Thursday, 25 May 2017

A Cookbook Obsession

Sometimes I get stuck in a bit of a cooking rut. I love to cook but seem to make the same few recipes every week with a few slight variations. Most things seems to be follow a carb-with-tomato formula (perfect every time though right?) so when I don't have a tin of tomatoes in my cupboard I tend to go blank.

Luckily, I also have a bit of a cookbook obsession. It seems to run in the family: if you combined both my Grandma's and Mum's cookbook collection you could fill a public library. There's something about the promise of a new lifestyle, whether it be virtuous and energy-filled or comforting and earthy. I don't even have to cook from them, reading through them is enough to get a fix. When at my Mum's house, my sister reads the introduction of a different cookbook every day. She will rarely make anything from them (she finds cooking stressful) but still finds the words and pictures compelling. 

Since getting the whole house to ourselves and being able to dedicate a whole shelf to the cookbooks that were once stored under the bed I have vowed to make a new recipe every week. Before I made my Hipster Baked Beans and Chips this week I leafed through Anna Jones's 'A Modern Way to Cook' just to remind myself about the wonder of cooking. My mouth watered as I flicked from recipe to recipe before entering the kitchen not knowing what I was going to make but knowing I was going to make something good. And I think I did

You can see my cookbook shelf above. It's on one of those metal Ikea Hyllis shelves that's designed to go outside and I have tied string round the ends to stop the books from toppling to the floor as I pile more on top (like this Leon 'Fast Vegetarian' book found at TK Maxx a couple of weeks ago - yum). 

Am I the only one who just has to look at the cover of a cookbook to want to get in the kitchen? I treat them like glossy coffee table books. When my friends visit we pore over them and plan our next dinner parties, taking pictures of the recipes to remember to make them at home. We Whatsapp recipes to each other - we're such enablers. 

Go to my recipe section to find some of the things I end up making when I'm in a dreamy kitcheny mood and have just the contents of my cupboard to work with.



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

When You're Feeling Low: Grow Something

We've been through what felt (to me at least) like a very long winter. We are facing uncertain times and everything is a little scary. There are lots of things we can't control and sometimes it's difficult to see progress or imagine change. I find that growing something is a wonderful way to counteract this winter stagnation and feeling of helplessness. 

Surrendering control to nature is to witness the good in the world. It tells us that everything will work out. Yes your seedlings might get eaten by slugs and the frost may bite your dahlias but you can be pretty sure that if you stick a plant into compost and water it, it will grow.

Now, don't get me wrong, I know very little about growing things. I rely upon information from my Mum and Dad and adopt a make-it-up-as-you-go-along attitude to planting. My garden is by no means perfect: everything is a little leggy and scorched by the sun and of course the odd geranium has fizzled out when we've forgotten to water for a month (or two). 

I've talked about my parents' allotment before and a have a little advice for you, should you want it: Go to someone else's growing space and help out a little. Maybe, like me, you have a family member with an allotment, perhaps a friend with a flower border or a sister with a sad looking window box. It can be daunting  to be responsible for your own growing space and it can become a chore but to visit someone else's growing space and help it to thrive? Well that's a win-win right? 

When I visit the family allotment I sit on the ground, pull weeds, water and help to build wigwams. I'm happy to be told what to do and to lazily potter about amid the scent of damp earth. I am not responsible for the plot but I am contributing to its well-being and in turn my own. It feels good to help out and I spend valuable time with loved ones. 

Here are a few gardeny things to try that I find immensely therapeutic:
  • Sitting in the dirt - something we tend to stop doing as we get older and start paying for our own clothes (ouch) and spend our days sitting at desks. Or, even better...
  • Lying in the dirt - it smells amazing and is very freeing. Akin to rolling down a hill as a six year old.
  • Weeding - playing Garden God as you pluck unwanted specimens from the earth - the person who pulls out the most root is the winner.
  • Dead-heading - plucking off the past-it flower heads to make way for fresh ones is cathartic.
  • Digging - just for a minute or two feels incredibly virtuous and industrious. After 30 seconds to a minute feel free to collapse into a heap of exhaustion (see above).
  • Watering - find the biggest watering can rose you can for the prettiest display and highest chance of rainbows.
  • No phones (except to take the odd picture) - the sun is probably too bright to see the screen anyway and we wouldn't want to drop it into the water butt now would we? 
  • Just watching - go back and see what's happened since you last looked. The first peek of a seedling from the earth is basically a miracle.
  • Picking what you (or others) grow - grab a sprig of mint and stick it in a mojito, place a jug of marigolds on the kitchen table, gorge on strawberries, nibble at rosemary (or try my Spring is Here Natural Foot Soak!)
Does anyone agree with me or have I just become Earth Child (a name my Dad dubbed me as I stick a sprig of mint in my hair)?



Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Hipster Baked Beans and Chips

Tom called this meal 'hipster sausages, chips and beans' which made me eye roll at myself for being such a stereotype. To be fair, the sausages were veggie ones from a packet and it was all so so easy but the meal did resemble something likely to be served in tiny enamel buckets in a wannabe London eatery. Part of me is proud and you know what? It tasted GOOD and was so simple. So here are the recipes for hipster baked beans and sweet potato chips: 

For the sweet potato chips you'll need:

At least one sweet potato each (we had three between the two of us)
Olive Oil

Scrub the sweet potato and chop into quarters. Don't peel them or you'll be losing a lot of the goodness and all the crispy bits. Use a crinkle cutter (if you have one it's much more fun and I swear they're crispier) to cut the sweet potatoes into batons.
Pile onto a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with lots of paprika, salt and pepper. Toss to coat them all and spread out on a baking tray or two. You'll need to spread them in a single layer so that they are not touching one another. This way they should crisp up a little more.
Place into a 180C oven for about half an hour or until a little brown and crispy at the edges.

Meanwhile, to make the beans you'll need:

Tin of butter beans (to serve two generously)
1 red onion (did you know these have more antioxidants than white onions?)
1 fat clove of garlic
Tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp Bouillon powder
1 tsp Sugar

Chop the onion finely and add to a hot pan. Crush the garlic and add, taking care not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of water if you need to. You can add paprika at this point if you want your beans to be a little richer but because I used a lot of paprika on my chips I didn't think II needed it.
When the onions have turned translucent, toss in your tin of chopped tomatoes, about a teaspoon of bouillon powder, a teaspoon of sugar and a generous grind of black pepper. Let the mixture simmer for five minutes while you check your chips aren't burning.
Drain the butter beans and give them a rinse. When the tomatoes have reduced a little, throw in the butter beans and stir to coat. Leave on a low heat to blip away while your chips brown.

We found that these two recipes were perfect with a pile of peas, veggie sausages and ketchup, eaten in front of the tv on your lap.

Do you make your own alternative versions of classic comfort foods? Anyone got any good recipes for veggie sausages? I'd like to have a go at making my own from scratch so I'd love to hear...



Thursday, 11 May 2017

What To Do When You're Overwhelmed: Never Look At The Big Picture

Sometimes everything is just a bit terrible. Tom says that I simply can't care about everything at once. But what do I choose to care about the most? The plastic in the oceans? Should I convert from vegetarian to vegan to make the world a better place? Syria? Politics in the US (terrible)? Politics here in the UK (terrible)? Can I actually do anything about any of these things and make any kind of difference?
Sometimes, if you look at the big picture, it all gets on top of you. 
But here's my advice to you, reader: NEVER LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE

I tell this to my primary school teacher Mum and sister when they start talking about everything they have to do and how it's basically impossible (which it is). Never look at the big picture. Nothing ever looks good as a big picture. Yes, sometimes it can help to draw yourself away from the tiny thing that has you crying in Tesco (if they don't have that thing in stock I can't make what I was going to make so what's the point of anything) in order to know that it's not that big a deal. But in general, thinking about everything altogether is only going to drag you under. This is what I have found: instead, try to focus on one thing at a time and find what you can do to make it better. Some problems are huge and some are tiny but you can make a difference to all of them in small ways. 
Here's a few I have been working on in the last week:

Problem: the sheer quantity on landfill is killing the earth.
Mini Solution: I bought reusable cotton face pads instead of disposable ones. I also bought washable sanitary pads from a lovely lady on ebay who makes them from organic cotton in jaunty fabrics. I have not bought bottled drinks for a month.

Problem: I'm trying to launch a blog and an etsy shop and no one knows who I am in this big scary creative world.
Mini Solution: Join the Chichester Design Collective and go to a social evening.

Problem: Not had a day away from work in 25 days
Mini Solution: Order a Wagamama take away (Yasai Katsu Curry, obvs) and eat with boyfriend on the sofa watching Game of Thrones.

Problem: Feeling overwhelmed and deflated
Mini Solution: Went to my parent's allotment and watered the plants

Problem: DVD player broke.
Mini solution: Bought new (very cheap) DVD player.

Do you see where I am going with this?

What have you done recently to make a difference to a problem? I'd love to hear your ideas. Nothing is too small to make a difference.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Taking the Wax Out of a Batik

 Batik is an ancient technique of creating beautiful fabrics using dyes and wax resist. Wax can be stamped, painted or drawn on with a tjanting. The dyes can be layered to create wonderfully complex designs and vibrant colours. It's one of my favourite techniques and nine times out of ten I love the result. There is, however, one thing that puts me off making a batik: removing the wax.

There's a silky, crunchy, oiliness to a freshly made batik. The wax sets int he fabric and cracks in your hands - it feels great. But if you want to use your batik for anything you're going to have to get that wax out. If your batik was made as a piece of art in its own right then you'll be able to iron the wax out and leave it there. If you need your fabric to have a soft handle again you'll need to get all the wax out and that's where it gets a bit more complicated.

To iron the wax out, place your batik on a wad of newspaper. Place another sheet of newspaper on top and iron until the top newspaper is completely greasy. Change the paper and continue until no wax is coming out. Don't use your clothing iron for this or you'll risk getting wax on your best dress and then all hell will break loose. After you've completed this process, the cloth will feel slightly stiff and satisfying. You may have oil stains around waxed areas and the cloth will be darker in appearance than the dyes truly are underneath the wax. You can stop now or read on to remove all the wax.

 To remove all of the wax you need to boil it. The wax needs to melt free from the cloth. I use my Mum's old jam pan (no longer used for anything edible) with a sprinkle of soda ash (a dye fixative). Bring the water to the boil and then plunge your batik into the water. Push it all under the surface and wait for 30 seconds or so. Use tongs to lift the batik out and into a bucket of cold water. The wax should have come out of the fabric and into the water. Left over wax on the surface of the cloth should solidify in the cold water and can be rubbed off.


Please note that some dye will come out of the cloth in this process.  You need to have fixed your dyes properly to retain bright colours. There's a sneaky batik deception that catches everybody out: your colours will seem darker and brighter when they are under the wax, in the same way that wet cloth appears darker and brighter. It's like a giant grease stain. Your colours will be paler when the wax is out and the cloth is dry so please consider this when you're dyeing.

You may need to repeat the dunking process a couple of times to get all of the wax out. If you're de-waxing multiple batiks you may want to change your water as it can become saturated with wax.

Give the cloth another rub to make sure you have removed all of the surface wax and then it's ready to go into the washing machine at 30 degrees with a tiny splash of metapex or synthrapol to remove an excess dye. Please don't put any batiks in the washing machine until you are confident that you have removed all of the wax or you risk your washing machine's health and your pocket money will go to the repair man.

See, I told you it wasn't a fun process, but it does allow you to use your batiks for endless fabric projects. Mine have become lampshades:

This one and a few others are in my etsy shop and the rest will be added next week when my exhibition is over!


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