Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Just A Little Snack

The sun is shining, there's lots to do so I thought I'd do a quick drive-by post. I'm really happy right now and partly the reason is that I've been snacking this week. These Peanut Butter- Chocolate Chip Bars from Isa Does It taste like the tracker bars I used to snack on as a calorie deprived veg grower. They have oats and rice crispies (okay so morrisons own brand...) and chocolate and peanuts. I'm reasonably sure they are the only reason I'm awake right now and not passed out drooling into my pillow. It's been a long week.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Stops Along The Odyssey Trail...

Awesome indie dyer Countess Ablaze is spending a year dying yarns inspired by The Odyssey and I'm utterly enchanted. Updates are at the end of the month and while I dutifully knit along on my project out of march's selection I thought I'd show off my socks from January and February.

That bottom ball is from January and has the stunning name of Death Was Quick And Marriage A Painful Matter. The base (the base of both yarns in fact) is a lovely merino, nylon, mohair mix. It has great definition and, after a good wash, a lovely halo. I loved the rapid colour changes and decided to pair it with the Top Down Strie pattern from Sock Architecture to see what fabulous chaos the purl bumps could bring about. I think these might be my favorite socks right now.

February's ball wonder is the equally stunningly named I Follow The Wide Fame Of My Father and has wonderful tones of berry reds, juicy purples and charcoal black. Pleased with the stitch definition the mohair brings to the table I thought I'd try some cables. As both of the cabley sock patterns I had my eyes on were by Louise Tilbrook I tossed a coin and cast on the Beltane Socks. And without bragging too much I think I can say my instincts were correct. The definition of the yarn made sure the cables didn't get lost I the variegation. Probably my second favorite sock right now, though they are getting a bit warm for the time of year.

As for Marche's update? Well like I said at the top I'm still working on that one. It's a little bigger than some socks but here is a preview of the fabulous colours:

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

It's A Post About Pants

Due to a startling collection of coincidences I seem to have become obsessed with making knickers. Or perhaps it was an impulse purchase and some enabling by Stephen (who likes it when I make things and loves it when I make odd things) We found one of The Flo-Jo Knicker making kits (go buy one!) at Social Fabric in Totnes and had to bring it home.

The kit comes with a pattern, multi-sized for different sized bottoms, instructions and enough fabric and elastic for one pair of knickers. I should also point out that it came with ribbon for a bow but I'm really not into that so I left it off. It's actually shockingly easy to make a pair of knickers, especially with the kit. The only problem I had is that you really need to stretch the elastic as you sew it down. I went a bit too easy on my first pair. 

Knickers only take about half a meter of fabric and two meters of elastic and they only take a couple hours so I thought it was an experiment worth repeating. I have offcuts that size and old t shirts to cut into gussets so why not. I went back to social fabric for some pretty elastic and went stash diving. 

By my second pair I'd overcome my shyness with the elastic and went for it. I love the contrast of the white elastic and black fabric as well as the unexpected playfulness of the butterfly pattern.

My third pair where a bit more floral and I'm gslad I finally found a use for this offcut because it;s really pretty but not my usual cup of tea at all. I really could keep on making knickers all day (and talking about them) but unfortunately at that point I ran out of elastic. Looks like we need to take another trip to Totnes. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Noble Tree

When we saw that a closed down shop a couple of doors down from Stephen's work  being transformed into a coffee shop we got very excited. Because we need a good coffee shop in this town.

The Noble Tree, which can be found on Upper Union Street (and if you'll take my advice you'll go find it) is an independent, artisan coffee shop. We tried it out on their opening day and were blown away by the friendly staff, gorgeous interior and delicious drinks and brownies. And if you're a knitter you'll appreciate the amazing natural light.

The Nobel Tree

Monday, 13 April 2015

Big Boy, Soxa Tank and Lacking Subtlety

Last year I fell in love with a woman in a steampunk outfit that combined stunningly deep, saturated, and eye catching shades of orange and purple. The colour combination burned itself into my brain and I had to force it into my wardrobe somehow. Luckily my wardrobe is used to being stuffed with colour choices that display a complete lack of subtlety or sense. 
The pattern I eventually decided on using for my experiment in eye-catching was Bonnie Nurnberger's Soxa Tank from Knitscene Summer 2014. I didn't think I would be able to pull it off with purple short shorts (or indeed pull off purple short shorts) but it does make both an attractive sweater vest and tank. And those are two wardrobe pieces I'll always love. 

Lace Front, contrast edging

So once I had the pattern there were two problems to overcome. One is that the pattern is straight up and straight down. I am considerably top hevey. Before I cast on I made reams of notes all trying to solve the problem of how to insert my breasts into a flat tube without resembling an overstuffed sausage. I contemplated bust darts but I couldn't convince myself that they would look good against the all over lace pattern so instead I took the easy route, adding increases and decreases at the side seams to give me more space were it was needed. 

back in reverse stocking stitch 

My second (and last) dilemma was the colour. I knew exactly what colours I wanted so it was just a case of finding someone who could pull off the bright, amazingly saturated colours I was after. I saw Easy Knits, one of my favorite dyers, at Fibre East and came home with a bunch of his Big Boy. Big Boy is a delicious mix of exmoor blueface, alpaca and nylon so aside from the great colour it has amazing definition, a lovely halo and is both hardwearing and machine washable. 

By way of a summary I'm going to give ratings out of five for the three things I mentioned in the title. Big Boy gets 5/5 for being absolutely perfect, Soxa Tank loses out at 4/5 for a lack of bust shaping, and Lacking Subtlety gets 79/5. Because why not. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Plague-ville Scarf

This project started life as braid of fibre. Irrisistably called Oh, go to Plague-ville!, the braid was part of the Vespasian themed collection in Countess Ablaze's Twelve Caesars Collection. I was eager to throw this on the wheel and went for some low twist fulled singles...

The twist wasn't as low as I wanted and the consistency wasn't as even but the entire process of fulling - sloshing the yarn from hot water to cold and throwing it about a bit - was incredibly fun and the colour is amazing.

Like with the spinning I felt I had to work with the yarn as soon as possible but I had other projects on the needles. Unfortunately just before Christmas my Grandma passed away. Knitting and the act of moving my hands is something that's always managed to help me cope. I craved for simple movement and the lacy front of the tank I was working on wasn't cutting it. So the night I heard the news I bought the pattern Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang and started knitting the soothing, predictable ridges in soft singles.

I cast off on the train back from staying with my family. I never know really how I'l feel about these simple comfort knits knit in times of stress and sadness. Will I feel like I can never wear it, or will I be able to forget it's origins? With this scarf it's neither. I remember why I started knitting it, but I still love it. It reminds me that good can still happen after all.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

Every January since 1979 people across the UK have taken part in the world’s biggest wildlife survey: the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Despite the name, you don’t need a garden to take part; many people visit their local park for the survey. Clare and I count the birds in the section of the estate we can see from our balcony, which includes two mature trees and planted bed of around 200 square metres.

Over the six years we’ve lived here we’ve seen fourteen bird species, adding blackcap to the list this winter. Five have graced our balcony: we’ve had single visits from a rook, a magpie, a wren, and a blue tit, and one year we had repeated visits from a pair of pigeons.

Our rather monochrome Big Garden Birdwatch 2015 results include the four usual suspects — feral pigeon, herring gull, magpie, and carrion crow — but this year they are joined by the pied wagtail, which are often seen around the estate but usually go into hiding during the birdwatch:

Saturday, 25 October 2014

RSPB: You didn’t forget the birds

In the past few days the RSPB has come under attack from a group going by the name You Forgot The Birds (YFTB), which appears to be a front for the country (that is, blood sports) magazine The Field. (For more about the people behind the campaign, see Spike’s post at Adventures In Conservation.)

This post isn’t going to study the group’s motives — it’s no secret that their idea of conservation involves the persecution of birds of prey to preserve shooting moors as an aristocrat’s playground — but the substance of their claim.

The claim

YFTB’s claim is that the RSPB spends only 24% of its income on conservation. This is based on two false assertions: firstly that the RSPB’s income is £122m, and secondly that it spends only £29m on conservation.

The reality

The diagram below contrasts the diagram from YFBT’s website with a truthful rendition of the figures.

The RSPB’s income

You’ll have to forgive me for a brief detour into accounting terminology here. Suppose I spend £13.1m on some goods in order to sell them on. I then sell them for £21.2m, which is £8.1m more than I paid for them. The £21.2m figure is called the revenue. Increasing your revenue is good, but not if your cost of sales — the £13.1m figure — increases more quickly. The more useful figure is the £8.1m — the revenue minus the costs of sales — which is the income. To complete the set, your profit (or operating income) is the income minus any other operating expenses. Note that the terminology differs between countries and accounting systems, but the fundamental concepts remain the same.

The can find the RSPB's income from their annual accounts, which have been audited by Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP. The operating statement is shown on page five, with the key figure in shown in the first grey line: the net income available for charitable purposes is £90.1m. The £122m figure quoted by YFTB is instead the revenue.

We can see why this is misleading by revisiting the example above — the figures I used were the actual figures for the RSPB’s commercial activities, consisting largely of the RSPB Shop, which are shown in operating statement as Commercial trading and Cost of goods for resale. Let’s imagine the RSPB’s commercial revenue doubled, and the costs of goods rose in proportion. This clearly benefits the RSPB’s charitable aims as the income raised from commercial trading would also double. However, because the YFTB analysis is based on the revenue (before subtracting costs of sales), YFTB would now report that the RSPB spending an even lower figure of 23% on conservation (assuming the extra £8.1m income was divided proportionately on the existing sources of expenditure).

RSPB spending on conservation

YFTB state that the RSPB spends £29m on conservation. Looking at the accounts, we can see that this is taken from the line Conservation on RSPB nature reserves, at £29.6m — note that YFTB has rounded down the figure. YFTB however ignore two other aspects of conservation: the Acquisition of nature reserves, at £2.7m, and Conservation – research, policy, and advocacy, at £34.7m. YFTB ignores the former and dismisses the latter as being spent ‘on people’ rather than ‘on birds’. This characterisation can only be described as deceptive: conservation work directly on reserves is no different from conservation research in the sense that it is carried out by people, but both are carried out for birds. Finally, we have Education, we helps the RSPB extend its reach by involving the wider public in the process of conservation, with another £14.2m.

Together these add up to 90% of the charity’s income, with the remainder consisting of 5% spent on Membership services (£4m) and Governance (£0.6m), and 5% left over as operating income. Total financial reserves total £48m, with £31.8m being held for specific future projects.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Vegan Mofo Day 29/I Bought A Book: Vegan Pizza

Day 29 of Vegan Mofo and I'm slowly coming to the realisation that being hot and cold all the time and tired and having sniffles may actually mean I've got a cold. Possibly being slow on the uptake is another symptom. Anyway in what I expect is the last review of Vegan Mofo I'm going to take on Vegan Pizza by Julie Hasson.

I bought the kindle copy because I'd heard there weren't really any pictures inside. It's true, apart from the cover all you get are a couple of stock photos. For me that's not a deal breaker but it made me decide I'd rather not pay extra to get it in paper.

The book starts with recipes for your pizza parts: base, cheesy sauces, and meaty stuff. The remaining five chapters are recipes for how to turn them into fabulous pizzas, creatively topped with everything from peperoni to broccoli. There's a lot more actually but peperoni and broccoli being my favorites I didn't really take it in.

I was slightly disappointed in some of the pizza recipes though. The meatball pizza (which I'm desperate to try) calls for '1 (16-ounce) bag frozen veggie meatballs' which is disappointing, especially because they seem to have disappeared from the shops at the moment. When cheese is called for it's mostly 'shredded vegan mozzarella-style cheese' which is discussed as being optional and you can sub in one of the cheesy sauces but it makes me sad that an entire chapter is devoted to the cheese sauces when the recipes suggest store bought. Much more helpful, I think, would have been a discussion about which cheesy sauce would have gone best on each pizza.

So then I made a pizza. I started with the base. I went for the Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough. I didn't find it as easy as advertised. Possibly I left it to rise too long (but within the 2-3 hours the recipe suggests) or perhaps I don't get on with no knead dough but it was sopping wet. I needed so much flour rolling it out. Admittedly out of the oven it was crisp as anything and really delicious.

For my creamy layer I went with the Cheadery Cashew Cheese which was delicious and added some lovely flavours and textures. Definitely more comparable to american cheese then the extra strong cheddar we favour but that's not a bad thing on a pizza. The rest of the toppings came from the recipe for Mushroom Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza. The overall effect was fabulous.

My overall impression was that Vegan Pizza isn't quite as comprehensive as I would like - there is no deep dish pizza for example - and for that reason I'd be hesitant to suggest shelling out for the print version. At only £5 on kindle though (on 29th October 2014 at least) it's a good deal. Pizza lovers (everyone, in other words) should treat themselves.

Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes

Friday, 26 September 2014

Vegan Mofo: Lunchbox School Lesson Four

It's the last friday of Vegan Mofo and the last lesson of lunchbox school. This week we'll be talking about the somewhat less glamorous topics of planning and preparation.

Lesson 4: Plan and Prep

The two things that make all lunchbox making endeavors go smoothly. This week I've made two boxes out of the same four key ingredients while less than ten minutes cooking time each morning.

Think Before You Buy

At the moment I make lunches two days a week, thursdays and fridays but I start thinking about lunch on a monday. I'm not an incredibly organised person or anything and I don't spend long thinking about it but as I draw up my shopping list I like to have a decent idea of what type of things I'm going to put in my box. It means I can make sure I buy all the food I need. This week I bought tofu, french beans, grapes and rice.

Leftovers, Overlap, Freezing Portions

Leftovers in your lunch box is a good option. In this box I used leftover curry. Think too about side dishes. If you are making glazed carrots the night before why not make a few extra for the box.

Overlap is another very handy thing. I knew that both days this week I was going to use the same ingredients so I was able to prep all in one go. The beans all got chopped at the same time. I boiled the rice one day and stir fried the leftovers the next.

You can also freeze things in lunchtime portions. If you only want two tablespoons of something like hosin mustard tofu (like this) then why not make a full batch and freeze the rest for next week.

You want to make fabulous, attractive, diverse lunches without doing all the work of making four or five tiny dishes each morning.

The Morning After The Night Before

So to make it easy for yourself you want to wake up in the morning knowing roughly what to put in your lunch and to have some of it leftover or prepped from another meal. You also have the option of getting things ready the night before though. In both these boxes the tofu was started the night before. The teriyaki tofu was put to marinate and the red hot saucy tofu was fried. In the morning I fried the teriyaki and put sauce on the fried tofu and done.

Nothing left to do but halve the grapes. Two lunches in ten minutes with the same four key ingredients: rice, teriyaki tofu, green beans and grapes, and fried rice with red hot saucy tofu and grapes.

Hope you enjoyed lunchbox school, it's possible a bonus lesson will come before the end of Mofo...