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.

Buttons.

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 ten: lazy days

So here we are at the end of week ten, and we’ve survived half term. Actually, it’s been lovely: the weather continues to be glorious, and we have taken advantage of the slight easing of lockdown rules to go on a couple of socially distanced walks with a neighbour and her daughters. Her twin girls fall between Things 2 and 3, and in normal circumstances at this time of year the kids would be in and out of each others’ houses all day making up dance routines (or TikTok-ing, this year), splashing in the pools and bouncing on trampolines. It’s been lovely seeing them back together while we grown ups put the world to rights. The best fun was when we walked through the woods to a brilliant rope swing where we spent a good hour jumping off over a stream bed before following the meanders back to the path home.

Following the path through the woods

Rope swings have been a bit of a feature of our exercise this week – we also visited one in Gernon Bushes, near Coopersale, which has been there for years and which someone has kindly fixed a seat to this year! The first time I went on it I faceplanted spectacularly as I forgot to let go….

This route took us through what’s known locally as the rhododendron path – it borders the Gaynes Park estate, and while they did a lot of clearance last year they have left this beautiful section on the way to the motorway bridge. The bushes are several metres high in places, and dense with flowers as you can see. We brought a cutting home at the children’s request to see if we can grow one for the garden.

Things 1 – 3 on the rhododendron path

As I type this morning I am recovering from my long walk of the week – solo today, and covering 8.5 miles. I was hoping for 10, but it was getting hot and I was getting hungry so I took the quick way home instead of retracing my steps! I picked up the Essex Way on the edge of the woods and then followed that to the outskirts of Ongar, past St Andrew’s at Greensted – the oldest wooden church in the world, and very pretty. I love this route as it follows the green lanes with very little road in this stretch. I hope to walk the whole of the Essex Way to celebrate my significant birthday in a couple of years – I have covered the stretch from Epping to Willingale while training for the Shine Marathon last year, and would love to do the rest over a few weekends.

The devil is in the detail…

This week’s making has been very small scale, unlike my walks! Apart from a bit of crochet in the queue for the chemist and the Co-op (the virus shawl has become my queuing project!) and whipping up a couple more pairs of MBJM Four Seasons shorts from some remnants of jersey and stretch denim, it’s all been about the cross stitch.

Four Seasons shorts – so comfortable!

Thing 3 and I tried some cyanotype printing with some garden plants, with moderate success – we enjoyed watching the paper change colour and developing the prints in water. I think we need to find an acrylic sheet to hold the plants down flat while they develop so we don’t lose definition in the middle.

Cyanotype printing

Thing 2 and I have been baking – this week we made soft pretzels, cinnamon rolls and Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcakes with coffee icing from the Cake Days book. All very unhealthy but so delicious. Baking is Thing 2’s happy activity – she does love to cook, and with 16kg of flour to get through it’s nice to have alternatives to bread. We used cinnamon sugar on the pretzels instead of salt, I recommend this as a great breakfast. I also insisted on raisins in my cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon rolls

And here’s my cross stitch update – there’s still a few gaps in this section, but it’s almost finished. The cross stitching technique, with its capacity for detailed colour changes, really captures the pointillist style of Seurat’s painting – looks better from a distance!

Centre top panel of Sunday Afternoon on the Island

What’s growing this week?

The garden is lovely – the roses are heavenly, and while out walking the blasts of elderflower and honeysuckle are blissful. The garden is full of bees (especially when my beloved discovered a bumble bee nest under a raised bed) and they are loving the lupins, lavender, cotoneaster and the mass of foxgloves that have seeded this year. I spent some time yesterday cutting back periwinkle and mahonia to give my hollyhocks a chance for some sun, and cutting hawthorn shoots away from my physalis plants which have self-seeded beautifully so I should have a good show of ‘lanterns’ this year. Strawberries are ripening every day, and its so decadent to be able to pick and eat them warm from the sun – the raspberry canes are blossoming too, so with any luck we’ll get a good crop. Home grown lettuces have been the basis of this week’s salads, and I think we’ll have fresh peas with dinner tonight.

Honeysuckle in the garden winding round a dead buddleia tree

The hedgerows and fields are producing new flowers as well – I spotted my first bindweed of the year on my walk this morning, some beautiful escaped sweet peas, mallow and grass vetch.

One of the most lovely flowers this week has been the poppy – the Oriental one in the garden is still in bud, but the fields are splashed with red and this rubble pile at the local farm is covered with them. I love the way they almost glow in the early morning sun. You’ll also spot the farm cat and – not a flower – a fledgling magpie who let me take a photo of him before he flew off. Unlike the green woodpecker, who squawked indignantly at me and flew off across the field!

That’s it from me for the week – I’m posting early today so I can sit in the sunshine this afternoon! Term starts back tomorrow, much to the Horde’s disgust, although Thing 1 now only has to do GCSE subjects and Things 2 and 3 are on a four day week.

I’ll leave you with an image of a baby blue tit we found on the ground while out walking – no, I didn’t bring this baby home with me! Feeding a baby mouse with milk is one thing, but I draw the line at smooshing up worms. He was a noisy little chap, shouting away at us and demanding food – I made Thing 2 put him back as close to the nest as we could.

Hungry baby blue tit

Hope your week was as good as mine! One of my favourite moments was a comment about last week’s post that said reading it was like taking a holiday in someone else’s life. Thanks Olivia! Olivia is one of the museum world’s treasures, with her wonderful stories, so this was high praise indeed.

See you at the end of week 11…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Still on Jilly Cooper, sorry… the doings of Rupert Campbell-Black and co are much more interesting than the current omnishambles of real life.

Week five: school, sewing and sunshine

I’ve often described my working life as like a rollercoaster we get on every Monday and get flung off every Friday, exhilarated but exhausted – like Diego the sabre-tooth tiger in Ice Age after he comes down the ice slide. I’m upgrading that to the waltzers, I think – you think you’re moving fast and then someone comes and spins you in the opposite direction entirely. All you can do is hang on… that’s what Monday was like! A morning of catching up with a week’s worth of emails, followed by a frantic team meeting and then three hours of preparing to lock down for the next couple of months. Furlough means we are forbidden to do any work for the museum at all, so we had to make the most of Monday!

All this while trying to convince the Horde that it really was the start of term and it was time to get back to routine. (They all got dressed, so I counted the day as a win….) Anyway, I – along with most of the museum – am now furloughed for the next couple of months unless the situation changes rapidly (anything is possible these days) and the relief this news brought was huge. I have written before about the stress of trying to be’work me’ and ‘mum me’ at the same time, when it feels as if I am failing at both, so this means I can try and get one right at least.

Time to slow down and enjoy time at home – bluebells on a local lane

So, it’s back to SPAG and fractions (I’m sure there was more to maths than fractions!), story writing using some strange acronyms (DADWAVERS, anyone?) and Hitler’s Germany which is Thing 1’s history topic. We’ll stick to the format we were using before Easter, as that gives us time for creativity in the afternoon.

Doesn’t furlough mean more making time, too?

It does! It’s been a productive week, too, with a bit of upcycling, a bit of fixing, a bit of making and a bit of crochet.

In the mornings while I have been working with the children, I have been repairing the hexies in a lovely crochet blanket – I made it, and used the magic ring to start all the hexies but all of them have started to come undone. I used this very helpful tutorial to fix them, and will go back to the chain method to start these things in future.

Thing 1 requested a wrap skirt, as she had seen one on Instagram – rather than buy one, I knew I had a few wrap patterns. She chose New Look 6456 in style D, and I had some lovely polycotton with daisies and dots on. It was pretty straightforward to make up, and now I have a happy daughter.

Thing 2 – who usually flatly refuses to wear hand-me-downs – will NOT give up on a stripy dress which my sister bought for Thing 1 when she was about 5. She’s been wearing it as a top with shorts for the last couple of years, but it’s finally got too small. So, she asked me to make her a crop top and mini skirt out of it to get another year’s wear – we cut round the waist seam, added elastic waistbands and she’s happy again! She’s now requested pyjama shorts, which she’s going to help me make, and ‘Shaggy pants’. Apparently she means wide trousers like Shaggy in Scooby Doo – so it was back to the pattern stash where she found another New Look pattern and a quick browse on Pound Fabrics where we found some pretty cotton.

The pyjama shorts request sprang from watching me whip up a pair from the remnants of the wrap skirt fabric. I used a pattern by The Makery, which was a freebie with Simply Sewing magazine a few years ago. I used elastic rather than the drawstring, for ease, and they are perfect with a vest for this hot spell. While searching the stash I rediscovered the Lapwing Trousers pattern by Simple Sew and once madam had rejected the ditsy blue flower fabric I offered her, I decided I’d make another pair for myself. There’s nothing like a pair of floaty cotton trousers for hot days. (Other things I have rediscovered this week: my hammock, Bloom Strawberry Gin and Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, and stargazing in search of satellites and meteors).

The table tennis table is still up in the garden and it’s so useful for laying out large patterns and quilt tops, even when Thing 3 decides to open a market stall at the other end.

I sandwiched the red quilt top (the wadding was a bit of a patchwork too) and quilted it together, and its now awaiting binding. I’ve decided to use ready made bias binding on this one, and am waiting for it to arrive. The second image is the big make of the week – I volunteered to be a pattern tester for Alice and Co Patterns, who are extending their size range for the Intrepid Boiler Suit. I ran across Alice and Co when they did an updated versions of the Mary Quant Georgie and classic minidress to accompany the Quant exhibition at the V&A.

I love an all in one, and had just bought their Jump Up Suit pattern – I would probably not have tried the boiler suit if they hadn’t asked for testers. I’ve looked at boiler suits but never had the courage to buy one – this seemed like the perfect solution! I’d also just bought several metres of gorgeous lightweight pinstripe denim (Pound Fabrics again) and now I had an excuse to use it. Luckily they let me join the tester team…

The PDF pattern was really straightforward to put together (if I ever win the lottery, the first thing I am buying is an A0 printer and a garden studio to put it in), and the instructions were really clear and easy to follow – even the enclosed yoke, which I have only tried once before. It really was a case of trusting the pattern, and the resulting yoke looked great.

I’m a great one for taking sewing shortcuts, especially with zips and sleeves – I hate setting in sleeves – but as I was testing the pattern I thought I’d better do it properly! The process became quite mindful, as I had to think about what I was doing more carefully and pay attention to the finishing. The only step I skipped was finishing the raw edges before sewing, as I decided to overlock them as I went along. I even overlocked the zip tape to the seam allowance.

The back and breast pockets were cut against the grain so I could have the pinstripes at a contrasting angle, and the side pockets were perfectly (if accidentally) pattern matched. I decided to make a self-fabric tie belt to go through the waistband casing, rather than use a proper belt, and used fabric scraps to patch one together as I knew no one would see the seams!

The making process took me about six hours, plus time to stick together the PDF and cut out the fabric, and it was thoroughly enjoyable – and I LOVE the result. I made my beloved take a proper photo of me wearing it with my Lottas just so I could share it… it also shows off my new ultra-violet hair, or so it says on the box. I may make the legs a bit shorter, as here you can see I have had to fold them up four times, but I love the 80s girl group vibe. There’s also a free pattern hack on the website for a button front version, and I quite fancy a sleeveless one too, so will definitely be making this again.

You can’t have spent all week sewing, surely?

I mentioned earlier that Thing 3 had decided to open a stall on the table tennis table – there’s a touch of the Del Boy about this one! He sold bric-a-brac, and not to be outdone Thing 2 decided she also needed a stall. I had bought them some new acrylic paints, so her USP was painting rocks on request. I had some tiny pebbles that we’d sprayed white with primer, and she painted me a set of ladybirds for my shelves of frivolity in the shed. She also painted me – secretly – a puffin rock, as they are my favourite birds. Thing 3 helped his dad improve the water feature – here you can see him taking a well earned break!

Having been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I painted some rocks to use as pattern weights – very useful when cutting outside! I usually use chunks of slate from the garden centre, but these pebbles have been hanging around for a while and now they’ll see more use.

Pattern weights drying in the sun

I have even managed some gardening! Hard pruning some hydrangeas transplanted from the neighbours last year, which are showing signs of life, and weeding out the wild garlic from the beds by my shed. I was really pleased to see the campanula survived the winter, and also the bleeding heart we bought at the sad plant section last year and which I snapped the stems off when planting out – it’s got flowers on and I hope it will self-seed. My hollyhocks are shooting up again, and my chinese lanterns.

Not such a sad plant!

The hammock has seen some use, too – crocheting and listening to birds in the afternoons. The BirdNET app has been so useful – I now know what the goldcrests sound like, and the chiffchaffs. The red kites seem to have stuck around, and I see them wheeling over the houses quite often. Other garden visitors have included the fox, the badger and a tiny mouse.

Let’s see what week six brings us! Have a great week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Plan for the Worst (Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor

The Language of Spells and The Secrets of Ghosts – Sarah Painter

Soundtrack for the week:

John Mellencamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Prine