Category Archives: Cooking

There’s Always Carrot Cake

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It was my birthday this week, definitely different to last year’s. The world news about the Coronavirus Pandemic remains grim. In the UK the plan is to vaccinate the elderly and clinically vulnerable before the rest of the population but the latest hoo-ha is that in order to reach as many people as possible, the boosters will not be administered within the recommended time so the fear is that people will still get infected and that the virus could mutate. Honestly, this is like a real-life Apocalypse TV drama! I should stop reading the news except that it was refreshing to see a new leadership sworn into the USA. 

Fergus used a recipe that I found for a Passion Carrot cake which I thought looked close to the John Lewis cafe cake that I would always order years ago on shopping trips for school uniform in Norwich. The recipe includes crushed pineapple for extra moisture. It came up very close to the cake that I remembered but the cream cheese icing is not quite right – I like it quite tart. With a little tweaking it might be written (in my best handwriting) into my spotty-notebook of classic recipes!


I only managed to get 2 customer quilts done this week. I seem to be working very slowly and it is rather cold in my workshop. I had hoped to work on my FOQ class project but have still not got much beyond the planning stage. The trouble with a saturation of social media in the quilting/textiles world is that I just can’t see classes offered by me being any more attractive than all of the many others on offer. I need to get over this and remember how excited I used to get when I had the opportunity to take classes with my quilting heroes in person.

 

Nella had a challenging week – having tried very hard to manage her reduced meal plan in order to earn a pass home for a night, the medics increased it without warning so that she immediately started refusing food again. I phoned to rail against this short sighted decision and was relieved when it was cut back slightly. They do not understand why she will continue to refuse hot puddings and custard after lunch and thought it was weird that as a family we eat very few desserts. The next day, her weight was typed onto a report that she saw even though I had specified that it was critical that she should not be told. Obviously, this freaked her out and I felt obliged to point out the incompetency of sending out an unchecked report. Although, some of the nursing staff work incredibly hard, I find that further up the chain of command, any criticisms or suggestions are met defensively and that drives me mad. Despite these setbacks, she did get a pass over the weekend to remind herself how peaceful and comfortable home-life can be. She did not manage to eat everything and every bite was a struggle but she proved to herself that she can eat here and must continue trying so she can earn longer passes home in the future.

Christmas 2020 is Done!

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Christmas 2020 has been a different experience for everyone around the world who writes letters to Santa. Nella was not here in the build up to Christmas so Freya and I did quite a lot of advance preparation so we would not need to spend much time in the kitchen when she was home. We made sure to watch a few trashy films with happy endings and reindeers. Nessie “wrote” her Christmas letter and we posted it to the North Pole via the fire. 

I left home early while it was still dark and snowing on Christmas Eve to collect Nella and we were back in time for morning coffee. I had hoped that she would attempt to eat some of the home cooked food I had made for her but as there were no nurses waiting to administer nasal-gastric feeds she did not eat or drink anything, apart from water, for 3 days. 

 

Despite the difficulties around food, she had a lovely family Christmas. Even Fergus emerged from his shed at a sensible time of day. Everyone enjoyed their presents – Nessie got most of what she had asked for, Nella got a sock knitting machine and Freya made me an outdoor brazier from a repurposed washing machine drum! We watched TV, did a quiz, read books and simply enjoyed being together.

Nella was sad to return to the hospital on Boxing Day evening and genuinely does not see why she needs to be there so the focus for next year has to be to figure out how to get her to engage with recovery. 

I plan on doing very little for the next week, apart from visiting Nella, lighting fires and deciding on which traditional quilt to make for Nella using Rose & Hubble prints (her request). Nessie is disappointed that she has run out of tasty parcels to unwrap and we have to finish re-watching “War and Peace”:)

Christmas Countdown

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It feels like I have had a hectic week but probably not by pre-Covid standards. There is nobody at school here anymore and of course, there have been no concerts, parties, Christmas craft fairs, trips to the cinema or in-person shopping. Just about all of my purchases were done online and I have now got everything wrapped. In order to put any parcels under the tree I will have to protect them within sturdy apple crates so Nessie does not attempt to unwrap them. 

Freya is home for a few weeks so we have been busy cooking, dog walking and watching Christmas movies. She made a super wreath all using foliage from the garden. 

I have made preparations for Nella coming home over Christmas so there will be minimal cooking to do while she is here. I have got stuff prepared for her in the freezer which I hope she will eat but there is every possibility that she will refuse it all. A strict lockdown in Scotland has been announced from Boxing Day so we will have to wait and see whether that will curtail my visits to her. 

I feel like I still have a lot to do, although my list says otherwise and I even got my paperwork up to date. Somehow, I don’t think actual Christmas will be very relaxing this year but I dare say many people would also say the same. I think I probably just need to watch more TV and make a good effort at polishing off my bottle of sherry;)

My Christmas Grotto

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I had a busy week finishing up customer quilts before I decide that I am “on holiday” for the Christmas season. First I finished the patchwork stocking for Fergus’ girlfriend. It is a slightly odd shape but I decided that it had to have a practical amount of space in the foot part to stuff in gifts. 

I had 4 customer quilts to do using the computerised quilt machine and while they were running I used a ruler to finish a log cabin quilt in the ditch that a customer had started and struggled with on her domestic machine. 

Fergus celebrated his 19th birthday at home with a large, sticky chocolate cake that had a landslide due to the outrageous amount of butter-icing in between the layers. 

After slogging away at learning German on Duolingo for 10 months I have completed every single exercise. I am definitely nowhere near fluent and could not hold a sensible conversation but I could definitely understand a menu and navigate train station announcements. I have now downloaded an app called Babbel which seems more driven by conversation so I intend to keep practising.

I wrote a letter to Nella’s treatment team trying to get them to understand that she will not make any progress on the meal plan that she has been given. The quality of the hospital food is poor and they keep challenging her with fear foods that she will not attempt. As, usual, their reply to me seemed defensive and they do not intend to make any changes since they are the so-called experts. I will be writing another letter this week to complain that I had to ring the doorbell on my last minute for 20 minutes and that Nella was late for my visit by 45 minutes which she found very upsetting. Considering that parents recently received an email informing them that the unit was not short staffed, I was disappointed that no-one could be bothered to answer the door or pick up the phone!

This week I intend to deal with Christmas cards, wrapping, make space in the freezer and will probably decide to sew up some last minute gifts. There have been no Christmas festivities here this year, I have not had anyone to watch festive TV with and it seems to have been raining every day forever. I need to conjure up some seasonal cheer – maybe a bottle of sherry would help;)

Keep the Quilts Coming

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The rate at which customer quilts are coming in proves that Christmas is looming! I am not doing any in-person tuition or DIY quilts but I am able to offer simple all-over quilting and binding if requested. This week I have managed to complete 4 quilts for a Welsh customer and have got a really big denim one ready to do for a new client. Nessie thinks she is being helpful by trying to attack any wadding that hangs down or by attempting to chew the zips while I try to attach the backing.

I finished the binding on the snowflake quilt with machine-sewn blanket stitch. It does not bother me that the stitching does not line up exactly on the back of the quilt because it is for a bed and just has to be robust. I could do with another new project to keep me happy. I really don’t “need” any more quilts but since when did that stop a quilter from starting something new?

 

I spent an afternoon cooking home-made soup and vegetarian cottage pie because Nella was given a 24 hour “pass” home to see how she would manage. She was very nervous to come home after nearly a month in hospital and she declared in advance that she would not eat here. She said it was not just a matter of sticking to that resolve, she just did not see why she should have to eat here without the threat of NG feeding if she did not finish meals. We had a nice visit, although she did not see friends and she was unable to go for any dog-walks. We simply spent time doing a puzzle, played scrabble and watched a film in front of the fire. Nella did not want to back to the hospital and really does not want to believe that she is too ill to be at home, refusing food. This aspect of anorexia is called “anosognosia”, yet another complicated word associated with Nella’s condition. Her initial 3-4 week admission looks likely to be extended for up to 6 months, or less if she makes significant progress. All I can do is keep doing research to see if I can come up with a more creative approach and keep believing that she will be able to recover eventually.

Losing My Rag

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Somehow I managed to get two simple customer quilts done this week. I also kept going with Duolingo German, walking Nessie, and have been ploughing through the snowflake piecing. I also made a couple of decent loaves of bread. 

Somehow I managed to get two simple customer quilts done this week. I also kept going with Duolingo German, walking Nessie, and have been ploughing through the snowflake piecing. I also made a couple of decent loaves of bread. 

The rest of the time has been spent on the phone trying to tell the hospital that nella genuinely HATES cheese. OK, so that is not all that has been discussed. I have been complaining – a lot. I have tried to contact members of her team who never call me back. I have got very angry, while remaining calm, with officious nurses who try to talk over me. 

Nella, who is severely anorexic and was recently on a food-phobic hunger strike is being expected to have her meals increased every two days, whilst already not managing. Despite being a strict vegan and accepting that she will have to just be vegetarian for now, every single sub-standard hospital meal is covered in cheese. Every meal must be completed within a strict 30 minutes. If she does not manage to clear her plate on time she is given a nasal-gastric feed under duress. It is barbaric and a whole lot of other things that I have eloquently expressed to the hospital, miraculously without using any expletives. 

I keep telling her that she has to try her very hardest to get back home as soon as possible. Some of the nurses are great, some are not. It is lovely that we have been receiving so many cards from friends and family who keep sending their good wishes for  recovery. 

Since she has been detained under the Mental Health Act, there is not a damn thing I can do about it. She is scared, confused, exhausted and totally lacking in motivation. I am simmering with fury at such a lack of compassion. I wonder who will be the first receive my wrath on Monday morning…

The rest of the time has been spent on the phone trying to tell the hospital that nella genuinely HATES cheese. OK, so that is not all that has been discussed. I have been complaining – a lot. I have tried to contact members of her team who never call me back. I have got very angry, while remaining calm, with officious nurses who try to talk over me. 

Nella, who is severely anorexic and was recently on a food-phobic hunger strike is being expected to have her meals increased every two days, whilst already not managing. Despite being a strict vegan and accepting that she will have to just be vegetarian for now, every single sub-standard hospital meal is covered in cheese. Every meal must be completed within a strict 30 minutes. If she does not manage to clear her plate on time she is given a nasal-gastric feed under duress. It is barbaric and a whole lot of other things that I have eloquently expressed to the hospital, miraculously without using any expletives. 

I keep telling her that she has to try her very hardest to get back home as soon as possible. Some of the nurses are great, some are not. It is lovely that we have been receiving so many cards from friends and family who keep sending their good wishes for  recovery. 

Somehow I managed to get two simple customer quilts done this week. I also kept going with Duolingo German, walking Nessie, and have been ploughing through the snowflake piecing. I also made a couple of decent loaves of bread. 

The rest of the time has been spent on the phone trying to tell the hospital that nella genuinely HATES cheese. OK, so that is not all that has been discussed. I have been complaining – a lot. I have tried to contact members of her team who never call me back. I have got very angry, while remaining calm, with officious nurses who try to talk over me. 

Nella, who is severely anorexic and was recently on a food-phobic hunger strike is being expected to have her meals increased every two days, whilst already not managing. Despite being a strict vegan and accepting that she will have to just be vegetarian for now, every single sub-standard hospital meal is covered in cheese. Every meal must be completed within a strict 30 minutes. If she does not manage to clear her plate on time she is given a nasal-gastric feed under duress. It is barbaric and a whole lot of other things that I have eloquently expressed to the hospital, miraculously without using any expletives. 

I keep telling her that she has to try her very hardest to get back home as soon as possible. Some of the nurses are great, some are not. It is lovely that we have been receiving so many cards from friends and family who keep sending their good wishes for  recovery. 

Since she has been detained under the Mental Health Act, there is not a damn thing I can do about it. She is scared, confused, exhausted and totally lacking in motivation. I am simmering with fury at such a lack of compassion. I wonder who will be the first receive my wrath on Monday morning…

Since she has been detained under the Mental Health Act, there is not a damn thing I can do about it. She is scared, confused, exhausted and totally lacking in motivation. I am simmering with fury at such a lack of compassion. I wonder who will be the first receive my wrath on Monday morning…

The Unknown

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I had 2 customer big quilts this week that each required 2 days of automated quilting. One was a quilt that I have done before, UK part-work magazine quilt that takes 2 years,  almost £400.00 in subscription fees, without backing, wadding and finishing costs! It just goes to show how much money and time could be saved by joint a group or guild that could offer friendly advice to novice quilters.

The other project that I undertook was sewing up a boiled wool coat – I have had the fabric and pattern for a few years but always put it off out of fear of messing up. Inevitably, I did manage to get the pockets and collar inside out but I fixed it and am pleased with it.

 

Freya is excitedly preparing to move to Glasgow to start a 2 year Masters program at the University since taking a year out in 2020 to work and travel has proved to be a fruitless exercise. We have enjoyed taking time together to make sourdough bread, preserves and digging out quilts for her new flat.

Nella had a difficult online appointment with her doctors on Friday. They insisted that she should be told about her recent weight loss and her irrational anorexic logic has made her more determined to lose more weight, instead of being alarmed at her the damage to her health. She has now gone on hunger strike and it looks likely that she will be admitted to hospital. Despite my efforts to care for her at home for the past year to support her strong vegan views, the gradual improvements of the first six months were wiped out by a lack of appointments during lockdown. Hospitalisation looks like the only possible route now, which fills us both with dread for different reasons. What the future holds is simply unknown and will definitely not be simple.

 

Exploration or Avoidance?

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I started the week all fired up to make short instructional videos, kicking off with showing how to make an elasticated bowl cover. I was just filming this on my own using my phone, using the Apple Watch as a remote control. I realised that things need to be recorded in several takes, possibly having done an entire project as a practice. I did not use any of the footage but put it down as a good dummy run. 

Logistically, if I don’t manage to teach online I wondered about a Plan B and made a list of things that I could potentially sell in an Etsy shop, trying to make use of my screen printing. I liked the idea of making a baker’s set, including a crossover apron, bread bag and bowl cover. I had a large piece of dyed linen curtain fabric but it was not wide enough so I had to cut and rejoin it. My conclusion is that I don’t think aprons are cost effective in terms of time and materials, especially when perfectly nice and ready-made ones can be ordered online. 

I finished off a macrame bag using pink, cotton cord, whereas the one in the book had used jute twine. I tried to follow the author’s instructions but as usual, some of it was just gobbledygook. I hid one or two minor errors and changed the way the bag got joined at the bottom but it looks pretty good all the same. I always wonder what to do with all of the bits of string that are left over so I decided to make a couple of rope bowls. 

It was a week of messing about experimenting with small projects. I decided to make some fresh ginger cordial by boiling up root ginger and a sugar syrup. Unfortunately, I forgot about it for 4 hours and when I returned I had made tar, not even treacle toffee. However, I did have success at making Bombay Mix noodles. It would seem that there is a secret ingredient that makes them go crispy – chickpea flour / gram PLUS rice or tapioca flour. I used the Sev maker that I bought from a street vendor in Jaipur and deep-fried them in hot oil over a camping gas stove. To get them extra crispy, I finished them off in the dehydrator. I know I can buy Bombay Mix cheaply but it was fun to make my own. 

One other domestic chore that I did was to restore some copper measuring cups that I bought on Ebay. They were tarnished so I cleaned them up with brown sauce, barkeeper’s friend and finally Brasso! They are probably not very practical but they look nice now.

 

There is no doubt that coming up with all of these distractions was because I am trying to process the news that Nella’s anorexia seems to be on the rise again. She went for her first physical checks since before lockdown and the results were disappointing. I have the challenge of getting her to eat more, especially protein, with her threatening to go on hunger strike if I try to change or increase her very restricted diet. Somehow I need to work out how to deal with that yet maintain a sense of balance, allowing myself some time to explore projects that might keep me sane in a topsy-turvy world.

Some Productivity

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Another week has gone by and I wonder what I did to faff my way through it! There was one big, colourful customer quilt. I tried to quilt rainbows onto it but the pattern kept crashing the system so I used a substitute pattern called “Dizzy Izzy”.

Nessie tried out her new, fleece rain suit. She was not altogether pleased at putting it on and taking it off but once it was on she did not mind at all and it kept her clean on a muddy walk.

Freya and I both made new sourdough starters for bread making.  I was excited when my KitchenAid pasta press finally arrived after months of back order and I made some vegan macaroni, substituting egg for a paste of ground flaxseed. This dried successfully in the dehydrator which is more than I can say for my semi-dried tomatoes and blueberries which obviously should have been vacuum packed since both went horribly mouldy in their soft state. 

I made 2 wearable pyjama tops using the simple and voluminous Athina pattern. My overlocker decided that it did not want to sew properly so I spent most of a day servicing it, panicking that it might have to be sent away for weeks

or be replaced. I tipped it upside down to clear out fluff, changed needles and the blade, before finally realising that

a tiny spring had jumped out of place. That was enormously satisfying. My next challenge was remembering how to thread the cover-lock machine to finish the hems. It is not actually complicated, just fiddly and would not have taken so long if I had consulted the instruction manual sooner rather than later.

After months of procrastinating, I got Freya to film an off-the-cuff workshop/studio tour that I have uploaded to YouTube. It was really just to check that I could make a half decent video and see if it would spur me on to having a go at some instructional videos. I had forgotten how much I enjoy making informal, short clips so despite the dark clouds of Covid and Nella’s illness, I hope to go ahead and make some more. It is quite surprising what people watch on YouTube – this week (for research) we have watched videos on garden tours, grinding flour at home, macrame bags, spice jar organisation and even stationery shopping. 

There has been a nip of autumn in the air so I guess summer is “officially” over. I need to do what I have not done in months and make some To-Do lists. Apart from getting brave enough to make more videos I need a proper project of some sort as I have not quilted in earnest for ages.