Friday, October 11, 2013

New Etsy shop (and job)

Blimey, I forgot how tiring full-time work is! After 3 years at university, I am unused to having to be awake, alert and upright for long periods at a time. I even wrote most of my essays in a semi-horizontal position on my bed - I hate sitting at desks. But I now have a job in a haberdashery and sewing machine shop, so I am on my feet all day and seem to be spending my evenings curled up on the sofa in my dressing gown (we are being stingy and avoiding putting the heating on) with dreadful TV or the Dickens that I'm wading through ever so slowly.

My other big(ish) news aside from the job is that I've finally decided to start selling some of my drawings on Etsy, to compensate for the sluggish evenings. There are only a few on there right now, but I will be adding to them as and when I can (I can only photograph them on my days off, as the light is too bad in the evenings). I find them to be really soothing to draw, and satisfying as they don't take too long before they start coming together and getting to a stage where I'm pleased with them. I'm selling them unframed to begin with, but I think I will look into framing them when I get a chance.

Here's a selection of works that can be found at

Song of the day: 'Neighborhood 2 (Laïka)' - Arcade Fire

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Baking and drawing to keep the cold at bay

There is no doubt that winter is coming. Although today isn't too cold, the last few days have featured a bitter wind which was quite a shock when I ventured out on Monday morning. I was actually a little annoyed, as I always like an excuse to wear a coat, but not realising how much the temperature had dropped, I was forced to shiver in my definitely-at-its-best-in-warmer-weather trench coat. Still, I won't be caught out again: soon I'll be living in coats 24/7, which is a rather exciting prospect. Despite seeming to feel the cold more than the average person, I think I am at heart a winter baby. Give me an open fire, something hot in the oven and a project to keep my hands occupied, and I'm happy.

Sadly the open fire will have to wait a few years: our flat boasts two fireplaces, but neither of them is functioning and our landlord has expressly told us not to attempt to light a fire in either of them.

As to hot things in ovens, my latest attempt to get better at baking was this banana and chocolate loaf.

It's a Nigel Slater recipe (available here - I followed it pretty much to the letter, except I omitted the hazelnuts as I didn't have any) and not only did it take care of the past their best bananas in the fruit bowl, it was always pretty good, and just what I wanted at the time. I like cakes with fruit in as it keeps them moist and they seem to last a bit longer than a usual sponge. The chocolate was a good addition too, I used half a bar of dark chocolate and cut it up into little chunks. Best of all though, I made two and the other one is sitting in the freezer ready for another day when I fancy a slice of cake with my tea (not sure how well cake freezes, but I'm sure it'll be fine, right?)

And for a project, I've done a few more drawings recently, trying to add to my creatures wall which is growing on the chimney breast opposite my bed. I don't know what it is exactly, but I find these simple black biro drawings so satisfying both to draw and to look at. Here's the latest addition:

Song of the day: 'Loose Ends' - Imogen Heap

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Where has the summer gone?

Soaking ranunculus tubers before planting. They are just starting to sprout and if they make it through the winter I'll have beautiful dark purple-puce blooms.

So there's a chicken tikka puttering away on the stove and I'm drinking redbush tea, sewing, re-watching Downton Abbey and awaiting responses from my latest batch of job applications. It's a funny thing, I officially finished uni at the end of June so I have been unemployed for the best part of three months, but the time has flown by! My summer has been filled with flathunting, moving to a new city, getting settled in our new place and a few other projects I've busied myself with, but mostly it's been a time of lie-ins, bad TV, eBaying and endless trips to Wilkinsons for paint and screws and seeds. I know that real life is going to have to begin again soon in earnest (preferably before our money runs out) but I'm kind of strangely content for a bit longer. Plus I have big plans for some cushion covers, a wallhanging, birthday presents (October is a busy month for birthdays) and, eventually, a little Etsy business.

Feeling nostalgic and making pimped up cornflake cakes - the cashews and chewy raspberry sweets were tasty and suitably childish additions!

Song of the day: 'The Conference' - Nitin Sawhney

Friday, September 6, 2013

An evening of poetry

Just wanted to share this photo first - I took it at Glastonbury Festival this year. The tightrope was stretched across one of the smaller fields, so he was walking, pretty casually, over a field of people, barely even stopping or adjusting his balance.

Last night, I went to a poetry reading by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and another poet that I had heard of but not read anything by, Ann Gray. It was at the Phoenix in Exeter which is a really good venue and seems to have something going on almost every night (it also hosts the Make, Do and Mend group that I went to earlier this week).

I wasn't very keen on Ann Gray's poetry, and she had a particular way of reading that made every poem sound the same, but I did like a lot of the themes she wrote about. But a lot of her imagery wasn't pushed far enough for me, I felt it was often a little too easy.

Duffy's poetry, on the other, was really good, and despite not exactly having the most musical voice, she read really well (not surprising, as she is constantly touring the country giving readings). What struck me most I think was the way she works rhyme into her poems without it being too obvious, but it (especially when read aloud) really works because it provides the ear with something to hang onto and you find yourself waiting for the next similar sound which drives each poem on perfectly. She mostly read from her 1999 collection 'The World's Wife', where she retells famous stories from the point of view of the hero's wife - she read ones about Mrs. Faustus, Mrs. Midas, Mrs. Darwin, Anne Hathaway and Mrs Tiresias. I particularly liked 'Mrs. Darwin', and it's short so I'll share it here (from here):

Mrs. Darwin

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him -
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

And although she didn't read this one, it's one that I really like, so I thought I'd share it too (from here):

Warming Her Pearls
for Judith Radstone

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I'll think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.

I think one of the reasons I like the second one is because it reminds me of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. In it, a maid and her mistress have a similar relationship to those in the poem (they go even further in fact, and actually have a lesbian affair). I just think the string of pearls is a lovely fleshy metaphor and of course pearls are valuable and a maid caught wearing a string of them would probably be sacked for stealing. Oh, also, for anyone that likes novels with unexpected twists, I definitely recommend Fingersmith - there is a HUGE surprise about halfway through.

Here are a couple of stills from the TV series that was made of Fingersmith a few years ago. Also worth a watch - Sally Hawkins is a great actress and it's pretty faithful to the book.

Images from

Bit of a rambly post, this one. Oh well, we can't all be concise all of the time. Happy Friday everyone!

Song of the day: 'Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl' - Broken Social Scene

Monday, September 2, 2013

One chicken, four meals

Last week, in an effort to save a bit of money on our weekly shop, we bought a whole chicken, as it was cheaper than buying four breasts. We also got a lot more meals out of it than we would just buying the breasts and I always think the meat has more flavour when roasted. Sure, chicken gets a little boring meal after meal, but we are on a tight budget at the moment and actually we did pretty well in getting a good variety of dinners out of it.

Here's the roasted bird. I just kept it simple with some butter, a little oil, lots of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of oregano (we're obsessed with oregano at the moment).

On the first night I made fajitas. I have to admit straight away that I never really make fajitas authentically, and usually they include anything I need to use up in the fridge. This time I fried onion and garlic, added the chicken, some paprika, cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, then when the spices were cooked, some kidney beans and passata were added to make the bulk of the filling. Then I squeezed some lime and grated the lime zest into a small pot of natural yoghurt as we had no sour cream and topped with diced cucumber and tomato for crunch and lots of fresh coriander. Oh, and cheese, of course, lots of cheese. To go with the wraps themselves, I roasted a sweetcorn for each of us.

The second day, I made a curry. I will admit that we bought a jar of curry sauce, and it really wasn't great, plus it was the odd brown colour you can see above. But it certainly wasn't terrible, and with lots of vegetables, some chopped coriander and a naan bread on the side, I couldn't exactly complain. I just won't buy that jar again.

Day three was stir fry. We buy a pack of stir-fry veg most weeks, as it saves a lot on chopping, which I quite enjoy most of the time, but it's handy to have something in the fridge that's healthy and doesn't take too long, for those nights when we don't feel so much like cooking. Shane actually cooked this meal for me. To the pack of veg he added some shredded chicken, fresh garlic, chilli and coriander and a few cashew nuts and served it with sweet-and-sour sauce and thin egg noodles.

Finally, and this was really using up the last few scraps of chicken, I made a hearty bowl of pasta in a creamy sauce. I sliced up some mushrooms, onions and runner beans that my dad gave me (odd present, granted) and made the sauce with some leftover cream, a few sage leaves from the garden and a lot of Parmesan cheese. I like conchiglie-style pasta with creamy sauces, as the sauce snuggles inside each pasta shell and coats them evenly. Yum!

Song of the day: 'Keep the Car Running' - Arcade Fire

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A walk in the woods

These photos were taken in the woods at the end of the village that I grew up in, in Somerset. They're a very special place; I used to walk almost everyday in the wood with my parents and the dog (not the dog in the photo - he's far too young!) For my degree dissertation, I wrote a collection of poetry about the wood, and I just wanted to share some of its secrets on here too.

This handsome canine is my parents' dog, Gussie. He's a nine-year-old lurcher-collie cross, but he still acts like a puppy, and he's really clumsy. He's also the most good-natured dog I've ever met. And he can't do the same thing with both ears - one sticks up and one falls to the side, all the time.

This round stone structure covered in moss and ivy through the trees here is called a Buddle House. I believe it used to be used in the production of lime from limestone, but I'm not exactly sure how or when this was. When I was younger it always felt really dangerous walking around the top because it was stony and uneven and it felt like a long way to fall. The doorway was never a problem for us when I was a child, but now I realise how small it is - I have to duck and I'm only 5'3".

There's something sad about seeing these branches piled on the floor and still green, but actually there's been a lot of felling and clearing in the last year or two and you can see the benefit of it. New plants are starting to grow where the trees would have shaded them too much from the sun, and the trees that are left have space to grow and flourish.

Song of the day: 'It Could Be Sweet' - Portishead

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Instant map art

A little while ago, when I was sorting through all my things before moving out of my university house, I came across an Ordnance Survey map of Truro and the surrounding area (I went to uni in Falmouth, about 20 minutes from Truro). I seem to remember my Dad bought it hoping to come and visit me and do a lot of long coastal walks. We never got around to that, but I didn't want to throw the map away, so I kept it. I love maps (although I cannot for the life of me actually use one - it is a big failing of mine, this inability to navigate), and on my degree course we talked a lot about mapping, and how writers attempt to map places with words. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a very short story about a place where the people's desire for exactitude in mapping meant that only a map with the scale 1 mile : 1 mile would suffice. It's kind of a joke (and also, having just Googled it, has some deeper Postmodernist meaning that obviously passed me by) but it does raise questions about what cartographers emphasise and leave out. Old mapmakers used to literally make more important places bigger, and little-explored places became just vague outlines. Plus, I love that another name for the Key of a map is a Legend. I think it's a nice link back to human history and the oral tradition of storytelling.

Anyway, I decided to cut my map up and frame the area of Falmouth, including the road where I lived for three years, and put it up in my new house as a little reminder of my time there. I had an old frame, so I just cut the map down, positioned it how I wanted it and folded the edges so it fitted snugly in the frame. Then I strengthened it with a piece of cardboard at the back and attached a piece of wire so that it could be hung up.

And voilà! An easy way of turning a map into a piece of artwork, and making use of it at the same time. I don't like pictures behind glass because the reflections get in the way for me, so I just left this open. I also like the textures from where the map is supposed to be folded.

Song of the day: 'Suddenly I See' - KT Tunstall

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Birthday cookies

After a week of eating heathily, I have well and truly indulged today, after a visit from my parents, an Italian meal out, apple and blackberry crumble and a chocolate fudge cake my mum brought us! Still, I think after all my effort painting the living room and tidying these last few days, a treat was in order. Although that thought isn't really making me feel any less bloated.

A week or so ago, I made these cookies for Shane's birthday, as he's not a huge fan of cake (but he is a huge fan of chocolate). I'm not much of a baker, and whenever I've made cookies before they haven't worked out very well, but these I was pretty pleased with; they were the right balance between chewy but not undercooked.

I got the recipe from the BBC GoodFood website here, but I changed it by making up the mixture without the cocoa powder first, baking come chocolate chip ones, then adding the cocoa (halving the amount as it was only half the mixture) and baking the double chocolate chip ones after, so I had two different types of cookie. I also used chocolate chips and chunks, just to make it a bit more interesting and so that some bites were chocolate-ier than others. Also, I would say the recipe definitely makes more than 15, as it says on the website. If I remember rightly, there were at least 25, but they didn't really hang around long enough for me to count them!

I put the cookies, along with a few other little presents, in a picnic basket we have in the kitchen. Then I wrote out clues which were Radiohead lyrics with words missing and hid them around our flat, so he had to know the word and that would lead him to the next part of the flat and the next clue, like an Easter egg hunt, but with a basket of cookies at the end instead of an egg. I think mostly he was annoyed that I woke him up too early, but he seemed to like it in the end :-)

Song of the day: 'The Rip Tide' - Beirut 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Urban birdwatching

We've gone crazy and painted everything possible in our living room white. The space looks much better and the windows look incredible now, but I am nursing a gloss-paint-induced headache and an aching arm. I love painting, but I hate the stage about two thirds through when you really want to stop but you can't because all of your belongings are piled up in odd places and the sofa has all your books on it so you can't sit down anyway. And so you tell yourself that if you keep going it won't really take that much longer, just a few more hours...

Anyway, on an entirely different note, a few days ago I thought it would be interesting to see how many different bird species I could find purely by looking on the rooftops directly behind my back garden, here:

Sadly, any birds that linger long enough for me to actually take a picture are the most ordinary birds ever: one grumpy crow, some angsty baby seagulls that can't fly and their mother who seems to feel obliged to stay with them but is growing more and more frustrated by their lack of flying ability.

Maybe the next couple of days will prove more fruitful...

Song of the day: 'One Life Stand' - Hot Chip

Monday, August 19, 2013

Simple supper: chicken with beans and greens

Shane and I are on a health kick. Not for any great reason and (probably) not for very long, but we thought it would be a little challenge to see who can lose the most weight in a week. Yep, very responsible adult behaviour. Although it's unlikely I will lose anything more than a couple of pounds, and despite being pretty ravenous most of the time, it has been nice making a few different meals from usual and not relying quite so much on pasta.

Here's a quick example of a typical evening meal (two point to note: I am not really much of a recipe-follower, and I am also a big fan of the one-pan-meal):

chicken leg or 2 thighs per person
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 courgette, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
225g tin butter beans
approx 200ml passata
approx 200ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
generous pinch of oregano
pinch of thyme
4 cabbage leaves, shredded

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Rub the chicken with a little oil or butter and season well. Place on a baking tray and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through (to be honest I didn't time it exactly). You may need to baste the chicken in its cooking juices every so often to keep it moist. Fry the onions and garlic on a low heat, and add the other vegetables when the onions start to soften. After about 10 minutes, pour in the stock and passata, season and add herbs. Let this simmer for a while, then add the cabbage and, a couple of minutes before serving, the butter beans. Add more stock if the liquid is reducing too quickly.

Serve into bowls and add the cooked chicken on top.

The great thing about this meal is that you can substitute pretty much all of the ingredients for whatever you have in the fridge/cupboard. Perfect for using up past-its-best veg or the old tin of beans hiding on the back shelf. Use borlotti or kidney beans instead of butter beans, add kale or chard instead of cabbage, throw in some potatoes to bulk it out, shred some basil in at the end... Endless possibilities. These are the kind of meals I like.

And for dessert...

...natural yoghurt with vanilla and a swirl of our homemade blackberry coulis. 

Song of the day: 'Human' - Goldfrapp

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rainy grey weekend

After a pretty damn good day with my friend Jai yesterday, and then a beautiful sunny evening, today is grey and drizzly. Shane is glued to the TV as the new football season starts and I have taken to my bed with a book and a cup of chai tea where I will probably stay for a good couple of hours. 

One of my favourite parts about our new flat is the mantelpiece directly opposite our bed (the house is Victorian so there are fireplaces everywhere). On it, we've put: a string of fairy lights my parents gave me last Christmas; two frames of embroidery threads and buttons that my mum put together a while ago and donated to me as she didn't want them any longer; two traditional Swedish Dala horses that my aunt gave me when I visited her in Sweden; a jar of honeysuckle I picked from a hedge two days ago; an old IKEA clock that I love and have had for years and years and a small stone Buddha head that my old boss gave me as a leaving present.

Today I've switched the fairy lights on in an attempt to banish the gloom and from my position curled up on the bed I can see all these little things that remind me of various people, trips and events. I don't tend to hang on to possessions too much, but there is something comforting about having a few things that relate to specific times and places, especially when those things feel miles away or ages ago. Plus, of course, honeysuckle smells amazing :-)

Song of the day: 'Wildest Moments' - Jessie Ware

P.S. I really like the way the words 'rainy grey' sound together. Similar to a book I read once when I was about ten about a girl with a dog call Moody Blue.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mini adventures in the garden

I've had a busy weekend: we had a housewarming on Saturday, so the house has been full of people for the last few nights. We had a barbecue, ice creams at the quay, drinks in a pub garden, far too much to drink in the evening, football and cricket at the park (I was too hungover to participate), watched a lot of Planet Earth on Sunday and played a very long stocks and shares board game. A pretty good weekend on the whole, but now I am knackered and will probably end up curling up with a cup of tea and some terrible TV very soon.

Because of all our houseguests, I haven't had a chance to do much in the garden since moving in, but I have planted some herbs: coriander, basil and parsley to begin with. They've been sunning themselves outside for a while and today I noticed the first tiny shoots poking through. Can't wait for a few curries with coriander in a few weeks time, and maybe even some basil pesto! I've planted a bed of cornflowers too, which are also just starting out on their journeys. They won't bloom until the spring, but it'll be lovely to open the back door to a mass of blue and purple flowers when the time comes.

The courgettes that the previous tenants planted have gone crazy, despite me totally ignoring them. I picked these two enormous ones this morning, so I think it will have to be stuffed courgettes for dinner (or are they marrows by this point?) From the looks of the plants there are a few more to come too, so I will be whipping up my favourite creamy, garlicky, cheesy pasta with courgette ribbons in the next few days too. As this rate I'll have to start being far more imaginative with my courgette recipes!

Finally, this seems to be the year's last blossoming on our rose bush. I haven't the heart to pick it.

Song of the day: 'Fire' - Kasabian