Friday, 28 December 2012

Cold Turkey

Now the big day has come and gone and the Boxing Day Buffet has exceeded all expectation but is now just a dim and distant memory along with the annual Knitted Christmas Sweater, our attentions now turn to what to do with the left-over Turkey et al.  Some women can keep Christmas left-overs going till Pancake Day but remember these are the women that probably put their Christmas veg on to boil in November.  It has to be said that some left-overs are best left to the dog/cat/rabbit/hamster/Shetland pony but in the absence of, then a little knowledge aforethought might not go amiss before you order the turkey and plan for the perfect Christmas feast:  


1. It's not just the oven the turkey has to fit into. You have to be able to house the beast in the fridge first without resorting to a Krypton Factor test of removing shelves, emptying the entire contents then put back as you remember.  

2. Turkey Crowns are a boon to the modern housewife but if you insist on buying the real thing then always downsize. Everyone always pigs-out for lunch so barely has room for a wafer thin slice of turkey in the evening. Either that or go down the goose-route.  

3. Fridges do tend to take on a life of their own around this festive period, becoming almost Narnia-esque.   When searching for the already sliced-into lemon you've stashed away somewhere in cling film wanting to load your glass of gin and tonic, you never seem to reach the back of the fridge and instead end up touching something soft and furry and then extremely cold only to discover the canopes from Christmas Eve have developed fur coats of their own.

4. Beware of parsnips cunningly disguised as roast potatoes.  Although personally I am a great fan of parsnips I do appreciate there are always those who have an aversion to the much maligned parsnip so best not to cook too many unless you know they are spoken for.

5. This is an absolute must - ensure you have enough room in the fridge to chill the Champers and white wine even if it means jettisoning the stuff for the Boxing Day Buffet to the garage. Don't rely on the cupboard under the stairs as a makeshift fridge to chill down the Christmas booze. Remember Harry Potter lived here till he went to Hogwarts so it's certainly not cold enough to chill the fizz.


I remember as a child growing up, the left-over turkey meal of choice my mum would cook at Christmas would be Turkey and Chips and she would cook real chips cooked in a deep saucepan of cooking oil, not the cheat's oven chips of today.

Turkey curry is always a good standby but came across this recipe for turkey left-overs in an American cook book and they of all people should know a lot about Turkey seeing as they have a double whammy of Turkey with Thanksgiving in November as a pre-cursor to Christmas. It is a variation on the classic New York recipe for Chicken Divan:

Turkey Divan 

6 good slices of left-over turkey
1 tin condensed cream of chicken soup (thinned slightly with a splash of sherry and a little cream or milk)
Head of Broccoli (cooked)
Grated Parmesan/Cheddar (or whatever cheese you have got to hand) 

Put about one quarter of the soup mixture in the based of a buttered casserole, Add the broccoli and cover with the slices of turkey.  Pour over the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle generously with the cheese and bake uncovered at 180C for about twenty minutes till bubbling. (Serves 5-6)

I will leave the last word to the gospel according to Delia.  I always follow her instructions on Christmas Day to the letter - got to be done - you can't deviate from the great Delia.  


Turn the chipolatas and bacon rolls over, then you are free for a few minutes to go and have a pre-lunch glass of champagne.  You deserve it."



Merry Christmas Everyone and a Happy 2013!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Great Jumpers of our Time No 5 - 21 years in the making

Strictly speaking a cardigan not a jumper, yesterday I finally finished the Fair Isle cardigan I started knitting 21 years ago. A cause for celebration indeed as it has been a real labour of love. When I first started knitting it all those years ago, Fair Isle was very on trend, then slipped out of fashion but fortunately for me Fair Isle is once again de rigueur appearing in all the high street stores. Darling Daughter who once pooh-poohed it not so long back, thinking it was horrendous and soooo middle-aged, has her eyes firmly set on it now and this is only because her favourite shop Jack Wills - University Outfitters Fabulously Overpriced  is full of Fair Isles. I have relented a bit though and told her she can borrow it from time to time. 

   The Jack Wills Hensingham Cardigan -  a snip at £129.00


The Jack Wills Sedburgh Jumper - a bargain at only £98.50

So why has it taken me so many years to knit?  Well with Fair Isle you have to follow a chart which is like graph paper where each square represents 1 stitch.  This is not something you can do easily while watching TV and the fact that I needed a magnifying glass to see the chart didn't help either. Other things got in the way too like juggling a career with bringing up baby so the knitting took a back seat plus the fact that knitting itself seemed to go out of fashion. When I first bought the wool there was a wool shop on every high street but now sadly there are very few or we have to rely on major department stores and on-line shopping.  This was also a time when in women's magazines the knitting patterns and recipes fast started disappearing in favour of celebrity shenanigans such as who's fat, who's thin, who's pregnant and who's got the worst  cellulite. 

Also interesting to note that 21 years ago the wool, which is 100% Lambswool Tweed, cost me around £27 but  if I bought the wool today it would set me back a whopping £95 although it has to be said that Rowan yarns (which I absolutely adore) always have been a bit on the dear side.
The rather dog-eared original Rowan pattern

DD put an order in for a Fair Isle of her own a few weeks ago thinking I would have it knitted and sewn up ready for her Christmas stocking. Which Christmas and what planet is she on?  Based on my track record she would be 38 by the time it's finished and God knows how old that would make me. Would I ever be tempted to knit another? Not bloody likely! But then again look at this absolutely divine Fair Isle I have spotted in the latest Rowan Autumn/Winter magazine issue 52.

And as my dear old mum used to say:

 "You can never have too many cardigans"  


                                                                                                  Frances Prestwich 1924 - 2002 

Great Jumpers of our Time No 1 - Howard & Hilda
Great Jumpers of our Time No 2 - Colin Firth
Great Jumpers of our Time No 3 - Sara Lund, The Killing
Great Jumpers of our Time No 4 - Tom & Barbara Good

Friday, 7 December 2012

Kimono My House

We had a really inspiring and interesting talk this week at the Solihull Embroiderer's Guild from textile artist Marion Plumb on the kimono. Marion brought along some of her extensive collection of vintage kimono and obi shashes for us to look at and gave us an overview of the history and the decorative techniques used to produce them.

The kimono are hand-stitched and here is the detail from one that has been hand embroidered. They really were something to behold and the intricate stitchwork was stunning.

Kimono are still worn today mostly by Japanese women for special occasions.   Marion brought with her examples of kimono called furisode which are worn by girls when they reach the age of 19 at the start of their 20th year to celebrate their coming of age. The furisode is made of brightly coloured silk with huge long sleeves to the floor designed to signify they are single and available for marriage.

Here are some stunning examples of obi which are the sashes used to tie the komono.  They are made of brocade and can be up to 13ft long.    

Here is a shibori dyed kimono which is the Japanese art of tie-dying using folding, twisting, stitching and binding. Modelled beautifully here by my good friend and textile artist  June Parkinson

Sunday, 25 November 2012

My Von Trapp Family of Bags

Do you remember that wonderful scene from The Sound of Music when Fraulein Maria rips down the curtains from her bedroom window and uses them to run up a few lederhosen and dirndl dresses for the children much to Captain Von Trapp's annoyance. Well I had a similar flash of inspiration myself a few weeks ago when I  attended a bag making workshop by Jennie Rayment called 'Bags Galore'.

No I didn't rip down my curtains but lets start at the very beginning and I will explain. I needed enough material to make 4 bags but when I looked into my fabric stash on the night before the workshop I hadn't got nearly enough.  How do I solve a problem like that? As luck would have it, a few years ago I had bought a huge remnant of curtain fabric for £4 from a charity shop.  I simply remember thinking one day I might actually get round to using it to make curtains but truth is I'm not wild on the design anyway so then I don't feel so bad about using it for bags after all.

So, with a needle pulling thread, I got creative and at the workshop ran up the 4 bags out of said curtain material. I have confidence I thought that this might work and I had so much material I could easily have made sixteen going on seventeen bags.  

There really is something good about being creative and resourceful.  One of my favourite things I made at the workshop was this 'scrip bag' designed by Jennie.

I never thought I would make 4 bags all in one day but the first three bags just happened to be so easy.  Jennie kept us really busy all day and the sound of sewing machines was music to our ears. We agreed that it had been one of our favourite workshops and at the end of the day it was quite sad when we had to say so long, farewell to Jennie.

Monday, 19 November 2012

SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy)

SABLE or Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy is a fabulous acronym I first heard used by crochet and knitting artist Pauline Fitzpatrick when she was our guest speaker at the Solihull Embroiderer's Guild meeting earlier this month.    It refers to the stash of wools and yarns that a knitter buys, acquires, accumulates over the years and even if they live to 100 the likelihood of them knitting it all up is quite remote. It's a physical and logistical impossibility.

For anyone with a SABLE of wool Pauline is the perfect inspiration as she produces and designs crochet accessories – jewellery, bags, scarves and hats, and the most amazing wallhangings using free-form crochet.

Pauline says of her work:

"I usually start out with a general idea for the piece I`m making, which evolves during the working process. This is particularly true with freeform crochet, where different yarns can be added as the piece progresses. I am fascinated by colour and texture, particularly the way colours are affected when placed next to each other."

I keep my SABLE in a large linen basket and the other day I tipped it all over the floor to see just how much I had acquired over the years.

It's quite a lot but pales into insignificance when I came across this SABLE from a lady in USA.  

I think it's an addiction thing.  I am certainly addicted to wool and love a bargain so whenever I see a Rowan Wools sale I try to stock up.  The thing is I am a really slow knitter (more a time factor here than skill or dexterity and it's not for the want of trying you must understand - just not enough hours in the day) and the fact I have been knitting a Fair-Isle cardigan for the last 21 years does not really come into it.

I am addicted to books too, particularly cookery books because of my love of cooking.  I also have an Amazon habit so the two go hand in glove but I got to thinking about all my cook books and the recipes contained within and see them as some sort of SABLE for recipes which could be RABBLE (Recipe Acquisition Bloody Beyond Life Expectancy) or CABLE (Cookbook Acquisition beyond Life Expectancy). I am always thinking about where my next meal is coming from though so I can have a damn good try at cooking them all. 


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Culture and Chips

Another grand day out in Walsall last week, this time with fellow SAFers (Solihull Artists Forum) at the New Art Gallery Walsall to see the Fiona Rae exhibition - Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century.   Rae, who at only 27 was shorlisted in 1991 for the Turner Prize, paints huge canvases with bright bold painterly splashes of Abstract Expressionism.  Here are Fiona and Paula looking longingly at Rae's work.   

Time spent in Japan has influenced her work and computer animated Japanese motifs such as angels, Bambis and pandas regularly inhabit her paintings. 

Sculptor Mark Tilley also seemed suitably impressed with Rae's work.

Also on Floor 3 was  Jodie Carey's exhibition Solomon's Knot.  Carey focuses on an exploration of time passing and memories fading.  Ultimately she is concerned with the fragility and vulnerability of human life.

I was very impressed with this epic piece of crochet Untitled (Bouquet) suspended from the ceiling which the artist has stitched by hand. (Goodness, that's a lot of evenings spent in front of the TV). The choice of stitch is significant and provides the title of the show.  Solomon's Knot can be traced as far back as Roman times, is commonly associated with wisdom and knowledge and has no end and no beginning. 

Untitled (Slabs) is a sculptural installation of plaster slabs which Carey has meticulously hand-coloured using pencil crayon.  This raises many imponderables: 

a) Similar to the crocheted piece, how much time and effort would that have taken? 

b) How many pencils?

c) How much pencil sharpening would she have had to do and surely not using a tiny hand held one, maybe one of those with a handle seen clamped to teachers' desks which seem to devour the pencils up, sharpen them to within a millimetre of their life and then the minute you put them to paper always break. Maybe she would have treated herself and splashed out on an electric one. I expect she did. 

d) All those shavings too and there is always the stray shaving that escapes the bin and sticks to your jumper.

A quick blast out onto the roof top to brace the  November chill  and see the Rose Quartz sculpture and the Walsall sky line.  

And finally a couple of pieces from the Garman Ryan permanent collection at Walsall which I never tire of seeing.

Sally Ryan - Mother and Child

There is also a Damien Hirst exhibition of his sculptures, paintings and prints presented within the Garman Ryan collection until October 2013.  Sorry, no photos allowed I'm afraid so can't post any of his work here. No bad thing I think.

A not too dear lunch in the pub next door to the gallery rounded off our grand day out.  We go home feasted on culture and chips but as always after visiting Walsall, lamenting the lack of art galleries and exhibition space in Solihull.  Now, like the Tardis, if only we could teleport the New Art Gallery Walsall to Solihull.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Allsorts Art Fair

A busy Saturday morning spent helping Julie and Ann man the Solihull Embroiderers' Guild stall at Saturday's Allsorts Art Fair at Solihull Arts Complex.  We are always on the look out for new members and meet at Solihull Methodist Church on the first Tuesday of each month 2 - 4pm or 7.30 - 9.30 pm.  Our next meeting is tomorrow and our guest speaker is crochet artist Pauline Fitzpatrick so please come along and join us if you can.

Next to our stall was King Pleasure himself artist Mark Skirving selling original prints of his wonderful atmospheric contemporary paintings. Mark is also a member of Solihull Artists' Forum,a group of contemporary craft based artists working and living in the Solihull area.

Two other members of Solihull Artists' Forum were also at Allsorts. Here is sculptor Mark Tilley with some examples of his work and his amazing portrait heads.

Mark welcomes commissions for his portrait head sculptures so if there is anyone you would like immortalised in stone or bronze then he would be only too willing to do one for you.

Here artist Fiona Payne takes her inspiration from architecture to produce vibrant colourful abstracted images.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Wildwood Windlass Lasses

Time again for our annual sojourn on Wildwood along the Grand Union Canal from Catherine de Barnes then onto the Stratford Canal up as far as Wilnecote and back. The Men-Folk as usual at the helm took charge of the boat with us wifeys down in the galley taking charge of the cooking and looking after the children, albeit teenagers who probably take care of the grown ups these days.  

The Men-Folk did let us wee girlies loose with the windlasses from time to time to open and close the locks but it's always a bit of a power struggle as they prefer to be in overall charge of navigation.


Always looking for inspiration and  interesting shots which might translate into ideas for an artwork.  I love the old bridges of some of the locks we went through.

En route to The Bull's Head for some prepandial refreshment we got to see some of the beautiful Warwickshire countryside - this is the weir at Wootten Hall, Wootten Wawen.

How about this for a magnificent climber in all its autumn glory.

As a keen knitter this caught my eye  moored in Lowsonford. A narrow boat for knitters to drop by and view yarns and wools. More for retailers though than the home knitter but what a fabulous idea. 

Ducks on parade at Kingswood Junction.

They had come over to see us and fight for our stale artisan bread bought at the local farm shop.