Monday, 24 October 2011

Creature of the Night

After making Topsee during my convelesence a couple of weeks ago I got an urge to make another softie, a big chunky huggable one, from my own design.  The high dose of steroids I am on tends to wake me in the night, too much cortisone running through my veins, and I had a few nights between 2 and 5am where I just sat and scribbled designs for creatures.  There are quite a few to be made but the first to emerge is "Alien" as she has become known...

My new crochet creature :)

My new crochet creature :)

In my initial little middle-of-the-night sketch I knew I wanted it to have a big head and gangly limbs, and a pot belly was essential too.  I wanted it to be simple in colour, with stripey legs and cute little ears.  I do want to make another version with floppy ears too.

Crochet creature's ear
My new crochet creature :)

Lillia referred to the Creature as "Alien" the whole time I was making it, and because it is made with lilac wool she was also declared to be a girl.  Every girl needs an accessory so I made Alien a little neck scarf with a funky shell button, I think it suits her well, don't you?

Crochet creature with scarf

Crochet creature's scarf

Crochet creature wearing scarf

Alien was my first proper go at completely designing something myself.  She evolved in a fairly organic way - I applied what I knew about crochet and just did everything by sight.  Once the circle for her face was wide enough I started to form the main part of the head, then once that was wide round enough I started to close it off to form the correct size.  For her body I worked decreases and increases to form her belly and bottom, although I would like to go back and make the placement of these a bit neater I am quite happy with how it all turned out.

I wrote everything down, every single stitch is documented, so I can make more Aliens and, more importantly, I can share the pattern with you here!  So if you love Alien and would like to make one yourself I shall be posting the pattern here very soon, as soon as I can get time to perfect it and write it all up.  And I have more to come too, a few more creatures being formed from those sleepless nights sitting up sketching the steroid-induced images in my head.

I really loved designing and making Alien and I can't wait to perfect the pattern and share it, I could really see myself doing many more!  Do let me know what you think of her :)


Thursday, 20 October 2011

Making time to make it

I am always cutting out recipes and projects from magazines, favouriting patterns on Ravelry, saving tutorials to my bookmarks. And usually they all just sit there - in piles, in the queue, on my hard drive - waiting...and not getting done. They just get lost underneath the ever-lasting To Do lists. Occasionally I will get them out, look at them, sigh at my lack of time and energy and then hide them away again.

Lemon Scones

So I thought as motivation for myself, and others, I would start a new regular spot on my blog - a monthly reason to stop everything and just crack on with one of these little projects. After all most of them would only take an hour tops, I just need to create the time. So switch the telly off, put down the ironing, leave whatever chores there are and join me in giving yourself time to make it!

The rules are:
1. Choose something from your wish list of things to make or do - could be a recipe, a crochet pattern, a sewing tutorial or a project from a magazine or book.
2. Set aside time in your day or evening to make it - could be an hour, could be all day, could be ten minutes here and there throughout the day, as long as you make the time.
3. Take photos and post about what you have made, or started to make - do not worry about lighting or bad pictures - no apologies to be made for blurriness or autumnal darkness - just snap and post!
4. Enjoy enjoy enjoy! Make the most of this precious little time to get something made, and share it with me here!

I am going to run this every month on the least that's the plan :)

Lemon Scones
It's National Baking Week here in the UK at the moment so I thought I would start with a recipe that I have had lurking in my bookmarks for some time...a long time...Soulemama's lemon scones. A very summery sounding treat for midweek in October...but mmmmm!  So I set aside half an hour this morning after the rush of getting everyone out for school, work and nursery and just made them, at last!

Lemon Scones

Lemon Scones

Lemon Scones

A few notes on this recipe - firstly in the first bit where she says mix the milk, sugar and egg together, she means honey, not sugar.  For 350 degrees that's 180c, and for the butter about 120g melted makes half a cup!  Also baking soda in the UK is bicarbonate of soda, not baking powder which is what I actually put it, oops, but they were still yummy :)

If you decide to make something today do stop by here to let me know!  I will set up a linky thingy next time if enough people want to join me.  Now, excuse me whilst I go and scoff the rest of this lemon scone...

Lemon Scones

Monday, 17 October 2011

Mum's Super Duper Chicken Casserole

I work.  It's a drag but it pays the bills and keeps me in crafting supplies :)

Obviously my views on work aren't quite that simplistic of course...being a working mummy is bloody hard work.  I have to be able to switch from work-Ali to mum-Ali and back again within seconds at any given moment throughout any given day.  I have to be able to get out the door before 6:30am three days a week and still be able to get a healthy meal on the table for everyone come 5:30pm, with a full day's work and a drive in and out of central London in between.  On my working-from-home days you can remove the commuting part but add in the school run. 

My new casserole dishes :)

Feeding the family requires some good planning and organisation - everyone needs to like it, it needs to be baby-suitable too, it has to be healthy and every penny counts so every meal has to be economical.  Believe me when I say there is no food waste in this house!  Everything gets used, nothing gets chucked out.

Making bread
Recently a Dunelm Mill opened about a 3-minute drive from my house.  Yes, 3 measly minutes!  I shall be bankrupt by Christmas I tell you, I love that shop.  And when they got wind of the fact I was going back to work and could do with some extra cooking equipment to help with the preparation of good value and healthy family meals which I could cook and freeze (I love my freezer but that could be a whole other blog post) in advance they came to the rescue.  They sent me a selection of their cookware to try out and review*...and I have been happily testing all of it since returning to work.

meal planning mosaic

So today I am going to share with you a humdinger of a recipe; my mum's Super Duper Chicken Casserole.  This is SO tasty and so simple, you literally throw everything together in one pot and that's it.  Perfect for making the night before, or to freeze ahead, or to just throw together when you walk in the door.

Mum's Super Duper Chicken Casserole

I asked my mum if I could share this and she was more than happy for me to do so, she adapted it from a cookbook in the 70s, and I have adapted it to make it cheaper and more lazy (that's me, cheap and lazy.)

Mum's Super Duper Chicken Casserole

  • 4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized portions
  • A cup full of plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper (omit the salt if, like me, you are going to mush this up for a baby too!)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 small onions (I know it says 3 in mum's recipe above but trust me that's too many), finely chopped
  • 2 green peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (see, lazy)
  • Salt & peppper
  • Half a pint of chicken stock (I use the extra low salt stuff you get in the baby isle, or real stuff if I have any ready)
  1. Roll the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour (I usually use scissors to cut them up straight into the flour) until completed coated.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and brown the chicken pieces.  Place into a casserole dish.
  3. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and fry gently for about ten minutes to soften (I usually add a little more butter or olive oil for this bit)
  4. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock and give everything a good stir before adding to the chicken in the casserole dish.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and cook in the centre of a moderate oven (about 180c) for one hour.
Making my mum's super duper chicken casserole
How simple is that?  20 minutes prep then an hour sat down with a glass of wine then you have this...

Mum's Super Duper Chicken Casserole
Absolutely delicious with hot crusty bread, or new potatoes, or even rice.  Mmmm!  Anyone else hungry now?
All the pots and utensils shown above are from Dunelm Mill and all are fab, truly fab - they look good and work hard and they have made my life that little bit easier :)  Oh, and that pie dish you saw earlier in the week too!  Now that is fab, I had never made pie before and now I shall be making plenty....So in conclusion, by Christmas I shall be fat and poor.  Thanks Dunelm Mill!

In order of appearance:
Cookshop Two Tone Collection Casserole Dish - a really good size dish, handled the chicken casserole for four people with room to spare and looked great on the table.
Red casserole dish - smaller than the blue one but still a good size and was perfect for chicken and chorizo gumbo for two!
This Morning by Prestige Almond Round baker dish - this is such a versatile and useful dish, we have used it so far to make bread, casserole, pasta-bake, soup and even a cake! Plus the shape of it is so gorgeous you can just leave it sitting out, it's almost decorative!
Jamie Oliver bread knife - goodness me was hubby delighted when I presented him with a new bread knife. To me a knife's a knife, but hubby assures me this one is far superior to our old bread knife :)
Lock and Lock food containers - I have never felt the need to spend money on tupperware before, I usually just reuse the plastic tubs leftover from Chinese takeaways. But these are The Business. They microwave, they freeze and they don't leak, they really are complete air-tight and have been a revelation for our packed lunches!
Purple Jewel Large Rectangular Roaster - we have used this for lasagne, toad-in-the-hole and roast chicken and it is the perfect size.  You can get a medium to large chicken in this plus your roasties and a load of veg if you are so inclined.

*I need to stress that I am allowed to keep all the goodies they sent me so I could be completely biased...but I would be anyway lets face it, I love that shop!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Happy Hooker Backwards Project #34: Bedfellows

"Bedfellows" - next project!

I started this particular project on my second night in hospital.  It took me nearly two hours to get beyond the first round of stitches - no matter what I did I just couldn't get it to work.  The old lady in the bed opposite, Joyce, kept encouraging me though.  She kept saying "don't give up girl!" So I didn't...I just changed things a bit, altered the slip stitches to become single stitches, changed from an 8mm to a 4.5mm hook, and kind of winged it.


Nearly everything I did was wrong.  The size, the yarn, the stitch, the hook, the technique, the increases and decreases.  This project was doomed from the very start.

But somewhere along the way....

Topsee's tummy

...a new friend began to take shape...

Topsee's eye


...and what should have been a disaster....

Topsee's feet

Topsee's little red nose

....actually turned into....Topsee :)


Named by Lillia (the spelling is hers too) Topsee is a new firm favourite in our house.

I made her arms and legs longer than the pattern, and her head is bigger, her ears are floppier.  Her eyes are beadier and her nose is wonkier.  But Topsee is our beautiful bunny friend...


She is already to be found mingling amongst the toys...
Discarded Topsee

...helping with morning spelling practice...

Topsee helping with spelling practice

...and I had a little smile to myself when I found her abandoned in the reclining position in Lillia's bed...

Topsee reclining :)

Lillia says she is "nimble and flexible", a Ballerina Bunny, which then led to the request for Topsee to have her own wardrobe.  We love Strictly Come Dancing in this house and we always watch it together on Saturday nights.  We decided that Topsee's first dress should be just like Holly Valance's salsa dress.

Here's the original...

And here's Topsee's very own crochet and sequinn version...

Topsee in her Salsa dress

Topsee in her Salsa dress

Yes, we do love Topsee :)
Topsee in her Salsa dress

And here's the usual summary of the project:
  • Cost - about £6 - I used less than a ball of each colour to make topsee, plus a little extra for her dress. 
  • Yarn -  The purple is Patons Cottom Twist Aran (55% cotton, 45% acrylic) and is delightfully soft and tactile.  The light pink is Patons Smoothie DK.
  • Hook - 4.5mm and 3mm.
  • Difficulty - Goodness I struggled with this one!  I just couldn't get the hang of the slip stitches, but once I changed to single stitiches instead I got along better, but I had to make a lot of adjustments along the way.
  • Overall happiness with finished object - Oh very happy!!  But not as happy as Lillia and her new best friend :)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pierrot Yarns

Just skipping in here in an excited manner to share with you a website I just happened upon whilst looking for a pattern for an oval rug.  I found this pattern which is just what I was looking for....

...then I got drawn into the site as they have some simply amazing patterns.  Pierrot Yarns is a Japanese site with loads of free patterns translated into English (by using slightly scary looking crochet charts).  The patterns are just luv-er-ly!

Here are just some that I have to make immediately, though of course I don't have the time to make them immediately so I shall just have to dream of having the time....

The Newsboy Cap, which would look cute as a pudding on Lillia...and the Carnival Hat for me...

Don't get me started on the bags! Oh the bags! 
The Ribbon Accent Bag, oh my!

And the Striped Bag makes me want to grab my hook right now...

The Floral Pouch would be excellent to make for gifts...

And for the home, among all the cute blankets and rugs there's this gorgeous Pillow pattern...

Lastly how about these cosy Blossom Slippers now that the nights are getting cooler?

So now I need to teach myself how to properly read crochet charts (I am a little rusty) so I can get on and start ploughing through all these tempting patterns.

All pictures and patterns are from Pierrot Yarns and are copyright of Gosyo Co. Ltd, who kindly agreed to let me use them so I could share them with you :)  They also have a rather lovely online yarn shop, head over there if you dare!  My debit card is twitching in my purse already....eek.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Happy Hooker Backwards Project #35: Skullholders

The day before I went into hospital I had managed to whip up the next project in the Happy Hooker Backwards project.  I had been really keen but slightly apprehensive about this one so I was so happy to find the pattern a dream to do :)

Once I got the hang of switching colours I got to enjoy the simple nature of colourwork. Though I must admit the mess on the underside of this kind of crochet makes me very twitchy indeed!  It's just not neat, and I love neat.  If you are making colourwork things like these you can expect the back side of your work to look rather like this...


Terrifying isn't it?  But just try not to think about it because the other side looks like this...




Of course in order to properly show off these potholders I had to recreate the picture in the book itself, which meant I had to make a pie.  I used a recipe from one of the contestants in the first series of the wonderful Great British Bake Off.  Remember Ruth's beef pie from series one?  Well, no, neither did I until I looked it up.  The recipe is here and let me tell you it was yummy scrummy...

Mosaic - Skullholders

One beef pie served up in style with the new skullholders :)

And here's the project lowdown:

  • Cost - about £3 - I used less than a ball of each colour to make a pair. 
  • Yarn - Any double knit would do, but I used Patons Smoothie DK as I am slightly in love with its creamy smooth texture.
  • Hook - 4mm
  • Difficulty - Once you get the hang of the colour switching this is no more difficult that just crocheting a simple square of single stitches. 
  • Overall happiness with finished object - very pleased with this one.  Not only were they a pleasure to make, but they are also very tactile and cool to look at, plus they are super-useful! AND I had to make pie to show them off.  Total bonus.

  • By the way do you like my pie dish?  Pretty cool right?  More on that later this week! 

    Saturday, 8 October 2011

    Home is where the heart is

    Well they released me early for good behaviour. My intestines' good behaviour that is. IV steroids calmed things down, along with the cocktail of other drugs I am now on.  So I was well enough to come home and continue my treatment here, albeit with plenty of rest...yada yada.  I am not good at resting.

    But my goodness it is good to be home.

    This week has been a little life-altering.  I have had ulcerative colitis for a long time, I have taken various drugs and a lot of steroids for a long time.  I didn't expect to end up in hospital for a third time though and it has started me on a rollercoaster of thinking about the life I currently lead and the life I would prefer.  I am just so damn sick of being sick.  I am an angry coiled up ball of fury right now, liable to blow at any moment.

    So completely ignoring all the instructions to rest, and the protests of hubby, I headed straight for the new Cath Kidston shop at Bluewater this morning.  My logic for this excursion was that I bloody well deserved a treat...and I just wanted to get out of the damn house and into the world for an hour, then I promised I would have a hot bath and go to bed.

    The problem with feeling horribly sorry for yourself and being in a lovely shop full of gorgeously over-priced things is that you will end up spending money.  And spend money is what I did.  It felt pretty good.

    I came back with a modest but tasty haul of goodies...

    Lillia got the heart keyring that she fell in love with, and the sheep pencil because I fell in love with it.

    I treated myself to a rather pricey new purse.  Pricey but so worth it, so preeeeeetty...

    I will smile every time I go shopping now, even if I am buying drain cleaner.

    I also got a new underbed storage bag. It sounds trivial but I already have one of these for the girls' bedding which I keep under Phoebe's cot and it looks so pretty I am almost pleased at my lack of other useful storage.  Who needs to hide things in a practical airing cupboard when you can have a gorgeous flowery storage bag on display, eh?

    Because we were one of the first lot of customers I got a free reuseable bag too which was an unexpected bonus...

    A successful little trip, finished off nicely with a croissant and a cup of tea before heading home.  I am now in bed with my new best new Fujitsu laptop :)  A working laptop, release from hospital, a body full of drugs and a haul of CK goodies all in 24 hours...I need a lie down.

    I have lots to share with you of course.  Three days in hospital is a LOT of time with nothing but a bag of yarn to keep you occupied. But for now I shall leave you to drool jealously over my new goodies :)