Alison Crowther-Smith

Posts Tagged ‘Puriton’

2019 Workshops are now LIVE!

Monday, September 24th, 2018

2019 is now live on the site.  You can find them all here!

There are icord designs, Happy Endings, new felting, gifts and the return of Christmas at Court Cottage.

Each day explores new techniques and applies them to projects specially designed for you.

I would love to see you here!

 

 

Dear Diary + Conversations with Lily

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

(Some of this was drafted a while ago).

Bank Holiday Monday:  this is the last day when I will live in the house without one or both of my children also living here. The last time I will peg out and fetch in washing for Lily*. The last time I will sit in the kitchen, in the early evening, knowing that Lily will be coming home. Home. To eat, sleep – live. Have long since abandoned futile and exhausting pretence that I am fine about this. The last weekly menu that includes Lily and Jack has been drafted and most of the meals I predicted have gone. Absolutely fed up of this self-generated ‘last time’ nonsense and yet am also apparently entirely unable to stop myself from doing it.  Overwhelming sadness is only marginally moderated by uplifting realisation that at the very worst, it will soon stop as they will finally have gone.

Reflect that ‘it could be worse’ and agree with annoying inner-self and many acquaintances, that yes, of course it is patently obvious that it could be worse.  Yes, Lily could be moving to New York (or insert distant location of choice). Am almost as sick of hearing this as I am of hearing my own inner monologue about woe-is-me. Next person to tell me how much worse it could be is in danger of seeing usually well-concealed version of self (and here, I sadly reflect that this is possibly the real self) who is liable to become ill-tempered and snappy upon receiving such probably well-meant but nevertheless platitudinous missives.

Fug of misery, deepened by length of time that ‘the move’ has been looming over me is further intensified by realisation that I have planned an unappealing supper for this last evening – a meal of left-overs supplemented by not always welcome spinach and chard from the allotment garden. Ponder if ‘last supper’ mentality is really appropriate and decide that it is not and thus, the fish-pie/cauliflower-cheese/spinach combo is fine.

*this proved to be incorrect as I still appear to be in charge of Lily’s running gear washes.

Tuesday:  wake with a refreshing sense that this is the first day in which ‘the move’ will no longer have the chance to loom as it will be history.  This uplifts me for at least half an hour. Am in danger of moping through yet another week, so embark on exhilarating programme of making myself do things I hate.  List includes such items as sorting out accounts, cleaning out wardrobe, defrosting ancient freezer, and weeding.  Therefore and entirely predictably, I make a list of these things and then shove list under pile of newspapers and knit while watching Netflix.

Wander round house, tidying up a bit. As hoarders go, I know I am not the worst.  For example, my stairs and hallways are not fire hazards, I do not keep ‘useful bits of string’ in the house (though I do in the car-port on the potting table), and I am often found in the act of housework which I detest and so see as form of divine (or maybe satanic) punishment.  But as ever, I wish my house looked more like the houses of some of my friends with no clutter and (I imagine) immaculate drawers.  I mainly hoard books.  It could be worse.

I am aware, however, that I am touchy about how clean and comfortable my house is.  Firmly tell self that this is silly and also make resolution to calmly tell people who may (even inadvertently – or whatever) criticise things, to fuck off, but to do so without loss of temper if possible as this is not nice for me  (I do not care much about impact on them). Post-Script Note:  this resolve instantly breached as very next week, a very slight acquaintance comes to house for coffee and without so much as a rueful smile, informs me that the coffee is not nice, and orders another but this time hot,  and explains how I can resolve other coffee problems.  And I do.  I do not say:  fuck off.  I do not lose my head.  I just comply but inwardly fume and suppress powerful desire to swear piratically. Think that I need more practice but I do make mental note to never repeat experience of having very slight acquaintance over.

Second, to tell people who say things that they think are funny and who, in doing so attempt to make others feel that somehow they ought to ‘get’ the ‘joke’ and not be offended, that it is not funny. In fact, believe that they use this as cloak of invisibility for nasty comments they want to get across.  These people are often the same cheerful folk who call a spade a spade, speak their minds and talk as they find.  In other words, they are incredibly rude but may not be taken to task as they ought because they at once say:  I speak as I find!  Decide to do the same to them.  This may test some relationships to point of breaking.  Do not care.  I do not ‘speak as I find’ as a rule.  Do you?  Wouldn’t it be awful if we all told the unvarnished truth as we see it? Thus, I know I will never do it unless loss of control has been achieved.

(Some weeks into the period of my life now known as AC – anno childrenia). Lily and I are training for a half-marathon at the end of September.

Saturday – long-run day:  Lily arrives before dawn has cracked. I am stumbling about in kitchen, dodging dogs and cat, fumbling with door locks. Lily erupts from and also into gloom and I can tell at once that, like me, she is absolutely furious. Hurls herself into chair and sobs:  why?? why are we DOING THIS?

Me:  I have no bloody idea anymore. (Note:  we are doing it to raise money for Cancer Research UK and in memory of my beloved Sister in Law, Judith, who died earlier this year.  But as Lily knows this at least as well as me, as it was her idea, I do not bother with explanation).

Lily:  I can’t face it.

Me:  nor can I.  Let’s not go.

Lily, new resolve clearly entering her soul:  No! we MUST go! (now declaiming in manner of warrior-leader attempting rally of troops).  Onward!

Me:  onward.  Into the night.  It’s still chuffing dark.  Let’s have a cuppa.

Lily:  OK.

Lily:  have you eaten?

Me:  no but I am thinking of eating a banana. (I hate bananas but my sports physio has prescribed one a day so I now buy tiniest possible bananas and sometimes eat one).

Lily:  yuk.  But OK I’ll have one too.

I investigate fruit bowl and find one rather old looking banana and some newer, less disgusting ones.  I take both examples into the kitchen and suggest we both eat half of each.  We do so, gagging due to early hour and also rank taste and texture of bananas.

Lily:  hmmm, that old banana wasn’t too bad.  Just shows that you should never judge a banana by its skin.

Me:  but that is really the only way to judge a banana, isn’t it?  Surely that’s the definitive banana test?

Lily:  don’t call me Shirley.

And thus, buoyed up by this sort of high-quality bant, we emerge into the slowly receding gloom and reluctantly begin our 12 mile furtive shuffle.  This we complete, with a lot of extended silences as I find running makes it hard to breathe and talk, thus meaning, according to all training material I have ever read, that I am doing it wrong.  The run is, however, enlivened by my periodic Michael Jackson impressions.  These are prompted by my running in white cotton gloves.  Am doing this because my hands are in sorry state and I can keep them hydrated and medicated by wearing the gloves.  But is, I find, irresistible to break into such iconic songs as Billie Jean, The Man in the Mirror, and especially Thriller, whilst waving one white-gloved hand in Lily’s face.  On down-hill sections only, obvs, due to shortage of breath at all other times.  She loved it.

Later, much later, after we messily complete the 12 miler – our last long run until the race – and have showered, eaten a lot of non-banana foods, and are lying on the bed in Lily and Jack’s lovely new house…

Lily:  we are doing OK aren’t we?

Me:  yeah.  I mean that was absolutely awful and frankly right now I’d give all the target money to NOT do it, but I think we will manage it.

Lily:  no, I mean THIS.

Me:

Lily:  THIS!! Me, not living at home anymore? We doing OK, right?

Me (thinking:  is that true?):  yes. We are.  It’s fine.  We are managing it well.

And I reflect that it is true, after all.  I would prefer to live in a huge house (with separate kitchens, due to my slovenly nature, obvs) with both my children and their partners.  But that’s not real life – and in fact, this is good.  I miss them.  But it’s fine and I have a feeling it will emerge from fine to not bad and then maybe onto actually really good in the coming months.  For one thing, I can go to their houses for dinner, refuse to eat spinach and ask for more wine!

 

 

 

 

 

Allotment at Home Up-Date: IT’S FABULOUS!

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Well, 7 months after the project took its first muddy and tentative steps in January’s freezing and wet rain, February’s freezing and wet rain, and March’s freezing and wet snow, I can report that it is an overall success and I love it.  There have been some things that I would not do again, some planting and sowing failed (partly, I think, due to the long, cold winter, extending into spring), and some things I would modify, but it is really a great project, delivering all of the benefits I identified as essential and most of the desirables at the outset, plus some unexpected bonuses.  Yes, I am a project manager.  It’s my (real) job, I can’t help it.  I project the (desired) outcomes, I deliver the project, I measure the outcomes against the initial spec.  Job done.

Here are some ‘before and after’ images.

The area on the left side of the drive, then and now:

The area on the right side of the drive – then and now:

Some jungle shots:

Some gratuitous allotment/food-porn shots:

If I had been gardening my allotment now, in this extended hot and dry spell, I would have been making tactical sacrifices.  Because there is no mains water, only what we collect off our shed roofs and save, plus what we can share from the pond that was dug some years ago, and is pumped into a bank of shared bowsers, I had to walk from the top of the field, to the bottom, with empty cans or buckets and then back up with full vessels, to pour onto the most needy plants.

At this time of year that would be the 4 raised beds, the squash and courgettes, and the beans.  I would have decided not to water the cage, or the spinach, or the raspberries and rhubarb.  And I am pretty sure the spinach would have died and I would also be unable, short of doing this every day for several hours, to really stop the runner beans from aborting their flowers, or to make the courgettes and squash hydrated enough to thrive.  In short, I’d have kept most of it alive but that’s not easy or fun.  I did this in the first and second years there, especially the first which was hot – but not as hot, for as long, as this mid-summer has been.  It was hot and exhausting, boring labour.

Here, even though 80% of my allotment is in raised beds, I can water it very easily and quickly.  Furthermore, as the canopies of the squash and courgettes are so lush and thick, they are in turn providing shade for both their own roots and the roots of companion plants, such as runner beans.  Thus I have minimal moisture evaporation despite the beds being in full and intense sun for much of the day.

Even last year which was a fairly wet summer with long, cool spells, I never got such lush and impressive growth.  There is no mildew on the courgettes or squash – this is always a problem, but it’s easily remedied by just cutting off and destroying the affected leaves.  Here, so far, it just has not happened.

There has been some black fly on the broad beans, mainly I think because I had such a late sowing, the first 2 having failed due to 1) mice; and 2) snow x 2.  But here, with mains water at hand, I can blast the affected plants with a water jet which is the most effective and organic method of tackling black fly.  And in any case, the black fly has not been at all bad, perhaps because I am on hand to inspect and deal with it at least once, often twice a day so they never really get going.

Other benefits:

  • I can pick crops whenever I want, rather than collecting enough for 2 or 3 days.
  • I can attend immediately to any problems or small tasks that crop up;  all my tools are to hand and I have time.
  • Time saved is incredible.  If I had a spare half-hour there was no point going to the allotment as it took me 10 minutes to walk there.  Here, I can use even a spare 10 minutes to really good effect.
  • It is far less tiring.  I have no-dig, virtually zero weed control is needed and if it is hot, I can come inside or move to shade.  On the allotment, there was no shade, a lot of digging and constant weed-wrangling due to the open nature of the site, backing onto weed-infested fields and it having been left in such bad shape before.
  • I have a loo!  And a kettle!
  • It is possible to make a really productive and attractive site.  I always thought the allotment was attractive to be fair, once I had it in hand, but this is really beautiful.
  • I can sit in the allotment, in a comfy garden chair and have my breakfast, my coffee, a glass of wine – and just enjoy it.
  • I do not have to leave the dogs.  Rupert is now too old to go to any hostile, hot or cold places.  He has been really poorly recently and so I can just let him potter about and then put his bed in the sun or shade, depending on the day.  Right now, it is very hot and I would have been unable to leave the boys here for fear of them, and especially Roo, getting too hot or stressed.  I’d have to wait for evening or some respite care for him.
  • It is my environment and I control the use of all products.  I garden 100% organically and whilst this is not always ‘easy’, at least here, I do not have to try and do this in a mixed environment.  In fact, because I used pest control methods that mainly relied on barriers, I did not really get that much trouble but there is no doubt that if Allotment A uses chemical warfare and Allotment B does not, Allotment B may get some collateral damage as the little twats move away from the war-zone and over to my peace-camp.  Sigh.  Also, to be successfully organic, the whole environment – i.e. your own garden, or the whole allotment field, has to be organic.  If it is not, it is hard to get that long-term build up of organic benefit as the cycle is always being disrupted by the use of non-organic chemicals or methods beside you or nearby.   So for  example I had all my allotment broad beans eaten by mice this year for the first time ever and I believe this was because the ecosystem of the plot had been seriously disrupted.
  • It is peaceful.  It is so peaceful, calm and private.  There is no distracting mobile-phone chatter, no machinery or building noise.  There is a downside to this, see later, but overall, it is huge bonus and if I am honest this was one of the ‘must have’ benefits of the project before I began.
  • The level of produce is not lower, on average.  It is in some areas (broad beans, for example) but it is higher – and easier – in others such as salad crops, herbs and squash.
  • The rest of my garden – the majority of it, I mean the bits that are not allotment – are getting far more attention because I am here so much more.  Once I got my village allotment, the rest of the garden here really suffered and it became a source of anxiety and irritation.  Now, balance has been restored.

Downsides and what went wrong?

  • I have to improve the soil quality in some of the beds.  And in all cases, raise the soil levels.
  • There is clearly not much point sowing seeds for crops such as spinach or peas direct as I was able, successfully to do on the allotment.  They just do not like it.  I have no idea why. But this is easily remedied by sowing in pots and growing on.
  • I need to re-think where I site some crops.
  • I have been unable to get carrots going.  Again, I do not know why as on the allotment I did have great success, also in raised beds.  Maybe my timing and the weather.
  • Some pests were obviously imported by me along with some of the soil I moved from one side of the fence to the beds.  Mainly, probably, slug-eggs, resulting in instant death to germinating seeds as soon as the tiny slugs emerged.
  • As ever, I have over catered and there is some crowding going on.  Less will have to be more next year.
  • Raised beds are targeted by ants far more than open ground so I need constant and better ant control tactics.
  • It is a bit lonely.  I really never met all the allotment holders as my activity was almost always on weekdays, as I often work at weekends and go out on many evenings.  Plus when I was there, I was head-down-race-against-time-working-before-I-need-a-wee.  But I do miss chatting to my one-side neighbour, and the old neighbour on the other side who gave his plot up last year, though one of them has been for tea and a look round here!  But I have high levels of self-reliance and on balance, I’d rather have the peace and the huge efficiency savings I have gained.

Next:

  • The broad beans are almost over and so over the next 2 weeks, this will liberate 5 raised beds.  These will then be populated with later sowings for French beans, and I will have another go with late carrots and peas.
  • Some of the salad crops went over very fast, so I will re-sow for these too.
  • I have pricked out several squash plants that self-seeded in the compost – probably butter-nut squash as these are the only squash seeds I ever discard, we eat the others, roasted.  Anyway, this means I can continue to site them into free beds or old bath-tubs as in the images, or tyre towers, 2-high.

I have not been to the allotment for weeks.  I won’t go back now, as Mark has kindly offered to put it all to bed and save me that heart-aching (but not heart-breaking) job.  I do not miss it.  It is too joyful, busy and productive here for that.  But yet, I am so grateful that I had my allotment years.  Had I known that Florence and Will would buy a house with such a big garden and thus (completely reasonably and understandably) bow out of the allotment almost right away, I would never have gone in for it.  So it was lucky that I did not know.  I would never have learned how to grow vegetables on a big scale, and also that this is my favourite sort of gardening any time.

 

 

Allotment at Home Phase One

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

allotment lawn all done 2

The first phase of Bring the Allotment back home is almost complete.  The turf was all lifted some weeks ago and then sourcing and building the raised beds started.  I have a mix of home made wooden beds, beds made of pallet-cuffs, and some metal hexagonal shaped beds.

This is what the area looked like before we started. Allotment lawn before

I then had three trees felled – two in this area and one in the next area across the drive.

As the beds went into place, the turfs were moved from storage and placed in the bottom of several planters.  Then I was able to put down heavy duty weed suppressing lining.  I have had mixed results with this on other gravel paths.  For one thing they are not weed suppressing. For another the frayed edges can quickly make their way through the gravel and be unsightly and a nuisance.  But I think I needed some lining, mainly to stop the gravel being mashed into the earth.  So I laid a path way of lining in each area – a long and painstaking process as this is a series of odd shapes.  And each piece was turned under at all the raw edges, by hand, and then the whole of each piece was secured, including the folded edges, with home-made metal ‘staples’ which I hammered in all around.

Allotment weed membrane 1

The lining does not always reach right to the edge of the beds, but it is down in every area where I will have to walk.

I then ordered 2 tones of gravel.  Which I then delayed three times as it was first too cold, then too wet and then too snowy to work outside.  When I finally got the first 2 tons schlepped, I was still 2 tons short, so I ordered some more – and it snowed again.  Eventually, this Monday and with snow still lying about, I got the last of it down.  All that remains here is for me to fill each bed with soil and compost.  Most of the soil is being dug and barrowed from the other side of the drive.  This is also part of the work to complete the last phase of the project.  At the moment I have the two biggest beds full, and two more almost there. full

I will also need to rig netting on each raised bed to deter cats and birds.

I am very pleased with it so far.  I know it is not beautiful, but it is a highly practical space now, with twelve raised beds.  I have four more on the allotment, and three more here, so the next phase is well in hand.

Allotment lawn area part gravelled

It has been a much bigger, longer and harder task that I thought.  But this is always the way, or it is for me.

I have not even been to the allotment other than to look at the snow for about three weeks, but I will be down soon to plant out broad bean seedlings and have a tidy up.  Then, the cage will be dismantled and brought home.  I will also dig up and pot on some raspberry root-shoots and bring them home.  Finally, the raised beds there and the tyres will be emptied and brought home.

The space you see here is about 1/2 of a full allotment plot, I think but longer and thinner; and of course I have sacrificed space by having only raised beds.  But I think these are far more productive than open ground growing for everything except fruit canes, and beans.  When I have completed phase two and re-configured the old original veg plot, I will have c 1.5 of a full allotment. Perfect.

The light is good in this area, even for March.  This plot will not have the almost uninterrupted full sun that much of my allotment has; but in very hot spells that has been a mixed blessing really.  Here, the beds at the far end will get early and mid-late morning sun; and the rest will have sunlight or at least good light later in the day.  I think it will be fine.  It will also be much more sheltered and far more peaceful.  I am looking forward to planting it all up and having it literally on my doorstep.

 

Allotment at Home

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

As I get into year 3 on my allotment, I have made a decision.  I think.  You must be relieved.  Maybe (I am not promising) I will now stop mythering.

The allotment is going to move to home. The main reason I wanted an allotment was because my own little veggie garden here is in 50% deep shade from c May – October from a very large neighbouring ash tree.  This is now called Area 1. The parts that are not so affected are sometimes in shade from the house next door – the charming Whitlow – and the lightest, best parts are full of soft fruits.

Also, Florence and Will wanted a share in the allotment, but of course they instantly bought a house with a gigantic garden.  So why do I want it now?  As you know, loyal reader, I have mused long over this.  I have now almost decided that I don’t like the allotment as much as I did.  There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I cannot influence.  But my original veg garden is too small and dark.  So if I want to carry on vegetable growing on a largish scale, which I do, I must either grit my teeth and stick with the allotment, or find an alternative at home.

In other parts of this garden, the bits you never see if you come to a workshop, I have the veggie garden mentioned above, and two other potential areas for veg growing.  One of these is a long and quite narrow stretch of fairly poor quality lawn and borders right outside the back door.  This was, until a few years ago, in deep shade from two huge trees which I had to have removed due to their dangerous proximity to the house.  In the intervening years this area has recovered and with some further tree removal, I think this could be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 2.

There is also a further bit of land, bigger than the lawn, with a large open wood store at the end.  It is partly paved, partly border – empty border, as I had a big hedge grubbed out 18 months ago.  This, with the removal of the slabs and the rocks, and some levelling work could be the area where the frankly pathetically useless brassica cage would go.  This area would be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 3.

If I add all this up, it is at least as big as an allotment.  But of course, some of it is less favoured than my allotment mainly due to the shade.  If I then change the way I grow vegetables I think I can be at least as productive but with less effort.  I have learned a lot about allotmenting these past 3 years.  Such as how to grow new vegetables, how to work with barrier and other organic deterrents to have 100% organic veg (with sometimes limited success but anyway…).  And I have learned that growing veg in raised beds is an utter joy.  I only have 4 plus some tyre beds – new for this year – but this is my most successful and most enjoyable growing, really.  Yes, the squash and the courgettes and beans have thrived in open ground.  But all root crops, salad, peas, edible flowers and garlic do very much better in raised beds.  The crops that do well in the open will also do even better, I imagine, in raised beds.

So, the allotment project will continue but in 2018, it will gradually move here and 80% of it will be devoted to raised beds, with gravel paths round each one.  Even in the cage, it will be a raised bed garden.  Raised beds do not need digging, ever.  They are easy to clear, provide protection against some flying and most soil-dwelling pests. They are easy to net, and are a bit warmer than open ground all year round.  The downsides are:  you get a bit of lost space and they need watering in dry spells.  This latter is not a problem if it is at home, but it was, a bit, at the allotment.

The preparation work started at home this weekend.  We cleared Area 3 of a ton of rocks, some old path lining, the gravel and a bit of other stuff.  This was back-breaking but not as bad as digging was 3 years ago.  Next, I will take down the cage at the allotment and reconstruct it here. It will need to be smaller but it is modular.  Then we will build the prototype beds – 2 to start with and perfect this skill for as little outlay of money and effort as possible.  Then we will make the maximum number we can fit into the cage and lay slabs (recovered from the ground of Area 3) and gravel as paths.  This has to be first as I plant into the cage from May onward and still harvest into February – but after October it won’t be my allotment any more.

Step 2:  lift the turf on Area 2.  Level and populate with more beds, and gravel paths.  Step 3:  as the raised beds and tyre beds at the allotment become empty from mid-summer, deconstruct, bag the earth and bring it all back to plant seeds for late summer and autumn crops here.  Step 4:  take raspberry root cuttings at the allotment and plant them here – they are great.  Step 5:  prepare the original Area 1 for crops that really need an open position such as broad beans.  Step 6:  transplant all herbs from Area 1 to Area 2, in raised beds.  This will liberate more space in Area 1, too. I love planning, don’t you?

Here are some pics.  These show Areas 1 – 3, and also the work in progress and to date on Area 3, which began this weekend.

If I don’t like it or am too sad about the allotment, I can still keep it!  But you know, it’s just not the same there.  It is no longer a haven.  So I do not think that will happen.  It’s not as much fun, or as calming and enjoyable. I don’t enjoy going as I did before – and that is partly influenced by factors that I cannot see changing.

Onward.  I can put all my energy into Project Allotment At Home.  I don’t think I would ever have had the confidence or the planning ability – or even the very idea – to do this (if it works) if I had not had my allotment.  So as with most things in life, they lead you to things that you didn’t foresee – but they too, are good. Veg on!

New Workshop Dates for 2018

Friday, November 10th, 2017

I have added 2 new dates to the Court Cottage events – these are repeats of events that quickly filled up.  There is a repeat of Gift Knits, and this is on 22 September; and a repeat of Moons and Stars Fairisle and this is on 23 September.

I am also adding new external dates for 2018.  I will be teaching in Bovey Tracey in February and March 2018; and in Dawlish in April and October 2018 – I will add details and links nearer the time.

All my Court Cottage courses for 2018 can be viewed here.

Do come!

 

Christmas Workshops 2017: images

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Crocheted Heart Wreath with Lights, Mini Jumpers, ‘Frozen Hearts’ Picture Frames, Icicle

Heart Wreath 1

christmas 2017 icicle in bauble

christmas 2017 hearts 2

christmas 2017 montage

christmas 2017 3 jumpers

 

 

2018 Courses

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

The 2018 courses are now live here.

Next year, as trailed, we will be teaching:

  • Cables, Bobbles and Beads – for the absolute last time!  In March.
  • Slip Stitch Colour Work
  • Socks from the top down.
  • Socks from the toe up.
  • New Fairisle:  Moons and Stars, steeked or not steeked, throw or cowl.
  • Design Weekend.
  • New Moebius.
  • Professional Finishing.
  • Gift Knits.
  • Knit Camp 2018.

In 2018, as there is a late and seasonal Knit Camp, there will be no Court Cottage Christmas Workshops.  This makes me sad – but Knit Camp will be good, and I might hold a Court Cottage Christmas Knitting Party in mid-December, just to finish off what I really think will be a great year.

There is good availability for many of the date at the moment.  We would love to welcome you here.

 

 

 

All the Images for Cables, Bobbles and Beads Events, October 2017 – March 2018

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

The Cables, Bobbles and Blackberries Scarf:

The Fables:

Cables, Bobbles and Beads: the texture events

Monday, October 16th, 2017

fable peakcock 2

The next Court Cottage events are Cables, Bobbles and Beads, at the end of this month.  The final pattern samples are almost ready – one of the designs is all done, knitted in 4 optional ways and the patterns all sorted.  But the interruption of Knit Camp – lovely though it was – has slightly delayed the completion of the final offering.  However, this is now 75% done.

Here are the Fables.  This is the first pattern, and it is a fake cable – hence the  fable name.  I actually prefer this fable to a real cable, as it sits so flat and also there is no cable needle deployment. In these designs, I have added beads to the DK options, and the chunky option is not beaded, but with the addition of Kidsilk Haze, it could be.  Fable comes to you as a knit-in-the-round cowl, or a flat-knit generous scarf. The patterns are easily adaptable to other yarns and other sizes.

Next is Cables, Bobbles and Blackberries.  This features real cables, big bobbles and also a smaller bobbly texture using blackberry stitch.  Further textural variance is achieved by knitting the cable ends of the scarf in chunky wool, turning the cable on its side, and picking up the rest of the scarf in aran wool.  This design also features a new teach here – Kitchener stitch.  This is a widely dreaded grafting technique but I can assure you that, rather like Kitchener’s exact opposite, Steeking, there is nothing to fear.  It is simply a process, all the steps of which are very simple. There is no need to memorise the steps as I have written them down, so there is nothing to worry about.  Also, we will be practicing this.

I am teaching this a lot – at the end of this month and again into 2018.  All the courses are fully booked except the last one, on 4 March 2018, which has one place.  You can view and book that here.  I probably won’t teach it again here so if you fancy it, do come along.

Here is Fable as a wide beaded scarf:

 

2018 Courses

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The events for 2018 are now all decided and in the diary and I will add them to the website in October.  If you are on my mailing list, you will automatically get an alert as they go live.  If you want an alert and you’re not on my list, please contact me.

The schedule goes like this:

  • New. Moons and Stars:  a new Fairisle course with the option to knit a Moons and Stars blanket (steeked) or a Moons and Stars cowl (not steeked). Learning to steek, if you have not tried this yet, is a built-in option for the workshop.
  • New. Socks:  two events, one for toe-up socks and one for top-down socks.  Learn all the elements of sock construction for either or both.  They will run back-to-back.  If you want to do both and plan to stay locally overnight on the Saturday (email me for some suggestions), I will be in the Puriton Inn on the Saturday evening if you want to have supper with me.  If not, I probably won’t bother!
  • New. Slip-Stitch Colour Work:  a great alternative to Fairisle, intarsia or brioche.  Only one colour is worked at a time, rows and rounds are worked only once, and it is easy yet effective.  There will be two designs, one knit flat, one in the round.
  • New. Design Weekend.  Design weekend is back with a new design brief.  This is a two day event, back to back.  If you want to come to the event and plan to stay locally overnight on the Saturday (email me for some suggestions), I will be in the Puriton Inn on the Saturday evening if you want to have supper with me.  If not, I probably won’t bother!
  • New Moebius.  There will be a new Moebius design knit in two yarn weights.  I will also take bookings from those new to Moebius knitting and we will split the class.
  • Gift Knits.  New festive gift knit ideas.
  • Christmas at Court Cottage.

In the meantime, here is one of the designs for Cables, Bobbles and Beads.  This is Fable (a beaded fake cable) knit as a luxurious wide scarf, and as a beaded neat cowl/neck warmer.  This will also be knit in a chunky yarn, not beaded.  And there will be a further design with real cables and bobbles. I am teaching this on four dates in 2017 and 2018 and the classes are all full except for the one on 4 March, 2018 which has one place.

 

 

Winter is Coming…

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Zig Zag scarf 4

Without wishing the summer away, I have completed the design and knitting (almost) for the Christmas Gifts events in September.  These are the days that kick off the autumn term – and I can’t wait to get back to the workshops!  Having the summer ‘off’ enables me to focus on some other designing, notably this year finishing off the last two designs for Knit Camp and the Christmas Gift events in early September.

The concept for this teach is to produce some fairly easy (but not boring), and economical accessories – so none use more than three balls of wool, and none will take an average knitter who also has a job or a busy life, more than a week of evening knitting to complete.  For example, Kathryn can knit the hat pattern in one night; I can do it in two-point-five nights.  Kathryn can knit a pair of the mittens in two evenings; I can knit a pair in four evenings.

 

Zig Zag hat mink close up

This year I have taken one stitch – a zig-zag rib that looks like a little cable, but is not – and used it in both flat and round knits.  There are hats – womans (beaded) and mans; a split scarf; and a pair of mitts with a beaded peplum detail. I am really happy with the finished items and I will definitely be making some myself as gifts this Christmas.

Zig Zag hats collection

I love this concept, because for one thing it frees up the Christmas at Court Cottage events and allows me to just focus on festive decorations.  Also, mid-late November is possibly too late for you to make a few hats, scarves or mitts.  But early September is plenty of time.

The courses are both full but I have three names on a waiting list so if you are interested, let me know – we may be able to set up an extra date.

Zig Zag hats male edge

Another knit that would make a great gift-knit is my Brioche in the round cowl, which I am teaching again in Devon at Spin-a-Yarn (fully booked but I am trying to fit in an extra date or two) and also on 4 November, at the Totnes  ‘Stitchfest’ – more details on this will follow soon. I can accept up to twelve bookings for the Totnes gig, so contact the organisers if you fancy a place.  This is the same event that I taught here, but slightly abbreviated.

In the meantime, here is the split scarf for the September events, which I love and it makes me feel all Judy Garland in ‘Meet Me in St Louis’.

Zig Zag scarf 3

 

Allotment Up-Date: should I stay or should I go now?

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

I am well into year two of Project Allotment. This year has been much better than last in many ways.  First, almost no digging. Second, I have learned a lot and it shows in terms of how I plan things and how well they turn out.  Third, I have just about managed to keep the brassica cage free of cabbage white fly with the use of diatomaceous earth.  This is an organic dusting powder.  It is a faff to apply it and it isn’t 100% successful but it has made a big difference.  Last year, by now, the cage was infested, but this year they are just beginning to be obvious – so I have re-applied the DE.

I have maintained an organic approach – no pellets, no poison.  I do lose a bit of stuff here and there but I think it is worth it.

There have been failures.  The potatoes were poor.  Not worth the effort.  The carrots were also poor in terms of germination.  And I planted the squash way too close together so it is very crowded.

On the other hand, the kale and cabbage are 90% better, and I have had (and am continuing to have) amazing bean crops, good courgettes and interesting and delicious new squash types.

So, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to tell you, dear reader, that I am thinking of giving the plot up.  Not in October 2017, probably, which is renewal time.  But maybe at some point in the following year.  I have not decided for definite but I have it in my mind.  There are pros and cons.  As I am powered by lists, here is my pros/cons for giving up the allotment list:

Pros:

  • I find it incredibly time hungry, as it is very labour intensive and in spring and summer I do go to the plot at least 3 times a week, often more.
  • It is not inconvenient as it is only 1/2 mile away but that is an issue when pushing a loaded wheel barrow, or riding an over-loaded bike.
  • It is basically still trying to be a pasture field and so despite the efforts of the previous plot holder before he gave up a year or so before I got it, and mine, if you turn your back for more than 3 days, the bind-weed and other invasive, pernicious weeds just move back in and bring all their mates.
  • Someone has taken some of my Japanese squash – which are big and heavy, and some of the black French beans. These are not things birds could or would take.  That was upsetting. It won’t be anyone on the allotments or our local badgers who do steal fruit and sweetcorn.  But the field is not secure at all so I guess it is inevitable, sometimes. Jo has also had fruit taken and last year someone had his brassica cage vandalised.
  • It has really set off my always lurking OCD nerve. I can’t just cut the grass, for example.  I have to cut the grass and then edge the whole plot and then pick up all the clippings and then hoe it neat – this is just the edges.  I wish I could be more relaxed but I can’t.  So, it’s a bit obsessive. Obsessions are, basically, my one weakness.
  • I am very allergic to a lot and an increasing number of things and many of these are down the allotment.  I am bitten by all the insects despite my spraying myself with jungle strength insect repellent, and I react very badly to these bites, both at the site of the sting or bite and also all over. I am allergic to soil on my bare skin, so I have to garden in gloves – but I am also allergic to most gloves so I have to line the gloves with cotton gloves, soaked in E45.  Despite this, my hands are in an awful state.  (I think I am also becoming allergic to some animal fibres but anyway…). My new allergy is to the plants themselves especially courgettes and squash leaves, raspberry leaves and runner bean leaves.  Spiders bite me whenever I go into the cage even if I wear long sleeves and trousers, and then I get blisters.  To be honest, it is just miserable to be so allergic to my allotment.  The garden can, of course, set off reactions but rarely so extreme.
  • The garden is suffering neglect.
  • I worry about it if I have to miss a few days and kind of dread the return to what I know will be a lot of hard effort.
  • I am often very tired.
  • I have learned a lot and some of this could be translated into my garden here.

Cons:

  • I actually love my allotment and I am very proud of it. I know I would miss it terribly. It is often a place of great happiness and peace for me.
  • After all that work (and this is not a response I am proud of) I can’t bear someone else to just walk onto the plot and take it on.  Is the answer to let it go to pot for a few months and then quit, I hear you murmur?  Frankly that thought is unworthy of you and I am disappointed, I shall pretend you didn’t suggest it.
  • I have invested in some equipment but mainly the cage which I think I can bring home.
  • Related, I have a plan (very provisional) to turn part of my garden here into a mini-allotment. It is at the thinking stage only but I do believe it may have merit.  There will be a lot of work associated with this initially and some cost, but still, it would be a realistic alternative.
  • We love the food I grow.  I have not thrown money at my allotment and not really bought much at all, so it really is a thrift project for me which has given us so much produce that you just can’t buy anyway.
  • I might be able to go down to a half-plot. But you see, the OCD nerve would kick in then, if the partner plot-holder left his/her plot (joined onto my MY plot) in a state.
  • I am not a sociable person in any way but I have slowly and quietly made some very nice ‘acquaintances’ down there. But on the whole it is just me there and I like that.
  • Whilst it is very hard work, it is really away from it all as there is no internet coverage and very poor phone signal. So, audio books are marvellous for allotmenting.

What do you think I ought to do? Give it up, or keep it?  You are wise, advise me.

 

Macmillan Afternoon Knit Club, 15 June and 23 November

Monday, June 5th, 2017

These dates could do with a few more knitters.  Based on the current bookings, everyone will have to eat 3 slices of cake and a plate of savouries – and that’s just not fair, even by my feeding standards.

All the fees (£15 a head) will be donated by me to Macmillan Cancer Support.

So it would be awesome (overdone phrase, but in this case, justified) if you could see your way to coming along.  They start at 2, and finish at 5.  You can come/go at any time around these points.

It is just a knitting session, with afternoon tea served basically all the time.  I am making a couple of cakes and some sarnies and if you want to bring something to add to the tea table, that would be marvelous but not by no means compulsory.  Just bring your knitting and crochet.

Here is the link, where either date can be booked.

Please come. Thankyouplease.

The Allotment in Year 2

Friday, May 26th, 2017

I am so glad I kept the allotment on.  Year 1 – The Year Of The Great Dig – was good, but very hard.  Year 2 is proving to be far nicer.

This is day one, 18 months ago:

Allotment Day 1 1 Allotment Day 1 2

The lessons I learned from the first 12 months have stood me in good stead.  Mainly, this is about recognition and hopefully control of pests, and knowing what to plant that will probably do well and we will enjoy.  And when to plant/sow of course.  These images are from this year, about 3 weeks ago – the plants are further on now and the spaces have almost all been filled up:

allotment beans mid may 2017 Allotment cage mesh and beans allotment top - with new planter Allotment early May 2018 1

I had a lengthy and boring debate with myself and anyone who would listen about netting for the brassica cage.  Yes, you read that right.  Mere mortals can only gaze in wonder at my utterly fascinating rock and roll life style, I know.  If I am not debating super-fine mesh netting, I am probably Googling ‘ways to kills twatting pests on my allotment, only organic and preferably not too horrid, please and thanks’.

Anyway, to replace the netting that the cage kit came with would have cost upwards of £250 – maybe £300.  As Mark was heard to murmur, we could buy brussels and cabbages in That Waitrose for several years and still have change…I agree.  It contradicts all the ‘rules’ (mainly self imposed, it is true) that I have applied to being an allotmenteer.  The main rule is that it ought to be economically viable.  But the old netting is not fine, and it admits little aphids and pests, chiefly cabbage white fly.  The cage was infested with these little sods in 2016.  I didn’t know what they were so by the time I got around to trying some incredibly ineffective organic control, it was too late. I am trying to be organic.  But sometimes I do wonder if I might as well sit in the cage and chant/clash finger cymbals/light incense. It can’t be less effective than fatty acids and nematodes have been…

This year, I am combating them and any other insect pests, with my new organic weapon, Diatomaceous Earth (DE).  This is a powder, slightly coarser than talcum powder and off-white. It is ground up fossils.  River fossils to be exact.  You sprinkle this onto the plants/earth/critters and the tiny but deadly razor-like structure of the powder particles damages the exoskeletons of the insects if it touches them. Then they die.  So I think that if I see any of them, I will sprinkle them directly and as a precaution, I am lightly dusting the plants and the earth in the cage, and also the potato towers – for I am having another go at growing potatoes in tyre-towers, despite the miserable failure in 2016. I think that if I break the cycle of the cabbage white fly, I may prevail.

DE is organic and harmless to humans though you are advised not to inhale it or get in in your eyes.  If it rains, you have to re-apply it, and if there is any on your crops when you harvest them, you just give them a good wash.  But you have to beware getting it into your eyes or breathing it in.  So I have to wear a surgical mask and my cycling glasses in order to apply it.  If anything could further single me out as a bit of a weirdo, it will be this. One problem is that as soon as I put on the mask thing, the glasses completely fog up so I have nudge them off my nose slightly.  I try to do it when there is no one else about…anyway, I will let you know how this goes!

Old crops from 2017 that I am repeating are:

  • Broad beans
  • Garlic (2016 fail)
  • Potatoes in towers (2016 fail)
  • Runner and French beans
  • Pea shoots
  • Carrots
  • Raspberries – absolutely thriving this year!
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries – to be frank I have the sulkiest, meanest strawberries I have ever seen and this is their last chance. I have taken runners from last year so these are Year 1 plants.  2018 is your cut-off year, guys, put out some of the good stuff or you’re compost.
  • Courgettes
  • Japanese squash
  • Kale*
  • Brussels*
  • Chard*

*All victims to a greater or lesser extent of the Great Twat-Off Festival of 2016.

So I have ruthlessly cut out Kohl Rabi, broccoli and purple sprouting.  All pointless.

New for 2017:

  • Giant Red Mustard leaves
  • A red curly kale called Scarlett
  • Red cabbage
  • Summer cabbage
  • Various different squash

Here is the red mustard.  It needs a lot of space, it is far bigger than a lettuce crop:

allotment red mustard

 

This is good picked small and eaten as a salad leaf – not that mustardy, less spicy than wild rocket. It is also nice wilted like spinach when the leaves are much bigger.  I cut out most of the stem and then chop the leaves into slices, and wilt it with butter and salt and garlic.  I love it.  The people for whom I have cooked this are less impressed.

Here are the early 2017 harvests of pea shoots and mustard:

allotment pea shoots and red mustard

 

 

 

 

 

Workshops in 2018 – again!

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Well, we had a fabulous weekend of teaching here.  Two new groups of nascent Steekers have now been released into the wild, and they all did amazingly well.  What I love about people who latch on to new skills like this is the open-mindedness that they come with.  It is so refreshing and I do thank all the students in 2016 and this year who have embraced this.  I think they will agree that, broken down into logical stages, steeking is not frightening, but rather the gateway to even more enjoyable and yes, even more ambitious and beautiful knitting.

We have now taught this Bee Design Steeking class 7 times and still I love it each time we do it.  However, that has now drawn to a close and I am looking ahead to the new designs for 2017 and into 2018.

I now have a pretty focused but still draft plan for 2018’s events.  I am not going to blog these in detail now.  But if you want to hear about them as they evolve, please contact me and I will add you to my email alert list.  That, rather than the blog, will be the forum where I will pre-announce or at least ramble on a bit.  Once it is all set up, I will pop it on here.

Of course, 2017 is far from over.  In the next 5 weeks we have 3 further days here which is the conclusion of the busiest Spring Term ever at Court Cottage. There will have been 13 events since late February.  There are 7 in the Autumn Term and I won’t be adding any as far as I know, although the Lined Fairisle Cowl event has sold out and been very popular so we’d be happy to re-run that – if you fancy it, let me know.  I have 3 names on a waiting list so if there are a few more I will have a go-er!  We could do it in early 2018 or in November 2017.  It’s a lovely, easy-going Fairisle knit with an option to line the cowl in plain silk stocking stitch.  No steeking, no homework, just lovely fast Fairisle.

Brioche Cowls

Friday, May 19th, 2017

I have two events in June on Brioche Cowls.  This is Brioche knitted in two colours, in the round.  It is stage two of our 2017 Brioche events.  You do not need to have attended the earlier Brioche course to come to this one. In fact, knitting Brioche in the round is rather simpler than when knitted flat, but of course, it is knitted in the round which is not something everyone is comfortable with.  However, it is possible to knit these (in fact, it is preferable) on a single circular needle, either 40cm or 60cm long, depending on how wide you want the cowl to be.

In the round, Brioche is a simple two round process and with no ‘ends’ as you have with flat Brioche, there is no sliding, turning or edge stitch business.

Brioche is a stitch that will reward your efforts.  And by effort, we are not talking about the feats of Hercules.  No, this is rather more tame than that. It really requires you to open your mind and leave some old knitting habits behind, just for a while.

As with any new skill, it can take a while to assimilate the unusual – or rather, new – technique but none of it is at all difficult as it is of course only knitting, purling, slipping stitches and moving your yarn back or forth.  And you can do all these things already.  Brioche is just a stitch that re-arranges the order somewhat.

I have designed three cowls.  One is chunky and it is knitted in a luxurious silk wool yarn; I chose a soft grey and a sweet, subdued yellow.  This uses one hank of each.  Another is colourwashed and is in Kidsilk Haze plus a DK wool – I used Felted Tweed.  Finally, an aran Brioche cowl for which I used grey and navy blue.

The classes are limited to 6 participants only.  There is 1 place available on each of the two days – the 24th of June and the 25th of June.  Use the links if you fancy having a go at this rather lovely new skill, and whipping up a Brioche cowl in double quick time.

Brioche Cowl In the round - aran

grey and yellow silk Brioche cowl

Brioche Cowl Colourwashed

 

Workshop Planning

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Brioche Knitting:  The Marmite of the knitting workshop except that I think about 50% of people hate Marmite whereas only about 3% of people gag on Brioche (knitting). It has been very interesting teaching this recently, and we have taught it quite a lot. And I have been reflecting on what it has taught me.

Personally I love Brioche, partly because it is pleasing to look at and to wear.  Partly because it is different.  And partly because it is soothingly rhythmical, assuming you enjoy that rhythm of course.  Here is some of the Brioche in the round cowls for the next batch of workshops – easy and so elegant:

Happily many participants, like me, enjoy Marmite – but I do understand that some prefer jam.  For example.  I suppose the key thing for me is that it is a new challenge.  However, while most people do like the end result and a majority enjoy getting there, it is not for everyone and I began to think of knitting categories which are not for me.

I hate knitting intarsia for example. I admire it, often and in the hands of designers such as Donna Jones, it is very beautiful and a long way from the deadly picture jumper with which it is often (sometimes unfairly) associated.  But I can knit it.  I even knitted a whole intarsia blanket, once.  I hated the knitting of it and I will never fall in love, I just know it. I am also glad I gave it a more than fair crack.  A single bed sized blanket is a good effort, isn’t it?  Many years ago I basically taught myself to do it from a book.  I cracked it, job done, move on.

Socks are another area that I do not love. I like them more than intarsia (but then, I like going to the dentist more than that).  I just get so bored.

Very Hard Lace.  That’s a mystery to me.  I love lace.  But the monastic silence type of lace is just awful.

Finishing off.  I like doing this.  I hate teaching it and I won’t ever teach it again.  When I worked as a free-lancer for Rowan – and in those days, you were basically working solely for Rowan but self-employed – we had to offer a range of workshops to retailers and you signed up for the ones you could/would teach and they picked from that menu.  I taught finishing off for years.  This workshop is great and really, everyone ought to go on one or at least learn about how important tension is and how to mattress stitch.  But not here, with me.  It was the deadliest teaching day ever.  It is good for you – but not very enjoyable.  Frankly, that’s what yoga and sorting out the freezer are for.

My workshops are planned months ahead.  This begins about 9 months ahead of the next year with a theoretical discussion with Kathryn, and formerly with Millington, about what we think is possible, would be do-able, might be fun.  It also draws upon the experience of the current or last programme.  Because I think of it as a programme.  Otherwise it might end up being all about Kidsilk Haze, knitted in the round and beaded. It needs to offer a range of things:  new skills, new ideas, some ‘foundation’ skills, new designs, new concepts – and they all need to be translated into real, live projects because whilst I am a big fan of swatching, as you may know, I also know that a workshop based only on swatches is unleavened, unseasoned and far from satisfying for both the student and the teacher.  In the old days, my approach of almost always having a workshop that was based on new techniques (or old ones) but was layered into a real, live project was quite unusual.  I plan to continue with this approach, though for my sake, it needs modifying.

Some decisions have been made already and others are forming into fairly firm objectives. These are, in order of importance:

  • There will be fewer events in 2018; associated, partly, with fewer projects.  This is my key decision I suppose.  I plan to teach no more than five topics or new projects for 2018, with only one or two days for each. I don’t suddenly have a bigger room, as if by magic.  No, it will still be small and intimate.  There will just be less. I hear it’s the new more.
  • Some renewed emphasis on design – from the participants.  I think I will re-introduce one design-based teach, similar to the Design Weekends. Your vision, encouraged, facilitated and enabled by us.
  • One, maybe two, ‘back-to-basics’ topics.  This will depend largely on if I like teaching it, to be honest.  So crochet which I am frankly awful at, and finishing off are out.
  • A new colour-work topic.  No, intarsia, we have established that it won’t be you haven’t we? Put your hand down.
  • New pastures in new places.  Where this will take me and Kathryn…well, as yet we are not sure, but they are on our horizon. You are welcome to come with us.

One thing I have loved teaching, designing and knitting in the last three years is Fairisle.  My own take on this, from colour-washing small accessories through to the huge monochrome beaded Fairisle cowl for Elements and culminating in the Bee Blanket and Cushion, which included steeking, has been a joy from beginning to end.  I am not a traditional Fairisle designer although I am fervently traditional when it comes to the use of more than two colours in one row – that is beyond the pale.  Fairisle is my great knitting love.  I see more of it in my future, and it won’t be all zig-zags and diamonds, great as they are as a starting point…

If you have any feedback, suggestions for topics or techniques – or just a tale to tell, do comment or contact me.

New Recipes

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

Here are a some new recipes for things I have been serving at workshops.

Short Bread Biscuits

New in my repertoire.  I like short bread but I hate making it with my actual hands.  Sure, my hands are going to get involved at some stage but with this recipe, that is only at the end. These look, if I say so myself, pretty good, almost like the ones in M&S or that Waitrose.  I imagine.  This is because I have some lovely flower shaped biscuit cutters from Lakeland (All Hail) that make them perfect. This makes about 50 biscuits.  That is too many for one go, even for 10 at a workshop, but listen, this is not a recipe that even I, with incredibly high levels of tolerance for cooking, want to make often, and you can roll out, cut and freeze the biscuits you do not need and defrost and bake them later!  Genius.

  • 500g of salted butter (Yes.  Five. Hundred)
  • 750g of a mix of white, plain flour and cornflour. I use about 200g of cornflour
  • 250g of white sugar – normal or castor

Cut up the butter into small bits and place in a big mixing bowl.  Add the sugar.  Let this get all warm by the oven or somewhere but not too melty. Don’t miss out this stage and use cold butter. You’ll thank me later.

Arm yourself with a hand-held cake mixing device (you may have a kitchen aid, and if so, good for you, get it in there, instead, but I don’t.  I only have my hands, some wooden spoons and my hand-held mixing device).  Get the mixer into the butter/sugar mixture and say goodbye to about 10 – 15 minutes of your life in which you can’t hear the radio or anything over the row made by the mixer.  Keep on mixing.  Ignore it when it clumps up and starts to get all mashed into the round bits of the mixer – ignore it until the butter/sugar paste begins to travel up the beaters towards you.  Then stop and get it all back in the effing bowl, and off you go again.

Just carry on until the clumping sort of gets less bad and it’s all pale.  Have a drink of water and limber up for Round 2 – the flour round.  Add the flour  – which you must sieve – into the bowl of clumpy stuff, in doses.  I had about 6 goes.  Each time you add a few spoons of flour, prepare for a cloud of flour to rise from the bowl and settle almost everywhere when you first re-introduce the beater.  This process is quite tiresome and the dough will vacillate between buttery crumbs that may fly at you/all over the kitchen in general, and even more clumpy dough than before.  Also, the quantity of flour will seem ridiculously huge and you will say (maybe just in your head, or if you are like me, out loud):  there is no way this bastar&ing flour is all going to amalgamate with that butter/sugar axis of doom.  But, it will.  You just have to keep on and have faith.

I did this until all the flour was in and stopped once I thought that my hand and arm might be about 2 minutes short of permanent vibration damage. I then floured the dough a bit more, and my hands, and the surface and did some fairly firm kneading.  Tip it all onto the surface and just have a good old mix with your hands. You need a lot more flour.  Now at this stage, I realised I wasn’t going to cope with it all so I cut it in half and tackled it half at a time. It goes smooth when you roll it, but also a bit cracked at the edges – as I was too, by now – but if you roll it out and ignore the very edges, you can cut perfect shapes.  I cut mine about 7mm deep.  That sounds nerdy.  Fair enough, I am a nerd, but the thing is, you need this incredibly dense dough to cook without really colouring, for once it goes brown-ish, it is in fact slightly burnt, and you can taste that, so don’t cut them too thick.

What I love is that as there is literally no raising agent at all, they do not melt into a nasty cookie-lake as my attempts at biscuits so often do.  They just stay exactly like the shape you started with.

I then freeze the cut out raw biscuits in a Tupperware between layers of baking paper.  These can be defrosted for an hour or so and then baked, at a moderate heat (I used the Aga baking oven, so I guess that is about gas mark 4) for no longer than 17 minutes.  My Aga is hot in places so I often had to get them out and turn the tray.  Once they are done – slightly coloured, so subtle – and a bit cooked-looking, get ’em out and sprinkle the hot biscuits with a little bit of castor sugar.  They may feel a bit soft.  It’s OK, they will crisp up as soon as they cool down.  Once they are cool enough to handle, cool them on a rack.

They are absolutely yummy. My advice is to make 100s and freeze them so you only have to go through this every now and then, but it is so worth while.  Lily said they looked shop bought but she didn’t see the flour-drenched kitchen on the day I made them.  I think small ones, served with chocolate mousse or lemon posset would be lovely.

Roasted Ratatouille

No Picture, sorry.  This serves 10, so scale down. I *think* it will freeze well, but have not tried that.  I make it 24 hours ahead.  I think it is better that way.  The pre-roasting is the key part.

  • 6 large red peppers
  • 4 large yellow peppers
  • 4 red onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 jars/cartons of really good quality passata
  • (optional, I leave this out for workshops) 1 – 2 de-seeded finely chopped red chillies
  • 4 large courgettes
  • 1 butternut squash
  • Rape seed oil and butter
  • salt and pepper

First, cut the peppers in half, remove the core/seeds and place in a big roasting tin.  Roast in a hot oven, or under the grill.  If you are grilling, first get them tender and then turn the grill up to char the skins.  If roasting, just blast them for about 30 – 40 mins, turning as they will fill with liquid.  Once they are done, and while they are piping hot, put them all in a large food bag and seal it up. Leave it to go cold.

Wash but do not peel the butternut squash.  De-seed it and cut the flesh including the skin into small cubes c 1 cm-ish.  Pop these in a non-stick frying pan with some oil and  butter.  Roast them/saute them until they begin to caramel and are cooked through.

Do the same with the courgettes but slightly bigger chunks and do not let them go soft.  More heat, less time.

Do the same with the red onion, which I slice long-ways like at the fair when they serve onions with hot-dogs.

Take the peppers out of the bag and try and peel the skin off each bit of pepper.  This is something I have mixed success with so I don’t stress too much if I miss bits.  Chuck the skins away.  Cut the remaining pepper into strips or chunks.

Peel and crush the garlic so it’s finely minced.  Heat some oil in a big, deep pan and add the garlic and the chilli if using that.  Then add all the pre-roasted/saute-ed veggies, and give it a bit of a stir so the oil gets on it.  Add the tomatoes and the passata.  Get it to a simmer – watch it ‘cos it spits hot lava like a ratatouille volcano.  Do not let this boil or simmer for long, the veg is all cooked really and it will start to disintegrate if you over-cook it now.

I serve this with masses of grated cheddar to stir in.  I also serve it with the next recipe…

Chilli Peas

This is invented by me, based shamelessly on the Macho Peas served in my beloved Nando’s.  Nando’s is the best place to eat.  Evah.  I wanted to re-create my favourite side dish and I am delighted with my version.

This serves 10, so as ever, scale. Downwards, probably. I am sure it will freeze OK but I never have.  For workshops, I make it 24 hours ahead and gently re-heat it for an hour before serving.

  • One-and-a-half packs (the big ones, not sure how much they weigh) of frozen petit-pois
  • 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, still with the paper skin on (this will be pre-boiled so will be much milder than usual)
  • A fair bit of rape seed oil AND very good quality olive oil
  • A big handful of fresh, finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of hot chilli flakes (I usually use one rounded for this amount.  Be careful if you are not sure.  I use hot flakes which are very fiery so less is wise if you don’t like too much heat)
  • Salt and pepper

Put the garlic cloves in the water you intend to cook the peas in.  So when I make this, that is quite a lot of water.  Get it to the boil and then simmer with the garlic cloves in there for about 5 minutes. Now your kitchen and indeed the entire house/street smell of garlic.  You’re welcome.  Add the frozen peas.  Get it back to the boil.  Boil the peas for 3 – 4 minutes.  I add 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda as it begins to boil as this keeps the peas greener.  Up to you.  Once tender, drain and rinse with warm water.  Let them continue to drain. Fish about for the garlic and slip off the papery skin. Roughly chop the garlic which will be tender and much less garlic-y now you have boiled it. Put the garlic and half the peas back in the big pan.

Put some rape seed oil – I add a big BIG slug of oil here – in a small pan, and add the chilli flakes.  Let them gently sizzle but not really fry or colour. Remove from the heat and pour onto the peas/garlic.  Mix it all up then with a potato masher, smash the pea/oil/garlic mixture so it’s quite squished. Add the finely chopped mint and stir it in.  Add the whole peas that you didn’t smash.  Add a surprisingly large amount of olive oil, you need it to be a bit oily, not swimming but you should see a slick of oil, even a little side-puddle.  Season well with salt and pepper.  The salt is important.  You can gently re-heat this now in the pan and serve, or let it go cold, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.  I serve it warm, not scorching.  I think room temp would also be fine.  This is delicious with chicken. Obvs. And it is also lovely with the rat (above) mixed into the rat is even better, topped with masses of strong cheese of your choice. It is also lovely with a gurt big roasted goats cheese round (one each, please) plus chutney.  I also eat these peas with steak, salmon (the best combo after chicken), quiche and roast dinners.

Potato Cakes

These are simple and delicious.  I serve them warm and buttered as a non-sweet alternative before workshops with morning coffee but they are also great with eggs and bacon.

This makes enough for three workshops – so about 60 – 70 cakes.  I freeze the raw dough in batches for up to 1 month.

  • 3 lbs of potatoes – old, floury ones are best
  • 1 lb of plain white flour
  • About 6 oz of butter plus extra for frying and buttering
  • Milk
  • Rape seed oil
  • Salt and pepper

Peel and boil the potatoes – they need to be very tender.  Drain and mash them with the butter and a generous dash of milk.  Now you need this to be not sloppy but not really stiff and no lumps, needs to be smooth and fine.  Maybe more runny than if you were serving mash as you have flour to add yet.  Season well.   Let this go cool, almost cold.  Add the flour and work it in really well.   I guess at this stage you could add fresh or dried herbs, maybe chives. If you need more flour to make an elastic dough, go for it.  Tip it out onto a floured surface and give it a good seeing to.  Chill the dough. You can freeze it now if you want in food bags.

Roll it out to about 1.5 cm thick.  Cut out shapes – I used the scone cutter.  It won’t really stay in shape, it’s too elastic so it’s also OK just to cut it into squares or triangles if you prefer, that is what my mum always did.  In a non-stick frying pan, melt some butter with a bit of oil and gently fry the cakes.  The potato is cooked but the flour is raw so it needs to be allowed to cook properly, not too fast or it will taste raw and glue-y.  You want them golden brown.  I set them in a dish to keep warm in the oven as I fry the next batch and so on.  I then lightly butter them and serve hot or warm in a covered dish.

Note about freezing the dough:  this works well in food bags but the dough comes out very sticky once de-frosted so you have to add more flour and knead it all again.  After that it’s fine.

Cheese and Herb Scones

I serve these warm, buttered. They are also good as an accompaniment to soup instead of bread or balanced and baked on top of a stew as a cobbler-topping.

This makes about 24 which is enough for 2 workshops.  I mix up my metric and imperial, sorry.  (Not sorry).

  • 1.5 lbs of white self-raising flour
  • 250g of butter, cold (Note:  as you are also adding fat in the cheese, you can reduce this by 25 – 50g but I don’t)
  • about 6 – 8 oz of strong cheddar, grated plus a bit extra to top the scones (or other cheese in small chunks such as Stilton or goat cheese but I never serve these at workshops as a lot of people don’t like that sort of cheese which is sad as I love them)
  • 3 eggs and some milk
  • A big handful of finely chopped fresh chives (optional but delicious)
  • A small handful of very finely snipped fresh rosemary or thyme
  • Some rosemary or other edible flowers if available to top each scone

Add the chopped butter, cold, to the sifted flour and make a fine crumb by rubbing it in for an improbably long time – try and keep your hands mainly out – finger tips only – so it does not get hot.  Stir in the herbs and cheese.  Beat the eggs and the milk.  How much milk?  This is a ‘feel’ thing.  It needs to be spongy and moist, not stiff and not wet.  You also need some egg/milk mixture to paint the scones so either make some more with another egg or keep a drop back.

Amalgamate this – light touch, no pounding and tip out onto a well floured surface.  Firmly but gently, knead this but not for long.  Roll out to about 3.5cm high or a bit higher.  Cut the scones out with a well-floured cutter and place on a papered tray.  Paint with the egg/milk.  Pop some grated cheese on each one and then a sprig of rosemary flower or chive flowers or thyme.  Bake for about 20 minutes gas mark 4 or 5 or Aga baking oven.

The baked scones freeze brilliantly. I have never frozen the raw scones, but I think they’d be OK. I make this many before each group of workshops if I fancy serving them and they do 2 events. I only freeze them for a maximum of 2 weeks though.

The plain scones I serve are the same except I obviously omit the cheese and instead add about 3 oz of white sugar instead of cheese and herbs. I just paint them and add no topping. I make them a wee bit taller as I usually want these for cream-teas. That is very little sugar.  But it is plenty.

 

 

The Cowl is Done!

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The Felted Tweed Fairisle Cowl is now complete and it’s a beauty.

FI Cowl greys 1

There are also Kidsilk Haze and silk-lined versions of this fully reversible neat neck cowl. I have designed it to be fairly snug so there is minimal gappage at the neck but it is very easily sized up.  The ‘lining’ is in fact a mirror image of the other side but it is basically knitted in one piece, in the round and there is no sewing up.

FI Cowl greys 5

There is one place left on the Fairisle Cowl workshops and this is for the 3rd of June – you can see the event and book it here.

Several people have expressed an interest in the event, but cannot make the dates so if you would like to go on an event to make this, please let me know and maybe we can organise another date.