Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Happy 29th February!!

So today is an extra day in our year! It seems fitting to do something new or exciting. I'd love to have done something truly wild or lifechanging but unfortunately I'm not that extravagant.

I did however do two things I've never done before and have wanted to do:

Make shortbread.

Really, I've never made shortbread before so thought it was time to rectify that. I used a trusty Mary Berry recipe (100g flour, 100 butter, 50g caster sugar, 50 rice flour/semolina) and added cream and strawberries on top. The good thing is that they are so rich it's easy to limit yourself to just one!

Read a book in a day.

The books I tend to read are not often short or easy, also I work a lot so reading a book in a day is unfortunately not something I ever get a chance to do.

Today though I put my lunch hour aside to read A Song of Lunch, which is actually a long poem rather than a book. I really enjoyed it. The poem took about 40 minutes to read-literally a song for lunch if you like. For those who haven't read it or watched the television adaptation, the poem is about the lunch date between a man and his ex, whom he still loves. She is happy and married. He is decaying and full of regret. They meet in an Italian restaurant they frequented whilst together, shabby and past its zenith, the downturn in its fortunes seems to mirror the man's. The man gets increasingly drunk and as truths emerge it gets quite quite uncomfortable at the table. Witty and intelligent. Worth making 40 minutes for...

Enjoy the extra day!!!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Unexpected Photographer

When I bought my DSLR on an inspired whim, I never thought that two years later I would be getting up to attend another wedding as a photographer. I never imagined that strangers would message me and ask me to take photographs or people I barely spoke to would tell me that my photographs make their day. Every kind word and compliment has been absorbed and built up my self belief. I never considered a photographer as a way to earn a living until the suggestion was given to me by countless people from all areas of my life. It wasn't my idea or dream. Yet here I am on another weekend dedicated to a photography project and I couldn't really be happier. I'm filled with the familiar buzz of excitement at the prospect of all the beauty, all the happiness, people, light, weather, food waiting to be frozen in time by my camera.

Dreams become reality. This is my reality becoming a dream. I know I have a lot of work to do to improve my photography, to become somebody who can direct a group of people and a mood. I know I need to invest in some professional equipment; but this is my start and from here I am only looking forward.

Friday, 24 February 2012

On Being a Young(ish) Female

I have bathed in bubbly water. Exfoliated my skin with lemon body polish. Shaved my legs. Washed AND conditioned my hair. Sat wrinkled in tepid bath water waiting for a hair mask to work a miracle on my haystack. I've GENTLY patted my skin and hair dry. Covered myself in rich cocoa butter. Splashed myself with sweet smelling rose water. I've changed into flirty pyjamas because frumpiness is a slippery slope I'm not ready to slide down. I've blow dried my hair painstakingly with a little round brush. Applied defrizzer. Waxed my eyebrows. Tweezered the stubborn hairs. Applied a facemask. Sat impatiently as my face went tight and cracked. I've nourished myself with cleanser. Remembered my age-defying eye cream. Anointed my face with anti-wrinkle night cream in defiance. I've massaged my cuticles. Filed. Painted my nails. Sat impatiently waiting for the polish to dry and wondered what men do in their free time. I've matchmade my underwear like a Frenchwoman. Rooted through my wardrobe to find a pretty dress that hides my 'chocolate every day for lunch' stomach. Experimented with inappropriately red lipsticks. Just my feet to do and earrings to match. And shoes. The confounded shoe dilemma. There goes the rest of my evening.

Being a girl is a full time job.

Chocolate Box Decorated Hat

I got a pretty box of chocolates for Christmas. So pretty in fact that I couldn't throw the ribbons and flowers away. Fortunately I had a plain black hat to jazz up.
I glued the ribbon around the hat first of all. Then I pulled the rose apart and sewed it onto the hat, one layer at a time to retain the fullness. Lastly I had a broken bracelet and I used a part of that to sew in the centre of the rose.

The morals of this tale are: never throw anything away; hats can never be too dramatic or glamorous.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Time For Lime!

When I visited Thailand a few years ago, I discovered Pad Thai for the first time. We've enjoyed a passionate affair since then.
I've tried to recreate the Pad Thais I ate in Thailand but sadly I've never been able to replicate the ones I remember from Thailand 100%. I think I will have to go back to Thailand for genuine Pad Thais-which is something I hope to do at some point in my life.
My quest to perfect Pad Thai has not been a complete failure-the version I've settled for has become one of my very favourite dinners and is as follows:

Noodles (medium-ribbon is traditional)
Bean sprouts
Spring onions
Birds eye chillies
Juice of 1 lime
Fish sauce
Peanuts (partly crushed)
Tamarind paste
Shredded carrot
(any other vegetable could probably be used. Versions I had in Thailand included tomatoes and greens).

I'm not exact in my quantities, just add what suits your taste. The dish isn't supposed to be extremely hot so perhaps remove the seeds from the chilli. The only other thing to note is that you should have equal amounts of lime juice and fish sauce as they should balance each other out. I average out at 2 tablespoons of each.

Heat some oil in a wok, fry the garlic and chillies a little and then add the vegetables. I add the spring onions last as I like them a little raw. Add the tamarind paste and fish sauce, then noodles. (Add the egg if using). Take the wok off the heat and add the peanuts, lime juice and coriander.

Again, I am a lackadaisical chef and don't have any hard and fast rules. The only part of the recipe I'm strict about is adding the lime juice and coriander after the wok is taken off the heat. Nobody wants cooked lime juice and wilted coriander after all!

When we were staying on Koh Lanta I spent an evening at a local cookery school and learn to cook some real Thai food. It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious.
The evening started with a talk given by one of the teachers on the history and theory of Thai cuisine which was fascinating.
The practical class was held by a Thai lady called Sugar ("I not speak good English but I sure know to cook". And she did too). It was a lovely way to spend an evening in Thailand and dinner was eaten together around a large table on the beach with the beautiful sunset and lots of conversations with people from all over Europe and USA.

More information (including some recipes, Thailand is fairly far to travel to for a cookery class):

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Knitted Scarf-Victory Over the Needles At Last

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to learn to knit. Coming from crochet, I've found it quite challenging. Hobbycraft had some 'scarf in a ball' projects so I bought a Patons Fab scarf yarn ball. The pattern called for yarn overs and a ridge pattern which I realised early on required more patience and attention than most beginners have. I opted instead for an alternating 4 row pattern:
Row 1 K1, P1 to end
Row 2-as row 1
Row 3-P1, K1 to end
Row 4-as row 3

The pattern creates something similar to moss stitch.

After a false start, I've decided I quite like knitting. It has a different rhythm to crochet and it's easier to drift off as you don't have to pay as much attention to wear the tool is going next as with crochet. As long as you keep track of your rows, knitting is very conducive to daydreaming and that suits me down to the ground.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Favourite 25 Books

Earlier today in spring cleaning mode, I came across some sheets of paper on which I had started to list every book I read. The habit has now transferred to a dedicated book for the lists, quotes and so on.

What surprised me most was the number of books I've read which have completely vanished from my consciousness. I decided to start a list of my favourite books. I've always wanted to compile a Top 10 Books list but have never found the patience to sit down and whittle the list down to 10. Tonight though, I made a start by writing down every book I've loved.

The Lord of the Rings-Tolkien
Moon Tiger-Penelope Lively
The Amber Spyglass-Philip Pullman
The Prisoner of Azkaban-J.K. Rowling
I Capture the Castle-Dodie Smith
Cat's Eye-Margaret Atwood
Dracula-Bram Stoker
Memoirs of a Geisha-Arthur Golden
The End of the Affair-Graham Greene
To the Lighthouse-Virginia Woolf
Dune-Frank Herbert
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell-Susanna Clarke
The Life of Pi-Yann Martel
An Equal Music-Vikram Seth
The Road-Cormac McCarthy
The Mill on the Floss-George Eliot
The God of Small Things-Arundhati Roy
Never Let Me Go-Kazuo Ishiguro
On the Road-Jack Kerouac
Lolita-Vladimir Nabokov
All Quiet on the Western Front-Erich Maria Remarque
The Wind in the Willows-Kenneth Grahame
Watership Down-Richard Adams
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets-Eva Rice
Rebecca-Daphne du Maurier

All of these books are books which have changed me in some, however small, way or stayed with me...or just infatuated me.

Many of these books were read years ago. Yet I still think of Cassandra swimming in the moat whenever I see Bluebells. At the top of beautiful staircases I think of Sarah saying everything with "you" to Maurice. My desire to visit Japan and see cherry blossoms hasn't faded even though the last page of Memoirs of a Geisha was turned 10 years ago. I have never looked at rabbits the same way since finishing Watership Down and the bucolic idyll of Wind in the Willows has followed me half my life. I still want to be in a heroine in a Penelope Lively novel. Violins and top deck bus journeys are always imbued with a romantic hope. The sheer brilliance and imagination evident in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and The Amber Spyglass still dazzle. Harry conjuring his Petronus is still one of the most powerful scenes I've read. I still plan a pilgrimage to Whitby and want vampires to exist. German soldiers' experiences, British soldiers' experiences all cannot be separated from the same tragic mess. My pen has lain still since my wannabe writer was killed by Lolita. And I'm still waiting for my Faramir...

On second thoughts, maybe I don't need to get down to 10 for the sake of neatness. These books have all contributed to who I am and all deserve a mention.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Winter Wander at Knole Park

Today I wrapped myself in 3 layers, a large padded coat and spent a peaceful day in Knole Park. The house is closed but the park is free and open 'from dawn till dusk'. It was very cold, with subzero temperatures all day but the snow stillness, tree skeletons, deer and sunset made for a lovely day anyway.

We walked through the park to Sevenoaks town centre, where I was seduced by exquisite truffles in a chocolate shop and we ate beautifully presented Thai food at Thai Square. We made it back to the park for sunset to see the white world glow orange.

There are beautiful trees in the park, including one of my absolute favourites-the Lebanese Cedar-so I plan to return in the summer, when I expect that place will look very different.

Photos as follows, the iPhone blogspot app doesn't upload them chronologically, preferring to mix them all up. Also I can't include photos in between text, it lumps the photos altogether at the end. Not the sleekest of apps it must be said :/

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Mobile Cover For My Sister

Just before Christmas my sister requested a green phone cover.

A few days ago I had a free evening so I had a chance to crochet a cover for her.

I used my favourite basic crochet stitch-the half treble. It's quite a tall stitch but I think it still provides enough protection for a phone. I added a contrasting band for interest but just stuck to the basic stitch this time as I think the half treble rows are beautiful enough themselves,

The wooden button I got from a new craft shop in Maidstone called Sew a Good Yarn. They specialise in knitting and fabric supplies and also have an interesting selection of reasonably-priced buttons. The business was set up by C&H Fabrics staff who were made redundant when the Maidstone branch of the company closed. It's nice to see how they've turned a negative into a positive.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Hand Crocheted Teddy Bear for Eleanor

My friend, who first introduced me to crochet, had a little girl at the end of last year. I thought it was fitting to crochet her gift and decided on a teddy bear.

The teddy is my own pattern and crocheted freehand-although I am going to have to be more conscientious about transcribing my pattern as I always have trouble remembering how I did the arms/legs and some guesswork is required to get the limbs to be something even close to identical!

Technically soft toys aren't particularly difficult to crochet and I really like creating them so I'm just waiting for my next excuse to make one!

Some photos:

Sunday, 5 February 2012


I admit I'm not snow's biggest fan. One day of fun barely compensates for the cold, the public transport disruption, the icy walks when reaching your destination without a broken limb is a challenge. Still, before the slush, grey ice and misery appear I am as seduced as anybody by the beauty of freshly fallen, undisturbed snow. This year's snow is due to last about a day which suits me just perfectly. I didn't have time to get out my camera which is usually the first thing I reach for when it snows (and have no computer to upload pictures to anyway) but I did manage a few minutes in the garden with my iPhone...