read all about it…

P1290493Back in February I mentioned a shoot that James Balston and I were working on in Peckham, South East London. I couldn’t say much about it at the time — beyond sharing a shot, here, of James balanced rather precariously on the edge of the bath — but it’s in today’s Guardian magazine, with a few extra shots here at the Guardian online. But for the full set of photographs (magazines never have room for everything) take a look here.

IMG_2664The house belongs to textile and lighting designer, Rachael Causer (who you can see above, reflected in two mirrors in her bathroom), and her husband Henry Ward, and it is filled with interesting details, many of which are the result of years and years of reconfiguring the spaces as their needs have changed.

It’s exactly the sort of interiors story I love: all about creative lateral thinking rather than an exercise in how to spend vast amounts of money. Do take a look, if you have the chance.

I’m aware that the blog has been a little neglected recently — a combination of lots of work, lots of DIY (will it ever end?) lots of gardening and a lot of jam making, all of which I hope to share in the coming weeks, though it’s all on Instagram to which I have become rather addicted.

 

done!

P1280058A few weeks ago I finished Martha’s quilt. But work, the garden and a lot of DIY have meant that I’ve had no time to blog about it (or anything else, for that matter).

P1280054But here it is. And it was a doddle to make. I say that not as someone who lives to sew, but as someone who is largely ill at ease with a sewing machine. I made it over the course of about three days, working at it as time allowed.

Having all the fabrics washed, ironed and ready to go certainly speeded things up. As did the new approach to cutting …

P1280053thirty minutes with the rotary cutter and the pieces were ready. The random layout took another half an hour and by the end of Sunday afternoon I had finished the central patchwork panel. I added the borders that evening, and the next day I made the back panel and pinned the layers together.

P1280057The actual quilting took an afternoon and evening — I used a long needle in order to load as many stitches as I could — and then the final edging, with the tiny eye-straining stitches was the work of another evening in front of the television.

The finished quilt is a little smaller than a single bed and is the perfect size to wrap around a small child — by which I mean a nine-year-old like Martha, who is not especially tall for her age. She likes to ‘wear’ it to watch telly, and has it on her bed as well.

quiltThe whole thing was a real pleasure to make. Style-wise it’s quite a step away from the rather washed-out vintage fabrics of the first two quilts, and far brighter than the quilt I made at Jane Brocket’s workshop at Ray Stitch.

I feel I’ve come a long way: I really must emphasise that I am not a natural at this. Sewing is NOT my forte. I am confounded by patterns; all fingers and thumbs when cutting and pinning. And so, for all would-be quilters out there, I say in all honesty: if I can make a quilt then you can too. Just don’t kill the fun of it by getting hung up on it being right. And maybe begin by mucking about with a bunch of clothes you are planning to give to charity, that way there’ll be no heartache if it all goes wrong.

super sophie

P1260233There appears to be a bit of an orange theme to my current posts, and today the colour comes to you in the form of maple roasted carrot and ginger soup.

This is the perfect soup for what is proving to be the greyest of Januarys: not only is it completely delicious but it also provides a much needed blast of colour. It’s from Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchenand is incredibly easy to make.

P1260226The vegetables are roasted in the maple syrup and sunflower oil for about 45 minutes and then blitzed in a blender along with the stock. The ginger gives the soup a subtle kick, though I tend to leave it out if it’s for the children.

It’s a brilliant Saturday morning standby: I sling everything in the oven on a low heat, and then get on with whatever I need to do until the whining about lunch starts up, by which time it’s usually pretty much ready. The soup can be eaten as it is, but also works with all manner of toppings — Sophie Grigson suggests chopped chives or lovage. The girls like it with grated cheddar, I love it with chives, crumbled feta and a sprinkle of smoky paprika. We’ve experimented with garlicky croutons and also greek yoghurt. When we have no maple syrup I’ve substituted honey which has worked well, and I can imagine that adding cumin to the baking tray would make a nice alternative to ginger.

I expect it freezes well, but I’ve haven’t tried as we never have any left over. Though if I had a larger freezer I might be tempted to make it in bulk from time to time.

INGREDIENTS: 1kg/2lb 4oz carrots, cut into chunks; 2 onions cut into eighths; 4cm/1.5 inch chunk of root ginger cut into matchsticks; 4 cloves garlic peeled; 3tbs sunflower oil; 4 tbs maple syrup (Sophie says dark, grade B, but I used what I had in the cupboard); 1.5litres/2.5 pints chicken or vegetable stock; salt and pepper.

METHOD: Pre-heat oven to gas mark 7/ 220 C/ 425 F

Mix all the ingredients in a roasting tray (or two if you are increasing the quantity), making sure that everything is coated with oil and syrup. Best to use your hands for this, and then make sure that everything lies relatively evenly across the pan. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes, checking from time to time and turning the vegetables as they brown up.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow them to cool a little before adding them to the liquidiser with half the stock. Depending on the size of your liquidser, you may find that you have to do this in batches. (If using a stick blender, just transfer the vegetables to a large pan and add half the stock and then get blending.)

Once you have a smooth mix of blended vegetables and stock, transfer to a large pan with the remaining stock and heat it up again. This is the moment to check the seasoning. Salt will balance out the sweetness of the carrots and the maple syrup, as will a teaspoon or two of smoky paprika.

And finally, I really must recommend Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchen. It is filled with excellent recipes which are arranged seasonally, interspersed with little essays on specific ingredients, methods, customs and techniques.

Occasionally I wonder if I could cope with just one cookery book. Is there one book, I ask myself, that could take me through an entire year, providing inspiration for meals for friends as well as straightforward mid-week family suppers? Of course, I’d hate to have to make that decision (I’m very fickle and greedy), but I think Sophie Grigson’s book really does cover all the bases and would probably see us through.

french leave*

P1230169As ever, the end of term was a turbo-charged affair —  Matilda had exams, Bea said farewell to primary school, Martha railed against the class re-jig for next year, Joe and I had various deadlines and bits of the house fell apart.

All in all it was a relief to load up the car and head for France on the very first day of the summer holidays. I’m not sure why, but we have never done this before. I think I always felt that we needed a breather at the end of term, a period of decompression, as it were, before embarking on our holiday.

P1230275But simply closing the door on the house, on work and on school, worked brilliantly. I think we’ll do it again. I never really achieved anything in that limbo week between the end of term and our great escape: the packing was always done in a rage at the last minute, the house was usually a mess and the girls put all their excited energy into bickering.

No time for any of that this year: the girls did their own packing (I bought three small suitcases from Ikea and told the girls to pack whatever they wanted as long as they promised to bring enough underwear, their swimming things and one jumper), and on the 25th July we were up, breakfasted and on the road in record time.

Of course, now we that we are back the circus has started all over again, though it’s a little less manic as no one needs to be up at the crack of dawn and everyone is in a good mood. But still, I seem to spend my days making lists and chasing around after stuff:  Bea needs a uniform, Matilda’s uniform needs upgrading, Martha would like a uniform but doesn’t need one, the garden looks like a jungle and the house is still crumbling (but as the weather is good we can ignore the holes in the roof for a bit). France is a distant memory.

French Leave — An unauthorized or unannounced departure; absence without permission: he seems to have taken French leaveORIGIN mid 18th cent.: said to derive from the French custom of leaving a dinner or ball without saying goodbye to the host or hostess. The phrase was first recorded shortly after the Seven Years’ War (1756–63); the equivalent French expression is filer à l’Anglaise, literally ‘to escape in the style of the English.’

knitting and nanowrimo

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So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.

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Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.

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It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

money, money, money

Launched last week, bought on Monday afternoon at Bristol Credit Union, these beautiful Bristol pounds (£B) are still in my purse this morning despite several attempts to part with them. Although a number of businesses on the Gloucester Road are part of the scheme they were not the ones I needed to visit. Still, I’ve had fun flashing the cash at bemused check-out staff and hopefully a few more shops will sign up.

Fortunately, although burning a hole in my purse, £Bs won’t depreciate in value if they aren’t spent unlike their German counterparts, the Chiemgauer  – one of the most successful alternative currencies in the world, and possibly the model for Bristol’s system.

Anyway, I have high hopes that all the independent traders on the Gloucester Road will soon be taking £B. It will be interesting to see whether or not it boosts the local economy as planned, or proves to be nothing more than a nice idea that never quite takes off.

A the moment the £B is worth £1, and it can be ‘bought’ in a free, straight exchange at various points around the city including The Tobacco Factory and Bristol Credit Union.

The idea, I suppose, is that in exchanging sterling for £B one is committing to buying locally and, crucially, from independent businesses rather than national or international companies such as Tesco or Asda* (Walmart). Local farmers based outside Bristol, but who sell at the various farmer’s markets around the city, are also being encouraged to sign up, which is great, as I think the success of the system will rest on there being the widest possible range of goods available to currency holders.

I will report back on my future attempts to spend my squeaky clean Bristol notes, which, I must point out, are really very, very lovely, especially the fiver which was designed by the wonderful Alex Lucas whose house I wrote about here.

NB  Personally I don’t have a hang-up about these companies – sometimes they are the only source of whatever it is that I need. Some weeks I do an entire shop on the Gloucester road and other weeks I go to… whisper it … Tesco.

sedum

Although the weekly vases of flowers are looking less blowsy, the garden is still in bloom and Sedum is taking centre stage. I love sedum as a cut flower, it lasts well in the vase and a small amount goes a long way – though of course this is slightly dependent on the size of the vase. In early summer the heads are a fresh, pale green and I pick them to add bulk and structure to small posies; as the season progresses the colour deepens until, by around late October, each head looks like wine-red worn velvet, at which point I think they can happily do a solo turn.

Sedum works hard in the garden too: I have planted it in large pots just outside the kitchen door, and then in big clumps on every level of the garden where it provides a sense of continuity, as well as late summer colour. This continuity, or repetition, feels particularly important when everything else is dying back, and I love the way it actually props up other plants as they wither and collapse.

I think it looks particularly good garlanded with nasturtium, that other stalwart of the autumn garden.

I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I really wouldn’t be without it, and having noticed how much attention it gets from bees and other insects – by mid-morning each clump is alive with bees intent on gathering what they can as autumn rolls in – I realise that no garden should be without at least one small clump.

chin, chin

One morning last week, as the end of term chaos reached its peak, I tilted my head back all the better to yell something along the lines of “please do hurry up my darlings, we are really rather late”, and my neck went ping!

And that was that.

I’ve been in bed or at the osteopath ever since.

But this morning, all the pulling, pushing, twisting and prodding, not to mention pill-popping, of the past five days has finally worked, and I woke feeling bruised and stiff, but able, at last, to move my head without pain.

Hurrah! The girls and I celebrated with homemade lemonade*.

Interestingly, although I was completely incapacitated, the world continued to turn, and the house appeared to run itself rather efficiently without me. Not sure how I feel about that.

*Home made lemonade – recipes for this abound. We took the peel from four lemons and steeped it in around 1ltr of boiling water along with 100g of caster sugar, for three hours. I then squeezed the juice of the lemons into the pan before straining it all into a jug. The colour you see is entirely natural, the flavour is delicious: not too sweet or sour, but properly lemony. The recipe comes from the River Cottage Family Cook Book.

jubilee

Flowers from the garden.

In a commemorative mug that I found in a junk shop in Southville.

The Queen celebrates sixty years on the throne today. Although I am by no means an ardent royalist, the older I get the more I admire the Queen. The Golden Jubliee largely passed me by, but I have very fond memories of the Silver Jubilee which we celebrated with family friends (one of whom turns forty-four today – see below), and we will be celebrating this one in similar fashion, though it’s largely because Matilda turns thirteen on Monday, bang in the middle of the extended weekend.

Happy Birthday Becca, these flowers are for you.
In place of the birthday card I failed to send!