Monday, 20 October 2014

Cake Off and One Last Drawing.

It has been a while and a lot has happened in the last few weeks. Well, not really, just in the last week. Everything I needed to start working has come through and my first shift as a staff nurse is tomorrow (NEED to remember not to answer the phone student nurse). Other than that I have been a lazy bum. Each day I have the days programming all planned out. This is not healthy! Thank goodness I start working tomorrow.

One of the things that happened over the last few weeks is that I made it back to my knitting group. My sister started her creative writing classes which clashes with the life drawing (and I certainly wasn't going myself). On the plus side I got to see some of my crafting friends and caught up with what they were up to before I disappear into the wards.

One of the things we did was celebrate the end of Bake Off by having our own Cake Off event. We baked and raised £80 for the Beatson while we were at it. Not too shabby and the cake was tasty. You can read more about the evening on the knitting group blog.

I planned on making my banana bread which went down well.  I wasn't going to add anything to it this time. I thought plain old banana bread would make a nice change. However, a few packs of chocolate chips fell out the cupboard and I decided to try it with that. I think it could have used a wee bit more of the chips otherwise I was pleasantly surprised.

My attempt at a jaffa cake style Swiss roll didn't quite work as I thought it would. It tasted good but you couldn't tell that there was orange curd in there. It just tasted like the chocolate butter icing was orangey. I maybe spread the chocolate on too thickly.

Do you think Mary Berry would have approved of the swirl? I'm not so sure. To be honest I wasn't thinking when I rolled this and once I did it it was too late. Next time I might attempt a basic Swiss roll and pay attention to the swirl.

Speaking of Bake Off, I loved it this year. I was very happy with the end result. I feel bad for Nancy that there are many people out there who claim she didn't deserve it. In my humble opinion they all deserved it. This years talent far surpassed last years AND they were all nice to each other. Nancy did better on the day and congrats to her.

I have also been working on this. I had so many other plans. Like getting started on my Christmas makes. Attempting to make bread. Have a gut out (I at least started that one). Oh and I had a few blog post ideas too. Instead I have been plonked in front of the tv making these square. But look how pretty they are.

I also made this which sadly doesn't count as preparing for Christmas. It came free with this months Cross Stitcher magazine. It's supposed to be a broach but it is much too large for that so I attached ribbon instead and then handed it over to my mum.

Now though I am off to chill before tomorrow and I may start my sister's birthday socks.

For not though I leave you with my last sketch from the life drawing club. I did this in charcoal and it has become one of my favourites.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Great British Bake Off Everyday by Linda Collister - Book Review

Two book reviews in one week. I know, I'm spoiling you. My book reviews are like buses. With my bakery books (of which they are all Bake Off related) I like to have at least made a few things from it before I review it. This book was released during last years British Bake off. It's more complex than the first one and the bakes are more intricate. There are a few simpler ones in there but if I am honest it's the big ones that caught my eye.

The whipped chocolate layer cake that I made a few weeks ago came from this book.  While they may be more complex the instructions are still simple and easy to follow. Any terms you don't understand are explained in there. The book is split into sections such as cakes, bread and so it should be fairly easy to find what you are looking for.

Failing that the index is rather good. Everything chocolate is listed under chocolate. Or if you are looking for a good butter cream you will also find a section for that with different flavours. If you go to the vanilla butter cream it will even tell you what to substitute to make it chocolate.

Yep, it even has these little sections within it to show how to make little things such as the butter cream, royal icing or this orange curd which I made last week. I like that aspect of it because you can then bring together different recipes as I did this week (which I will show you in another post soon).

I should also point out that at the end of each section there are some weekend bakes. These aren't quick bakes as the title would suggest. Instead these are sections where some of the recipes Paul, Mary and last years bakers are shown. So you will recognise some of the images if you watched it last year.

My only criticism is that not all of the recipes come with images. Most of them do but I like an image so that I can compare my bake to see if it looks right. Especially since decorating is not one of my strengths. Other than that I have a fair few recipes earmarked to try.. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

200 Crochet Blocks by Jan Eaton - Book Review!

I have had this book on my shelf for a few years now. I bought it when I first decided to learn crochet. I think I picked it up a few times to look at all the pretty squares I was going to make but never had the confidence in my skills to use them. It's only been recently that I have been able to confidently read a crochet pattern. The lovely lady who taught me how to crochet my first granny square also had this book and I know that she has used it and created some lovely squares with it.

I have been using this book on and off this month so I thought it was about time that I reviewed it (it's still available). I don't have many squares to show you but a number of squares that I have made in the past are in the book.

Of course, I also tend to make the squares bigger than they intended to be because I quite like them like that. This goes for the basic granny square (or plain granny as it's called in the book).

Same goes with the solid granny (or square target as the book calls it). There are a total of 212 sqaures in the book. The downside is that it includes variations in colour schemes as a new square. For example, Coral Seas square is listed as four different squares for each colour scheme. A tiny part of me sees that as cheating. However, it can also have a positive as it can show people who maybe aren't as confident at playing with colour that changing colours can change the look of a design.

It has some basic squares like the ones the plain granny and the target square and also more difficult squares such as the willow square (which you can see above). Each square is given a difficulty rating which will allow you to assess which ones require more skill and concentration. Unless of course you are like me where you just go for the pretty and hope for the best. At the bottom each pattern it also give suggestions for other squares that you can mix and match with along with their page number. Handy if you are making a blanket or cushion and want to try out different techniques.

There is a handy section at the back with diagrams on how to carry out different techniques including suggestions for joining your squares together. It even has some pretty edging designs and shows you how to work out the size of the square based on the yarn you use. All very handy. The front also shows you examples of different squares all together to make a blanket. So if you are coming up blank you could always pick one of these to follow.

The patterns themselves are all in written form rather than graphs. I can understand this as these instructions take up less room and therefore making way for more squares. Although it does show you the different stitches and what they mean I think if you are new to reading patterns then it might prove more difficult for you. That's not to say you shouldn't use it if you are learning. I used it to teach my friend and she got a perfect granny square out of it. I think that maybe you might need it along with other forms of help such as youtube (just be aware of the British and American differences - this book uses British terminology).

All in all a good book for all skill sets. I think it's one that I will use again and again.

Monday, 29 September 2014

More Life Drawing.

Last week I had my second session at the life drawing and once again I enjoyed it. It's quite nice to do something different for a change and discover that you aren't as horrible at it as you thought you would be. Don't get me wrong, I had did some crackers last week. The kind that will never see the light of day but I still enjoyed it. So I am showing you my best ones. My favourite is right at the end. Oh, and if you hold on to past that my sister gave permission to show a couple of hers.

This first one is unfinished. They are all kind of unfinished. The poses only last so long and there is always extra work you would like to add into it. This one though I wasn't even halfway done. On the plus side it means you don't have time to add in the detail. I am crap at the detail.

Oh, and nothing gets your adrenaline going in a life drawing class when you momentarily think you might know the model (I thought I knew the person before they took their robe off just in case you wondered). Thankfully I was wrong. It would have meant I would have had to leave or never look the person in the eye again.

This was my last drawing of the evening and again it's unfinished. Mainly because this was my second attempt. There was a lot more shading that I wanted to get in there.

This last pose was my favourite. It still has errors in it but I am quite proud of it. In the very first drawing I tried out my charcoal pencils (and discovered I prefer plain old charcoal). In the last two I used my sisters oil pastels. I quite enjoyed using them. Mainly because I love to smudge my lines and this makes for excellent smudging. I highly recommend them. They are good fun. Plus you can blend them with other shades. I just used a white to blend but my sister used other colours too.

As I said, I promised that I would show a few of my sisters drawings. You can see the expert here. I drew this pose to but it will be kept only as a reminder of what not to do. My sister on the other hand has actual talent. I think this one was her favourite. I can't remember what she used here. I have a feeling it might have been graphite pencils but I could be completely wrong.

I love this one that she did. Actually I liked all of them. You can probably see that I feel the need to fill the entire page whereas my sister manages to get the entire pose in. She used oil pastels here and you can see she used different colours in there. Hers have an ephemeral quality to them. I mentioned that to here and was rather proud of myself when she said that other people have said that to her in the past. Unlike me she is also good at the detail but time is limited.

Tomorrow will be the last time we can go for a while as my sister starts her creative writing class. Meanwhile she has been scouring the internet to find other untutored life drawing clubs in Glasgow.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pins I Love - Crafts for the Bedroom.

It has been some time since I have done a pins I love post. Maybe because I have so many other things to actually show you. It's amazing what some time off does. I have started a few projects especially for my next flat and so thought it was about time that I posted this one which I had planned ages ago. I should point out that the title does give the impression that this may be an R rated post. Sorry to disappoint.

Just a reminder that if you want to find the project just click on the photograph. The first is hoop embroidery or hoop art. I prefer the embroidered versions but if you can't stitch you can still create something to hang on the wall. The above image links to a tutorial  by Maggie Holmes Designs and she plots out how to make some hoop decorations just by using fabric. You could match this fabric to your bedding or to a pattern you have somewhere in you room. Or even just match it into your colour scheme. If you have some hoop embroidery you could mix it with some simple fabrics.

 Or, if you like your wall decorations to be functional. Why not turn it into a wall clock. I quite like this. I actually plan to make a clock myself. However, it won't be going in my bedroom. Far too noisy for me. This was from a website called A lot of craft stores sell the clockwork parts.

 What's a bedroom without a few cushions or pillows? I have made a few myself. Both in crochet and in cross stitch. However, I would love to make a quilted cushion. I love this one and it even comes with a tutorial which looks fairly simple and easy to follow. This is from a fab blog page called Crazy mom quilts. Worth checking out if you like all sorts of crafts. What I like about this simple design is that the use of different fabrics and colours could change the look of the cushion. I would love to see different takes on it.

 I love candles and I do have then in my room. Don't worry I always remember to put them out before I sleep. I find them so relaxing and like to have one lit when I read. I also light them when I'm doing some tidying. I like to have a fresh lemon candle lit at those times (again keeping the candle away from where I'm tidying as I am clumsy). I also like a pretty candle holder. A friend of mine makes candles in vintage style teacups and I found a website that shows you how to make your own. How lovely would this look in your bedroom? Or even as a gift for a girly friend.

I left my favourite for last. As most of you will know I love a blanket. I have made a few in my time, mostly for other people. I am a blanketoholic. It's unusual to find a tutorial for a blanket. Especially one as intricate as this. Yet, it does exist. This is from a blog called Italian Dish Knits which seems to have a lot of lovely yarn projects. What I love about this one is how delicate it looks. However, you could change the colours to create a bolder blanket if that suits your taste. Like the cushion I would love to see how different people interpret it.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Please Don't Laugh!

 When you look at these drawing please keep in mind that I have never ever done life drawing before. I have also not drawn at all since I was 16. Unless you count doodles in the margins of note paper (which I don't). A while ago I promised my sister that I would go to a life drawing club with her. She even gave me some materials to practise with. Which, I didn't get the chance to use. Oops!

When we first got to the bar it was filled with people with folio cases. There was me with my cath kidston bag and absolutely no experience and definitely not one of the arty types. It didn't bother my sister since she did get her degree at Glasgow School of Art. This was her set really and she was used to it. Me, I'm used to swapping poop stories with fellow nurses while we eat lunch.  To say I was anxious and felt a little out of place was putting it mildly. Not even the glass of wine was helping. However, I had promised my sister and decided to see it through.

Eventually we all went through to another room where three areas were set up. We had all of our materials there (well my sister had brought everything we would need). The organisers though had materials there such as paper, charcoal and drawing boards should we need it. We chose our seat and I was still quite anxious. Looking around me and seeing what others were doing.

The model then came forward and we were told it would be quick five minute poses. All anxiety left because I felt like it was a challenge to get the drawing in on the time allotted. My sister was highly amused by this. She said at one point she thought I was going to leave and when she next turned round I was scribbling away. I haven't posted those images as my sketching was too light to photograph well. Thanks to my sister though I got to try different materials. Including charcoal which I quite enjoyed. I think I was 14 the last time I used charcoal.

Halfway through the models changed round and it was longer poses again. This time I tried a wax pencil. I wasn't as big a fan of that because it couldn't be smudged. Thankfully though I had truly relaxed by this point. No one was interested in what others were doing. There was some friendly chatter around and people were trying out different things and at different levels.

For the last post I went back to using graphite pencils but a softer one.  I quite liked working with those. It is better for shading and easier to work round mistakes of which I have plenty. Overall I enjoyed the experience and was pleasantly surprised by that. I am under no illusion that I am an amateur but I am enjoying myself. My sister starts her creative writing classes again next month which clashes with the life drawing club. So for the next couple of weeks we'll be returning. Of course I will also want to get back to my knitting girlies as I haven't seen them in a while and we have a special event planned.

Until then I thought it best to get my own supplies. I still had some birthday money to spend. Looking forward to giving them a bash. If any of you are curious about the bar that has a life drawing club it's the Flying Duck.

Monday, 15 September 2014

She Survived!

A bit overly dramatic but it fits. A while ago my friend had asked me to teach her to crochet. She was a beginner in knitting but due to problems with her arms she was unable to keep going with it. Hence, her request to learn to crochet. Specifically she wanted to learn how to make the squares so she could make up a blanket. Now normally I would be super organised and have a lesson plan complete with step by step photographs. As I had left myself very little time I gathered some supplies, books and printed out some basic instructions and diagrams for a granny square.

First things first of course. Our priority was for coffee and cake. This would be necessary for poor Clare who didn't know what she had gotten herself into. You also have no idea how excited I was to see Costa had their salted caramel muffins back.

While I wasn't organised I did manage to make Clare up a little kit. It included some examples of granny squares, the instructions sheet, a notebook, yarn and a crochet hook.

Despite her hatred of trebles and never having done any crochet before I think Clare did well. Quickly she managed to get her square started and she seemed to get used to holding the crochet hook quite well. She even named the part where you do your first corner the 'scotty dog'. I can see why.

Mind you we did manage to create a mess while we were there. We were a little spread out all along the coffee bar. Just as well it wasn't too busy.

And success! Clare managed a square before it was time to go and it looks good too.  She also survived my lesson (despite my tactics to remind her where the crochet hook should go - got a poke in the arm with a hook for that one). I also taught her to do it the way the books teach it. With the 6 chains at the start of each round which acts as a treble and the corner. I do it a different way but I thought it would be easier for Clare so that she could then use the books to help her if she gets stuck. Plus, I think it makes for a more even square. I might be converted to this method myself.

Despite the trauma poor Clare even got me a wee present. She knows me too well. Next time I promise to have the more detailed sheets ready.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Almost Having Withdrawal!

Thanks to secret projects and finishing my degree I have had virtually no sock knitting time. I almost ALWAYS have socks on the go so this was quite hard for me. I don't mind telling you there were some rocky moments there when I was about to throw caution to the wind and just cast on a pair. Thankfully I remained strong and somehow got through this terrible time. You have no idea how good it was to cast on those socks. Even when I did it a second time after deciding that I wanted to use a smaller needle size.

I am just glad that the first pair was using this yarn. I am not going to rave about it because I do it all the time. Like herehere and here. It can't be helped. You have no idea how good it is to knit with until you do it yourself. It makes the loveliest, softest and silkiest of socks. AND they sparkle. Okay, I promised I wouldn't rave about it.

These are the auction socks and I finally contacted the lady to let her know they would be with her next week. Thankfully she was so patient that she actually forgot all about it until I contacted her. I hope she won't mind the wait. She had said that she liked purples and blues and I hope this will be to her liking. I love the striping of the yarn and I don't mind admitting that if they weren't a size too small I would be tempted to keep them. Again it's the yarn.

Also look at the heel! Just look! Striping perfection. You couldn't plan it better (and with variegated yarn I never try to).

In case you can't tell all of my secret projects are finished. You saw the first two with the baby showers. The last one though you will have to wait until I get the chance to pass it on to the person it is meant for. Now I plan to go back to the colourwork socks I started many moons ago. I just hope I remember where I am in the pattern.

Meanwhile I have started a stitching project. This is one I promised to do for my sister about a year ago (oops) cause the colours match her living room. It's nice to be stitching on evenweave again.

In other new my GBBO obsession is growing now that I actually have time to enjoy it. I'm not going to give you a runnin commentary but I will say I rather enjoyed the European bakes. I could see myself attempting one or two of them. Even if I had never heard of any of them. This week I was on twitter while it was viewing. It meant not a lot of sock knitting got done (I was turning the heel on the second sock) but I liked that involvement. It also led to a discovery of geeking out proportions. I found and followed the twitter account of the GBBO illustrator. His name is Tom Hovey and you can find him @twistedloaf  (Norman is also on twitter @Normcalder). This image is from the GBBO facebook page. It appealed to me because I had to read that chocolate cake recipe at least four or five times to make sure I was following it correctly.

Don't think my lack of a full blow by blow means this is the last you will here of GBBO. Remember I am obsessed. Plus I am now organising a cake off for my knitting group (no judging just lots of cake).

Oh and today I taught my friend to crochet. That will be the next update.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

One Big Chocolate Challenge!

I mistakenly suggested to my chocolate cake loving mother that I have a go at making the whipped chocolate layer cake from last years bake off book. I then said for her to have a look through the book to see if there was anything else she would prefer. Stupid really, as she was never going to get past the chocolate cake.

The reason I tried to distract her from this one after offering to have a go was that it looked awfully complicated. I should really learn to read things through before I offer to do these things. In every way this was going to be a challenged. It involved everything I had never done before - chocolate sponge, chocolate ganache, meringue and layers. It also involved making the cake look reasonably presentable. Presentation has never been my strong point. I am a baker not a decorator.

 The first part went surprisingly well despite my constant havering. The chocolate sponge was slightly more difficult than I planned. Or it could have just been the stress of getting this right as it involved a lot of ingredients. Plus, I didn't want to waste chocolate. However, the three sponges turned out and I think would have tasted good on their own.

The whipped chocolate filling was complicated but I discovered the key for this and that was to be organised. I know, I am an organising freak but in baking I usually just pull things out when I need it (apart from butter, learned that the hard way - literally). With this there was too much going on all at once that I had everything measured out and ready. I had to make a chocolate ganache. Then I had to make meringue and then add butter to that before finally adding the ganache. My first attempt at ganache was not the best and had it not been for the fact that it was getting whipped in with the rest of the mixture I probably would have binned it. So that will require practise in the future.

I think it turned out a success on the whole. I managed the three layers. It looked okay as a whole. Plus it tasted good (if a little rich for me). My mum loved it as did my wee granny. In fact my we gran said I should go on that baking tv show, ha ha. Well, I said that during my time off I wanted to challenge myself a bit with the baking and I think I have certainly done that. Will be a while before I make this again (sorry mum although for you I would do it).

Friday, 5 September 2014

I Baked Too!

Yep, I baked this week again. Not for placement (as it is all finished) and not the same old banana bread. This time I tried something from my other bake off book (the one I bought last year but still hadn't used). Wee Sis, mum and I were having a girly day so I decided to make something. My sister loves her lemon cake and my mum quite likes it too. So I decided to give the lemon poppy seed cake a go. It was an easy recipe to follow. It was my first time using ground almonds in cake and poppy seeds for that matter. I also added a little extra lemon zest than was listed in the recipe.

In all honesty I wasn't impressed with it. I didn't think the lemon was strong enough. I also don't understand the purpose of poppy seeds. I couldn't taste them and all it did was add an extra crunch to the cake. I tried looking it up and some people say that it makes the cake richer and others say that it adds an extra spice. I didn't dislike them mind you so I'm not against using them in other recipes. My mum and sister disagree with me over this cake. While I wasn't a fan they loved it. Wee Sis again mentioned I should pack in the nursing and open a bakery (not going to happen). So on that side it was a success.

As it was pie week on GBBO I should have made pie. However, I don't like pie although watching it I did want to have a go at making pastry. It looked like fun. I think we should take a moment though to express our deep sorrow at losing Norman. I was completely gutted that he was asked to leave. I am really going to miss him. My friend and I are thinking about starting a campaign to bring him back. It doesn't have to be as part of the competition. We think he should have his own segment called 'Norman's Corner'. Again, this photo doesn't belong to me but to the GBBO facebook page.

I am still on my final secret project. It's going well and I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel. In other news I finally cast on those socks using a smaller needle size. I am much happier with it as a result. In the meantime my lovely friend who dyed this yarn is going through a very tough time right now so please send out your thoughts and good wishes to her and her family.