Saturday, 26 May 2012

Modelling chocolate

I love cake. I love eating cake. I love making cake. And I love watching other people make cakes - specifically very talented people making incredible cakes. For this reason, I really, really enjoy watching Ace of Cakes on Good Food and any other digital channel it pops up on.

In Ace of Cakes, Ace and his team make the most incredible creations for people who want something epic in a cake. (You really should search for some of his creations - the Hogwarts cake for one of the HP premieres is particularly spectacular). The material they use most for this is modelling chocolate. I had never heard of this stuff til I started watching a few years ago, and to be honest I assumed is was an American thing. Which it is, but it's becoming more and more popular over here with bakers, because it seems to be such a fabulous material.

Modelling chocolate is basically like modelling clay: only made of chocolate! It tastes like chocolate but behaves like clay, meaning you can use it to sculpt figures and things. Bakers use it wherever they might use sugar paste.

I've been thinking it must be time for me to have a go at using this, and in the last 24 hours I kept coming across posts about it. First on facebook when a cake supplier I follow announced they now stock it. Then on Pinterest someone I follow posted a link to a post with a recipe to make some. So, given that I had some birthday cupcakes to make, and with no time to order any, I thought I'd have a go.

The ingredients are very, very simple. Chocolate, and golden syrup. In the USA they use Corn starch, which is a specialist product here, so you can substitute golden syrup or glucose syrup. I already had some golden syrup, so that was an easy decision.

There are loads of recipes on the internet, so I picked one (you can find it here), and got on with it. I melted 100g of white chocolate (I wanted white so I can try colouring it later), and left it to cool slightly (although probably not enough), and then added just under 50g of golden syrup which I'd warmed a little to make runny. Then I mixed hard until it came into a soft lump. At this point it looked VERY oily, but the instructions said this was fine, so I poured it onto some foil and popped it in the fridge. Two hours later, I had this to play with!

Now, I'd read people saying things about this stuff that it was a joy to work with - I must admit I thought it was a bit of exaggeration. But no! It really is fabulous. It's quite hard at first, but softens up nicely in your hands. I wore gloves as suggested and glad I did as it's quite oily. I added some pink colour gel to mine (a bit too much if I'm honest), and it took about the same amount of time as colouring sugar paste.

But when it came to rolling it out it was a revelation. I had run out of icing sugar so I had nothing to dust with, but on a plastic mat it rolled out nicely WITHOUT STICKING. Very pliable too, mre so than sugarpaste, and much more forgiving. I cut out some shapes and put them on some foil to pop in the fridge. I experimented with shaping the flowers a bit and adding some white centres, and it was SO easy. It holds it's shape beautifully. Then I put it back in the fridge to harden for use later.

The final result looked lovely. I urge you to have a go at this because it's SO easy. And if you need cake decorations at the last minute, it's perfect, because unlike sugar paste shapes, you don't need to leave them for days to dry - half an hour in the fridge and off you go. Brilliant!

I added these to some lovely chocolate cupcakes I'd made for my friend's 30th bithday present. I hope she likes them...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crochet baby elephant

I am 32. In general, this means my partying days are sadly pretty much all done with as I'm too poor (thanks mortgage), and nightclubs are loud noisy places (yes, 32 going on 62!). It also means that not only are lots of my friends getting married, but nowadays lots of them are starting families too.

So, inevitably I'm getting more and more invitations to baby showers. I love a nice baby shower - gossip with the girls, yummy food, and an opportunity to buy or make cute presents for mum and/or baby. And for the baby shower I went to this weekend, I really want to make use of my new crochet skills.

I don't yet have a book or any patterns (although my first book is due this week from The Book People), so I turned to the trusty internet to find the perfect pattern. I eventually chose this baby elephant pattern from the Red Heart Yarns website.

Given the trials of my rose and mouse patterns learning the correct terminology for the stitches I needed, the first thing I did was check which region it was. It was US, so I made sure that the reference sites I picked for reminding me how to do particular stitches were from the US. I had to do this a couple of times, and made a few errors along the way! Particularly with the body (see picture below), and the bonnet, which I abandoned when I realised it was so small it was for an elephant at least half his size!

Rather than buy the branded wool suggested, I went to a couple of the wool shops on Leeds Kirkgate Market, and chose a lovely grey double knit (100g), and some smaller balls (25g each) of a different brand for the bonnet and eyes. This proved to be a mistake which I will explain later.

The pattern itself was fairly simple, but required me to count the stitches a lot as they were in rounds. I taught myself an adjustable ring, which is simple to do, but fiddly to hold. I also found a video on YouTube which suggested using a contrasting scrap of wool as a marker so you don't have to count so precisely. This was a particularly good tip for crocheting in the evening in front of the TV so as long as you get the rhythm right (e.g. sc in next 2 sc, 2 sc in next sc, repeat x5 etc) you don't need to worry about the counting so much. Event better, if you do lose count you can just go back to the start of the row/round and then you can carry on. More than once I had to bin bits I'd started before I started using a marker. Never again!

The Pattern consisted of a head piece:

...body piece: (shown here on the left next to the one I did wrong! Was using slipstitches and only going through one side of each stitch (this will make sense to fellow crocheters)) 

...and four arms/legs:

Ears were added straight onto the head. So far, so simple. The stuffing of the head was added before the trunk was crocheted, as was the stuffing of each arm/leg. The body was stuffed later just before stitching the sections together.

Most of these were made just with single crochet (US). The bonnet was made in a round again, but this time with half double crochet (US). It had been a while since I had done this stitch (in the rose) so after messing up the first version I made a quick trip to the learn to crochet webpage from Lion brand again to remind me how to do it. Then I was off. I also had to add a second colour for the tie, and gaps for the ears.

When finished, it looked too small for the ele's head! Then I realised - by using different brands of wool, I had inadvertantly bought wool which was thinner than the grey, resulting in smaller stitches and guage. However, it stretched just enough to fit on his head. I added a yellow gingham ribbon for extra cuteness!

I was quite pleased overall, even though at first I was worried he wasn't as cute as the picture (possibly down to me moving away from recommended wool, guage too loose or stuffing him a teeny bit too tightly). But he went down a charm with the parents-to-be, and that's the main thing. Hopefully their "Lentil" will like him too when he or she arrives!

I REALLY enjoyed making him, and I cannot wait to stuck into my new crochet book (bought more wool in Leeds this weekend!). Watch this space...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Learning to crochet

In previous posts I have talked about my love of crafting, particularly baking and sewing. I like to think I got my passion for cooking from my Granny Peel. Her cooking was always fabulous, and I still have her old recipe file. I also have a Mason Cash mixing bowl and a small Cornishware collection, inspired by memories of cooking with Granny (and the vintage feel I love).

My love of sewing definitely comes from my Mum and Granny Clark. Mum has always done embroidery and things, and made some clothes when we were little, and Gran made my ball dress for my 6th form ball many moons ago.

But Granny Clark’s main craft was knitting. I have tried many times to get into knitting but other than making my baby cousin a bootie, mittens and hat set (21 years ago!!!), I just can’t get into it, or remember how! 

At Christmas a friend of mine and fellow blogger mentioned she was making crochet Christmas star decorations, and I was struck with a longing to be able to make some myself. I didn’t get around to trying until a few weeks ago, when on impulse I bought a crochet hook and some wool in Leeds market to while away some time while my boyfriend did some studying. So, armed with my hook and wool, and trusty Google, I set about learning to crochet.

I firstly managed to cast on and do some Double crochet.

Then, I moved on and did some Treble crochet. (Or did I? More on that in a min).

Project 1 - Rose
Using my favourite new social media site, Pinterest, I found a lovely crochet rose pattern to do, using this pattern. It claims to be easy, and I think it is, particularly because there are two sets of instructions to help those of us who aren't familiar with the stitch abbreviations yet. I managed it not too badly.

Close up detail of rose petals.

The rose before construction.

I then realised I didn’t have a wool needle, so eBay to the rescue, and I got on with the mouse described below. When my needle arrived, I followed the instructions to create this gorgeous rose. I might add leaves when I can find some green wool I like – the stuff in the market this afternoon was too bright.

Project 2 - Mouse.
Again through Pinterest, I found this cute mouse pattern. I settled down, and using the stitches I had learnt, I got on and made this up to about row 14, but it was looking a bit, well, BIG!

 It was then that I realised I’d read somewhere that US and UK stitches are different, and lo and behold a quick check of Wikipedia told me that I was right. I had actually learnt [check UK stitches learned], and on checking the rose pattern was US, and the mouse was UK. So, back to the internet for UK instructions to make sure I was doing it right, and off I went. Much better! This is what the mouse looked like with his body finished:

However, I've since discovered that this is STILL not right, so I will have to persevere and see how I get on. I have had another project on the go I just finished as a present so will get the pictures on the computer, and come back to blog about that. The mouse has frustrated me too much to come back to just yet, but one day I'll maybe get him right!


Burda Style Magazine 2011/08/112 Cape

I am a keen dressmaker, and try and make something every few months or so. My main problem is laziness and procrastination, so I find that it often takes me a few months to get going on something. Particularly with Burda Style magazine patterns.

I buy Burda Style magazine every month, unless there's nothing in there that I fancy making (it's happened once in the last year), and there are usually a few things in each issue I like. The major drawback is that these patterns need tracing, and it's such a pain to crawl around on the floor finding the right line (there are hundreds - I'll post a picture some time to show you), tracing the right line, then cutting out, pinning to fabric, cutting out the fabric etc. It's a right pain in the knees I can tell you! (Perhaps I need to invest in some knee pads...)

Anyway, this particular pattern was in the August 2011 issue, for a cape which looked gorgeous in the magazine in a lovely boucle fabric. When Mum kindly bought me my new sewing machine, we went to Leon's Fabric in Chorlton and I found a gorgeous pink and black houndstooth wool, which I thought would be perfect. I cut the pieces out in September (while watching Downton Abbey on a Sunday evening - perfect sewing time I find), but had said I would make 16 jackets for our Pom Dance team's competition in November, so had to have a break to make those. They were finished in November, and then of course it was Christmas, so I only just got time to finish my cape this weekend!

The Burda Style magazine pattern was claimed to be "Easy" and highlighted as one of the easier patterns in the magazine. However, as with many Burda Style magazine patterns this was far from true! The first part, to stich the main sections, was easy, and I got this done in no time at all. The main seams are long simple seams, with only the front two with the gap for the arm holes being any more tricky. I even managed the vent without any problems, which was a suprise as I was quite daunted by this at first.

First challenge was to work out which facing piece was the "right" side facing. The easiest way to do this was to put the cape on, and hold the facing up against the cape as it would be. I had marked the buttonholes on both pieces so either way would have been just as easy. Having identified the correct side, I stitched the four buttonholes in - dead easy as my sewing maching has an automatic buttonhole setting.

Next step - neck facing. This was a nightmare. I stitched the centre back and side back pieces together no problem, and from the picture in the magazine instructions was fairly confident that I'd got it right. However, the side pieces were nowhere near as clear, and I had to unpick these twice. It only became clear which way round the pieces should go on closer inspection of the illustration, and when I came to try and fit the neck facing to the neck. Anyway, once I worked that out it was a bit of a lightbulb moment, and I was able to attach the neck facing to the front facing, and then to the top edge of the cape (having first attached the front facings to the front edges).

From there it was a simple task to hem the cape, topstitch the facings (although wider than the 5 cm the pattern instructs due to buttonhole width - adjust as appropriate!), and stitch on the buttons.

It turns out the fabric is not actually as thick as I thought it would be, so I might try and line the cape at some point for a bit of extra wind protection, but otherwise it might be just the thing for spring/summer.

I might be tempted to do another cape out of some thicker fabric, although given the bulk of the interfaced facing pieces this might not work. Alternatively, I'll take this as a good first effort at outerwear, and move on to something a little more challenging.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Herman the friendship cake comes to stay

When I was about 12, my Mum was given a pot of cake mixture with some instructions. We spent the next week or so looking after this mixture, and at the end we made an amazing apple cake, the loveliest I have ever tasted, and passed on three portions to other friends. It was great fun, and because the cake was so lovely, every few years I remember this cake, and wonder if I will ever find the recipe again.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about this cake again. Then, the next week, someone in work mentioned she'd just been given some "Herman" mixture. We all asked her what this was, and she explained it was a friendship cake, and she had to tend to this mixture she'd been given over the next 10 days.

I couldn't believe it! This was the very cake I'd been looking for! I had no idea he was called Herman, or that he was doing the rounds once more, but a quick search on the internet revealed threads on the Netmums website (this is the one I read), and an article on the ever useful (with a pinch of salt!) wikipedia.

And by the time I got my portion of mixture (after another colleague was given some of the first lot), it seemed the whole country was talking about it. A facebook friend had a portion in Leeds, and one of my cheerleading team in Stockport had had some too. I asked another friend if he'd like some when I got my batch, and since then he's already been given a batch (although his Herman has gone to the great bakery in the sky sadly). Sara Cox mentioned Herman on her Radio One show on Sunday 29 April, and it turns out he's even been discussed on Women's Hour on BBC Radio 4 (the programme is still available as I write, on the BBC website) 

Herman as he arrives!

It's fairly simple to look after - leave out on the kitchen counter for 10 days in a large, non metal bowl, stir it once a day, and feed on day 4 and 9 (1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk), and that is that. Some internet posts and hearsay will have you believe it stinks, but actually if you keep a tea towel over the bowl any smell doesn't bother you, and in any case, it's no stronger than if you were proving bread.

I cooked my Herman on Saturday, and have now found three friends to deliver mixture to (one being one of the ladies at work who've already had some and want another go, another a friend at work, and a friend of my housemate). To the base mixture I added the ingredients listed in the instructions, and baked.

Herman in the bowl with all ingredients added. Then mix!

Once you've mixed all the ingredients in you just put it in a tin, and pour over 1/4 cup of melted butter and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. I used demerara sugar because it gives a nice crunch. There is no instruction (at least on my instructions) as to how big a tin you should use, so I used my standard 20cm square tin.

Top - Herman mix in tin...
Bottom - ...with melted butter and sugar sprinkled on top.

The baking took a lot longer than the instructions said. Initially I baked it for the time stated (45 mins at Gas mark 4), but even after another 15 minutes it still looked quite pale. Once I left it to cool the middle was very definitely still not cooked, so I put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes. 

Top - after 45 minutes looking a bit pale
Bottom - after another 30 minutes, looking super tasty.

The final result is a gorgeous, sweet, tasty apple cinnamon cake. I absolutely love it, and could not recommend giving Herman a temporary home highly enough. Simple, unusual, and very, VERY tasty.

Some people say he's a bit of a faff, and it's not worth the effort but I cannot disagree more. If he comes knocking, make Herman welcome...

cpd23: Professional Development 2012. Thing One!

When I set up this blog, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to write about. I'd heard most about blogs at professional networking events with CILIP, my professional body (Chartered Institutes of Library and Information Professionals), and liked the idea of blogging professionally. But the blogs I'd stumbled across during random searching seemed to be about craft, or cooking or both! And there are also some great lifestyle blogs too. So, given that one of my worst traits (according to the O.H.) is my inability to choose or decide on anything (I blame my mother!), I decided that this blog would cover all aspects of my life.

After university, I decided to train as a librarian, and here I am 10 years later still in the profession, but not quite where I thought I might be. I work as an Information Professional, but in Information Governance rather than librarianship. I am passionate about the subject, but sometimes don't really enjoy my job, as it can be a challenge to get people to prioritise information governance over "day to day work" - although really you shouldn't separate the two.

I chartered in 2008, and am in the process of (finally) putting together my revalidation application, although that's a real challenge. Being someone who plans ahead, I decided I'd do cpd23 in 2012 as something to put in to my NEXT revalidation application! It's something to think about in any case, and given that this is my very FIRST professional blog post, it might encourage me to be brave and blog about professional issues. (Something has stopped me so far).

I am also looking forward to "meeting" others in the LIS world, particularly as lots of us seem to be in very non-traditional roles, and given that's me as well, it's nice to see the breadth of subjects/sectors our profession covers.

So, I'll be popping back here to do the cpd23 activity set by the course, and hope to see some of you along the way.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Handmade with love

Those who know me well will know I'm happiest when I'm making something. Whether it's cooking, sewing, embroidery, or as of a few weeks ago, crochet (more on that in another post...), I just love making things.

Trouble is, if I kept everything I make for myself, I'd have no room in my flat (ahem!). But I have discovered that even if you spend only a few pounds on materials, people are genuinely really chuffed to receive something homemade.

I thought I'd share with you some of the things I've made as gifts over the last couple of years. Most were made for presents for Christmas 2011, and the first few are all from the GORGEOUS Cath Kidston book, "Sew". (HIGHLY recommended either as a gift for a crafty person, or for yourself if you fancy a go at sewing).

This is a handbag I made using the pattern for the bag which comes as a free kit with the bag, combined with the closure from the alternative design. I made two of these in different patterned fabric as presents for my two best friends. (Both were very pleased with them!)

This next one is the jewellery roll from the book. I made this for my Mum, as she and Dad go away a lot on their motorbikes so I figured she might need something to keep her bits and bobs safe and secure. It was quite fiddly and time consuming to make, but I was very happy with the finished result.

My Gran used to do a lot of knitting, so the obvious choice for her was a knitting needle case. I also made one last Christmas for my boyfriends Gran, and was really chuffed when she showed me the case in use, stuffed full of all her knitting needles and crochet hooks. She was quite surprised they all fit! This one is the one I made for my Gran.

I really do love making gifts, whether they are sewn or cooked, baked, preserved etc. and there will no doubt be more later in the year.