Thursday, 29 July 2010

That Yummy Chocolate Flan Thing...

Well, I got told off for not providing the recipe to last weekend's yummy chocolate flan... So I asked Su and she told me how it was made. It wasn't a scientific recipe, but I'll try to work out quantities for you - however it'll be "intelligent guessing", so it may not work out exactly right. Be prepared to do a "dry run" before making it for any special occasion, just in case you need to adjust the amount of something.  The texture should be nicely set, like a cheesecake (non-baked).

So, Su said "Whipping cream, a carton of Mascarpone and two bars of Dark Chocolate".  I think the quantities should probably be like this:

* * *

Pastry Case, "baked blind" and ready to use
250-300ml Whipping Cream, whipped to soft peaks
250g tub Mascarpone
2 x 100g bars (or 1x 200g) Dark Chocolate ( 70%+ cocoa!)
12 Large (halved) or 24 Small (whole) Strawberries
Garnish (Mint or Lemon Balm leaves, baked mini-balls of pastry, biscuit crumbs, chocolate to drizzle, icing sugar etc)

* * *

I'm not too sure about quantities for US-style cooking. This Recipe Converter may help.
It suggests that 250ml of liquid or 250g dry weight is equivalent to approx 1 Cup, 200g (chocolate) is approx 7-8 oz weight.
Hopefully this would help you work out the recipe okay.

* * *

1) Whip the cream to soft peaks. 
2) Melt the chocolate in a bowl, over hot water (or in a microwave).
3) Fold the melted chocolate into the whipped cream.
4) Fold in the mascarpone.  The mixture will begin to thicken.
5) Pour into pastry case.
6) Garnish with strawberries or other fruit, drizzled melted chocolate etc
7) Chill for an hour or more, until cold and set.
8) Add more garnish if wanted - biscuit crumbs, pastry balls, icing sugar etc
9) Serve with more cream if wanted, or ice cream, more fruit etc.

* * *

This dessert is really quite rich and filling, so you'll probably only want a smallish slice. The one Su made served 6 hungry people at two meals!

I hope this works out for you. Please let me know if you decide to try it and whether you enjoy the results!

Monday, 26 July 2010

A Bit of Fun... a bit of News

CSI Cat, or Who Shot Sherlock?

Dear old Sherlock has been enjoying this warm weather. My DH took this photo and messed about with Photoshop to make it look like this!

We had a good weekend, with my Best Friend, Su and her 3 children here to stay. We ate our meals in the garden - including this wonderful dessert, made with chocolate, cream and mascarpone, in a home-baked pastry case.  My friend and her daughter brought it and assembled it here.  It was lush!

Choccy and Cream pie/flan... yummy!

It's been a busy week or so.  Lots going on here and I haven't had the energy for blogging. We're all well though - although we made an unscheduled stop at the Dr. on Thursday, as Mum's asthma was bad.  The practice nurse sent her to A&E in an ambulance. They gave her oxygen, checked her chest, blood etc, then sent her home once she was over the attack, with some steroids and antibiotics, to treat what was (luckily) the early signs of a chest infection. She's okay now, but a bit zombified from the tablets. 

Our friends stayed just Saturday night.  The kids camped in a tent, in our back garden - they had a great time - and we had bbq for tea on Saturday. It's been a good weekend, though hard work.  The two eldest children are nearing 6ft (at 15 and 13 years old!) and eat quite a healthy amount - enough for about 4 of my J. who isn't tall yet!  We had an extra shopping delivery on Saturday morning, to make sure the larder could cope with the onslaught.  We all did fine - in fact we had left-over bbq sausages and jacket potatoes for tea last night - great as we were all tired.  The fridge is currently recovering from the extra work! (as am I).

Off to return the visit tomorrow. Su lives in Cheltenham (I posted about a visit there a couple of months back).  She's offered me & J. a billet, so we can go and see my Aunt Kate, who is very poorly just now. She has leukemia, but her system will no longer tolerate the chemo treatment.  She can have blood transfusions, to help with the high white cell count, but otherwise there is little that can be done.  Consequently, she's very tired and unwell now, and the prognosis is not good.  My cousin says she has "months, not years" now.  Had the chemo continued to work, she'd have been around for years... It is sad - I'm very fond of Aunty - but I think she's accepting it and getting on with enjoying whatever life God gives her now.  Anyway, we're paying her some short visits tomorrow and Wednesday, then coming home on Thursday. Staying with Su means we can visit for short spells and not tire her out with guests in the house.  Even if visitors look after themselves, there is something a bit wearing about having people there all the time (even if it is your niece and her well-behaved son!).  D. can't come as he's working, so it's just me and J. tomorrow, for our journey West.

So, this was a shortish post, without many pics. D. took several good photos of our friends this weekend. Mine were a bit rubbish - to be honest I was too tired to bother, so I let him do it! Maybe I'll post a couple of the best pics later in the week. 

Have a good week, all Blog Friends! I'll be back to "normal" soon! 

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Sian's 49 Things List...

So, the wonderful Sian has produced her own version of those lists that have been doing the rounds.  This has 49 things that you may have done/not done etc.  I thought I'd have a go, just for fun.

The ones I have done are highlighted...

1. Seen The Terracotta Army in China

2. Cross stitched a sampler
(several, for friends' new babies - that was before I had my own and was too busy!)

3. Kept a friend for more than 20 years
(my Best Friend and I have been friends for 28 years)

4. Made your own jam
(yummy! Strawberry and plum jams)

5. Seen the Crown Jewels in The Tower Of London
(when I was in the guides... a century ago)

6. Attended a school reunion and enjoyed it

7. Kissed the Blarney Stone

8, Learned how to tap dance
(yay! I went to tap classes when I was in my 20's, until I started college on the same night)

9. Seen one of the Wonders Of The Ancient World

10. Ridden a tandem bicycle
(day out with a b/f. It's much harder than it looks!)

11. Commissioned a piece of furniture
(a chest of drawers. It's not a spectacular piece, but was made specially for me!)

12. Sold for profit something you made yourself
(greetings cards for several years, then recently hand made books, craft items and toys in my shop!)

13. Seen Sydney Opera House

14. Walked up the outside of a volcano
(does an inactive, ancient volcano count? There's a big tower of rock on the Isle of Eigg, Hebrides. It's an ancient volcanic plug. I climbed that!)
15. Met an idol

16. Found or sent a message in a bottle

17. Held a stranger's hand, just because they needed you
(on a plane, flying to Germany. The lady next to me was very scared, so I held her hand during take-off).

18. Thought you might have seen a ghost

19. Been caught speeding

20. Won a bet

21. Visited a penpal
 (her name was Bridget. she lived in Telford and I went to stay in the Easter Holidays. Had a lovely time. Wonder where she is now...)

22. Published a poem
(but only in the school magazine. Does that count?)

23. Had your appendix removed

24. Pierced an interesting part of your body

25. Seen your name in lights

26. Had a handsome man buy you Champagne

27. Had tea at The Ritz

28. Found a peacock feather

29. Made a collection of more than 50 objects
(books, scrapbooking kit!, stamps)
30. Crossed The Equator

31. Partied through til breakfast
 (yay! I wonder if I'd have the energy to do this now? Probably not! Student stuff really...)

32. Found a fossil
(in Whitby Bay, when I was 11)

33. Seen The Northern Lights
(but I've seen the Midnight Sun - twice - in Norway and Finland)

34. Built your own house
 (does a bedroom and bathroom count?)

35. Started a Mexican Wave

36. Judged a competition

37. Flown in a hot air balloon
(ah, missed this one by a whisker - or a baby to be more accurate. DH bought me a flight but I couldn't go as I was expecting J)

38. Spent too much money on something you've only worn once

39. Scored an own goal. Figuratively or otherwise
(if we're talking figuratively, then lots!! but then, who hasn't?)

40. Appeared on live tv

41. Asked for your money back
(well, I always seem to choose the item that turns out to be broken or faulty...)

42. Had your photo taken with someone famous

43. Grown your hair long enough to sit on

44. Been locked in somewhere overnight, or long enough for it to start getting scary

45. Found something valuable and made sure it was returned to its rightful owner

46. Taken part in some kind of endurance event or attempt

47. Driven from one end of your country to the other
(not quite but I drove from Bedford to Inverness, which was a loooong drive)

48. Been publicly recognised for bravery or special community service

49. Gone out on the town in an outfit you've made entirely on your own

It's quite fun doing these. I can see why Sian found it hard to think of things for her list though!
Thanks Sian, it was fun.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Grand Day Out!

Yesterday we went up to London by train, to meet some of D's work friends for a picnic. They had decided to meet up in Hyde Park, at the Princess of Wales Memorial garden. The weather forecast was sunshine at first, but when we checked it later, they said it would rain!! In the end, we were very lucky with the weather and only had cloud, then sunshine. It was a lovely day.
The people we met are lovely. A chap called Gurav and his wife, Anshu, with their 20-month-old baby daughter and a lady called Asia (pronounced As-y-a).  A couple of others were expected, but Toby was training for a go-karting competition (!) and Ann's baby was not very well, so there were just the seven of us.  We had a lot of stuff to eat and a few things to play with - including the baby's stacking cup set and J's guitar.
All in all, we had a lovely afternoon and it was worth the 3-hours by bus and train (and foot!) to get there.

A lovely day for a picnic!

View across Hyde Park - the Serpentine, trees, buildings - spot the London Eye!

Anshu, Gurav, baby & J.

D. plays with the baby.

Our own personal entertainment... he carried this all the way to London on his back.

Gurav and J.

Asia (left), the baby, Anshu (right)

J. gets thoroughly wet, playing in the fountain

Starting to unpack - Yummy!
Time to go home... tired and happy

Friday, 16 July 2010

Tidying Up, Catching Up with LYP! And Teacher Gifts too...

Wow, I wonder if Life will ever slow down enough for me to catch my breath! It's soooo busy here just now.  This week we've had a visit from my Mother-in-Law, from Saturday to Wednesday... 
D took this with his mobile phone, at a local Village Show on Sunday.  MIL is the little one on the right!

We have also had various appointments at osteopaths, dentists etc... and J's end-of-term Celebration Assembly at school yesterday. 

In between, my friend D. has been helping me to knock this place into shape. She has boundless energy and really enjoys a good springclean and tidy up... so she has taken me in hand and sorted out the mess, which I have been trying to organise for months.  My problem is that I run out of steam very quickly and a job which seems easy at the start, suddenly becomes impossible to complete and is left half-done. This is so frustrating and I have hated having such a messy, untidy and (in places) dirty house.  D. has now helped me to tidy and clean the kitchen, sitting room, hallway, dining room and, today, the junk-heap that we referred to as the "Utility Room", but was really just a big mess, with a washing machine and dryer in the corner! 

That was, until today.  Wish I had thought to take "before" and "after" shots for you... just believe that it was a huge mess this morning, but by the time D. had finished, it was a picture of laundry perfection!  All my remaining craft stuff (this used to be my workroom before we got the extension done) is now upstairs in a little heap in the corner of my new studio room. I need to finish the shelves in here, then have a "project" to organise all my stuff.   D. put things in the dining room, in little heaps; I went through the heaps and sorted out what was "keep" and what was "throw away".  There were 2 large bags full of recycling when we'd finished, plus a few bits in the normal bin too. I think about half the stuff she pulled off the desk area was thrown away! 

I had been wanting to do this for months, so it's such a relief to have it done and sorted out.  The shelves, which had just become a dumping place for junk, are now populated with bits & pieces from the kitchen, which I don't use often, but need to keep (like cake decorating stuff, a sandwich toaster, a spare coffee jug, vases - you know the type of stuff, we all have it!).

So, despite a state of minor exhaustion, I'm very relieved and happy this evening. It was hard work, but definitely worth it.  D. is a fabulous friend and deserving of a special present, I can tell you!  She won't allow me to pay her for the work she does; we have an "arrangement", where I am buying stuff she would like, but can't afford - things for her home, the odd nice treat from the supermarket, that kind of thing.. Still, if I had to pay someone for the time she has spent helping me over the past month, I would need a job!  I am very grateful for a wonderful friend (even if she does enjoy herself while she's tidying up and cleaning!!).

* * *

So, visitors, appointments and cleaning aside... I have been reading the prompts for Shimelle's Love Your Pages course.  Haven't had a lot of time to keep up with them, but yesterday I got my camera out and had a go at a few pictures, with Prompts 7 & 8 in mind.  I played with settings on my camera, to explore Depth of Field and Exposure a little bit.

I only have a point-and-shoot; I didn't have a lot of time  and it was a wet day; consequently the photos are not wonderful, but it's a starting point and I can build from there.

Prompt 7 - Depth of Field shots

A general shot of the rainy day view from my window... Auto Setting

I switched on the Macro function and set the camera to "Baby" setting (nice natural colours).
I think this photo of raindrops on the window pane has a great blurry background. I like the contrast.

This was taken with the Landscape setting switched on. The raindrops are now blurry and the background is in focus. 
Total contrast with the previous photo! 

For this, I pointed the camera at that elusive little patch of blue that was in the sky, set it back to Baby setting and took the photo. I really like this one - the raindrops are clear enough to be obvious, but the lovely blue and white of the sky is just fab.
If you look very closely, you might be able to pick out a very small silhouette of a bird against the clouds, towards the bottom of the photo.

Prompt 8 - Exposure

Not really much work done on Exposure with these shots.  I just faffed about with the pre-set functions a bit. 

This was the Auto setting... Rather dark and not very impressive, despite that nice bit of blue sky...

This worked a bit better. It was taken with the Landscape setting - much better light.

I really need to read the manual and work out how to get more from the exposure functions. I think there's a way to override the presets, to some extent, but I don't know how to do it.  So far, I've just learned that the "Baby" setting produces nice, true colours, especially for pastels and for shots taken indoors.  Auto setting is rather feeble, except outside in good daylight. Portrait setting is okay, but the colours often need tweaking.  Landscape does produce good colours and focus for stuff that's further away (and even just across the room/garden).
Flash is rubbish. Always.

So, I'm kind-of learning stuff... but I do need to spend some more time on this to get any real benefit from it.  At least the prompts are making me think about what I'm doing and I've got a few fun ideas from them too - like putting the camera on the ground etc.

I want to try some of the wonderful scrapping ideas too.  The sketches are really good - and I don't usually bother with scrap sketches!

* * *

Finally, the thing that has filled up my remaining time - Teacher Presents.

J. wanted a number of presents for his teachers. I was "commissioned" to produce some books, so this is what I have made so far (you can click on the small photos, to see bigger versions):

A Moroccan-style covered notebook, for the Science Teacher (paper by Basic Grey from their "Marrakesh" range). With an elastic fastening, fixed at the back with an eyelet.

A fun orange-inspired notebook for the German and French teacher (more Basic Grey paper - "Ambrosia"). This is fastened with a ribbon, fixed at the front by a button and brad.

An A4 size notebook, with pink-lined pages decorated with flowers. The binding is Japanese stab-stitch, with eyelets to decorate the holes on the covers.  The covering paper is a lovely blossom-printed, thick quality gift-wrap that I found.  This is for J's English teacher. I think she'll love it.

A pocket-sketchbook, filled with off-cuts of the lovely print-making paper I used for the silk-covered wedding book last week.  This is for J's Art and Ceramics teacher. It's covered in turquoise lokta paper, with a coptic-style binding (only 3 threads though, so it's not a "proper" coptic binding - they have an even number of threads). 

The design on the cover is a lino-cut by J. printed onto canvas fabric and glued to the front of the book.  There is an elastic strap to fasten the book, which slips on and off - it's fixed together with a metal grip, like those hair-band things.  J. took this into school and gave it to his teacher today, but she didn't open it when he was there - so we don't know if she liked it. I think she would though... useful for her holidays and just the right size to carry about with her.

Those are what I have made so far.  We already had a present for J's Form Teacher, which is a set of cute little lanterns, designed to hold tea-lights, which fix together, one under another, with little chains that hang underneath them.  They are painted cream colour and look very pretty.  I'm tempted to add another covered notebook though... And there is at least one other book required, for the Maths teacher, so I still have work to do!

Off to London tomorrow, to meet up with some friends for a picnic.  Hopefully I'll remember my camera and will take some decent photos.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Finally Finished!

At last I have finished the Wedding Guest book for my customer.  I am so relieved that it's done.  So many silly little things went wrong - I suppose it was just "one of those" occasions...

Still, it looks quite good.  There are a few things that I would do differently "next time", but I think she will like it and be pleased with it.  I just hope it holds up to handling at the wedding and comes home with the Bride & Groom, looking fairly unscathed.
I have made some cellophane sleeves for each cover, using A4 greeting card presentation bags (like you get things in when you buy them in a shop), and they are fixed together with removable adhesive (not stuck to the book!).  The Bride and Groom can decide if they want to leave the sleeves on the book until after the wedding, so that the book covers are protected from sticky paw prints. 
I did give the ivory satin two coats of Scotchguard protector before I made the covers, but I'm still a bit unsure - all it would take is a little bridesmaid with chocolatey fingers, or someone eating crisps... AAAAARRGH!

Here are a few shots. It's just my luck, that after several days of brilliant sunshine, we have had a dull, grey day today - just when I would like to take great photos!

Wedding Album in Ivory Silk Satin and Moss Green Silk Dupion fabrics; with a Coptic Binding; embellished with a hand-made Silk Tassel and hand-printed lino-cut of Wedding Rings.

Closeup of the binding and the tassel.

Inside the front cover. Showing the binding stitches, folded page spacers and hand-torn pages.

I think it has turned out pretty well.  As I said, I'd do a couple of things slightly differently; however I am still learning and my prices are still low because of that. The customer is happy to accept the minor imperfections that result from hand-made items and I hope she'll be happy (even if I am a perfectionist!!).  The book is a gift for her son and his new wife - so I hope they love it too!

I like the Coptic binding method. It looks lovely and is not too difficult to do, so long as I take my time and take care.  I think I will take advice from some of my fellow (more experienced!) book-binders - I will look out for a set of curved needles, as it would make the process a lot easier and quicker.

More of these to come, I think. With improvements!

Now I hope to have more time to spend on Shimelle's great Love Your Pictures class.  So far I have only had time to take a few shots and try one of her lessons on adding text to a photo:
I want to catch up a little and try to complete the rest of the challenges, or most of them anyway.

Just one more thing to complete now... I have made the little hand-cut stamps for Stacey and Jacky, who won my Stamp Giveaway, oh-so-long-ago; except for one stamp in Stacey's set of 3. I will do it tonight. 

Stacey and Jacky - I have not forgotten you.  Your stamps will be in the post this week!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Six Needles, Six Threads, all sewn up!

At last I have finished the binding for my current book commission! This has taken longer than I anticipated, due to numerous interruptions of the "Life" kind.  But today I finally got the sewing finished.  Now all I have to do is add the extra little embellishments, then it will be ready to despatch.  I have posted the order in my Etsy shop, so the customer can see the (rather hasty!) photos of the book as it is now.  Soon I will replace those slightly scrappy photos with nice, shiny "Finished Book" pictures! 

So far, this Green and Ivory Silk Wedding Album with a Coptic Stitch Binding looks pretty okay:

Two-sheet section. The book has 10 of these. There are only 2 sheets per section because the pages are heavy weight printmaking paper, which is stiff and thick.  The folded bits are spacers, to allow the book to expand a little, if little souvenirs are stuck inside (like photos or tags with greetings on etc).  The pages measure 10" x 8".

One of the two covered boards, ready to be attached to the book. The covers are of ivory silk satin and moss green silk dupion (a slubby mid-weight silk fabric).  They are lined with some ivory damask-effect paper. 
There is a slight "lip" round the edge of the covers, to make the book neat and easy to open, so the boards are a tiny bit bigger than 10" x 8".

The covers were punched with the six holes for the binding.  I then added the green silk edge and used an awl to make little holes in this, so I knew where to push the needle through. If you look closely, you can see the teeny holes.

Each of the six sets of holes needs to be stitched. I used Coptic Stitch.  See the Six threads - all at once!

This is a Six Needle Coptic Binding!

Here's my needle-holder, that keeps them all in order.

So, I add each Section, on top of the previous one...

Each thread is stitched through the new section, in, then out of a pair of holes, then the needle is tucked under the stitch below it...

... and the thread looped round and tightened, to form a Kettle Stitch.
You can see that it makes a nice chain-stitch effect across the binding.  Sometimes this is done with different coloured threads, to give a lovely contrast, but this binding is just in natural-coloured linen, strengthened with beeswax.
Then the cover is attached.  I prefer to make a double stitch, to make the cover extra-secure and also because I think it looks nice!

The finished binding.
Front view
The book will open flat, right the way through, because the pages are essentially "hinged" on their edges.  This is a good binding for a thick book, especially one with heavy-weight paper. 
It's ideal for this Wedding Album, as the guests will want to open it flat and write messages to the bride and groom. No nasty splitting of the spine, because someone bent it back to open the book!

I'm really pleased with how this turned out.  It's been a while since I made a Coptic binding and I have never made a six-needle version before. There are a couple of minor hiccups, but I'm happy that the book is a pretty decent piece of work.  The customer says she loves it (though she has only seen my straight-from-the-camera, taken-in-poor-light, photos!). 

I need to make a matching tassel and put a lino-cut print on the cover (like I did with these books -

Ivory damask-effect paper, with navy silk binding and hand-printed Wedding Rings lino-cut embellishment.

Journal covered with lime green lokta paper, with gold silk hinged binding, hand-made tassel and hand-printed Beach Huts lino-cut embellishment.

I will use the wedding rings lino-cut that I made recently - the same as I used for the print on the navy book above.

This has been a great project for me to do, though it's been frustrating to have so many hold-ups.  I had problems sourcing the right materials, then trouble with the original binding plan (had intended to use a Japanese stab-stitched, hinged binding, like the ivory and blue book above, but the paper was too heavy and the book would not have opened properly).  Then various delays and problems with Life getting in the way...
But now it's nearly finished and I'm so excited!

* * *

Just a final little photo, that I thought you'd like to see...

Someone loves the sunshine...

Who Shot Sherlock?


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