Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Hooky Happiness

A rosy view of life...
Today Hooky Happiness is the order of the day… And half-finished hooky happiness at that. I love crochet. I’m not very good at it, but you get such quick, colourful results, and you can work the same designs in different yarns to produce a chunky flower or a delicate snowflake. And, as long as I’m not following a complicated pattern, I can sit and hook while I listen to a good play on Radio 4, and watch an old film, preferably in black and white. Something like Brief Encounter, or Casablanca. When it comes to books I like a happy ending, but when it comes to films I love sad love stories and, odd though it may sound, I really enjoy sitting weeping into my wool.
Squaring the Circle: I'm sill trying to decide how to
get straighter edges and corners on this!
But I think I must have a low boredom threshold, because I like to have several projects on the go at once, preferably in different colours and designs, so I can pick and choose depending on my mood. So, at the moment I’m working on a blanket for my elder daughter, all in shades of black, white and grey. It features a large circle, edged into a square, surrounded by five smaller ‘square circles’ to make lots of blocks. I’m going to join them so they’re offset, rather than is straight rows, and fill the gaps with more of the smaller ‘square circles.

 The design is from Dorien, at Just-Do, who gives lovely clear instructions (although you need to be aware that she uses American terminology, but it’s simple enough to write an English version, which is what I do, because otherwise I get confused). Her completed blanket is fabulous, in a rainbow of colours, and her technique is much better than mine. I must admit, I’m having problems with edging and corners on this one – I’d like it to be much sharper and more geometric looking. . I’ve put in an extra chain on my corners, as she only uses one, and I think it’s better with two – the crocheters (is there such a word?) among you will understand what I mean. Hopefully, I can steam or block into a better shape by damping it down and pinning it out, which is something I don’t usually bother with, but on this occasion I think it will help. However, I’m not sure whether to do each individual square, or create the larger six-piece shapes first. It calls for a bit of experimentation I think.
Work in Progress: I'm going to unpick the red edge,
and add another two squares, so I've got six in each
panel. And I might try some with navy instead of red.
Then I’m doing a very different blanket for my younger daughter (it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t do them one each!). This one is lovely and bright and cheerful, with lots of yellows and reds and turquoises, and I’m still fiddling around with the design, but basically I’m using traditional granny squares, and making them up into panels, edged with red. Grannies are very forgiving if you’re not always as accurate as you should be! 
Sitting Pretty!
And I’ve made a round rainbow cushion cover (thanks to Lucy at Attic 24 for the idea). This is so so easy to do: you just keep whizzing round and round, increasing as you go, and using colours that please you. My work buckled up now and again, but it was easy peasy to remedy – I just skipped an increase round, and did the same number of stitches as the previous time! Occasionally I had to unravel before I could put things right, but it was like magic! And I was surprisingly sensible, and kept track of what I’d done, so I had a pattern to follow when I hooked the back (using the same sea-greeny turquoise as the outer edging), so back and front are exactly the same size and shape. Clever, huh?!
Bead Feast!
Then I made a lovely, wavy, lacey edging, with glassy beads (threaded on to the wool at the start) which will probably make it most uncomfortable to sit on, but looks sooooo pretty – all shiny and glittery, which doesn’t really show in the photo. I’ve still got to stitch this together, but it was an absolute joy to work, and I’m going to try making another one, using lots of different stitches, like bobbles and clusters, to create texture and interest. 
Keeping Cosy!
Then there’s my cosy which has transformed a manky old plastic container into a handy hook holder, and is very environmentally friendly, and ideologically sound, because it uses oddments from the scrap stash, as well as something that was going to be thrown away. It’s so useful, and I’m so delighted with it, that I’m going to cover a collection of old jars in rainbow hues to store pens, pencils, scissors and all sorts of other things. 
Finally, more creations from the scrap stash…. little two layered flowers! Please don’t ask me what they are for, because I don’t know. I’ve made them before, for my Easter wreath, and a garland, so I am sure I can turn them into something – but basically I do these because they are so much fun, and I love them!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Snapshots of a Camera

This week's Saturday Snapshot is really special to me because it shows my Father's old camera. Dad died nearly seven years ago, just before Christmas, and this camera lay hidden in a cupboard for a long time because I felt tearful every time I looked at it. But recently I took it out and prised it open, and made a little display on a shelf, a kind of memory corner, with a couple of shots of Dad holding the camera, and a few of the pictures he took with it, and a photo of him and Mum at their wedding.

It's a No 1 Pocket Kodak Camera Autographic model manufactured by the Eastman Kodak company some time between 1926 and 1932, and it must have been old he acquired it (he was born in 1922) but it was his pride and joy for many years, and he kept it long after he stopped using it. Other cameras came and went over the years, with assorted lens, filters and flashlights, but this one  outstayed them all, and it must have meant a lot to him because he hung on to it, even though was (and is) unusable without some kind of restoration work being carried out.

Personally I think the name is a misnomer, because you'd never fit this into a pocket - the leather case is around 2mm thick, and it measures about eight inches, by four inches, by two inches, and is quite heavy. 

The concertina bit that pulls out is actually called a bellows, and now lets in little pinpoints of light along its edges and points, so there's no way you take pictures, because any film put through it would almost certainly be badly fogged and damaged by light, but film is still available which would fit it, and I would love to know if it could be repaired.   

The original film, which is no longer manufactured, could be written on with a beautifully decorated metal stylus which looks like a pen or pencil and is clipped to the side of the lens. Apparently the stylus slotted into into a hole, and could be used to write the date on a film, or the place where a photo was taken, or the name of the person in it.  people could write the date on the film (there is a little hole at the back that the  

The photos taken on it were all black and white (I guess no colour film was available in those days) and they were quite small, and some of them seem quite fuzzy, but the camera is surprisingly sophisticated, with variable shutter speed and all kinds of features. 

Dad loved taking photographs. The more complex a camera was, the more he liked it, and he took everything very seriously, checking the position of the sun, and his light meter, and the distance from his subject.  Sometimes he spent so long setting things up that we all got fed up, and would wander off, but it was worth being patient because he took some beautiful photos when we were on holiday, and lovely portraits of my brother and I when we were young, and of my daughters when they were small (but not on this camera, of course). 
Anyway, now I have the camera on display I find I can look at it and smile at the memory of Dad taking his pictures and think of how much pleasure it gave him.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mummy.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Great British Bake Off

Hurray! As I said on my other blog (The Book Trunk) on Wednesday, The Great British Bake Off is back, and promises to be every bit as good as the previous three series. The lovely Mary Berry is still there, every bit as nice as ever, even when she’s being nasty, and the gorgeous Paul Hollywood is still there, every bit as nasty as ever, even when he’s being nice (how does he manage to sound and look surprised when he likes something?). Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are still there, every bit as funny as ever, and every bit as supportive as ever to the contestants who are also still there (obviously – without them there would be no show) and are every bit as innovative and emotional as ever. The only person missing so far is the Bake Off Squirrel, but he made a token appearance inside a cake (a replica sculpted from chocolate and nuts you understand, not the real thing – that would be silly, and cruel).
The Great British Bake-Off: Judges, presenters and contestants
line up ready for action.
It’s hard to explain to explain the allure of TGBBO to anyone has never watched it. It’s real edge-of-seat viewing, but it’s the reaction of these amateur cooks to their triumphs and disasters which makes for such gripping TV. And the comments of the judges, and their facial expressions, are just as wonderful. There’s no shouting, swearing or bitchiness. Laughter and tears are the order of the day, and everyone remains friendly and helpful. These are ordinary people who love cooking and are not seeking fame. They all want to win, but they’re philosophic about their chances: they know they can only do their best, and believe that what will be will be. It’s all very warm and gentle, and very understated in a very English kind of way, and I just adore it. I watch it, then watch it again… and again…
A cake fit for angels: Some contestants struggled with
Mary Berry's recipe for Angel Food Cake.
 Perhaps it’s a nostalgia thing. I grew up surrounded by people like this. My mother, and my aunt, and their friends, would cook and bake, and make jams and preserves, and try new recipes with new ingredients alongside the old family favourites – and there were always ‘special’ cakes for birthdays and other occasions. And they all belonged to gardening clubs and allotment associations, and if there were only a handful of entries in the cookery section they would dash home and whip up a quick batch of tarts or biscuits ‘to make a better showing’ for the public, even if ‘entries’ were added to the tables after judging was complete.

As far as GBBO goes, at the beginning of each series it always takes me a while to sort out who’s who and match the names to faces. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for the various ‘characters’ to develop and for my own favourites to emerge. This year I’m slightly more confused than usual because there are 13 competitors instead of 12, so there will be one week when two people must leave the tent. Actually, a Baker’s Dozen seems such an apt number for a programme about baking that I can’t understand why no-one has thought of it before.

Anyway, I’ll have no problem remembering Deborah the Dentist, because she is shorter than everyone else (like me!), and I feel a show of solidarity is required, but this may be tricky because I hate the way she pulls faces, especially when she doesn’t like what the judges say about her food. And I won’t forget Christine, because she has my name, or Howard, because he is a fellow migraine sufferer who can’t eat chocolate, which was unfortunate really, given that this week’s Showstopper was a decorated chocolate cake.  Actually, he turned out to be surprisingly adventurous and produced a gluten-free passion fruit and coconut sponge using rice flour and xanthan gum which, amazingly, won approval from Paul and Mary. 
Mary Berry: Nice, even when she's nasty!
Then there’s Frances, who designs children’s clothes and is obviously very creative. Her Victoria sandwich was – a sandwich! Served up in a paper bag made from moulded icing! I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and such a simple idea. And there’s Rob the Spaceman, who designs space satellites in Hertfordshire and approaches cookery as if it were an engineering project. He is incredibly scientific – thanks to him I now know about the crystalline structure of chocolate.

This week, as you may have gathered, was all about sponge cakes. For their signature bake contestants had to produce a classic Victoria Sandwich, with a novel twist of their own. Next up was the technical challenge: Angel Food Cake. Basically, this is a fatless sponge, and therein lie the problems. Do you grease the tin? And should the egg whites be beaten to stiff peaks or left soft? Finally, it was time for the Showstopper. A decorated chocolate sponge using at least two types of chocolate. Cocoa loco as Sue Perkins described it.   As ever, there was much gazing into ovens, and timers bleeped away in the background. There were injuries aplenty, and by the end everyone seemed to have acquired at least one blue plaster. There were tears of despair when things went wrong and smiles of delight when things went right. Items were dropped, lost, over-baked, under-baked and unfinished. But there were moments of sheer perfection when everything worked out exactly as it should.

As always, I found myself wondering if some contestants had actually watched the old programmes, let alone taken note of them. Why put yourself through the heartache of producing something which has already proved to be a Bad Idea? Take heed bakers, things involving strawberries or rhubarb have a tendency to fall into this category because the fruit leaks moisture into the cake. And Paul doesn’t like strong flavours, especially rose. And anything that smacks of the seventies is a bit of a no-no (remember Brendan last year). 
Paul Hollwood: Nasty, even when he's nice!
Odd recipes included a grapefruit sponge (which got a thumbs-up from Paul, who didn’t expect to like it) and a thyme infused chocolate cake. Odd equipment included balloons (for Rob’s choccie baskets), while Mark, a kitchen fitter, called for Selloptape to stick a chocolate wrap around the edge of his cake! Hopefully, he wasn’t serious, but you never know with GBBO. He was also memorable for telling us he planned to carve his Victoria sponge so it would look like a lemon ‘if all goes well’. Naturally, it didn’t, and it didn’t, if you see what I mean. It’s tempting fate to make statements like that.

If you’re planning to catch-up at a later date, and don’t want to know who was Star Baker, stop reading now – there are SPOILERS ahead! The accolade was awarded to… long pause to heighten the suspense… Spaceman Rob, whose cakes looked much too beautiful to eat, but apparently tasted absolutely delicious and that, after all, is the whole point of any cake.

First to go (don’t forget SPOILER alert is still active!) was Toby, a dishevelled young man with an engaging smile and a puzzled expression, who lost his ‘thingy’ at the start and never really found it. His Victoria sandwich was OK, but his technical bake was more devilish than angelic, since he used salt instead of sugar (John, who made a similar mistake last year, went on to win, but Toby’s days in the tent were numbered). By the end of the programme he had cut both thumbs, making it awkward to work but, as Paul pointed out, that doesn’t affect how long you leave something in the oven. No sympathy vote there then!  Gazing upon Toby’s chocolate disaster Paul, never one to mince his words, gave his verdict: “It’s a mess.” It must have tasted pretty horrid as well because Mary, anxious to say something positive, thought very hard, gave her kindly smile, and announced in happy tones: “It’s three layers are exactly matching.” 

Star quality! Spaceman Rob was the first Star Baker of the
new series.
However, even she found it impossible to say anything nice about Ali’s effort. Her remarks are always well tempered (unlike some of the chocolate adorning this week’s masterpieces) but she told him his Showstopper looked ‘a little bit childish’, which was pretty tough for her. Then, obviously feeling remorse, she sweetened the pill by adding: “You’re sad about this, and we are too.” That’s part of the charm of GBBO. Mary and Paul love cooking, and they want us to take pleasure in it too, and when things go wrong they don’t tell people off – they are sad! All pictures from The Great British Bake Off website at