Sunday, 1 January 2012

A bicycle baked for two.

Biscuits using two of my christmas presents; a recipe book and a bicycle cookie cutter. Om nom nom :)

The End of the World/Start of the Year

Since it's a new year, the newspapers and internet are full of predictions, including for the end of the world. Not that I'm convinced the Mayans were right in their prediction for 2012 (and surely they were only bothered about their bit of the world - America - anyway). But while I was running a couple of days ago I was thinking about why I've decided to start running. Randomly, into my head popped the thought, "Well, when the zombies/apocalypse/collapse of civilisation comes at least I'll be able to run away". Seems as good a reason as any really.

I don't really do "New Year's Resolutions" but have decided that this year I want to do fun stuff. Now that maybe seems like an easy thing to commit to but since I'm doing a full time masters course and working at the same time, I'm finding life a little busy. I'm not planning on making unreasonable fitness goals but would like to enjoy running. Having had a dodgy ankle for about 7 years, I've not been able to run - or at least not if I didn't want to spend 48 hours hobbling... I've done a few short runs over the holidays and it didn't hurt! I'm hoping if I can enjoy running then I will get fitter by accident.

Is it weird to attempt to subliminally trick myself into healthiness? Oh well, at least running will counteract (some of) the cakes I plan to bake this year.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Calanas Course

Calanas is the Gaelic term for spinning or working with wool. I've been knitting for a few years now, using a variety of yarn from cheap acrylic to breathtakingly expensive merino. I had never considered making yarn myself until a colleague passed me a flyer for a Calanas course.

Gratuitous Herdwicks being photogenic in the Lake District

The course takes place at Whitmuir; a local organic farm. We start with soup at the farm restaurant then get stuck into the task of the week. The first week we met the flock (one of whom escaped...) and got our hands dirty with a stack of fleeces. With tangled and dirty parts removed (and a surprising amount of thorns) we washed and dried the fleeces. The following week we started carding the wool.

Giant sheep or tiny man?

Last night was our first attempt at spinning. I found it quite surprising the number of people who happened to have spinning wheels already - at least half of the group! Now for an admission; I signed up for this course thinking it would be fun and relaxing to learn a new skill. Spinning is not relaxing. Spinning is frustrating, complicated and addictive. I had thought I had reasonable hand-foot coordination, it turns out I can make my hands and feet work together but can't breathe at the same time. Hopefully next time I'll manage to get into a rhythm without getting so over excited that I let go and it all goes wrong. I've also attempted spinning on a spindle - slightly less stressful as it's much slower. Not necessarily easier though.

In the end I was very pleased to realise that somewhere in all the confusion I had managed to spin a significant amount of fleece into something approximating wool:

Wool spun on a wheel and a spindle

I can't wait for next time!

Friday, 29 July 2011


Photography has interested me since I was about 14 or 15. My parents have always been interested in photography and I always loved the theatre of getting a big white screen out and looking at their slides in the dark. I got my first *real* camera, an SLR, at university and enjoyed taking photos and waiting to get the prints back. It was always exciting to see if shots had worked, and to notice things I hadn't seen at the time.

Next I got a digital SLR and loved the instant feedback - knowing straight away if a shot had turned out how I had planned. My Nikon D40 has definitely helped me become a better photographer - trying different lenses and settings and seeing what happens.

When my parents said they were thinking of getting rid of their old cameras I felt sad to think of them just sitting in a cupboard, not being used. So now as well as my Nikon I have an old-school Canon AE-1 Program. I love the feel of it, it feels light and comfortable in my hands.

After a couple of weeks of hail, lightning and torrential downpours (cars shouldn't float in Edinburgh!), we've had two glorious evenings of golden sunshine. Perfect for photography. We went for a walk in the Pentlands by Threipmuir reservoir and up Blackford Hill. Unfortunately our plans for glass-still water and dramatic hills didn't quite work out - the triathletes had decided it was a great day for a swim. I've taken 36 shots though and finished my film. I'll take it to the camera shop tomorrow and am already looking forward to getting the prints back next weekend!

I don't have to wait for all my gratification though - technology these days is amazing and my camera phone is perfectly capable of taking a nice snap. Hopefully the film camera will still be suitable for taking shots like these:

Threipmuir Reservoir

Monday, 30 May 2011

Chocolate and cherry

This has been a productive weekend; chocolate cake, bread and knitting. The bread was too tasty to remain un-scoffed long enough for photos but I can't eat a *whole* cake in one sitting:

This is a wonderful cake for weekends - quick, easy and tasty!

175g soft butter or margarine
175g caster sugar
3 eggs (medium or large)
150g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat together the sugar and butter (I use a wooden spoon, you can use electric beaters if you have them)
Mix in the eggs
Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder until smooth
If it's hard to mix, add a splash of milk (couple of tablespoons) until it's nice and smooth

Put into two 7inch cake tins (lined with grease proof paper)
Bake at 170C for about 30 minutes - poke it with a sharp knife after this time - if the knife comes out clean it's done
Leave in the tins for 10minutes or so then cool the cakes on a wire rack.

I like to fill it with chocolate spread (easy!) but this weekend I went for cherry compote and creme fraiche. Then all you have to do is try to resist eating it before friends pop round to help ;)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Eurovision and other music

First of all I'd like to point out that I'm generally indifferent to Eurovision. However when a friend bought tickets and invited me along I couldn't resist. I was intrigued and also I really like Germany! Look, Cologne has random art in empty shops:

So that's how I came to be in Dusseldorf at the Jury Final of Eurovision 2011 (50% of the total score is based on a jury from each country, the other 50% is based on the public telephone votes). I actually found it a lot more fun than I'd expected - perhaps helped by the fact that there were several non-traditional Eurovision songs (i.e. they were musical rather than an ode to sparkle).

First for Finland was Paradise Oskar (real name Axel Ehnström) singing a song about saving the planet. Later on there were Sjonni's Friends from Iceland with "Coming Home". The song was written by Sigurjón Brink who died before it could be picked as the Icelandic entry. His musician friends put together a band and sang it in tribute to him.

Of course my two favourites didn't win - they were more singer-songwritery, boy with guitar type songs so not really in the spirit of Eurovision. It was interesting watching the jury final and wondering how different the total scores would be (in the jury final Italy and Britain were joint first). With jury and public votes combined; Italy came second and Britain in 10th, the winners were Azerbaijan.

On the Saturday night we watched the Eurovision final in a gay bar - they had score cards, pencils with flags on *and* transvestites (I may have been a little jealous of their dresses and hats...) Gay bars are the way forward - everyone is just lovely and friendly. Earlier in the day there had been a football match on with chanting fans everywhere, the difference was rather pronounced.

Whilst in Germany we did manage a little culture as well, we had a wander round Cologne cathedral:
Cologne Cathedral

Walked along the Hohenzollern bridge and looked at all the padlocks (each the symbol of a couple's love):
Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne

We even managed to spot an incongruous flying car:

All in all a bizarre but fun trip! I can't wait to visit Germany again later on in Summer - might stick to my sort of gigs in future though.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


If you know me in the real world (which admittedly is probably everyone who reads this blog) then you'll probably know I'm left-handed. Most of the time I don't feel disadvantaged by this, I have my computers at work and home set up how I like them, I knit right-handed (much easier to find instructions for difficult stitches), I play guitar right-handed. Generally if I want to do something left-handed it is possible, though sometimes it is easier just to fit in with normality.

Recently I found something that isn't available to left-handers - cake forks. Now most of you probably don't think this is a big issue - how often do people use cake forks anyway? Well actually I like cake a lot, and therefore eat cake quite a lot. In public I generally have to make do with a right-handed cake fork and don't often end up covered in chocolate and cream. However I do feel the whole event would be more relaxed and pleasant if I had the correct implement for the job.

Sadly, it seems I am too much in the minority to make this viable for cutlery manufacturers. If anyone does find a source of left-handed cake forks, please let me know!

Someone who probably thinks cake forks are silly is this little Adder, seen up Mount Keen on 29th April:
Adder, Mount Keen