Friday, 29 April 2011

this moment: wedding day

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week a couple of weeks ago. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule

Congratulations, Wills and Kate!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

sunshine aplenty

Bad blogger! I've been neglecting this space again. But on a positive note, we've had twelve straight days of sunshine - a run not to be sniffed at in this part of the world. We took advantage of the long Easter weekend and went camping with a group of friends at this campsite. What a fantastic time we had! Campfires, sing-songs, a hike up White Horse Hill to admire the breathtaking view and plenty of good eating.

We were blessed with the hottest April weather any of us could remember, and laughed about being woken by the crowing cockerel and singing birds every morning. The ten children in our camp took turns whacking homemade pinatas full of Easter treats, and on Sunday we had a field-sized Easter egg hunt. Truly a magical weekend.
We did miss out on some of our usual Easter traditions, though, being away from home. So we are planning another small family celebration of the season this weekend. We will be dying eggs (naturally, with turmeric, beets, blueberries, onion skins and dandelions), and I'm sure the little ones' Easter baskets - filled with little treasures - will be making an appearance. There won't be as many handmade goodies as last year, but thanks to my Four Seasons Exchange partner, these delightful bunnies will be in the baskets.
Thank you very much, Andreja!
Here is the Spring package we sent Andreja:
A needlefelted bumblebee, knitted eggs and nest from The Purl Bee, a birch card-holder, postcard and a dandelion-dyed playsilk. We really hope she liked it!
Well, the sun is gloriously shining again, this morning, so I need to get out and make the most of it - I have a backlog of seedlings that need attention. Happy day to you!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

this moment: detour

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week a couple of weeks ago. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


inspired by amanda soule

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

a little sewing

I love to sew, but I wouldn't claim to be very good at it. My mother let me use her machine when I was quite small, and certainly that is how I learned to thread a machine and do basic stitching. She was a very handy sewist, herself, but must have stopped sewing at some point, as I don't remember her doing any as I grew older. Like all middle-schoolers at the time, I took a semester of home economics. I made an apron. The only real skill I picked up (and still use today) is taking two or three tiny stitches to anchor my thread at the beginning and end of a piece of hand sewing.

A few years ago, full of the feeling that I wanted to sew, I finally took the plunge and bought myself a sewing machine. It was cheap and cheerful, from an ebay seller who proudly displayed photos of the amazing Japanese factory in which her machines were manufactured. It worked, and I found that I do actually enjoy sewing. I made bunting flags, some minor (albeit fairly unsuccessful) garment alterations, lots of pouch slings for my own babies and for other people's, and took a stab at small-scale patchwork quilting. What I didn't do was get any real instruction on how to make the most of my basic machine or indeed any of my other tools.

A couple of years ago I decided to invest in a better quality sewing machine, a Janome DC 3050. It's still a fairly low to middle range machine, but the difference between my inexpensive, clunky thread-grinder and this purring, whirring beauty was instantly apparent. Rather than fighting with tangled thread, intense tensions and broken needles, I was able to just sew.

And so.

I am ready to learn. I have sewed enough now to know that there are ways of doing things, and then there are better ways. I've picked up a few skills from reading through tutorials, but I would love to take a class, particularly in dressmaking and quilting. My big handwork goal for this year is to make a patchwork quilt; I'd like to make one for each of my girls, but the idea of making THREE quilts in a year is rather overwhelming. I've done some patchwork and even some basic, amateurish quilting in the past, but my perfectionist tendencies - as well as my intended material - suggest that I will be happier with the final product if I take the time to learn the 'right' way of doing things. (I plan to use the girls' outgrown baby and toddler clothes for this project, so don't want to make too many mistakes as there is so little fabric.)

As practice, I've been working on a number of little projects, each one hopefully building on my abilities. Bias binding holds a pretty impressive fear factor quotient, so I've been working on projects that use binding. I've tried using readymade bias tape and I've made some of my own. I picked this little top from the Japanese pattern book Girly Style Wardrobe (pattern B) because of the bound neckline/tie. It's so darling! (Though my own went a little wrong somewhere along the line - I cut what I thought was Eva's size, but it ended up fitting Esme! And even then, I had to let the pleat out to get it to fit across her chest.) I machine-stitched the binding to the front of the garment, then hand sewed it on the inside.
I'm quite proud of this little top - I have very little garment-making experience, and the book from which this pattern comes is written in Japanese! I have sewn from another Japanese pattern book - though that one is translated into English - so I was familiar with the way the patterns work and sew up. But still!

Next, I made round patchwork hotpads from Amanda Soule's lovely book Handmade Home.

(Special thanks to my Freecycle friend, Lorraine, who gave me another big bag of pretty fabrics, along with all sorts of other notions.) I made six of these in a row, and it was amazing how each one was better-constructed than the last. At first, I couldn't even make a circle, but the last one (the one closest to us in the above photo) was quite good! These gave me the chance to try for tiny, even stitches on the back; I love the way those tiny stitches look.

And just for fun, I made Esme a pair of summer trousers.

These came from Carefree Clothes for Girls. I added some lace around the cuffs and a little bow at the front of the waistband so Esme would know which way to put them on.

So, there you have it. My attempts to teach myself how to sew. After 36 years of pushing thread through the eyes of needles, it is only in the last couple of weeks that I have begun to think of myself as someone who sews.

Friday, 1 April 2011

recipe: wild garlic pesto

Things have been a little quiet around here as we have navigated our way through a sea of illness. A very nasty headcold has worked through the children and me, and has resulted in a chesty cough that has kept us from work and school for a few days. We've had an amazingly healthy winter season, so this first-week-of-Spring sickness caught us by surprise.
Last week, though, just before we started dropping like flies, we went on our first foraging adventure of the new season. Wild garlic grows abundantly across Devon - our wet, warm climate and forested areas create ideal conditions for this pungent relative of cultivated garlic to thrive. For the next month or so, wherever you go in our area you will be overwhelmed by the heady scent. Towards the end of the garlic season, forest floors will be carpeted in the spangled white flowers that dance above the long green leaves. Wild greens are packed full of vitamins and minerals - they are generally even more healthy for us than cultivated greens.
We took a bag to a local spot away from roads to collect the first fresh garlic leaves to make pesto.

If you don't have access to wild garlic, you could substitute rocket, chard, dandelion or any other green...just add more garlic cloves to the mix. I use a hand blender to make mine, but you could just as easily use a food processor or a standard blender, or, if you have the time and the muscle, you could make an even more flavoursome version using a pestle and mortar.
Wild Garlic Pesto

large bunch of wild garlic leaves
1 cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pinenuts or any combination of nuts you like)
3 cloves of cultivated garlic
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (taste as you season; you will need more or less depending on how salty your cheese is)
1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese (pecorino works fine, and is a little less expensive)
Wash the garlic well and pat dry - I put all the leaves in a big bowl of water, agitate, drain and repeat. Don't collect garlic leaves near roads or other sources of pollution and look for patches that are away from the edges of paths (you don't want leaves that have been urinated on by passing dogs!). Put the nuts on a baking tray and place in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes, or until they just start to colour (watch them - the moment you look away they will burn!). Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, put garlic leaves and garlic cloves in your blender jug with 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Blend for a few seconds to begin breaking leaves down. Add nuts and another 1/4 cup oil and blend to a smooth paste. Add more olive oil as you blend to keep a loose paste consistency. When evenly blended, stir in the grated cheese. Add more salt if necessary. Makes approximately two cups.
You can now either decant into a very clean jar, pressing pesto down to remove any air pockets, and top with one centimeter of olive oil (the oil will exclude oxygen from the pesto, preserving it longer), or spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze. The fresh pesto will keep for up to three weeks in the fridge (perhaps longer if you ensure it has a layer of olive oil) or 6 months in the freezer (heck, it'll probably keep forever in the freezer!). Freezing it in cubes means you can just take out what you need.
We like our pesto on hot pasta with chopped tomatoes and white beans or smeared over pizza bases and topped with goats cheese. The fresh, uncooked pesto is quite spicy, but once cooked through becomes mild. Leftover fresh leaves can go into your salad to be eaten raw (the flowers look and taste beautiful, too), can be wilted through hot pasta or chopped and sprinkled over scrambled eggs.

Just make sure you're not planning any passionate kisses after eating this!