Sunday, 29 September 2013

Jive Night: The Severed Limb

We're all getting back into the swing of things after the summer break, and jive nights are no exception. The legendary Phil saw The Severed Limb play at a weekender a while back and decided to snap them up. They are more skiffle than jive really, so dancing was interesting to say the least. Two or three of the songs were slow enough to stroll to, so Miss Mac and I hit the floor and most of the other ladies followed. (The band said that was the best dancing they'd seen to that song!) A few of the songs were fast enough to jive to, but mostly we ended up just having a mess around - there was a bit of charleston flapper-y type action, some 1960's style capers and we even made it to some silly dancing at the end of the night. I'd like to blame the drink, but I only had one and Miss Mac is allergic to alcohol, so it was just some unabashed, shameless fun frankly. The music itself was absolutely great, I can imagine dancing around my bedroom to this for ages, but the songs were pretty long, which you don't really notice unless you're jiving to them so we all ended up absolutely knackered within a few songs. (Most rockabilly songs are about 2 mins so not too long if you have a torturous dancing partner.) They were great, and I would recommend catching them live if you can - not least because the lead singer play the washboard (a washboard!) with more spirit than I've ever seen. (Admittedly, I haven't seen that many washboard players....).

There was generally a really lovely atmosphere to the evening. It wasn't completely packed but there were enough people for it to seem busy. P wore one of my dresses - much more elegantly than I ever do, I must say - she wore a black and white polka dot dress with black bolero, belt and shoes and big silver pearls. I wore dress no. 1 which got a fair few compliments which was delightful, the buttons were a big success - the legendary Phil described them as multicoloured volcanoes and twice congratulated me on managing to make a dress. Miss Mac wore a lovely little black wiggle dress that inspired me to make my own - I'm already thinking about fabrics. Some of the other ladies looked extraordinary as always, and there were a few smart gentlemen about the place too.

When I wasn't messing about with Miss Mac, I managed a few actual dances. I had a couple of dances with Red to begin with which was a nice warm up, I danced with Ingrid a few times which is always lovely. I had a few haphazard dances with some of the lads towards the end of the night - still fun, but slightly perilous (jiving can be a little dangerous, you know). Some of the other girls are learning to lead so I had a few dances with them, with varying levels of success - mostly dependent on alcohol consumption and levels of tiredness as the night wore on. I finally managed to get a dance in with the legendary Phil and we had a long, close slow dance which was scrummy. I grabbed him for a jive for half of a country song which we ended up dancing at half time which was actually really relaxing, and I finally got him for a proper jive towards the end of the evening. Fabulousness all round.

I'm so happy that jive nights are back on. Rock it!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Oh, that Dress! (pt 2)

Dress no. 2 is finished! Hurrah! It's another Vogue Vintage V8789, but view A this time. I wanted a different fabric but there wasn't enough on the roll, but the legendary Phil said this was very late 40's early 50s so pretty fitting for the pattern as it turned out. Middle B meanwhile thought it was a bit curtain-y but I like curtains and it ended up working out. Making the bodice was fine, but it all got a bit wayward while I was making the skirt... I almost gave her a name, she had so much personality! I'm going to make a belt to match, but I'm waiting for belt buckles to arrive. Still, the dress itself is all done and much faster and much neater than the last one too.

Seams and darts and fabric, oh my!

Much less facing on this one

We start tackling the skirt... it's a lot of fabric

I wanted a pocket so Fran improvised a pattern

We pin up the seams between us

gathering the skirt and fitting it to the bodice took a while

Zips are always the most complicated bit

Fran pins up the hem for me

Something to keep me going through the long hours

I'm pretty pleased with the hem
Ta da! Twirly twirly!

Monday, 23 September 2013


I always carry a notebook with my to record bits and pieces - mostly things people say, interesting book titles, shopping lists and to-do lists. I was flicking through an old one today to find a cake recipe that I had jotted down in there, when I stumbled across these two gems that my auntie made for me when we visited them. I have no idea what recipe book they're from - feel free to tell me if you recognise them - but they are perfect food to take to work for lunch, or for a buffet, simple dishes that don't take much time or effort and quite happily last as leftovers and can be put in sandwiches.

Un-Tuna Salad

- 15oz cooked chickpeas, mashed
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp sweet pickle relish
- salt and pepper to taste

Mash the chickpeas, and then mix all the ingredients together. 
This is completely vegetarian but it tastes a lot like tuna salad. Like, a lot a lot.

Un-Meat Loaf

- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 16oz cottage cheese
- 1oz / 1 packet onion soup mix
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 1/2 cups cornflakes

Put the oven on at 175 C/ 350 F.
Mix all the ingredients together and bake for 35 - 50 mins.
This sounds like the weirdest mix of ingredients ever, it's true. In fact, if you come across weirder I'd like to know about it! Again, this is completely vegetarian but tastes very much like meat loaf (or so I'm told, I've been veggie a long time so I have no idea what actual meat loaf tastes like). I would recommend baking it in a loaf tin, that way you can slice it up for sandwiches or as cold cuts. Check the onion soup mix, but otherwise both are gluten free, hurrah!

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Sun Always Shines on TV

It is most definitely autumn now. We had our first work meeting on Thurs - cultural awareness training in the morning (did you know that Brits use a lot more eye contact than anyone else?) and then a team meeting in the afternoon. I was hoping to get my timetable, but apparently it's all up in the air still. I love my job, but the first two weeks of term are always a bit of a mess - we're still waiting for various courses to finalise their timetables and venues, and we're still waiting for some of the students to give us documentation regarding their various conditions. Last year, I worked with three students: one deaf, one visually impaired and one with anxiety. Maybe I'll get to work with one or two of them again, who knows. In the meantime, I'm just hanging about waiting for my timetable.

I've also been feeling a little unfit these last few weeks, and I've been trying to get back to a regular gym routine but I've so far only managed dribs and drabs. I know I feel better when I'm exercising regularly - I get less puffed out walking to work, I feel more toned up and I tend to sleep and eat better - so it's time to get on it, I'll need all the help I can get during the dark winter months so it's better for me to get into a routine now. This week I went to aqua three times, yes, three times! There is a lady who teaches on a Mon who I really like - she works us pretty hard - who says aqua is just for old ladies?! This is all sprints and circuit training and weights. Just cause it's hard doesn't mean it's serious though - I still get to do frog impressions, pretend I'm on a rocking horse and imagine I'm a mermaid. One of the best things about this lady is that she has great taste in music, which is always good in an exercise class. Last few weeks have been mostly disco, but this week she changed to 80s. Just what I needed!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Ascending Light

My Grandma has been unconscious for a few days. She passed away at about 4pm this afternoon. She used to be a spritely, elegant lady when I knew her best - my favourite memories are sitting in cafes with her, me drinking strawberry juice and her drinking coffee and sketching people. She always used to put her lipstick on at the table after lunch, and we would both mimic her and make fun of her. She always wore a dainty gold chain and pearl clip on earrings. Red Door by Elizabeth Arden was her favourite perfume. She used to bake poppy seed cake for us and a wonderful baked cheese cake. She played piano, but never in front of other people. I remember always going to the National Gallery and to a matinee at the theatre when she came to visit, and she would always stay in a hotel in Russell Square (until she got a flat in London).  She used to go for a walk every day and get a coffee in the cafe Atara on Aza Street. When she moved to her retirement home, she used to walk down to the theatre for her coffee.

The last few years have been hard on her - she hated doing her morning exercises that the carer made her do. She stopped setting her hair, she gradually wore her housecoat more and more. She stopped coming into the living room for coffee and eventually just stayed in bed. The last two or three years she has not gotten out of bed when I came to visit. I would sit by her bed and hold her hand and talk to her. The talking became less and less as time went on. She has been one of my greatest inspirations in life, and I'm delighted when I say that I am slowly turning into her over the years. I'm sad to have lost her, but her influence lives on in my painting, knitting, sewing and baking. I hope she is in a better place now.

Things my Grandma told me:

* 'Always say thank you. Even when you're crossing the road and the drivers can't hear you, they can still tell.'

* 'You drink coffee? Good quality coffee. I have my coffee once a day, it's a treat, a special occasion.'

* 'Don't save all your money. Have enough, but spend a little from time to time. Enjoy it.'

* 'You have a belief? That's very important. I never thought about those things when I was young, I didn't think I needed to, and now I'm an old woman and I see things differently. Having a belief, a faith makes life easier, I see that in you.'

* 'As long as you are a human being, a decent human being, that is the best thing. See that you treat people well, that you think about people.'

* 'When I was young, the clothes lasted for years. I used to get so bored, always the same clothes. Now you have all these new things all the time. So what if they don't last that long, isn't it fun to be able to change your clothes every year?'

* 'We went to all these different countries, your grandfather and I. I loved it! Even though I couldn't speak the language, you point they point, you smile at people they smile back. It was lovely. Lovely! If you have the opportunity to travel, take it.'

* 'My mother told me that good women don't wear purple. They brought out those ready to wear clothes in the shops, as soon as I saw that they do trousers in purple, I bought them. And how!'

* 'All these new art movements now, I don't know, where they put out a chair with some cake on it and call it art, when I was younger I didn't like them. Middle aged people are so judgmental. But now that I'm old, I look at it and say 'oh, well, that's interesting.' I think sometimes you really have to look at something, to learn not to mind things that are so different from your tastes. Then the things around you become interesting.'

* 'What are you doing with your life? Oh well, it's not so important. As long as you're satisfied with your life, that's the most important thing.'

Friday, 13 September 2013

Weekly Round-up

Things that happened this week:

* The girl at Pret gave me a free coffee - I asked if it was a promotion and she said that she felt like it. What a sweetie!

* The legendary Phil told Miss T and I that we have rhythm. Hurrah!

* Miss T and I discovered that gin and monster munch go surprisingly well together. (Beef flavour, since you asked.)

* I had acupuncture with my lovely lady, and (among other things) she told me to remember that I'm a good person. Because we all forget sometimes, you know. In relation to this, I must add that some of my friends have been generally amazing recently and for that I am very grateful.

* I altered the waist-band and took up the hem of a rather lovely skirt. Work on dress no.2 starts next Weds. True to form, I have already made my life more difficult by requesting that we make a belt to match and add in pockets - because who doesn't love a dress with pockets? Exactly.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

And then a Dress Happened!

Remember the sewing project that I had on the go? you know, this one? that I mentioned a few thousand times? Oh yeah, that one... well, it's all done and ready to go dancing in. As M said, 'Looks like you've got that jive scene all sewn up!'

The adventure begins

Pinning the pattern to the fabric... look at the amazing print!

The beginnings of the bodice...all those pins will be darts

Hard at work!

Darts in for the back of the bodice

Facing gives the dress some structural integrity

Skirt all gathered and ready to be stitched to the bodice

Seams looking quite good for a first go

It would have been a shame to waste a lovely border

Side zip - a little shabby but does the trick

Ah, ridiculous buttons... and look at those rouleau loops!

Ta -daaaaah!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Because Undies Matter...

I was on my way to go dancing the other day (with two cakes in my handbag!) and I ran into V outside the pub with a friend. I sat down and had a chat for a while, it was lovely. Finally I told her I had to disappear because I was going to jive so I gathered up my handbag and assorted cakes, and just as I was going she said, 'Make sure your skirt doesn't twirl too high!'. I exclaimed, 'You know it will!'. She shouted after me,'I hope you've got big knickers on!', to which I replied that I did indeed, and as I was a few feet away from the table, she shrieked, 'I hope they're proper Bridget Jones knickers!', to which the girls sat on the next table all giggled mercilessly. The moral of this story is that foundation garments are important... and they also make people giggle.

When I got to jive, one of the girls (who reminds me of Jessica Rabbit!) was wearing these delightful tights. She said she'd gotten more compliments on her tights that evening than she ever had about anything else. While I don't actually believe that, I do think they're amazing. Behold the tights of awesomeness:

and the backs:

Some people are amazing without even trying!

You can get them here or maybe slightly cheaper on eBay if you look up 'kitty tights'

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Red's Down to Earth but Slightly Sparkly Birthday Cake

It was Red's birthday last Sunday and P's birthday today so as a consequence I am taking not one cake, but two, yes, two cakes in my handbag with me to jive class tonight. The cake-in-handbag thing is becoming so common it should be my middle name! P requested an Orange Drizzle, for which I used Nigella's Damp Lemon Loaf recipe and added in oranges and some baby blue glitter (which turned a light green). Red requested a Victoria Sponge, which I've never done before. He's pretty solid and down to earth so I'm not really surprised but I couldn't help but put in a bit of red glitter in the cream. It's not looking as springy as I'd like, but it'll have to do. I used a recipe from Delia's cookery course, because when you're looking at basics you can't go wrong with a bit of Delia. (Though I'll let you know once I've gotten a verdict on the sponge!)

All-in-One Sponge

4oz / 110g self raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
4oz / 110g margarine or butter, at room temperature
4oz / 110g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 drops vanilla essence

To finish: jam and/or fresh cream

- Pre-heat oven to gas mark 3/ 325 F/ 170 C. Line two 7 inch/ 18cm sponge tins (no less than 1 inch / 2.5cm deep) with greaseproof paper or silicone paper, lightly greased.

- In a large mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder, give the flour a good airing while doing so. Then add all the other ingredients to the bowl and whisk them together until thoroughly combined. If the mix is too stiff then add a teaspoon or two of warm water and whisk again.

- Divide the mixture between the two tins, level off and bake for about 30 mins. When cooked leave them in the tin for only about 30 seconds, then loosen the edges with a palate knife and turn them out onto a wire cooling rack. When cool sandwich the cakes together with jam and cream in the middle. Dust with icing sugar (on in my case, edible glitter).

Et viola! 

Sorry about the glitter - couldn't help myself!