Wednesday, 26 September 2018

WOYWW 486

Again, I’ve been very busy this week, so much so that I’ve only just managed to reply to most of your last week’s comments, for which I apologise! However, I did manage to get two or three hours in my studio last night, at long last, working on the boxes for the two copies of the Floral Mini-Album I made earlier in the year.

WOYWW 486 26-9-18

I have been keen to get back to my box project as soon as possible, and have been mugging up again on Youtube re its construction. I hate it when projects go off the boil but Youtube has fired me up again. This week I’ve ordered some hardware for boxes – feet, corners, clasps etc. but can’t get on until they arrive as I need to install them before being able to work on the mats and embellishments.

What I did last night was to start working on the inside of the two boxes – I’ve decided to make one for each of the albums. We are seeing our friend next month and I would like to have finished her box so we can take it with us, so that her copy of the album no longer needs to reside in a biscuit tin!

You can see what I’ve been up to in my previous post.

Crochet

I did manage to make some crochet leaves for my scarf while I was crashed out resting on Saturday. I just needed a day with my feet up and some TV and let everything else go hang for a few hours.

07 First Selection of Leaves 26-9-18

They look a bit messy because they need pressing, and they’ve also got tails on them which I am going to use to attach them to the scarf. I’ve got quite a few more to make and will probably use one or more different patterns for them.

Here is a mock-up with two different sized leaves with one of the flowers I made.

08 Mock-Up of Flower with Leaves

I have found a brilliant Youtube tutorial for the most realistic crochet peacock feathers I’ve yet seen, so I’ve written it out, and selected the colours I want from an online supplier and waiting for them to arrive – 4-ply cotton yarn. When I’ve finished the scarf, I am going to start another one with a gorgeous ball of yarn I bought for £1 in a charity shop a few months ago, and I thought I’d embellish it with peacock feathers. Watch this space.

Cooking

Another Erev Shabbat meal last Friday, for which I made the challah. I always volunteer to do this if we are able to attend – my little contribution!

Challah for Don's Erev Shabbat 21-9-18

This time, because I had to go out on the day I made it, there wasn’t quite sufficient time for the second prove, so they came out a bit smaller than usual and the texture was a little dense, but still delicious and everyone enjoyed it. Again, I divided the dough into three portions as this recipe makes two enormous ones, and there usually aren’t enough of us to consume it all! I have frozen the third one, and I’m going to take it to my friend’s Macmillan tea party on Saturday, raising funds for cancer.

My sourdough loaf this week:

43 Sourdough 23-9-18

I showed someone this photo at church on Sunday and he said that when I really perfect my sourdough technique (always striving for an ever more open crumb), there will just be a crust containing one enormous hole! Haha! Sourdough perfecting itself out of existence. Just how holey does it have to be to be perfect? This week, not quite as much oven spring as I’d like, but still perfectly acceptable, and a gorgeous flavour.

I made a huge pot of very thick vegetable soup this week (now in the freezer). For this I’d bought a butternut squash and a celeriac, both of which I cut in half and used for the soup, and chopped the second half of each to roast with some other veggies, in order to make a couple of quiches for the freezer. Unfortunately I forgot them and they got burnt. Grrrrrrrr. Mega annoyed with myself! I managed to salvage a very small quantity and these have been used chopped up in various other things (salad, sourdough pancakes). I shall have to try again another time.

I made more sourdough crackers on Sunday evening. I’d nearly run out of coconut oil so had to use olive oil as well – either will do but I love the delicate flavour of the coconut.

I made sourdough pancakes again on Sunday evening, too – again with kimchi which gives them a nice spicy kick. Some of my rescued roasted veggies went in too.

Finally, something that arrived with my grocery shopping this week: a relaxed carrot.

Relaxed Carrot 19-9-18

Kitties

Am I tempted to go out and play with my sister? Noooo… not really… too nice and warm indoors!

07 Not Tempted to Go Out and Play with Lily 25-9-18

As usual, Lily is rolling and showing everything… That kitty is soooo soft…

They’ve both been spending more time indoors since the weather has got colder, and Ruby’s latest favourite place is on my legs when I get my feet up on the recliner. She’s so nice and warm! I often have Lily as well, and then Ruby lies more on my feet which get really squashed, as she’s so heavy these days!

Health update

At last I’ve got my CT scan appointment – Thurs. 18th Oct. in the evening. I am more and more convinced that it will confirm my suspicions that my hernia has returned. I really have no doubt about it now. I am still awaiting the arrival of the first pair of support pants after the support garments lady visited me recently. I know my stoma supply company has got the prescription so it shouldn’t be too long now. If they fit OK, I can go ahead and order another two pairs but if not, the lady will have to come back for another fitting. Hopefully I’ll be set up soon because my current pairs offer very little support now, being well over a year old (I should have new ones every year) and also because I’ve lost weight since they were made.

Next week I’ve got a blood test appointment with the practice nurse (after going back on my rivaroxaban anticoagulant – they need to check my kidney function periodically, apparently) and on the same day I’m getting my eyes tested. I’m also having my stairlift serviced so it’s all go!

Other things

Another Torbay Friends of Israel meeting this Sunday, at which I am hoping to sing again, and my Bible study group is going well. Lots of preparation work to be done and I’ll have to fit in quite a few hours on that this coming week. I’ve also got a huge backlog of emails that need dealing with.

I really want some more studio time this week!!!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Box for Floral Mini-Album–Beginning to Work on the Insides

After not being able to spend time in my studio recently, this evening I managed a couple of hours, and made some progress with the construction of the two boxes. We are seeing our friend early next month and I would like to get her box finished by then, even if I don’t manage to finish mine, so that she can keep her copy of the album in it, rather than in the biscuit tin in which it currently resides!

This evening I cut the pieces for the second box, from mount board as before. I had already disassembled the mock-up box because it is going to be much easier to embellish the inside when it’s in bits, and I wasn’t happy with the way I’d assembled it, just using masking tape.

I have painted the insides of each piece with black acrylic paint, using a foam brush. I laid them out on newspaper on my studio floor to dry.

08 Box Pieces Painted

While they were drying, I started work on some decorations for the inside of the boxes.

A while back, my friend gave me some lovely table napkins that she’d picked up in a restaurant she’d visited, and thought I might be able to use them.

09 Musical Table Napkins

They are rather thick, and not made in layers like most table napkins, so I couldn’t separate them. I decided to tear out the borders.

10 Pieces Torn from Musical Table Napkins

I also tore out the little pianos.

I inked the strips with Worn Lipstick and Dusty Concord Distress stains, spritzing the ink on my craft sheet and dabbing with a big soft brush, and then spritzing the strips to blend the colours a bit better, and then drying them with my heat gun.

11 Inking the Pieces from Table Napkins

12 Inked Pieces from Table Napkins

I am intending to tear them into shorter, random lengths and stick them down onto the black painted mount board pieces after I’ve decorated these with Distress Oxides – I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that yet but it may be a combination of applying the Distress Oxides with a blending pad and spritzing, and some stamping. I want the whole effect to be fairly subtle.

I have ordered some metal hardware from Ebay, for embellishing the outside of the boxes – corners, clasps, handles and feet, which I hope will give the boxes a nice professional finish.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

WOYWW 485

I’m sorry I didn’t make it to our weekly round-the-desks nosey fest last week – I fully intended to, but in the end was too busy with other things.

Great news this week – I’ve spent some time in the studio!

First of all, a general view, showing how much tidier it is, after I spent quite a long time tidying up, putting things away, and putting some things aside that I no longer want.

WOYWW 485 Studio a Lot Tidier

The white unit in the foreground is one of my pull-out units. This one belongs under the main desk, but it’s never in there because that’s where I generally sit. You can see another one under the fan. They are on casters and can pull out, giving me a place to sit and an extra work surface. When the builder was making my studio, I asked him to make me several of these, to go in the different zones where I can sit to work. I can only sit in one place at a time and it seemed a shame to waste the space, and they can be pulled out when required. If I want a large flat surface, I can pull them all out and put them together.

There’s still quite a lot of tidying and sorting to do, but at least I can move around in there now.

Here’s my desk, taken last night.

WOYWW 485 2 Backgrounds

I’ve done two more backgrounds for the box for the album about Mum, 12 x 12’s from the ghastly paper stack I’ve had hanging around for years. These two identical ones were done with a combination of Distress Inks, Distress Oxides and Infusions. I don’t think I’ve got quite as much coverage as I did when altering smaller pieces for the album itself so I may add a bit more to these. I think I’ve probably done enough pieces to cover the outside of two boxes now. I am keen to get this project finished because I am full of ideas for things I want to be doing, and having gone off the boil with this one for a while, it’s a bit of a duty rather than a pleasure to get it done, but I am trying to be good and get it out of the way before I tackle anything else (such as getting down to some of my other UFOs!).

I’ve done a bit more on the scarf embellishments. I think I’ve crocheted enough flowers now, and have started on the leaves. No photos yet as I’ve only done one so far! Not much time this week to pursue this.

Cooking

Dried Apples

Last week, I sliced up a lot of our apples and tried drying them in the oven at 50 deg. C over a long period. I wasn’t sure how successful this would be. To start with, a huge amount of moisture came out of them and I could see it running down inside the oven door! I opened the door and mopped up quite a bit, and left it open a crack for about half an hour till it was cleared, then shut it again and kept it going. I turned the oven off overnight and gave it another boost the next day.

I had sprinkled ground cinnamon over them, and the kitchen smelt absolutely marvellous.

01 Drying Apples 1 12-9-18

Here are the apples as I was turning them over.

02 Drying Apples 2 - Turning Over 12-9-18

Here they are in a box. Some of them got a bit over-done but it doesn’t seem to have affected them apart from looking very dark.

03 Delicious Dried Apples 18-9-18

We’ve already made inroads into them. They don’t look particularly appetising – more like dried up old mushrooms! – but they are absolutely delicious – chewy, very sweet and flavoursome, and extremely more-ish!

Sourdough

Two more successful batches on successive weekends. Here is the last one, baked on Saturday night and cut on Sunday morning.

40 Sourdough with Whole Wheat 16-9-18

Look at that lovely open crumb! This is what we are after with traditional sourdough. Nice glossy holes.

41 Sourdough with Whole Wheat Cut 16-9-18

It is so delicious. This loaf was made with half-and-half whole wheat and white flour. I’ve more or less given up on the rye flour now, apart from feeding Esmeralda (my starter) with it – she seems to like it! It tends to make the dough extremely wet and sticky, and difficult to handle. My dough-handling technique has improved a lot and I’m getting a good structure and a decent amount of oven spring now, and producing pretty consistent results week by week – no more flying saucers lately!

When you feed the starter you have to take some out or it becomes spent and stale and stops working, as the yeasts have eaten what they need. Some people throw this excess starter away but this seems an awful waste of excellent nutritious food to me. I discovered some recipes online, including a truly fabulous one for sourdough crackers, which I am now making on a regular basis. Here is last week’s batch.

42 Sourdough Crackers 18-9-18

They are quite quick and easy to make, and so crisp and delicious. These are made with rye flour because that’s what I feed Esmeralda with. They are a lot more satisfying than regular crackers, and are great with the kefir cheese that I make. There is no sugar in them, just flour, salt and water and a dash of baking soda, and coconut oil (a healthy saturated fat). I have found the secret for making successful sourdough crackers is to roll the dough out very thinly so they get really crisp. Yummy!

This week I also made a fresh batch of curries for the freezer, having run out a while back – Madras curry, chicken korma, and curried vegetables, all frozen in small portions so we can have our own “takeaway” selection when we want!

This week I must make more soup, and some roasted vegetable quiches if I have the time and energy.

Kitties

Lily and Ruby aren’t quite so keen on going out in the garden these days, since the weather went off. Ruby always gets very dirty feet! Hope you can see them in this photo! That front paw is supposed to be white…

03 Ruby's Dirty Feet 6-9-18

They have really settled down now they are grown up, and now that it’s cooler, they love to spend time with us in the evenings, sitting with us. We have both been looking forward so much to this – up until fairly recently they were still such babies and our sitting room isn’t really kitten-proof. Now, they have the run of the place and can (mostly) be trusted!

When I am busy preparing meals etc., they settle down with my hubby, and like Beatrice and Phoebe before them, tend to sit one on each knee.

05 Two Kitties on Daddy's Legs 16-9-18

However, when I finally sit down, they prefer to come to me, because on the recliner with a nice soft blanket (not just for warmth for me but to protect myself a bit from their claws), they can get a lot more comfortable and can cuddle up together, and are less likely to fall off.

06 Two Kitties on My Legs 16-9-18

This picture was taken later that same evening. I hate having to tip them off when I need to get up! Ruby is usually nearer my feet, and if she lies on them, she is soooo heavy and my feet get very uncomfortable! (Note the wet patch just behind Lily’s left ear – well washed by Ruby!)

A couple of evenings ago my hubby was trying to get them in for supper and they were both making a terrific noise outside, rushing around and obviously very interested in something behind the pots in the patio. We went out to look, and there was a toad there! They will need to be a lot quieter and more restrained if they are ever going to make successful hunters – the racket they were making would have scared any prey off well in advance of the onslaught! Happily the toad lived to croak another day and the kitties eventually came in for a more civilised meal.

Health Update

I have now seen the support garments lady and she’s measured me up for new pants – I’ve gone down a size since the last prescription over 18 months ago because I’ve lost weight. My current ones have lost a lot of their stretch and supportiveness so they probably aren’t doing much good. You are supposed to have new ones every year but I didn’t arrange it at the beginning of the year because I knew I was due for surgery and you can’t wear them for several weeks afterwards, and also I didn’t know if I would change shape during that time, so a new prescription is long overdue. I am now awaiting the arrival of the first pair and if they are OK, they will make up two more for me to make the total of three that I am allowed in one year. They are extremely expensive (bespoke, specially designed for people with stomas) at around £80 a pair, but the cost of three pairs is nothing compared with the cost of a hernia repair operation. Thanks to our wonderful NHS, I get them on prescription, free of charge.

I am pretty convinced now that my hernia has returned. I still haven’t had my CT scan appointment and the support garments lady said she would ask the stoma nurse to chase this up for me. Everything takes soooo long…

Apart from that, I’ve been OK, although extremely tired during the week after the conference. Going back on my rivaroxaban (anti-coagulant) soon sorted out the thrombophlebitis in my leg and I’ve had no more pain, which is a relief.

Other Activities

Last week I resumed my little Bible study group again after a long break. I stopped it after my hubby broke his leg and Mum died, and then I was so ill earlier in the year, and after I had recovered, I had a lot of catching up to do, so we decided to leave it till the autumn to start again. It’s so nice to be getting together again and we have a new member, too, which is very encouraging. I need to spend quite a bit of time during the week preparing for these meetings, and designing the visual aids which I show by connecting the computer to the TV by cable.

After the recent conference, our local Torbay Friends of Israel group has now started having regular evening meetings at the same conference centre (which is only about 5 mins away from us by car) and we had our first meeting on Sunday. I was too tired to sing for them but will no doubt do so at future meetings. We have another Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) meal coming up this Friday (the leader does one each month) and on Thursday I shall be making the challah for that (the two plaited loaves made from enriched, sweet dough – delicious!).  It’s very nice to be able to do something to contribute to the meal. Our leader is a full-time wheelchair user and he does the whole thing himself, cooking a lovely chicken casserole (other people provide the puddings) and lays up a beautiful table each time. Usually about a dozen of us attend and it’s a very special evening. I sometimes sing during those evenings too.

Yesterday afternoon I was back at the conference centre, spending the afternoon with a friend who is down from Bournemouth for a conference – we always try to get together when she’s down and has a free afternoon. We had such a great time! I only see her about twice a year so we make the most of it.

So all in all, it’s been a very busy fortnight chez-Shosh.

Friday, 7 September 2018

More Fermented Foods, and New Cheese Maker

Kombucha

Today I was busy as usual on a Friday with my kombucha, brewing a new batch.

10 Making Kombucha 7-9-18

On the left is my large gallon jar ready for the next batch. Beside it, in the smaller bowl, is the scoby resting in some kombucha. (Scoby = “Symbiotic Colony [or Culture] Of Bacteria and Yeasts.”) I was pleased today to discover that the scoby has grown sufficiently to be separated. On its underside was the original small disc of scoby that I bought on Ebay, and I was able to pull it away from its larger “baby” and I can now pass this on to my friend, who wants to start making kombucha. For now, it’s gone back in the jar with its mother, until my friend is able to come over.

In the larger bowl, I have just strained last week’s batch of kombucha, and behind that bowl you can see the bottles lined up, ready for me to decant the kombucha. This time I have decided not to do the second fermentation because much as I like it, I think I prefer the raw kombucha. Both are extremely good for you. I drink it as it is, and it’s also one of the ingredients in the 6-ingredient rehydration drink that I make every day (having an ileostomy I have to guard against the very real danger of dehydration). This delicious drink is made with fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, Himalayan pink rock salt, coconut water and kombucha, topped up to a litre with filtered water. I make it every evening and put the bottle in the fridge overnight so it’s ready for the morning.

Behind the smaller bowl is a jar of honey that someone gave my hubby today, from their own bees. I am looking forward to sampling that! I adore honey, and all the more so if it’s locally produced. You can also see the red ring binder which is my personal recipe book. The six bottles are now filled and in the fridge, and the large jar is back in the airing cupboard, complete with both scobys, fermenting for another week.

The kombucha is going very well, and apart from a bit of time spent on it once a week, it is very little bother to make, and it is happy to be left alone to do its stuff for the rest of the week.

Kefir Cheese

Today I was very pleased that both my parcels arrived from Amazon, sooner than I expected. In the first was another four Mason jars, this time with wide mouths (I bought narrow mouths last time by mistake, but it doesn’t matter because I can still use them). The second parcel contained my new kefir cheese maker. I had spotted this online several weeks ago and thought it looked really good but I wasn’t sure I could justify what I considered to be rather a high price tag for something which is fairly basic and doesn’t involve electricity. In the end, however, I decided it probably was worth getting, because making the cheese with a muslin cloth in a sieve over a bowl isn’t very satisfactory. Because the handle of the sieve sticks out, there isn’t room for it in the fridge, and it takes hours to drain, which means it is out at room temperature for too long.

Here is the new cheese maker.

11 Kefirko Cheese Maker 7-9-18

It comes complete with a small instruction manual, and a little recipe book. These are obviously translated from another language because at times the English is a little eccentric, but perfectly comprehensible!

It consists of a glass jar with a green plastic collar which screws on. Into this goes a very fine plastic mesh container, and a clear plastic lid to cover it. Just behind the plastic lid in the picture is a small rubber lid and a spring. These are for if you want to make firmer cheese.

To use it, you pour the kefir into the top, screw the lid on and put it in the fridge for about 24 hours, during which time the whey drips through into the glass jar, eventually leaving thick kefir “cheese” in the mesh container. You tip this out and can either eat the cheese as-is, or add flavourings.

To make harder cheese, once it is drained so that it is firm enough, you put the rubber lid on top, and then the spring, and then screw down the main lid which compresses the spring and forces the rubber lid down onto the cheese, squeezing out more whey.

The whey is extremely nutritious and can be used in many different recipes.

The cheese maker is very well made and quite substantial – a lot better than I thought it would be, so I don’t mind quite so much about the price! It is now in the fridge with the first batch draining.

The recipe book has recipes for all sorts of cheese, including some not made with kefir. You can even make coffee and tea in it, but I shan’t be doing that – apart from anything else, I don’t want the mesh container to get stained.

Fermented cucumbers

I bought two cucumbers yesterday, and today our neighbour came round with some of her home-grown ones, and I said I would ferment some for her.

04 Fermented Cucumbers, Salt and Glass Discs 7-9-18

In the photo you can see both sorts of Mason jars that I bought – one of the narrow-necked ones on the left, now filled with Himalayan pink rock salt. The wide-necked ones have the cucumbers in them, the one on the left being my neighbour’s home-grown cucumbers which are quite pale yellowy-green in colour, and the one on the right, the ordinary cucumbers that I bought. Both are in brine made with filtered water and the Himalayan rock salt, with dill and sliced garlic. In front of the jars you can see two of my glass discs. The fermented cucumber jars each have one in them. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and it’s important to keep the vegetables under the surface of the brine or they will go mouldy. These glass discs which fit the wide-necked Mason jars are ideal for this purpose, but you can use a ziplock bag part-filled with brine and with the air squeezed out to keep the vegetables submerged.

My cucumbers are now on the floor of the pantry, and they should be ready to sample in four or five days. I have to remember to burp the jars twice daily or they might explode. A couple of weeks ago I got a roll of black labelling material with a mat surface that you can write on with a chalk pen, for labelling my various ferments. I haven’t used it yet. I am hoping this will cut nicely on my cutting machine so I can cut my own fancy labels from it. This stuff is apparently peelable which will make life easier.

I recycle all the instant coffee jars that I buy for my hubby – these jars have nice glass lids with a rubber seal, that are designed to be recycled for other uses, and these are all on the shelves in my pantry. I designed labels for them on the computer and they look very pretty.

50 Labelled Jars

I think the black, semi-permanent ones will contrast nicely with these. The large Mason jars will have to go on the floor because all the shelves are full now!

Every evening I go into the kitchen and deal with what my hubby calls my “liquids” – said in a dark tone of voice which implies that they are something concocted in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory!! I suppose it’s all quite a bit of work, making fresh kefir every night, and sorting my rehydration drink for the next day, and burping my various jars so we don’t have major explosions, but I’ve got into a routine with it all now and it doesn’t seem too much hardship. I am loving the results, and I am feeling a lot better health-wise than I’ve felt for ages, apart from the possible return of my parastomal hernia (still waiting for a CT scan appointment to determine that), and  recent thrombophlebitis in my leg, which has now improved greatly, since going back on my rivaroxaban (anticoagulant).

The next thing I am going to experiment with is sauerkraut but I shall leave that for a week or two.

Tonight I began the next batch of sourdough which I shall make tomorrow.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

WOYWW 483

It’s been a busy week for me again this week, at the conference all weekend. At least the venue is only 5 mins away by car and my hubby was happy to drop me over, and he joined us for a couple of meals. It all went very well and everyone seemed to like my singing, which I was pleased about. It was lovely to meet up with friends old and new, and I met some very interesting people. We had some fascinating talks, including one by a missionary couple from Brazil – he explained that his parents had met and fallen in love and married without knowing some crucial facts about each other – that he was a Nazi and she was a Jew! As you can imagine, he had a rather confusing time growing up in that household.

Not much more progress made on the current UFO – I made a couple more flowers and that’s about it!

06 Small Flowers 5-9-18

Cooking

This week’s bread: challah for the conference, and more sourdough.

Sourdough and Challah 30-8-18

37 Sourdough with Whole Wheat and Rye Cut 30-8-18

This time I made the sourdough with half white bread flour and a quarter each whole wheat and whole rye. I do like the flavour of the rye but it seems to make the dough more difficult to handle. It worked pretty well but I don’t think it’s risen quite as much as the previous loaf. It tastes pretty good, though! Unfortunately it cracked a bit on top and I’m not sure why that should have happened.

Yesterday morning, being confronted with a huge amount of apple that my hubby had peeled and chopped, I made a big pot of apple chutney which will probably keep us going for months! The recipe says to leave it for 6 weeks to mature but I’ve had a little taste and it tastes fine. Later on it will probably be more blended. I didn’t have enough of most of the ingredients in the recipe so I adapted it and just bunged in a whole lot of extra stuff!

Apple Chutney 5-9-18

There was also another tall narrow pot but I gave this to my friend who spent yesterday afternoon with me. I didn’t have quite enough to fill the jar at the front.

Kitties

Perfect symmetry?

08 Perfect Symmetry 30-8-18

Last night we lost Ruby. We thought she might have got out when my friend was leaving but we called in the garden and my hubby went out with a torch, but couldn’t find her. We searched high and low in the house and there was no sign. Lily seemed to be a bit twitched, not knowing where her sister was. I was looking again in the bedroom and my hubby called me, and there she was, without a care in the world, sitting on the stairs! We haven’t a clue where she’d got to.

It reminded me of the time when Dad was in his dementia home, and he’d lost his glasses (he used to lose things for a pastime) and my hubby and the staff looked everywhere, to no avail. Eventually my hubby managed to find his spare pair amongst some of his other stuff we had here at home, and took them in, only to find Dad sitting as happy as Larry, wearing the lost pair! When my hubby asked him about them, he not only couldn’t tell him where he’d found them, but couldn’t even remember losing them in the first place! We had a good laugh about that. Dad took it all in very good part and just went on in his usual confused way!

Health Update

When I saw my surgeon over a fortnight ago he said I was to go back on the rivaroxaban again (anticoagulant). I’d been on it for a while after one of my routine oncology CT scans revealed numerous small pulmonary emboli, but I stopped it after my operation in March, and after I finished the course of post-op fragmin injections (shorter-acting anticoagulant), I wasn’t on anything. I’d asked the GP about it and she said she’d heard from my surgeon that I wasn’t to go back on the rivaroxaban until he’d seen me, but of course that appointment was a lot longer coming than I’d hoped, so the months were going by and I was getting a bit concerned. When I saw him he just said I should start them again – why he couldn’t just have said that to the GP I don’t know, because he didn’t seem to need to discuss it with me. Anyway, after that, again I didn’t hear anything so we checked at the pharmacy to see if a prescription had come up, which it hadn’t, so I phoned the surgery and arranged a telephone appointment with the GP that happened on Monday. She immediately agreed to deal with it and the prescription was ready for collection first thing on Tuesday, which was great. I’ve got to make an appointment with the practice nurse in a fortnight’s time to have my kidney function checked now I’m back on them again.

It was good that I was able to speak to the GP because over the weekend something else came up. I think it was because I was sitting for so long at the conference but not with my feet up. I have a varicose vein on my left leg and on Sunday evening after the end of the conference I noticed I had a small tender lump near my ankle, and on Monday I had two more up my leg, and it has become very painful when I stand on it. I told the GP that I was worried I might have a thrombosis and told her about the varicose vein, and the fact I’d been pretty immobile for a few days. She said that a DVT would produce generalised swelling of the leg and not small local lumps, and that this was thrombophlebitis. Going back on the rivaroxaban should solve the problem pretty quickly, but if I was concerned, I should come to the surgery and get it looked at. She said that because it was superficial, there wasn’t nearly as high a risk as with a DVT and that they usually disappeared on their own, so I was reassured. Sitting with my legs up, I’m not really aware of it but it hurts like crazy as soon as I put my feet down and stand up! Always something, isn’t there…

As the days go on, I am more and more convinced that my hernia has returned. I still haven’t got a CT scan appointment… I’m keeping a close eye on things and hoping I don’t get another obstruction.

I’m hoping that the next few days will be relatively quiet so that I can rest a bit after being so busy lately. One day I might even get into my studio (if I can actually clamber over all the junk in there) and tidy up and maybe even do something creative in there!

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

WOYWW 482

Better late than never… It’s been rather a busy day and I’ve only just had the chance to get this post sorted.

Here’s my studio today.

WOYWW 482

Chaos reigns eternal. No change, except a bit more mess. I did manage to tidy up my wools a bit, though, over on the other side.

I’ve been busy again with the embellishments for my scarf. I finished the butterflies and have started making some crochet flowers. I shall just keep going until I think I’ve got enough! They are fairly quick to do, and relaxing while watching TV.

05 Butterflies and Flowers 29-8-18

I’m glad I made a mistake with one of the butterflies and only did 6 “petals” instead of 8 – when folded over to create the butterfly, it makes a slightly smaller one, of a different shape. Serendipity, and nothing like a bit of variety! The larger flowers are done in several layers, and are quite 3-d.

Kitties

The kitties had their annual kitty MOT this week, and the first of the annual boosters of their inoculations. They were so good! They didn’t make a sound, either when the needle went in, or when they suffered the indignity of having a thermometer shoved up their bums. They looked slightly anxious but the lovely young Polish vet was so gentle with them, and she spoke to them softly, and gave each one a stroke after it was all done. They have gained so much weight since last year – last August, Lily weighed 1.33 kilos and she now weighs 3.3 kilos so that’s a gain of a whole kilo! Ruby was 1.23 kilos last year, and is now 3.6 kilos so she’s gained even more. She remains the heavier of the two, and is pretty solid! The vet said their weights were healthy and they shouldn’t gain any more without being overweight. They are eating well, and getting plenty of exercise running around the garden.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!

07 Here's Lookin' at You Kid

Kitty chorus – feeding time at the zoo!

Health Update

I still haven’t got an appointment for my CT scan to see if I really have developed another hernia (I’m pretty sure I have), but the support garments lady is coming to see me on 11th September for a fitting, which is progress.

The man from the company that supplied the power assist system for my wheelchair was down in our area yesterday and serviced my wheelchair for me. Good to go for another year.

Sourdough

Last weekend I made my best sourdough bread ever! I am following a particular Youtube video and this really seems to work.

34 VG Sourdough with Whole Wheat 26-8-18

35 VG Sourdough with Whole Wheat Sliced 26-8-18

Fantastic crumb this time – look at all those lovely traditional sourdough holes!

I made this loaf with half-and-half white and whole wheat flour instead of using wholemeal rye. I’m not sure if the improvement was due to this, or my improving dough-handling skills.

I have just started another batch, and this time I’ve divided the wholemeal half into half-and-half wheat and rye, to see how that goes. I do like the flavour of the rye.

Busy weekend ahead

This week, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, I am attending a Christian conference, non-resident, as the place is just up the road from us. I have been asked to sing and I received the list today – they want a lovely lot of songs, including a few from my repertoire which I haven’t sung for ages. I had a long practice session this afternoon and they are still a bit rough round the edges, but I may have another go this evening, and will certainly set aside some time tomorrow for further practice, and I think they will be OK. My friend is also singing, which is great. I’ve booked in for all the meals except breakfast, and my hubby is joining me for the first and last meals. It will also be a lovely opportunity to meet up with several old friends.

I have also been asked to bake the challah bread for the Friday evening meal, so I’m going to do that tomorrow as well, and work on my sourdough throughout the day. The sourdough doesn’t need a lot of work, but it needs quite a bit of attention – several folding sessions at two-hourly intervals etc. so it’s fairly time-consuming in that I have to be here, tied to the kitchen timer! There should be a nice baking smell in the house tomorrow.

Fermentation

My kombucha is going very well indeed. This time I set aside 6 bottles for second fermentation, with raspberry puree, which is delicious. The Scoby (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeasts) – the “dead jellyfish” that you use as a starter, has grown a lot and it’s doing a fantastic job. This fermented tea is so delicious, and has so many health benefits. I start a new batch on Fridays, and start the second fermentation of the previous batch at the same time – this is ready in three days.

I have also made a small jar of fermented dill cucumbers just to see how they worked. After three or four days on the kitchen counter, they are sensational. Definitely something to do again. Absolutely no effort required – I just cut up the cucumbers into strips, stuck them in a jar with some dill and chopped garlic, and topped the whole thing up with brine, covered it and left it to its own devices. I just had to “burp” the jar morning and evening to let the CO2 escape. It’s now in the fridge, but I don’t think it will be there for long!

The other day my hubby saw me at work in the kitchen and asked, “Are you working on your liquids?” – not drinks, haha! He said this in a rather dark tone of voice as if he was suggesting that they were the product of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.

Other food

My hubby has started bringing in fast quantities of apples from our tree. His brother was over today and he confirmed that they are Bramleys – we didn’t know what variety they were. They are very good apples. My hubby peels and slices them for me, and then it’s up to me to do something with them. This year I’m determined to be a bit more adventurous than just stewing them. I’ve already fermented some, but my hubby doesn’t like those much. I am going to make more apple butter in the slow cooker this year, and I’m going to attempt to dry some. I don’t have a dehydrator but understand you can get good results using the oven on its lowest setting. I’m not going to have much time to attend to this for a few days, though.

I haven’t done much other stuff in the kitchen as my recent cooking days have yielded lots of freezer fodder and we’ve been noshing on that. I’m making a salad for tonight, including a sweet potato salad that I made this morning with fresh herbs from the garden, and a mixture of mayonnaise and home-made yoghurt (now being made from an heirloom culture I got online – fabulous). Once my bought mayonnaise is all used up, I’m not buying any more. My friend who got me started on fermentation gave me a recipe for her fabulous mayonnaise made from kefir, and that’s definitely the way to go. I saw a Youtube video last week where the woman said, “Read the labels on the back of foods in the supermarket. If you can’t pronounce any of the ingredients, don’t buy it!” Lol!

Have a great week, everyone.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Best Sourdough Bread Yet

Last night I completed my best sourdough loaf to date. I had had endless problems getting it right. I am grateful for Trevor J. Wilson for his brilliant Youtube video on how to get an open crumb from a stiff dough (low hydration) and after 4 or 5 attempts at this (I’ve lost count!) I finally got it right last night.

Part of the problem I had before this may have been due to the rye flour I was using in combination with my normal white bread flour. I decided to replace this with whole wheat bread flour and it was certainly better. However, I also think it was something to do with my improving dough handling skills.

With the rye, the dough was soooo sticky, and whenever it was left to rest, it spread dramatically, so that I thought if I left it much longer, it would walk out the door.

Anyway, here’s last night’s effort:

34 VG Sourdough with Whole Wheat 26-8-18

35 VG Sourdough with Whole Wheat Sliced 26-8-18

I am thrilled with the lovely open crumb. The flavour is fabulous, too.

My only complaint (I’m such a perfectionist!) is that there wasn’t quite enough oven spring. Next time I’m going to pre-heat my Dutch oven for an hour rather than half an hour and see if this helps.

Just for the record, here are my previous efforts.

My first effort, back on 19th June.

02 Sourdough Bread 19-6-18

Not a very open crumb, but not bad for all that. Good flavour. After this, my starter began to fail because I hadn’t been feeding it correctly, and I had to start again.

This pathetic offering was a result of using a moribund starter – 9th July.

06 Failed Sourdough Bread July 18

15th July. Not much oven spring.

20 Sliced Sourdough 15-7-18

21st July. Again. Pretty flat, and not very open crumb.

22 Sourdough Cut 21-7-18

29th July. Getting better.

24 Successful Sourdough Cut 29-7-18

This was the first one I made with Trevor’s method, on 12th August. It came out very well.

28 First Really Good Sourdough Loaf 12-8-18

30 First Really Good Sourdough Loaf Cut 12-8-18

I wasn’t quite happy with the crumb, so decided to experiment, increasing the hydration. This was a big mistake.

The first time it spread out completely flat. I scraped it all up and threw it away, and tried again the next day, and the same thing happened, but I was reluctant to waste yet more good food, so decided to add the sourdough starter crackers ingredients and try and rescue it as biscuits, but it started to rise, so I thought I might as well bake it as bread, and this was the result – 20th August.

32 Sourdough Revamped from Cracker Recipe Cut

Pretty dense, but definitely edible! A rather curious sourdough loaf with the addition of coconut oil and baking soda, but at least it didn’t end up in the bin. The top was horrendous because it was well and truly stuck on the lining I’d put in the bowl.

I decided to go back to Trevor’s original hydration of 65%. Something went wrong – it was still terribly sticky and difficult to handle, and then, when I took it out of the oven, it was completely stuck onto the bottom of the Dutch oven, and I had a terrible job the next day, to prise it out, using my flexible metal spatula. It was a bit overdone, but it tasted OK. 21st August.

33 Sourdough Stuck in Casserole 21-8-18

That brings us up to the latest one, made on Saturday 25th August, with the 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat flours.

34 VG Sourdough with Whole Wheat 26-8-18

Definitely a success.

I now need to find out if I can still use Trevor’s method and then divide the dough so I can make two small loaves. If not, then I can no longer use the small bannetons I bought, which will be a shame. I haven’t got a big one, and the loaves made with Trevor’s method were all given their final proving in a bowl.

I have also had awful problems with the dough sticking in the bowl/banneton, and the top being ruined. I’ve tried with and without a liner, with the same result. It seemed impossible to get the flour to stick on the sides of the bowl/banneton. This last one was better, though. I lightly spritzed the bowl with water and sprinkled semolina all over it (found out online that semolina is pretty good because it’s gluten-free, and it’s the gluten in normal wheat flour that turns to glue and you can’t get the bread out). I did this in advance, and then just before putting the dough in, sprinkled it again with more semolina. My hubby went out and bought me some rice flour and I am going to use that next time – even better, I’ve been led to understand, and a better colour too – white, so should make better patterns. If I can’t divide the dough without spoiling the structure, I am going to have to try and get a bigger banneton if I want the nice spiral ridges so characteristic of traditional sourdough.

If I can get just a little more oven spring, I shall be well satisfied. I’m definitely getting there now, though, and it’s thanks to Trevor and his brilliant method.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Some Thoughts on Creativity

While browsing Youtube the other day, I stumbled across a first-class video on the subject of creativity. It was a talk presented by Tina Seelig, of Stanford University’s School of Engineering. The talk, entitled “Six Characteristics of Truly Creative People,” was primarily directed at companies and organisations but could equally well be applied to individuals. She has written a book on the subject, in which she came up with an intriguing diagram which she calls the “Innovation Engine” – a sort of Moebius strip of interlocking characteristics, all of which are essential if one is to be truly creative.

The Innovation Engine

The aspects on the inner part are all things found within ourselves – imagination, attitude and knowledge. To feed our imagination (which is the basis of all creativity), we need the right attitude, and we need knowledge to formulate our ideas and put them into practice. On the outer part are aspects impinging on us from outside of ourselves – our culture, habitat and resources. We are all influenced by the culture in which we grew up, and the environment which surrounds us can either fire our creative imagination or put it to death. Resources are so much more than money – they include all the things we have, and sometimes it’s really good not to have much money, because one is forced to use the limited resources at one’s disposal. In the video, she got some of her students to create something from their rubbish bins, and they came up with some surprising results. Could we, as artists and crafters, do likewise? I know I have often used rubbish, such as chicken packaging, in my art, and I like to challenge myself with the question, “Could I make art out of this?” – whatever it is, and my hubby usually answers with a resounding “No!” which I immediately take as a challenge to prove him wrong!

All the characteristics on the Innovation Engine are important, and depend on each other. It is arranged so that parallel items are related, for example Culture and Attitude. Relating Habitat and Imagination, Tina Seelig showed a typical kindergarten environment, with a very fluid layout – brightly coloured moveable furniture, with easy access to all sorts of colourful and stimulating equipment. Moving on to your average school, there were desks in rows, and this progressed to the regimented cubicles that so many people are forced to work in for their employment. Contrasted with this were the work environments of Google and other innovative companies, with all sorts of fun and stimulating surroundings, and comfortable furniture laid out in such a way as to encourage people to sit and chat and brainstorm together. Such companies encourage their employees to take time out and rest – take a nap, and the ideas will come! So often good ideas come to us in dreams. In this way, one’s habitat can fire one’s imagination rather than crippling it.

This sort of thing got me thinking about our education system in general. I’ve thought about this a great deal in recent years, especially after I started Zentangle, which is a drawing method that I originally liked to describe as “drawing for people who can’t draw” – until I thought about it a bit, and re-phrased it “Drawing for people who think they can’t draw.” All pre-school children draw. They all dance and sing, however “badly,” according to educated adult standards! Little children are naturally creative, and have well-developed imaginations. As soon as they start school beyond nursery and kindergarten, the system begins to develop the left brain, which is involved with reasoning and logic, and facts. Right-brain activities such as music and the arts are generally looked down upon and not considered such valuable skills because it’s the “Three Rs” that enable people to pass exams and get jobs. The emphasis is always on getting qualifications – bits of paper that say that you know how to come up with the “right” answers. Music and art are fine for hobbies, but “get a real job.” In these days of limited financial resources, a lot of music in schools is now extra-curricular with teachers not being on the payroll but self-employed, and schools in impoverished areas often have very little musical education at all and no facilities – I saw a horrifying programme on TV a few years ago where the poor music teacher in one inner-city school had no musical instruments for the children except yogurt pots that they could bash with sticks. OK, she was thrown back on her resources and had to make do in as creative a way as she could (one of the points Tina was making in her talk) but it was a graphic example of the lack of importance that the powers that be, in our culture, put on creative imagination. A young orchestral conductor went in and provided instruments, and opened up a whole new world for those children, some of whom had never even heard classical music before.

If we don’t educate the whole person, where are the future ideas going to come from, that enrich the lives of us all? We NEED creative people in industry, science, medicine, and every profession. Apart from that, education is supposed to be about producing fully-rounded individuals who can make the best of themselves and live fulfilled lives for the benefit of themselves and others. How else are our communities and the wider nation supposed to improve themselves if people are not encouraged to have the skills that come from a creative imagination?

Tina says we are often far too limited in our solutions to problems, and our education system encourages this by training us to find “the right answer,” when it would be far more creative to pose the questions in a different way, so that there is no one single “right answer” but many ways to answer the question, in a way that encourages us to use our creative imagination.

I love this “thinking outside the box” approach. In my art, I like to experiment with different materials just to see what happens. Not always having the “right” equipment or materials to achieve the results I want, I have to improvise. This is often a lot more fun than just opening a pack of this, or a tube of that, or the exact colour from the complete range – having to work a bit harder at it, one is learning all the time, and gaining far more satisfaction in the long run. Another example of this is thinking beyond the normal art suppliers who usually charge a high price for their products, and looking elsewhere – I use decorating and DIY materials and often raid the cake decorating aisles for equipment. I also use a lot of tools that I inherited from Dad, which were more to do with his interests than mine, but all so useful!

Cooking can be a bit like this too. Where is the satisfaction in simply slavishly following a recipe, and perhaps not even attempting a recipe in the first place because one hasn’t got all the exact ingredients? Substituting these for what one actually does have, one can end up with new and exciting flavours. I use tools and implements for the “wrong” purpose too – one of my favourite kitchen tools is a butter curler. I never curl butter, but it’s brilliant for scraping seeds from melons and squashes. My strawberry huller is in constant use for cutting out the ends of kiwi fruits, and I use my grapefruit knife for removing the flesh from melons. Taking risks is half the fun in all creative endeavours, and often leads to exciting and unexpected results.

Making mistakes. Failure. Doing it wrong. These words are so limiting, and encourage people to give up, and also make us fearful to try anything new. Instead, Tina says we should look on the failures as part of the learning process, to add what doesn’t work to our arsenal of knowledge and experience, and to build on them. I have often made what I initially thought was “a right mess” but before throwing it in the bin in disgust, have made myself think about it in a different way, and build on it, and in the end, have been much more pleased with the result than I would have been, had it “worked” in the first place.

I think truly creative people are rule-breakers, rebels. I know I’m a rebel. I have my own ideas about how to do things, and don’t like people telling me what to do!! Perhaps this is why I am constantly glad that I never had the opportunity to go to art school. I remember I had a friend when I was young, who had recently come out of art school. She was always a rebel and a highly creative person, and she had had to fight hard in order to be allowed to follow her chosen specialty at college – embroidery. In those days, this was looked down upon as the pursuit of little old ladies and not “proper art.” (I am glad that attitudes have changed since then!) I remember thinking at the time that so much that was coming out of art colleges in those days was very “samey” and had a very distinctive style which I called “1960s Art College” (which I personally didn’t like), and how hard it must be for the students to retain any creative individuality if they were forced into the college’s mould. My friend, being a rebel, and capable of being pretty stroppy especially when challenged, came out with her individuality intact! I was always very impressed with that.

Of course I am not against formal art education, and I know that things have improved a lot in recent years (see my post on the high standard now achieved at my old school). There is much to be gained by being taught how to develop and organise one’s work, and basic skills on which to build one’s own creativity – I do sometimes regret not having had this advantage, but I do believe it’s left me freer to follow my own inner guiding and inspiration. Anyway, there’s always Youtube – if you want to know how to do anything, it’s on Youtube!!

All this has got me thinking about my Dad. He was a superlative amateur musician, highly skilled at all the wind instruments (with the exception of the clarinet and the recorder) and he was also no mean keyboard player. He told me that when he was still at school, he had to make a decision about his future career, and it was a sharp tussle between music and medicine. What finally decided him was that if he became a professional doctor and an amateur musician, he would be left alone to lead a happy and fulfilled life, but if he became a professional musician and an amateur doctor, he was likely to get locked up! On a more serious note, he said that if he had chosen music as a career, he would have had to limit himself to one instrument, and would probably have spent his life in the ranks of an orchestra, being forced to play only what was on offer. As it was, he could pick and choose, and although he played in orchestras all his life, he could also indulge his passion for chamber music, and he had so much fun with all the social aspects of this, making musical friends wherever he went, and being in constant demand for his talents. He had so many creative interests outside of work, including his clocks and engineering skills. He went through various phases in his life where one interest or another occupied his time, and looking back, I can see a lot of him in myself, although I do not aspire to his level of genius! We have both moved on from one thing to another, learning all the way, and being excited to learn new things and gain fulfilment from new achievements. Some people may say these crazes and phases lead to a rather undisciplined way of life, as it often heaps up ever more UFOs (UnFinished Objects) but you have to go where the creative flow leads you! Mum never understood this, and when I was a child, she often used to say, “Don’t start anything new until you’ve finished what you are doing.” This can rob you of a lot of joy if the spark has gone out. The spark can come back though – after a number of years, the bug for knitting and crochet has come back, and I’m picking up some pretty ancient UFOs and getting satisfaction from finishing them at last. (This is one reason why I’m such a hoarder. People say “If you haven’t used it for two years, you won’t use it. Chuck it out.” If I throw anything out, you can guarantee that next week, I’ll want to start using it again, even if I haven’t looked at it for twenty years!! Confession time: some of my UFOs are over 30 years old.)

One thing Tina emphasised in the video was the importance of paying attention. I am always telling my hubby that he doesn’t notice things! When we are out and about in the countryside, there are so many miraculous little things, and if you keep your eyes open, you can spot them, and marvel at them. Just looking at ordinary things, and seeing strange juxtapositions of objects, can make one see the funny side – Dad and I were always doing this when we were out together – both seeing something in a funny way at the same time and laughing, with no need for explanations, for example a lorry emblazoned with the legend, “The Chard Meat Company,” or a house with an estate agent’s board outside saying “Sold by Force.” These things spark the imagination and one conjures up all sorts of bizarre images! There is so much fun to be had out of the most mundane things in life, if one just keeps one’s eyes open.

Training oneself to do this, the skill transfers to other areas of one’s life, enabling one to think outside the box and find solutions that might not otherwise come to mind. It also undermines a natural tendency to perfectionism which can be so limiting.

I have been thinking a lot about the Innovation Engine over the past few days, and how I can use it to develop my own personal creativity, thinking about how the various influences impinge on my own life, and how I can use them.

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