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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Berries

A New Years Eve show-stopper of a cake!
This is luxuriously rich and chocolatey yet is surprisingly simple and quick to make (apart from the chilling time).

You will need a 25 cm springform cake tin, with the base and sides lined with non stick baking paper
Oven 180 degC, 160 deg fan

For the cake:
25g cocoa mixed into a paste with 3 tablespoons boiling water

add to this:
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
100g self raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
100g soft butter

Whisk using an electric mixer for 1 minute. Spread the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 20 minutes. It will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little.
Sit the tin on a wire rack to cool, don't remove the cake from the tin! Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of rum or brandy while the cake is still warm and let it soak in.

While your cake is cooling melt 300g of dark chocolate (I do this in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, reducing to 10 second bursts) allow to cool a little.

Whip 450 ml cream to a softly peaking stage, then gently fold through the melted chocolate, do this thoroughly until there are no streaks. Spoon the chocolate mousse on top of the cake, smoothing the surface carefully to get a neat finish. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight in the fridge to firm.

Release the springform clip of the tin and remove the ring. The cake on the pic is straight after the tin was released and sometimes the sides may look a little rough, you can use a hot, wet palette knife and run it around the outer edge in one quick movement to neaten it, but you have to be confident to do this in one action and it helps to put the cake on a turntable.

Dust the top of the mousse with cocoa powder, pile on some berries of your choice. Give it a final flourish of icing sugar over the top of the berries.

Serves at least 12 people, small slices are best. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting & Other Things..........

It's been a very busy week and also a very cold week. I never thought I would see the day when we had the christmas tree up and the fire lit, but we did.

I made Gingerbread Cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting this week, they make the house smell so christmassy while they are baking:

For the cupcakes:
4 oz soft butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup black treacle
1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

For the frosting:
100g cream cheese (full fat)
30 g soft butter
150g icing sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Oven 180 degC/350 deg F

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg then add the treacle and water. The mixture may look like it has split at this point but don't be concerned, it will work out right. Mix all the dry ingredients together and mix them into the butter mixture until combined, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Fill paper baking cups 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes. They will be risen and nicely brown, when you gently press them in the centre they should spring back. Let them cool in the tins for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

For the frosting: Mix all ingredients together and mix with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and airy. Pipe swirls on top of the cupcakes and decorate as desired. I used snowflake sprinkles. This makes about 18 cupcakes depending on the size of your paper cups.

The postie has been busy at my house this week, delivering parcels and goodies:

An early Christmas Gift.

My holiday colour swap-mini-swap envelope from Annie in The Netherlands, crochet snowflakes for my tree, organic chocolate, mini skeins and a skein of Wollmeise in the most gorgeous shade of red. What a lucky girl I am.

My wonderful colour swap parcel from Aryn in Canada, stuffed full of yarn, fibre and goodies all packaged in the neatest handmade fabric basket.

I'm making slow progress on my cardigan, just not getting enough knitting time lately. Onto the third stripe and have joined in the round for the body part.

My Christmas tree has a bird theme this year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Already..

December is here already, I can't believe it! Yesterday was the first day of Summer for us and what a day it was. Hail storms, rain all day and the fire lit last night. I have never known us to have the fire lit in December.

Christmas is fast approaching and I feel so unprepared. I have mailed gifts home to the U.K. and have done most of my gift buying for family here yet I still have to bake my Christmas cakes (I usually have them done and stored away by the end of October), I have the fruit soaking it's just difficult to find the time to actually bake them. Going to work seems to suck up most of my time these days.

So, with all the 'hundred-things-to-do' swimming around in my head I decided to start knitting a cardigan lol. I'm using some yarn that I haven't tried before:

Cleckheaton Perfect Day DK weight ~ a wool & alpaca blend. It's really nice yarn, soft and light, I think it'll make a perfect BlueSand Cardigan for when the cooler weather returns. The mid grey (12 balls) is for the main part of the cardigan and the darker and lighter shades for the stripes, the yarn was on clearance for $7 per ball, a real bargain.

The red roses from my garden are making me feel quite Christmassy, they are the most stunning shade of red, have the sweetest perfume and the blooms are really large. I would love to know what variety they are.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mary Berry's Banana loaf

Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of having a whole day at home to myself. What to do?  Spinning and knitting were at the forefront of my mind I will admit, however, I quickly shelved those thoughts and decided to catch up on household chores, a spot of gardening was also quickly shelved because of the intense heat outside (it got to 27 degrees), so once I had caught up with the mundane stuff I decided to spend the afternoon baking. 6 bananas past their best in the fruit bowl, no way was I going to waste them.

Banana loaf ~ my favorite recipe is a Mary Berry one. It's quite adaptable and keeps and freezes very well. Not too sweet as I use a little less sugar than the original recipe calls for, moist, cakey, and not at all heavy as I find a lot of banana loaf recipes are. I made 3, 1 for now and 2 for the freezer. Here's the recipe:

115g soft butter
2 very ripe bananas (about 200g peeled weight) mashed very well.
125 g soft brown sugar (original recipe calls for 150g)
2 large eggs
225g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk (I sometimes use buttermilk)

1 loaf tin 900g/2lb capacity, lined with baking paper

Oven 180 deg/160 deg fan/350deg f/gas 4

Put everything except the banana into a large mixing bowl and whisk with an handheld mixer for 1 minute, or beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Stir in the banana and add any add-ins you may like.

I added 100g of chopped walnuts, half of a pack of white chocolate chips and a few handfuls of dried cranberries to mine, but that was for 3 times the mixture.

Spoon into the lined tin and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean, if you press the cake lightly in the centre it will feel pretty firm and should be a nice golden brown colour.

Cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a cooling rack.

The original recipe has honey icing but I don't make this as I think the cake is sweet enough as it is:
25g icing sugar
2 teaspoons clear honey
1/2 teaspoon cold water
Mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the cold loaf.

Then I hung the new curtains I made for my bedroom last week:

The fabric I chose is a chocolate brown washed linen, these are lined with a thermal block out lining which will keep the heat in through the Winter. The heading is a 20cm pencil pleat. I'm really happy with them, I wouldn't normally choose such a dark colour for soft furnishings but they go so well with the pale gold colour of the wallpaper.

I'm currently working on a package for a Christmas mini swap, I've learnt myself some new skills but I can't say too much until the package has been received :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Spring Green Handspun Merino, finally finished

Finally finished my experimental skein:
950 metres
Commercially combed 20 micron merino top
Hand dyed by me
Randomly spun
Weight: Lace
Grist:10,555 mtrs per Kg
WPI: 36
Plies: 2
Singles: Z spun
Plied: S spun
Wheel: Ashford Traditional
Drive ratio: 40:1

This is the first yarn/skein I spun using my new Ashford Lace Flyer. I really really like it. Spinning seems effortless, because of the higher ratio I no longer treadle like a mad woman to get enough twist into the singles. Cross lacing the singles across the flyer does work, it slows the take up of the yarn onto the bobbin. I soon got a feel for it.

One error I made, when I came to ply the singles I used a lace bobbin, I should have just used a normal one. I will know next time!

Now I've just made a start on this beautiful stuff:
This is a braid of merino from Heavenly wools, a lovely surprise sent to me by a swap partner this week. It has a long colour change, so a gradient spin is in order.

I originally planned to spin onto 2 bobbins and 2 ply the singles, but I had a change of heart and decided to spin it all onto one bobbin and Navajo ply for a 3 ply gradient yarn. The blue is much more teal/peacock in reality. I'm halfway through the first colour of 4.

The peonies are all coming into bloom in my garden and I cut the first vase full today. The roses are just about ready to bloom but we are still getting cold frosty nights. I cover over the potatoes and other frost tender crops at night, it seems rather late in the year to be doing that.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Merino, ready to ply

I finished spinning the merino singles last night. 2 bobbins, now ready to ply. The colours are quite a bit more vivid in real life:
Greens into blues, random spun into singles as fine as I could, it was a braid of merino I dyed a very long time ago. I hope for 1000 mtrs of laceweight!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alpaca Fibre Processing, Part 2..

I finally finished cleaning/washing/combing the mid fawn alpaca fibre. 490g of perfectly clean, soft, fluffy nests to spin. Before I started the fibre weighed 610g so the wastage has run at about 20% which isn't bad.

The cria fleece I'm working on now, which came from Radar, is so very soft and fine and wastage seems very high. So I did two experiments:

1. I took a section of dirty fleece, in it's raw, unpicked state, washed and dried it, then weighed it. 210g. I combed it, giving it 5 passes through the combs to get rid of all the VM. Finished weight of the combed fibre was 44g. Too much work for too little product.

2. I took another section of the same fleece weighing 210g, then flicked out most of the VM with a dog slicker brush, washed and dried it as before then combed it, it needed only 2 passes through the combs. Finished weight 121g.

The red basket shows the fibre after flicking out the VM but before washing and combing. The colour is true to life. The dirt dulls everything about it, the colour, feel and the texture.

After washing and combing the fibre is totally transformed into clean, beautiful nests with a gorgeous rich colour and sheen.  
So, for me personally after weighing everything up, removing the VM with the dog slicker brush first is the best option. Although time consuming, I'm now rather adept at it and can whip through the fleece quite efficiently. I would rather do that and follow with 2 passes through the combs than do 5 passes through the combs, fighting the static and flyaway fibre is no fun. I just wanted to reassure myself that I was doing this the most efficient way, for me anyway.                                              

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Alpaca Fibre Processing....

I've been diligently washing 2 lingerie bags of alpaca fibre every evening this week, as soon as it's dry it's on my combs, being made into clean, soft nests of delicious fibre ready for spinning:
This is the fibre that was sitting in the red basket on my 'Three Bags Full' post last week, it was a fleece I bought from a breeder friend last year off her alpaca Chantallini.
I washed it in mild hair shampoo, 2 good rinses, then a final rinse with a spot of hair conditioner added (as this cuts down on the static when you come to comb it), then laid it out on a rack to dry and have combed 280g so far. There's another 200g dry today. I shall wash another batch after dinner, and so the washing/drying/combing cycle goes on and on.

I have an image in my mind that one day I will have a whole shelf of large lidded boxes, each box containing the processed fleece from one of my alpacas. When I get the urge I can just walk to the box and remove the required amount of ready to spin fibre that I need. We can all dream.

Sometimes I don't want to sit and knit, or to sit and spin for that matter, sometimes the only thing that will cut the mustard for me is some good old fibre prep!

Monday, October 20, 2014


Today I picked the first of the season's asparagus from the garden. It doesn't take long to grow once those first little spears poke their way through the soil. We will be eating it most days for the next 8 weeks, then I have to stop cutting it and let the crowns fatten up ready for next year. I have managed to keep this bed alive for the last 4 years so I must be doing something right!

I love the colours, green and purple are so nice together.

Poached eggs & asparagus for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Bags Full.... of Alpaca Fibre

Well, 2 bags and a basket to be precise.

This is 2 days of work.
The white is 700g of cria fleece which will be blended with 18 micron merino, the bag in front is 1kg of tan/white alpaca and the basket contains the rest (about 600g) of the tan fleece which I want to wash and comb.
The 2 bags are going off to the wool carders tomorrow for processing. I still cleaned all of this fleece, lock by lock, with a flick carder to get all the VM out and believe me it was full of the stuff. But, if you send rubbish off to the carders you get rubbish back, and I want to have nice fibre that's a pleasure to spin, so time spent on it now will pay off in the long run.

The white alpaca is so soft, I'm going for a 70/30 blend with the merino. The tan fleece is also lovely and soft - I'm tempted to just have it washed and carded and kept as 100% alpaca. All the fleece have staples of about 7".
I've just made a start on Radar's, it's chocolate brown with black and so far I have skirted it, taken off the legs, neck and belly fibre yet I can't see any guard hair in his fleece at all. It's very crimpy and silky soft. I think I may send it to the wool carders next month if I have it prepped by then. That will be 3 down, 2 more fleece to go. The end is in sight...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rappard Little Peggy

I finally got a Little Peggy wheel. She's a 1980 wheel. I've been wanting one for a long time. She will be my ideal wheel for going to spinning meetings due to her size. I have an Ashford Traveller (which I also love) but Little Peggy is much more compact. I also love the idea that she can be set up in Scotch tension or double drive. I brought her home yesterday and she was in a state of neglect, I feel she has been a well used wheel but has not been used for years. Apart from the dirt and grime she was in pretty good condition:

I spent a good few hours cleaning every inch of her with furniture oil, the wool on the bobbins was a pain to get off as it had set on there like cement and has left black marks on the core of the bobbins that won't come out, but that's part of her life history. I cleaned all the old black dirt/grease off. Took the rust off the metal parts using steel wool and furniture oil, then I put her back together and thoroughly oiled her.

She now has new flyer hooks, drive band and brake band. The old hooks had just about worn through:

Here's Peggy after her makeover:

You can see the bobbin support upright is missing so I put an elastic band on for now to hold the bobbins on. I had a wee spin on her last night, smooth and quiet, I'm smitten!

She has a few bumps and knocks but in my eyes she's a real beauty.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Uppers & Downers

In August my beloved dog Molly died. She had been diagnosed with MVF in June this year and seemed to be doing well on her meds but we knew it was not a cure, we were just prolonging her life. It was all rather quick in the end, she laid on my lap that evening and just drifted away. She was 13 1/2 years old which is a good age for a Cavalier King Charles. I take comfort in the fact that she didn't suffer, didn't lose her quality of life and died in her own home with the people who had loved her every day of her life at her side.

Because of these unexpected events I have had very little time or inclination for crafting, plus I took a new job which is swallowing up more of my time than I originally anticipated.

But, there are a few things I would like to tell you about. Firstly I entered 2 handspun shawls into an exhibition. I won 2 awards, the Ashford New Zealand award and the Gifford colour award. The Ashford prize was a gift card and after much thought about what to buy this is what I chose:

The lace flyer kit that fits both my Traveller and my Traditional wheel. I had it in my mind that I could just pop it onto either wheel when I felt inclined to. That's not the case. You have to replace the maidens, as you can see on the pic it comes with 2 different ones. So I decided to set it up permanently on my Traditional wheel. I thought I was spinning fine before, but spinning fine singles now feels effortless and much faster. I am thrilled with it to say the least.

A batch of superfine merino which I hand dyed a very long time ago. This is my practise batch for the new flyer and it's a dream to spin.

My Traditional wheel is the one I first learnt to spin on, bought second hand but it was almost new. I drove all the way to Methven to get it, the lady selling it had bought it a few months previously, had a go then decided spinning was not her cup of tea and put it up for sale. It was a steal and I felt guilty handing over the small sum she asked for it.

I finally got round to making new curtains for my bedroom and cushions for my Son and his fiance so while I had the machine set up I made a cushion for the guest bedroom:

I think this fabric is so beautiful, looking at it makes me feel very happy. I have a throw the exact same colour as the blue birds to go with it.

We are well into Spring here now and I can almost smell Summer coming. The cherry trees are in full bloom and I have found a little time to spend in the garden, the potatoes are planted, the tomatoes and cucumbers have germinated and I need to get on and clear the Winter crops from the greenhouse and plant the Summer crops out. I look forward to a lot of crafting and cooking over the next couple of months. This time of year is by far my favorite and I feel rejuvenated and full of inspiration.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I MADE IT........

Yay, I finished combing the rest of the clean alpaca fibre last night.  There's 218g. I'm really chuffed with it:
It was very labour/time intensive and I could not imagine prepping a whole fleece this way, however, for a special project requiring a small amount of fibre it's definitely worth doing.

I'll continue cleaning the vm out of the remainder of this fleece over the coming week and have decided to send it away to be washed, blended with some fine merino and carded.

 The symmetrical form of Dahlia's never ceases to amaze me. They are all over the garden and seem early this year.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Grown Alpaca

It's way too long since I wrote on here. Life has been so very busy here yet again. I was just looking back through my older posts and realised that I hadn't updated for such a long time about my alpaca's. Well, way back when I used to have 2 there are now four, and have been for the past 18 months. Here's proof:

My four big hairy boys waiting for the shearer.

From left to right are Caesar, Jupiter, Radar (the brown one who we should have named Ewok) & Saturn.
They are a constant source of amusement and pleasure for us. Radar & Saturn are 2 years old now, they were a birthday present and I could not have wished for anything better.

The boys after their recent shearing:

They look so thin and vulnerable now. Radar doesn't look like an Ewok any more, he just looks sad.

The combined weight of their fleece was over 20kg.

Here's a pic of Saturn's fleece before skirting:
 It doesn't look too bad at a distance, but believe me it's filthy. All the times he would be soaked in rain, go and roll in patches of dirt or mud then top himself off with a roll in the hay didn't do his coat, or myself, any favours at all. However, it's wonderfully soft and lustrous and the staples are very long at an average of 9".

I decided the only way forward was to pick out a few choice parts of the saddle and clean it it. What a job! I ended up quickly flick carding individual locks just to remove as much of the debris as possible. I would work at that until I had a basket full (which weighed just over 20g, but 20g is a lot of alpaca fibre). Then I washed the batches lock by lock using a bar of pure soap and lukewarm water and they came up a brilliant white.

The lock at the front has been cleaned, the one in the back is pre-washing. My camera is making the pre-wash fleece look far cleaner that it really is.

I combed the clean fibre on my Viking combs:

It's all very labour intensive.
At the same time it's very rewarding and enjoyable.

The fibre nests in the box weigh just 60g in total. I have another similar sized batch drying and hope for another 60g from that. I have been running a kind of production line of flicking out the debris, washing, rinsing, drying and combing for 2 long afternoons and this is the sum total of my efforts so far. I could package up all the fleece and send it off for commercial washing and carding, but where's the fun in that?

My aim is to process enough fibre by the end of this week (200g, yes I'm possibly kidding myself!) to start spinning it next week. I want to produce enough laceweight yarn to make a big luxurious shawl.

As much as I would love to process and spin all this fleece by hand, that just isn't going to happen. I have to be realistic and do the same with the other 3 fleeces, pick out the bits I want to use and take the rest to the local alpaca buyer or I will end up storing it forever and a day and won't find the time to do anything with it.

Although I haven't found time to blog I've been busy with other things. I finally got a greenhouse which I have wanted for such a long time and have been using it to grow different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, along with peppers, chilies, cucumbers and aubergines. The tomatoes and cucumbers have been so prolific, and I've been harvesting both at least twice a week since early December:

I've kept up with preserving my home grown produce - raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries, blueberries, plums and apricots have all been turned into jams and jellies to fill the pantry shelves. A big batch of yummy tomato ketchup came from some of my excess tomatoes and I experimented and made some spicy plum sauce for the first time ever.
The apples and corn are nearly ready for harvesting. The garden has kept us in a variety of salads and potatoes all through Summer, and I've just planted out the Autumn/Winter crops.
The weather hasn't been too great, we have had more significantly cooler nights since December and lots of rain (which I would never complain about as the garden really needs it).

All in all it's been a good few months, we have had family over from England for the past three months. They went home last weekend so we have all been feeling a little sad. We had a great time going on lots of small holidays around the South Island and we tried to squeeze in as many places as possible - Queenstown, Arrowtown, Dunedin, Picton, Nelson, to name a few. So it's back to reality here for us this week.