Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Making Things Club: spooky edition

Glitter glue bat
I love hallowe’en so when Making Things Club announced that the October meet would be hallowe’en-themed I got very excited! My best friend Heather planned her first visit to Bristol to tie in with it and we arrived promptly (okay, early – twenty minutes early) to receive spooky goodie bags with those plastic fangs I always insisted on wearing all day as a child, candy bracelets and little plastic bats. Chris was back this month and Lori was sporting skeleton tights.

Upon entry, we were directed towards paper templates and felt and each sewed ourselves a bat bow tie. I added sequins and little eyes to mine and Heather made hers yellow so that she could wear it with a black shirt and channel Batman. I felt a little lost this time in terms of what I wanted to make, once I was done with my bat. I played around a bit more with my felts, did some drawing on a photo from an encyclopaedia, started making another bow tie. Heather started making herself a little felt doll. I added some glitter details to my plastic bat.

Bat bow tie, made from felt.
There was also face-painting and creepy-themed music this month – and an announcement! Making Things Club will be opening a shop in Cabot Circus. Read more about their plans over at their blog. It’s all very exciting!

Lori as an adorable kitten.
The next Making Things Club will be on 11th November at Cafe Kino.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Toffee apples: a recipe

Following Apple Day and an impulse-bought bag of reduced English Russets, I felt inspired to make my own toffee apples. In the past, the only toffee apples I had ever bitten into were the ruby red crackle of fairground apples on bleached sticks. The apple I bought at Boiling Wells reminded me that you can recreate culinary memories in your own kitchen and I looked up a couple of recipes and worked out my own version of this autumnal classic.

Toffee apple recipe - try it yourself!
Once the sugar dissolves, the water is still clear but you can see crystals forming. The vinegar struck me as odd and I hesitated because I only had balsamic and wasn’t sure if that would be okay, but as soon as I added a splash, that fairground toffee aroma suddenly hit me and I knew it was just right. As a nod to the toffee apples of my childhood memories, I added a generous splash of natural red food colouring. You don’t need this but it’s good fun. You could add different colours- wouldn’t a green toffee apple be perfect for a creepy hallowe’en treat? One recipe suggested using a thermometer and, if you’ve got one, this will cut out the only real bit of work involved: determining when the toffee is ready for coating.  If not, do as I did and boil the toffee (I was worried I’d burn it so kept monitoring the mixture, adjusting the heat and checking it every now and then) until it is ready. To test this out, have a bowl of cold water close at hand and pour a little of the toffee mixture into it. If it remains gooey and squishable when in the water, it needs to boil for longer. If it immediately solidifies and shatters when you pick it up and bend it, it’s ready for your apples (and the splintering sample is a tasty treat while you coat them!).

Splintering red toffee on a russet apple makes for an exciting autumn treat!
Lolly sticks or even wooden skewers, depending on the size of your apples, would be perfect for this but I had neither so trimmed down some dry twigs from the garden – it’s not as though you eat the stick! Depending on the type of apples you’re using, they may have a waxy coating on them. The toffee won’t stick properly to this, so soak the apples for five minutes in a bowl of boiling water to remove it. You can do this while you’re waiting for the toffee to be ready. Mine were local produce and didn’t have this coating, so I cut out that step!

The toffee sets almost immediately. Depending on when you want to serve the apples, you could refrigerate them but I found that this actually had a detrimental effect on the coating: the toffee had softened a little on some of the apples and slid down them. That said, this may have just been down to the mixture being cooler when I coated those apples and nothing to do with the fridge!
Serve however you want. I pierced some paper cupcake cases with the sticks and slid them over the base of the apple to keep the sticky toffee off eager fingers! I thought it made a pretty finishing touch. I took my apples along to an early hallowe’en gathering with friends. At the end of the night, people clamoured to try one! They’d also be perfect for a kids’ party, a bonfire night gathering, for trick-or-treaters this Wednesday or just for your own indulgence!

My toffee apples took pride of place in Lori's hallowe'en spread!
What do you associate toffee apples with? Are there any other goodies that this time of year has you yearning for?

Apple Day @ St Werburgh's

Apple Day at Boiling Wells

Before moving to Bristol, I had never before heard the notion of Apple Day. A swift Wikipedia search tells me that it’s not just a Gloucestershire thing but it’s certainly true that Bristolians don’t need an excuse to celebrate the humble apple in the form of cider.  It falls on October 21st each year and this year, my first, I headed to Boiling Wells for the St. Werburgh’s City Farm Apple Day festivities.

Toffee apple
The 2-acre site on Boiling Wells Lane is just around the corner from the main farm buildings and includes a wooden amphitheatre, which was alive with kid-oriented folk music and twirling toddlers (“This song’s for anyone who loves dinosaurs! Who loves dinosaurs?” elicited a cheer from me). Upon arrival, my friend Adam and I realised we were pretty much the only people without at least one small child in tow – the Apple Day event was perfect for those with children and under 5s went free (admission was £3).  We skirted around the jingling folksters on the stage and passed an impressive-looking wooden press with a gaggle of people eager to press their own apples into juice, making our way towards a large wooden shed with glass bottles incorporated into the gables. The merry tinkle of Morris dancers shifting on their feet (we’d just missed the dancing) mingled in the air with smoke from the griddles where burgers were being hurried on towards hungry mouths. The queue for piping hot mulled cider began to snake through the clearing as the air was crisp and I paid 50p for a toffee apple: the taste of childhood fairgrounds and autumn excitement.

Apple bobbing to find a spouse!
Scattered about the hillside were various games and activities: an apple shy, a quiz for children to do, workshops and apple bobbing. The only form of apple bobbing I had encountered previously was the sort you used to play at hallowe’en as a child: screwing up your eyes as you plunged your face into a bowl and tried to catch a floating apple with your teeth, but this was different: apples dangled on string from the boughs of a tree. Both kinds of bobbing are a Celtic legacy which was originally looked upon as a sign of future marriage. I didn’t make any attempt to sink my teeth into a twirling apple – I’m happy without a husband for the time being!

Monday, 15 October 2012

My Monday: recuperation

As I work Tuesday to Saturday, my weekend is skewed a little. Occasionally I whinge about having to work Saturdays, but really I love having that little slice of the week, a Monday, to potter around getting ready for the week ahead and, often, have the flat to myself. I use Mondays to explore Bristol, read the papers if I've bothered to buy one, drink coffee and Get Things Done (it's the only day I can get to a bank or Post Office, and it's easier for getting bits and pieces from independent shops as it's business as usual for them).

This week has been a little different. I spent much of last week ill and am finally feeling just about well enough to resume real life tomorrow, so today has been spent under my duvet, READING zines (mainly What's the Time, Mrs Woolf? and OFF LIFE comic). Outside that, I'm currently racing towards the end of The Virgin Suicides, which arrived in the post at just the right time to lift me from my bedridden blues, and flicking through Mollie Makes for craft inspiration.

Keeping entertained in my nest: fresh fruit, lots of reading material, my TENS machine for pain relief and my phone to connect me to the outside world (bedrest is lonely business).
I've been LISTENING to the new Tall Ships release, Everything Touching on a continuous loop for days and days and days. I wasn't sure I wanted to ever stop but then a mix CD from Adam landed on my doormat and now I'm feasting my ears on that instead. Tall Ships are currently touring the UK so do go and check them out if they're playing near you! I'm still grappling with my iPod and my grumbling old laptop (they don't like eachother, or, rather, my laptop doesn't like anyone or anything) so while I'm on the move I'll probably be back to blasting ONSIND's Dissatisfactions into my ears; it sounds like home.

This WEEKEND has been a very quiet one, but sometimes that's nice. My best friend Heather arrived on Saturday night from North Wales to cuddle me, make me tea and help me feel more human. She left this morning and her presence has done its trick: I feel like myself again. Yesterday evening we popped down the road to Café Kino for the Making Things Club hallowe'en special, then watched Heathers (appropriate title) and went to sleep.

I'll be glad to get back to normality, and work, tomorrow. But for the rest of the evening, it's my day, Monday.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Liebster Blog Award

Many thanks to Holly for tagging me for the Liebster blog award, which aims to give blogs with under 200 followers a bit more recognition. I'm very grateful to be chosen and hope any new visitors to my blog know I appreciate the extra attention. Here are the rules:

1. Each person tagged must post 11 random facts about themselves.
2. They must answer the 11 questions posted by the previous blogger.
3. They must create 11 more questions to ask their tagged bloggers.
4. They must tag 11 blogs with less than 200 followers.
5. The bloggers must be told.
6. No tag backs.

So, without further ado...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Atomic Burger: Never grow up

As a girl who loves her food, and loves a good gimmick, I've been itching to try out Atomic Burger at 189 Gloucester Road ever since I arrived in Bristol. So, when my friend Steph suggested we grab a bite to eat one evening, my choice, I knew exactly where we'd be heading.

From the moment you step over the threshold, you're transported back to a time when nothing much mattered other than your pog collection and mastering the seven times table. Projected against the far wall are scenes from iconic 80s and 90s films and every action figure and toy you could dredge up from memory dangles from the ceiling.

Atomic Burger is all about fun. Never grow up!

We squealed in amazement at the paradise of childhood memories unfolding around us, as friendly staff in "Space Cadet" t-shirts took our orders. First off, I couldn't resist a cocktail (I really never can), and was soon sipping a raspberry margharita and waiting for my food to arrive. When it did, I was certainly not disappointed. Each burger is named after a celebrity. I'd ordered a Sergio Leoni: roasted peppers, chorizo and sour cream on my burger of choice, chicken. I also had a side order of sci fries- with a name like that, how could I not?

The Sergio Leoni with sci fries

The food was divine and plentiful. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now! The sci fries had the perfect blend of chilli rub, the chicken was tender and the overall combination of the burger I'd chosen was absolutely perfect. The list of set toppings is extensive and includes famous names such as Daisy Duke (okay, so she's fictional), Johnny Cash and Audrey Hepburn. They also do milkshakes (being lactose intolerant, I couldn't sample them, sadly) and the dessert menu is a sight to behold! Clutching our tummmies, we decided to just split a "roasty toasty marshmallows", which comes with its own mini campfire for at-your-table toasting.

Roasty toasy marshmallows

It's now been a few weeks since our visit and I think I'm ready to go back for more (scratch that, I was ready as soon as I left the place!). Atomic Burger take bookings and also have a restaurant in Oxford.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Personal life: soulcyster

Over the past couple of years, I have not had a completely smooth ride where my health was concerned. I've come to know what it's like living with chronic pain day in, day out and to not know when I'd ever get any respite. And I've been a lucky one: daily life is now, for me, pain-free most of the time. I've come out of the other side of over a year of daily pain with the understanding of how that wears you down until you feel paper-thin and exhausted and overwhelmed by the relentlessness and unfairness of it all. Still, it's left its imprint on my life and general health now. Physiologically, things won't ever be the same as they once were. But I'm happy to take that instead of the stacks of painkillers I once took each day.

Until now, I had resigned myself (after scans, blood tests, private consultants, NHS consultants, surgery and various medications including too many hormonal contraceptives for one woman to take in such a short period of time - period being an appropriate word here) to being one of the "third of women who never find receive a diagnosis for what is causing their problems". And then, a month ago, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.

A month later and it still stirs up a maelstrom of mixed feelings when I think about it. A concrete diagnosis. A reason for a lot of the things I have had to cope with. But one which means the surgery I had last summer (diagnostic laparoscopy, to look for evidence of endometriosis - there was none) was unnecessary. One which means the contraceptives I was coerced onto were all wrong for me and one for which the signs were there in my first ultrasound, two years ago. Because of this, I am angry. Angry that a lot of the pain and hospital trips I went through probably needn't have happened. I lost out on a huge chunk of the "university experience", including study time and multiple exams. I am incredibly proud to have earned the degree that I did under the circumstances my health put me in, but now it feels like healthcare could have given me better chances. Of course, I am also relieved to know the cause of my problems, and to know that measures can be taken to treat them.

On top of this I am scared and, overall, sad. I am only 21 and nowhere near ready to have children, but I hate that it's been presented as a fact to me that I'm less likely to conceive in the first place, and far more likely to miscarry if I do. On top of this are the increased risks of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and endometrial cancer.

But PCOS is manageable, and already I've made lifestyle changes. I've been sticking to the low GI diet, exercising more and six days ago I was prescribed Metformin, to correct insulin resistance and hopefully bring my hormones in check. In a couple of weeks I will have the Mirena fitted (eek!) to protect my endometrium from hyperplasia and cancer. These are significant changes but I feel lucky that I have the chance to make them for the good of my health.

I deliberated over writing about this for a while, and even now I am anxious about posting it. I have not been particularly personal with my posts so far and it's alarming to think that many people I know could read this if they happened upon it (which they easily could). But I think that I should. I want to put me into my blog and this is an entire facet of who I am. I know that I personally would like to see blogs by women with PCOS (and I'm going to hunt them down), so why not mention it in my own?

I hope this isn't too much of a turn in another direction for the Monomyth. Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Making Things Club: lucky dip, xerox transfers and Joyce the Librarian

Look what I made!

After a little under a month (although it felt like much longer), Making Things Club at Café Kino rolled round again at the beginning of September, and I bounced along, ready to get my paws on the pile of treasures and see what I could make. Sadly, Chris was absent but Lori was there to rally the crafting troops and bring us together to forge new friendships.

Music this month was a solo set from Martin of the delightful Joyce the Librarian (who have just released their new single, Follow Me I'm Right Behind You), something he's not done before but he pulled it off splendidly. Thanks to Lori for introducing me to another band I'll be keeping an eye on around Bristol, and again, one who are perfect to cut, stitch, thread and stick along to.

Martin from Joyce the Librarian
My friend Steph and I also agreed to have our tea at Kino, but in my usual scatterbrained fashion I was running a little late so we ended up ordering at the beginning of MTC. I had a Kino burger with sweet potato fries and coleslaw. I've never been able to stand coleslaw - until now! Over the night I also treated myself to a soya decaf latte (I'm one of those) and a banana soya milk. Yummy!

Kino burger
I'd had an idea earlier on in the day, thinking back to when I was planning my birthday party in June and how  my friend Holly and I (whose birthday falls only a day after mine and with whom I was throwing the party) made moodboards of ideas and bounced photos and tutorial links back and forth between eachother. We had a lot of bunting at our party (crocheted, collaged and shop-bought) and had toyed with the idea of banners. I decided that what Making Things Club needed was its own banner, a little thank you to Lori and Chris.

I rifled through the box of paper and found some pastel leaves to cut the letters from, then decorated each letter with felt tips and, finally, strung them all from a piece of thread and hung the banner from the bench along the end of the room. It took a lot longer than anticipated but was worth it! Naturally, I then wanted something to take home as a fruit of my efforts, so I knocked together a quick name banner for myself from old encyclopaedia pages (as can be seen in the photo at the top of this post).

Hard work pays off: my Making Things Club banner.
Aside from a glittering smorgasbord of crafting materials and Martin's sweet and gentle voice, MTC had a couple of other treats in store for us! Firstly, Lori taught us the art of the xerox transfer. My first attempt was rubbish, but I managed to rescue it (just about!). A xerox transfer is a method of - you guessed it - transferring the ink from a photocopied design onto a rigid surface, such as a wooden board. I had a design I wanted to use but was too scared to sneak it into the photocopier at work, so lucky for me, Lori had brought a selection of kitsch images which she'd photocopied at the library.

As if we weren't being spoiled enough, there was also a lucky dip! Upon entry to MTC we drew a slip of paper from a tray and later on in the evening we were invited onto the stage to find our numbered prize. Some absolutely adorable treasures winged their way into our possession, including the sweetest cake bunting set! As for me, I became the proud owner of an adorable little bird figurine to decorate my room a little more. He sits on my shelf with other cute bits and pieces.

Lucky dip!

What'll it be?

My prize: little birdy

All in all, I had another wonderful evening with my new pals and can't wait for the next meet! The next Making Things Club is on 14th October and will be a spooky extravaganza in honour of the halloween month! I for one LOVE halloween so I'm already brewing up some spooky craft ideas. Perhaps I'll see some of you there!

In the time being, why not check out Joyce the Librarian's new video (single out now on Folkwit Records)?