Saturday, 30 July 2011

The other kind of corn

My brother has been complaining a lot lately that his hair is too long, so I decided I would teach myself how to do cornrows so I could make him look gangster. His hair was still a little too short for me to handle though, so I roped my mum into being a Girl's World head because she was tired and unable to adequately protest.

Not too bad for my first ever attempt! She wouldn't let me wet her hair either so it kept being frizzy and flyaway.

I love playing with hair, always wished as a kid that I had a big sister to do hair and make up with instead of a big brother who taught me useful things like how to start fires with a magnifying glass.

Need to get one of those disembodied heads to practice on... or a more willing victim.

Oh and I promised my mum I wouldn't post those photos on Facebook. This isn't Facebook ;)

Friday, 29 July 2011

New things in green places

The sweetcorn has hit puberty!

I don't know if it will pollinate, because all the plants are at different stages, but it's exciting! It's so short though, I thought sweetcorn was supposed to be tall but my plants are only about a metre tall. My little babies are growing up *sniff*.

Oh and the late peas I sowed outdoors have finally peeped through the soil.
Looks like we'll have mange tout this year after all. Hooray!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Until I reach 10,000

There's a theory that to be an expert, whether it's at playing the violin or painting portraits or anything else, you have to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

I'm not an expert at anything. This is proven time and time again when the unpredictability fairy sprinkles her dust over me when I'm making stuff.

That's not some weird exotic fruit that I've bred in the greenhouse. It's a cake that's gone rather wrong. Too much flour (eyeballed it badly), over beaten, chewy and weird.

It's just something I have to accept. When I don't do things by the book, whether it's following a recipe or firing a pot, there are always going to be moments when things don't happen the way I expected them to. It's just the way things go.

Expectations don't always pan out. Some people let that derail them. I try to learn from it.

Today I learnt that making up shit as I go along when I'm tired is a bad idea.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

My favourite soup

Woah, a healthy recipe? What madness is this? Well, I'm home alone all week during the day. My mum usually works from home so we hang out and eat lunch together, but she's away with work so it's just little old me. My brother and dad don't really eat vegetables, so it's up to me to try and devour as many of the plant things in the fridge before they go bad and end up on the compost heap. 
This is my favourite soup recipe and I worked it out a couple of years ago. It's somehow perfect year round, from the frostiest winter days to the sweltering summer ones, and it's full of lots of beta carotene and lycopene to do you some good.

My recipe today made approx 1200ml of soup.

Here's what you'll need:
So that's oregano, ground cayenne (or chilli powder), garlic, an onion, tomato purée, 1 large potato (or a medium and a small one, or 3 smalls), 1 large tomato (or 2 smalls), 2 medium sweet potatoes, 2 medium carrots and a red pepper.
You will also need a stock cube- vegetable or chicken, and some olive oil.
Phew! I know it seems like a lot of ingredients, but this is just my classic soup. You can switch them around and use whatever you've got in your fridge.

Pour some olive oil into a large saucepan over a low heat and add 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, and half the onion, diced well. Place the lid on the saucepan and keep the heat low until the onion is cooked and turning translucent. Add a teaspoon each of oregano and cayenne.

While your onion, garlic and herbs are cooking (still on low), peel and dice your other vegetables, but keep them separate. You want to add them in order of cooking time and gently fry them with the onion to bring out their natural sweetness. Add the carrot first, turn the heat up to a medium and leave to cook for about 3 minutes, and then add the sweet potato.
Wait another 3 minutes and then add the pepper and tomato and leave to cook for another 3 minutes or so, giving everything a good stir.  While this is going on, you need to boil the kettle.

Now you want to add a generous amount of tomato purée, at least a tablespoon full. Add your stock cube, and pour over some of the water from the kettle- just enough to cover the vegetables. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Now it's time to add the rest of the water and the potato! Add the potato and then add enough water to adequately cover the vegetables (this can be tricky because they like to float. Remember, it's easier to add more water later than to remove some). You're looking to increase the volume of the soup by at least a third. Turn the heat up a little and leave to cook through for 10 minutes. By this stage your soup should look like this:

It doesn't look like much, but it smells amazing. You can serve it chunky style if you want to, but I like my soup blitzed so it's easier to swab with bread. If it's too thick, add a little more kettle water while it's in the blender.

Lovely! But I like mine with a little garnish so I can trick myself into thinking it's posher than it is...

My finished soup, garnished with chives and sprinkled with fresh ground salt and pepper. You can choose any herb you want to garnish- basil and coriander work well. In winter, I like to add a little swirl of cream cheese or fresh cream to add a little more richness.

For something healthy, it tastes pretty amazing to me, and I'm a sugar junkie.

Good luck in the kitchen x

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Great Slug Genocide

I like to think that every living creature has a right to be alive. However, that right evaporates the minute you start turning my squash into little piles of green lace.

Sorry sluggies, but I want to eat homegrown butternut squash, and whatever is supposed to keep you in check in the garden isn't doing its job (I blame my mum for feeding the birds and making them lazy) so I'm going to have to step in. I'm a firm believer in keeping chemicals out of the garden as much as possible, and while I've tried "organic" slug pellets before, they're expensive and I'm poor. Hence why this foul liquid is my new best friend:

It's 98p for four cans. It should come with a label stating that it's not fit for human consumption, because it's vile. But slugs have no taste when it comes to beer. If you want to make your own slug traps, you'll need the cheapest beer you can get your hands on. If you're in the USA, a forty will probably do.
You also need a container at least 3cm deep. I recommend the trays that mac and cheese ready meals come in, but you can also try large yoghurt pots, or even ice cream tubs. Bury your tub in the ground and fill it with beer. Don't worry about the beer spilling over, any other beer around will lure slugs in from further afield. 

Seeing the weather forecast for no rain overnight, I set up two of these around my big remaining squash plant. This morning I went down to have a look. It was pretty disgusting.

There you see the result of a wet summer. Gross! I was expecting maybe 5 slugs in each container, but I think overall there's at least 25 there.
Hopefully I'll be seeing much less damage over the next week. I hope these guys didn't have much in the way of family...

In other, less disgusting gardening new, my back up peas in the greenhouse have nearly all germinated, and here's a crap photo to prove it.

I've got my fingers crossed for a long summer to make up for its sodden start, so hopefully a crop of mange tout by September. If not, I'll just eat the delicious pea shoots instead. Mmmmm

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Denim Quilting- it's the new fun alternative to employment!

My agency suck, the job listings are as bare as a week old elephant carcass, and I keep getting rejection emails for everything I apply for. But not to worry, there's plenty here to keep me occupied. For example, do you know what 150 five and a half inch denim squares look like?

You do now! They also leave a lovely trail of denim lint throughout the house from their fraying edges. I wanted to create a quilt with some sort of order, so in a badly lit room I sorted the squares into piles of similar tone.

Then I suddenly realised I didn't have a good grasp of how big this stupid thing was going to be before seam allowances, so I laid out 10 x 15 squares and made a cross in the not-middle for reasons I can't remember.

Armed with a vague idea of what was going on, I made a little colour charty thing and drew up several ideas before settling on this one.

A pretty blurry blobby thing, fading from grey and black squares through all the way to the lightest bleached ones in the centre. Or that was the idea anyway. I decided to film myself laying out the quilt, probably as a form of procrastination. When you're unemployed, it's good to make life difficult for yourself, say by wrestling a tripod for 10 minutes, because there's not much else to do.

I turned our front room into a workshop because my bedroom, as usual, looks like a bomb went off. It meant I had to balance my sewing machine on a tiny table instead of my huge black desk, but the set up worked. The cat came to help.

I started by sewing the squares into 2x2 blocks and then into rows, pressing as I went with a hot iron. The denim was a bitch to press because women's jeans have elastane in them to give you "dat ass" and the iron and pins would stretch the fabric all out of shape.

See how much the seam allowances made it shrink? I used 1/2inch allowances, so each square ended up 4.5 inches from the original 5.5. The other cat came to help.

Her nickname is Monster Cat and judging by the fact it's impossible to take a non blurry photo of her, I feel she may be some kind of demon. Oh and those of you wondering how I tell my black cats apart- YOU ARE CAT RACIST. Also we put a collar on Zero. But you're still a cat racist and I can tell them apart without the collar.

Tomorrow I'm sewing the rows together so the preliminary top piecing will all be done. I'm kind of dreading it because accuracy is so important and the mix of stretch and non stretch jeans, (and some pieces have been cut on the bias) has skewed everything a little. From what I can see laying it out, it looks good but some seam lines just won't line up perfectly.

Well, whatever, it's kept my idle hands occupied for a while.

P.S Yesterday I got my 500th view, hooray! I really enjoy writing all this junk, so it's nice to know people are seeing it.
Oh and you may not have noticed, but there is a new page up top, next to where it says "Questions?" called "Support!". I would be very grateful if you clicked it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

I hope it's not too late...

The great gardening myth is that everything has to be sorted, sown and planted by the start of May. This isn't true! Do you think in the days before refrigeration people really had a harvest season that only lasted a month or two? You can grow a surprising amount of stuff later in the season- quick crops like radishes or rocket, as well as some winter crops. With all the weird weather we've had this year, it looks like we might get a long summer, with mild days all the way into October.

I went to Wilkinsons yesterday, the only place that stocks a good range of garden stuff within walking distance of my parents' house. They had 75% off across all their seeds, so I picked up all of these for less than £2!

Peas tend to commit suicide when it gets too hot, but we're having such a damp, cool summer that I'm not too worried about them. I'm more worried about birds or mice eating my peas or their shoots! Last year I planted peas and lost nearly all of them. I've got some in the greenhouse as insurance, but I'm worried they'll overheat in there.

This is my pea set-up. The variety I'm growing are a climbing mange tout pea. I don't think it's worth growing petite pois or garden peas because frozen ones are British and affordable. In contrast, mange tout or snow peas are often expensive and flown in from Kenya! Is it right to take food from a water stressed part of the world if it causes their economy to grow? Being constantly shown the results of the current African drought, I have to say no, it's not. When countries export food, they export their own water in the product and divert water from growing their own food.
It's also inappropriate in this case, because many of the legumes that are being grown in places like Kenya grow perfectly well at this time of year in a British or European climate, needing less irrigation and using less fuel to transport.

Here's a good example of local food- an apple picked less than 50 metres from my back door. It's a Cox's Orange Pippin (I believe), a cultivar first grown less than 5km from our tree. 

I love my local food :)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Post rewrite- "Frugal Beauty: How to Look Good on a Budget"

A couple of days ago, Sierra Black over at Get Rich Slowly posted a piece called "Frugal Beauty: How to Look Good on a Budget". Like all posts over there, it was well written, but I felt this particular piece was distinctly lacking, and a lot of the comments had similar sentiments, arguing that Sierra's tips were unrealistic and the work of a dirty hippy.

Now I've got nothing against hippies. I used to live with raw food yoga teachers in Hawai'i, I'm studying ceramics at university and one of my best friends believes in the healing powers of crystals. But I just felt the article wasn't practical for its intended audience, so this is my rewrite.
NOTE- I'm sorry about the format, especially the photos. Blogspot has a habit of not cooperating with my photos unless I add them as I go along, and I totally forgot about photos until the last minute when I ran around my house trying to take relevant pics.

I don't care why you're trying to be frugal. You might have taken a sudden dive in income, realised how much you own to your debtors and want to pay it back or be saving up for something you love. But being frugal doesn't mean you have to give up on your grooming. Everyone knows that grooming is important in the workplace, and no-body wants to work next to someone who smells like they haven't washed in weeks! Here are some ways you can save both the big bucks and pinch the pennies.

Big Bucks
  • Save on beauty treatments and haircuts by going to a training salon or vocational college. My local college does waxing, manicures and pedicures for less than half the price charged by local salons and hairdressers are always looking for cut models who get their hair done for free or a small fee (the Vidal Sassoon Academy in London charges £5 for a cut). Treatments are always supervised by an instructor who'll make sure you don't leave with a hair disaster!
    I wouldn't trust a training school for a big event- going to a wedding with wonky eyebrows might make the wrong impression- but for your regular beauty hit, don't be afraid to help train the next generation of beauticians.
    Potential savings-half whatever your normal treatments cost, the full price of a haircut. A hair cut at my local salon is £35, so if you're getting a trim every 2 months then swapping for a free training cut could save you £210 a year!

  • Downgrade your products. This works for most make-up: a £2 mascara is near identical to a £20 one and eye-shadow's staying power is dependant more on whether you use a primer with many cheaper brands having equally brilliant colours. Check the ingredients of your luxury product against a more affordable brand, and be cautious if you have sensitive skin that doesn't handle change well. It's not a bargain if it turns your face bright red!
    Potential savings- this is completely up to you, but I swapped my Clinque eye cream (£23), day moisturiser (£35) and lip gloss (£14.50) for Boots own brand (£2.54), Neutrogena (£7.99) and Collection 2000 (£1.99) saving £59.98.

  • Don't be afraid to mix and match. Companies want you to buy a whole range, but if using your high end cleanser with your low end moisturiser works for you, then go for it! Again, be wary if you have sensitive skin, especially if you're using a lot of products that have salicylic acid in as this can cause redness and sun sensitivity.

  • Buy online instead of from department stores and even with shipping you could save 10% or more. Avoid Ebay though: the listings are littered with fakes, which could be untested or unsafe. Buying online might also help you avoid impulse purchases, as you won't be strolling past that tempting make-up display or have a shop assistant trying to sell you the latest thing.
Penny Pinching
  • Switch your liquid shower gel for solid soapA good bar of soap is much cheaper and just as cleansing as a bottle of shower gel, is better for the environment (it’s concentrated, there’s less packaging) and, in my experience, lasts a lot longer. You can get 6-packs of moisturing soap at the 99p store. Make sure you store it on a dish out of the spray of the shower so it lasts longer.
    Potential savings- (here we go with the Clinque again) I traded the liquid facial soap (£14) for the solid bar soap (£13) which has lasted me twice as long, essentially saving £15. Over the course of a year, this adds up to £45.

  • Throw a make-over party with friends. Do you remember when you were 13 and would sleepover at each other's houses and practice giving manicures and applying face-packs? Well, now not only are you much better at painting French tips, you're old enough to drink wine too!
    Please note- drinking wine and painting a perfect French tip are mutually exclusive events.
  • Take advantage of special offers, especially buy one get one free deals and coupons. Most beauty products are filled with preservatives that make them non perishable for a long time if stored correctly with the seal intact.

  • Cut down on the amount of product you use. If you comb your hair before you wash it, you'll need to use less conditioner. Do you really need to moisturise/shave/fake tan your legs in winter when nobody sees them? Do you really need to use a toner, or can you skip that step? Could you exfoliate with a loofah or brush instead of using that £10 a jar sugar scrub?
  • Think re-usable, not disposable. A face wipe gets brushed against your face once and then ends up in the bin- why not swap it for a wash-cloth that can be used again and again with cleanser? If you use disposable cotton pads for your daily toner or make up removal, invest in some washable cleansing pads or make your own from an old towel.
    Potential savings- if you're using 2 pads daily, then you're using a pack of 60 pads a month (~£1.50). If you make your own reusable pads then you're saving £18 a year, enough to get a manicure at a salon.
The main thing to remember, as with all frugality, is compromise. If that £70 moisturiser is the only one with SPF built in that doesn't make you break out, then by all means, buy it. But if something else means more to you, like being debt free, or not having to live off noodles, then don't be afraid to try something new. Change is scary, especially when you're changing what vaguely suspect chemicals you're smearing on your face, but it's necessary. And who knows, you might find you next beauty favourite in the bargain aisle.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bleached Jeans

Got jeans? Got a whole fucking pile of boring ass same shade man jeans? Make them interesting with toilet bleach! It's cheap, it's easy, it's bleeeeeeach!

Put your jeans in the bath and hose them down with the shower until they're covered by a couple of centimetres of water. Fabric has a habit of floating, so you might need to weight them down with pebbles or something. Now take a bottle of bleach and squirt it all over the jeans, agitate to dissolve it into a bleachy solution, and leave for about half an hour.
Drain the bath, rinse everything off, carefully carry your jeans to the washing machine and put them on a quick cycle with some detergent to get the bleach out. Dry them outside in the sunshine for an added bleaching.

And there's the contrast between the unaltered jeans and the bleached pair. It's not that strong, but it's better than nothing.

If you want to get this cool tie dye nebula effect, smoosh your jeans into a small bucket with bleach solution instead of doing them in the bath. The bleach will pool in some areas and be protected in others, leading to uneven bleaching.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

July 2011 gardening update

Those of you not from around here should know- the weather this year has been about 50% crapper than it usually is. English weather never does what you want it to anyway, but this year has just been extra frustrating. A dry spring when we should have had rain, followed but a wet and cold June royally fucked over my garden. Everything has either been stunted by rain, or decimated by slugs.

My stunted sweetcorn is this year's success story- especially as it's growing in the new plot, and my new plots usually fail on their first season. But a lack of good sun at the right time means it's shorter than it should be. Hopefully we'll have a long summer and it'll get time to catch up to where it should be, I'd love to taste some fresh sweetcorn, it's supposed to be so sweet straight off the plant before the sugars turn to starch.

My poor poor sunflowers were hit really badly by slugs. To be honest, I've only really got two left. One of them is covered in black-fly (the black-fly get looked after by ants, who milk them like cows. It's freaky), and I don't really see the point in saving it. I wanted so badly to have a huge patch of sunflowers in our garden, but I think the shade might be a little too much for them. That's the price you pay for having mature trees in your garden.

Speaking of which, one of our apple trees has upped and died. It had been covered in ivy for a long time and probably got a little overwhelmed, or got an infection or something. I'm a bit bummed out about this, I used to climb the tree and eat the apples a lot as a kid, but maybe with the removal of this tree we'll get some more light into the garden.

The dying leaves were pretty but didn't really give me a clue as to what was killing the tree.

My two other vegetable plots (plot 2 pictured) are horribly empty. I had carrot and leek seedlings, salad sowed and started to grow and then the damp weather just caused a slug overload and subsequent sowings were dug to death by a fox or neighbourhood cats (probably our cat tbh). Plot 2 still has a couple of butternut squashes in it, which will hopefully avoid another slug attack and yeild something. Plot 1 could probably do with a break, having been in use near constantly since 2005, so I've got some green manure seeds I can sow in there.

Plot 3- the pollinator plot- is being overrun by wild strawberries and assorted weeds. But it looks like the lavender have finally taken hold and will hopefully fight back, along with the green thing (on the right), which name I have forgotten. There's another squash in there. The great thing about squashes is that if you grow too many, they're pretty easy to give away. I once took a pumpkin all the way to Aberystwyth, over 3 trains and the London Underground.

So that's my garden at the moment. It's not done so well this year, but that's what you get when you mix climate change with gardening 30 miles from where you're living. Hopefully next term I can find somewhere in London with a balcony or something where I can grow a few bits and bobs, and leave this huge garden to mum.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Culling it all

The lease on my halls of residence expired (thank fuck, I hated Manna Ash House and the company that ran it with a passion), so I'm back home. My stuff from 14 years of living here combined with my stuff from a year living out to form a vortex of too much crap, so I'm trying to cut down.

A whole bag of clothes, and an archive box full of books are waiting to go to a charity shop and hopefully get happy new homes. There's no point holding on to certain books even if they're a good story, and it makes me happy to think of another young person getting some joy out of them, especially as books are so expensive new nowadays. 

I've got some yarn up on Ebay, and, depending on how I feel when I go through my uncut fabric box, there might be some quilting odds and ends going up too. I've had success selling fabric on Ebay before, and while you never quite make your money back, it's better than holding onto a bunch of fabric that's taking up valuable space and making you feel bad for not using it.

Speaking of which, I've finally started attacking the pile of old jeans I've had in my trunk for years...

Lots and lots of 5 1/2 inch squares. I'm loathed to work without metric, but all my quilting stuff is in inches so it just has to be that way.

Kinda wish I had a trained monkey or robot or something to do all the cutting for me, but hey, it's keeping me out of mischief and cheering me up. Found out this week that the hospital where I temp will not be signing off the money to hire me over the summer, which sucks. Ah well, I've got my agent trying to find me something else, and I'm sure something else will come up.

If not, I'll just have to sell some more stuff!

Thursday, 7 July 2011


This post is out of date, because it pertains to something that happened last weekend. It's also not really a craft post, but it is about something I did with my hands and it is something I worked hard for.

Back in September, I started my first year at university, 2 years behind most of my peers at 20 years old. I was really scared I wasn't going to make any friends, because I go to an art school and I don't really do bullshit. I am super down to earth and blunt. I was also really worried I was going to get super fat from living off shit food and not getting any exercise, so I joined the cheerleading team. Which is very very out of character for me and resulted in a huge collective "...what?!" from everyone who knew me before university.

It was hard and at first I didn't feel like I fit in with the girls. I'm not naturally coordinated or flexible, I'm not particularly fit and I don't even smile very well without being prompted. There were times when the whole thing felt like some awful spy bootcamp (being told to do a forward roll over and over comes to mind) and lots of bruises, friction burns and other assorted painful encounters. 

Last weekend was the Future Cheer Nationals competition. Two days before, we still didn't have the stunts quite down and by Saturday everyone was nervous as fuck, and on top of that we hadn't slept well the night before nor been given a proper breakfast.
Some how we pulled it off, and became level 1 champions!

There's me with our trophy and about an inch of make-up on my face. The bandage is there because at some point during the routine I re-tore a ligament in my dominant arm (but kept going).

Yes, it was only level one, but we're going to shoot higher next year. I'm hoping to take a first aid course over the summer and become team medic. I'm super proud of myself and the rest of the team for sticking together and pulling everything off. I haven't achieved everything I wanted to at university and at cheer this year, but now I have the motivation to keep going!

Have a bonus shot of me looking adorable on the way to competition (the foxy lady in the background is our captain for next year). Looking at these pictures is so strange, because I look about 14 in most of them. It's like an alternate teenage timeline, in which I have a life instead of getting agoraphobic and learning to bake/sew/knit/grow things.

Oh and a big shout out to our pom team, who, despite learning the routine essentially the night before, did not come last in their division!