Saturday, 29 March 2014

Carrot dip and hangover

I was hosting the Long Ashton clothes swap last night. Good excuse for a REALLY thorough tidy up - so thorough that I stirred up enough dust to make 2 guests sniff and cough all evening (I even got the Piriton out for them but the "Avoid Alcohol" note on the bottle made us reluctantly put it back). 10 ladies with enormous bags of clothes they didn't want. We usually have 2 trying-on sessions: one early on where we pick some great outfits and hold them back for ourselves, then the later one, after more wine, where anything seems possible and the pirate shirt feels like an edgy new look with a respectful nod towards Vivienne Westwood - until you try it on the next day and husband says "Ah hargh me hearties". This time there was a cable-knit waistcoat with leather buckle fastenings and suede shoulder patches that seemed perfect until someone very wisely said "Going shooting?" and I took it off. This time the advantage of being host means that I can this morning go through the gargantuan pile of leftover clothes with a more critical eye before jettisoning the lot to the charity shop.

Awake half the night with an evil headache behind my left eye, clinging to the bed in terror after a dream that rainwater had been gradually been dripping down the chimney and making the bedroom floor slowly damper and damper until it finally and suddenly disintegrated, dragging my wardrobe through a gaping hole into the living room downstairs and threatening to take the bed the same way. Do I need to get that analysed?

Great night had by all, if the kitchen floor strewn with crisps, pistachio shells and corks is anything to go by. And I have several people asking for my recipe for a middle-eastern carrot dip. To be honest I wouldn't have made it but I wanted to test it out before a North Somerset Arts get-together on Tuesday. It went really quickly to plenty of "ooh's" and did go very well with some cheese, sweetcorn and chilli muffins so both will be reappearing next week. I wanted the dip to taste like one I had at the wonderful Soukitchen in Bedminster and it wasn't far off once I interfered with the recipe a bit. Sorry I haven't any photos to show you but a) the food's all gone and b) I haven't had my whizzy new camera yet.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Dip (loosely based on a recipe I found online from a New Zealand magazine called Cuisine)

400g carrots (I had 3 very long ones)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
A good glug of olive oil, probably 2 tablespoonfuls or so
1 dessertspoon tahini - not too much or it makes everything bitter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 a small clove of garlic
1 dessertspoon agave syrup or maple syrup, or even honey - probably should be pomegranate molasses to be authentic but I didn't have any
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 5 or 190c. Peel the carrots and slice them, then put them in an ovenproof dish with the olive oil and cumin seeds, season, mix them so that they are covered in the oil and then cover with either a lid or some foil. Bake them until they are soft - mine took around 35 minutes. When they are cooked and still hot, chop the garlic up very finely and then put everything (include the juices from the baking dish as well as the carrots) into a food processor and whiz until completely pureed. I had to add a little water to get a properly dippy consistency. Taste and season - it needs to be properly tasty (read salty!) to officially be a dip rather than something resembling baby food. Cool and chill for a couple of hours to let those flavours mingle and do their magic.

Chilli, Cheese and Sweetcorn Muffins (reproduced without shame from The Hummingbird Bakery's Cake Days)

5g (1/4oz) butter
60g (2oz) onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
300g (10oz) plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (I have doubled their amount)
250ml (9fl oz) milk
2 large eggs
85g (3oz) butter, melted
100g (3 1/2 oz) mature Cheddar, grated
60g (2oz) tinned sweetcorn
1 teaspoon red chilli paste (I just chopped up a chilli very finely until it looked like a teaspoonful)

This recipe is originally for 12 big muffins, in a deep muffin tin. I've made them like this but yesterday's experiment was halving the recipe for 24 mini canape-sized ones. The big ones go really well with some carrot and coriander soup.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 or 170c and line the tin with muffin cases if you are using them. Melt the 5g of butter in a small pan and gently fry the onion and herbs until soft. set aside.
Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a bowl - the book says "sift" but life feels too short for that to me. Add the milk and the eggs and whisk together, then add the melted butter, and mix again until you have a smooth mixture.
Tip in most of the cheese, the onions, chilli and sweetcorn and mix again. Spoon it into the muffin cases, then top with the remaining cheese. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden and springy. My mini ones took just 15 minutes. Cool impatiently on a wire rack. Or eat them while they are warm, up to you!

Monday, 24 March 2014

No felt, bad photos

I haven't posted for a while. Not because I haven't had anything to say but because I've come to believe that you need a good photo or two to make a decent blog, and I have been so mortified by my own photos on here since my recent encounter with professional photography that I didn't want to sink any lower. Today though - although my photography hasn't got any better - I feel able to face you again, simply because a) I have impetuously enrolled on a "Use your DSLR Camera" course to start at the end of April, every Thursday for three hours, despite not having one, and because b) said DSLR camera is on the way as husband has offered to get me one for my birthday. I have even made it a little present of its own:-

So already just by positive thinking, things must be improving. Watch this space, things will get better, I promise. I have a small but optimistic vision that if my photos get better, people will be more impressed by my art and I might be able to start up an Etsy shop. With bad photos, nothing will ever sell online.

I haven't done any felting for ages but I have been doing more quilting (would have done a lot more if I hadn't got sidetracked into camera investigation), and I have made a small and messy entrance into the world of dying and batik. I bought some white fabric, and ended up with these:-

I am quite pleased. I followed the wonderful Malka Dubrawsky's instructions from Color Your Cloth (and yes the camera strap pattern came from her too, I love that woman) and once I had amassed all the odd pieces of equipment (pans out of a skip, electric frying pan, jugs, washing up bowls, salt, vinegar, bleach etc etc etc) it took a few days of chemistry, hot wax, and cold wax shards all over the kitchen and threatening to clog up the washing machine. Shall I do it again? Yes probably. If you had asked me last week, I would probably have said no, as the effort of the tidying and cleaning from each stage was overwhelming, but as the memory fades and the fabric pleases me more and more, I can see more uses for it. And it is a very satisfying process. These two pieces are destined to become a dress (imagine the joy if someone says "I like your dress" and you can explain that not only did you make it, but that you dyed and patterned the fabric yourself too; you could be consumed with your own smugness). I have a vision of a tiered skirt with three different colours and patterns next. Sigh. So many things to make, so little time. I must stop typing and finish the quilt.

Felting has been causing me some heartache recently but I am coming to terms with the fact that I just can't get myself to do any. I've been talking to various people - artists, friends, shiatsu lady and anyone else who will listen and give an opinion - and have come to the conclusion that sometimes IT IS OK TO NOT DO WHAT I AM "MEANT" TO BE DOING. I will be back but for now it is fabric that is floating my boat and I feel more sure of myself. I will be back to felting soon but right now other things are pushing me on...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Happy ending

I said to someone earlier this week that without a personal story, a quilt is worth nothing. And the quilt in question (yes the one in the beautiful pictures that I didn't take, not that I'm bitter) now has more of a story than it did before. In terms of stories, I think it's already had more than its fair share. Already to have grown from leftover scraps, to obsess its maker to the point of distraction and then to have a roller-coaster of a trip on eBay for charity (not to mention a little journey to be shown off at the village market, which sparked off a panic that it had been stolen), it all sounds quite enough in the short little life of this quilt, doesn't it? But no, there's more...

It turns out that someone did fall completely in love with it. Someone who would never have had the money to outbid anyone on eBay for it. Someone who I don't know all that well but I believe she would help anyone out in any way if they needed it and if she could. The someone who was grief-stricken that it might have been stolen when it went on its trip to market. And someone who started a course of chemotherapy for lung cancer just yesterday. 

Now I don't know very much, but I do know that our house is enriched by the quilts, hand made for each child, that we have draped on our sofa. I have one over my knees as I'm typing now (well I am soon to turn 46: a friend's husband was quoted as saying at the weekend, "@$%king hell, we're hanging out with people who are nearly 50!" ). I can't tell you how proud I am that when the children feel ill, they head straight for a quilt to curl up under and a hand-made patchwork cushion to lay under their heads. I've often thought of my quilts as a permanent version of a hug, and it's definitely true that when we, as a family, wrap ourselves in one, life just does feel better.

Of course it would be preposterous to claim any medical benefits that might come from owning a quilt, but what could possibly be better? A permanent hug, just when she feels she needs it. And, I hope, one for her husband when he needs it too as he goes on this wayward journey with her.

I've taken it off eBay. 

I was hoping to raise a fair bit of money for the PTA with this quilt. I woke this morning thinking I'd be gutted if I didn't get £200 for it. I was missing the point. I have been idly wondering in the last few days if there is some way I could make a living out of making quilts; at the moment it is all that I want to do. Again, I have been missing the point. Quilts are not about money. They are about love and care. They are a hug.

As a final glimpse of the Tree of Life quilt, I think it's a fine opportunity for a small smiling sun...