Thursday, 31 October 2013

Time for a change

Since 2009 I have been working terribly hard on my little business Crumpet & Skirt a glamorous range of gifts and homeware depicting saucy (but not rude) 50's pin ups. Late 2011 I realised that I was a bit stuck and wanted to do other things so I changed the name to Mountain & Molehill and started to work with other designers.

On Valentines Day realised I was miserable. Things just were not going according to plan. I STILL couldn't afford to make anything new and both I and my buyers were bored of the old stock. Factoring in some very positive changes at home and few weeks later I decided that the only thing to do was to let it all go. 

This was somewhat sad and scary. What was I going to do instead? Was I really going to throw away four years of hard work? Of course making such a decision doesn't mean that things are instantly over. I had old stock to sell for a start. In this interim I toyed with hundreds of what to do next ideas and realised that none would be really satisfying or make enough money to do anything with. There is a brick wall for designers in which after a certain level of success, and I am including selling to major high street shops here, you just can't make the next step to make it pay you properly without a large injection of money and I mean a lot of money.

So what to do then? Eventually an idea to make an over-ambitious applique Noah's Ark wall hanging, and the realisation that there was no way I could produce what was in my head, evolved into this Alphabet Parade of Animals:

Clearly the next logical step was Personalised Name Parades:

Not wishing to just appeal to parents and children I resolved to produce some more grown up parades. My current favorite was actually my Matey's idea. A Stag Night parade:

All printed to order at home on a massive professional printer paid for by the sale of the old stock and hand-finished with a 24ct gold crown. Tah Dah!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Bangers in a Beany Tomato Sauce

Aside from having to resist the urge to mutter something about mists and mellow fruitfulness I rather like this stage of Autumn. It's still warm and with plenty of layers it's fun to wrap up and do STUFF without wondering whether I'm going to freeze.

Not a fan of Halloween (neurosis that if the zombies don't get me then I'm going to be murdered by trick or treaters) but Bonfire you are talking. A whopping great fire, an anatomically odd guy and being wowed by fireworks. This has been known to be recreated with a candle, some sparklers and over performed oohs and aahs in the back garden.

Few things are more autumnal than beans and bangers and this recipe will make you forget that the summer is a whole year away. It 'ain't glamorous but it's hearty, warming and makes a pack of sausages go a lot further.

Ingredients to feed four
6 sausages chopped into 4-6 chunks
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tin of mixed beans (I used biona beans because I think they are great! Don't use beans in a tomato sauce though I think the two tomato flavours taste odd and metallic)
1 chopped onion
1 large clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Slug of red wine (not essential)

1. Fry the chunks of sausage until they are brown and set aside.
2. Using the fat from the sausages fry the onion and garlic till brown then add the tomatoes, beans, seasoning and red wine.
3. Simmer until the excess liquid has been reduced by half. Then add the sausages and continue simmering until you have a thick slightly chunky tomatoey, beany sauce.

I chucked it on top of a  jacket potato but this is also splendid stirred in some pasta with plenty of cheese on top to make a quick supper. It is also brilliant to freeze so worth making loads if you are a super efficient mood one day.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Possibly the daftest thing I have attempted to do yet.

Having bought this fabulous Conran sofa for a song back in March one rather major snag emerged. The armchair just looked old, saggy, lacking in style and frankly dirty. Even a throw can't hide this. Let's be honest about this. The moment a throw attaches itself permanently to a chair it is because the chair is dying. We are not talking about a cosy blanket over the back lending style and warmth. The presence of a throw is effectively a plea to guests to ignore the chair underneath.

Hunting down the perfect armchair proved out of our budget. "I know!" I thought merrily. "I'll just buy another lovely old chair and re-upholster it. I've done it before and it worked out ok.'

After much bidding on eBay and not winning we eventually won this:

A splendidly shaped chair I think you must agree. Not quite such a bargain as the 99p chair but at £51 not a totally daft buy either. However it will need a little more than a bit of TLC to sort it out:

I'm picking it up at the weekend and will have to decide whether the damaged panels (this is the worst) can be replaced or whether I'll have to start all over again. I fancy it would look quite smart in a darkish blue velvet..... it is easy isn't it? I am in possession of an optimistic amount of willpower.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Nutmeg Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Icing

A few months ago my matey's boss brought him a fresh nutmeg from Grenada. This is of course a truly wonderful thing, the only snag being that no occasion would be good enough to use it. Needing to say a big thank to somebody I decided it was time to use that nutmeg and bake a cake. Taking a recipe from ‘Best Recipes’ as a starting point I upped the flavour and added a cream cheese icing with a citrusy zing. I then discover that the recipient doesn’t like cake, spices or sugar..... Successful? She demanded the recipe and went straight out to get the ingredients.

This is glorious to make as it smells spicy and brown sugary but the thing that really makes this cake wonderful is the almost biscuity base which adds a bit of a crunch and a toffee like chew.

Nutmeg Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Icing (makes a 23cm cake or a 16cm cake and 12 mini cakes)

473g self-raising flour
473g dark brown sugar – The darker the better as it adds a lot to the flavour and works well with spices.
125 g butter
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 nutmeg or 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 egg
237ml milk

1. Heat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a cake tin(s). I made one small 16cm cake and 12 mini cakes for ....erm...tasting purposes.
2. Grate half the nutmeg and mix with the flour, sugar and mixed spice.
3. Rub the butter into the dry ingredient s with your fingers, until the mix looks like breadcrumbs
4. Spoon about half the dry mix into the cake tin(s). Spread it out but don't push it down like you would if it were a cheesecake.
5. Grate the other half of the nutmeg into another bowl, and whisk together with the egg and the milk, then add the baking powder. Pour into the remaining dry mixture and mix till smooth and runny.
9. Pour into the tin and bake for an hour. The mini cakes take 20 minutes.
10. Allow to cool in the tin. Don't be tempted to take it out until coolish as the base may well crumble.

It is pretty darn good like this but the orange cream cheese icing finishes it off nicely

100g cream cheese
250g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange

Mix till smooth and yummy. It will be a bit too runny at this stage so put it in the fridge while the cake cools. Spread roughly over cake so that it starts to drizzle a little down the sides in an Eat Me manner.

This actually tastes better the next day. The icing goes tangy and the base goes all biscuit like and wonderfully odd. It also freezes well so is perfect for cake related emergencies.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Sausage, mushrooms and onion in cider

I could  wistfully go on about how autumnal and warming this is.....but in reality it came out of opening the fridge and realising all we had left was half a pack of sausages, some mushrooms and onions. Googling what could be done with such meagre rations I found a truly delicious sounding recipe for sausages with mushrooms and onions. Unfortunately I read on to discover that, while simple sounding, it had hundreds of other ingredients in it and took HOURS which made it useless as leftovers recipe.

The trouble was that I had decided it sounded good and I was getting hungry. So I ignored the recipe and made it up instead. It was great and, unlike most leftovers meals, it was an entirely reproducible kind of great.

Ingredients to feed 2-3
Half a pack of sausages - I was lucky and had 8 chipolatas which felt less stingy when serving
1 onion
1 pack of mushrooms
Half a can of cider - Strongbow courtesy of the 24 hour shop

1. Chop the onions roughly and put them in a casserole dish with the sausages and a glug of oil and bung in the oven on the highest setting.
2. Poke the sausages and onions every 5-10 minutes so they don't stick.
3. When everything is going brown and caramlised roughly chop and add the mushrooms. Give it all a good stir in so that the mushrooms pick up on the flavour from the sausages.
4. Put back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until the mushrooms are starting to cook nicely.
5. Add the cider, salt and pepper and cook for a final 15-20 minutes

While this would be great with mustard mash we had it with roasted mini potatoes discovered in the back of the cupboard. Flippin' marvelous.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Post holiday efficiency

I've been on happy holiday. Yorkshire, as you ask, fish & chips, fat rascals, a splendid game pie, some unexpectedly good museums in the middle of nowhere and lots of good luck with weather. We need not mention the hair raising trip over the Pennines in the fog, in the dark, in my very old ford fiesta....

Returning home has mixed feeling for me. On the one hand the thought of my own bed, my own stuff (missed my non stick pans in our self catering cottage) and just getting home is a truly delightful thought. On the other hand I am always convinced that the swag carrying burglars with ladders have swooped in the moment the car left the road. I know, I know! But I genuinely do feel slightly sick at the possibility of it every time I go away for a bit.

The other thing about getting home after a break is that my productivity improves. All those little jobs get done remarkably quickly. One non-boring job was to finish making a birthday money purchase. I had been lusting for a while over Sarah Young's  tea towel animals. For a start they are tea towels which can be made into an animal cushion, or not. Then they are just fun and unexpectedly intricate designs. Useful and amusing! Having narrowed the designs down to the fox or the lion I realised that I couldn't choose and I had to have both.

Thus the fox was made very speedily into a cushion. Ahem....his name is supposed to be Felix but we called him Stuart. He is slightly scary with his unrelenting stare.

Then life and holiday took over and the lion was left sewn but sadly unstuffed. Guilt prompted me to put him together on our last day off. With the addition of some fish tank stones at the bottom he is now happily propping open the door of the spare 'oom.

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