No Idle Hands

Cross stitching

Tom’s grandad always loved to see people busy with their hands. A prolific and talented cross-stitcher himself, he often used to extol the virtues of ‘no idle hands’. Not only was I born to a crafty family, I also appear to have married in to one. Tom’s mum is a stitcher of many things, whilst Tom himself is rarely far from a pencil or craft knife.

I’ve always preferred textile to paper, doubting my artistic ability after plenty of dispiriting childhood moments when the picture in my head would refuse to translate itself on to paper. So, at the beginning of the year when I swore to try a new craft, it seemed natural to pick up some cross stitch. This little amber bee has taken me quite some time. I’m not sure I have the patience for counting squares and fiddling with different shades of thread, but I’m pleased with how it’s looking so I shall bloody-well persevere until it’s done!

Jennie Maizel's Sketchbook Club

Jennie Maizel's Sketchbook Club

I’ve also been overcoming my fear of drawing, thanks to Jennie Maizel’s Sketchbook Club. The project has just enough structure and freedom to make it all seem ‘doable’, with my added delight in now being a frequenter of the local art shop. My grama has always been the one buying the art supplies. Her house is full of beautiful big canvases she’s painted over the years. So, I’m sure she too would be an appreciator of ‘no idle hands’.

An Easy Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb tart on table next to flowers

When I visited Amber last week, not only did she dig up half her garden to share, she also sent me home with a bundle of freshly-picked rhubarb. Ordinarily I would make a crumble, oaty and sweet, eaten in spades with a dollop of ice cream on the side.

But I had a hankering for one of those delicious custardy tarts, that every French village bakery sells. The kind that makes me wish I was French. Turns out neither custard nor pastry is quite as straightforward as the usual chocolate chip cookies I churn out when I have a sweet-tooth.

Cakes and puddings should rarely take longer to make than they do to eat. So, I hacked together a quick and easy tart to follow my rule, and spent the time saved sipping coffee and having a natter with my mum. In case I’m not alone in the lazy-baker status I’ve jotted the recipe down below:

Ingredients for an easy rhubarb tart

Prep pastry: Grab a ready-made roll of shortcrust pastry from the chiller at the supermarket. Lay it into a round dish, smoosh into the edges, and trim the surplus at the top (but leave a bit of wiggle room as the pastry may shrink a bit as it bakes. Prick the base with a fork and pop it in the fridge.

Bake rhubarb: chop in to chunks and put in an oven dish. Mix in ~80g brown sugar and a splash of vanilla extract. Cover in foil and bake in a medium oven for around 15mins. Then, drain and put aside the baked rhubarb.

Blind bake pastry: cover the base in baking parchment and baking beans for ~15mins. Then, remove parchment and beans and bake for a further 5mins. Once baked, wash the bottom with egg white.

Make custard: whisk ~80 caster sugar, 1 tablespoon cornflour, 2 eggs, one small pot (~300ml) of creme fraiche.

Assemble your pie: add the rhubarb first, then pour custard over the top.

Bake for 25mins. Enjoy with a cup of coffee and a gossip.

Rusty in her kitchen

Amber’s Garden

Amber photo collage

I’m always on the lookout for flowers to add to my beautifully colourful and eclectic cottage garden. You know- the one that only exists in my mind. Despite living in the same house for eight years, every spring I seem to find myself confronted with the same blank earth, followed by an overly exuberant (and expensive) dash to the garden centre.

Not so this year, as my friend Amber volunteered some Verbena. When I popped over for coffee yesterday I was planning to simply pinch a couple pots to add to my plot, and instead revelled in an hour of raiding her beautiful garden, talking Island life and guessing plant names (my favourite being ‘yellow things’, which is now officially stamped on a plant label in my garden.)

I left with a car packed full of oregano, primrose, crocosmia, hollyhocks, and said ‘yellow things’; all essential ingredients in any self-respecting garden. I’ve plopped them in my soil in the hope they’ll survive, reassuring myself with Amber’s instructions to ‘just chuck them in’. I feel the pressure to make them succeed. Grow my pretties, grow…

Easy Festive Wrapping

Candycane homemade potato prints

Potato printing was one of the many homemade crafts I remember doing at the kitchen table as a kid. Twenty years later, I’ve inherited not only the kitchen table, but also the crafty inclinations. Tom and I spent part of our Sunday cutting simple Christmas shapes out of potatoes to stamp some festive wrapping paper.

I discovered that curved shapes are difficult and had a ‘tiny’ childish strop when my snowman didn’t turn out right. But, the great thing about potato printing is cheap materials; and it’s easy to slice off a layer of the potato and start with a once-more-blank-canvas.

Potato print christmas wrapping paper photo collage

I’ve always loved wrapping with brown paper, adding little extras to make it feel festive. There are countless great ideas out there. Tomorrow I intend to forage for forest floor evergreen, to add to my paper-stamped, twine-wrapped, homemade gifts (shh.. I can’t tell you what they are until the 26th!)

Rekindling the Knitting

Cable knit mitt

About a month ago I mentioned plans to knit Tom a jumper. If that were to happen it might be ready in time for Christmas 2015. I’ve been completely stumped by the tubular cast on so haven’t even managed one row of this big project. Every time I thought of knitting I’d remember I couldn’t do the first step and so I’d put it off. Again and again.

So, in an effort to find my knitting mojo, I’ve gone back to what I know and love: mitts – one of my top favourite knitting patterns. It satisfies my need for quick gratification and I’m hoping it’ll boost me enough to tackle that tubular cast on again pretty soon. Any hints or tips most welcome!

And if you liked this…