Thursday, 13 November 2008

How Bond broke my heart

I went to see the long awaited (and considerably over-hyped) 'Quantum of Solace' last night, a little wary after mixed reviews (in both the media and from trustworthy friends) Admittedly, it had a lot to live up to after the visual feast that is 'Casino Royale', a film that simultaneously reinvented the Bond genre whilst respecting what audiences have always loved about their favourite misogynistic, alcoholic, gadget-wielding, all-action hero.
I'd read that this ('Q o S') film was 'action-packed', but this didn't prepare me for the visual diatribe that followed. It starts off with a car chase, shot so close up, I assume to drag you personally into the action, but what happens is that you lose perspective of what is going on: your brain doesn't have time to register what it's seeing. And this is the films major flaw: so many choppy shots that keeping up with what the hell is going on is futile. All these stunning locations and no time to take it all in.
It is an incredible waste of talent and missed opportunities, tying up loose ends with gaffa tape rather than a neat bow. Daniel Craig is an amazing actor, completely mesmerizing no matter what film he's in (much like Johnny Depp, Michael Caine, Kathy Bates, Judi Dench etc) yet this doesn't allow him to get any further into the Bond psyche. Ok, we know he's heartbroken, we know he wants revenge, but that's it. For the whole film. He famously performed a high quota of the stunts in this film himself and, to be honest, he needn't have bothered: the film is shot in such a way that you can't tell its him anyway.
This film is basically a Bourne film, flimsily repackaged: for what reason, I do not know. And I don't like the Bourne films: 'Oh I wish I could remember who I am but, ooh! I appear to be a weapons expert! And a kung fu master! And I can speak 87 languages fluently! And I can remember how to drive! And I bet I'm shit hot at knitting too!' Oh fuck off, Bourne, you smug git!
When I watch a Bond film, I want to see a film that's loud and proud of itself: cocksure and eager to please. It needs an emotionally-stunted central character, lots of big explosions, scantily clad, beautiful ladies (if Bond is beautiful himself, like Craig, like Brosnan, like Connery, we don't mind), ridiculous gadgets and gizmos hidden in mundane objects, crazed madmen with elaborate plans to rule the world, Aston Martins, (NOT BMW's or Fords), Saville Row tailoring, and a clear sense of its own absudity. I don't want gritty realism ('Q of S' is incredibly violent: loads of bloody punch ups and death) I want escapism, pure, shiny, simple and fun. So come on, Bond People! Sort it out! Give us what we want, plus something we'd never expect!

By the way: they should have used this theme tune:

Rant over: back to my crafting...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Panic and Brownies

I don't know about you, but I reckon that if you are going to break a New Year's resolution, you should do it properly by, metaphorically, slapping its arse whilst laughing at its shoes: 'Blog each week?! *slap* Methinks not! And by the way, your shoes are repugnant! MUHUHAHAHA' or something like that...

I just don't want you to get bored of me...

Any potential stalkers out there? Well allow me to give you a headstart and tell you where I'll be on Saturday 6th December:

Ok, Jesus and his Dad may have something about this rather bold claim, but it is in fact the name for a group of rather fabulous designers and makers, myself included, who will be selling their wares from 11-5pm at The American Church, 79a Tottenham Court Road, W1T 5TD. Read all about it here. I expect to see you there, or else a note from your parent, on my desk the following Monday.

I have been busy since we last met: honest! I've made these:

This lemur one was a commission from a chum at work , and it inspired me to make more. (I have a similar one for a tea drinker with exquisite taste in my shop.)

I haven't listed this one yet...I don't know why (must have been distracted by something shiny) It will therefore escort me to WeMake.

The Union of Craft Tea Cosy
(sold, but I will recreate its' patriotic joy at some point)

lavender hearts (3 available in the shop)

brooches for WeMake (apart from the centre one, which is for this)

I believe in magic! I bought this size 10 linen skirt at my local flea market for one whole pound, for the fabric obviously (unless I was hoping to find another one in order to make trousers, I think that would be obvious) and asked the utterly gorgeous, uber stylish and ridiculously talented Abi Bansal if she could perform fabric alchemy and turn my base metal skirt into a gold tunic.

I love it, oh, everso. It hangs beautifully, the pockets are practical and at just the right height to pop your hands in comfortably for those moments that require sullen ambivalence, and / or lip balm storage. Check out her shop and her beautiful, inspiring blog and be touched by the Blessing of the Bansal: its what your life has been missing, quite frankly.

I've also made some tea towels (long story: all will be revealed soon) for those brand, spanking new group of craft renegades, ukhandmade. (who very kindly did a 'Spotlight' on me!) They're from a recipe by Lotta Jansdotter's 'Simple Sewing' and, whilst I know there is something 'Oh dear! Mum needs to start taking her pills again!' about making your own tea towels, they rock long and they rock hard. Admit it: you'd have them:

...and you'd be right too.

Ok, the 'Panic' in the title of this post refers to me getting ready for WeMake. (expect a minimalist style from the House of yumptatious...) Therefore, it is now time for brownies. (I know that's the real reason you're here.) But I warn you: if you are on a diet, navigate away from the page (unless, of course, you have a moment of clarity, in that you realise that your life will only improve, not when your thighs cease to rub together when you walk, but when you appreciate just how lucky you are to have any form of body at all, and that to waste life trying to conform to some narrow concept of beauty is futile, when you could be enjoying the warmth and joy that life, and a willing partner, are waiting to cloak you in.)

This is based on a recipe by Elisabeth Luard and is from the October edition of my favourite porn mag, Country Living. (I know its wrong, but I can't help myself...)
I have lost count how many times I have made this recipe already, at first, slavishly following the instructions (apart from the 75g chocolate: what is the point of leaving the last 25g?! Thwack it all in!) to what I do now: mixing it all in one pan.
I have used the strongest Green + Blacks chocolate and also Sainsbury's economy dark chocolate and it all works, baby! Just don't ever, EVER use cooking chocolate! As my beautiful, and very to-the-point chum, Vera once said to me, with a look of shock and disgust, 'Why?!?! Use real chocolate!' She is wise, and I haven't looked back since. (well, I did reverse round a corner last week...)
It also works with demerera sugar I discovered last week, after I ran out of caster sugar (when we run out of caster sugar, I have the same look of panic in my eyes when that my Mum used to have when she ran out of garlic: one part confusion mixed with two parts of fear. This shows just how much my Mum used/s garlic in her cooking, rather than reveal a fear of vampires.)
It works equally well with unsalted butter or cheap(ish) sunflower spread. (as long as you don't used reduced fat spreads, because they just don't do the job.)
And don't bother melting your chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of boiling water: I just melt it together in the pan: aah, bite me!
Ms Luard's recipe uses hazelnuts, but good old walnuts work well. I wager that pecans would be most edifying too, whatwhat.

Please feel free to print this off and put it on your fridge for ease of use. Personally, I'd be tempted to have it tattooed onto the inside of my eyelids, but I'm just a martyr to the baking cause.

The 'Surely there should be more effort involved?!' Brownies.

100g dark chocolate
125g chopped butter (it melts easier in small pieces) or 125g scooped margarine (you could possibly melt it by breathing on it: why not give it a go...)
250g caster sugar (or whatever sugar you have: its all good)
2 eggs
100g self raising flour
100g walnuts (or any nut that curries your favour)

Heat oven to 190oc / gas mark 5

Melt together the chocolate and butter, maverick style, straight in the pan over a medium heat.

Allow to cool slightly. (just the time it takes to either make a cup of tea, look for and download an obscure song from iTunes, or log onto Etsy, click on 'Community', then click on 'Forums', find the UK chat hidden away in 'Etc' and type in 'I'd have to disagree. I was quite ill for days as a result' and log out instantly.)

Add the sugar to the chocolate melaaaange and beat together.

Add the eggs to the sweet chocolate melaaaange and beat together.

Add the flour to the eggy, sweet, chocolate melaaaange and beat together.

Add the nuts to the flour-enriched, eggy, sweet, chocolate melaaaange and beat together.

Line a 20cm square tin (or the nearest you've got: I'm not a tin fascist) in the style of your choosing (I use reuseable Teflon liners, but thats just how I roll) and pour in the hip-enhancing goop.

Bake for 25 mins.

Cut into squares and allow to cool. I put mine in the fridge after about 20 mins to harden up the chocolate. I store them in there rather than storing them in a tin.

I know this is hard, but try not to eat the lot on your own, especially if you've used a powerful cocoa-charged chocolate, as you may get a little buzzy.

This is my gift to you: use it wisely.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Bread and beauty

The gorgeous Abi has started a fabulous group over on Flickr called Day2Day- Take Five Ordinary Beauty.
It's made me start looking at things the way we were taught to when I was an art student, to see the beauty in the ordinary, to seek inspiration through the commonplace. Of course, back then, we didn't have digital cameras: we had sketchbooks and cameras with film *the music to the Hovis adverts starts up in the distance*
Anyhoots, here is my visual bounty for the past couple of weeks:

1. snack (d2d, day 1), 2. in the kitchen (d2d, day 1), 3. cworfeee (d2d, day 2), 4. in the night garden (d2d, day 3), 5. treasure (d2d, day 4), 6. bite (d2d, day 4), 7. day2day, day 5, 8. alium seed head2 (d2d, day1/week2), 9. alium seed head (d2d, day1/week2), 10. sunbathing lavender (d2d, day 2 week 2), 11. peppermill (D2D: 3/wk2), 12. waiting (d2d 3 week2), 13. i heart recycling (d2d: 4/2), 14. comfort eating (d2d: 5/2), 15. english summer (d2d: 1/03)

Would you like to know how to make that delicious looking bread from photo 14? Of course you would, for you are hungry for knowledge and easy-to-make baked produce. It's a Nigella recipe (oh, for a change...) from this tasty book.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I'll begin...
She's called it 'Lazy Loaf' but I prefer the far more catchy name of

'Sweet Mother of Holy Fuck! That is a Damn Simple Loaf to Both Make and Eat!'

200g ridiculously expensive but ridiculously tasty sugar-free muesli (I used Dorset Cereals Organic Fruit, Nuts and Seeds)
325g wholewheat bread flour
1 x 6g packet of easyblend yeast (or, in my case, a 7g sachet of Sainsbury's Fast Action Dried Yeast)
2 teaspoons Maldon salt or 1 tablespoon table salt
250ml semi-skimmed milk
250ml water

1. Mix together the muesli, flour yeast and salt in a bowl, although you could use a bucket or other recepticle should you wish, if you want to be a bit wierd. Here is how I stir:

2.Pour in the milk and water. I like to do it like this:

Obviously, if you have access to a cow on a diet (remember: its semi-skimmed milk we need here), you may want to administer it straight from the udder.

3. Mix this unholy cacophony of staples so that it looks like one mahoosive bowl of porridge, like this:

4. Grease or line a loaf tin and pour the porridgey goo in.
5. Put in a cold oven then put it on at 110*c / gas mark 1/4 for 45 minutes.
6. Turn the oven up to 180*c / gas mark 4 for 1 hour. Spend this time berating the fact that you didn't make it last night and should have had something for breakfast before embarking on this bread quest. Take the butter out of the fridge so that it is soft and ready (insert your own crude metaphor here)
7. Hallelujah! That annoying 'beep beep' of your timer heralds the dawning of the Age of Sweet Mother ... bread! Release the loaf from its 180*c prison and allow it to cool for, if you can manage it, a few minutes. Warm, fresh bread is fabulous: mouth burnt by fresh bread is tedious.
8. Slather in butter, jam or just adoration and try not to eat the whole loaf before your family gets home: that's the trickiest part.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Stuff and nonsense

First things first: this Sunday, the 22nd June, a group of fabulously talented makers are getting together near Convent Garden to unleash their creative produce to the world. Its called WeMake, and you need to be there, armed with money and hungry for gorgeousness. You can find out about it on their blog here.
I'm going up to support rather than have a stall. If you see me, do come and say hello and drag me for coffee and cake, not that I'll need much persuading if there are refreshments involved.

Speaking of cake, I've been a bit of a Domestic Goddess recently, if I do say so myself, thanks largely to this fantabulous cookbook. Here's an example of the joy that book can bring:

the ones with purple splodges are cherry (use frozen cherries for ease and welcoming moistness), yogurt and oat and the others are spiced apple and walnut.
The book is wondrous: the recipes are easy to follow, the combinations of flavours are tasty and not outlandish and the results are consistent. Its the kind of book people buy firstly for themselves, and then come back and buy many for friends and family. Its so good, my best mate KT had it sent over from Hastings to her new home in New Zealand as she missed it so.

On the crafting front, sometimes it pays to rethink and re-do a project. I had made some fabric hearts, stuffed with polyfil, as general decorative fripperies. They sat, unloved in my shop, until I suddenly saw the obvious need and re-stuffed them with some calming lavender. I very quickly sold two! Hurrah! I have some more: you need them, your socks need them, let alone your pants. They're in the shop now! (I keep them in a tupperware-style box, determined to keep the freshness in) They're kinda cute, just this side of Cath Kidston, and quite normal for me!

I was recently commissioned by a chum at work to make something for his girlfriend's birthday. She loves lemurs and he wanted to give her a pouch (zip up purse / make-up / oddment bag) that lovingly empathised with her love of this Madagascan inhabitant.
So, after some preliminary sketches

I came up with this:

He loved it but more importantly, so did she. Even more importantly, it started a chain reaction which linked in with some ideas I'd had in my sketchbook:

and these lead to the creation of these beauties:

top left (sold): "aint nowt wrong with my girlie crap", top right: "aint nowt wrong with loving cake", bottom left: "tea, coffee, wine and beer - its all good" and bottom right: "aint nowt wrong with loving a chicken"

All this creativity needs replenishing, and at times like this, despite her teeth-itching (cheers Maose for that phrase!) tv performances, Nigella shines through. I adapted her recipe for 'Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake', found in the 'Chocolate Hall of Fame' to be found in the beautiful 'Feast'. She suggests '175g best quality dark chocolate', I suggest Lidl's milk chocolate, 29p for 100g.

Its all good.

Quick round up of my recent reads:

Alice Hoffman 'The Third Angel'. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. We start off with one character, then layers are peeled back to reveal a complex story of intertwining characters, linked in ways that none of them are aware of. The characters on the periphery are far more absorbing than the perceived central character, but discovering the warp and weft (eeh! That textile degree wasn't a waste, Mum!) of their stories is ultimately very satisfying. The settings, both physical and in time, are beautifully evocative, but then I'm a sucker for anything set in the 50's and 60's: if its well written, I see it in black and white, in a cloud of innocence and cigarette smoke. I'd love to know what you think.

Nora Ephron 'I Feel Bad About My Neck'. I would recommend this for any woman over 30, and certainly for women over 50. As a 36 year old woman, I want to know that there is life, and it is fun, and it is positive, as I get older. Would-be role models fall prey to plastic surgery and the ridiculous concept that a youthful face is wrinkle free and immobile. As the mother of a rather beautiful teenager, let me remind you that a youthful face is incredibly animated and full of wonder, however much they try and mask it with an air of boredom and cynicism- wrinkles make not a jot of difference. Any hoots, this is a smart, sassy perceptive and honest read, as you'd expect from the writer of 'When Harry met Sally'. It oozes positivity, not in a hippy drippy Louise L Hay kind-of-a-way, but in a beautiful, down-to-earth way. If you've ever had ovaries, or you've ever met someone who has, read it.

Meg Wolitzer 'The Ten Year Nap'. I loved this book deeply. Certain lines in this book were written just for me and me alone I am sure. The woman has opened up my brain, assessed how I feel about being a woman, wife, mother, human, and peppered her story with nuggets of wisdom to remind me that I'm doing ok and that I should stop beating myself up all the time for not being all that I should be. If you're a mother, read this. If you think that one day, you'll have children, read this, because anyone who tells you your life won't change when you have children is lying! The story centres around one character, Amy, then pans out to encompass all her friends. Each has a different take on the notion of motherhood and how it has affected them. I love the idea of 'The Ten-Year Nap': women all over the world are suddenly woken up by the growing independence of their offspring, revealing the woman that was there before ante-natal checks, urine samples and more internal examinations than are strictly necessary: 'Oh shit! I'm still here: a whole lot wider, a little wiser, but I still have my sense of humour and, despite an appalling recall for names, my brain still seems to be working...So what now?!'

On a completely different tangent, I'm currently reading George Melly's autobiographical trilogy and also this anthology of Dave Allen, and am thoroughly enjoying them both. (you can 'hear' them narrate: it is impossible to read without hearing their particular vocal inflections.) I'll let you know how me and the boys get on!

PS: thanks, hugs and the promise of cake to Bee and Maose for their nagging: I'll try and blog more, but, if you enjoy the read, feel free to nag more! :-)

Friday, 18 April 2008

While my mojo gently sleeps

Things have not been to good for me on the creative front of late: nothing major, I just seem to have misplaced my creative juices. Hopefully, they haven't evaporated but have concentrated into a thickly aromatic jus that just needs water added at a later date to reactivate the crafty goodness (I've been reading far too many cookbooks; can you tell?!) Thats why I haven't been blogging or going into the Etsy forums as I have nothing new to show you, no new WIP's, and I feel like a bit of a fraud. But I have some ideas bubbling away that have started my brain cells ticking, so watch this space. Its been school hols over the last 2 weeks, so I'm hoping to get stuck in to some creative shenanigans next week. I can't remember if I'd mentioned this before, (apologies if I have: go and put the kettle on and I'll try to be brief) but my 'studio' is the kitchen in our teeny Edwardian (Victorian?) mid terrace cottage. Its a busy room, full of baking, music, chat, homework and never-ending washing up. Its hard to sustain a creative flow here whilst looking after a family and I get very frustrated. Hopefully, we'll be able to move and yumptatious can have its own space. (If you would like to buy a beautiful, 2-bed house in Tonbridge, do let me know!)

But I have been reading....
I've spoken about the possible perks of working in a bookshop before, but failed to mention this extremely generous gift from Ian McEwan to all Waterstone's employees:

The inscription on the inside reads,
'Congratulations to all at Waterstone's for a quarter of a century of brilliant service to readers'

To be honest, I didn't instantly jump at the chance to devour this book: I had tried, unsuccesfully to read 'Atonement' but could not get into it. I think I gave up when I got to the point where the young girl gazes in wonderment at her hand...for a whole page... I just kept thinking, 'I could be dead tomorrow and am wasting these precious moments that I will never get back, over a book I feel I should read but has failed to engage me on any level'. I will give it another go at some point, but from chatting to others, I think he is an author that strongly divides readers. The last time I saw such strength of feeling was over 'One Hundred Years of Solitude', a book you either adore with a passion usually reserved for George Clooney, Daniel Craig or Green and Blacks chocolate, or hate it, with an equally strong passion usually reserved for Anthea Turner, Avid Merrion or Brussel Sprouts. I hated the book and hurled it across the room with venomous aplomb when I finished it.
However, I read a review of 'On Chesil Beach' that roused my interest and so pulled it off the shelves, blew off the dust, removed it from its protective case, spending an unnaturally long time appreciating the chocolate edging of the pages, the burnt bronze embossed seagulls and lettering, and started to read.
It's a beautiful story, at times hilarious in its detailing of post-war embarrassment and social expectations. The characters are both engaging and angrily frustrating at the same time and in this instance, McEwan's eye for detail is enlightening, not stifling. If you are sweet enough to presently be thinking of holding onto your virginity until your wedding night (as if anyone with such morals would read my diatribe!) please read this first! If, like me, you married in black and thus had a carefree honeymoon, read this and feel smug in your sluttish wisdom! Just read this book: its very short, like a concentrated jus!
And thus, the posting circle is complete!

ps. what books would you recommend?

Now playing: Radiohead - Jigsaw Falling Into Place
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 6 March 2008

World Book Day

To celebrate World Book Day, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite books.
Thanks to my lil job in a bookshop, (with its 33% discount, uncorrected proofs and free damaged books) I often come home with more paper goodness than we can safely fit in our teeny house.

There's the main bookshelf,

though its not normally this neat.

There's the floor in the lounge,

cook books in a kitchen cupboard,

kids books all around their bedroom

these are books for 9 years and up

and these are the picture books (don't worry: its a very sturdy shelf)

and at my bedside.

When I need a laugh, I go to this book:

I know he hasn't done a funny film for ages, but this book makes tears of joy and mirth cascade down my plump laughing cheeks.

When I want comfort, I go to this book, a favourite as a child:

'Meal One' by Ivor Cutler, illustrations by the completely marvellous Helen Oxenbury. It is a safe bet to buy any books with her illustrations and I heartily recommend that you do so.

This is a superb book that powerfully conveys the parallels of black American boxers and the fight for black civil rights in the late 50's / early 60's. I'm rather partial to a good boxing match and consider Muhammad Ali as a bit of a god, so come and join the Rumble in the Jungle with me.

Here are my favourite self help books:

'Round Ireland with a Fridge' reminds me that anything is possible, as long as its part of a drunken bet, 'Yes Man' reminds me to take a chance now and then (yet reminds me that a bit of caution can also be a good thing), 'Oh the Places You'll Go!' reminds me that life is an everchanging journey, full of highs and lows, and strange blue houses, and 'Liberation' does exactly what it says on the tin: 'the perfect holistic antidote to stress, depression and other unhealthy states of mind'. Plus, I have a bit of a crush on the good Doc...

This is how I want to live.

I would love to fall into this book and live beautifully with the lovely beautiful people in sepia-land. Lets go camping! (this is how I see the often-talked-about UK Etsy Craft Commune looking)

I would also love to fall into this book,

This is a fabulously evocative account of the groovy side of London during the swinging sixties. Oh to visit the Indica bookshop! I keep meaning to dig out a published copy of this book (this is an uncorrected proof, so it has none of its final illustrations.) Mind you, it is written clearly enough that the words provide very clear pictures in themselves.

My favourite book on fashion:

Despite loving Robert Elms' radio show on BBC London, this book didn't really scream at me as something I had to read: mmm, men's fashion....zzzzzzzz. But when I found a damaged copy at work going for free (there's a rip on the front cover: that's all) I gave it a go and fell quickly and deeply in love. The man's love and respect for clothes is infectious, the way he remembers tiny little details and why those details were so important.

This was my Dad's which I stole from him years ago. (you know the way teenagers do, when they believe that their parents, living only in order to look after their offspring, relinquish any property rights on their possessions: 'What's yours is mine and can I have a tenner?') I have memorised every line and shade, every nuance of pen stroke, so perhaps I can give it back... in a few years time...

and this gem is from Ronald Searle's truly dark and deranged, and utterly wonderful, St Trinians. (please erase all memory of the recent film):

'I'll just die and then you'll be sorry.'
Awww, bless!

Happy World Book Day people!

(I'm reading this, written by her)