Friday, 31 May 2013

Immortalised In Paint!

A while ago I came across the work of a painter and illustrator called Kim Haskins. She paints cats (but also the odd chicken, dog and tortoise) in a humorous style, with brilliantly expressive faces. I loved her work as soon as I saw it, and I kept thinking, "one day, I'll treat myself and buy one of her paintings".

I kept coming back to her website and on one of these visits I noticed that she did commissions. Hmm, I had a little lightbulb moment. I wonder if she would mind painting a picture of my two cats? I think she was offering a discount in January and I thought, "well, it's now or never" so I dropped her an email.

She was more than happy to do the painting - I just had to send her some photos of Mischief and Millie, and tell her what size I was thinking of. I also told her a little bit about their personalities, as I thought this might help in deciding how to set up the picture.

She sent me back some sketches, and one stood out from the rest. One of the photos I sent her was this one, Mischief reclining on one of our spare dining chairs, which was covered by one of my first attempts at a crocheted granny square blanket



Kim said that this one caught her eye, because she's a knitter and is drawn to handmade blankets; she was even thinking about having a go at crochet (I said I thought she should definitely try it). So we decided that the painting would be the two cats sitting together on the chair, but there would only be a 'hint' of chair and blanket, so as not to distract from the two main stars!



She emailed me a photo of the painting when it was just about finished, to check if it was ok, so I already knew what it was going to look like. However, that didn't detract from the excitement of opening the package when it arrived, and taking the painting out and looking at it in all it's glory for the first time! 


It's propped up on the bed because I was going to try and get a photo of Mischief and Millie sitting either side of it - more on that in a moment. Isn't it fantastic??


Just look at their expressions! I'd explained to Kim that, although they get on, Mischief kind of 'tolerates' Millie, whereas she just wants to be his friend. I think he's got a sort of indignant look on his face because she's jumped up to sit next to him, whilst Millie is all sweet and innocent.

As I said, I tried to get them both to sit next to the painting, but they were having none of it.






The plan of using a little treat at either side of it just resulted in them having their backs to me, so eventually I settled for individual photos



You get the idea!


It's now hanging pride of place in the living room, and it brings a smile to my face every day. I'm so glad I decided to get in touch with Kim and commission such a personal painting that we'll treasure forever.




I've linked to her website above, but here it is again, and she's also on Facebook and Twitter.



Thursday, 30 May 2013

Great Granola

I'm on a bit of a health kick at the moment. It probably won't last, so just humour me, okay?

I lost some weight a while ago (about a stone) but unfortunately I seem to have put it back on, with interest. I also can't remember the last time I felt 'well', you know, when I could wake up in the morning and say that I felt really good. I had a cold at the beginning of March. Then I got another one at the beginning of May, just in time for the May Day Bank Holiday. I'd barely shaken that one off, when I got another one just in time for the second May Bank Holiday at the end of the month. To say I was fed up would be an understatement.

So I decided I needed an intervention. The weight gain was clearly down to all the rubbish I was eating - I've always loved chocolate but recently it was really starting to become an addiction. I'd wake up in the morning and almost my first thought of the day would be what chocolate I was going to buy, and where from. I always bought a bit more than I needed, so that I could start to build up a 'stash' in my desk drawer at work. Sometimes it's hard to take a step back and look at your behaviour in an objective way, but when I did manage to do that, I could see that I was eating a ridiculous amount of chocolate every day. So that had to stop.

I also think that my general malaise (ooh, there's a word!) is probably down to a not very healthy diet, as well as a distinct lack of exercise. I'm not a naturally sporty or active person though, so although I'm going to try and gradually increase my activity levels, it will probably be a lot easier for me to change my diet to begin with.

I was searching the internet for low-carb recipes, as I lost weight previously when I drastically reduced my carbs. I came across a site called EatingWell.com which seems to have lots of great recipes on it, and so far I haven't needed to register or anything like that.

One of the first things I've had a go at making is my own granola. And do you know what? It's flipping fantastic! I've had shop-bought granola before which was nice, but I can't get over how delicious this is.

The original recipe on the Eating Well website is here. I mostly followed it, with just a few changes to suit me. For some reason I didn't write the coconut chips on my shopping list, so I missed them out, but I do like coconut so I'll try and remember to add it to future batches. They also suggested using raisins and cranberries - I don't like raisins, and I can't have cranberries because I take Warfarin (but I don't think I like them anyway). Canola Oil is apparently Rapeseed Oil - I'm not sure how healthy that is though, there may be a better alternative.

I've just made my second batch of this so I thought I'd do a post about it. As stated above, all credit to the Eating Well website for the recipe - I hope it's ok for me to reproduce it here.

Maple Nut Granola

5 cups of rolled oats
half a cup of sliced almonds
half a cup of chopped pecans
half a cup of light brown sugar
third of a cup of unsalted pumpkin seeds
third of a cup of unsalted sunflower seeds
half a cup of pure maple syrup
half a cup of water
quarter of a cup of canola oil
about a cup of dried fruit, your choice

1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F, which works out about 135/140 degrees C, so it's a fairly low setting.
2. Combine the oats, nuts, sugar and seeds in a large bowl.

Action shot of me adding the bright green pumpkin seeds!
3. Give the dry ingredients a good stir to mix them all together, then set aside.


 4. Next, mix your wet ingredients together in another bowl. In no particular order, combine the maple syrup, the water and the oil.


5. Pour this over the oat mixture. It soaks in quickly and may look as though there isn't enough, but give it a good stir around for about a minute and you'll see that it gradually coats the dry mixture.

Just poured in
6. Place the mixture in a large roasting tin. Spread it out evenly, but don't worry too much about this because it gets a stir half way through.






7. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove, and give it another good stir. You'll notice that on the top it's starting to crisp up a bit, but underneath will probably still feel a bit moist, so try and really mix it up. Pop it back in the oven for about another 45 minutes, till it's golden in colour and starting to crisp.

8. While you're waiting, get your dried fruit ready. Since I don't like raisins and cranberries, I decided to use apricot, apple, dates and cherries. I just get a few of each and then chop them into smaller pieces - I find it easier to cut them with a good pair of kitchen scissors than a knife.



9. Take your granola out of the oven and then stir in your fruit, and allow to cool completely. I find it helps to spoon it out of the roasting tray back into the mixing bowl, as the tray holds it's heat for such a long time.




This is the second batch I've made, and this time I seem to have ended up with more of these 'clusters' - not sure why, perhaps I didn't stir it enough at an earlier stage. It doesn't matter because they're still baked and edible, and you can break them up with a spoon, if you can be bothered. I can't!




I bought some fat-free natural yogurt to have with this, but I also on a whim thought I'd try some almond milk and do you know what? It's become my latest obsession. This granola, with almond milk poured over it, is so delicious, I can't get enough of it! My previous breakfast of choice was bran flakes in cow's milk with about a ton of sugar (only a slight exaggeration) sprinkled over the top, but not any more. Even though this has got sugar and maple syrup in it, at least it's more spread out and I'm not getting that much sugar every day, only a fraction of it.

So I'm really going to try and keep up with making this granola. It's not difficult to do - I don't think the measurements of the ingredients really matter, I guess as long as you have enough liquid to just coat the dry mixture. You can use whatever nuts, seeds and fruit you fancy, and if you look at the original recipe, there are lots of comments from people who have tried it and put their own spin on it. A lot of them felt that it was too sweet, so they left out the sugar, but since I've got such a sweet tooth I've left it in. And although it takes a while to bake, it's the kind of thing you can just leave while you go and get on with something else. Two attempts and I haven't burnt it yet, so that's always a good sign!!

Anyway, if you have a bash at it, enjoy! Let me know how it goes and what you think to it...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Can't! Handle! The! Cute!!

I can't remember how I came across this - followed a link on Twitter, I think - and, erm, how is this even possible?!!

Black White Tuxedo Cat Kitten - Tiny Cat Micro Amigurumi Crochet Miniature Pet Animals - Made to Order
Photo copyright of Suami at Etsy.com - see link below

Teeny tiny crochet animals

I know, I know, there are some very tiny crochet hooks, I've got some myself, but it must be hard enough just making a foundation chain with them, never mind making an actual amigurumi!!

I am in awe of SuAmi's talents!

(Have I used enough exclamation marks to convey just how awestruck I am?!!)


Just wanted to share the miniature cuteness!


Monday, 6 May 2013

Bank Holidays and Baking

Hello! Hope you've had a good bank holiday (if you're in the UK) and are enjoying that weird yellow thing in the sky, whatever the heck that is!!

I got a cold just in time for the bank holiday. Yep. Thanks for that, germs... We were going to go out on Saturday, but I felt a bit 'bleugh' so we didn't. I was feeling better today though, so off we went for a jaunt. First to Knaresborough, where I tried to take some photos on my phone, but the sun was so bright I actually couldn't see the screen, so it was all guess work. On some of the buildings, if you look up, there are windows painted onto the walls with various characters 'looking out'. I think there are quite a few dotted around, but these are the ones I spotted today:

Centre windows, second and third floors

Above the door

A bit difficult to spot, above the two front doors, to the left of the pub
Just done a quick search, that last picture apparently depicts Guy Fawkes (he's the one on the right).

From Knaresborough we went on to Otley, and sat in the market square eating a sausage roll, where once again I took completely blind photos:

Not too bad...

Hello fingertip, who invited you?

The purpose of the day was to trawl the charity shops - Knaresborough has a couple, Otley has loads of 'em, all in a row. We've been doing a bit of babysitting for friends of ours, so we thought we'd see if we could find any books, jigsaws and cars for a 3 year old. He's done well out of us, today. Can't wait to see his face when he sees all the new things we've got him!

There are some lovely views as you drive out of Otley, but these were taken on the move, and I've had to crop my finger out of the first one, and a lamp-post out of the other.


 
We came home from Otley, had refreshments and then went out again to a garden centre to buy some flowers to put around the edge of the pond. Last year I was really excited about the fact that we were going to get a new water feature, and then Chris dug it out, and it looked a bit 'meh' over winter, and the paving slabs around the edge of it wobbled when you walked on them, and I wasn't really excited about it any more. But Chris has sorted out the paving, and we've put a Marsh Marigold in (which came from the pond at my mum and dad's house, so glad we took it before mum moved out), plus half of the lily which was already in our half-barrel, and now that the Marsh Marigold is flowering the pond is generally looking a lot better and I'm happy again. And we've put these new flowers in around the edge of it which will hopefully spread and cover the ground and make it look even prettier. I haven't taken a photo though, but I might do another day.

* * *
In other news, I've got about five bags of dark muscovado sugar in the cupboard, so I've been baking an awful lot of brownie, and taking it to work so that me and Chris don't eat it all. Because we would, you know.









It is delicious, if I say so myself...



Bye for now...




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