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9 posts from January 2012

30 January 2012

I Love You More Than…

 

I was checking out my dear friend Helen’s blog over the weekend and saw that she’d posted a few hand-stamped Valentines cards in her Folksy shop.

 

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The cards themselves are simple and cute, but what makes them extra special is that you can get Helen to personalize the message for you, and suddenly a world of possibilities open up to either compliment your loved one, or damn them with faint praise.

 

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Popular messages so far apparently include


I love you more than a lie-in
I love you more than my iPhone
I love you more than Sherlock
I love you more than I ought to

 

I’m thinking of getting the Husband either  ‘I love you more than yarn’ or ‘I love you more than Sherlock’ (best TV EVAH!) or possibly ‘I love you more than Parmesan Cheese’ but maybe I would not be being entirely honest.

What would you put on yours? (Let me know in the comments, so Helen can get some more ideas)

In related news, our cats decided to send you all an early Valentine

Jan 29th Instagram (14 of 14)

29 January 2012

That Was The Week That Was

 

It’s been an Instagram week of sunshine and baking, turquoise, spring green and yellow.  Come and find me. I’m ‘mirrormirrorxx’.

 

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28 January 2012

Hotel Pelirocco – Knitted Hotel Room

 

I nearly put my back out straining to love this hotel room, which has received a bunch of publicity in recent months, but somehow I just CAN’T. 

The hip Hotel Pelirocco in Brighton commissioned fibre artist Kate Jenkins of knitwear and crochet brand Cardigan to create a knitted hotel room, and this is what she came up with.

 

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The ‘Do Knit Disturb’ room features a hand-crocheted bedspread and curtains, knitted cushions, a crocheted lamp and telephone and other whimsical crocheted artifacts appropriate to the seaside location, such as seagull soft toys, a knitted picture of fish and chips above the bed and a crocheted full English breakfast.

 

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I don’t like it because it just seems so expected somehow – all cosy and grannyish and whimsical and about as sexy as a pair of well-worn bedroom slippers.  Heck, the room is even a tiny single room because of course someone who liked knitting would never have a boyfriend.

 

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When you think of some of the cool and innovative knitted homewares other craftspeople are making out there, I can’t help thinking that they really missed an opportunity to do something contemporary, textured and elegant; something modern and abstract or even something downright sumptuous and glamorous. 

What do you think?  Do you like it? Would you stay there?  Is it the best job they could have done with knitting and crochet?  What sort of thing would you have done?

24 January 2012

Adventures In Baking – Panettone

 

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Panettone – the rich fruited Italian Christmas bread - always reminds me of my mother. 

When I was little and Italian foodstuffs were not so easily available in the UK, a family friend who worked near Soho, then the heart of the Italian community in London, would always take a trip to one of the small Italian delis at Christmas and bring us a panettone for my mother’s Christmas treat.

Whenever I’ve spent Christmas with my Italian relatives, the table is always groaning with several different kinds of boxed panettone (and its richer, unfruited, cousin, pandoro).  Every Italian I’ve ever met has very definite opinions as to which brands are best and which are to be avoided.  My aunt sources hers from a small local bakery close to their home in Piemonte. 

I’ve never met anyone in Italy or elsewhere who has actually made one themselves though and it was only when I saw some paper panettone moulds in our local kitchen shop that I decided to give it a go.  I was a little worried that I might never be able to eat storebought again (as with mincemeat and Christmas pudding) but one just has to be courageous in these matters.

I used the recipe in the Macrina Bakery Cookbook as my starting point, which was enough to make two big loaves in standard paper panettone moulds. (The cookbook suggests making four loaves in small earthenware flowerpots, which is a nice, but seemingly unnecessary, conceit).

It’s a two-step process which takes some time, but it’s super fun baking.  I was doing this just before Christmas so didn’t have time to convert volume measures to weights for my UK readers. Just dig out the cup measures that have been sitting in the back of your utensil drawer.

The other major change I made was to replace some of the mixed candied peel with dried cranberries. If I say so myself this was a revelation and worked incredibly well. As for flavourings, I used the combination of citrus zest and vanilla given below. I used my homemade vanilla extract – of which more in another blog post – which is essentially vanilla steeped in white rum so you may want to add a tablespoon or two of rum if you’re using commercial vanilla.  You may also want to experiment with using lemon oil, orange flower water or fiori di sicilia, all of which can be used in Italian panettone recipes.  Whatever you use, the distinctive authentic taste comes from a combination of citrus and vanilla in some form.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE STARTER DOUGH

12 tbsps (1.5 sticks or 6oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup warm water

2 tbsps dried yeast (I used one sachet)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 tbsps freshly grated orange zest

1.5 tbsps freshly grated lemon zest

3 tbsps honey

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour

 

panettone (4 of 10)

PREPARING THE STARTER DOUGH

Cut the butter into small pieces and set aside.

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl (I used my stand mixer) and whisk to dissolve yeast.  Let sit for five minutes so the yeast can bloom.

Add the butter, eggs, orange and lemon zest, honey, vanilla and flour. Mix on low speed to bring the ingredients together using the dough hook attachment.  Increase speed to medium and mix for around 6 minutes.  Transfer the dough to an oiled medium bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Let it sit in a warm room until almost doubled in size.

 

panettone (3 of 10)

 

INGREDIENTS FOR THE FINAL DOUGH

1 1/2 cups golden raisins (sultanas)

3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 tsps salt

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose (plain flour)

1 1/2 cups total dried fruits.  I used a mixture of dried cranberries and and candied orange and lemon peel. I would imagine that dried sour cherries would also be good.  But it would be fun to experiment here.

 

PREPARING THE FINAL DOUGH

While the starter dough is proving, place the raisins/sultanas in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them for around 20 minutes to plump them up and then drain thoroughly.

Cut butter in small pieces and set aside.

Punch down the starter dough with floured hands

Whisk together eggs, yolks and sugar in a bowl (I used my stand mixer) until thick. Add the starter dough, salt and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, knead on a low speed for 2-3 minutes.  Increase the speed to medium and keep adding the butter piece by piece.  This should take another 3-4 minutes. Mix on medium speed for another 10-12 minutes until the dough has a satiny finish and stretches easily. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes to relax the gluten.

Add the soaked raisins and mixed dried fruit to the bowl and mix into the dough at low speed. Transfer the finished dough to an oiled medium bowl and cover again with a damp tea towel.  Let sit in a warm room until doubled size – 3-4 hours.

Oil two paper moulds and divide the dough between them.  Leave to rise one final time until the dough rises above the top of the papers.

 

panettone (2 of 10)

 

Position an oven rack so that is it close to the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 335 degrees Fahrenheit/ 170 degrees Celsius.

Brush the panettone with eggwash then place on a baking sheet in the oven. Bake for around 90 minutes or until deep golden brown on top.

Here is my baby baking in the oven  - it’s amazing what you can do with an iPhone nowadays. 

 

panettone (1 of 10)

 

I was doing all this while rushing around packing to go to Whistler at Christmas and decided to experiment by leaving the second panettone to do its final rise in the fridge while we were away.  These lovelies had the most delicious flavour and a soft though robust texture, somewhat like a chewy brioche; and, though not as light and airy as the store bought ones, were in fact very similar to the ones made by the artisanal baker my aunt buys from in Italy.

 

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The real revelation though, came with the loaf we left in the fridge for five days.  The long slow rising gave the loaf an indescribably complexity of both texture and flavour, noticeably more interesting than the one which had been baked immediated (and that was pretty darn good).

I’m going to be experimenting more with slow rising in future.  And yes, unfortunately panettone is something else I will never be able to buy from the store again.

23 January 2012

That Was The Week That Was

 

Some favourite Instagram photos from last week. Come and find me, I’m ‘mirrormirrorxx’.  (Going to try and do this every weekend).

As you can see it’s been a week of snow and soft pastel colours.

 

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We had a massive snowstorm in Seattle last week which meant that the Minx and I were both trapped at home.  What with that and going away on a jolly with the Husband’s job last weekend, I’ve still trying to catch my tail after Christmas.

Normal, hopefully better than normal, blog service will resume tomorrow.

11 January 2012

Happy Keyboard

This gorgeous craft project by MiniFanFan popped up in my Twitter stream last week courtesy of Nicole from Making It Lovely – guaranteed to appeal both to my love of washi tape and my love of pretty keyboards

 

happykeyboard

 

I think it’s gorgeous and I would love to emulate it, if only I had a cool small white keyboard and and not an ugly black ergonomic monstrosity.  But I dunno, this might even be worth suffering the RSI.

 

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Fortunately I can continue to indulge my love of pretty tape.  This bowl of lovelies comes from Lotta Jansdotter’s new shop. And yes it is an Instagram photo.

 

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10 January 2012

Instagram – My New Obsession

 

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Over the last few months a lot of people have asked me whether I was on Instagram or not. 

I wasn’t because I couldn’t really see the point – I was already taking plenty of iPhone photos and sharing them on Twitter and Facebook and I didn’t really need to be on another social media time-sucking platform, did I?

 

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How wrong I was.  As I mentioned before, one of this year’s resolutions was to try out Instagram, mostly because I thought it would be an easy way to do a ‘365 project’ and post a photo a day.  On January 1st I posted one solitary photo from our New Year’s Day walk in Gasworks Park and thenceforth I have become gently obsessed.  Instagram is like Twitter for photos. Follow some great photographers and you’ll have a constant stream of scrumptious eyecandy delivered direct to your phone. Take a photo with your phone (iPhones only at the moment unfortunately), or a upload a picture you took earlier, apply a suitably retro filter and then have it delivered to the Instagram network and also to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flick.

It’s been a great way to reconnect with blogger friends away from the noise of Twitter and Facebook and of finding new creative and imaginative people online as they go about their beautiful business.

 

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And it’s easy to produce lovely images.  The camera on the new iPhone 4s is crazy good and the various photography apps and filters available (I’m using Camera+ and Picfx as well as the Instagram filters) make it fun to create all sorts of effects. 

I’m enjoying the challenge of working within the iPhone’s limitations – wide-angle lens, tiny aperture, rubbish in low light, square format, not many pixels - and love the fact that the phone is usually to hand, when you see pretty lightshades at the opticians or a pile of soggy, but colourful leaves on a rainy trip to the dentist.  It’s not a substitute for a fancy camera, but a very fabulous adjunct.

Already my Instagram feed is proving to be a cool visual journal of January 2012, and seeing all the photos grouped together has shown me that I do in fact have photographic style – colourful and graphic yet dreamy – which has never leapt out at me before. 

Rest assured you’ll be seeing more Instagram photos on the blog in the days and weeks ahead (I’ll format them as Polaroids here so you can spot them).

And of course the whole network is riddled with cute pictures of cats.

 

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Are you on Instagram?  What do you like about it? Which apps do you use? What’s your username so I can follow you? I am mirrormirrorxx.

   

09 January 2012

Christmas Pudding

 

When we got back from Whistler we tucked into the Christmas puddings which had been gently maturing since November.

It was my first time making Christmas puddings, so I was somewhat nervous as to what they would taste like, but I shouldn’t have worried. They were delectable – moist and boozy with dark marmalade-y depths - and, like mincemeat, I will never go back to buying them again. Thank you America for your ridiculous ban on importing beef suet products, which has made me stretch my cooking horizons.

We shared the first one at a small family dinner. Here she is in all her moist and sticky splendour. I had to send the Husband out in the rain to get the traditional sprig of holly, so couldn’t be too particular when he came back with a sprig without berries.

 

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And here it is anointed with warmed and flaming brandy in the traditional way.

 

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The Minx was mesmerised.

 

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We shared pudding number two at a drinks party for friends on the second day of the new year. It was fun to see the kids and Americans all equally excited by the idea of setting dessert on fire. The actual taste of Christmas pudding is more of an acquired one though it seems.

04 January 2012

New Year, New Photography Me

 

I got a Christmas present that made me so happy it brought tears to my eyes, I’ve wanted one for so long.

 

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As a weight-loss incentive the Husband said he would buy me a Canon 5D Mk II and this Christmas, since I am so close to goal weight (or I was before Christmas), he decided to put it under the tree for me.

This baby is fabulous and terrifying in equal measure – it has pixels and ISOs and features a go go and can produce some ridiculously amazing images.  Most of the professional photographers I speak to use it and love it, so I now no longer have any excuse not to produce top quality images.

And therein lies the rub.  I no longer have any excuse.  Before I could blame crappy images on my not so stellar camera, but now the only reason not to produce amazing photos is because I’m not a good enough photographer. 

 

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Because I have to admit to myself that I am a photographer, albeit not yet a very good one. There is nothing, apart from maybe knitting, that gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction – how with the press of a single button, you can tell a story, capture a mood, transmit an emotion, or, as is too often the case with my photos, convey absolutely nothing at all.

So this is the year when I start to take this craft seriously – when I upgrade my kit, study hard, practise tons and put myself out there.  I still have no idea where, if anywhere, it all might lead, but I’m going to bust my ass getting there.

To kick things off  I’m going to finish up my Christmas photo book, have signed up for an online Food Photography course with Lara Ferroni, am committing to posting at least a photo a day to Instagram (I’m @mirrormirrorxx come and join me), will read the stack of photography books next to my bed, will start using Flickr again and build a photography portfolio website. One day I want to be worthy of my new toy, in a way that I’m just not at present.

This year I’m only making positive resolutions, no more thoughts of ‘giving up’ or ‘losing’, or ‘stopping’.  Instead I want to do things that help me grow and develop, take me to new places and bring me new opportunities.  I want to throw a metaphorical stone into a metaphorical lake and watch where the metaphorical ripples end up, and am super intrigued and excited to find out where this photo journey might take me.

Are you starting any new journeys this year?  Where do you hope to get to?  What do you want to learn or achieve?  Spill the beans and we can hold each others’ hand along the way.

I was just about to press ‘publish’ when this post by Tara Austen Weaver popped up on Facebook. Of course she talks about following through on all things intriguing so much more eloquently than I can.  I think she must have been reading my mind.