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Dear Readers,

From now on I will be blogging primarily at For the Love of Bookshops. Alas, my love of book culture and bookshops is greater than my love for craft. Thanks for the love!

Join me at FtLoB!

Erin

Oh my goodness, y’all, I’ve done it. I found the one recipe that will completely set me back on my new year’s fitness resolution.

Wanna know a secret: The truth is I’m a once-in-a-blue-moon chocoholic. I know, it’s shameful to say to all you chocolate lovers out there.  Most chocolate desserts simply don’t tempt me. So many chocolate cake recipes are too try or else too rich. Tiffin and other such Millionaire Shortbreads are too grainy-sugary and, again, too rich for my tastes. If I’m having a chocolate craving I prefer to forgoe the messy bowls and pans of baking and just grab a bar of Green and Blacks espresso dark chocolate. A couple squares of that and I’m good to go for at least 24 hours.

But I’m telling you, when my hubbie and I saw this brownie recipe on the BBC the other day I felt the early tremors of a conversion experience. The recipe is coming to you  express from Lorraine Pascale over at Baking Made Easy on the BBC. The former model had quite a few yummy recipes on there, I must say. Well worth watching the entire episode on iplayer.

I had to go for a run as soon as these came out of the oven… to justify eating these later — I’m sure the smell alone is worth 100 calories!

The recipe is easy enough:

Just 165g butter, melted in a sauce pan. Take off the heat when melted.

Add 200g of grated dark chocolate to butter. Let stand until melted. Then stir.  (I was on a budget so I used plain ole Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference brand, but I’m sure G&B would be divine).

In a big bowl beat 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks with 2 tsp of vanilla extract. Beat until fluffy.

Add 1 cup of sugar in 2 parts. I used half brown sugar, half white. Beat into the eggs.

Then pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture (pour it along the side of the bowl so as not to deflate the fluffy eggs). Add 2 Tbsp flour, 1 Tbsp cocoa powder and 1 pinch of salt. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, careful not to press out the air in the eggs.

Crush about 6 or 7 oreo cookies and fold into the batter. Then pour into a greased baking dish. (I used baking paper as well, as it’s easier to lift the cooked brownies out of the dish.)

Finally, garnish with another 10 or so broken up oreo pieces, submerging them into the batter slightly.

Bake at 350/180* for about 25-30 minutes! I baked mine for about 25 minutes and they were plenty gooey inside, one might even say underdone, (which is the way I like ’em). You do want them to be at least a little gooey inside so don’t over bake.

Let cool completely before cutting them into squares.

Enjoy!

Winter reaches us on the Bristol Downs

Hi! Happy be-lated New Year!

Yes, it has  been a long time since I posted. I’ll skip the excuses and get on to the goods.

So remember I’d been knitting several gifts for friends/family for Christmas? Well, here are the pictures I have of those. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of all of them before I wrapped them up. But as the French say, tant pis!

I’m sorry the lighting isn’t so good for some of these. I do the best with what I got.

Mittens and a matching tam (not pictured) for Momma in Choclate, by Deborah Norville. They match the scarf I made for her last winter — my first ever knitting project. Isn’t that sweet? I’m a married woman but I still like to make things for my Mom in the hopes that she’ll put them on the fridge.

Why yes, that is a Melanie Fallick pattern from her delicious book Weekend Knitting. The pattern was straight forward (my kind of project) and the final product looked pretty darn good for my first pair of mittens — another box to tick. I made another pair for my bro-in-law’s gf out of Wensleydale wool in Oatmeal. Unfortuantely I don’t have a picture of those, but i can tell you they were lovely and neutral and super warm because I lined them with fleece. I used a little bit of the leftover yarn for the strip in my hubby’s hat, pictured  below.

Next here’s the hat I knitted for my fella. I used the wool I bought when we were on our honeymoon in Maine. (I subsequently accidentally deleted all of our pictures from that trip, so little momentos like this are pretty special, if you know what I mean).  It’s spun by the last living Shakers in the world  from their community at Sabbathday Lake. And yes, we did go to a Shaker community on our honeymoon.

It’s warm and wooly with 2×2 ribbing. It’s a basic man hat. No frills. They like it that way.

Isn’t he cute? And the scenery’s not bad either. This was on our sledding day. England in the snow at Christmas is so ridiculously picturesque and nostalgic. We’re talking Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Last but not least, another man hat for my new bro-in-law. J’s got the crazy personality to pull of a slightly slouchy hat (though in this pic it looks like it fits him pretty snuggly). The yarn is ” Linus” by Knit One Crochet Too. They do a whole range of colors specifically designed for men. Isn’t that cool? I love the orange gradations splashed into the manly pine color.

Here he is rocking it.

And yes, that is a pet rat in his lap. Isn’t he adorable? His name is Mango and it makes me sad that he’s way over in NC while we’re in England.

How did y’all’s knitted gifts turn out? Did your peeps like them?

The inside of the market near our flat

So this afternoon I realized two things: first, that we humans are prepared to think the worst of one another, don’t you think? And secondly, that I’m a cynic. To give a little context, this morning I was talking to Luke about what we think it will be like moving back to the US after being away for so long — specifically, how we’ll cope with the insane politics and the especially charged political atmospher right now, and wouldn’t it just be better if we stayed in England where we have NHS and people don’t own guns? That got us talking about the US new health care bill and the Tea Party movement and all the hype about elections coming up, and how all of those things sound so crazy when you look at them from a foreigner’s perspective (particular a European’s). Anyways, that got us theorizing (because we know what we’re talking about, right?) about how we think the United States as we know it will cease to be within our lifetime, and we just hope the transition isn’t violent, but when you got crazy gun-weilding Tea Partiers running around, who’s to say it won’t be? Besides, it’s kind of already begun with Irag and Afghanistan, right?

And then, thankfully, later today I had the opportunity to read another silly person’s doomsday prediction and it made me laugh at myself a little (in that sad, ironic way).  I was reading abook review of a book that blames environmentalists and naive leftist politicians for starting an ideological war about the whole global warming “myth,” and I couldn’t help but read some of the comments … do you see where this is going? One of the said commenters made a statement along the lines that he’s convinced environmentalists are just as capable of commiting genocide and other atrocities on the same scale as their communist forerunners.  Sound crazy? Sound a little like some other crazy person’s “prediction?” That person being moi.

This is not really a political rant. My husband and I don’t know squat about politics and we like it that way.  We like to cook together and go for walks and knit and have conversations with people, and we have this crazy dream that, one day, people will stop doing this.  The comment to that book review was equally silly.  I guess it just made me laugh a little (in that sad, ironic way) to think how quick silly people on either side of an argument are to assume the absolute, devilish worst of one another.

It’s also reminded me why I knit.

And speaking of, I finished that piece for my sister finally! I dropped it in the post on Monday, so I can’t post pictures until I know she’s received it. But let me just say, it was about bloody time. In total, it took 8 months of work, on and off, but it’s finally finished. If you remember, I followed Kieran Foley’s gorgeous pattern for the Cold Mountain scarf. More to come about how I messed up on the pattern, missed both gift-giving deadlines, but still ended up with a pretty alright finished product. It was my first every lace pattern, too!

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been working on.

The start of a crocheted pink beret... otherwise refered to at the giant pink doily.

You guessed it, the first on my long list of Christmas gifts. Luckily, the stylish pattern by CreativeYarn takes, literally, 2 hours to whip up. No joke. Even for me and I’m slow as, well, Christmas.

Also I’m working to turn this ball of nondescript yarn into a hat for my bro-in-law. Actually, “nondescript” is an unfair adjective for this beautiful and lush, man-for-men Italian alpaca, wool and acrylic by Linus! I got it while we were on our honeymoon in Maine — yeah, which, by the way, did you hear about that dummy who deleted all their honeymoon photos? No, you didnt? Oh, well, story to come… just too bad I won’t have any fotos to go along with it.

That yarn is destined for this pattern by Kris Percival.  Manly ribbed hat for a manly yarn.


 

Did you all see this article a couple days ago? About how some guy got all worked up when he saw a sign on a tree in an Abbey garden warning visitors to “Beware Falling Conkers: Proceed with care.” The guy kind of used the event as an excuse to get on his soap box about how ridiculous health and safety measures have become in England.

While I agree that it’s slightly pedantic to warn people about falling chestnuts when every school child in Britain knows what a horse chestnut tree looks like and that every fall they drop large, thorn-encased conkers, I do see that the folks at the Abbey were just trying to be considerate.  Whatever.

Conkers. They’re apparently a big part of the collective subconscious over here.  Obviously, I need to get with it.

Did you know that they even have a world conker competitions? You can read all about how the game is played on their website.

Event_CB2009_0672.jpg

Okay, I promise that’s all I’ll say about conkers or chestnuts or any other nuts for that matter.  For a while anyways.

*Photos of the conker competition (including the one of man playing conkers while wearing a cheese hat) are available from the conker world championship website.

Chestnuts peeping out from under Halloween colored leaves is one of my favorite sights of Fall.  They are the proof positive that Autumn has arrived, as it has here in blustery Bristol.  We don’t really get them in the southern piedmont of North Carolina, so they will forever remind me of trips to cooler climes where fall is fall and not just a hurricane-doused extension of summer.  I got lucky this year with my chestnut sightings as we spent our honeymoon in Maine where the chestnuts literally pile up in the gutters along the sidewalks because there are too many for the squirrels and other chestnut hunters (like, ahem, me) to collect.

Unfortunately, here in Bristol it appears that we’ve come to the end of the chestnuts season.  On my walk on the Downs today (that blessed oasis of greenspace that overlook’s Bristol’s otherwise urban topography), I noticed that almost all the “conkers,” as British school children here call them, had been picked over, and left behindwere only the smashed shells that had formerly encased them.

 


I'm not the only one who is inspired by chestnuts in the Fall. This shop incorporated them into their display window.

 

Now for all you fellow non-Brits, let me explain.  Over here, the fallen chestnuts you see in a park or along the side of a road are good for one thing and one thing only: playing conkers.  When my husband, and just about every other Brit here, sees a chestnut the one thing on their minds is finding the hardest, beastiest kernel, with the most potential for beating all the other conkers in the school yard.  The actual game isn’t all that complicated: You tie a bit of string through a hole in your chestnut and take turns flicking your conker against your oponent’s. Basic enough.  The art, I’m told, comes in how the conker is chosen and prepared for battle.  To hear Luke explain the process, you’d think he was performing a sacred task.  You must find the biggest, roundest conker, he says.  Now for drilling the hole: how do you do it?  Is it better to use an electric drill or whittle it by hand?  How can you be sure of the interior quality of the conker?  Will it harden sufficiently when it’s dried?  Not forgeting that it should be just soft enough to withstand the force of the oponent conker.

It’s all very complicated.  And foreign.  Did I mention I didn’t grow up playing this game?  Now, when I see a chestnut, I think of this.

Hand holding roasted chestnuts in paper bag

Mmmm.  Hot, steamy, buttery roasted chestnuts. In France these  marrons grillés have a kind of magnetic pull on my, already thin wallet. As soon as the first Alpine wind swept across Provence in Autumn, you could be sure the marrons  vendors are stationed on every main street corner, their wood fired grills tempting you with the sweet smells of the roasting chestnuts.

Roasted Chestnuts are roasted thusly:

It’s best to cook them over an open fire, preferably wood. But if you don’t have one to hand, an oven works fine too.

Preheat the oven to 400* (200*C).

Carefully cut an X on the top of each chestnut. This allows the steam to escape; otherwise, they’ll explode!

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet or on the grill (over a fire) cut side up. (Cooking them cut side down will ensure extra crispiness, but this may burn the exposed flesh — it’s up to you).  Sprinkle lightly with water.

Roast for 15-20 minutes until the kernels are tender and the shells come off easily. Remember to move them around often so they don’t burn.

When the chestnuts are ready, you may rap them in a towel and squeeze them to break the shells, but this is only an extra kindness to your guests. Alternately, serve them piping hot in a newspaper cone and let your guests get to work peeling back the lovely, hot skins.

Enjoy!

Tomorrow I’ll post a little more about the game of  “conkers.”

Despite intentionally trying to avoid them, I fell into a trap today; I read an article about graduate unemployment.  The best I can say about it is at least I don’t feel alone. The Independent reckons there are, on average, 69 applicants for every one position; The Guardian has a bleaker outlook: 12,000 applications for 50 places.  Talk about spoiling the rest of my full English breakfast (probably the last I’ll ever be able to afford if The Guardian staff writer is right).

So what did I do with this information?  Did I immediately hop onto the computer and begin– for the 20th time — job hunting?  Fraid not.  Did I fret and flutter and burst into tears?  Well, nearly.

Nope.  I got out my rolling pin and baked some delicious cheese scones. And then I knitted some more of the square cake handbag.  And you know what?  The future didn’t look so bleak afterwards.

We are creative beings; we thrive from positive nurturing and encouragement. With so much discouragement out there, sometimes you have to use your hands to create something beautiful and delicious. It’s what we were made for.

Here we are:  two unemployed graduates… but we seem pretty happy so far.

Here it is — my brand new, first ever plarn creation! The design is based on Vickie Howell’s eco lunch bag from her book AwareKnits.  It’s just one of many great ideas from her book for the eco-conscious (and, I might add, time conscious) knitter and crocheter.

All in all, it took about a day of working off and on to complete it.  I added the last row of orange to the handles yesterday before breakfast.  It was a good one day project, but for someone who’s more comfortable working with yarn made from plastic bags, it could easily be done in a couple of hours.

There’s a sense of fun and novelty involved in crocheting with plarn that reminds me of those crafts we used to do as kids. (You know when we used to sit in those miniature chairs at those tiny, shellacked tables, sticky from the Elmers glue of past crafts, and decorate our paper plate masks, or some such project, with glitter and pipe cleaners? The messier the better.)

Making plarn is easy enough: you just flatten a plastic bag, fold it into a long strip about an inch or two wide, snip off the end and handles, then cut the strip into one inch pieces.

Cutting off handles.

Cutting the bag into 1" strips

Now unfold the pieces (which are now big plastic circles) and link them together so that they form a long chain. Wind them up into a ball.

More instructions about making plarn here.

Stitching up  definitely takes a little getting used to. I recommend only using plastic bags of similar thicknesses. You can see where I included plarn from a large, white, heavy-duty plastic bag. Not only was it thicker than the rest of the plarn (you can see how it bulges out), but it got to be rather painful to work with.  I cut it off after just two rounds because I couldn’t take the rubbing anymore.  In the end, I think it makes a niceish band to match the orange one, but I don’t think I’d crochet with it again.

In any case, I hope you enjoy!

After a week of traveling and having people over it’s nice to finally sit down and share some of the things I’ve been doing (and creating) lately.

So in between doing this in Dublin and seeing beautiful scenery like in the picture above and watching sunsets like this…

I’ve also been learning how to crochet.

My grandmother and knitting instructor was right: once you learn how to knit, crocheting is a cinch.  Of course, I still managed to botch things up a time or two, which meant having the unravel half the project.  But we got there in the end.  I decided to do a market bag (this is what I think of when I see the words “market bag”) for my first crochet project since, I figure, my vegetables won’t care too much if my rows aren’t perfectly straight. Jill’s  Rust Goes Green was a quick and easy project (even for a beginner) and it was a great way to finally use up some of this bulky nylon yarn I’d been practicing with for ages.

And the finished product…

And just for fun I made these dangly wire earrings with royal blue beads. I’m not sure about  the ear hook design so I’m thinking about changing them… maybe adding a loop so that the ends clip together to form a fill circle?

Two books that have become permanent features on my nightstand these days (along with the, happily, never-ending Cold Mountain Scarf) are Melanie Falick’s Weekend Knitting and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Hound of the Baskervilles of Sherlock Holmes fame.  The proprietor of the tiny second hand bookshop I bought it from in the market said Baskervilles was the only book that ever scared him…  I love the classic Penguin book cover possibly as much as the expert, chilling, and somewhat whimsical story-telling.

And in the meantime I’ve moved on to a new project (two actually, but the second will have to wait until another day). Now that I can crochet passably, I’m working on my first plarn project. Here’s a sneak peak of the lunch bag-in-progress, based on Vickie Howell’s design from her book Aware Knits. More to come when I’ve finished.

I’m not a veil kind of bride.  Let that go on the record.  I have no legitimate reason except that, in my twisted mind, veils are all wrapped up (forgive the pun) with the virgin sacrifice imagery I see everywhere in modern weddings. Blah.

But…

recently I’ve surprised myself (and everyone who’s ever heard me rant about weddings) by falling in love with these gorgeous fluttery, whispy, head covering thingies.

Casablanca Bridal Comb

I love the whispy floral look of this bridal comb by Emily Wooton at BlumeBloom. She also has a similar comb/veil made out of dogwoods that I absolutely adore (it’s my favorite flower and the state flower of NC, fyi).  Unfortunately, I can’t see the brown taped wire looking good against my blond hair.

Side Swirl Tulle Birdcage

Here’s a stunner by Fascinating Creations. I love how unabashedly poofy it is without being 80s bridezilla.

Bandeau Style Veil

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Yes, I am actually saying that about a strip of vision-obscuring Russian veiling. Another from Fascinating Creations. I am pretty sure that if I went for a birdcage veil I wouldn’t want a full one à la Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama. Although this one is nice — not full-on facial coverage.

Flower Fascinator Veil

Now the question for both the bandeau style veil and this flower fascinator veil by Tessa Kim:  flower or no flower? What to you think?

In keeping with Craft is a Verb principles, the next step is to make one of these little do-hickies. So this weekend I’ll head over to the fabric store to pick up some Russian veiling and maybe some tulle.

Can anyone suggest a good tutorial for making a birdcage veil?

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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