Saturday, 28 May 2011

The sleepover dolls

O is beside herself with hysteria very excited to be going away for her first sleepover with a friend this half term.  I do hope her friend's mum knows what she's letting herself in for - the girls have already told us that 'the last thing you do on a sleepover is sleep'.

So to mark this important childhood milestone I decided to make the Sleepover Pals from Hillary Lang's beautiful Wee Wonderfuls book.  The pattern is for three cute, squashy dolls in a triple sleeping bag.  I decided that as O's friend has a younger sister, I'd make the three dolls for the three girls, but make three separate quilts rather than the triple sleeping bag - that way they each have a doll and quilt to keep afterwards.

I am ridiculously, insanely pleased with how they've turned out.  They look just like the ones in Hillary's book, which is very gratifying, and the matching quilts make me very happy indeed.

Bella's doll, with her quilt

Livvy's doll with her quilt

Alana's doll with her quilt

Three sleepover dolls

The pattern came together very quickly and easily.  Each doll took me about an hour to make from start to finish - including the embroidered faces.  Each quilt took me about the same amount of time.  The quilts are made from twelve 4" squares layered with batting and a flannel back, sewn around the edge, turned right way out and top stitched all the way round to close the gap.  I did them this way because I just couldn't find the enthusiasm to bind them - this is a much simpler solution.

I love this book so much - Hillary's writing is really clear and funny.  Her enthusiasm shines through on every page, and each project has full sized pattern pieces and delicious, crisp photos.  I can't wait to make more from it.

Alana doll

O is enchanted, and I am enchanted that she and her friend and her friend's little sister, are still young enough to be enthusiastic about this sort of sewing.  Long may it continue, because I love sewing dolls.  After I'd taken the photos I wanted, O set up a tea party for the three sleepover girls.

Sleepover dolls having a tea party

Sleepover dolls having a tea party

I don't know about you, but I think these sleepover dolls don't look like the sort of girls to tuck themselves up nice and early and get straight to sleep.  They look more like the sort of girls who will stay up late chatting, nibbling chocolate, reading magazines and books to each other, giggling and doing each other's hair.  I'm sure they'll all have plenty of fun.

Sleepover dolls and quilts

Friday, 27 May 2011

Weekday walk #12

Today we walked a section of the Thames that we've been looking forward to for a long time - the Isle of Dogs.  That big old loop in the Thames that gives the river such a distinctive shape on maps - and that you see on the credits for Eastenders.
Welcome to the Isle of Dogs

The Isle of Dogs is an odd place - curiously devoid of personality.  The north end is dominated by the business district of Canary Wharf, with huge office blocks, expensive restaurants and esplanades dotted with clean, varnished benches overlooking the river.  This part of the Isle of Dogs is wonderful to work in (I worked there for a while, many years ago) and pretty to walk around, but it feels like what it is - a monied, smart, anonymous, international business district.

New build
Foundations for a new office block, beside Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf
Looking up at Canary Wharf from the riverside

The bottom half of the Isle of Dogs is all residential, and very different from the bustling business district at the top.  Most of the housing is an assortment of bland, gated residential blocks with underground carparks, concierges, sculpted gardens, fountains, and expensive garden chairs perched on tiny balconies.  This is interspersed with social housing, tiny modern terraces and the occasional sad little children's playground.  Unlike most of the riverside I've walked along this year, I wouldn't want to live here.  There didn't seem to be a community hub anywhere, and there was virtually no reference to the area's long, and proud, dockside heritage.

Uninspiring tower blocks
Fancy residential blocks, protected by security cameras and steel gates
Isle of Dogs
No dockside heritage left, other than a few street names
But although I wouldn't want to live on the Isle of Dogs it was still a fascinating place to walk.  There were stunning views across the river to the old shipyards in Deptford, the naval college at Greenwich, and the Millennium Dome on the north Greenwich peninsula.  The tide had just turned and was rapidly going out, so there were a good number of beaches for us to (safely!) explore.
Looking towards the Dome from the Isle of Dogs

Metal on the beach

And this walk means that we have almost explored the whole of the Thames on both the north and south banks between Embankment and Woolwich.  There is just one tiny section left to do - from Blackwall, where we ended today's walk, to City Airport in Silvertown.  Perhaps also, we will walk a little further west from Embankment.

We are both sad to be finishing our riverside walks, and wondering how we can eke out a few more.  Possibly some of the Thames tributaries will be next on our list.  We love these river walks.

On the beach

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Midweek colour

Seen on the tube:
  • a tall, willowy young woman with bleached-white hair cut in a thick fringe, carrying an enormous pink leopard-print bag
  • a man in open-toed sandals, trying not to sneeze
  • 3 men with brown, soft-leather messenger bags
  • a young woman with bright purple tights and 3 inch heels poking out from under her black burqa
  • a man wearing a beautifully cut brown suit
Seen (and smelt) at Kew Gardens:
  • pink roses
  • red roses
  • peachy roses
  • yellow roses
  • big blowsy roses
  • white roses
  • and a small selection of aphids and ladybirds - because nobody's perfect, not even the roses at Kew Gardens.
Roses at Kew

Roses at Kew

Roses at Kew

Roses at Kew

Roses at Kew

Roses at Kew

Friday, 20 May 2011

Weekday walk #11

I've been washing some of the treasure I picked up from the Thames foreshore at low tide yesterday.
Treasure from the Thames
Treasure from the Thames
Treasure from the Thames
Treasure from the Thames
Gill and I were walking from London Bridge to Limehouse, along the north bank of the river, but had barely walked 100m before we were enticed onto the muddy shore by a very low tide, some friendly archaeologists from the Museum of London, and the sight of hundreds and hundreds of old clay pipes and other interesting bits of historical debris.  We pottered along the beach, exclaiming at all the things we could see.  Anyone is allowed to use their eyes only to look for treasure on the foreshore, as long as they don't dig or scrape the surface in any way.  You must not dig or use a metal detector unless you have a valid license from the Port of London Authority.

Gill finding lots of clay pipes

Bits of pipe and blue pottery

The shore at the Tower of London
And then we decided to explore further, and we walked under the large pier that you can see behind Gill in the picture above.  This is what it looked like when we walked in.
Where we were (very nearly) trapped
We weren't under there for long - maybe 20 minutes - but we were totally absorbed in what we were doing, and crucially we kept walking further in, while we were looking at the rubbish around our feet rather than at the river in the distance.  I suddenly heard Gill shout and I looked up at her, confused.  She thought we'd got lost because she couldn't see which way we'd come in - then in a split second we both understood that the river was rushing in and that our way out had almost disappeared under the incoming tide.  The water was hitting the wall at the back of the pier; on the right hand side in the photo above.
We have never moved so fast in our lives!  Gill got a wet foot, and we both scraped our arms against the wall and got covered in slime, but we made it out.  I think another 60 seconds and we would have been trying to wade out, or shouting for help.
We were both shaken and felt rather stupid - we had no idea the tide could come in that fast.  But we know now, and will be much more careful in future!  We came up to street level and sat outside the Tower of London for a restorative cup of coffee and a chocolate brownie.
We quickly left the crowds around the Tower of London behind and came to St Katherine's Dock and Wapping, which is one of my most favourite parts of East London.  You are close to the river all the way, along Wapping High Street and surrounded by beautiful historic wharves, pubs and warehouses.
I like this part of London

Phoenix Wharf at Wapping

Old pub

Wapping Pierhead

Steps to the river
We stopped for lunch in a little park, overlooking the headquarters of the river police.  Just as we got out our sandwiches about twenty policemen, all wearing full body armour and carrying guns, ran down the gangplank to their jetty and got into two black speedboats.  I think it was a training exercise, but it was still extremely unnerving - I don't like seeing armed police - and I was glad we hadn't needed them to rescue us from under the pier at London Bridge an hour earlier.  They would not have been impressed!
Running down the gangway with guns - eek

Armed river police
By now we were thoroughly spooked by the way our day was unfolding, and we finished our lunch and set off for the final short walk to Limehouse station.
There were glorious views of the widening river to cheer us up, and bright kayaks tied up in a green lock near Limehouse basin.
Choppy river

Green, red & blue
When I got back home I was horrified at the state of my poor hands and only slightly less horrified at how lucky we'd been to come away with one wet foot and some dirty, broken fingernails.
Poor trashed nails

But I still think it was worth it for this amazing treasure.
I went to great lengths to retrieve this pipe...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Cookery book inspiration

Current cookery book inspiration

This is my current cookery book inspiration.  From top to bottom:
I plan all the meals I am going to cook about a week ahead, and since 2005 I've been writing down my mealplans in notebooks rather than on scraps of paper.  I blogged briefly about them way back in 2007, here.  The collection of notebooks is now substantial, and already I love to look back and see which recipes are still putting in regular appearances, and which appeared for a few months and then fell out of favour.  Pasta pesto is still on the menu.
Meal plan notebook

Meal plan notebook

I love cookery books and have three big shelves on a bookcase filled with them.  Each week I get a new stack of books down from the shelves and rifle through them to get some fresh ideas of what I should write down in my meal plan notebook.  I also get a great many cookery books out of the library, and if I find I still want to make recipes from a library book when it is time to return it, I go and buy myself a copy.

Recent additions to my shelves via this route have been the brilliant River Cottage Bread Handbook and Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen. 
The bread handbook is exactly what you'd expect - a complete manual for everything you ever wanted to know about bread making, and crammed with fantastic recipes.  I now have two of the other River Cottage handbooks in this series reserved at the library.  I have a feeling they will all be awesome.

The Skinny French Kitchen is already one of my most favourite cookbooks, and I've made so many recipes from it in the ten days I've had it.  I really enjoyed Harry Eastwood's first book - Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache - and its quirky approach to cake baking, but the whimsical, sugary-sweet tone of the writing does get on my nerves a little after a while.  This second book just shines with genuine enthusiasm for her subject (classical French cookery) and is much less twee but just as clever.  The photography is outstanding, and worth the price of the book alone.  I'm fascinated to see what she does next.  Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll be buying a copy.

The Tessa Kiros book - Apples for Jam - is from the library, and although I've cooked a couple of great recipes from it, I don't like it enough to buy it.  I find that all the childhood memoirs in the margins distract me from the recipes and clutter up the page.  Its a whopping tome of a family cookbook, and I already have enough of those on my shelves.

Nigella's Kitchen and BBC Good Food are both old, faithful friends. I've been making spring rolls and tofu pancakes from this month's magazine, and the everyday brownies and the Korean keema from Kitchen.

How do you find inspiration for what to cook?  Do you write out meal plans?  Do cookery books languish, unread, on your bookshelves or do you regularly consult them for ideas?  Do new cookery books have to work hard to earn a spot on your already crowded shelves?

    Monday, 16 May 2011

    10 things

    • This weekend I took the children to Brick Lane market, and we all had a fine old time browsing around all the vintage clothing shops and the eclectic selection of food stalls, and discussing what vinyl records were all about - "you know how before downloads there used to be CDs? Well before CDs there used to be vinyl records!"
    • C bought himself a funky hat - he looks both suddenly older and sweetly young, all at the same time.
    • Cam in funky hat, borrowing my laptop
    •  I bought a big bag of bagels from the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery, which I used to visit on my way home from big nights out, many years ago.  The children had not eaten proper fresh bagels like these before and they were bowled over, as I knew they would be.
    • Brick Lane beigels
    • We have had no rain here in East London since I came back from France three weeks ago.  I am faithfully watering all my geraniums and busy lizzies, morning and evening, and am torn between loving the warm dry weather, cursing the chore of twice daily watering and starting to enjoy the enforced time in the garden.
    • G is now in the final ten weeks of training before his ironman race.  When he's not at work he only wears lycra or his pyjamas as he spends his entire time training, sleeping or eating.
    • My prize from Ali's Dorset Cereals blog giveaway arrived yesterday - boxes and boxes of delicious cereal and two very beautiful blue-green cups and matching bowls.  We were very excited opening all those parcels, Ali - thank you so much!
    • I won loads of delicious cereal
    • I am really desperate to start making another quilt - one to mark our marriage this summer.  But I know how long it takes me to make a quilt, and I don't actually have the time to make one before August, as well as making myself a dress, a dress for O and a shirt for C.
    • It doesn't stop me planning though...
    • ...nor does it stop me cutting up fabric, just in case....
    • I haven't seen Mr Toad since I blogged about him.  I don't think he was happy with the level of media exposure.

    Friday, 13 May 2011

    Weekday walk #10

    It seems as though we are drawn back to the river each time we walk.  We've walked so much of it this year, and yet it is still our default destination for any walk we plan.  This week we've done two shorter walks - both through the centre of town, where it is busier, and we can spend time being distracted by oddities - and both along the river.
    On Wednesday evening we met at the 5th Floor bar in Waterstones on Piccadilly for bloody marys and a good time.  We chatted so much that we didn't notice the time, and suddenly they were closing up and we were standing on Piccadilly clutching the remains of our half drunk bottle of wine and wondering what to do next.
    We admired the exciting window displays in Fortnum and Mason, and then weaved our way across to Trafalgar Square and then down towards the river at embankment.  If in doubt, head for the river.
    The absinthe genie in Fortnum & Mason's window display
    The genie with the absinthe in Fortnum and Masons

    We stopped on one of the benches along the Victoria Embankment to drink the rest of the wine and admire the twinkling lights along the river.
    We'd been drinking wine

    Photographing the Shard

    We walked along the embankment to the City, stopping to take an assortment of photos whenever we saw something funny or interesting.  I was drawn to the empty offices and empty riverside gyms - bleak and impersonal so late at night, but still blazing with artificial light.

    Empty offices by night
    Office gym by night

    Office blocks by night

    After a day's rest yesterday, to get over our hangovers let our legs recover, we met up again for a daytime walk along another part of the river in central London - this time the short and very pretty stretch from Bermondsey to Southwark.
    Wooden stack

    Houseboats on the river at Bermondsey

    This part of the river gives you fantastic views of Tower Bridge, and leads you through really good modern architecture - towers, office blocks, converted warehouses and museums.  This part of London has embraced its history and modernity in equal measure and done both rather well.  I love the old warehouses, and I love Tower Bridge and the Globe Theatre, but I also love the squashed City Hall building, the new Shard tower going up, and the shiny glass offices with interesting curves next to the river.
    Old, renovated warehouse

    Tower Bridge

    City Hall

    The Tower of London

    Shiny, curvy office buildings

    The Shard

    Reflected in a shiny new office building

    We ended up at Borough Market, about an hour before the craziness of Friday lunchtime began, and made the most of being able to wander around discussing cheese, sausage, cake and bread with the stallholders.
    With heavy shopping bags we headed wearily towards Southwark tube station and home, for a weekend of eating delicious cheeses with our families.