31 January 2013

the next phase?

How is it possible that I reached the grand old age of (ahem... twenty seven?) without learning about Adobe Illustrator? I've spent the last month forgetting to eat lunch and being late for school pick-up because I'm so absorbed in trying to figure out how to draw this or that.

A massive thanks to Alma from Nicole's Classes - I can't wait to enrol in Illustrator 102 in March!

an unfinished drawing of Mr Breadwinner

our family got a new dragon baby last week!

an exercise in drawing a blog header

a work in progress for December perhaps?

22 January 2013

tartiflette :: a random recipe paradox on a plate

In Scotland, a staple of the national diet is called Irn Bru. It's pretty rare for the best-selling carbonated drink in a country to be anything other than Coca Cola, and even rarer in a country where you are actually allowed to sell Coca Cola. But we manage it, thanks to the national weakness for Irn Bru.

It tastes like nothing else, it looks like nothing else, and it smells like nothing else. It's truly... unique.

A particular speciality in the West of the country, babies are sometimes practically weaned on to the Bru, weepily slurping it from their sippy cups as they recover from the general anaesthetic required to pull their milk teeth out.* S'alright though, they were going to fall out anyway, right?

School kids, who know only too well the importance of keeping hydrated, frequently achieve their daily fluid intake in Irn Bru alone.* High Five! It does make it a wee bit harder to keep the complex orthodontic work clean (adult teeth grow in like a pile of tangled knitting if you've had a full clearance at the age of two) but hey, at least they're not thirsty.

In our late teens and twenties we discover that it makes a great mixer for vodka. And a few wee drinks helps take our minds off the raging toothache.* Thankfully, it's no biggie if the first set of wallies is fitted long before middle age, loads of people have them. Then we can forget all about tooth decay and erosion, supping the "ginger" for the rest of our days, while cursing those mysterious modern plagues of type II diabetes and morbid obesity.

Sadly, for once, I am not exaggerating. It was into this culture that, as an over-sensitive, naive seventeen year old, I started to train as a dental surgeon. I graduated six years later, and nine months after that I quit. It's not that it was a thankless task; after all, people in Scotland really need dentists. It was just incredibly demoralising. I'm in awe of my friends who continue to practice, successfully and sympathetically, a decade later - I was ready to throw myself under a bus by third year.

I couldn't imagine a more disheartening job, and then something made me think again...

I happened to be at my friend Louise's house the day that this month's Random Recipe challenge was set: to cook a recipe from someone else's kitchen. She produced a beautiful book for me called Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry, all about Winter cooking. I came home (after a lovely lunch!) and used a random number generator to pick a recipe. It chose page 16: tartiflette.

For the uninitiated, tartiflette is a dish from the French Alps, comprising sliced boiled potatoes, sauted in butter, with lardons, onion and garlic. Then the whole lot is chucked in an oven dish, covered in creme fraiche and reblochon, and baked. Butter, bacon, cream, cheese and carb-loading, what's not to like?

My primary reaction was "this is bloody delicious!"

My secondary reaction was "it could've been worse, I could've wasted my youth training to be an Alpine cardiologist."

But then the French have their pesky paradox. Lucky blighters. If only the Scots had one of those, maybe I'd be driving round in a sports car like all my old classmates...

I couldn't get reblochon, so I used a good stinky brie, for which all purists/French
people will now demand immediate beheading by guillotine, apparently.

The addition of some French beans, to stick with the Gallic theme, and
because I didn't want my arteries to clog before the kids went to bed.

Louise also cooked a recipe from my cook book shelf this month, and sticking with the seasonal theme, she chose something from the January section of Tessa Kiros' lovely book, Twelve. Head over to Please Do Not Feed the Animals at the end of the month to see how she got on. And to read all the other randomness, please visit Belleau Kitchen - Dom does a brilliant round up every month without fail, and the list of dishes submitted is always mouthwateringly inspirational.

* Just to be clear, I'm sure the manufacturers of Irn Bru are perfectly honourable and wouldn't condone using their product in any of these ways, but I can assure you, it happens.

16 January 2013

pink for a... boy?

An unspoken goal has been reached. The hand-made stuff has become everyday rather than 'Sunday-best'. My children wear hand-made sweaters every single day, I wrap a hand-made shawl round my shoulders while studying, and my labour-of-love blanket over my knees in the evenings.

And since my two favourite yarns have been discontinued (Stylecraft Luxury Pure Merino and Araucania Toconao Multy in case you've got any kicking around) I flirted with the idea of being DONE with knitting for a while.

And then the Dragon Baby grew. Again. So I guess I'll still be knitting a while yet.

At sixteen weeks old, I am feverishly making his fourth puerperium sweater. Because he is monstrous huge and the 3-6m version is busting at the seams. One of my friends says I must be making cream (I reckon it's Carnation condensed).

I'm using the remnants from two Araucania Toconao projects for my daughter, and so a bit of a pink colourway is being striped into his sweater. But I think it makes a lovely mix, and apparently boys used to wear pink in the old days before we all got our knickers in a gender-specific twist.

And where reading is concerned? Santa, that clever old fella, brought The Boss a beautiful gilt-edged hardback copy of Peter Pan in her stocking. We just finished it last night. The last chapter, where Peter returns and Wendy is grown up and has therefore forgotten how to fly, so her daughter Jane flies away with him instead... gulp, I could barely read it.

I wish I wasn't a grown up sometimes.

15 January 2013

all opinions are my own

It's a cruel paradox that the excesses of Christmas has us all financially tightening our belts, and yet those same excesses mean we can't physically do our belts up at all. That's January for you. It's a bugger. If you're feeling the January slump this week, may I recommend signing up to learn something new? I can highly recommend it.

I  am enduring the holy trinity of January + wet snow + mastitis (again), but the homework feedback for my online Illustrator course is enough to put a smile on my face. Really, praise from an awesome new teacher is a miracle cure for the blues.

Just to be clear, despite banging on about them all the time, I'm not being paid to promote Nicole's Classes. They're so good that I'll rave about them AND pay for the privilege (I completed Photoshop 101 this time last year, and then got a GREAT deal on a whole raft of 2013 classes on Cyber Monday).

As my husband can testify, anyone able to teach me something computer-y from a standing start (I have never opened Illustrator before) in a matter of days is a genius. You have simply no idea how many years it took for me to grasp the concept of email.

So here are the greetings card assignments I "turned in" (so American!) for week two of my course. I urge you to go and see what the Nicole and her lovely friends can teach you, it'll cheer up your January no end.

I'd love to know what any of you have decided to learn this new year...

11 January 2013

showing off :: catchlights

It is clear that the subject of this photo is a staggering example of peachy perfection. (Me? Biased?) But by luck the catchlights are nice and clear too, raising the technical quality of the shot from alright to passably good. I think.

Catchlights? Say what? Light source reflected in the eyes doncha know.

M'yah, yah, I know, such a brainiac.

I learned it from here a whole 45 minutes ago. And, like a toddler, I'm going to repeat my new word over and over again until you say "clever girl!" and give me a piece of cake to shut me up.

Catchlights catchlights catchlights catchlights catchlights...

who's a pretty boy then?

I want to associate myself with and then she snapped, mainly because I think it's approximately the coolest name for a photography site in about a millionty years and you should all know about it. So I'll link in with her Sunday photo thingy show off your shot. But I know I won't remember/have time/have washed/brushed my hair between now and Sunday, so I'm getting the writing bit done while the going's good.

 then, she {snapped}

07 January 2013

reject the expert :: embrace the geek

So 2012 didn't turn out too shabby. During one short year I created a whole small person from a single cell. Perhaps I ought to say "we" created, but we all know who did the lion's share. And by the time the bells rang 2013 in, that single cell from one year before could giggle when he trumped like a carthorse. An important milestone I'm sure you'll agree.

So, despite not achieving any of my goals last year (largely - though not entirely - because of the small person) I do have a few for the next 12 months.

First up, I'm not going to live the way anyone else tells me (unless I actually know them, and then I might consider it). Because if you add all the advice up, all the layers of rules and checklists and intentions and schedules, you will spontaneously implode.


A quick example; here's how an (edited) two-hour segment of Christmas day might have looked had I paid heed to Nigella Lawson's turkey dinner schedule and Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby regime. Let's call it the expert mash-up of doom-laiden stress.

- Peel and cut potatoes, then leave in cold water. Take bacon-wrapped chipolatas out of the fridge.
- Baby must be fully awake regardless of how long he has slept. Encourage him to have a good kick under his playgym or take him on an outing. (Who wrapped the chipolatas? Do we have chipolatas? Bugger it. Take the baby for an outing - I don't CARE if you're still in your pyjamas, IT'S WHAT THE BOOK SAYS.)
- Take turkey out of brine, sit it on a rack in the sink and leave to drip, drain and come to room temperature. Preheat 1st oven to 200*C. Trim Brussels sprouts and leave in colander. Take prepared stuffing out of the fridge. (On the day everyone's most scared of food poisoning, I can't wash my hands because there's a turkey in the sink. Hmm.)
- Put chipolatas in oven, Infuse milk for bread sauce. Measure out ingredients for chocolate pudding and set aside. (Bread sauce? Chocolate pudding? I think not.)
- He should be given a full breast-feed or full bottle-feed.
- Put prepared potatoes in pan on heat to parboil. (Hang on, I'm breastfeeding.)
- Take chipolatas out of oven and leave wrapped in foil (still breastfeeding...)
- Melt basting liquid for turkey (yup, still breastfeeding...)
- Baste turkey with half the liquid and put in first oven. Potatoes should be parboiling so keep an eye on them, then drain, dredge and leave in pan. (Sod the tatties, I've fed him now so I'm allowed a glass of something dry and fizzy aren't I? Geez.)
- Change his nappy, close curtains and settle drowsy baby, half swaddled in the dark with the door shut no later than 12 noon. (Chance would be a fine thing. Put him in a pram and pass me the cooking sherry.)

You see? I suggest paying scant attention to them, for that way madness lies. Even if you have two ovens and pre-prepared stuffing.

So, good on you Cami Walker you generous soul, glad you're teaching the world to grin Gretchen Rubin, and Kim John Payne I agree with all your parenting ideas. But this year I'm going to shuffle through under my own steam if it's all the same to you. Advice is good. But you can have too much of a good thing, and "shuffling through" worked for me on Christmas day.

There's another change afoot in 2013: I'm gently embracing my inner geek. I've realised that no simple or wholesome creative activity is complete without an app or a preparatory session in front of the computer screen.

Not that I'm complaining, it's totally brilliant. I've planned the veg patch for this year, proven that I'm making progress with the post-baby weight loss, lost hours to Ravelry, and completed the first week of an Illustrator course (which I hope will lead to my being able to design things pretty enough to sell...).

Happy New Year one and all. Here's to a geeky one.

growVeg is a very cool tool to draw and plan your veg garden.
you tell it your location and it tells you when to do what
based on your frost dates.

my random recipe for January, chosen by random number generator,
was totally delicious. update coming soon.

pregnancy: plotted.
the NHS BMI Tracker app is so simple, and thoroughly motivational.
I'm getting there... gradually.

the fabulous Nicole's Classes (they of the dotty freebie pattern
you see in my background!) are going to keep me very
busy the first half of 2013, kicking off with a month of
Adobe Illustrator. Here's my first week's homework.

a new blanket idea is hatching - maybe I could use Illustrator to design a
gorgeous pattern sheet to sell on Ravelry? That's my resolution...

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