Gin & tonic cake

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Now just so you know from the outset I’m not claiming this  recipe as my own.  In fact I found it whilst trawling Pinterest for cake recipes to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary and whilst I’m more than happy to stuff my face with cake of almost any description Mr Sloan is definitely more picky. 10 years is a pretty good milestone for any marriage but ours has gone through LOTS of ups & downs and the part of the ceremony that mentioned ‘in sickness and in health’ has sadly kept rearing it’s ugly head. (No craniotomy pun intended). So when planning a little get together I wanted a surprise centrepiece that would sort of sum us up in cake form and, as any of our friends know how we love a good G&T, this cake ticked a number of boxes;

  • G&T is our favourite tipple
  • it’s definitely an adult cake
  • it’s not overly sweet
  • it lent itself to being pimped up

(You may also be pleased to know that it’s made with rice flour which makes it gluten free which is an added bonus if you’re gluten intolerant).

Now despite being a greedy cow and watching every episode of the Great British Bake Off I didn’t feel confident scaling this cake up by myself (blame it on the still wonky brain) and I also knew that if I was going to surprise Mr Sloan there’s no way I could bake it at home. So, I turned to my close friend Lucy (a trained chef) to give me some tips, give me a lend of her oven and stash the cake until needed. The original recipe by Victoria Glass can be found on the Great British Chefs website here and whilst I’m not going to re-publish all the ingredients here I will  let you know what we did differently.

The original recipe calls for a 22cm diameter savarin tin but as ours was for a centrepiece we made two cakes – each 3 times the quantity of cake batter – and baked in a 30 cm diameter tin. Neither Lucy or I had worked with rice flour before and whilst the recipe called for an ‘all in one’ method which made it easier the texture of the finished sponge was a little weird and completely unlike a sponge made with regular wheat flour. When the cakes were still warm we drizzled them with the syrup then allowed them to cool completely. If your sponge isn’t that deep just watch how much you use, you don’t want to make the cake too soggy. Now at this point I should say that we put the sponges in the freezer for a week because we were making in advance, it freezes really well by the way.

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Around a week later we were ready to make the cake up so we sliced each of the cakes through the centre to make 4 layers then lavished 3 of them with lemon curd and Chantilly cream and topped them off with the 4th layer. We did find that the recipe for the icing produced a really runny consistency that wasn’t gin enough for our tastes so feel free to up the icing sugar and the gin to suit your own tastes. Just be careful that the icing isn’t too runny, you want it to sit on top – Lucy made me an icing bag so that I could pipe rather than drizzle the icing over it. You can leave the decoration at that or, as I did go all ‘cheffy’ and pimp your cake up. I decided I wanted to sink a bottle of 10 year old Tanqureray into the cake and decorate it with the fondant icing flowers to echo the dress I wore on our big day 10 years ago. So, at our last stitch and bitch we set about making. Now when I say ‘we’ I actually mean Lucy, Lucy, Katie, Clare and Wendy. I had a sudden attack of ‘diva’ and kept saying ‘that’s not what I want’ whilst unable to make any useful flowers of my own. (I blame the brain but someone had the cheek to mention post-marriage bridezilla, what a bloody cheek).

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I love how the cake turned out, and more importantly so did Sam. Having sneaked around for 2 weeks (and after telling a few porkies about where I was going) it looked & tasted fantastic thanks to my wonderful friends.

Now the question is ….what do I do for our 20th?

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London ventures 6 months on

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I know we often say this but the last 6 months have literally whizzed past. It now seems a little surreal that I had a walnut sized tumour removed from the left side of my brain (and it’s smaller sibling removed from the right side). Now that life is calmer and we’re coming out the other side I have to admit to being just a little disappointed that the scar isn’t a bit more “Nightmare Before Christmas” or generally more Tim Burtonesque. After all, my poor head has been through hell to get rid of the two squatters and all I physically have to show for it is the smoothest and subtlest of scars. Yes it’s long, running ear to ear over my head like the palest ghost of a slightly bizarre Alice band and don’t get me wrong it’s wonderfully neat (credit where it’s due Mr Norris). I’m truly, truly grateful that it isn’t keloid thanks to  Aromatherapy Associates’ Intensive Skin Treatment oil and the many hours massaging it has helped it to heal beautifully – thank you so much darling Katie Light for introducing me to it . But I still have ‘those’ moments – well it is still early days – when my brain reverts back to being ‘wonky’ or I become ‘unfiltered’ saying something I shouldn’t. (My sister will no doubt read this and say ‘no change there then’). A couple of months ago I could point at my battered head and be guaranteed a pass but 6 months down the line that move gets me NOTHING! Because life is re-adjusting to another ‘new normal’ my friends now tell me I can no longer use it as an excuse. How quickly they forget! And you know what? I love them for it.

So a couple of days ago I took my first unaccompanied trip into London to see the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at Tate Modern with my very, very good friend Wendy. After meeting her at Southwark tube ( I wasn’t sure I could remember the way to TM from the station – and I was right) we booked 2 for 1 tickets for the 3.30pm show. I’m not a fan of queueing to read info at galleries and the rooms were absolutely mobbed but it was definitely worth it. If the mention of her work makes you think of phallic symbols and snigger at the thought of all those ‘lady gardens’ you should really see the show. It provides great insight into the times in which she lived and worked, her creative and personal relationship with Alfred Stieglitz for whom she was both muse and wife and introduced you to subject matter beyond the iconic flowers including her time spent living in New York painting cityscapes, her skull paintings and the later abstract skyscapes inspired by the plane journeys she took in her later years.

I remember having a calendar of her work as a textile student but none of the images ever conveyed either the scale of her work or the wonderful depth of colour. You need to stand in front of her work to really, really appreciate them and once you do any printed catalogue looks flat, pale and boring by comparison. (Certainly the case with the show’s catalogue –  which is why I didn’t buy one). I always thought of myself as a fan of her work and back in my art college days she was generally referred to as ‘the one who did the fanny paintings’. She didn’t however take kindly to comments that referred to her work as having sexual connotations saying:

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers…Well – I made you take time to look…and when you took time…you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t”.

This woman really was a force to be reckoned with and many of the photographs in the exhibition taken by Stieglitz show her as a strong figure who stuck to her creative principles, basically stuck two fingers up at anyone who read sexuality into her paintings.

As someone now coming to terms with my more ‘unfiltered’ days I admire both her attitude and her work and once I read her words I saw them only as rich, beautiful, detailed, abstract, exotic but certainly not erotic. 6 months on from my op I’m doing a lot more stopping, looking and taking time to appreciate the beauty of small things.

If you’re in or around London it’s more than worth a visit but get there quickly. Georgia O’Keefe runs at Tate Modern until Monday 31st October.

Living with a jumbled mind

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We’re now almost into October and although it’s officially Autumn down here on the south coast it’s still warm enough to be walking around sandals, skirt and a summery vest top.

It’s 18 weeks to the day since my operation and I still have to pinch myself. Back in May I was looking at a very uncertain future with months of chemo ‘treatment’ rather than ‘cure’. Now thankfully I’m living in a wonderful new home just minutes from the sea and have just become a grand aunt for the 3rd time. (Welcome baby Imari, congratulations to my beautiful niece Danie & Ben).

That said I’m finding that living with a post-craniotomy brain is a perplexing and frustrating thing. The first few weeks of steroid induced euphoria meant I was desperate to capture thoughts that kept me awake in the early hours and doodling away to my heart’s content but recently it’s been more like living in the house  of a complete stranger. It’s feels like I’m not fully present in my own self so looking back on projects I was working on before the op is like looking at the work of someone else. Did I write that? Where did I put that? What is that? I spend much of the day saying one or all of these things and yes, I know, we all forget the odd thing from time to time but when it happens all day, every day it’s very, very tiring.

So I’ve had to adapt a very Zen-like approach to my jumbled mind in order to avoid the stress that leads to a headache. Instead of getting upset at ripping back for a second, third or fourth time I just drop the needles, back away from the knitting and try again the next day. Physically I’m doing very well although all the weeks spent stuffing my face with ‘treats’ (homemade ice cream, sweet & salty popcorn,  Pipers cheese & onion crisps) has led to a couple of extra pounds ( ok 1 stone) which I really need to shift but a full return to work is way off. At this time of year I’d normally be back at Kingston Uni helping to introduce the 1st year Fashion BA students to the delights of the knitting machine but instead of responding to cries of ‘its dropped off again!’ it looks like gentle beach walks to shift the lard and simple baby knits to ease the brain  into gear will have to be the order of the day.

I’m off down to the beach, now where did I put those keys?…..

 

Playing catchup

One thing I’ve had to learn in the last 6 weeks since surgery is that despite my best laid  ‘plans’ my brain is very much in charge. In the first couple of weeks I felt such more like my old self with an improved memory and lots of creative thoughts firing through my head in the early hours of the morning. Now it seems that my brain has slammed on the brakes. Although I hoped to have seen the end of them I’ve been getting the occasional migraine plus other headaches which I suppose should be expected given the upheaval my poor brain has been through. What I am finding really frustrating though is that my memory now seems to be worse than when I first came home from hospital and I have days when I feel like a have a ton weight sitting on top of my head. (Yes I know, what can I expect I’ve just had brain surgery). These heavy head days are spent resting on the sofa but for some strange reason I’ve actually been getting stressed that I’m not doing something more constructive and that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Despite my impatience I’m having to get accept that it may take a full year before I fully recover and that more frequent headaches, writing or saying things back to front and taking extra time to plan things are all just parts of  a ‘new normal’ that I have to get used to.  So having set myself a challenge to #doodleeveryday I’m not going to beat myself up if, like this week, I miss a day because I’ve not felt up to it. I’ll just treat myself to some gentle knitting instead and play #doodlecatchup with the next post either here on on Instagram. So here’s two doodles owed from this week, I’m going back to my knitting whilst I enjoy the tennis.

Come on Andy!

 

Learning to love the basics

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to draw anything. I don’t mean grabbing an envelope when inspiration calls  and roughly sketching out a design I mean sitting and really observing an object then trying to commit it to paper. I’ve been following the work of Lisa Congdon on Instagram for a while now and her work has really inspired me. As an illustrator, designer and artist  with a quirky and colourful style her work can be seen across a variety of applications from ditsy print fabrics in cotton and voile to her own range of adult colouring books. She also runs a series of classes on CreativeBug offering everyone the opportunity to learn from her skills whether it’s basic line drawing or how to use sketchbooks for exploring ideas.

As someone with a creative job it sounds more than a little strange to admit that whilst working as a designer / technician / magazine contributor day to day I rarely found time to ‘indulge’ in the basic creative skills of drawing and sketchbooking that I learnt as a student…. (coughs) donkey’s years ago. So with weeks of recuperation ahead of me I’ve decided this is the ideal time.
Back in the day as a textile student my fishing tackle box of tricks would open up to reveal tubes of gouache, reactive dyes, charcoal, oil pastels and a range of pencils ranging from super soft 6B to HB. And what did I draw? Well just about anything. Whilst some techniques suited me better than others I had the confidence to try all types of media. The picture below shows what I found in an ’empty’ portfolio last week and whilst no expert there’s a not too bad  too bad effort at using gouache and some machine embroidery.

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So armed with a new enthusiasm, time and a brain that needs a little encouragement I’m going to try to #doodleeveryday. Why doodle rather than draw? Well having had the operation almost 3 weeks ago I’m thankfully recovering really, really well. What I have had to get used to is the general jittery feeling that makes walking slightly wobbly and drawing a line with any sensitivity virtually impossible. Yes, I know, it’s early days so let’s go with doodling for now.

This morning’s inspiration came from the shadow of flowers falling across the page and using two different weights of pen give adds depth to the results.

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Add the brilliant  Layout app and you start seeing the pattern in repeat over on my Instagram feed here. (To be honest it was really testing my grey cells to get the image uploaded here so be patient). This combination of mark making and repeat should keep me occupied for now

J x

 

A change of pace…..

To say that 2016 has been ‘eventful’ would have to be something of an understatement. As a ‘woman of a certain age’ who’d been suffering more frequently occurring and severe migraines I trotted off to the GP in a quest for answers. What I wasn’t expecting however was to find out in May that I’d been diagnosed with a couple of ‘unwelcome guests’ – not one, but two brain tumours (I never do things by halves) which thankfully have now proved to be benign. Having undergone surgery for a bilateral craniotomy  just 2 weeks ago I am having to take life at a much, much slower pace and seriously re-evaluate my work / life balance. So now I’m at the mercy of a newly operated-on brain which has more space to breathe but for which, just getting dressed is a challenge. I am also learning other valuable lessons; mainly that I have to learn to be patient. Previous bouts of illness have seen me bounce back pretty quickly but there is, of course an enforced change of pace when your brain has been messed about with.

Everything….takes….ages….

So whilst I thought I had long mastered the type of patience required for swatching, perfecting tension, writing patterns or sewing up it’s a totally different matter when your brain has been fighting for space inside your skull with a couple of cheeky, tumour shaped squatters.  Whilst I wake every morning feeling extremely happy about my diagnosis my default state is ‘wobbly’. In fact I’m walking a bit like Mrs Overall albeit without the two soups. I can dress myself and make a cup of tea but beyond that my day’s achievements are subject to just how knackered I’m feeling. I never thought I could sleep so much but sleep is exactly what I need to recover not only from the trauma of surgery but also holding a simple conversation that may be just 5 mins too long. So I’m learning that if I don’t manage  to do something today, it’s not important, I can always try again tomorrow.

So for however long this recovery process takes the posts here  could be about anything; from knit to crochet, art to design, interiors to food. I’ve also started another blog ‘life as a ziphead‘ which will recount my recovery and  find a focus for all the nonsense that’s been  waking me up at 4am.

It should be interesting……….

Room 606 by Helga Isager

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This collection of designs by Helga Isager is named after Room 606 of the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. Designed by Arne Jacobsen the hotel epitomises the sleek lines, muted tones and subtle textures of Danish modernist architecture and Room 606 is now the only room which retains the original decor.

Helga co owns the the Isager brand with her mother Marianne and since 2005 she has been bringing together the best of knitting craft with fashion-forward design under her Amimono brand www.amimono.dk.

I must admit that it’s been quite a while since I’ve looked through a collection of designs and wanted to knit more than one of the patterns. The problem, if there is one, with Room 606 is deciding exactly what to knit first. From the minute you start to browse through the book you can tell that there’s something different about these patterns. Both the garment styling and photographic lighting are understated and each of the 11 designs (9 garments plus 2 accessories) has a simple silhouette but may feature an unusual yarn combination, interesting stitch pattern or construction detail that lifts them to a completely new level.

The pattern instructions are clearly laid out and have a very friendly, easy to read tone with measurements given on the drawn schematics and knitting tips & abbreviations at the back of the book. Most styles are offered in 3 sizes: small, medium and large and range in skill level from beginner to advanced although this isn’t indicated on the patterns.

As both a designer and knitter I’ve always enjoyed mixing yarn types within a project much in the same way that a painter mixes paint on a palette. It allows you to create new, blended colours and produces unusual handling effects so of course I was really excited to find this is a key element of Helga’s design signature.

 

My personal favourite pieces from Room 606 are the Lone cardigan and Ingrid sweater. Lone is the kind of cardigan – or should that be jacket – that you dream of snuggling into when it’s freezing cold outside. It’s a colour blocked design worked in a Brioche rib with the 3 ‘colours’ are created by using two different yarns mixed together. So Col A is Silk Mohair & Highland Silk, Col B is Silk Mohair & Alpaca 2 and Col C is Silk Mohair & Tvinni.

Using the same deliciously soft Silk Mohair as a base for all three colours has a certain continuity but also creates three new but quite beautiful sludgy colours and gives the cardigan a luxurious halo of warmth. There are so many yarns in the Isager range (16 in fact)  that if this colour combination isn’t to your taste you could spend hours poring over the choices trying to find a replacement. What else do I like about this design? It’s a really wearable shape with generously sized patch pockets for enclosing (my) freezing cold fingers and the V shaped wedge detail on each sleeve is both original and stylish.

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Ingrid Sweater

Along very similar lines the Ingrid sweater has a simple silhouette, a slightly widened round neck edged in rib and features the same wedge detail on the sleeve as the Lone cardigan. Once again it mixes yarn types to create the 3 ‘colours’: Cols A &B are both Spinni & Silk Mohair, whilst Col C is a mix of Spinni & Alpaca 2.

If you’re new to the Isager yarn range have a look through the website http://shop.isagerstrik.dk and you’ll see what’s on offer. There are pure wools like Highland which have several tones within each shade, the slightly heavier Aran Tweed which is softly twisted and flecked with flashes of accent colour, two weights of alpaca (Alpaca 1 & Alpaca 2), the cobweb-fine Silk Mohair and three linen mix blends Merilin, Bomulin and Viscolin.

If you’ve become a little bored of top down garments that look too tight or have been designed with an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ type of design process you’ll enjoy Room 606 collection as it’s a brilliant fusion of great craft skill, contemporary style and surprising little details you’ll love to knit.

The Room 606 book is available directly from Isager priced 199 DKK – that’s around £20.00 –  and you’ll find the full range of yarns available there too.

Isager online shop: http://shop.isagerstrik.dk

Helga Isager’s website: http://amimono.dk/?lang=en