Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Knitting for Digory

I've finished my latest bit of knitting and it's being very ably modelled here by Digory, our four month old godson. It's a little large for him at the moment which is perfect, because knitting faster than he grows is currently a small challenge!

I had a bit of a play with the pattern for this one. It's Pembroke and is designed for a worsted weight yarn. What I had in my yarn box though was Sirdar Baby Crofter DK which was going to leave me with a bit of a size problem. I was aiming for something roughly the 6 month sizing described, so decided to follow a pattern for a larger version and let the smaller wool/needles do the trick. After some swatching I set out on the 12 month version but very quickly realised it was still coming out too small.

Back to square one and making the 18 month version finally seemed to do the trick with the added bonus of more cables for my width than the six month would have managed. Even so, I'm very relieved that Diggy has some room to grow into it!

Modelling is serious stuff... 

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Friday, 25 July 2014

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Life's a Game 7: Uno

This year we're sharing with you our game of the month. These are all favourites from our collection, or ones we play with our friends.

July's game is Uno.

Uno is a fantastically simple game, but one that has provided us with lots of amusement over the years, particularly when we get together with the same university friends I mentioned here. To play Uno you use a special bright and colourful deck of cards that contains the numbers 0-9 and a set of special features on backgrounds of red, blue, green and yellow. There are also a few cards with a black background that can be played at any time.

The game play is straightforward - everyone is dealt a fixed number of cards and the aim is to be the first to put all your cards down. Each person takes it in turns to place a card on the pile in the centre, and that card must match either the value or the colour of the one before it. If at any point you can't play you pick up another card which puts you further behind. Some of the special cards also force the next player to pick up two or four cards which is definitely to be avoided and the swiftest way of doing so is to play another "+2" card to pass the curse on. These cards will accumulate so woe to the person who finds themselves at the end of a chain of them and has to pick up 6 or 8 cards! 

Other special cards include miss a go's, change direction of play and the ability to dictate what colour the pile becomes next. The intensity with with special cards appear tends to increase as the game goes on, and peaks once someone has declared "UNO" - meaning they have just one card left and should be stopped from playing it at all costs.

While this might not be the game when intricate strategy is what you're after, the rest of the time its good fun and suitable for all. 
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Monday, 21 July 2014

The Art of Letting Go

We're very proud today to be able to share with you an extract from The Art of Letting Go, fantastic debut novel of Chloe Banks, and particularly excited to be one of the first as today is publication day. I hope you enjoy this taster and I'd thoroughly recommend the rest of the book - I certainly devoured it! It is now available in both paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.

The sea was the colour of madness on the day I first met Ben. Not Slate or Ash, Gunmetal or Battleship, just grey. It was one of those autumn days that had lost its way and ended up in summer; storm clouds puffing up beyond the horizon, the wind gathering itself out in the bay. And into that grey world came Ben – an unwelcome splash of colour.
Even now, after all this time, I find myself wondering how Ben would start our story. As if it mattered. Chances are he wouldn’t think of it as our story at all, and he wouldn’t start with grey, I’m sure of that. He’d make that day a melodrama full of crashing waves, howling wind and colours with fancy names. It wasn’t like that. Not how I remember it. I remember an ordinarily dull June day – the kind where holiday-makers stayed in the shelter of the caravan park arcade and I could sit on the rocks to watch the storm approaching with only barnacles and guano for company. The grey sky, the grey sea, and me. I’d thought it was just me, anyway.
“Don’t move.” His voice came from the point where the rocks met the wet sand. “Keep looking out to sea, I’m nearly done.”
Nobody ever told me what to do. Nobody had presumed to order me around since October 1967. Maybe that’s why I did what he said. The chalk steps up to my house on the headland would be impassable within minutes of a downpour starting, yet as the first fat drops of rain splattered on the rocks around me I found myself frozen in place. A minute passed and then another, and my window of opportunity slammed shut with the arrival of the wind, belching on to land in a splutter of sea spray.
“OK, all done.” The figure crouching in the periphery of my vision rose to his feet two minutes too late for me to avoid a soaking. His voice had lost its urgency. “You can move now.”
He might have been a couple of decades younger than me, but he wasn’t as young as he’d sounded. Approaching 50 perhaps, with the first peppering of grey at his temples. A paint-flecked shirt ended halfway down goose-pimpled forearms, ripped jeans were caked in sand. He had a pencil tucked behind his ear and a sketchbook under his arm. I knew at once I wouldn’t like him. No, that’s not true – and I’m not scared of the truth anymore – I knew at once I didn’t want to like him.
“Ben Summers.” He held out a wet hand. “I’m renting Anchor Cottage for the season.”
He jerked his head at the tiny building sitting a few feet from the furthest reaches of the Spring Tides. It was Mrs. Baxter’s cottage. That alone should have warned me.
I didn’t take Ben’s hand. “It’d be courteous to tell me why you’ve kept me out in this rain.”
“Of course. Sorry.” He flipped the sketchbook open and held it out. “I should’ve asked before drawing you, but you looked so perfect I didn’t want to ruin the moment.”
Raindrops were already blurring the edges of the pencil and soaking through to the page beneath, distorting the fragmented lines. I tried squinting, but it made no difference. “Doesn’t look anything like me.”
He laughed, and it was one of those annoying laughs that only the truly good-natured can pull off. A laugh that is certain one day you’ll be remembering this moment together round a log fire, wine glasses in hand. A laugh that doesn’t allow for the possibility of not being the best of friends.
“I guess that sums up what I do.” He shut the book again and stuck it under his shirt. “I paint and draw stuff that doesn’t look like what it’s meant to be.”
“How ridiculous.”
“You think so? Why don’t you come up to my cottage and see for yourself?”
“No thank-you.”
“Please. I feel terrible for keeping you out in this weather.” He shivered, shirt already clinging to his collar bones under the weight of rain. “Come and have a cup of tea at least.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Just a quick one?” That laugh again. “I don’t bite.”
I should’ve walked off by that point – made my way home the long way, past the caravan park. I don’t know why I was still there. Perhaps it was his eyes. I remember noticing then, right at the start, how peculiar they were. They weren’t blue-grey, or green-grey; they were true grey, the colour of madness. They were holding me in place as firmly as his voice had done moments earlier, pinning me to the sand. I was only halfway through refusing his invitation for the third time when the weather decided to take his side of the argument. That summer was one of the wettest on record, and this was not the first or last in a long line of rainstorms, but it was a particularly bad one. When Nature took off the handbrake, there was nothing for it. Without another word, we ran for the cottage.
That was where it started, I think. In Ben’s cottage, as I stood dripping on the mat, was where the insanity of both our lives took its hold. Not that I could see it at the time. As Ben picked a damp towel off the floor and presented it to me for my hair, I was only concerned with ignoring the offer – in staying there with him as little time as possible. I wasn’t on my guard. But I suppose madness is rather like that, isn’t it? Only visible in hindsight. If we could see it coming, blowing whistles and waving streamers, it would have no hold over us. We’d cross the road, avoid eye contact, remember that bus we had to catch. We’d run for cover as soon as the rain started.
If that summer – Ben and the man who became Michael and all the rest of it – taught me anything, perhaps it was how madness makes puppets of us all in the end. It steals over us as a creeping grey shadow, disguising itself as the best course of action, the easy decision. We find ourselves in situations – as I did that day in Ben’s cottage – we never consciously chose, doing things we never meant to do. All because of one decision, one moment in time. And then suddenly we’ll see it – we’ll feel the jerk of the strings – and in a moment of lucidity, we know it’s too late. We’re already soaked to the skin.

Text and images are copyright protected and must not be reproduced without permission.
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Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Great Swift Bake Off: Round 6 - Picnic Pies

This round of the Great Swift Bake Off it is time for hot water pastry. This dough is a bit of an odd beast - no chilling it in the fridge and if it gets too cold it goes very stiff and is impossible to work. Conversely too hot and it slumps and rips the moment you handle it.

I wanted to be a bit different from the standard pork based affair and spent ages scratching around through recipes before deciding to make something up from scratch. I seemed to be in an Italian mood when planning so those flavours can be seen running through the dish.

Joe's Italian Picnic Pie
Pasticcio di bolognese in crosta di Beppe


  • 3 large chicken breasts
  • 500g beef mince
  • 3 yellow and 3 green peppers
  • 800g baby plum tomatoes
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 onions
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Cumin
  • Chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp green pesto
  • Gelling agent (pectin or agar)
  • Egg white to glaze
for the pastry (based on this recipe from gourmet dough):
  • 500g plain flour
  • 100g butter
  • 90g lard
  • 200ml water
Halve the tomatoes and throw them in a roasting tin with thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and a little oil 

De-seed and quarter the peppers, spreading them on a baking sheet. Bake all the veg in a low oven (150C) for 2-3 hours until soft and wrinkly. This is to try and remove some of the moisture so don't worry if it looks a bit leathery!

Slice the chicken breasts accross the breast into slabs about 1 cm (3/8") thick, season and brown off in a pan. Again this should drive down the moisture content.

Finely dice the onion and garlic before frying it off with 1tsp each of paprika, cumin, chilli powder and a little salt & pepper. Add it to the minced beef. I fried the beef off for a test batch but for the final pie I left it unfried to give a denser block of meat. This did leave more moisture and I had to drain the pie a couple of times during cooking...

When the veg is almost ready melt the fat in the water and bring to just simmering. Pour onto the flour and work together.

Turn out the dough and knead it lightly. You should be able to work with it quite warm.

Leave to cool a little. I found my dough was far too pliable until it was below 45 degrees. Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Once the dough is cool enough to work with (if you roll it out can you lift the sheet without it tearing in two)  roll and line the tin, reserving enough for the lid.

The cooked tomatoes are now all a bit wrinkly! You can see how much moisture they have lost.

And the peppers are a touch flacid too. 

Bake for 2 hrs at 150 degrees, draining as needed. Before it finishes baking make up the pesto gel - mix up your gelling agent stronger than the instructions, stir through pesto and keep hot until the pie comes out the oven. Pour the gel in through the steam vent using a funnel. Cool and serve.

The final entries (mine is on the left)
I managed to come joint first this round. People seemed to have very split reactions though - those expecting pork pie seemed disappointed by the Mediterranean pie!
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Friday, 18 July 2014

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 6. More Labels

A rather photo heavy post with the rest of the box labels...

Joe asked that this one looked like a toddler had been allowed near
the glitter. It certainly went all over the table so I think that counts!
Calculators, hole punch, staplers etc...

Getting photos of more of the shelves together was a little tricky without all the labels reflecting the light and turning into bright white squares! Making these has been good fun and should certainly make it easier next time we wonder "which box was that in again?" (which we're already doing regularly).

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 5. Labels

It's been a couple of months and our new guest room has been tested by a few people with great success. Meanwhile we've been working away at one of the final details that's taken a fair bit of effort.

When we made our final decision to go with boxes full of stuff rather than shutting it away in cupboards one of the things that swung us was the scope for a bit of creativity. We bought boxes of many different colours and sizes and tried to create a collage of shapes and patterns as we positioned them. To finish it all off we've been making labels for each box.

They're all based around the same design element - papercut descriptions of what each box contains. These have taken weeks of doing a few every now and then. I created myself a set of letters to trace to keep things uniform, and utilised my tablet as a backlight to help with tracing before carefully cutting each one out.

Once they were all done the real fun began - to personalise each label with the items in it's box, before laminating them all up. Here's some of them, with  more to follow. Sorry, the lamination has made photo taking hard.

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