Sunday, 25 July 2010


When I haven't been making jam and chutney (see posts below) I've been knitting some socks for myself in "Regia - Ringels". The pattern is Fern Lace and has been quite straight forward. well, I haven't had to restart three times, I have knitted one sock from start to finish in one go.

It's another twelve row repeat and I have maintained my rule of not stopping in the middle of a repeat, which has worked pretty well. So, here is one finished sock. It has used a lot more yarn than a plain knit sock, obviously, but also more than some of the other stitch patterns I have done before.

Though I am not sure if it is too busy a stitch pattern for the colour-pattern?

I'm pleased with it even if it is.


Today, I has mostly been making chutney - to psych myself up for another afternoon of marking plagiarised assignments. I have been attempting to eat more fruit but had ended up with a bag of apples and pears that were not going to be eaten any time soon. So, I thought, I'd have a break from jam and make some.

I ended up combining a classic chutney recipe with a pear chutney recipe by someone called Peggy.

Here's the combined ingredients - the ones I focused on, anyway:

500g pears and apples
1/2 large red onion
300ml vinegar (bog standard, none of your fancy white wine, cider, honey vinegars)
250ml honey
100g sultanas
several splashes of lemon juice
4 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 grated nutmeg
shake of salt

First of all, chop the fruit, having peeled and cored it.

Add the finely diced onion. Heat it and mash it a bit.

Add the vinegar. Heat until it boils and then simmer until everything is tender. Open the windows, get the extractor fan on and shut the kitchen door, unless you are a devotee of Eau de Vinegar.

Having simmered, chuck in the rest of the agreements and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Or until you have hung out the washing, scraped the labels of the jars, Milton'd them and then warmed them up... preparation for spooning the results into the jars.

I spilled a fair amount as I was doing this. It tastes pretty good.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Jam Today, Jam Tomorrow, Always with the Jam

I thought fruit picking would be fun while I was on leave. And then it rained, and then I realised I am a lazy sod and couldn't really be arsed. Plus when I tracked down local fruit picking farms' websites, there seemed to be just too much faff involved: "There has been a bumper crop because of the recent rain and sunshine. However, we had too many people come fruit picking at the weekend so don't bother unless there has been a full moon, your name has an 'x' in it or if you can navigate the orienteering course to get in."

Ok, ok. I'm paraphrasing.

However, the local supermarket was selling strawberries at only £2 for £400g - a bargain I thought. So, I bought a couple of punnets, brought them home to chop up and then boil, whilst mashing them - very therapeutic. (I'm honestly not a violent psychotic, but I think I sometimes may give that impression of myself... violence against fruit, as long as it doesn't escalate I suppose). No water is added to this - the liquid comes from the melting fruit.

Next stage - sugar. I use low pectin preserving sugar because I use the MIL's recipe which is a Danish low-sugar version. Instead if the usual recipes (that I've seen) that require around 3x the amount of sugar to fruit ratio, this has a pectin supplement (Melatin) so you end up using 2/3 of the fruit's weight in sugar. E.g. 1600g fruit needs 1100g sugar.

Once boiled for ten minutes, the next stage is picking the scum of the surface - a finnicky job but it means that your jam won't go off. I've got a jar of blackberry jam I made last September, still in the fridge, and it is still good. No sign of mould and it tastes sweet. I also wonder if this has anything to do with the reduced sugar? (If anyone knows I'd love to hear from you).

And finally, the finished product.


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Mini Diamonds 4: This Time It's Personal

Before we begin, I would like to make it absolutely clear that this was in no way a labour of love, it was an exercise in sheer bloody mindedness.

Our story begins when I decided to buy some pink yarn sock yarn for using up sock yarn oddments in socks for Neice Number 1. I was a little over enthusiastic on eBay and ended up with 200g of shocking pink sock yarn ('Regia' and 'Opal'). What on earth was I going to do with such an unnecessarily extensive array of pink?

I consulted the Ultimate Sock Knitting Book and decided to embark on the Mini Diamonds - a simple and effective looking pattern to look at that seemed to be a simple pattern for even a buffoon to follow. Uh-huh.

So, I set to knitting and having just got past the ribbing, couldn't get into the pattern - I kept making mistakes in the first six rows. I frogged it. This is not unusual for me. I usually end up pulling right back to the start, even past the neat cuff.

Take 2: One 12 row repeat completed. Eureka, the girl has cracked it. Oh, no, no, no, she has not. One glass of wine too many, and she miscounts and the whole thing goes belly up again.

I mentioned this at the knitting group I go to and the suggestion, the very logical suggestion was to give up. I would have said the same myself. But I couldn't - it was already becoming a case of "it's the socks or me." I'm sure Custer would have been proud.

Third attempt - completely sober gets me past three repeats. Three repeats. How marvellous. You may already suspect that this is not going to end well. I put down the pattern half way through the fourth repeat. Disaster. I couldn't remember which row I was on and while I soldiered on for another four rows trying to fool myself that Neice No 1 wouldn't notice the elongated diamonds... (I ran it past the BF and he couldn't see the problem, but he is a man and he struggles with the difference between Natural Hessian and Walnut, though he may have a point there)... I remembered that Neice No 1 is a seven year old girl and nothing gets past the little buggers.

So, I frogged it and started again. With new rules:

1. Do not knit this when anything other than stone cold sober.
2. Never stop a repeat half way through.
This is fine for 12 row repeats, but I am never going to be able to attempt 32 row repeats in lace shawls. I wouldn't be able to eat, or sleep or do anything else again... until it was finished. I'd be an emaciated skeleton pulled out of the living room by finally exasperated BF. Or I could learn to make a note or what row I'm on.
3. Use a life line, especially when four repeats into the pattern, like so:

Especially when turning the heel - not usually something I struggle with, but with this pattern, all bets were off and I was taking a belt, braces, crash helmet and knee pads approach.

And you know what, it's paid off - one pair Mini Diamond socks in the post to my neice this morning.

She had better bloody like them.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Cornwall and the Eden Project

Apologies for the break in transmission. The BF and I have been on holiday. We've been to Cornwall - somewhere that neither of us have been before and we're attempting to fly only once each year. I'm not sure how that balances with the fact that we drove there and have driven over 1,000 miles this week but I'm hoping that's a little more environmentally friendly than flying.

We spent the week in Falmouth which is a really pretty town and, most importantly, has loads of great places to eat. This week, we has been mostly eating Mexican, Italian, Caribbean, English, French and fish and chips. Our guest house - the Chellowdene, if anyone is looking for a recommendation - was lovely: clean (immaculately so), friendly but not intrusive proprieters and top-notch breakfasts. To my mind, there was not a huge amount to see in Falmouth but the beach and coastline is stunning, Pendennis Castle is definitely worth a trip and, as part of a whalewatching trip only, the Maritime Museum is rather good - especially the exhibit about knitting lighthouse keepers. (The town's woolshop, sadly, isn't up to much).

So, stand by for a series of posts just about our holiday.

(I'll post about the bloody mini-diamond socks I've been attempting to knit for Niece Number 1 later this week. I am on the fourth attempt with these buggers!)

On our first day, as it was raining, we headed up to the Eden Project, where the biomes nestle on the hillside like giant maggots. I suspect that this was not the design aim (but then the 2012 Olympic logo probably wasn't intended to be interpreted as it is, either).

I really enjoyed wandering around the Eden Project - the tropical and Meditteranean biomes are stunning but the gardens outside are incredible too. I didn't find it that informative but it was certainly a lovely place to be.

I'm no horticulturalist but some of the plants are stunning and there are sculptures dotted around the complex, like these figures representing the Bacchanalia.

Or the giant bee!

I didn't see many actual bees.

The Lizard

On the sunniest day we had during the holiday, we went walking around the Lizard.

Having left Lizard village, for the most part the route followed the Coastal Path which made for some stunning views, and yes, my horizons are wonky. (Liz, my photographer friend will spit her tea out when she sees some of these).

(And, here's my Dr Strangelove impression).

The route took in Lizard Head, Bass Point and the Marconi wireless station - where the BF and I were treated to a surreal little tour of a one-room hut and recreated telegraphy equipment. Very interesting though.

Most importantly, we had a cream tea at Lizard Point - not the most Southerly cafe in England, that was 15m down the path; but we were there for the scones, not the geography.

Whale Watching and the Minack

We spent one of our days around Falmouth - on a boat trip to see sharks and dolphin and whales, oh my!

So, we got kitted up in this rather tasteful gear. Note that the appropriate footwear was not provided so tootsies got cold.

The faux fisherman look was for riding in one of these. For two hours. Bums were numb.

And did we see any dophins, whales or basking sharks? Not one. However, we did see gannets, guillemots and cormorants - making a lot of noise - and...

...even better than that
we went to Fraggle Rock! I was very excited.

(It's not leaning - I was photographing this from a boat).

(For those who don't know/remember, Fraggle Rock was another Jim Henson muppet type offering, set below a lighthouse, featuring various puppet type things. It had a great theme tune. The light house is actually this one at St Anthony's Head, across the bay from Falmouth - and not to be confused with Giles from Buffy).

Back on shore, having clambered out of the boat, we drove down to Porthcurno, to the Minack Theatre.

This was built into the cliff side by Rosemary Cade and during the Summer, you can take a picnic to go and see a play. We were there for Romeo and Juliet - it was the hammiest performance I have ever seen, certainly on Juliet's part (and I could barely understand the nurse's accent, which coming from a fake-Geordie is saying something, I know but it meant I missed all the rude jokes).

The sun set just before the Romeo and Juliet carked it.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Our last day in Cornwall was spent back up near St Austell at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. If you find yourself having to choose between the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens as the destination for a day trip, I would definitely recommend choosing the latter.

The gardens are on the site of the Tremaine family's estate and over the course of the 20th Century were left to rack and ruin. The valley was "rediscovered" in the 1990s and the last twenty years have seen tremendous efforts made in restoring the grounds. They're a fantastic site and sight.

Alongside the Woodland Walk is the Giant...

...and a little further along the path, the Mud Maid.

(That's her on the right - I was only a little grubby).

At the bottom of the valley is the Jungle - full of bamboo, giant redwood, giant rhubarb and tree ferns. It all feels very prehistoric.

After a top lunch - they bake their own bread and grow a lot of the food served in the restaurant - we headed up to the Northern Gardens. I thought this was going to be fairly boring - vegetable gardens and flower gardens, but it is stunning.

There's a suggested walk taking you past the key points of interest and the gardeners don't seem to mind visitors asking (daft, in our case) questions about the plants and the restoration.

(I once read a horror novel about scarecrows - what possessed me to take a picture of one?)

There is information posted all over the Gardens about the restoration and about the different aspects of work (e.g. charcoal burning as a sustainable part of forestry management) and I found this much more informative than the Eden Project approach. Why? Well, the Eden Project is very funky with lots of brightly painted displays but these seem to ask more questions than actually getting around to answering anything.

Yes, it could be argued that sustainablity and the best approaches to being environmentally-friendly are up for debate. It just seemed to me that the Heligan method was more honest - "here's what we think, though we might be wrong". Yes, the information provided at Heligan was about the work done there, rather than trying to answer worldwide questions, but I felt there were gaps in the presentation at the Eden Project. They also grow their own food on site, and they use rainwater for the toilets, but then there is the tractor powered land train (milk float alternative?) and the stonkingly huge lump of granite shipped there and shaped by power tools into a seed - the Core. Doesn't this contradict what the Eden Project is allegedly trying to do? Perhaps I missed the point.