Friday, 20 December 2013

Photo Friday - 100

Thanks google for auto animating!

This is our 100th post *does a little dance*. Its been a great eight months and we've loved how much the blog has grown in that time. Coincidentally, we also hit our 10,000 pageviews milestone (according to blogger) this week: that's 10,000 times you lovely people have come to look at our blog and for that we're exceedingly grateful. 100 posts with no visitors would be very dull indeed.

Geek alert: How satisfying is that?!
We're now going to take a break over Christmas, relax and unwind, and we'll be back with our 101st post in the new year.

Merry Christmas!
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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

2013 Christmas Cards

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago one of our Christmas traditions is to make our own Christmas cards. I enjoy card making all year round, but when it comes to making Christmas cards it becomes a joint effort because some very different skills are needed. While I might happily put an hour or two into making an individual card, we don't have the luxury of that sort of time when we're making several dozen in a short space of time and so it all becomes about engineering a design that can be reproduced in a few minutes. All the emphasis goes into producing that first card, so that the rest can flow off the production line.

This year we came across a fabric shop in Chester when we were there in October. Spotting their selection of Christmas material got us thinking and we quickly decided to make Christmas tree cards using three triangles from different fabrics. Simple.

Do you have any idea how much time it can take to settle on the size and shape of three triangles? We tried to do it by eye, with mathematics and got through a lot of sticky-notes. There may have been a few rude words exchanged. We tried triangles of equal size (definitely no), equal shape with decreasing size (didn't quite look right), equilateral triangles, isosceles triangles, nothing quite ticked all the boxes. The breakthrough came when we realised that we needed three completely different triangles. The top triangle needed to be pointier than the base triangle and setting the middle triangle half way between the two finally solved the quandary and we were finally on our way.

Design now sorted, here's a guide to making your own Christmas tree cards:

1. Make cardboard templates of your three triangles to the below measurements.

2. Use these templates to cut out equal quantities of big, medium and small triangles. They should tessellate nicely allowing good use of the material.

3. Make another template that is the size of your base card and has your final tree shape cut out of it - this is all about speed!

(Optional: We printed a short letter into the inside of our card before assembly. If you decide to do this you'll need to make sure that the line of stitches we'll be adding later won't interfere with your text. )

4. Set up your sewing machine with a shiny thread and do some tension checks - metallic thread can be a pain!

5. Position your card, with the template and three triangles under your machine and carefully sew a line of stitching through the middle of each triangle, and overshoot at the bottom to make the trunk of the tree.

6. Release the card and the template from your machine and tuck the ends of the threads through to the back of the card. Trim the threads and secure with a little bit of tape if needed.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all your cards are made.

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Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Special Christmas Tree

Last weekend we were staying with our friend Chloe, and she had a very special plan for our time. Last Christmas they had made a tree with a difference and now it needed "one-upping". Since this year her husband was away with work Joe and I stepped in to help with the creativity - something we were very happy to do as I'm sure you'd have guessed. We decided to try and make a bauble tree like this one.

The first stages of this turned out to be very fiddly. Attaching small hooks to each of the baubles turned out to be tricky enough, but cutting lengths of fishing line and using the crimp beads to form a loop at either end (while making sure it was the right length of course) took a lot of concentration. It didn't help that the crimp beads weren't gripping the line very well so we ended up doubling it up to provide a bit more friction. It took the three of us several hours to get all the baubles on strings!

As we completed each piece of line we connected it to a bauble and hung it from Chloe's airer to try and maintain some sense of order. They were all desperate to get tangled, but we were very firm that this was not what we wanted!

After using more of the fishing line to suspend a rack from a couple of picture hooks it was time to start assembling the tree. We'd followed the lengths of line from our model blogpost and so just gradually worked our way through them while trying to get the right balance and positioning.

Finally, we added an angel.... Because all trees need something to top them off.

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Friday, 13 December 2013

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

December in the Chicken Coop

This month our hens have been...

... tucking into warm food. Chicken food tends to come in two forms - pellets (easier and cleaner to deal with) and mash (same stuff just not formed into pellets). Mostly we feed our hens pellets, but at this time of year we switch to giving them a bowl of mash-porridge each morning which they love. I don't know if its the warmth, or if its just food, but they tuck in really quickly and gobble it up. Particularly when its frosty outside it seems only fair to give them a hot breakfast to start the day.

... refusing to stand still for a photo, leaving me with lots of funky chickens in the pre-work gloom.


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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Origami Advent Calendar

I know I'm running a little late in the year for advent calendar explanations as we're already a week into December, but I'm going to do so anyway. We've had a variety of advent calendars over the last few years, some shop bought, others hand made. Last year I made this one, and as it's stood the test of being in the back of the cupboard for eleven months it is getting a second outing.

When I say origami, its actually a fake! As nice as it would be to make these properly, I chose to use paper that was far to thick to bend nicely, and I wanted this to hold its shape through whatever battering it might get! For both these reasons I decided to glue the envelopes together rather than just fold them into position.

To make your own (maybe for next year?!):

1. Cut out 24 squares of paper of different colours and sizes. Mine were 7.5cm, 10cm, 12cm and 18cm - but if I were to do this again I wouldn't go smaller that 10cm. The 7.5cm ones are a little too small.

2. With each square in turn, fold along the diagonal, then take one of the points and fold it back on itself. Open this last fold out again.

3. Fold in the two side points to the line you've just made. Glue these into position.

4. Number the envelopes 1-24. I tried to keep this as random as possible.

5. Trim one of the two points, and punch a hole in the other.

6. Thread all the envelopes onto a ribbon - the thickness of the ribbon and the size of the hole meant mine held through friction (pure luck, let me assure you), you might find you need to tie knots to get yours to hold.

7. Fill with your advent treats of choice and hang somewhere in your home.

Hiding in too dark a corner to capture a 
proper photo of - sorry!

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Friday, 6 December 2013

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Kitchen Gadget 3. Bread Maker

We eat quite a lot of bread, lovely fresh bread. For a while we made it all by hand (with a little help from our trusty Kenwood Chef), but then one day we were offered a bread machine that was gathering dust in a friends kitchen and we've never looked back. We're now onto our second having worn out that first gift.

While we do regularly use it's normal cycles, we also love it's range of dough cycles. This gives us the flexibility to make more unusual loaves and achieve a range of bakes but saves us having to do any of the hard work! The machine will mix, knead and hold the dough at the right temperature to get a good rise all with the push of a button. All that leaves us to do is to turn it out, pop it in a tin or on a tray with any added flavours and put it in the oven. We can have the satisfaction of making bread ourselves, without having to pay much attention to the process.

One thing we find it very useful for is pizza dough. The shortest dough cycle on our machine is 45mins long so we can get this on when we get home from work without having to wait hours for our dinner. While we don't claim to have done anything particularly original here we thought we'd share what we do when homemade pizza is on the cards.

Homemade Pizza (with doughball starter)
Serves 4

500g White Bread Flour
6g (bread machine friendly) Yeast
6g Salt
15g Sunflower Oil
300ml Water

1 500g carton Passata
A large handful of Grated Cheddar Cheese
1 ball Mozzarella

Plus toppings of your choice. We went for:
2 Mushrooms
1 Red Pepper
1 slice of chunky Ham

1. Put the flour, yeast, salt, oil and water into your bread machine and put it on a short dough cycle (ours happens to be labelled "pizza dough" - but we use it whenever we just need a quick turnaround).

2. While the bread machine is running, empty the passata into a saucepan and leave on a low heat to simmer in order to thicken it a little. A whole carton of passata is too much but we cook the whole lot down and then pop the spare in the fridge to add to whatever our next tomato needing meal is.

Once the bread machine has finished and the passata has thickened:
3. Preheat the oven to 220C.

4. Empty the dough out of the bread machine onto a floured surface. Bring it into a ball and then split into three fairly equal sized pieces.

5. Split the first piece of dough into 8 small balls and place on a lightly oiled tray. Put these in the oven. They will bake for approximately 10mins.

6. Roll out the remaining two pieces of dough as thin as you can that will fit on your baking trays. We use non-stick silicon baking sheets between our baking trays and our pizza at this stage - but if you don't have them then just remember to grease your baking trays to make things easier later.

7. Spread a thin layer of the passata over the rolled out dough. Add a thin layer of grated cheese followed by torn mozzarella pieces to the tomato. Finish with your choice of toppings.

8. Hopefully your doughballs will now be cooked and looking a good golden brown colour. Take them out of the oven and put your pizza in.

Enjoy your doughballs with a little butter. 

9. After 10 mins check your pizza. Hopefully it should be starting to look cooked by now. If the dough is starting to feel stable at this point we slide it off the baking tray onto the oven shelf and leave it for another 3-4 mins. This helps to produce a crispier base.

10. Once the pizza crust is looking golden, the cheese bubbly and the toppings cooked then your pizza is done. Remove it from the oven and enjoy.

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sunshine and Christmas Traditions

A few weeks ago I was honoured to receive the sunshine award from Jo. As part of the award she wanted to know all about our Christmas traditions and that sounded like a great idea, so we decided to tell you all about ours - and ask you all about yours!

Still being relatively early in our married life we're still making up what Christmas looks like as we go along. Some things we like and repeat, others we decide were better as one off's. Traditions are being started left right and centre - and a few are being continued from our childhoods.

We've spent every Christmas together so far with different people in different places. No two have yet been alike - and that's just the way we like it. We've spent them alone, with friends and with family. Sometimes we've been at our house - sometimes we've visited others.

So when we're at ours, what do we always do?

We often have a real tree. A big one. This started the year we went to our local Homebase where they were all pre-wrapped. With no other way of choosing we went for the one that had the most bulk for its height and then spent the rest of Christmas trying to dodge it as it took over the whole living room. There's something special about the way pine needles get everywhere and can be found for months that we wouldn't miss.

We go to Church. As members of our local baptist church we love getting stuck into the Christmas services. Nativities and carols, contemplation's and celebrations - we'll be at the lot.

We always open our presents slowly. This one comes from both our families. There is definitely no free-for-all with what is under the tree - the presents are made to last as much of the day as possible. Everyone watches everyone else open their gifts and we all take it in turns. Neither of us can imagine this any other way, and so this is one tradition that has definitely stuck.

We start Christmas day with bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese. This one I think is quite a unique tradition. It was a favourite of ours at a Bristol tea shop and we fancied recreating it at home as something special for our first Christmas together. It worked so well that it's become a fixture.

We spend quality time with family. Regardless of where we are for the main event we make sure that we get a few good days with each of our families over the holidays. Plenty of time for films, games and brisk winter walks.

We listen to the same Christmas music. The first of December comes around and out comes the Christmas music. This is always a complete mix of traditional carols and cheesy classics. Our favourite though, that is played to death for the whole month, is the Christmas album from Straight No Chaser; amazing versions of Christmas favourites - all a cappella. We would definitely recommend it.

We try and make our own cards. We set up a production line and get cracking on these. Its a very different skill to those we make for birthdays throughout the year and often takes some careful though and normally a template or two.

We mix and match our Christmas dinner. We take this very much as it comes. Last year we boned a chicken, and then rolled it up with as much stuffing as it could take. It was very tasty and this year we're thinking of doing the same again - but maybe with a turkey as there will be more of us! One year we had lamb and on another we had a traditional turkey - bones included.

And now we're feeling really nosy and would love to hear all about your Christmas traditions. What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you spend it with? What do you eat? We want to know it all!

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Friday, 29 November 2013

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

November in the Chicken Coop

This month our hens have been....

... not laying. That's right, not one single egg all month. It started with the moulting which should cause them to have a short break (making feathers and eggs is hard work on a hen) but we're coming to the conclusion that the shorter days and the cold weather might be influencing things as well. They seem otherwise healthy and we didn't get any eggs this time last year either.

Some breeds of chicken will lay pretty much all year round, but unfortunately ours don't fall into that category and are quite likely to take a break over the winter months. Last week we bought supermarket eggs for the first time in ten months, it was a sad day.

Red Lions lining up on our egg rack once more...

... moulting. Frogs turn now to shed her feathers. She's decided to go for the "all-in-one" method of moulting and consequently looked freshly plucked for a couple of weeks. She timed this really badly as the cold weather really kicked in and she spent a lot of time hiding in the coop shivering. We felt very sorry for her, but not sorry enough to do this. They've all now finished and are ready for winter with very soft, thick, coats of feathers.

... sleeping. The clocks have gone back and that means we see a lot less of our flock. By the time we get home from work its pitch black, they've already tucked themselves up for the night and happily snooze through until the rather late sunrise the following day (today it was 7.49am). On a plus note they're not waking us up at 5.30am!

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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag

We enjoy watching the birds out the window so it will be no surprise to find out we have two bird feeders. Every so often they need fully dismantling and cleaning. Its a quick job once you have done it a couple of times so I thought I would show you how easy it is to do (this one is a 15 inch Droll Yankee feeder - like this one).

Step 1: Realise your feeder needs cleaning. If the seed is growing that is a pretty good clue.

Step 2: Shake out any loose seed.

Step 3: Remove the lid. Slide the lid to the end of the wire loops and gently unhook the wire loops from the holes on the tube.

Step 4: Take a screwdriver (PZ1 for the technically minded amongst you, a small + head for everyone else) and undo the bolt. Be careful not to drop the nut into the remaining seed.

Step 5: lift the feeding holes off the tube.

On this feeder removing the bottom feeding holes also releases the base - the peg below the hole that stops it spinning pins the bottom in place.

Step 6: Carefully remove the bottom and shake out the remaining seeds.

You should now have a pile of bits:

And a pot of dirty seed:

Step 7: Wash up the parts (unclogging the drainage holes in the bottom), leave to dry and then reverse the instructions.

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