wool at the moment so rummaged around for my little loom to make the corsages bodies with.

The green wool has been with me for so long I can't even remember its origins. The ring face has a few pieces missing if you happen to look closely but I think it matches the wool nicely. I added some 'fancy yarn' to break up the green.

The purple wool and sparkly yarn I received from a friend to practice crochet with. I can't remember why I bought the purple flowers. I may not have had a plan in mind, them being purple flowers may have been quite enough to part with my money for.

Brooch backs are stitched into the back of the corsages.

You can never have enough accessories to decorate clothes with...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Theatre Royal Recipe Book

A few years ago I went on an midnight expedition to an abandoned theatre in Chatham. We explored the building, (what remained of it at least, it was distinctly decayed and dangerously rubbled) by torchlight and found and saw many weird and wonderful things. On our way out we saw the deserted ruins of the administrative offices and saw that lots of things had been left, almost as if the people who had worked in the office had left very abruptly and without warning. The place was littered with mouldy newspapers, water bottles and other signs of a working life. I found it rather eerie. On the floor I sighted a blue ringbinder and, being inherently curious, I picked it up to see what was inside. Separating the pages stuck by mould, mildew and dirt I discovered I was holding someone's collection of vegetarian recipes. It's comprised of photocopied pages, typewritten sheets and, best of all, handwritten notes (anyone who knows me will know I collect the dropped notes, letters, shopping lists and other handwritten things of strangers). I put it in my rucksack and took it home. The book is in bad condition and I resolved to restore it but it has been sitting forgotten on top of my bookcase for two years now.

I think it has been there quite long enough now and it's high time I put this collection, which someone has painstakingly put together, into a working condition.

The pages need to be cleaned as half of them are barely readable, then I'm planning to scan/photocopy the pages and print them on good quality paper. After that I would love to bind it myself, possible with a leather cover... (If anyone knows anything about bookbinding then please do let me know!)

Perhaps I'm being fatalistic but I have always wondered if I was meant to find the scrapbook of recipes. I've been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember and love cooking, then I found the folder which must have been lying in the rubble for years before I picked it up...

Sunday, 7 August 2011


 They are clearly not in a hurry

Oh, time, that wily escapist. And why did the Romans make the days so damn short. 24 hours? A mere 24 hours! If I could control the clocks today I would:
-finish Lord Foul's Bane (about 400 pages to go)
-drive 6 miles to Hobbycraft to get some yellow thread (I've run out of yellow thread and have only bout 30 stitches to go. Aargh!)
-sit by the river at Teston for a couple of hours to enjoy today's sporadic sunshine
-stop at the petrol station and buy some unsalted butter to bake with
-take a 1 hour nap to undo the damage I cause by insisting on becoming nocturnal at the weekend
-watch Quills
-learn to do neat half treble crochet stitches, learn to turn properly and, master reading those impossible-to-read crochet patterns
-bake my biscuits
-detangle my tangled threads
-collate material for my Book of People (currently scattered in every conceivable nook and cranny in my bedroom)
-then, then make my pizza for dinner (all homemade of course)

Curse time! Curse the internet! Curse Blogspot for making me waste time on spending time!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

My Favourite Photograph

I first met this photograph in the Rough Guide to South Africa. I just happened to flick through as I started to shelve it and the page opened on this. I have seen many beautiful photographs, but this one is the only one that has ever paralysed me with its beauty. The light, the colour, the composition, the silhouettes, the mist are all perfect to me. I closed the book and shelved it but I couldn't stop thinking about the photo. It became something that helped get me through the day. If work was particularly monotonous I'd think "I'll put another 20 books out and then have a quick look at the photo". After three days, the book sold to a lady who was in a yoga class I used to go to. I made polite conversation about her forthcoming trip to South Africa and then waved her and the photo off with a cheery "enjoy your trip!".  It was only then, not having the photo within a 10 second walk, that I realised I had never searched the list of photo credits to find out who had even taken it.  I pursued the image on Google with various combintaions of keywords and the Rough Guide website to no avail. The next day I headed to our twin bookshop a street away to see if they had the Rough Guide to South Africa in stock. They did and I stood at the counter looking through the photo credits. I told the bookseller about the photo and she agreed it was beautiful.

The name that was attached to the photo is Yi Lu.

I've done some research on the internet but I couldn't find any biographical information about a photographer with that name. It appears to be a fairly common Chinese name as well which didn't make researching easy. I did however find a page of their images in an image storing website.

I'd like to contact the photographer to tell them how much I loved their photograph and to hear the story behind it. I'll continue searching and update this if I manage to track them down.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Photoscape 1: Photoshop: 0

Learning to master Photoshop has been on my New Year's Resolutions list for three years in a row. Three years in a row I failed. It probably won't even make it onto next year's list as I have since discovered Photoscape. I know that Photoscape doesn't have the advanced levels of complexity and options Photoshop offers but for an enthusiastic, novice photographer, Photoscape is all I need. I do not have to wonder why curves are called curves and why the sharpening tool is referred to as a mask. Dodge and burn? No wonder the 'Learn Photoshop' text books run into hundreds of pages. I know I won't be able to avoid Photoshop for ever as eventually I will need to use more advanced and more subtle tools however Photoscape has assuaged some of the guilt I felt at not bothering to master Photoshop and its bizarre jargon.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Today I Fell in Love

Today, after living in Kent for 20 years, I fell in love with Canterbury.

I was aware of its beauty of course long before today. The tudor square, the little streets filled with quirky shops, the startlingly beautiful cathedral...yet I always felt that Canterbury was a little complacent in a "yes I'm beautiful and I know it" way. The streets are always teeming with the French and hyperactive school children and I preferred to rush, or rather squeeze past with an "excusez moi", to the quieter outer streets of the city.

Today was different. We shunned the main shopping streets and headed down Stour Street to the Canterbury Punting Co. and each bought a ticket for a river cruise around a part of the city. The charming ticket officer sold us student tickets (£6/full price £7) with a wink and we boarded a few minutes later. The next 40 minutes passed in a green dream of reeds, tudor buildings, gardens, tree-lined banks and crystal clear water full of fish. This was the Canterbury I had been waiting to find.


 We awoke on disembarkation and bought lunch which we found a lovely park to eat in. The park is home to some pear, apple and quince trees which the boat punter said are for the public to pick as much fruit from as they wish. What a lovely idea and I was reminded of the apple orchards in other parks of Kent which are jealously guarded by barbed wire fences,

Near the park there is a beautiful wild flower meadow which was empty save for a knowing couple sitting on a bench on the other side.

I happy am!

A field of flowers in the centre of a city? That's the Canterbury I already want to go back to.

So, yes I know the cathedral is lovely, and the Old Buttermarket is very charming..but today I discovered my own favourite Canterbury.

The tour company we used: http://www.canterburypunting.co.uk/haunted-river-tours/

The haunted river tour costs £10 and is done by candelight, which sounds wonderful. The chauffeurs are very friendly and speak beautiful English. They are all clearly locals who love the city. My favourite story was about the Belgian and French immigrant weavers who once made up 40% of the population of Canterbury.

Also of note is an arts and crafts warehouse on Stour Street, which claims to be the largest in Kent. It's certainly crammed full of things, most notably supplies for painters and drawers-there is less for other crafts so I think I'd still head to Hobbycraft. Still, it's worth a visit just to see a whole aisle of colouring pencils in every imaginable shade.

The meadow...I'm not going to tell you where that is as it's my secret, though I'll gladly take anyone who wants to come with me.

And perhaps if we decided to have dinner? Well, there's a little restaurant right by the riverside, near the meadow...

Cake Pops-first attempt

First cupcakes. Then whoopies pies. Then macaroons. Now pop cakes apparently. In an attempt to keep up with the ever-changing baking trends, I decided to attempt to bake some cake pops. They're not difficult to make but compared with your standard sponge or cupcakes, a little more time-consuming and fiddly.

First off, you need to bake a basic cake. I chose a vanilla cake as I had planned to coat my cake balls with chocolate. I've seen cake pops recipes using chocolate sponge and even a red velvet sponge. (Though I suppose in theory you could bake whatever flavour of sponge takes your fancy.) After baking the cake I reduced it to crumbs. The recipe suggested using a food processor for this but I used elbow grease and it was no effort at all.

To the crumbs I added my cream cheese icing (cream cheese, butter and icing sugar) and chilled for 30 minutes. Once chilled I made little balls about the size of a ping pong ball-which were chilled for a further 30 minutes, (there is a lot of hanging around the fridge when making cake pops) .

After the final chilling the fun can really begin. 
We melted white chocolate and milk chocolate to 'dip' the cake balls in and set up plates of purple sprinkles and mixed chopped nuts to decorate the chocolate balls. I didn't get a chance to buy lolly sticks but reasoned some wooden kebab skewers could convincingly fill the vacancy. Pronging the cake balls is easy enough but, for me, getting the damn things to stay on the sticks was difficult. I browsed the internet to troubleshoot and learnt that the reason my cake balls kept trying to escape was probably because they weren't cold enough or because I'd used too much of the cream cheese mixture. I guess you can only learn from mistakes. A small number stayed on the sticks and for those that refused, we set them flat on a plate where they still looked edible and attractive.

I utilised an unemployed wide-necked vase to chill and display them in.

The final result. Well, the cream cheese mixture combined with the sponge makes them very moist and rich, albeit rather tasty. The consistency is quite unusual. The closest comparison I could come up with is fudgelike. 

My friend asked what the point of them is and it's a perfectly valid question. I think they are a gimmick myself. Perhaps invented by people trying to find a point-of-difference in the saturated cupcake market. Every new idea is the Next Big Thing. Cupcakes with icing are far easier and less time consuming to make. That's not to say that I wouldn't attempt cake pops again (in fact, I think I must because I really want to make some balls which will damn well stay on the sticks!), but if I wanted to whip up some cakes or a dessert I'd probably eschew the cake pops and make a few pretty cupcakes instead.