Wednesday, 27 April 2011

April sock club

Due to knitting the wedding shawl (it's finished! - piccies soon) and spending time organising the wedding and sewing the bridesmaids dress along with many other things (such as a full-time job..) the March socks took a lot longer than they ought to have done. They were not finished in March, but on the 21st of April...

Because of the big overrun of March's sock club I didn't even start April's until Saturday, but here is how the sock was looking on Sunday morning

The yarn is bamboo sock (80% merino, 20% bamboo) from fyberspates, and has a lovely sheen to it :)
The pattern is Hedera from Knit.Sock.Love by Cookie A.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the pattern so far, and had the chart memorised by about the third row in..
These socks are for me, and are quite refreshing that there's no real deadline associated with them, and they aren't part of the uber wedding planning fiesta that's going on in my life at the moment. All in all they're quite refreshing...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

March sock club


So I can finally show you March's sock club, as the socks have been handed over to their recipient and he is very happy with his new socks.

Here they are hanging out in their natural environment...
Obviously they were inspired by spillyjane's mittens with pints on, but I charted myself out some pints with a foamy head.. the second row of each pint (top down) is purled to make the head of the pint nice and 3D foamy.

This was my first time using an afterthought heel, which I did using contrasting black and a short row heel. I used the same short rows for the toe too.

When coming up with the plan for these socks in my head I knew that I wanted all the pints to remain in tact through the sock, hence afterthought heel so that no increases and decreases were needed. I also knew that I didn't want pints on the underside of the foot, and I also didn't want to carry the yarn over and thus make a very bulky foot. As you can see I succeeded in these aims, but not until a great deal of googling had been done and a new technique learnt!

The technique I used is called festive knitting, and is a cunning method of working colourwork in the round without having to carry yarns all the way.

The idea is that the first time you encounter your colour you knit it as normal for colourwork, then continue round. When you get to the colourwork section on the next row the yarn will be on the wrong side!!! All you need to do is work across the colourwork section in your background colour and whenever you encounter a contrasting stitch you slip it purlwise. When you reach the end of the colourwork section you flip your work over and do the reverse.. i.e. you slip the background colour stitches and purl the contrast stitches until you get back to the beginning of the section.

Carry on round the round (easy if you are using dpns, if using a circular you'll need to slip all the stitches back over again..) and next time you reach the colourwork the yarn for the contrast colour will be in the right place! Alternate these two rows of knitting normally, and slipping and then purling stitches and your colourwork will build up as normal.

The only differences I found were that my colourwork was a bit tighter working back and forth, so I had to be careful to loosen up a bit, and that when you look at the inside of the sock you can see that where there is colourwork all round the carried yarns alternate down the sock, but in the top of the foot they are paired.

All in all it was a very successful technique, and I may well find myself using it again.

Just to round off, here's a shot of how well the socks fit their new owner!! I was very pleased considering he had no clue of the socks existence until they appeared, completed, before him :)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Pasteis de nata (yum) and dress progress

Last night I decided it was time to try making Pasteis de Nata again (traditional Portuguese custard tarts). Last time they were nice, but I'd used too much pastry and in my old oven the filling didn't cook how I wanted it to.

This time, they were a success!!
I followed the recipe here - except I made a few tweaks of my own.

Here is the recipe as I followed it:-

3 egg yolks
100 g ground xylitol (instead of caster sugar, I ground the xylitol in my herb chopper to make "caster xylitol")
2 tbsp cornflour
230 ml single cream
170 ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
250 g puff pastry (I bought a block of pastry, chopped it in half and rolled one half out and froze the other for later)

Over a medium heat I mixed and stirred the egg yolks, xylitol, cream, milk and vanilla extract. With a little bit of the cold milk I mixed up the cornflour into a smooth paste and then added this to the cooking custard. I mixed the custard until it thickened, then took it off the heat and left it to cool.

For the pastry I rolled out 250g then sprinkled it with cinnamon and icing sugar. I then cut the pastry in two rolled up the pastry pieces into a long thin sausage like snail, and cut 1.5-2 cm pieces of pastry. With each of these, I turned them on their side, so you could see the spiral shape, and then rolled it into a flat circle of around 10 cm diameter. This was then pressed into a greased fairy cake tin and filled with about a dessertspoonful of custard. The tarts were then baked at 200 C (in a fan oven) for 20-25 minutes, and this is what they looked like..

Unlike in my old oven, where they wouldn't brown on top (as the bottom had already burnt) here the pastry is nicely cooked and the filling nicely browned on top. YUM!

Chris approved...
In the lab today, the two Portuguese thoroughly approved, so success all round i'd say :)

I've also been working on the real bridesmaids dress.. the mock-up is still somewhere in the post on its way back from America, so I'm having to remember where I put all of the seamlines last time, but it's coming together..


I had the good fortune to attend the 6th UK-Japan Cell-cycle workshop last week, which was held near Ambleside by Lake Windermere.

We were graced with lovely weather for a lot of the time, including our afternoon off, and it was really a lovely setting for the conference.

 This was my room for the duration of the meeting - swanky ne?

And this little guy/gal was sat on my bed awaiting my arrival - quite an apt cuddly toy to be waiting to greet a knitter! In the hotel where the conference was actually taking place people had cuddly sheep-dogs on their beds - it seems to be a lake district thing to have cuddly toys to play with?!

On our afternoon off, a lot of people went off on a boat trip around the lake, but I felt the need for some exercise as we'd been sat listening to talks from 8.30 am to 10 pm each day! Several of us grouped up and headed up to the Skeghyll woods for a bit of a hike. The 3 or 4 miles of walking was very invigorating, especially with views like these:-

 Wild garlic growing alongside the paths. It was everywhere!

A nice view looking down the lake.

Some of the sheep we encountered on the way..

They seemed resistant to me wandering over and pinching a bit of their fleece. Wonder why?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Kitchen! and garden

So we do now have a functional kitchen!! the process of getting there wasn't pleasant but the end product (bar a few niggles, and needing to do tiling etc) is good.

I think my favourite thing (aside from the fact we now have a decent sized kitchen with sensible work-space) is our new hob. It's an induction hob, and aside from a couple of times when we've put pans on to warm up and then realised they're not magnetic, it has been fantastic. It can heat a pan of water in about a minute! and so far seems just as controllable as gas, but without the whole flame aspect.. Induction hobs are also the most efficient, as they induce the pan to heat up, but the hob itself doesn't heat up (except heat that transfers back from the pan) and so heat isn't lost so much. This has the added bonus of meaning you don't get boiling hot while slaving over the (not hot) stove!

Below are some pictures of the kitchen in its new shinier state..

 Baking in progress...

 The product baking in the new oven..

 The magic induction hob!

 A monkey enjoying the new worktop.. and thinking how nice it would be to have a bath in the new sink..

Obviously we will tile and decorate at some point, but not right now :) a little too much to be thinking of..

Thursday, 7 April 2011


On Saturday I had my very exciting surprising hen-day, as organised by the lovely Amy.
All I knew when I turned up at Amy's house on Saturday morning was who would be attending, I didn't know where we were going or what we were doing.. and Amy wouldn't tell me :)

I arrived at Amy's at 9 am, we wandered out to the bus-stop and only when we got on the bus (though there aren't that many destinations..) did I find out we were off to the train station. When we arrived there Amy was very sneaky and sent me off while she got our tickets from the machine, so I couldn't see where we were going! I went to fetch some coffees while she did this, and we then sat and waited for the rest of the Oxford contingent to arrive.

At about 10.30 am it was revealed that our destination on the train was London (which they had to tell me really, as we were getting on the train..). I still had no idea what our destination within London was though..

Our first stop once we got to Paddington turned out to be The Cumberland Hotel by Marble Arch, where we were due to meet Zoe, who'd travelled down from the north-west in order to be there! This would be our home for the night, and a very swanky home it was too!

This was the bathroom in the hotel room, shiny ne?

Once we'd collected Zoe we hot-footed it across town to Islington, where it turned out we were going for lunch (which was just as well, as we'd been racing round on foot due to a lack of central line and had all worked up an appetite). Our lunch venue was the lovely Candid Arts café, where half of the options on the menu were veggie (always a welcome sight for me).

Here we are, sat around the enormous table that Amy had booked for us.

Once we had ordered, and were waiting for our food, there was some muttering between Amy and Liz and then everyone began pulling gifts from their bags! It turned out that we were to have a Yankee Swap. As the hen I was allowed to choose a gift from the pile to unwrap. The next person around the table (and it follows on like this) can either choose to steal an item that has already been unwrapped, or to unwrap a new item. If someone is stolen from then they get to either steal a different item from someone else (not what was stolen from them) or unwrap a new gift. This can go on for a little while, and in our swap there was a very popular little monkey tea strainer, who moved about a bit. As the hen I was given the option at the end of stealing any gift I liked, and so ended up with a monkey tea strainer of my very own :)

We then ate our lunch, which was quite tasty, and headed on to our next mystery (for me, not anyone else) destination..
As mentioned in Liz's blog our next destination was the MakeLounge, where we were to enjoy an afternoon of crafty goodness making our own bath and body products..

Here's the fabulous spread of food and drink that everyone brought to share while we made our beauty products

Firstly we had introductions to essential oils, leading to a spirited discussion of whether essential oils are of use to the plant or not, I'm on the side of them being extremely useful to the plant as a defence mechanism (against pests and germs) and for attracting pollinators.

Then we began making our massage bars:-
 Heating the mix of beeswax, shea butter, and cocoa butter...

Pouring the melted mixture over the essential oil mixes we'd picked out.

Next we made bath bombs! There were dried petals available for us to use to decorate our bombs, and colouring to make them pretty.

Not sure why Cat is looking so angry and possessive of her bath bomb mix.. maybe we mocked her weighing skills?

The first of my garish blue bath bombs.. as demonstrated by Jennifer, our instructor for the day.

Next we made lip balms (which are really quite nice to use). Here's Claudia stirring away over the hotplate:-

And here are Janina and Anna showing off their finished lipbalms!

Lastly we made body scrub, which also works quite well! It was simple to make, and the only small flaw in it is quite how water repellent you are after using it in the shower! (it's a little oily).

After we had completed our crafty tasks we headed back to the hotel to change and headed out to dinner. I was also presented with another lovely surprise! everyone had contributed towards a recipe book for me, and the entries were beautifully decorated. A few entries are shown below.

Amy had found a really nice South Indian restaurant called Woodlands for dinner, and all the food was vegetarian! as always happens in this sort of situation, I took forever to choose my food. I had puri with my meal, a puffy fried bread that you don't often see, they were delicious.. Several of us had paneer with date chutney as a starter which was excellent! and quite filling.. my main course was vegetable kofta in a tomato-based sauce, which was delicious but a little too spicy for my palate, so by the end of my meal I couldn't taste the flavours anymore!

After the meal several of us went for drinks, and then out clubbing, we ended up in one place which was largely populated with superheroes! but sadly I didn't get any pictures of this part of the hen-day so you'll just have to imagine a whole dance-floor of superheroes boogieing away...

Here's a picture of all of my homemade goodies, once i'd extracted the bath bombs from their heart-shaped container - I recommend you try making your own, it's good fun and would make a great present!

Many thanks to everyone who contributed toward, came along to and organised such a lovely day! 

Friday, 1 April 2011

Stowe landscape gardens

On Sunday Chris and I wanted to escape the lack of kitchen in our house, and make the most of the sunshine so we packed a lunch (nothing cooked, due to the non-existent nature of our kitchen at that point), got into the car and headed off to Stowe landscape gardens.

The gardens are run by the National Trust, and are on the site of Stowe school, near to Buckingham. I'd love to have those gardens as the surroundings of my school, and to be able to walk amongst all of the temples in the gardens, and the sheep on the grounds.

 Here's the first lovely temple within the gardens. 

And here's Chris peeking out from one of the pillars...

Cobham's Pillar - though we thought they missed a trick and should have called it Cobham's Column..

Here are a couple of the sheep that managed to resist the urge to run over and give me their fleece.. How cute is the little lamb :)

We stopped to eat our picnic lunch by this lovely fountain, and enjoyed the view over a small lake while sitting in the sunshine on the bench, thoroughly pleasant!

I'm pretty sure this is the bridge featured on the front of the National Trust weddings brochure.. Very picturesque. From the bridge we saw this:-

There were several Grebes bobbing about, but they kept diving as soon as anyone tried to take a picture, so I couldn't catch more than one at a time!

All in all Stowe landscape gardens were a lovely retreat from the chaos that was our house (it's becoming less chaotic, as will be revealed in a couple of days) and I think the sunshine and gentle exercise did us both the world of good.