Week fifteen: sourdough and split ends

I am not a natural chef. There are things I do well: banana bread, for example, a foolproof chocolate cake, and according to the Horde I make a very passable chilli. There are things I do very badly: scones and pastry, and Anzac biscuits. I quite literally cannot produce a consistent boiled egg, let alone an edible one. It’s not that long ago that Thing 3 responded to the smoke alarm by running off to his daddy shouting, ‘Dinner’s ready’. When my beloved installed an extractor over the cooker I tried telling the children that dinner couldn’t be burned, as the alarm hadn’t gone off: Thing 2 looked at me, looked at her admittedly charcoal-toned dinner and said, ‘You cheated, mummy, you turned the thing on.’ Thing 1, memorably, peered at the grill pan once while I was making fish fingers and said, ‘Haven’t you burned them yet, mummy?’ This, at the age of about four.

I used to envy those classmates who did Home Economics at school. Note for young people: this is now called Food Technology, and comes under the DT syllabus. Back in the olden days it was a whole separate subject.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes… my classmates that did Home Ec. They got to go off down to the art block at lunchtime to do arcane things like ‘feeding their Christmas cake’. I, on the other hand, got one out of ten for fruit salad (really, don’t ask). When I took my bread and butter pudding home – quite proudly, I will admit, as it wasn’t burned – and handed it to my mother she said, ‘how lovely, let’s put it in the freezer and we’ll have it another day,’ and it was never seen again. Luckily for my parents, we only did a half term of Home Ec every year.

My London sister, on the other hand, is a talented and brilliant person in the kitchen and whips up clever things. When lockdown began, she had recently been made redundant and she decided to try making a sourdough starter. Christened George, we had daily updates on his progress and she began to turn out beautiful loaves of bread. A whole new vocabulary comes with sourdough: words like levain, and discard, and bannetton (a proving basket, I think).

For my birthday. she arrived bearing a pack of N’duja* (the good stuff, I am told) and a jar containing a little bit of George. I have christened it Kevin. An email followed with instructions on what to do with Kevin to make him earn his keep, and photos illustrating the joy of sourdough.

Now, despite the fact that she’s my little sister and tormented me for many years by doing things like telling new boyfriends that I lived next door when they came to pick me up, singing selections from Annie through the letterbox at me, or locking herself in the bathroom with the notes from a lovelorn swain (that I had torn up) and reading them out very loudly, I do trust her when it comes to cooking.

So, on Monday I broke Kevin out of the little pot and began my first sourdough loaf. Kevin Junior (the levain) didn’t bubble properly or grow to twice his size, just produced a few halfhearted holes and he didn’t grow much on the first rise. The second rise was more successful, and apart from the fact that I didn’t brave the slash before baking and the ‘dark’ crust was more charcoal than expected, the loaf tasted delicious. I made bread!

The next day she remembered to tell me that I should be using hand-hot water to make the levain and to feed Kevin, so last night (I’m writing this bit on Thursday as I was inspired!) I started my second loaf. Warm water is definitely the way to go – Kevin Junior doubled in size, and the overnight rise was very successful. I was out walking at 6am this morning and started the second rise when I got back – he’s currently shaped and supported by tea towels in the conservatory. I’m hoping not to burn this one…..

Kevin Senior is in a Kilner jar (minus the seal) in the fridge – I am now a slave to the sourdough. Kevin’s bitch. Oh dear. (*the N’duja remains unopened. One thing at a time, people.)

Update: yesterday I made sourdough pancakes from the discard (thumbs up from the Horde), and discovered that ham and Emmental sourdough toasties are the food of the gods. Next mission: pizza.

My other experiment this week was home made peshwari naan bread, British Indian Restaurant style – and it was AMAZING. The kids prefer peshwari to plain naan, and they don’t sell it in the little Co-op in the village. I used this recipe from The Curry Guy and though it took longer than I expected it was SO worth it. They tasted just like the ones from our local restaurant, and I could leave one plain for Thing 3 who doesn’t like sultanas. We’ll be making those again!

That was the week…

…that I also got completely fed up with my split ends. My hair is (or was) longer than it has been in about ten years. It’s the best part of six months since my last haircut, and my poor tresses have been treated to several home dye kits since then. I decided to take a leaf out of the kids’ book and watch a YouTube video on how to cut your own hair. My hair is pretty straightforward apart from being a bit unruly/wavy/curly: I have a heavy fringe as I’d still like to be Chrissie Hynde when I grow up (minus the veganism), and layers as that helps the curl behave. I watched this one by Liz Liz and this one by Marianellyy Diaz – much the same content, but the first one shows you how to layer round the face and the second how to take out the V-shape at the back. I think it was quite successful – I cut my fringe in carefully using the same technique. The colour is a very faded Schwarzkopf Live colour in Amethyst Chrome – supposed to be permanent but I find they fade quite quickly on my hair.

Layers! Post-straightening.

I got more practice in on the technique afterwards, as Thing 2 decided to cut her own fringe (luckily quite long, but a bit too wide) and I had to do a repair job to turn it into a layered cut for her as well. Thing 1 got an undercut, courtesy of her dad and his clippers, under her short bob (by me the other week). She now wants to have her whole head cropped, and to go to fashion school – she is equally excited by both things, and I have promised that this week I’ll start teaching her to sew (I knew she should have chosen Textiles at GCSE). She has been researching courses and summer schools already!

On the subject of sewing, I finished the green and yellow quilt that I laid out last week, as both the backing fabric and the binding arrived. I prewashed the backing fabric and I am very glad I did, as it lost lots of the lemon yellow dye. Putting it in with a light wash was a bad idea but – honestly – who doesn’t need lemon yellow pyjamas and running socks?

I had an idea that rather than quilting in the ditch between the squares, I’d use a button on every corner as I had some pretty wooden ones in the button tin, but when I tried it the effect wasn’t quite what I was hoping for so I snipped them off and went back to the machine (the Singer I wrote about last week). I was looking for a puffy effect, but because I was using 2oz wadding rather than the 4oz I used last time it didn’t work. I may try again with more wadding at some point! Fortunately I made the choice to change back after only eight buttons went on.


I have learned from the last two quilts, where the fabric bunched up during the quilting stage, to stitch my lines outwards from the middle and to make sure the fabric is flat as I sew. This time round I stitched outwards from the centre point to form a cross dividing the quilt into quarters, then worked through each quarter from the centre towards the edges. I did the horizontal lines first and then the vertical, and the bunching is much less in evidence. I also increased my stitch length slightly to accommodate the wadding, and that seems to have resolved the tension issue I experienced with the red quilt. The binding isn’t quite straight, but I think the sage green works well with the yellows and greens and picks up some of the florals nicely.

The next one will be blue – I have picked up a couple of charm packs from Amazon and some Kona solids in different blues from Ebay, and the plan is to make a larger one that might actually cover a bed! My bed, for preference…

No cross stitch update this week as I have been mainly crocheting. Late last year I was asked by a D&D playing friend to create a set of ‘voodoo’-style dolls of their RPG group – they were on a story arc in New Orleans, and he wanted some props. One of the group contacted me last week to ask if I could make dolls of him and his girlfriend, so they have been on the hook this week. I have been using the Weebee doll pattern by Laura Tegg on Ravelry (my user name is LadybirdK over there) as it’s super-simple, there’s some really cute outfits that can be adapted easily and – this is important! – there’s permission to sell the finished dolls. Here’s the first of the pair, awaiting hair and clothes. He liked the button eye aesthetic that the game dolls had, so we have stuck with that, and has requested that I make the doll look ‘witchy’. I love these commissions, they are such fun to make!

Doll 1

The rather dramatic header image this week was taken on my regular Sunday walk – this week we followed one of the Millennium walks through the flood meadow nature reserve to the local church and then back through the fields. The local farmers have planted a lot of borage this year, and the fields are the most heavenly blue colour that my phone camera completely fails to do justice to. A bit of Googling told us that borage is also known as starflower, is a source of Omega-6 fatty acid and is good in salads. It’s safe from pigeons and slugs, too.

The boxes in the second image are bee hives, and the field next to the flood meadow is covered in them – local honey must be on the way! There was a lot of industrious buzzing, I know that much.

So that was week 15! The pubs reopened yesterday (I didn’t go, but the noise last night suggests that some people made the most of it!). I made my monthly trip to Tesco on Tuesday and still can’t get any soy sauce but home baking goods are back on the shelves which made me happy.

See you on the other side of week 16!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels (I’m up to #12 now – only 8 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars/Poseidon’s Gold (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week thirteen: in answer to a question

Yesterday a museum colleague and friend of mine asked on Facebook:

“What to think when people I know have not supported the movement of black lives matter. Maybe they don’t want the backlash from friends maybe they disagree. I dunno! Maybe those people could respond as to Why?”

It’s a good question, and my first response was ‘Maybe they are afraid of getting it wrong’, and after a bit more thinking “I think we’re going to get things wrong, but to recognise that is a starting point to work from: ok, I am wrong, but I’m open to being put right.” So, I may get the next few paragraphs wrong, but I hope they are a start.

From 2005 to 2017 I ran the schools programme at the Museum of London Docklands: I was there when the London Sugar and Slavery gallery was opened, and a couple of weeks ago I was really pleased to see the statue of Robert Milligan removed from the quayside outside. It’s worth noting that the statue doesn’t belong to the museum (no one is quite sure who it does belong to, but possibly British Waterways who are the landowners) but we drew attention to him as part of visits to the museum, particularly for secondary school groups, as he led the consortium that built the West India Docks. Those docks – and the museum building, No 1 Warehouse, which was originally one of nine warehouses stretching the better part of a mile – were built on the profits from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to house the valuable products of that trade, and to ensure that the supply of those products into London was entirely controlled by a small minority of men who saw the way that public feeling was leaning and built a giant walled lock-up, which opened in 1802, to ensure their own pockets were lined long after the trade (if not slavery itself) was banned in 1807. Like a reformed smoker, the British then took it upon themselves to enforce the ban across the world, despite being the nation who industrialised the Transatlantic Slave Trade. London was the fourth largest slave trading port in the world – not one where enslaved Africans were bought and sold, but one from where ships departed on the first leg of the triangle and returned to after the third, supplying the capital with sugar, rum, indigo, and more.

It’s right that we should remember this horrific period in world history – to ensure that, like the Holocaust, it never happens again, but it needs to be taught in context – bear with me before you fly off the wall here. I’m coming at this from my position as a museum educator (and perpetual learner), as a migration educator, and as an adoptive Londoner.

Every September, my phone lines would light up with teachers from all over London and Essex (including from schools and boroughs with high levels of African and Caribbean pupils – Hackney, for example) who started their conversations with the same words: “It’s Black History Month in October, what have you got on slavery?” Because – obviously – Black History begins with John Hawkins in 1562 and ends in 1833 with the abolition of slavery in parts of the British Empire through the good works of William Wilberforce and co. These teachers would tell me that they were playing field songs and spirituals in assemblies and over the tannoy, how they’d reenacted a slave market and so on, or that they were looking at the abolition through the works of Clarkson, Wilberforce and friends. Right there, right there, you can see why Black children are disillusioned – when the only part of your history you’re taught is of violence and subjugation, and that your freedom came only through the work of white people, what else do you expect? And these requests were coming from teachers of Year 2 (6 and 7 year olds) upwards. The indoctrination started early, so we focused on stories of escape from enslavement (Ellen Craft) for KS2. There were no positive role models offered by these school schemes of work, no celebration of Black culture – only the history of enslavement.

So, we became part of the Understanding Slavery Initiative, with a number of other institutions around the UK, to explore how the Transatlantic Slave Trade could be taught with sensitivity and as part of a much wider history – from the pre-TAST Africa to the legacy of the trade. Sadly, this project was an early victim of the 2008 recession and lost funding, but you can find the website and resources here. With this is mind, we built a day aimed at Year 9 which had three parts – a drama which set the whole day in context by exploring the life of a grandfather who had migrated to London in the 1950s through his interactions with his teenage grandson; a sensitively-delivered handling session using replica objects (from beautiful Benin bronze plaques to sugarcane and manacles); and a responsive creative writing session using poems by the wonderful Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison as a starting point who was kind enough to give us permission to use her work. These are poems of resistance, of how African culture survived the Atlantic crossing (never the middle passage – that’s a white perspective) and sustained people through horrific experiences. The day was informed by work with the wonderful Jean Campbell, who gave us perspective. Students would also have time in the London Sugar and Slavery gallery, with resources designed to make them think and talk to each other rather than read labels and parrot information.

I developed a shorter session, called Slavery: London and beyond, which looked at London’s role in the trade and the legacy of that trade – including the Maroons, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the role enslaved Africans played in gaining their own freedom, as well as Windrush and how all these things related to children’s own lives in London today. And we offered these sessions all year – and they booked. And the next year people would phone to book again and say ‘Well, we want to come back but could you not mention rape/brutality/death please? It upset the children’. I can’t imagine that these same teachers phone the IWM for a Holocaust education session and ask them not to mention gas chambers. We’d make a note, and we’d carry on as normal. None of my amazing freelance educators were prepared to whitewash history to make it acceptable.

Things became worse after the publication of the 2014 history curriculum and its narrow framework. Although the examples given in italics were ‘non-statutory’, we knew that many teachers would take these as ‘official’ guidelines. Mary Seacole, admirable and determined as she was, is not the only Black person to have an impact on British history. She was also mixed-race, and her experience as a Black person in London was by no means typical.

I became involved with the London Curriculum project and put forward the idea of a unit on migration called World City – an expanded version of the London Home from Home session I developed for schools, exploring how London came to be the superdiverse city it is today through 2000 years of migration. As a result of this, I ended up working with the History Lessons steering group for the Runnymede Trust exploration into how migration was being taught, alongside such experts as David Olusoga. The Runnymede Trust are a wonderful race equality resource, by the way, with some excellent teaching materials.

I also had conversations with Tony T and Rebecca Goldstone of Sweet Patootee, who are doing brilliant work in uncovering and sharing stories of Black history. All these activities and the people I have met have fed into my thinking about Black Lives. They matter – oh, so much – and I believe passionately that if their stories were built into education (across the world, but starting here in the UK), as part of world history and citizenship then we would be moving towards more understanding in the generations coming up behind us. I want to see Black History Month abolished: it’s tokenism at its very worst. I want to see the legacy of the diaspora spread across the curriculum: rock and roll, blues, ska, fashion, food, art. I want ALL kids to see that Black history is our history too.

I am prepared to be told I am wrong: I want to open conversations, to understand people’s experiences. I want this to be more than a hashtag somewhere on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. I’m going to share this with my friend who started the conversation yesterday now: I hope she knows how much I do support the movement, even from a position where I can never truly understand. I am prepared to try, though.

And now for something completely different…

I finished the puffin dress, and I’m quite pleased with it – it’s been a while since I have made anything quite this smart, and several years since I have felt the need to fully line anything, so this was a good project for brushing up my skills. Regulars will recall that I made the bodice last week, using the burrito method to enclose most of the seams so this week was all about the skirt.

I started with the skirt lining, and I knew that I didn’t want to add too much bulk to the waistline by gathering it, but equally I didn’t want to lose fullness through the rest of the skirt so I pleated it. I bought these pens a couple of weeks ago and they have been worth every penny – I was able to mark pleats quickly, do some quick working out on the fabric and then the markings just disappeared when I ironed them. There was a LOT of pleating to be done – 20 inches on the skirt front alone had to be taken out, and then the pleats had to be stitched down to keep them flat. I also shortened the lining by 3 inches so it wouldn’t show. The lining is plain cream polycotton fabric.

I used the pocket template from the Sew Over It Tulip skirt to add inseam pockets to the skirt outer, gathered it and finally tacked the lining to the outer before stitching it to the bodice and overlocking the seams together. I found a cotton zip in a mixed lot I’d bought a few weeks ago from EBay which was the exact colour of the stripes (a happy coincidence as I didn’t have a white one!) and although it’s not as invisible as I’d like it to be I like the finished look. Finally, I sewed the centre back seams on the skirt and lining separately, and used a pink bias binding to finish the hem. You can see Lucy my dressmaking dummy modelling the finished dress below. She’s also wearing a fluffy petticoat as that’s how I’ll be wearing the dress – my beloved was at work so I didn’t get to model the dress myself for photos!

Flushed with my success from binding the skirt, I finally finished my red quilt from earlier in lockdown – a wider purple shop-bought binding this time. Perhaps making my own needs to be my next challenge. I have the equipment so there’s no excuse except laziness.

Thing 2 has been busy this week too – she decided she’d like to make some drawstring pouches from the leftovers from her shaggy pants. She made the template herself and I helped her with the buttonholes for the ribbon. I really like them and might make some for myself! She’s also worked really hard on a painting to give to her dad for Father’s Day, focusing for hours on getting it perfect.

Thing 2’s drawstring bags

I felt productive on Thursday and made cinnamon buns (a success) and Anzac biscuits (er, not a success). Last time I made the recipe they fell apart into crumbs, this time they formed an amorphous lump which the family just hacked chunks off. Ah well.

Cinnammmmmon buns

That’s pretty much it from me – I’ve been doing a lot of cross stitching in the afternoons and finished the fourth panel of the Seraut pattern; I tried week 4 day 1 of the C25k and promptly injured my other ankle, and have had a lot of siestas! Thing 1 has been having a bit of a wobble – she was diagnosed with anxiety in primary school and occasionally it flares up. I have been so proud of her through this period, but this week she has really missed her friends. Last night she had a virtual sleepover with some of her cronies, using the HouseParty app, and she seems a bit better this morning.

I’ll leave you with some pics of the garden and some fluffy pollinators in action! See you at the end of week 14…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky

Venus in Copper/The Iron Hand of Mars (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twelve: Ready? Run!

Those of you who have poured yourselves into inappropriate lycra and staggered through the Couch to 5k programme will recognise ‘Ready? Run!’ as that moment when your ‘brisk warm-up walk’ turns into the thrice-weekly torture of discovering just how long three minutes can be. I did the programme way back in 2011, after Thing 3 arrived, and by 2015 I had run a half marathon. And then my knees went on strike so I focused on walking, but (here my secondary school PE mistresses and my long-suffering Brown Owl will probably die laughing) I actually missed running. This, from the person whose youngest sister’s name in the register was met by the comment ‘oh god, not another one’ from the aforementioned PE mistresses. Yes, I missed it. I missed hurling myself out of bed at ludicrous hours of the morning: in the week running along the Thames or the Regents Canal, and on weekends through the forests and fields here. I missed the half hour or more of solitude, listening to music and living in my own little world. I even missed running in the rain.

So, way back at the start of lockdown I decided I’d strap my knees up and start the C25K programme again – weeks 1 – 3 went well, and at the start of week 4 my knees were fine but my ankle was not. Stupidly, instead of stopping and walking I decided to try and run through it, and then spent the next month hobbling.

This week, I felt confident enough to try running again. I dropped back to week 2 to start with, but on my first day out I caught up (literally!) with a friend and his daughter and joined in with their week 3. I found it quite easy so skipped back up to week 3 for the rest of the week, and will pick up week 4 tomorrow. My 5-minute cool down walk takes me back through the flood meadow, which has really felt the benefit of the rain in recent weeks. and the grasses have shot up.

Trees are starting to fruit as well, and evidence of conkers and helicopters to come are peeking through the leaves.

On alternate days I’ve been out walking with a friend, with 6am starts as she’s still working. We have been taking some different routes this week and today we discovered an almost buried ‘mushroom’ pillbox – North Weald Airfield, one of the key Battle of Britain airfields, is over the road so there’s a few about the village, but I hadn’t seen this one before. It looks in pretty good condition apart from being very overgrown, possibly as it can’t be accessed by the local kids. My beloved – who grew up here – tells me they used to play in it as children, as well as in old underground buildings on the airfield itself. There are rumours of tunnels that extend towards the old officers’ mess, now an emergency housing site.

The result of all this early morning exercise has been a lot of afternoon naps – I’m now referring to them as ‘siestas’ as that seems to legitimise them!

All this exercise has to do something towards burning off all the calories from home baking! This week has been a week for old favourites – oat and raisin cookies, which have to be made in double batches as they disappear so quickly; American-style pancakes to be eaten with garden strawberries and ice cream; and banana bread.

Pancakes and banana bread always get made on the same day, as once you’ve used 200ml of buttermilk in your pancakes there’s just enough left for this recipe. The pancakes are usually a Sunday treat, so I make two loaves of banana bread – one for home and one for work, as our traditional Monday morning all-staff meetings are always improved by cake.

I use this recipe by John Barrowman – but add either a bag of bashed-up Maltesers, or chocolate buttons/chips. The BEST thing is a bag of mini Rolos. A colleague once said, ‘what sort of deviant adds Maltesers to banana bread?’…. and then he tasted it. Trust me on this, dear readers. I felt quite sad that we had to eat both loaves ourselves this week, but we managed.

This week’s makes…

I mentioned last week that I had cut out the pieces for a Beachcomber dress and a Hot Coffee hoodie, both by MBJM, so they were my first makes.

I wanted to add the front pockets to the Beachcomber dress but didn’t want to do the colour blocked option as I couldn’t face matching stripes, so had to play around with the pattern pieces to see how they’d work and if the pockets would pull the dress out of shape. Luckily they didn’t. After the fact I realised I could have made the colour blocked style and just turned the side panels through 90 degrees as well as the pockets, which would have been easier!

The jersey-blend fabric was quite lightweight and my feed dogs kept trying to eat it unless I babied it through the start of seams, and the twin-needle topstitching would have Patrick and Esme in tears. I ended up overlocking the cuffs, hem and neckline as I just couldn’t face hemming them – but it’s wearable, super comfortable and it has pockets!

The Hot Coffee hoodie was much easier. I used loopback sweatshirting fabric which I picked up quite cheaply on EBay, with a black kangaroo pocket and a black bottom cuff. I chose the self-lined hood option, and added the ‘Thumbs Up’ cuff hack. I sized up as I like my hoodies loose, and I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. There’s a dress-length option, patch pocket option, and you can either make a cowl neck, a hoodie or a plain round neck – and the pattern is unisex. The kids’ version is called the ‘Hot Chocolate’ so you can kit out the family.

There was even enough fabric left to make a pair of Four Seasons capri-length joggers as well (I won’t be wearing them together!).

Once these were out of the way I decided it was time to start on the Butterick B6318 dress. The pattern is part of their Retro range, from 1961, and I’ve had it in the stash forever. I bought a Julian Charles puffin bedset in their sale, and it’s quite thin fabric so I knew I’d have to line it. I chose to use the striped fabric for the bodice and contrast on the sash and the puffin fabric for the shirt and main sash pieces.

It’s a while since I have made anything that needed a full lining, and I wasn’t sure if I remembered how – but luckily my cousin was having trouble with a facing and sent me photos of her instructions so I used those! I forgot to put the sash pieces on before sewing up the sides, so they aren’t as tidy as they could be, but it’s looking good. The skirt pieces need a lot of gathering, so I will have to pleat the lining to avoid adding bulk, but this has been a good exercise in taking things slowly and making a piece in stages. My task for this week will be constructing the skirt, and I am going to add a bound hem as they look so neat. I have ordered a cerise bias binding, as there wasn’t quite enough fabric left to make my own (though the striped would have looked awesome!) so there will be more flashes of colour.

The cross stitch is also coming on well. I love seeing the shapes of the people emerge like ghosts as I fill in the background!

Garden wildlife

Last week’s baby blue tits and great tits have been joined by a baby blackbird who potters round the lawn for ages. The neighbours have sparrows’ nests in their eaves, so the feeders are pretty busy. And last night the cats were getting quite aerated about something they could see through the bars of the babygate, and it turned out to be a tiny mouse tempted by leftover garlic bread.

And that’s it from me for week twelve! I am off now to nurse my mosquito bites, gained yesterday through my leggings while on a bike ride with Thing 2, her best friend and her mum. Coffee in the park in Epping – it was almost like being normal again! Usually I don’t react badly to mozzy bites, but this year I have had the most horrendous reactions – right now my left wrist and right leg are swollen and painful, and not even Piriton is helping. Ouch!

See you on the flip side of Week 13!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

I finished Jilly Cooper!

Carlotta Carlyle novels – Linda Barnes (I blame early exposure to Nancy Drew for my fondness for girl detectives)

Lanterns and Lances – James Thurber

Audible: Shadows in Bronze/Venus in Copper – Lindsey Davis