Baking for Wonderland

The final part of the Alice In Wonderland trilogy is here, the baking one.

I started to think about what would be fitting for a mad hatter tea party.  I really could have done with Heston Blumenthal mojo. I was still hanging onto my library copy of Sprinklebakes and there is quite a bit of AIW recipes in  there, but they were so ambitious and required time & skills that sadly I had to by pass most of the lovely things in the book. I did make the mushrooms again , the kids weren’t impressed but the adults appeared to be. (Unless they were being polite).

For the tea party savory bit I wanted to keep it simple as I was feeding both kids and adults (I don’t like going to a kids party and not be offered a sandwich or a cuppa) so the plates included ham sandwiches in the shape of love hearts,  Chesse sandwiches in the shapes of stars, cucumber in love hearts again (they didn’t hold very well), little peanut butter and jam rolls (a revelation to some) and the Australian classic fairy bread which is just cake decorating sprinkles on buttered white bread.

party food

The obligatory mini pizza’s, sausage rolls and bread sticks made an appearence. As well as what I thought great idea of getting some cups of sliced cucumber, peppers and carrots with hummus in the middle, surprisingly these went untouched..what a waste….my fault. Now looking at the above picture someone does have their hands on it, but that’s as far as that went.

After a good 45 min break as the kids were too full for pudding, I did the uncomplicated fruit kebab’s, using biscuit cutters to cut out the shapes. (which only 2 kids wanted but the adults dove at them) , and frogs in ponds Freddo frog in jelly. Some kids didn’t want them either I sat I the sun finishing all the left over jelly.

The baking

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I had my baking day on the Friday, it started at 9am and went through till 10.30 pm, and not without at least two disasters. As I stood there mixing some stupid icing at 9pm I thought really why bother? Kids don’t care, they would probably prefer the stuff that came out of a box, why am I doing this?  I was hot, tired and woeful.

I normally make a massive ambitious list of amazing ambitious bakes and then as baking day comes around I slowly being cross things out when I’m ground down & pressed for time . This year I knew better. My list was simple

Mushrooms (not majic)

I really ned to take the course how to use your camera phone like a competent person ASAP.

I really ned to take the course how to use your camera phone like a competent person ASAP.

I think it was more about the look than the taste. It was a cup and a half of cornflour to half a cup of flour, which stuck to the roof of my mouth. I tried to reverse the measurements and they just tasted like bread. Amateur hour. I stuck to the original for the party.

Cupcakes

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Cupcakes melting in the sun

Classics hummingbird with a strawberry milkshake flavour and a  Smarties surprise on the inside. I used an apple core to make the holes but because the sponge is so moist it was difficult and really mushy. Another problem here was overnight the Smarties went soft and they didn’t tumble out like I hoped. It was so disappointing, sponge itself was fine.

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After Tuesday we couldnt deal with the leftovers and 4 of them went in the bin.

Lamingtons

Lamingtons

I’m sure I’ve written about the Dan Lepard Lamington recipe before. I made them in mini loaf tins, as I had done once before and again they failed. When I tested them in the oven the skewer came clear but when they came out of the pans they were fricking doughy and undercooked. I’m sure this happened last time. I had to make a meringue for this flipping recipe, well NO MORE!!! I quickly made a hummingbird vanilla batch and popped them into mini circular tins. Worked a treat. I sliced them and put normal jam in the middle and used the same Dan Lepard recipe for the chocolate and coconut “icing”. These turned out to be the best lamingtons I’ve probably ever eaten , they were superb!! Kids didn’t eat them oh well more for me.

Dounts

I normally make these every year. But this year I failed terribly.

I hate using silicone bakeware. They turned out tough (somehow I over worked the batter) and sweaty. I tried to save them by making some icing which refused to dry and then as to laugh in my face, then melted indoors ! I didn’t serve them out of embarrassment and then chucked them out. Bloody mini doughnuts. There is no photos of this shameful chapter.

The Cake

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Sorry it’s the only picture we have! Is in a wasteland of uneaten food. (kicking myself I didnt think to take a decent shot)

I realised as I was decorating it that  I had put very little thought into what I was going to do with it. I had minimalist Ombre in my head (which in other words little icing) which drove me nuts at 10pm on Thursday night.  I Bought some toppers from eBay and not photographed is the paper bunting I had on top with skewers.

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The icing was much easier than last years frozen take. I found a brilliant tutorial, http://stylesweetca.com/2014/07/08/how-to-ice-a-cake-perfect-ombre/  I just wish I had a better scraper, I was using one normally reserved for bread making.

It was the normal Hummingbird recipe (I have really got my moneys worth out of Cake Days) in rainbow form. So made double quantities and the separated each layer by weight and mixed each one with a different colour.

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I had to make the final purple layer again (which became red) as it ended up really lopsided in the oven , god knows how. Then some (quite a bit) of the batter leaked out onto the bottom of the oven too. Now there is bloody black burnt cake on the floor of the oven, I can’t be bothered cleaning it up. I’ll just leave it to cremate.

I sent it home with the guests and he next day got text messages about how great it was, so I’m happy.

Again sorry for the below par photography…

Thus concludes our triology.

Magical world of Alice in Wonderland

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Rockette’s decided last year that her birthday theme this year was going to be Alice In Wonderland. I’m not sure why she picked this as it was way before the 150 year celebrations had begun. She has that gift of picking stuff just before it gets cool.

This year I wanted to make the backyard magical, like the parties I never had (mine were always at Mc Donalds). I started planning a few months ago, stopped and then panicked about two weeks before that I hadn’t done enough.

I was going for thrifty Pintrest. Looks amazing but cheap as chips.

The paper flower pom-pom things were Ebay buys from Singapore or China or Hong Kong I can’t remember but I got 40 for around £11.

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I normally don’t like putting picture of Rockette in here but there is a severe lack of photos with any detail without her in them. Dont worry, there were other kids there

All of the print outs were free templates that I had been putting on Pintrest for ages.  And the giant cards were a quid online.

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That’s not even a picture of the completed table! I did want to put more china on there but the china was on loan and there was going to be 5, 5 year olds and a baby so probably not a good idea.

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The books were borrowed from my work the napkins were 40p from Ikea and the frame I think was from Poundland.

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Other things were picked up in sales. Like that beautiful lampshade garland was £1.99 in the Lakeland sale and the straws I bought ages ago from Waitrose for 49p a pack. Giant Flamingos a quid from the evil amazon.

The most expensive garland was a ball one that I bought from Tiger which I thought had a £1 price tag and was 3. I was ripped.

In the last blog I wrote about the cushions I made for the seating and the table was a tenner from Argos, we just sawed down the legs. But you get what you pay for  as half way though the party one of the kids took it down. But it served it’s purpose and did well.

It was hot that day, one of the hottest days the UK has had this year. The kids were melting by hour number 3.

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The sad thing about the party is that I spent so much time running in between the house and outside getting food and drinks etc that I felt like I missed a lot of the party. Rockette’s Nan dressed up as the Queen of hearts and did all of the party games, which was a godsend.

Before I knew it, it was over . But at least I could get out of my Tweedledumb costume which consisted of a printed t-shirt from e-bay (2 for 14 quid) and a hot thick red winter skirt (it was all I had). All the kids appeared to have  a good time which is the main thing.

The joy of a birthday wreath

This will be part 1 of 3 for birthday news I’ll start with the easiest one making a birthday wreath.

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I’ve made one of these before for christmas but that time it was with wool . As last time the idea for this  came from the book Everything Oz  by  Read-Baldrey & Leech. It is so easy and fast to make I think I finished it during an episode of Taskmaster (half an hour in earth time).

It’s not rocket science, just pin the back of the ribbon to the polystyrene ring. (note I bought my ribbon at 79p a meter and then found 15 meters in Tiger for a pound. It’s worth shopping around).

Then wrap it round until they meet.  I then cut down some fake flowers I bought (man fake flowers are expensive) and secured the base of each one with dress pins.  I had some mini cards so in they went and then I glued some photocopy pictures of Alice In Wonderland  to card stock and secured them with dress pins too.

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The number 5 was reduced in Hobby craft so I just pined that one to the back.

 

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I think it works better than the crappy foil banners you buy at every card store.

Non stop cushion action.

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I’ve been like a woman possessed. With a week till Rockette’s Alice in Wonderland birthday party, I looked at my outdoor seating and sighed  at the two weathered kids chairs out there. Which wasn’t going to be enough, So I had the idea to make a load of cushions and then make a short flat table japanese style table to put them around.

I like making cushions, they’re easy you can use any fat quarter fabric you like and I never measure anything , I just rest the fabric on top and cut around the sides where the seams meet up.

After making 4 plain ones (and giving a lesson to my friend on how to make a 5th), I got bored.  I started to jazz it up. The first one was from this months Love quilting and patchwork magazine.

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It was the first time I had used Bondaweb for ages, I forgot how much fun it was to use. It was all attached with the iron and then free motioned for detail and security. I’m normally very uncomfortable with free motion, but as  the look was “messy” this suited me just fine.

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Then I got addicted so I cut out a love heart template and fussy cut some hearts, then Bondawebed and free motioned them too.

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For the birthday girl I picked up some beautiful Alice in Wonderland fabric from Japan, used the Bondaweb again and then sewed the ric rac around that.  I did this bit before I had to go to work , but I wish I hadn’t. It was 6am I must have been a bit groggy and I ironed the I slightly left of the middle. Once that stuff is on you can’t  get it off. (or maybe you can but I’m not sure how). I did think of maybe adding strips to the side, but after making 8 cushions I couldn’t be bothered.

 

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Oh the craftiness doesn’t let up this week. Rockette wanted people to dress up, I nominated myself for tweedle dumb but I look so bad in yellow that is not going to happen.

Cooking book perusal.

A few days ago Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express arrived. I had wanted it for a while despite all of the meat recipes in it. Putting it on the shelf with my other books I knew yet again there was going to be no room, and that I had to rearrange. I swear each time I re-arrange them more books go out than go in.

I have my cooking books in 4 separate places around the house. The kitchen ones are the ones most likely to have the pages stuck together, the remainder of cooked meals on the spines and all dog-eared, these are my cooking bibles.

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I say couldn’t live without, But looking at it now some of them are just there to keep the authors together. While were here, Jamie’s 30 minute meals are really an hour and a half.

 

Whereas my front room is divided into two,  wedged in between 7″ singles and art books, my cook books  have been thoughtlessly disposed because of kitchen overspill and it wouldn’t fit on the other side. I feel a bit sorry for this lot, the uncared for.

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The other side holds more of the special occasion stuff. Making a birthday cake, or some unusual American cookies/ tray bakes, more Jamie Oliver (for the record I would like to say these are not my copies) and if I ever feel like it , Jamaican cooking. (I used one of these books once the recipe asked for 8 scotch bonnets, I wisely put in one..it was inedible the heat blew my head off..it was the only time I have had to make another meal.)

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Here is also where I keep a few  of the book I like to read. Saying this I realise my history of biscuits is missing from this photo..mild panic..where is that?? What is there is a great book called “Eating the Elvis Presley way” which was written with help from his cook. Reading it with today in a world full of Man vs Food it doesn’t seem too bad. I suppose in Elvis’ case it was quantity not quality.

Nigella Christmas is another bible but It refuses to be constrained to the kitchen shelves. I also have a soft spot for Nigel Slater’s Appetite as it was the first book I bought when I moved out of home, It’s a good book to cook from when your skint.

Then there is under the stairs , I’m not even sure whats under there Gordon Ramsey, Tana Ramsey,Madhur Jaffery, some Delia (hopefully my history of biscuits book which for the record is called “A nice cup of tea and a sit down” ).

I should get rid of them (bar the biscuit book of course) but I don’t know if I can bear it. Even though I’m never going to make pork scratching or some dessert that I know wont work (you can tell the type). But say if I do need them in the future?…just say…

I’ve also kept in the depths my beautiful 1956 immaculate copy of Betty Crocker’s home cooking but this is for purely self-preservation reasons. It’s a thing of beauty it has home advice and crazy recipes. I should dig it out  and share the highlights.

When I was a kid I used to spend hours going through my mum’s dodgy cooking books, one in particular had a middle-aged lady doing a strip tease with balloons throughout the book. I’ve still no idea what that had anything to do with cooking with Pineapples and Marino cherries, since then I’ve had a fascination with cookbooks. But because Mum wouldn’t let me cook when I was younger (except one massive blue pancake I made when I was 8, disgusting) I didn’t know how to cook until my early 20’s thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef series. From there I’ve amassed quite a collection, which some good, bad and ugly books.

Mum collected the menu planners, I really spent a lot of my childhood on cold brown tiles flicking loving through these.

I heard somewhere that people only use 5 recipes out of each book. I’m sure that’s true, probably even less for me as I bypass all the meat recipes, although sometimes I’ll try a Quorn substitute with mixed results.
I tend to find many of these books rather indulgent on the writers part in some cases putting in completely impractical recipes for any person with only an oven, hot plate and microwave to hand. Take for  example Yotam Oottolenghi recipe for vine leaf, herb and yogurt pie from Plenty. Looks really unappetising. That’s certainly not in my top 5 for that book.

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Whereas some of them have fallen foul of fashion, the ones published in the 90’s look so passe now. I’ve picked on poor Nigel Slater’s the 30 minute cook, only because I didn’t have the time to go through all of my books. I know under the stairs something worse is lurking.

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The sausages look gross and dry, in fact they look more like vegetarian sausages.

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I’m not sure if that is the baked Aubergine recipe but I certainly hope it’s not.Its probably just “random vegetables I deep-fried after I went to the farmers market”

I guess your quite pressed for time in 30 minutes, and it’s probably more realistic than Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals (yeah right Jamie, if I had a “team” chopping up all my veg then maybe that would be attainable).

Sadly it doesn’t stop there. I wish it did and I would never need to buy another cook book again but my wish list is full. Nigella has a new one coming out and lately I’ve been interested in naked cake decorating , which omits massive amounts of icing , stripped back beautiful kind. And there are books and books on American cooking and baking I’m always eyeing up. Not so much to make necessarily but more to read out of interest. Then forgetting the books I’ve had for months from the library which I should really get my own copy to mess up like Heather Baird’s Sprinklebakes and Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook.

I’m just going to have to find more room.

Now here’s a thing I’ve never done before… In the comments if you would like to share pictures of your piles of used and unused cooking books to the rest of the world that would be amazing!  I would love to see them!!! Go on, get snapping!!!

Skirting Saturday

wpid-20150801_174253.jpgIt’s school holidays, this means I’m able to do precious little in terms of crafting / baking/ project planning etc. I’m even up early to write this before Rockette wakes up. I’m not moaning much, I’m happy to be off work….I spoke to soon she awakes!!

The sewing itching bug was getting to me though.  I have my mum’s birthday gift that needs finishing but I have to be in the mood and some weeks I just want to make skirts  and others I want to just quilt.

Last week Rockette choose some fabric on a sale table. So I thought I would get her making a basic kids skirt, you know the type, elastic top, sewn in sides but I added pockets.

I’ve made this kind of skirt before,  http://wp.me/p4z5nn-5z  ,but that time I made the elastic too tight, she wears it now but not for long.

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I was optimistic,  she cut all of the pieces out with excellent precision for a four-year old whilst jumping over the chairs and mucking around with my machine.

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I had shrunk the pocket sizes from an adult skirt and sewed them into the seams.

We got to closing the raw edges with french seams . she did the first three side’s quite well then got to the 4th and said “this is boring!!!!”

This was too much for my almost five-year old who stated “am bored now!” I finished it off, I’m not sure what I expected, I should have started her on a cushion cover (next weeks project) and this time the skirt’s a little bit big, but it stay’s on, it can be her Christmas dinner / Buffet skirt.

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Inspired, I spied in my stash the It’s a small world corduroy, I had picked up half price on my last trip to London. I wanted to make a simple a line skirt and had ideas of mashing a Tilly  pattern with the above pattern, then I thought I would make a simplified version of the Oliver + S hopscotch skirt, mainly because I thought I didn’t have enough fabric…. (I only had 70 cm instead of the 1 yard/ 91cm suggested, I had a fair bit left over)

Like I have said before I’m not the best at reading patterns properly, I kind of rush into things. I had  A few cutting errors like cutting the pattern the wrong way on the grainline , making up what I thought what were supposed to be pockets and realising they were elsewhere on the pattern AND missing  the waistband and interfacing. (note not a great idea to stat cutting out a pattern when a child is hanging off your neck hassling you to play).

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Left at home alone and 5 hours later (WTF??)  and it was done. I spent an hour on that bottom button-hole which my machine not once, but 3 times decided to just keep on sewing in one spot. Very nearly destroying my fabric.

Pattern matching is bad, again would get me kicked off the sewing bee, I think in real life no one is really going to care.

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Exhausted I’ve put it away and now thinking of making a basic gathered skirt with some exposed elastic as a waistband.

I started this blog at 7.30 am…it’s now 10pm, it’s a good example of the way things are rolling.

In other news

On August 16th 2015, Rockette and I are doing our first “Run” (I plan to dance all the way) for a charity that is incredibly close to my family’s heart Demelza children’s hospice.  We are trying to raise money as they only run on donations. We have a page on just giving and if you would like to donate it would be greatly appreciated. I will continue this campaign on Facebook just to annoy everyone.

https://www.justgiving.com/Meli-Mel

Thanks for everyone who has already donated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baking a show stopper

Last week I baked a birthday cake for a friend of mine. I was busy busy busy and was limited with time. She had requested some sort of raspberry cake but I didn’t have the time to look for a new recipe and then hope that it worked out ok.

I went for one of my two never fails. Quick and easy, once you know what you’re doing and can guarantee it’s always going to taste amazing. Nigella Lawson’s Devils food cake from Kitchen (which is my food bible despite all of the meat in it) is my go-to, stand out, show off beauty.

The page in my copy is covered in crap which is a good sign of a good recipe, and this one is the bomb. Rich, moist and chocolatey you can’t have too big a slice. I’ve made this so many times I think I could do it with my eyes closed. It’s not your everyday cake due to the sheer amount of chocolate alone, but definitely one for a celebration.

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/DEVILS-FOOD-CAKE-5310

With the frosting it asks for 300 grm of dark chocolate, I’ll tell you that can be expensive and I’ve always had lots of left over easter eggs right up until July or blocks of random chocolate I’ve been given as gifts. I’ve thrown this all in and I’ve never had a problem with the higher milk content or anything like that. If it looks way too runny stick it in the fridge it will soon firm up.

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I topped it with raspberries and that was a triumph. I recommend it!

My other show stopper which I use for cupcakes, wedding cakes, birthday celebrations, fete’s anything is the Hummingbird bakery Vanilla/ chocolate cupcake recipie which is in Cake Days.Its never failed! The key is when it says to cream for 5 minutes, you stand there mixer in hand and cream for 5 minutes. Normally I’ll put on 2 of my favourite songs and have a sing-song to make this go quicker.

http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/475442/The-Hummingbird-Bakery-vanilla-cupcakes

http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/hummingbird-chocolate-cupcakes.html

This will be reappearing again in the guise of a rainbow cake (which I did 2 years ago). It’s such a versatile recipe and the buttercream icing is what I always get complimented on.

I think you don’t have to be a great baker to make a great cake. You just need to find one or two cake recipes you can make flawlessly and that is enough to see you right.  So many people go, I’m not a baker but I do make an amazing lemon drizzle. That’s all you need to take to a cake sale/ Birthday/ afternoon tea etc etc…

Fightng like my ancestors

The last few months at work there have been fights, a lot of them. It’s been tiring.

Normally I have a tendency to argue like my ancestors have done . Maltese people are renown for their short fuse. It doesn’t take much, Drop an apple on the floor, sit on the plastic covered sofa, touch their car the list is endless.  It’s also the style and flair which these are displayed and this probably relates more to men to be fair.

You can see it happening, like a small kettle boiling, beginning hunched and clenched fist they straighten out and like a cockerel their chest will puff out, you see it takes a lot of air to scream out a mouth full of obscenities in one sentence. Then they’re off, fist shaking, sometimes in their mouth, they’re yelling and going for it, occasionally kicking things around & punching crap. Lets call it passionate displays of anger. Although not physically violent towards anybody, it’s just more a tirade of abuse and anger normally accompanied with big sweeping statements “Your all fu@£$ed” to all of your managers in a meeting. All of these situations end in a storming out.

How many times have I wished I could have done that? I normally hold my hands above my head and say, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing?Is this normal? This is nuts” a bit more refined, a bit like George Costanza from Seinfeld.

They’re other key skill is grudge holding. They can hold a grudge for years, lifetimes even. The reason for the fight maybe be long gone, but the grudge remains the same. Genuine reason’s for a grudge have included  1) accidentally brushing against someones tyres 2) looking at someone shifty / not seeing someone in a supermarket 3) Making comment on how much money one may have stuffed in ones mattress. 4) Charging for work which should have been extra mates rates discounts aka free 5) Accusing someone of running a horse racing syndicate.

Overtime I have had to alter my straight talking Australian ways with my anger fulled Maltese passionate rage. There has been a lot of breathing exercises and just walking away, no matter how much I would love to stand up and flip a table over (which def goes against all of my genetic make up).Now I just have to pick my fights carefully. My ancestors would be so disappointed with me.

There is a video on you tube of an angry Maltese man I wont link it, you know how to search if your interested.

About, around and complaining.

I went over to London this weekend to see Belle and Sebastian play at Somerset House.

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No review, the band did have an odd set list choice, they closed with a downer of a song which always has a weird sombre effect on a crowd (they should have closed with the party line, much more upbeat). So it was good, but not absolutely amazing which was a shame as I had been waiting years to go and watch them.

What wrecked the experience was the audience conduct again, I’ve complained about this before , I’m going to do it again… https://wordpress.com/post/67467493/583/

Belle and Sebastian were probably most successful in the late 90’s, even though they are still making amazing albums. The audience thought it was still the 90’s. There was smokers right next to me, one who lit up every 15 minutes, who still smokes like that ? I spent half the night trying to hold my breath and breathe in the opposite direction, didn’t work still got a headache.

There were people taking selfies during every song. Yay your here, now annoy everyone around you and pose idiotically for photos of yourself.

But worse than that was the audience treating the band like they were some CD on in the background. There were times I could barely hear the songs for mindless chatter about god knows what, school fees, house prices, what wines they bought last year in Seville…I’m assuming general wanker-y conversation.

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Why were they there? Mr CM put it perfectly, it seemed like a piece of paper (newspaper say, we know which one) told them they should be here (to appear to be cool) so they all came. It was unbelievable and this situation is getting worse as I get older. Teen’s and people in their 20’s are more musically intense and there to immerse themselves in the experience & the music. Beyond that there are more and more who would rather get drunk and talk loudly about how amazing they are .It’s bloody annoying and rude.

On the up side I did go to liberty, I went because I was dressed for it (in a nice dress) and no one would think I was a shop lifter and follow me around (which is what happened when I went in 2003). Did pick up two fantastic Oliver + S patterns for a fiver each, who would have guessed In Liberty of all places. And they put your receipt in a little card….class.

I also ate cake and doughnuts, a lot of them. I justified that it helped my stress levels come down (which it did).

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Liberty also had two of the most beautiful quilts hanging in the store to celebrate their 140th anniversary. I’ve been looking lately at a book called Art Quilting which I may just buy and do a quilt more like these ones.

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Before there was quilting

It took me into my 30’s to get into sewing/quilting . Before that I had a huge amount of creative energy with no real outlet. I tried drawing and painting (oh my god I suck more at that than knitting) , baking (as you all know I still do) and even scriptwriting (one completed script which I still think is funny and a lot better than a lot of dross that comes on film. Just wasn’t happy with the main story line.)

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In the middle of all of this I did a stamp piece. I thought of this when I had gone past an art gallery widow a few days ago and someone had made something not as great, more like a Pantone chart and was changing £300 for it.

I had just moved to York from Australia in the early 2000’s and I was still half heartedly collecting stamps and postcards(Still do if I find a particullary bad one from the 70’s) .

I went past a small stamp shop that was selling huge bags of 1st and second class stamps for about £2. Kind of like a magpie, I was taken in by all of the colours in the massive bag and it was a bargain. I took it back to the shared house and spent the next 2 months cutting them all out neatly (a lot were still attached to corners of envelopes and postcards).

occasionally there would be a hidden gem printed on these.

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It made me think of the life of the letter, what was attached to the stamp? What secrets did it hold? Was the recipient please to receive the letter?

I painstakingly  glued each small square in a straight line and laid the out. I loved it. I have moved all over the UK and it has hung on my walls wherever I’ve lived.

 

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As I’m putting together a rainbow quilt now I realised that this was my first quilt, my first paper quilt.