Saturday, 31 December 2011

Goodbye 2011

Hello Blogosphere,
The Year of the New Baby
I have been most neglectful of you of late. This is due to a massive project that has sucked up all my spare time. Expect to see more in late January when I will tell you all about it, show you photos and possibly create a small animation to explain what I've been doing. In the meantime...

In 2011:
* We spent a long weekend in Bordeaux, at a villa with a helipad.
* We went to Italy and made a giant picture of Mona Lisa out of toast for Japanese TV.
* I made a 10 metre image of Sachan Tendulkar out of fabric.
* I went to the gym more than I ever have in my life. I've started to enjoy it.
* I didn't stand up for things that would make me happy.
* We remade the garden and put in the gorgeous raised beds.
* I waved goodbye to old friends who passed too soon and colleagues who 'retired' too quickly.

In 2012:
* We will go to the USA for the first time. 
* I will attempt to take annual leave when it is convenient to me.
* I will grow my own squash.
* I will finish the aforementioned large project and get back to blogging.
* I may well get back into crochet and have a new stab at sewing.

And finally, last year I made an 'Eleventh Heaven' list of things I would like to win. Here's how I got on:
1. Holiday - well, I got £500 holiday vouchers.
2. Laptop or netbook - nope, and unbelievably the laptop has made it through 2011.
3. Food hamper - not strictly speaking, but we have received free meals and numerous gift packs, from spices to sweets!
4. Kinect or PS Move - nope, keep hoping with that one...
5. EA Sports Active 2 - no indeed, but maybe I'll just survey my way to some Amazon vouchers for that now the price has dropped!
6. A DVD of a film we want to watch! - yes!
7. Knitting/Craft/Crochet goodies - sadly no
8. New clothes - I won some lovely maxi dresses this year, most pleased.
9. Fancy shoes - most definitely, if anything, 2011 was the year of 'win the shoes'
10. An ipod - right at the last minute this one sneaked in there, during the December advent competitions! It's the same capacity as my old one, but the charger for my old one did break so the need became more urgent.
11. A haircut/makeover/spa thingy for pampering! - No, but I did manage to get some free KGB deal money which got me a free haircut, and that's good enough for me!

And my list of goals?
* Go camping - nope
* Do more random acts of kindness - definitely
* Complete more crafty projects - certainly!
* Visit a random event, like a competitive eating competition or some such! - sadly no
* Decorate the hallway and maybe the bathroom - still no!
* Grow sweetcorn and other things!- absolutely.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Movember: The Results Collage

There's very little I can say over and above this image. However, if you didn't sponsor The Boy for Movember, I hope you feel ashamed. Look at the epic effort!
This charts the full progress of Movember 2011. Congratulations to The Boy for raising £30 and a significant amount of awareness for men's health issues. I have to say on a personal note, I am glad the Mo' is gone. It was rather tickly towards the end.

#SilentSunday


Sunday, 20 November 2011

#SilentSunday


Movember

This year The Boy has decided to grow a moustache for Movember. This is where selfless men all over the country grow some bushy facial caterpillars, in the name of charidee. And selfless wives and girlfriends put up with bristly kisses and lots of general face accoutrements stroking for 30 days.

Day 1
The aim of all this seemingly unecessary lip foliage is to raise money and awareness for men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers which affect men. They have to start the month clean shaven and then groom, trim and generally wax their way through the rest of the month as they develop a significant soup strainer and, hopefully develop a significant amount of support from friends and family.

The Boy has never had a face fungus of such a deliberate nature before. Normally he ends up quite spikey around the mouthal cavity, but that's just because he forgets to shave. When we were in India a few years ago, this situation got out of hand, and he shaved the beard off just to see what he would look like with a moustachio. Needless to say, I laughed so much that it only survived for 5 minutes before it too went down the plug hole.

Day 8
But in the name of charity, he's really sticking with this one. On about day 5 he realised that he was going to look a bit silly for the rest of the month and vowed that come the end of the month he would not leave the house, indeed, he wouldn't even go in the garden to fetch the cats. So far, his socialising has been unaffected though, although this week may prove the test as we have various social occasions to look forward to. I will make The Boy's full Movember picture collage at the end of the month.

Day 17
He's joined the Planet Rock team on the Movember website and I must say I have enjoyed their 'Great Mo's in Rock' feature as the month has gone on. Jimi Hendrix being my favourite so far. They have also been running charity auctions for digital radios signed by the likes of Joe Bonomassa and Joe Elliot. You can nip over and bid on one yourself if you're quick.

I'm proud of him for doing something that makes him feel daft so he can raise money for an often ignored cause. If you are impressed by his Nose Neighbour, why not pop along to his MoBro page and stick a couple of quid into the pot. You can pay by PayPal or credit card and it takes a matter of seconds. Keep up the good work, my hairy brothers.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Craftwerk III: The Crumblin' Cookie, Leicester


The Crumblin' Cookie is one of our favourite local cafe bars. Yes, a cafe bar, meaning you can get cake there but also beer - huzzah!

The Cookie does a great Twitter presence if you want to follow them, but more importantly you should go in and say hello. You're guarenteed a warm welcome, a good meal and, more often than not, some top notch entertainment. 
Lovely downstairs seating
They put on all kinds of events, from film showings, to live music, to Ann Summers parties (seriously, there was one going on upstairs while we were there this week) to comedy. In fact, they were voted the Best New Venue of the Leicester Comedy Festival 2010. Definitely one to watch, considering the festival will now be sponsored by the possibly illustrious comedy satellite channel, 'Dave'.

For those in the know, the Cookie also has a fabulous and spacious terrace on the first floor, which is great when you want to sit outside but away from the hustle and general criminal activity of Leicester's High Street (I jest of course, the High Street is sound, but the terrace is better).
Last Wednesday we arrived to see this lovely arrangement upon our table. Yes, it was Craftwerk III, which feels like it should say 'The Revenge' or something after it. Craftwerk is a now regular evening at the Cookie where you bring a team of mates and are provided a theme to which you all have to meet as creatively and craftily as possible. Naturally, as this combines sticky back plastic and beer, I consider it to be a fitting activity for an Extreme Housewife to engage in.
Prepare to craft!

 The theme was Harry Potter - attempting to decorate the Cookie like Hogwarts ready for their Halloween film night and fancy dress on Monday. This probably put us at a slight disadvantage as if I had a flying fuck, I probably wouldn't give it to that Potter fellow. He can probably create his own flying fuck anyway, being magic and all.

We had to (from what I understood of the instructions, me mainly being distracted by drinking pints at this stage) create a big crafty thing inspired by our allotted Harry Potter team (we got the Death Eaters apparently), with bonus prizes for the best team wand, familiar and themed fancy dress. There was also the facilities for pumpkin carving, which was the first thing to engage The Boy's attention in proceedings all evening.

Avid Craftwerkers
At the sound of the whistle. Or possible just when they said "go" there was a slight scrum at the table of crafty materials. Then the next two hours were filled with people trying to find the sellotape, trying not to PVA themselves to the table and not knock over any drinks with a roll of glittery paper. There was much general sticking out of tongues in concentration. 

The creations of the Deaf Heaters
I naturally got engrossed almost immediately. It took me nearly an hour to drink my second pint I was so involved in the task at hand. It is absolutely tonnes of fun being handed lager and fun foam and being told to play with them. Why every venue in the country doesn't do this sort of activity I'll never know.

At the end of the night, every team was a winner and everyone was happy, if a bit over stimulated by free access to Sharpie pens. I was particularly pleased with my dragon familiar, which I thought was especially cute. The Boy had excelled himself via the novel yet surprisingly lifelike Hunter S Pumpkin. It was great, and having missed the first two Craftwerks I shall now make it my mission to miss them no more.

Hunter S Pumpkin

 PS. This is not a sponsored post. We went, I liked it, I decided to blog about it.



Thursday, 20 October 2011

REVIEW: Nutricat

I have been invited to join the latest BzzAgent campaign, to try Nutricat: 'Vetinarian approved advanced feline nutrition'. This means they send me a pack with some of the product to try and then ask that I share my opinions with my friends.

Not being a cat, I have declined to sample the Nutricat Adult Chicken flavour myself and let the kitties try it instead. It seemed like the right thing to do. In true showbiz style, we decided between us that the best thing to do was to have a taste test, Nutricat vs their normal tinned food with biscuits:


video

In my 'scientifically' executed experiment the result was as follows:
My cats like Nutricat and they like their regular food. They mainly like eating food.
Freaky Nutricat Mecha-Cats Source: Nutricat.com
So, Nutricat is cat food and they will definitely eat it. Over that, the literature tells me that there are lots of different options available for your cat's stage in life (kitten, adult, sensitive, mature etc.) and it is free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. It is also now available at Tesco, not just speciality pet stores. In fact, if you want to get some money off at Tesco on Nutricat, just type in the voucher code GRPFNC at the online checkout! I think it'll get you a pound off... No idea when it's valid to I'm afraid, but the campaign is open for a month so that would make sense.

Time will tell if my cats get a glossy coat, more energy, generally feel better or sprout wings after eating this food. But they do eat the food, so that suggests it tastes nice. Which, vetenarian-recommendations and omega-3 and 6 content aside, is good enough for me. Purrr.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Mutant Roots!

The total parsnip harvest for 2011
All this messing around in the garden has made me inclined to make a roast dinner today with some of our root vegetables. 

It's been a funny time for the roots, most of them being stunted in pots for some time until they could be put out into the raised beds very late in the season. 


Crazy swedes!

The swedes had their leaves decimated over the summer by one of my arch nemesisesese, the cabbage white butterfly caterpillar. 


 So I wasn't expecting miracles. I also wasn't expecting the catalogue of freaks that I have just pulled out of the garden. Mutant roast dinner anyone?


Quite proud of this one!


Organic gardening at its finest

#SilentSunday


Batten Down The Hatches

The really fun gardening period has come to an end for us now. More than anything, we are enjoying the last of our crops and getting everything ready for what may well be another hard winter. All of our rescue tomatoes have been doing well, considering we didn't plant any on purpose we have a great selection of cherry, plum and beef and the recent spells of autumnal fine weather have really been encouraging them to their best.

We still have a lot of salad and root crops, mainly the stuff that we planted in August just so that we could get something in the raised beds this year. Sadly, all of the cacti and chilli plants have now been pulled back into the house as the temperature starts to get too chilly for them overnight. Already the dandelions are coming up through the gravel with a vengeance, so the continuous battle of pulling them up and pouring boiling water on them continues!

This week was an exciting one for the garden, as the nice people at Gardening Express sent us a bundle of plants to try out and blog about. We've spent the last couple of days reading up on our new acquisitions and trying to decide what best to do with them with winter coming. There are a nice mixture of tropicals in there and, on the whole, they are all suitable for container gardening, so essentially we've decided not to plant any of them out in the borders yet, but to over winter them in the mini-greenhouse, so that they hopefully survive to make a great show in the garden next year.

The plants came really well wrapped and protected, although that did mean we had to cut them out of the box!! We have a lovely Skimmia 'Magic Marlot' which has already deepened in colour in the time that we've had it! It is quite a compact plant with tight bunches of colourful flowers and pretty multi-toned leaves. This one has a good winter hardiness and is apparently suits container gardening well so this will be left out as a nice addition to the raised beds through the winter.

The next plant is a really super Brazilian Dipladenia. It has gorgeous fat, juicy leaves with a great shine and some deep pink buds that look ready to burst into flower any time soon. This is also an excellent climber in pots, and given that the label states that it is hardy down to 6'C, we have decided to bring this one in as a houseplant for the winter. It's such a beautiful plant we don't want to take any chances with it. I shall have to identify a nice decorative pot to put it in. More on that as it happens!

The Boy was quite excited that we received a new Salvia in the mix. Although unlabelled, we think that is the Salvia Patens that you can find on the website. It has beautiful rich blue flowers, and a very distinctive arrowhead shaped leaf. This Mexican ornamental can apparently be quite hardy, but many of the sites we've looked at has gardeners recommending lifting them and over wintering in the greenhouse, so this one will be out for another month or so in its pot before it goes into protection in the greenhouse for the winter period. It's a shame really that we've received these plants at a time of year when most of them will need to be hidden away!

The final plant is a fine Gaura Lindheimari, 'My Melody'. This has a heady sweep of cloudlike white flowers which are reminiscient of small butterflies and gives a real light touch of pale colour. I think this one might also make it if left in its pot in the garden over the winter.


Progress reports on how these little guys are doing will follow up mid-winter and then no doubt in Spring when we start finding them more permanent homes in the garden! Many thanks to Gardening Express for sending them over to us. Gardening Express are really active on Twitter, which I always appreciate about a company. 

Earlier in the year I won a £10 voucher with them, but we wanted to save it until the raised borders were in and by the time I went to retrieve it, Twitter had made it disappear into the ether - boo to Twitter! But do check out their website, they have some fab fruit and veg selections, and their mushroom kits look great also!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Storecupboard cooking: Cheese and bean pasties

We're having one of those Old Mother Hubbard moments here in the Happy House. As ever, my palatial stocks of dry ingredients are in tip top condition, but we have completely run out of fresh vegetables, meat - anything that would be the basis of a meal. However, from the odds and sods that remain, I managed to put us a quick (but not particularly healthy) lunch. Roll on 3pm so I can go and see what bargains I can pick up from Mr T's reduced section!!



Cheese and Bean Pasties with Mash
(serves 2)

Ingredients

Pastry:
110g flour
40g butter
cold water to bind, approximately 30ml
pinch of salt

Filling:
Half a tin of baked beans
50g cheese (I used Smoked Cheddar and Wensleydale)
Freshly milled black pepper

Mash:
4 medium potatoes
Pinch of salt
Black pepper, butter and milk or cream to taste!


Method

Preheat the oven to 190'C. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add water a bit at a time until you get a smooth pastry, which is still slightly crumbly. Divide the pastry into two and roll out to about 3mm thick. Add about quarter of a tin of baked beans to each pastry, top with grated cheese and black pepper. You could add anything else you wanted at this stage, cooked chicken or sausage, herbs, spices...

Wrap up and seal the edges and then place in the fridge to firm while you chop up the potatoes into small cubes for a quick cooking mash. Put the pasties in the oven for about 15-20 minutes and boil the potatoes. When the potatoes are soft, drain and mash them with a pinch of salt, pepper, butter, milk (I put a bit more cheese in ours!)

Stick the whole lot on a plate and enjoy! Nom!


#SilentSunday


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Nail Art: De Stijl

I've been looking around the net this afternoon for some inspiration and I came across lots of interesting information on the De Stijl art movement. You'll probably remember some of these works, most people would recognise the work of Mondrian for example, even if you didn't know the artist's name. I like the simplicity of this art movement even though I can be very fickle when it comes to abstract art - the Marmite of the art world. 

Mondrian's artistic concepts was very firmly rooted in geometric ideas about horizontals and verticals and I best remember these pieces for their bold yet simple colours. I have no idea if this sort of stuff is out of copyright yet. I guess some is, but for an early 20th century movement there are no guarantees so therefore I'm not going to take the risk of posting any images up here for you to have a look at. Do follow the links if you want to know more.
Having a quick look at trends for this season, I saw that burgundy was in, which one of my nail polishes sort of is. It's weird, I'm sure I had a huge amount of deep red nail polish but they've all disappeared into the void. Ah well, I'll try this weirdy unbranded one that came in a make-up box set and see how it goes on!

The next decision was how to make some nice geometric lines. I haven't got any nice nail art pens or stencils at the moment, so as ever, free hand is the way. Naturally, this made me think of how else I would get straight lines - masking tape of course!! We'll see how that pans out also. This could well be a disaster. But that's half the fun of blogging isn't, showing the rough with the smooth!


So, with my materials assembled it's time to get on with the dubious methods of self decoration. My base coat is a freebie that I was sent by the Boots testing panel. Therefore I can't comment on the brand, but it's always done the job for me. My colours were a deep red by Markwins International apparently! (I love Google, a quick check and I found a link!) and the nude is Gosh 020 Light Nutmeg, which I won from the lovely Jo's blog, Given to Distracting Others.
First I applied the base coat and then let it dry thoroughly (don't attempt anything like this unless you have lots and lots of time on your hands. It's a Saturday today so time is on my side). While you're waiting for that to dry, carefully cut lots of little strips of masking tape.  Or, if you're sensible, do this before you apply your base coat. Whatever, logic isn't really my strong point.



Then liberally (and randomly) apply small bits of masking tape to your fingernails. This can and will provoke quizzical and slightly alarmed looks from loved ones. Ignore them, whadda they know about art anyway. Once you're taped up, slap on your colours. I had to stick on two coats of the Gosh polish as it's so pale as to be more invisible than Casper in a flour factory. I have been having trouble deciding whether it will be best to remove the tape once the nail varnish is dry or immediately, so have opted to err on the side of caution and let it dry first.


Then carefully peel the tape off. Pretend this is something the exact opposite of a sticking plaster - the slower you do it, the less it'll hurt. Et voila. After taking these photos I put on a topcoat to seal it and then tidied up the edges. Although I think a brighter colour than the Gosh polish would have worked better and more thinner pieces of masking tape. However, the theory is sound, so I will be using this again with a coloured base coat and more stronger shades. Colour blocking eat your heart out.



Sunday, 18 September 2011

Creative Pact 3: Painting

I'm feeling really glad I posted all kinds of excuses on my initial Creative Pact entry. Turns out that I really have trouble finding time every day to work on any sort of creative project that doesn't have a strict deadline! However, that's all for the good - it makes me feel better about a. doing a painting in a month and b. actually getting to grips with the Big Blank Sheet of Paper, regardless of how sporadic the activity is.

Here is my progress so far. I am liking it. I think it's going to come out well. I also discovered today that when I have an idea for a project, I should really check what materials I have before I start. This picture is now going to be made out of a combination of acrylics, satin gloss emulsion and poster paint, because I don't have all the colours I want in emulsion. Ah well, I'm sure none of you will hold it against me.

Look out for the next exciting installment of "The same painting, but with a bit more coloured in" - coming your way soon.



Detail of Maneki Neko
Actual Maneki Neko

Plum and Blackberry "Afters"

 Another Sunday is here and the urge to put off doing useful things by spending my time doing a spot of extreme baking has over come me yet again. Today we had a leftover selection of plums that needed cooking down since The Boy picked up a carrier bag full for 50p earlier this week (God Bless Leicester Market). And so Plum and Blackberry 'Afters' was born. It's not quite a cake and it's not quite a pudding, but it does taste nice and that's what counts.

Ingredients

200g self raising flour
150g caster sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
Few drops of vanilla extract
8 ripe plums, stoned and quartered
100g blackberries
Sugar and cinnamon for dusting



Method

Preheat your oven to 180'C.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat together until smooth.

Gently mix the flour into the batter and mix until you achieve a smooth consistency.

Pour the batter into a greased ovenproof dish.

 Press the plums and blackberries into the top of the batter. I used blackberries from a picking session a couple of weeks ago straight from the freezer and it worked fine. Put in the oven.

Realise you wanted a flavoursome, crunchy top and take it back out of the oven. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over the top of the dessert. Put back in the oven and this time leave it.

Takes 40 mins to an hour to bake, depending on how thick your mixture is. I used quite a large flan dish it only took 40 minutes.
 Leave to cool slightly to help it set and enjoy!

The Boy has proclaimed this dessert 'A Good Thing'. It has a nice combination of textures - the crunchy sugar top, a very light sponge and the sweet and sharp of the fruit. It is quite wet inside, which is why I wouldn't describe it as a cake, but it really shows of the flavour of the plums and is all round a bit nommy - even if I do say so myself!!

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