Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Choccy Choo Choo

I have very fond memories of a train cake covered in sweets that my Mum used to make for our birthdays but sadly she'd couldn't find the recipe (or rather assembly instructions as it doesn't involve baking). So I trawled the Web and found a version by Annabel Karmel.

Just finished my cake after less than one hour's work and I'm a bit queasy after tucking into all the 'ingredients'! I'm a little concerned that the buttercream might lose some of its stick before the party on Friday but have saved a small amount for repairs. It slightly saddens me that I haven't reached the high standards that I remember my Mum achieving.... but perhaps hers wasn't perfect either and I was just bowled over by all the sweeties. Somehow, I don't think I'll be taking Annabel's crown for being the queen of kiddie food either. However, alarmingly, Granny fantasies are already kicking in and I'm hoping that my cake is just good enough to leave a fuzzy impression on Louis' memory so that one day he might think about making one for his children too!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

My Blog Goes Live!

Well after a month of hard work and a supreme battle with self-doubt ("It's not good enough","other people will think that this is a pile of rubbish") my blog has gone public!

Here's hoping that someone out there gains some inspiration and enjoyment from 'this imperfect offering'.

Monday, 29 March 2010

All I Need Now Are the Fancy Cupcakes

Making Stuff, one of my library finds caused me to have one of my dangerous flashes of inspiration. I loved the socket puppet horse, the string bag made out of a sheet and the mittens on a string made out of a jumper that had been shrunk by careless washing. These have potential as subjects for further postings. Although I didn't like the cake stand made out of three odd plates and two sherry glasses stuck together with araldite, I felt that the idea had promise and I decided to make my own less eclectic version.

I scoured the charity shops in Exeter last Saturday for three coordinating plates but didn't have much luck so settled for these for a total cost of £4 from the sale rack at TK Maxx. However I was more successful in finding secondhand supports for the 'tiers'. These stainless steel candlesticks were in the PDSA shop for £1.69 each.

The instructions in the book suggested a method of cutting a paper template to find the centre of the plates. However I poohed poohed this idea as time consuming and so positioned the candlesticks as near as damn it to the middle, took measurements all around them to the edge of the plate and then made small adjustments. When I was happy I marked their final position with a biro so I knew where to put the glue. Is araldite always really messy for everyone or is it me? My shortcut would have worked nicely but events dear boy.....

I then carefully glued the wider end of the candlesticks to the small plates and waited ten minutes or so before repeating the process and assembling the first two tiers. This gave me time to get glue of my hands and the desk and to air the room. Araldite is really sticky and pongy.

All was well until I put a weight on the top tier the book suggested. I got a bit over enthusiastic with the squashing process and the stand toppled over. There was araldite everywhere and I had to reposition the tier using more guesswork which turned out to be less accurate than my first attempt! Hence a slightly wonky end product, but not severe enough so for the cupcakes to fall off.

Happy Birthday Louis!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Fantastic Mr Fox!

Thanks to Mel at the wonderfully situated High Heathercombe House high up on Dartmoor for her hospitality and yummy grub, Helen, her trusty helper and our refreshingly honest tutor Woody Fox for a wonderful residential mosaic weekend. Let our finished work speak about Woody's ability as a teacher which of course is coupled with the entire group's creative genius.

My 'masterpiece'where I tried out mixing colours and different tessellations in the same mosaic for the first time.

Melanie's bird that filled Woody with joy.

Margaret's wonderful Dartmoor cross

Naomi's sofa matching flower

Fliss' butterfly (winner of the speedy mosaicist award)

Jan's colourful cockerel

Kay's crow shamelessly stolen from Martin Cheek's book Mosaics in a Weekend

Margaret's tree also inspired by a design in another book - sorry can't remember which, but perhaps someone could enlighten me.

Marguerite's beautiful bird.

And Mel's Kandinsky's inspired design - incomplete but don't thinks that she was slacking as she did manage to rustle up all the food too!

I also thought I'd taken a picture of Helen's wonderfully coloured flower tile that is going to form part of a floor but my photographic skills are sometimes lacking, as further evidenced by a somewhat misframed quality to some of the images above, and I did actually take a photo - oops!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

One I Made Earlier: Pirate Makeover.

Louis needed something to sit on in his smallish sized bedroom and I thought a director's chair would suit the bill as it could be folded up when he needed more floor space to make an even greater unholy mess than usual.

I found this one in the local recycling centre for £3 looking decidedly sad. It had no back canvas and a patchy varnished finish. The seat panel was removable so I took the chair apart before sanding it.

Using half a metre of 60" wide curtain fabric I covered the existing seat by cutting two rectangles of fabric to size and glueing them each side of the existing canvas to make a nice strong base. Then I cut a big rectangle of fabric for the back that was just a little over twice the length of the distance between the back supports. I folded it in half and sewed on the wrong side to make a loop of fabric that fitted snugly over the supports when it was turned the right way around. My final piece of machining action involved sewing couple of lines of stitches to make tubes for the back supports of the chair to fit in.

So after about ninety minutes work and £8 total spend, Louis now has a piratey perch!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Vinegar: The New Cilit Bang!

I've just got to grips with this stuff as a cleaning product for the most unwholesome of reasons. Having a seven year old who hasn't achieved mastery of his 'aiming' skills leaves the bathroom smelling decidedly unfresh. I tried to bleach away the smell but for some strange reason this intensified the odour so the whole of upstairs smelt like a pub urinal. Lovely!!!

This was not the atmosphere that I wanted to nurture in my home so I turned to the Internet for advice and found that vinegar was the solution. So each week I splash some around the base of the loo and the problem has been resolved - although for a short time afterward I can't stop thinking of fish and chips.

This had me thinking about more uses for this powerful stuff and I've since found that it is great for cleaning glass such as shower screens and the like. And you can get really geeky about this. This book that I borrowed from the library has some inspired ideas including using vinegar to stop chickens pecking each other, for relief of piles and to clean pet's ears!

PS: Just to 'fess up and say that the stuff in the bottle that I photographed isn't what it seems. It's water as I only realised that I needed to take a picture after I'd transferred the vinegar into an old Mr. Muscle bottle!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Just finished reading: How Green are My Wellies? by Anna Shepard.

I liked this a book a lot. How can you not fail to warm to a woman that has such a strong relationship with the wiggly creatures in her wormery? It has lead me to thinking that the 'no pets' rule may be a little harsh. Also I've been trying to cut down the amount of washing that we produce as a family by wearing things a bit longer (hoping that my friends will tell me if I overstep the mark), resalvaging items to live another day with a bit of instant spot removal and not automatically scooping up clothes into the wash basket. Amazingly, through these tactics I've been saving one or two machine loads a week. It's refreshing to have someone supports my slovenly ideas and also provides encouragement to stuff the washing machines to the gunnels.

Some really thought provoking stuff that is not too preachy and an added bonus is that the woman on the cover seems to have grey hair!

I enjoyed The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less by India Knight too. It was much less green and seemed to be written from an affluent Londoner viewpoint. Nonetheless it was a fun read and gave some great ideas for inspiring craft blogs to follow.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Thought for the Day: Mortgage is Debt!!!!

Way back, or it might not have been so long ago, someone, somewhere came up with the idea to make us think of our mortgage as something that should be viewed as on a different plane to common and garden debt. A devastatingly clever marketing ploy that ties us into paying huge amounts of interest over a large proportion of our lifetime.

Of course I knew that mortgage was debt but it seemed far more benign than running up a credit card bill - which I absolutely don't do because it is such a waste of money. But then the light dawned that the mortgage is such a waste of money too! Arguably it is necessary to put a self owned roof over our head but something that is to be treated in the same way as any other debt to be paid it of as soon as possible, perhaps foregoing some spending as we do so.

Since I grapsed this point things have been going swimmingly and I'm aiming to pay off a near six-figure sum and be properly debt free by 50. The countdown is on!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

More Coffee, Bridget?

Once you start using metal clay you begin seeing potential in a multitude of textured items that previously you wouldn't have given a passing glance.

I usually use 'Siligum', a two part putty-like substance that, when mixed together, produces a mould in 5 minutes.

This pendant was made using precious metal clay that I pressed into a texture plate made from a corrugated cardboard coffee cup. The silver disc that was produced once the clay is dried, fired and polished was mounted onto a black polymer clay square to which I'd added a sliver of stripey clay cut from a block made by sandwiching alternate coloured sheets, produced by rolling the clay through a pasta machine. I've found that Polymer Clay for the First Time by Syndee Holt gives good clear instructions for this and other patterns that can be built up by layering, mixing and modelling clay. I baked the square pendant after pressing the silver onto it but it came unattached after wearing a few times so I used superglue to fix it and this has held tight for a number of months.

The end result is far from perfect - there's some dents in the polymer clay and the square isn't exact and prompted investment in some better cutters (I got the Ateco 6 Pce Square Cutter Set). However I've worn the piece a lot and it has given me ideas for future designs. I'm working out how to produce some pieces inspired by Bridget Riley's monochrome geometric works.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Lemon Mouse (sic)!

Louis has informed me he not going to combine the careers of being a doctor and a bin man anymore and wants to be a chef. I am delighted at the thought of the tasty treats that I'm going to have to test over the next few years. His long term plans are for us to gift him our house so that he can turn it into a restaurant!

Even if he changes his mind about his profession I've decided that encouraging him to cook can't be a bad thing and recently we've been progressing beyond Chocolate Crispie Cakes and making pizza, bacon sandwiches and muesli amongst other things.

We decided to make a pudding the other days and I thought I'd share this extra yummy one that we tried from Nigella's website for Lemon Mouse(Louis' spelling!) We left our the raspberry sauce and used white chocolate for decoration.

Nigella gives quantities for 10 people but this provides for very generous portions and I don't think even she could demolish the whole lot in one go during one of her midnight raids on the fridge. We halved the ingredients and it made enough to fill six wine glasses and lots of bowl licking action from Louis. Although the recipe is bowl heavy (I used four) it is relatively simple and there is enough whisking action to keep a 7 year old interested. I used the microwave on a low setting to melt the gelatine to save a saucepan.

It occured to me that this was quite a thrifty recipe so I did some quick calculations using Sainsbury's home shopping website. Even using expensive supermarket ingredients a portion worked out at under 50p.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ones I Made Earlier: Ceramic Bits and Bobs

Having a lazy day today and don't want to write much. So I thought I'd give you a flavour of some of the things that Louis and I have previously made on our china painting visits. Starting first with the soap dish collection....

Moving on to the tooth mug....

Now the bird house, although nothing has ever nested there. China must be too cold for their poor scaly tootsies.....

And finally from me my square platter....

Now some for some of Louis' masterpieces!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Just finished reading: Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes.

Bah!!! I can tell from reading just a few pages that this book is a complete waste of time. Total chick lit hell! Even the cover is lame. Don't even contemplate spending money on this drivel!

.....Oh sorry, I've just been imagining what it would be like if Mr Lovelygrey reviewed this book.

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Marriedisn't particularly taxing and the plot is entirely predictable. It doesn't take much brain power to work out who Lucy ends up with in the end. But for me it satisfied a need for a funny, lightweight girly bedtime read after ploughing through Affluenza. I promise I'll try and tuck into something a little more life enhancing next time unless something light and fluffy tempts me away again.