Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Beware of First Impressions

Bistro One in Ebrington Street Plymouth was something of a surprise and a cautionary reminder that first impressions can be wrong, in this case very wrong. 
An artist Impression of the Restaurant

As we walked up to the Bistro I began to worry, where was the restaurant? There was no flashy front windows and bright signs proclaiming its presence, where was it? Then one of the group pointed it out across the road. It looked rather like a cafĂ©, not at all what I had expected from the 2011/12 award winning FoodPlymouth  Best Restaurant. No I thought surely not, this can’t be right, but it was.
The owner of Bistro One Mr Stephen Barrett

We walked into a place with bright yellow and blue wood board walls and red counters plastic table cloths and chairs not what one expects, well not me anyway. However, as soon as the proprietor Stephen Barrett began to talk about starters and wine there was a shift in thinking. Here was a man who loved food and who knew what he was talking about. He is a man who is passionate about food and drink and who gets a great deal of pleasure ensuring others share his food passions.

The Menu

We began the meal as any celebration should with champagne this time pink and sparkling whilst we selected the starters. Following discussions it was decided to have a full range of the Bistro Meze. This included herb and garlic multigrain bread, olives, spiced Mediterranean vegetables, hummus and pitta, a selection of Milanese salami meats and pate, crab tarts, mussels and oysters. These delights all appeared gradually on small serving plates which were scatter along the table, served with red and white house wine and for at least two of the party a continued flow of champagne (mentioning no names).       

Mussels being prepared

Once the starters were complete the empty plates were whisked away we then received our main meals which had been selected previously. I had Iberian Pork. The loin of west county pork had been marinated in Iberian spices and then dry roasted. It was served in thick succulent slices on a fine bed of long grain rice with an apricot and ginger sauce and baked cherry tomatoes. The pork was tender and the sauce gave the whole dish a subtle yet fruity spice tang. It was an altogether satisfying dish which simply did not need the thick cut chips which were served as an accompaniment.

For dessert there was a great choice of chocolate cakes brownies and ice cream and fruit, but I went for the Lemon tart. This was served with a Devon ice-cream and compote of summer berries it was delicious and very refreshing and tart.

Looking at the plates of the others who dined in our group and I think I can say everyone enjoyed their meal - well the plates were empty. It is important therefore to not go on first impressions as in this case I would have missed a great meal. So if you ever find yourself in Plymouth pay Bistro One a call.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Weird and the Wonderful

Just thought I'd include this picture as I felt it was a post in it's self . Things can be so absurd at times and this sign seems to me one such case. What do you think?

The question is which city centre do we want?

Plymouth Revisited

I must admit it was with some mixed feelings that this weekend I travelled down to Plymouth. The trip was arranged by my husband’s colleagues to belatedly celebrate Christmas and the winning of a major contract. Having never met any of the group before I was little concerned, what if they were unfriendly, and did not like me, what if it was all talk of work, work, work, Well all those thoughts ran through my head and I did think of saying I’d stay at home. However, it was also going to be a chance to revisit Plymouth again and relive some of my student days.I therefore decided what the heck and went.  

I was in Plymouth in the 70’s and I have got to say I loved every minute. We had, as my daughter would say, some really ‘Good Times’ I not only gained a very good degree but I also discovered, well to be totally corny, myself. (What a giggle I know) 

Plymouth, like me, now appears to have seen better days. Plymouth has no doubt suffered due to the reduction in the naval fleet and the general economic down turn. Indeed if I think about it I have faired better than Plymouth.

This visit gave me the great opportunity to revisit old haunts, those that still exist or that I could remember, that is. My husband and I wandered around the Barbican along The Hoe and around the Town Centre. I also paid a call on the University which although much larger and with some extremely flash new buildings looked surprisingly the same. I could see in through the main hall glass doors and into the foyer in which I had stood so many years ago waiting to go into my final exam ……..what memories.

Plymouth University today
I paid a call to my first student house on the Saltash Road and was stunned; it looked exactly the same, slightly shabby and tired. I recalled how we spent many a time gazing out of the window watching the young sailors flood out of the Naval School gates and spot future Admirals. It was a great laugh; I just wonder many actually made it. 

Admiral spotting point

I have got to say for a chance to revisit and rekindle old memories this trip would have been well worth it but I have got to give my husbands work colleagues their due and say they were a great bunch. I guess you could say it was yet another discovery I made courtesy of Plymouth.

Shots of Plymouth Hoe. There was no big wheel when  I was there.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Has Spring Sprung?

Not only do I love all things craft, but I also love gardening. This year with the weather being somewhat erratic the seasons seem to have become a little less distinct and plant life does seem a little confused. Whilst I am sure we have not seen the back of bouts of sharp frost I am surprised to find plants within my garden springing into life. All I hope is that these tender shoots are not too premature and can withstand a nip in the air.

Having been captured by the sight of bulbs such as crocus, snowdrops  and grape hyacinth  peeking through the ground I decided again to try my hand at getting some snowdrops (Galanthus)  to grow in my garden. Sadly all my attempts to this date have failed. Why this is I cannot be sure. I seem to have great success with any other plant I grow, vegetable or flowering plant, either in or outdoors. Snow drops however, have been my downfall.

Not to be put off I decided to have just one more attempt to grow this fateful flower having spotted some snow drops outside my local veg shop 

The selected plant

The Snowdrop I have chosen is Galanthus nivalus a single snowdrop. I thought it best to keep it simple. The plant label states that this plant will produce a dense carpet of pure white nodding bell shaped flowers on short slender stems. It also says that it will form dense mounds of bluey greenery strap like leaves. More importantly, however, it clearly states it is easy to grow.

I carefully cleared an area of ground taking note that the label suggests any moist well drained soil in sun or part shade is appropriate. I then dug a hole and placed the pre watered plant into it and then covered firmly pressing the soil around the plant afterwards. I then watered the plant. 

 The only thing now is enjoy this years flowers and hope that next year the dormant bulbs will send out green shoots and gradually develop into the dense carpet of blooms the plant label describes

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Congratulations Downton Abbey

Splendid news last night for Downton Abbey as it managed to scoop the Best Drama award at this year’s National Television Awards, beating Dr Who, Merlin (also a great favourites of mine) and Waterloo Road.

The  Downton  Cast

I have got to say whilst this show may have its critics; I believe some newspaper linked it with an accompaniment to cheese on toast, I love it. So I think did 8.1 million viewers at Christmas. Yes it may be a bit sentimental and may give a somewhat distorted impression of the class system which existed before and between the two World Wars but its true entertainment and not meant to be seen as a factual historical depiction of life at this time. 

I love Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the Dowager Duchess she’s so splendid puts me in the mind of Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’. I doubt very much though that this is in any way accidental.

Maggie Smith
Of course the relationships between Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery and the below stairs, between Bates (Brendan Croyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggart) keep everyone on their toes guessing what will happen next. All the little twists and turns are great and the remaining cast and their stories are equally engaging. Whilst on the subject of what’s great about this programme one must also say the costumes and sets are fabulous. I for one and I think my daughter for another are looking forward to the next series.

If you’re interested in the other National Television Award winners they are;

Entertainment Programme - 'Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow'

Drama Performance (Female) - Karen Gillan, 'Doctor Who'

Comedy Panel Show - 'Celebrity Juice'

Newcomer - Jacqueline Jossa, 'EastEnders'

Landmark Award - David Walliams

Talk Show - 'Alan Carr: Chatty Man'

Drama Performance (Male) - Matt Smith, 'Doctor Who'

Entertainment Presenter - Ant & Dec

Serial Drama Performance - Katherine Kelly, 'Coronation Street'

Reality Programme - 'I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!'

Outstanding Contribution - Gary Barlow

Factual Programme - 'This Morning'

Drama - 'Downton Abbey'

Talent Show - 'The X Factor'

Situation Comedy- 'Outnumbered'

Special Recognition - Jonathan Ross

Serial Drama - 'Coronation Street'

The Bunting Addendum

Having posted my last blog I began thinking; buying lots of fabric could become quite a costly affair. I suppose nothing is cheap today. Do you know I saw a button, yes just one, it cost £2.95. I could not believe it. The reason for the cost, apparently, was it was imported from Italy. It had obviously been flown first class with all its mates.

Sorry I’m getting off the point, we were talking about the cost of bunting. Well I have a solution to creating some budget bunting, simply use recycled fabrics. You could use your own fabrics from unwanted dresses, shirts, curtains, duvet covers and such like. Alternatively you could scavenge stuff from friends and family or jumble and car boot sales.   

Once you have the fabric the steps to creating your bunting are as previously described. The only costs you would still incur (other than jumble sale etc purchases) would be for the bias binding and sewing thread and these are relatively in expensive.   

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A traditional decoration.

I have always loved the traditional type of decorations such as holly wreathes and ivy and holly swags at Christmas time, balloons, candles and bunting. Yes, I love bunting; it always looks so festive and colourful and always reminds me of carnivals and fairs frequented in my younger days. Of course it has now become very fashionable and it’s to be seen everywhere in shops, magazines and on card and scrapbook designs. The only draw back to this move into the sphere of the fashionable is that although now more widely available it is also more expensive and if I am to be honest rather tatty. Some of the examples you see in the shops leave a lot to be desired, with odd colours and very poor workmanship,   

In view of this I decided to make my own. My first attempt was using paper and card to make bunting for my daughter's 'Mad Hatters Tea Party’ she had for her 18th. Well nothing was commercially available so I had no alternative but to make my own.

Handmade printed card bunting

My next hand at making bunting was the following Christmas when I made some to decorate the house. I thought of using paper again but decided this was less durable and would really be a one year use product which is not particularly environmental. Having seen the large quantity of Christmas fabrics that were available I decided this was the way to go. I first tried simply cutting the pennants out using pinking shears but felt this gave an unfinished look (exactly as I had seen in many of the retail outlets). I wanted something altogether smarter neater and finished. I therefore decided to cut out the pennants and then sew them together and finally then secure them to a chord or thread.  
The Christmas bunting here is intertwinned with holly and berries

Having made the bunting for Christmas the idea took off: my daughter wanted some to decorate her rooms at University and her room at home and friends wanted me to make them bunting for next Christmas. I realised you could make bunting for any celebration, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Valentines Day, Easter, Halloween, birth of a baby, new job, sorry you’re leaving …… Well the list is endless,

This year I am making some Valentines Day bunting, well I thought I’d surprise my husband. I thought perhaps other might be interested in making some as well. To this end I have drawn up this step by step set of instructions

Making bunting

  1. Select the fabrics you like, but bear in mind large patterns are not ideal unless you want huge bunting. Also ensure any image is the correct way up on bunting. For example with this Valentines bunting you want all your hearts the correct way up.
Assorted fabric and bias binding for Valentines bunting

  1. Purchase bias binding in appropriate colour to coordinate with fabric. Ensure you purchase the wide bias binding as this will make finishing off the bunting neater. Quantity/ length of bias required will be dependant on how long you want your finished bunting to be. Remember to give yourself sufficient excess to allow for ties to secure bunting     
Picture to show the bias binding

  1. Decide on the size of the bunting you want then create a template. This can be cut out of strong thick card or plastic. I have used clear plastic because it is durable and I make a lot of bunting; it also allows me to see through it and centre the pennant over images on the fabric.
This shows the plastic template

  1. Place template on fabric and draw around using pen, pencil or tailors chalk. Remember to keep images orientated so the tops are at the top of the finished pennant/bunting
  1. Cut out the pennants
Please note how the hearts are facing the correct way for the pennants

  1. Take two pennants and place them with their right sides facing and sew together wrong side facing. Sew all sides leaving the top of the pennant open. Seam allowance should be about ½ cm or slightly less. You might find it easier to pin and tack to ensure pieces do not move when sewing. I’m afraid I do not usually bother. 
Note how fabric has wrong  facing and is pinned
Tacking is optional but if making bunting for the first time it might be better to use tacking stitches
Machine stitching makes for a neater finish but can be sewn by hand.

  1. Once all pennants are sewn together then turn each one inside out to show the right side of the fabric. Take care to ensure the pennant is carefully turned and the triangular shape is retained.

  1. Press each pennant individually with an iron

  1. Decide the order of the pennants and the distances you want between each pennant. 

  1. Open the bias binding and then secure each pennant to the bias with pins,
Note how pennant is inserted into the bias binding

  1. Fold bias over the top of the pennants to ensure all the un-sewn ends of each pennant are secured within the bias as shown then tack securely

  1. Sew with machine along whole length of bunting to ensure the bias is neatly closed and the bunting is secure.
Finished bunting ready for machine sewing 

 As the old Blue Peter phrase used to go here is some I made earlier. 

Bunting in my daughters room 


Monday, 23 January 2012

Card Creativity

I’ve already begun this year’s card making. It starts slowly with a couple of birthdays in January. So inconsiderate of people to have babies at this time of the year, so close on the heels of Christmas but what can you do. No seriously having made loads of Christmas cards its weird going back to Birthday and other celebratory cards.

I’ve begun this year with making up some of the kits and bits that I bought last year. I’ve always loved the ‘Docraft’ stuff its well made and its paper is of an excellent quality. Not only that, but their themes are varied, sometimes cute and whimsical but always beautifully made.Ialso love the Docraft magazine its so informative and covers such a broad range of craft items the only problem is I find, it’s not widely available.

This Magazines great covers so much

This time I have opted for the Tulip Kit designs. I was attracted to them because there was a lovely topper with a gondolier on it, which reminded me of a great holiday spent in Italy two summers back. I might well use that design for a Valentines Day card, well see
This is a sample of the Tulip design
Anyway, I have used two stepper card decoupage kits and a few assorted toppers. You could however opt for the same designs in stamps, which many might find more appealing and versatile. I wanted to take advantage of the buy two get third free offers which many outlets were doing last year.  I also made use of the lovely A5 linen paper pack which compliment these sets. Of course I also made use of  various ribbons and stick on jewel stones from my own stocks 

See below some of the designs made up

A few of the made up cards

Here are just a couple of sample cards

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Marmalade Madness

As I promised I would tell you about my marmalade making. The process is really quite simple; it’s just a matter of combining fruit, namely citrus fruit, with sugar and water and heating the mixture. Today, however, this simple process took me an age to complete.

The first lot of ‘Three Fruits Marmalade’ was done in a trice and I’ve got to say it tastes fabulous (Well if you can’t blow your own trumpet what’s the point.) but the ‘Seville Orange Marmalade’ was an absolute pain. Problem was getting it up to the correct temperature to allow setting to take place. I had decided due to high demand to make double quantities and use a bigger pan. I realise now this was a mistake because conventional home hobs cannot cope with the bigger pans. Never mind a bit of careful pouring of molten hot marmalade into smaller pans resulted in some equally tasty marmalade in the end. 

To create your own ‘Three Fruits Marmalade you’ll need:
1 Grapefruit 
2 Seville Oranges
2 Large Lemons (un- waxed if possible)
3kgs Jam making sugar
2 litres water plus fruit juices

Place two saucers in freezer to be used for testing setting point

Wash fruit and cut in to halves
Squeeze juice from fruit and retain pips place these in muslin square.


Place juice from the fruit in to a jug and make up to 2 litres with water place this into a large sauce pan (approx 7-10 litre with heavy base.

Remove pith and remainder of fruit from the peel place with pips in the muslin square

Slice peel into strands and then place this into the water juice mix

Tie up muslin square with fruit and pips and then place into the rind water fruit juice mix. Ensure muslin bag is immersed in the juice peel mix and tie to sauce pan handle. You need the pips and pith to add pectin (the setting agent in jam and marmalade making) into the mix.

Bring pan to boil then allow to simmer for about 1 hr or until the peel is soft.

When the peel is soft remove from heat and remove muslin bag of pips etc. allow this to cool for a while then squeeze out the juicy sticky fluid from the bag. I have found emptying the contents of the bag into a fine sieve the rubbing it through the sieve with a wooden spoon is the best way to get all the pectin out of the pip pith residue, add this to pan with cooked peel. 

The pith pips mushy stuff yo be [ressed through sieve.
Place several washed jars into an oven set at 50 to warm up. Note you cannot put hot jam into cool jars they’ll just break  

Clean jars on tray for warming

Add sugar to the pan with cooked peel and gradually bring up to the boil ensuring all the sugar is dissolved before boiling point is reached.

Bring to rolling boil (sugar thermometer 104 degrees) stirring to prevent sticking. Keep it at this temperature for 15 mins. Test for setting using one of the saucers from freezer if marmalade forms a sticky resistant blob when poured on saucer its okay to got into jars if not heat for longer and test again

Let mixture cool for about 10 minutes

Pour into jars label and lid

The finished item just label

Monday, 16 January 2012

Extolling the Virtue of Knee socks

Knee socks well the last time I wore knee socks I was at Senior School. In those days (yes, it was a long, long time ago) we were not allowed to wear tights and, most certainly no stockings God forbid if there should be a gust of wind and anyone should spy your suspenders. Anyway, in those days, the 70s uniform was very closely enforced we even had a routine skirt length check by the head master. This was achieved by the girls lining up along the stage and the head teacher; we always called Napoleon, due to his habit of placing one arm as if it were in a sling in his jacket, walking along with a measuring stick. Any one with a too short skirt was reprimanded and given a hideous school skirt to wear for the day yuck. We, however, employed the time honoured roll down for inspection and then roll up  the waist band afterwards in order to minimise skirt length. I understand from my daughter this still goes on today, some things never change.

But I digress, it was knee socks that I was waxing lyrical about wasn’t it. Well I have rediscovered them and great in this cold weather they are. No more cold shins or draughts up the trouser legs. Marks and Spencer’s I have discovered do a great range. They even do some marvellous socks called heat generating socks. Having tried them I must say I was impressed, not only were they of a thin silky material they were also incredibly warm. Apparently so the label attached to them states they generate heat from moisture (I think that’s polite for sweat) how I am not sure, but they do seem to work. Congrats M& S.   

Just a few of the many knee socks

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Getting Busy

Over the Christmas , New Year break sadly all the crafting stuff had to be all packed up for the sake of space and, lets be honest a bit of order and tidness, I did, however, get some knitting out. Well its always best to have something to do. I managed to create two scarves a pair of fingerless gloves and numerous squares. Squares? Yes squares I am making a knitted blanket. Why? Well the time it will take me to complete it I will be in my dotage and will probably need a blanket for my knees when I am being pushed along Brighton Pier in my Bath chair.

Just a few of the squares I have completed as you can see I have many more to go

A break from the crafting is no bad thing especially not for Christmas which I love. No I honestly do love it. I love buying presents. I love wrapping them. I love making the cake the pudding, the mincemeat, the truffles and all the other bits and pieces.I love it all. I know I hear the old grumpy sods going on about the commercialisation of Christmas and the long queues and the cost etc but I'm sorry I am not one of those and honestly they are wrong so wrong. Christmas need not cost a fortune and it can be great fun. I start early I make marmalade, jams, chutneys, truffles etc together with numerous other bits and pieces throughout the year  all of which make great gifts and everyone appreciates. I am not just saying that because I get requests for repeats of things such as jam or chutney etc, plus people make requests that I make things for their friends too. Last year it was bunting, boy was that a laugh. Perhaps it's a story for another time.  

                                Just some of the stuff. Great hey!
Anyway now the New Year has begun the craft boxes come out again and chaos can ensue.Despite wanting to get straight down to some scrapbooking the marmalade making has to take presidence. I'll tell you how that goes next time.

The ingredients ready for the off


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Entering the Blogosphere

Finally I have taken the bull( or should I say blog) by the horns and decided to create my own blog. This should please my daughter no end as she has been on at me to do it for an age. So here I go my first trip into the blogosphere.

My name is Dawn ( no I can't say I like the name much either). I am married to a fantastic chap by the name of Ken, who thinks I'm mad doing this. We have two children (or perhaps I should say two young adults) Toby 23 and Bryony 19.

As the title of the blog suggests I'm really into crafts of all descriptions I do a lot of scrapbooking but I also make greeting cards, sew, paint, knit, draw, cook  and make my own chutneys , marmalades and jams etc. Who needs Kirstie  Allsopp?