Monday, 15 April 2019

Sew Lovely

Some time ago, a long time ago. I posted about some beautiful fabric my cousin sent me from Scotland. At first I was terrified of doing anything with it.  I would bring it out of the cupboard and pet it once in a while, or browse through the patterns I own and then gaze lovingly once again at the fabric.  But for the longest time I couldn't get past that.

Well finally. I chose the pattern and set to with gusto! Et voila...

I made a coat.  I've never made a coat before.

I am so delighted with how it turned out that I felted a grey beret to go with it.  The beret didn't turn out quite the right colour so I will do another one in a contrast colour.  But you know it takes a very long time to do a beret, especially, if like me, you are starting from the wool direct from the sheep. And it's the first hat I've made!

Then I turned to the rest of the fabric.  it's a beautiful tweed and a coordinating brown wool.  It would be perfect for a jacket and skirt.  but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I wasn't quite ready for a Tweedy suit.  So I pushed the boat out once again choosing something a little more out of my comfort zone.  I can't tell you how nervous I was cutting this.

I must say I am more than pleased with the outcome and now I am working on a skirt to go with it. 

I have chosen a fairly plain paneled skirt but to jaz it up a bit I want a zip on the outside of the skirt from the hem up to the lower thigh (I'm not being too racy here). I'm borrowing the idea from a photo I saw in Vogue last autumn.

I decided to make a toile first to ensure a perfect fit.  I am quite used to being a larger size on my hips than my waist but I was none too pleased to discover that I am now a perfect size 16 in both the waist and hip.  Blimey! that's a size up for me and it has prompted a bit of a cut back on the cakes and buns! Marilyn Monroe was a perfect 16 but I am not her shape and I don't have her face so knowing that isn't much of a consolation. 

I have a future project in mind that these latest sewing accomplishments will help with.  I want to make a Chanel style jacket.  There are plenty patterns around for the boxy boucle masterpiece but none of them suggest using any of the couture finishes that a real Chanel jacket would contain. 

I want to do it the Chanel way.  For this there is a lot of hand sewing and a lot of new hand sewing techniques to learn.  so I started with the hand sewn buttonhole on my coat.  According to the online tailor I found on YouTube it takes about 100 buttonholes before you would be considered good enough to work on a couture garment. 

I was fast running out of thread when I got to buttonhole number 4, and this is silk buttonhole twist at no little expense I can tell you, so buttonhole number 5 was on the coat.  It's not perfect, but it won't stop the bus.

Button hole number 6 was a practice piece for the jacket and number 7 actually on the jacket itself.  I'm definitely getting better.. but my Chanel look-a-like has to be better than this... It's also not going to be a cheap jacket. The traditional fabric is a tweed or wool boucle. I won't be able to buy the actual Chanel fabric but the company that makes for Chanel sell a range to the general public that is pretty similar, it retails at around 40 euros a metre.  I think I need 2.5 metres and then another half metre for making the trim.  Add to this the silk lining, the chain weight for the hem and the button hole twist for at least 6 buttonholes. well, it's not going to happen any time soon... but that's why I'm practicing the techniques... by the time I'm proficient, I should just about be able to afford the fabric.

Now I seem to remember that I promised a giveaway in my last post.  Well here it is...

This clutch bag is a less than perfect practice piece but it would certainly be usable for an occasion or two.  It might not be robust enough for constant use.  It also does not have a handle, perhaps some intrepid creative person would like to fix that.  Not sure how a chain handle would attach but it would, in my opinion, be the best option. 

It took several hours to make, and is fully lined.  It has many flaws.... but I'm  sure someone would enjoy it. So if you want it.  Leave a message and the first person to comment gets it.  Free.

Now, today we went shopping, and as I marched purposefully up the high street of our nearest town (I was on a mission to find a zip) I was nearly stopped in my tracks by the latest creations in the shop windows. Please excuse the glare and reflections on the photos.

And this is why I make my own clothes. Although to give them their due, they aren't the product of mass production and no one else will turn up at the same event  wearing your dress!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The story so far

It's been so long I can't actually remember everything that has happened since I last posted. But I will try.

The Olive Harvest came and went, we did very well.  but alas the price was 37 cents a kg so our monetary gain was very poor.  It is just enough to purchase the swish new cooker I have my eyes on.  but this is a slow process. The cooker will be purchased in the UK, delivered to my son who will store it for a while (time unknown?) until his neighbours who have a house in Madrid which they are renovating decide to load up a van full of goodies and drive to Spain.  We will then collect the cooker from them in Madrid and bring it home.  I feel like it's Little House on the Prairie and I have to await the arrival of the next wagon train west.  Patience not being my strong point this is a challenge.

I had planned to get cracking on my Fig Recipe Book which I hope to publish this year but then I was asked to participate in the celebrations for International Women's Day on March 8th.  Every year the village women put on a theatrical extravaganza with a party afterwards.  This year the theme was Weaving and working with textiles which traditionally women see as their domain being a metaphor for their entire lives.  Weaving not only material but Weaving words into stories of hope and help during difficult times of their lives.

I was asked to recite a story while spinning on stage as part of a group of women and children who would be working with knitting, crochet and other handicrafts each taking it in turn to recite a tale with a message.  My story was the classic of Theseus  and the Minotaur.  With the Minotaur representing the fear and anxiety that women often face and Theseus being the knowledge of how to defeat it and the ball of twine that Ariadne gives to Theseus to help him escape the labrynth being the strength that exists inside every woman: the message being that we can escape any pickle we find ourselves in if we rely upon our inner strength and of course a little help from our friends

This was a good A4 page long and in Spanish to boot so I was very unsure if I could manage it or not.  But with daily repetition over four weeks I got there. It was extremely nerve wracking but once I accepted that the knot in my stomach could just as easily be excitement as fear I actually began to enjoy it.

Once that was over with I found myself at a bit of a loss to know what to do next.  I had so many plans at the beginning of the year but all was forgotten once I focused on women's day.  The Fig cook Book is still on the back burner as is the mountains of local wool I still have to process so that it can be spun.

the return of the Sewing Bee on BBC2 has reminded me that I have a coat and a jacket still to make and inspired me to change my mind about the pattern for the jacket.  I'm going a bit more avant garde in my old age... watch this space.

I also have some cashmere on the spinning wheel that needs to be finished and will hopefully be enough to make a hat and gloves and/or scarf to go with my new coat.  We have a wedding to attend in the UK this winter coming and I'd like my suitcase to contain entirely hand made clothing.  And of course Northern Britain is cold in winter!

We had a series of really good volunteers who helped enormously on the finca.  All the trees at the house end of the Finca were pruned and the wood sorted, stacked or burned.  the overgrown oleander in front of the house were moved to less important positions where their invasiveness won't be an issue.  This is sterling work , and very much a long slow process if Steve were working alone.

We like to feed our volunteers well, we provide 11's which is usually tea, coffee and cake and then lunch which is always two courses and plenty of it.  I try to make the lunch the main meal of the day so that our volunteers will only need to provide a snack in the evening and breakfast in the morning for themselves.  One of our last Volunteers was both glucose and lactose intolerant.  This turned out to be very challenging, so many recipes that are gluten free also contain lactose... and so many gluten free products on the shelf also contain lactose.  I hate to give anyone a lesser meal than the rest of us so I worked very hard to find things we could all eat.  I learned to adapt many recipes for using rice flour instead of wheat flour and with other recipes I simply left ingredients out and was delighted to find that most of them turned out just the same.

Now since we are talking recipes, I promised the recipe for the walnut and lentil loaf.  This came from a book I have had for thirty years. Its called The Bean Book by Rose Elliot.  I love pulses of all kinds, unfortunately my digestion does not and as I've gotten older it's got worse.. So I rarely cook anything from it these days and if I do, I have to eat sparingly.  Anyway... Here we go:

Just click on the photo and zoom in to read it.

My To do list, or list of challenges for this year is immense.  and I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't achieve it all, but that's ok.  But what I've decided is that I want to take money out of as much things as possible.  I often spend a lot of time working with wool and fabric and producing things that I believe I would be able to sell.  But of course no one actually appreciates the amount of work that goes into something that is made entirely by hand from start to finish, and with love. You can't buy love.

Often artists are insulted because no one appreciates their work enough to pay the prices they believe they are worth.  I am throwing all that out the window.  My work cannot be recompensed by money.  It simply can't.  The numbers of hours that goes into processing wool to get it to the pont where I can dye it or spin it or knit or crochet it into something is just so huge that to put a monetary value on it is simply ludicrous.  So why do I do it? Well I can't not.  For me creating things is akin to breathing, I can't not do it.

So from time to time I shall put things on my blog that I want to give away.  Yep, Im giving things away.  If the item is heavy or you live a long way away I may ask you to pay for postage but in essence, if you love it you can have it.

The first item for my Giveaway will be revealed in my next post.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Huge Apologies

Its been ages since I posted.  Firstly life got busy... secondly Blogger started playing silly buggers and wouldn't let me in... several days of wrangling with Google over passwords and correct identities followed, during which time life got even busier and so the whole thing was put to one side while the real world was dealt with.

Three weeks have passed and so I decided it was time to get back on the case.  I tried for one last time to log into Blogger as I used to, just in case, and voila.... its as if nothing had happened at all! Grrrrr. Oh well. 

A proper post will be forthcoming later today or tomorrow.  I haven't forgotten the request for the walnut and lentil loaf recipe... that too shall manifest itself shortly.  Along with what happened for International Womens Day... more volunteers and how spring is shaping up on the finca.  Thank you for your patience.

Monday, 4 February 2019

It Doesn't Have to be Meat

Around about us some people are still harvesting olives, I wonder why we rushed so, but it's how we always do it - like we have a deadline. So much pressure  And we still don't know if we can afford the cooker we want. Patience.

We had a couple of Dutch volunteers for ten days and they helped Steve make a serious dent in the pruning of some of the olives. They were nice people too so it was very pleasant hosting them. Having two extra very hungry mouths to feed gave me an excuse to play with the bread oven again. This winter I've used it fairly regularly and I'm starting to feel like I know what I'm doing .

In our 'turn a knob' or 'flick a switch' society we have mostly forgotten about how to cook with fire. In fact someone mentioned to me about cooking with fire being dirty and I wasn't really quick enough to refute them but in my limited experience I've found it quite the opposite . Look at how clean the oven looks, you wouldn't think there was a wood fire burning in there just a few minutes before.

I've been cooking a lot of roast dinners, chicken mostly. Strictly speaking I'm still baking the chicken since I've used the ceramic chicken brick or covered it with foil. But the end result is far superior to the same recipe done in the electric or gas oven. I don't understand why it tastes better. I've also got better at judging the temperature and I've successfully made chocolate brownies in it - with not a clue what the actual temperature of the oven was.

The bread crust looks a bit overdone but inside the bread is light and fluffy.  And that's Chelsea Buns too!  I'm also getting quite adept at using the residual heat after the bread comes out, making soup or stew for the next day, or for the freezer. But it doesn't have to be meat, today we had Moroccan bread,

... a walnut and lentil loaf served with a tomato sauce and cream of potato soup. All cooked in the bread oven and there being enough leftover to freeze for another meal, this is really turning out to be an economic way to cook.

Of course there are limitations. Today it was very chilly outside and the oven started to cool down very quickly and so the bread went in before it was really ready, making for a denser texture than I would have liked.

The remedy isn't as simple as adding more wood/fire to the oven - fresh wood turns the oven dome black again, and you can't cook until all the soot has burned away. It also didn't help that I had removed some of the coals to the adjacent BBQ so that I could do some further cooking.

Here I am frying the onion garlic and Thyme for the lentil and walnut loaf. The lentils were cooked the night before in the pressure cooker, taking 15 minutes. If you are looking to save energy and time spent on cooking then a pressure cooker is the way to go!

After that I used the residual heat to boil the kettle for our 11's. It took 20 minutes to bring the water to the boil, that's because our kettle has a very thick bottom to it. But I planned it well and we didn't have to wait much beyond 11 o clock for our mid morning break.

Finally when all of the heat from the oven is just about spent I load it up with the wood for the next firing. The wood literally kiln dries and makes for a nice clean fire when I'm using the oven next.

And the oven itself. We'll, its basically a pizza oven, but of course you can cook anything in it. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys the BBQ experience and wants to take their culinary expertise up a notch.

Having said that I recently have been reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys (written in 1660's) and felt a great kinship with his wife when he wrote about his lunch not being ready - a roast fowl - due no doubt to the vagaries of the wood fire .

Friday, 11 January 2019

Olive Harvest The Final Tally

We always feel a little under pressure during the harvest. There is often an underlying worry that the Cooperative will stop taking in olives and we won't be finished. In reality they continue until the last man has brought in the last olive. But we don't want to be the last man.

This year most of our neighbours were using mechanical shakers and petrol driven leaf blowers to gather up the harvest. In previous years the countryside resounded with the sounds of wood on wood as sticks hit branches laden with olives. Sometimes we could even hear the satisfying thuds as the olives hit the ground. And there were always voices calling, shouting, greeting.. and laughter. That was all missing this year. At times we felt we were the only ones using sticks.

Except for one neighbour whose mechanical shaker broke and so he turned up the next day with some friends armed with sticks. We were able to call out greetings across the fence and shout encouragement. They finished well before us and tooted their car horns as they left. That made our day more pleasant. I wish all their machines would break.

We often wonder if using machines would help us in any way or at least speed up the process. We are skeptical. Most of our neighbours have very little or no grass at all under their olives. We try to keep ours short but we usually end up with grass too long to make a leaf blower a viable proposition. The branch shaker could work for us but they are very expensive, very noisy and we're not convinced of their effectiveness - there is always a few stubborn olives that refuse to budge.

Every year we focus on purchasing a large or expensive item with our olive money. This year we want a new cooker but since we don't know what price we are getting we just tried to focus on beating last year's total. At least that way we are less likely to be disappointed if the price turns out to be very low.

It's nice to think that we are doing something right when the trees keep producing more and more fruit each year, but I suspect that it's more to do with Mother Nature than just our efforts.

And finally the last full trailer load goes to the Cooperative.

Ta Daaaah!

Last years total beaten by a whopping 290 kgs. Whoop whoop!

The Joy of Olives!

Our olive harvest started late this year. Not our fault at all. The Cooperative has not been able to find a single buyer for the entire harvest (at a price they were happy with) so they delayed hugely. The whole thing usually gets underway around the 9th December. This year we began on 24th December. Thankfully we had not secured any volunteers this year or they would have been twiddling their thumbs.

Anyway. Christmas eve came and we were off! I made a series of short (the longest is about 5 mins) films that show the whole process from start to finish . Bear in mind that I don't have any editing equipment, am filming with my phone and don't work to a script. It's one shot, for better or worse ☺️

Part 1.

As you can see the weather was kind. Thank goodness  its a hard enough job when it's nice never mind having to cope with rain or fog.

Part 2.

The whole harvest took us three weeks, although we only worked 13 full days, the rest was taking time off for R & R, or for other chores such as shopping, house cleaning and sadly a funeral.

Part 3.

I have tried to cover all the various questions that we get asked about the harvest but inevitably I will have missed some. This is our 5th harvest and its all become a little commonplace for us. Not so much that we don't take time to notice the little things.

We finished the harvest yesterday, collapsed on the sofa with a glass of wine and contemplated what comes next. Usually a good spring clean - no one feels much like housework when you're this tired but a grubby house is guaranteed to make you feel less relaxed so after a days rest it will probably be full on housecleaning.

Next time I'll show you the final drop off of Olives and share the grand total.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Hail The Light

I know some of you will have wondered where I was with such a long absence of posts. I am still here, I am still suffering a bit since the fog and grey skies have persisted, but in general all is well. This has been a very different winter so far from our previous four here in Spain.  Our Yule celebrations in the past have been outside on the veranda in the sunshine, this year we held the feast indoors but to complicate things and to give myself a challenge I decided to cook it all in the wood burning oven and BBQ.

It’s been a long term goal of mine to perfect the art of cooking with fire. I am always in awe of the skills mastered by our forebears and always a bit contemptuous of people saying things like ‘you couldn’t do that nowadays’.  So a feast was planned, executed and completed more or less successfully.

I have always been  aware of the truth in Mrs Beaton’s statement about the similarity between a General preparing for battle and a woman planning a special dinner.  But this time it was a really striking similarity. And what I lacked was foot soldiers.. tending the fire and preparing food and setting the table was impossible to do alone so Steve was ordered about like never before - do this, do that, fetch this or that and a few ‘no! Not like that!!’ All of which he took without a blink of the eye - you can always spot an ex-military man!

The Yule Celebrations usually come bang in the middle of the olive harvest and is a very welcome day off. This year, we have not yet begun. The Cooperative who buy our olives are not ready to receive them (the explanation being that they have not found a buyer who will pay a good price) and until they are everyone is poised to begin, like sprinters at the starting line. It’s a little worrying as we have plans for the olive money and if rumors are to be believed the price may not be very good. So we wait and watch as the olives get riper and riper and then they fall to the ground.

For us, this kind of thing can be frustrating and annoying but for many people here, who depend upon a good olive price as their main income for the year, the anxiety as we wait must be immense.  Hopefully it will all soon be resolved, and happily so.

And as the mid winter festivities approach we are strangely at a loose end and indulging in Saturday afternoon films and cosy snuggles with blankets and favourite books in front of the fire. To all those kind enough to read about our sometimes mundane lives here in south west Spain I wish you everything you would want for the perfect festive season, and here’s to a good new year filled with hope.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Tis the Season

The weather took a downward turn a few weeks ago and apart from 4 or 5 days of sunshine we've had grey skies and rain for what seems like a very long time.

This is bad news for me since I suffer with SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder and more than a couple of days of grey skies can send me into a downward spiral that's difficult to climb out of.  I'm used to it and I have more patience than I used to and it's usually just a case of waiting for the weather to improve and my mood to lift. It will - it always does.

While waiting I try to work up some enthusiasm for craft work or cooking. This can be hard because when you feel down nothing seems very interesting but I have a strategy that sometimes works. The usual SAD affliction goes like this. I look at some sewing I have planned. The pattern is there, the fabric is there.. almost everything I need is there but the one thing I don't have.. the zip or buttons perhaps will be the excuse to not even begin the project. Even though the missing article is not needed until the project nears completion, the fact that it's lacking will stymie the entire process and I won't even begin.

Because I have not been able to make a start on my project I will feel bad/disappointed and a bit of a failure which fuels the glum mood and so the downward spiral continues.

To try and climb out of this is very hard. Sunshine and blue sky helps but if that is lacking then I usually begin a search for something novel or new to spark my interest. I have to be quick though because if I am not then once again I will find a reason not to begin. It's almost like trying to outwit myself.

The kind of things that I like are of course the crafty things like knitting or sewing and practical things like cooking. But your simple run of the mill just won't do it. It has to be a challenge, something new, something to be learned. This comes with it's own dangers because if I try something new and fail then the disappointment can be very debilitating. So I usually choose carefully, something that I should manage without too much risk of failure.

So this week - having put up with the gloomy weather to the point of 'absolutely got to do something' I picked a challenging new knitting stitch to learn followed by firing up the bread oven and making up my own bread recipe.

The knit stitch is Brioche - which sounds like bread for the oven but no, not this time. With brioche knitting the pattern is reversible. It's knit with two colours and gives a really interesting texture and reversed pattern depending upon which side of the fabric you look at.  I decided to make a cowl. The pattern called for 272 stitches cast on and since you are unable to tell if it's working out until you've knit a good inch or two.. there was a lot of knitting and then alot of unpicking and throwing away of tangled yarn.  I can't give up. If I give up then the disappointment will be immense.

Eventually, after three new starts I have something that looks similar to the actual pattern. I say similar because I made so many mistakes it isn't actually the correct pattern but it looks ok. My problem is lack of concentration.. my mind wanders off on a tangent and before I know it, I've gone wrong again. But I like what I've knit so far.. it looks a bit like worm casts.. hopefully when worn around the neck the reverse side will give it added interest.

Yesterday I thought to myself  'its been ages since I lit the bread oven' so before I had time to find an excuse not to, I raided the cupboard and mixing lots of different left over flours and adding seeds and a few sultanas I made a bread dough. While it was rising I set the fire in the oven. At first I thought it would take so long to get up to temperature that the bread would be over proved but in the end I put the bread in a bit too soon and the oven was far too hot.

They came out like two cannonballs. Not quite black but sounding pretty solid. It's a wholewheat loaf so it's meant to be heavy.. I wrapped them in tea towels while still warm in the hope that the crusts would soften.   Having resigned myself to a failure and chiding myself for not practicing enough with the oven you can imagine my delight when we sawed open a loaf to find it perfectly cooked inside and most of the crust crunchy but still edible. And delicious.

The hearty vegetable soup I slow cooked in the oven after the bread came out is todays lunch. Each little success builds on the last and slowly a ladder is made that will lead out of the doldrums. But the sun will have to come out again if I'm to stay up there.  You can see why I came to live in Spain.. rainy days are few.. but this is the season for them. Oh you thought I was talking about the seasonal C word? No, not until December. Next post perhaps.