Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Making felt

Just a very quick little 'teaser' update - I'm going to try my hand at making felt. I'm doing it a cheaty way I think but someone at work mentioned it to me and I'm intrigued. Get an old 100% wool jumper that's handwash only and stick in your washing machine at 60 degrees with a regular load and it turns into felt! Apparently there's a reason for this* but it sounds great. I want another of these flowers for a plain dress I have so think this could be the answer. This one I didn't make - it came from Cadiz!
*Found here: "Very simply, felt is matted wool. Wool becomes felt when it is subjected to moisture, heat, and pressure. (In fact, if domestic sheep were not shorn, over time their wool would felt or "cot".) Hot soapy water makes the wool slippery, and causes tiny scales on the fiber to "open up". The scales prevent the fibers from backing up again after they slide across each other; with agitation, the fibers get hopelessly tangled together. When cooled and dried, the scales close and lock the wool into the tough, durable material we call felt."

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The 3 R's, or - Take a bit of damn responsibility

Not the 'painfully coerced into fitting a twee phrase' 3 R's of Education (Dur - 2 of them don't even start with R - and you're using them as related to Education - frak me you really tried for the irony there huh?) but the rather greener Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
It was only when I read recently that you should also try and do them in this order that this became blindingly obvious to me as well. It is obvious - I just hadn't ever formed words round that nebulous 'but everyone knows that' concept that we all like to spout sometimes and probably have 'The Man In The Pub' to thank for. (Let's be honest here - quite often the cry of *'B.E.K.T.' is more out of affronted embarassment and annoyance at oneself for not ever having put such a blindingly simple concept into a succinct pet phrase that all can easily grasp and moreover, that you can trademark and make a bundle from every time a newspaper uses it, than actually because you had ever devoted any time to thinking deeply about it before. :-) But I digress...)
Reduce - does what it says on the tin. Easy example - take your own shopping bag with you = therefore using less plassy bags = less resources used to make said plassy bags plus less of them being disposed of after they have fulfilled their purpose. (Love these people's concept of guerilla bagging.)
At this point I will say that I have zero intention of explaining why these should be good things for us to do. If you have made it thus far in life and have no idea what I'm talking about you are either a) approx 3 years old in which case I'm sure Dora the nauseating poppet or someone similar can explain it to you or b) you have been living under a rock for the last few decades in which case much the same answer as a) applies I would imagine.
Reuse - what we are stuck with and can not get rid of under the Reduce principle we should at least try and reuse as much as possible, so the best possible 'value' is got from the energy and raw materials that went into making it.
Recycle - can be pretty energy intensive hence why it should be the last option of the 3 green R's.
It's Reuse I wished to comment (/rant - you know me) on today and some spiffy ideas a bunch of us over on the Cottage Smallholder site came up with for garden related stuff. If you're not too bothered about the looks of your items all the time, particularly for those temporary solutions, there is a wealth of stuff out there that can be utilised in the growing process. Plastic food containers of all kinds can be pressed into service as seedling trays or pots (plastic/polystyrene cups), then 'growing on' pots of differing sizes. This is a great re-use as otherwise these containers would be going straight into the recycling (hopefully) bin but are durable things with much life left yet.
I got to thinking - what about a reuse for those odd things that no-one uses but you all seem to be stuck with? Specifically the plastic egg trays that come in new fridge doors have always vexed me with their pathetically hopeful pastel tinted plastic non-usefulness. Chirpily they sit there taunting you with a non-existent 50's 'futuristic' world where all would be rounded, pastel, and yes - plastic. [Is this only me or is anyone else thinking - 'YES - I too know that vexedness?'] Then it hit me - we all save our old egg boxes to chit potatoes in right? (Ok - that's for a given value of 'all'.) Why not round up your friends and relieve them of their plastic egg trays (unless they're actually using them - I've yet to see any doing the task for which they were spawned) then you have easy clean durable trays for the spuds - chitting thereof, and can pass any cardboard egg boxes onto your chicken owning friends - hopefully in return for an egg or 2. Ta Daa!! (I'm quite pathetically pleased with this flash of inspiration.) I think it may even count as Upcycling; like recycling, but reusing/retasking items to give a finished product of greater use/value than the original constituent parts. I have grand plans for a shed along these lines but they have yet to come to fruition...
For more (and far better as lots are from other people) ideas along the same lines you can download our tips as a pdf or a word doc from the original post here, courtesy of the lovely **CSH people. (Designed to be printed out double sided.)
Anyway - apologies for the many asides in this post but hoping it may sprinkle a little inspiration and please share your top pet ideas.
*B.E.K.T.: But Everyone Knows That
**CSH: Cottage Smallholder

Monday, 21 June 2010

Evening at the allotment

My allotment is truly the thing that keeps me sane. The ability to escape there after a busy and fraught day at work is priceless. I can get on with the growing, sowing, weeding etc with just the birdsong for company and the occasional cheery hello as another plotholder passes. I know there's waiting lists to the moon and back all over the place at the moment but if you can't get a plot in the forseeable future grow something, anything in pots. I guarantee the feeling of wellbeing it gives you is worth any amount of ranting about the slugs. Just look what you could be eating. Nom nom nom...

Friday, 18 June 2010

A Crisp Experiment #2; otherwise known as a Ruth Crisp-based Ploughmans

Thought I'd give the homemade crisps another go as I had the pan on again for the end of the bag of prawn crackers and it seemed prudent to use the oil at the same time.
I made a bigger batch this time and this taught me that it's a bit of a faff to be honest. They're good, almost on a par with Kettle chips or Burts (almost!) but for the time expended slicing and patting dry and the fact that they come out with more oil on than I'd ideally like to be consuming I'm not sure I'd bother often.
[Stupidly I only remembered the microwave suggestion made in the comments last time I tried this half way through frying this lot. Perhaps that's a healthier option although I'm not sure whether it's any less labour intensive.]
I used the 'slice' side of my grater for these, sprinkled them with black pepper and *seasoned salt and plated them up with some chunks of mature chedder, marinated artichoke hearts and runner bean chutney as a crisp-based ploughmans - very nice if very unhealthy!
*Seasoned salt = salt plus handy spices. Nice although it's not sea salt or anything. Another of those random things that lurk in my cupboard waiting for their time to come. As Tarantino might say - 'every dog has it's day' and, I guess, every salt must have it's concomitant victual. Doesn't have quite the same ring though does it? ;-D

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

We're in the Premiership!!

Exeter Chiefs rugby team made us a very happy and proud bunch of bunnies by beating Bristol convincingly 29-10 at Bristol's home ground to ascend to the heady heights of Premiership rugby; winning overall on aggregate 38-16.
Now all that remains to be seen is if we can stay there - the prospect of teams such as Leicester etc is a pretty scary one right now, however the chiefs are working on the line up over the summer so we shall hope for the best. (Although I think they already disappointed a fair few people with the ticket price rises. :-( Grr.)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Thai Green Curry Coconut Noodle Soup

As inspired by a visit to Wagamama where I had the kare noodle 'Itame' - tofu option which was gorgeous. Wagamama describe it as "rice noodles in a spicy green coconut and lemongrass soup topped with stir-fried chicken or fried tofu, beansprouts, chillies, red and spring onions, bok choi, peppers and mushrooms. garnished with coriander and lime".
Mine was nothing like it but hey - you gotta try these things right?!

TGCC Noodle Soup
Handful mushrooms - I used bog standard white closed cap ones as that's what was in the fridge but straw mushrooms would be more authentic. Sliced - I used 6 but only needed 4 really.
0.5 bag beansprouts
Handful cooked frozen prawns - defrosted
Sweetcorn - 2 small handfuls
1 layer / nest noodles
1 400ml tin coconut milk
[Up to] 5tbsp thai green curry paste - I had Blue Dragon's
1 tbsp oil
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
0.5 tbsp sugar

Fry the *paste off in the oil for 30ish secs.
Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar, stir and bring to a simmer for about 3 mins until all dissolved.
Add mushrooms, sweetcorn and noodles and simmer 2-3 mins.
Add beansprouts and prawns and simmer again, up to 2 mins / until prawns thoroughly heated through.
Serve with both a spoon and chopsticks.
*The jar said 3 tbsps or up to 5 for a hotter taste. I don't like things too hot as I like to still be able to taste the actual flavours but found 5 cut through the richness of the coconut milk better.
Now whether I simmered too much and so reduced the coconut milk more than was ideal I'm not sure but this was pretty thick and very rich with the coconut a bit overpowering, hence me adding the extra curry paste - although I ended up doing this at the end rather than the start. Although not really bearing any resemblance to what I was served in Wagamama's it was very good. I had the rest for lunch the next day and added a little veg stock at this point to make it more like the 'broth with bits in' that Wagamama produced, and that seems more oriental to me.
I'd recommend making it to the consistency you like - I'd deffo add stock next time for my taste, keeping an eye on how much it had thickened to enable me to judge the amount of stock needed.
The flavours in Thai Green Curry are fab though so give it a whirl - don't be put off by the word 'curry' as this does not in any way have to be a hot dish. It's also relatively inexpensive - the jar of paste I got from Scumerfield only cost £1 and has lots of servings. Better value than buying the ready mixed sauces.
Oh - and if like me you have a jar of pickled ginger in the fridge remember to actually add some yeah?! :-D Doh!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010


..Looking @ blogs from a work perspective. Great conference - keynote speaker was Stephen Heppell - abso' brilliant I must say. He is so enthused about education and the effect the spaces we do it in has. His blog here. Really wanted to ask him if he ever met Douglas Adams as he's also a Mac star person but didn't get the option.
Aaaaaanywaaaaay - back to work! :-)

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Just a quickie...

I'm dropping off the radar again but only for 3 days this time.
Work / Conference + Coach travel = Huh. Or perhaps Meh.

Octopus / Seafood soup

This was something I knocked up ultra fast for a wee snackette and to use up some more of the jar of marinated octopus chunks I have sitting in the fridge since I opened it for the seafood pasta dish I made a while back. I'm afraid because I made this up as I went along the ingredients list is a little random, just depends on what's in the cupboard at the time.
A word on the 'thickening granules' - I know it sounds like chemicals but they're actually made from potato starch - just quicker than adding potatoes and waiting for them to cook through and better if you don't want to puree the soup too. Doesn't have the danger of giving that 'flour' taste if you neglect to cook out flour properly if using that as a thickening agent. IMO dead handy to have a tub sitting in the cupboard.

Oct Soup
Olive oil
Clove Garlic
Chunks marinated octopus
0.5tsp smoked paprika
2 spn tomato puree
1 pint water
Pinch each dried oregano, basil and garlic/herb seasoning mix
Flavoured / plain salt
1 spn mushroom ketchup
Handful frozen cooked prawns
Spoon thickening granules.

Gently heat oil. Chop few chunks of octopus into bite size pieces & fry off.
Slice clove garlic finely and add to pan.
Sprinkle in paprika, add tomato paste then water. Stir well.
Add dried herbs, salt and mushroom ketchup.
Simmer gently for a few mins to cook flavours through and soften the octopus; although these marinated ones are already cooked.*
Chuck in the defrosted prawns and a sprinkling of thickening granules and simmer again to thicken up.

A quick tasty soup to knock up with whatever you have to hand. It was just a bit 'tomato-y' to start with - it really need the depth given by the mushroom ketchup.
*Unlike squid, octopus needs a relatively long cooking time to tenderise. Squid needs a short cooking time otherwise it'll go rubbery, octopus starts off more rubbery and in the absence of a handy Greek island upon whose rock bound shore you can beat your octopus 50 times (25 each side); bash it with a mallet [when using fresh octopus this is] and give it a longer cooking time.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The joy of teeny tiny pasta :-D

'Soup pasta' as it's known, seems to be ridiculously hard to come by here. There's the odd online company selling it but the ones I saw charged a lot for postage so when I knew some friends were visiting Spain recently on holiday I pleaded with them - "bring me Stellini" I cried, a-wailing and a-gnashing of my teeth. Ok so maybe I'm over dramatising a little (!) here but it is irritating that something considered so basic an item on the continent should be so scarce on the ground and exhorbitantly over-priced once you add in the postage here. [This company sells it at 99p a box - a normal price for the product but the postage is £6.50 on top!! Eek!]
I have an abiding soft spot for this pasta (tiny star shapes) having been fed it as a small child by my mother (nope - she doesn't know where to get it now either) and you can eat it as pasta on it's own as well as using it in a soup or broth.
On it's own you get something similar to risotto in feel but taking a lot less time to cook. Seemingly I've muppeted up and mislaid the notes I made when making this but it was very comforting, and the pasta was only 1.20 Euro a 500g bag - result! I added onion, garlic, spinach, sweetcorn and cheese. I'm afraid the pic is so bad as to be un-postable but basically - just because something is designated 'soup pasta' [or whatever] it doesn't have to only be used for that purpose. I think that's the point I'm trying to get across here...

Swifty sorrow

I'm back!! Truth be told I haven't actually been anywhere, it's all just been a wee bit fraught chez Ruth for the last couple of weeks. However, here I am and I feel I must get posting as personally there's nothing I hate more; actually - cacky turn of phrase - there's plenty of things I hate more - ok - it slightly irritates me when a favoured blog of mine only posts infrequently. Not that I'm irritated at the author by any stretch - life has many demands on our time and trials and tribulations along the way, it's more that I miss it. So my apologies for the paucity of posts for the last 2 weeks, or more actual complete lack of them, but I will try my utmost to get some stuff on today in the work breaks.
So - what have I been up to recently - or at least the positive bits... ;-)