On the menu: very chocolatey chocolate cake

Very chocolatey chocolate cake

Not the best photo, this is the cake after a quarter was cut from it, I know it doesn’t really look like a quarter has been cut from it, it’s a rather liquidly soft cake

It’s Girl Lacer’s birthday and she only really likes chocolate cake (strange girl), so I made one. The recipe is Scrumptious Chocolate Fudge Cake from Miranda Gore Browne’s Bake Me A Cake As Fast As You Can, apparently she made this recipe on Great British Bakeoff and Paul Hollywood really liked it, I’m not sure what he’d think of my attempt. It’s a very dense, moist cake and I’m sure it doesn’t need quite as much ganache as the recipe called for but I had made the amount and so I dumped it on, honestly, the middle of that cake of half cake, half ganache. It is extremely chocolatey, the sort of extreme chocolateyness that I’m not sure I, personally, have the taste buds for anymore. Also, as the person who obviously made it, knowing that there’s way more sugar than actual flour in it, it’s a bit off-putting.

Soldier Spy

Soldier SpySoldier Spy by Tom Marcus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not normally the sort of book I read but I saw a clip of ‘Tom Marcus’ on the news and his story sounded fascinating, so I thought I’d give this memoir a go. Tom had a rough upbringing, essentially a street kid, he couldn’t join the army quick enough to escape. Once in the army, he moves into doing secret work in Ireland, from there he is recruited into MI5, as an operator (what most people would think of as a spy). The news stories I saw pretty much summarised the entire book, so I knew in advance how it ends but that didn’t really matter, in fact, knowing in advance what ultimately happened, you could really see the warning signs throughout the book.

The book is really well written and very gripping. It’s a fascinating insight into the work of the secret services and how they protect us from multiple attempted terrorist attacks and foreign spying. If you ever wonder how the UK has been ‘lucky’ (touch wood), so far, compared to some other countries, this book goes some ways to answering that and some of the attacks that Tom was involved in stopping sound horrifying. The book highlights the team work involved and the mental and physical danger that the operators put themselves in, to protect us. It was also fascinating that this stuff goes on under the public’s gaze and we don’t even realise, so next time I see a car racing way too fast down a road, yep, it could just be a jerk speeding but it could also be an operator on ‘steel badge’.

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Conspiracy (Giordano Bruno  #5)Conspiracy by S.J. Parris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bruno is back in Paris, desperately seeking patronage to save him from destitution, he seeks help from an old priest friend but when said friend turns up murdered a few days later, Bruno is once again drawn into the world of murder. Taking in an austere abbey and the glamourous, debauched French court, there are more twists and turns than a very tangled ball of wool. I am up to date with the series now and have found the books to be increasingly more ‘TV-like’, which is not a bad thing, they’re very atmospheric and I like the later conclusion of wry one-liners but the number of times Bruno is wrong about a plot point, it almost feels like the ‘duh duh duuuh’ moment at the end of an episode of a TV period crime drama but then again I would like to see Giordano Bruno on TV.

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Craft table and new pattern weights

New craft table

I mentioned a week or so ago that I had a new craft table and it has been fantastic. Previously I had been sewing on our fold down dining table, which I could only ever put half up and even that wasn’t brilliant, as it’s oval shaped and that’s not great when you’re trying to cut fabric. So when we had to store away our dining table, I was suddenly without any sewing space whatsoever, so I bought a table from Folding Tables UK (not a sponsored post) and it’s been brilliant. It’s actually big enough to sew on and have an ironing blanket on (I sew in my living room and there wouldn’t be enough space to put up the ironing board too, when I used to sew on the dining table, I used to have to put the ironing board up in the hallway, blocking everyone’s route to the toilet) and it is so much easier to be able to sew and then press a seam straight away (and to be honest it makes me far less likely to take short cuts and not do it). As you can see from the photo above, it’s even big enough for my sewing machine, the ironing blanket and a bored 12 year old. It goes up and down really easily, is solid when up and fits neatly under our sofa. Since I’ve been using the table, it hasn’t just been used for sewing, it was put up for a family take out pizza gathering, it’s been used for board games, homework, drawing and Mr. Lacer uses it to maintain and upgrade his PC.

Anyway, with my new and improved craft ‘space’ (I will blog further, later on, when everything has finished being sorted, about what other things I’ve done in the flat to improve my storage and access to my craft stuff), I could finally sew! Every year, on my Flickr, I create albums to record what I’ve sewn and embroidered for each year and just generally my craft output has been rather pathetic this year (for finished stuff anyway) but it surprised me, that when I went to put photos of my recent finished sewn pieces on Flickr, that I hadn’t even created a Sewn 2016 album yet because until this month, I actually hadn’t sewn anything (excluding my diamond hex quilt, which is still a WIP). So it feels extra good that I’ve managed to do so now.

Warm up pillow

Because I hadn’t used my sewing machine for so long, the first thing I did was make a cushion cover, to warm up. In the grand bedroom switch, I had found an uncovered cushion pad and I didn’t want to throw it away but I also didn’t want it to continue sitting around unused. I’d also been sorting through my fabric and had even managed to throw some of it away (the shocker), as I’ve only got limited space and so any fabric I do store, it’s got to work for its space. The fabric above, Michael Miller’s Rocket Rascals, was one of the first fabrics I bought, years ago, when I started sewing. Like I think a lot of beginner sewers, I was heavily attracted to novelty fabrics and need I say, these days, I’m not, I much prefer muted, less in your face stuff, you can use it for a wider range of things for a start. So Rocket Rascals had been in the discard pile but argh, I’m sentimental too and I fished it out and used it (finally!). I have metres of the stuff, uncut, and even making a cushion cover, I’ve still got loads but I associate the print so much with learning to sew, I haven’t got the heart to get rid of it.

Pattern weights

After the cushion cover, the next step was pattern weights. I’ve been hankering after pattern weights for ages, after seeing them on The Great British Sewing Bee and I thought that they’d be a good excuse to reduce down my smaller pieces of fabric pile and to celebrate my new, efficient, pattern cutting.

Pattern weights

The pattern is from Tea and a Sewing Machine and was pretty easy to follow.
Pattern weights

Since making the pattern weights I’ve sewn myself a dress, which will be blogged about later (a new blog resolution is to be patient until I can take at least reasonably decent photos of something I’ve made, although that’s bad timing since it’s Autumn and the light is no longer good) and I have a lot more sewing planned.

5 things I liked this week – 21.10.16

1. Some seedlings I planted earlier this month (really it should have been September) have grown! (I am such a bad gardener).
Cut flower seedlings

2. Me and Girl Lacer went to Tate Modern this week, we had meant to go on the next stage of the Capital Ring but thanks South West Trains, by the time we managed to get anywhere near central London, we’d ran out of time. But we had fun round Tate Modern, we went to see the new exhibit in the Turbine Hall and I showed her the new extension.

Turbine Hall Oct 16

The current turbine hall exhibition is by Philippe Parreno and is a massive (mainly) sound installation, that sounds like you’re underwater. There’s also moving lights, so the effect of the shadows moving across the hall floor is fantastic (and encouraged Girl Lacer into a bout of shadow puppetry – bottom right photo). Those panels you can see in the top two photos move around too and sometimes showed footage. Girl Lacer and I stayed and watched for about 15 minutes but each time we walked past it afterwards, it seemed to be playing something different.

Tate Modern roof

The roof of the new bit was stunning as usual (some of these photos may be Girl Lacer’s, she was using my camera). The new bit at Tate Modern

And of course I still love the texture of the outside of the new bit (pretty sure these last two photos are Girl Lacer’s, she’s been studying photography at school).

3. Catching glimpses of Girl Lacer’s dance class preparing for a show, this show normally happens about once every two years and you can see her really leap up in skill level each time and even just seeing those few minutes each week at pick up, you can see how more polished the dance routine is becoming each week.

4. I had the second stage of the big surgery I had over the summer, this week, this time just day surgery and not too much pain (not that I was in that much pain last time, those anesthetists really knew their stuff with nerve blocks). Once again I was in total awe of the lovely, organised, talented and professional staff at the hospital, the day surgery unit was like a highly polished, super efficient machine. I’ve seen a lot of hospitals over my life time and as much as I love the NHS as a whole, unfortunately not all their hospitals are that well run and I’ve had one particularly not nice, what was meant to be day surgery but didn’t turn out to be, experience at a different hospital, last year. I really think a lot of the difference comes down to money, the hospital where I have most of my treatment now is well funded (thanks to also taking a lot of private patients I think) and that obviously makes a difference. But I think the funding (or lack of funding) can also leach into moral, I still have to use that other hospital where I had the bad ‘day’ surgery experience (along with quite a few more bad experiences there) and the amount of times I’ve walked down the hospital corridors and overheard staff talking to each other about how unhappy they are at work, it really puts confidence in you, not. And if your staff are unhappy and underfunded, no wonder they can’t organise surgery efficiently.

5. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing recently, a pattern where I needed to use a hem gauge, the only hem gauge I could find locally was a not particularly brilliant cardboard one and Girl Lacer had been watching me sewing and struggling with it. So, I came home from hospital to discover that she’d ordered me a better one, the sweetheart!

Present from S ❤️

Art Inc.

Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an ArtistArt, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist by Lisa Congdon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think a good sign as to how useful a book like this is, is how often it’s highlighted and my copy is highlighted a lot! Lisa Congdon is a big hero of mine, I love her work and I love her classes on Creativebug, so it was fascinating getting an insight into how she manages her work. This book is very comprehensive but if you’re not US based, be warned that some sections are less relevant.

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5 things I liked this week – 14.10.16

  1. Walking in Richmond Park with the stags; I actually went twice this week, once last Friday and again on the Saturday. The Saturday walk wasn’t actually that relaxing, the park, if that’s at all possible, felt too crowded but I shouldn’t let that detract from the fact that I did enjoy my Friday walk.
  2. I’m still watching The Fall, still way behind, so no spoilers please but I’ve just got to the bit in season 2 where Colin Morgan makes an appearance, which always makes me feel completely hypocritical because I always think that men shouldn’t objectify women but oooh Colin Morgan (for those only familiar with Morgan’s earlier work, Merlin has grown into being a bit of a brooding hunk). I do really like The Fall but the fact that all the main characters bar the murderer’s downtrodden wife, all look like they’ve just stepped off a magazine fashion photo shoot, doesn’t make it feel completely realistic, although I can sort of get it from stylistic point of view, all the main characters, bar the wife, are in this almost out of this (normal) world, cat and mouse game, whereas the wife is just trying to raise her kids and do her job. There’s also the whole thing with Jamie Dornan being so good looking, ‘he just can’t be a murderer’, as shown with that scene on the train, where a young woman is looking at a rather accurate of photofit of the suspected murderer and Jamie Dornan is going “Do you think that looks like me? I think that looks like me. But I can’t be a murderer right?” and the young woman is going “Of course not,” simper, simper. Personally, the “cor Jamie Dornan is a bit of all right” effect lasted for about five minutes into the first episode of season one for me, as he’s a very good actor and he plays a very convincing absolute creep with a journalling fetish, so I can’t see why anyone would find that character attractive. Although for the record, Jamie Dornan with a beard, even playing a creepy murderer, is better looking I think than Jamie Dornan without a beard, playing Christian Gray (also, the Irish accent helps).
  3. Also on the TV front, I watched the recording of Derren Brown’s latest stage show this week. I saw Brown a few years ago and he was absolutely fantastic and I’m a big fan, I think the work that he does, not only his gift with hypnotism, reading people and all round trickery but also his work on looking at people like psychics, faith healers and psychology in general, is amazing. Brown has a book that’s either out or coming out soon (I’m not sure if the print copy is out yet, it might be, I’m waiting for the audiobook, which is out in November) on happiness and you could see echoes of that in his latest stage show, about how we are the stories we tell ourselves and if constantly tell ourselves bad stories, well, we’re not going to be very happy. Interesting stuff.
  4. We’re still finishing off the last touches of our grand bedroom swap that happened over the summer (the kids have got our big bedroom and we’ve now got the small bedroom). One of the things that the bedroom swap has influenced is where and how I can do my crafting, particularly big stuff, i.e. machine sewing. Now, except for a brief period when I had a desk in my old bedroom, I haven’t been able to use my sewing machine in my old bedroom anyway, I’ve always sewn in the living room (and that wasn’t particularly easy either) on our foldaway dining table. However, in moving the furniture around for the bedroom swap, we had to move the large bookcases that were in our bedroom, out into the living room and to fit the bookcases in the living room, we had to move the foldaway dining table. Now we did sort of think (briefly) about getting rid of the table, we only ever used it completely up, once a year (for Christmas), if that, because fully up it takes up the entire living room floor (and it is not a big table), it was increasingly not even half up, as we stored stuff in front of it a lot of the time. But me and Mr. Lacer are quite attached to what we call our ‘proper pieces of furniture’ (ie anything that didn’t come from Ikea or somewhere similar), as we only actually own two pieces, the table and a wooden oak chest of drawers (we are particular fond of the chest of drawers, it was an investment buy, after years of Ikea chest of drawers which would fall apart after a few years, I can see the investment chest of drawers literally being passed down the generations). So anyway, the chances of me and Mr. Lacer actually throwing out one of ‘proper pieces of furniture’ is about zero, so instead we’ve tucked the table down the side of our sofa and it now serves as a telephone table (it folds down pretty small). We will probably still get it out for Christmas but it will involve some heavy duty furniture moving to do so and I’m not exactly going to do that every time I want to do some sewing, so I was without a sewing table. Anyway, over the summer, this came to a head as Girl Lacer was invited to a 50s style birthday party and I wanted to make her a 50s style skirt, life ended up getting in the way, so I never did make the skirt (got as far as sticking together the .pdf pattern, I will still make the skirt though) but to make the skirt I knew I needed to sort out the table problem, so I ordered something I had been thinking about ordering for a while, a collapsible table that I could store under the sofa and then assemble when I wanted to get the sewing machine out. The table arrived, unfortunately the fabric for the skirt took ages to arrive (which was one of the reasons why the skirt didn’t happen for this party) and the table got stuck, still in its cardboard wrappings, under the sofa and left there, until this week …. Now I have been itching to get the sewing machine out all summer but the bedroom swap generated such a huge amount of boxes, that it took literally the whole of September (from basically when the kids went back to school) to sort out. There are still boxes in the living room, as Mr. Lacer recently cleared out a cupboard and I need to sort through those too but for a good long while, there was barely enough room to get even an embroidery hoop out in the living room, let alone a table to do some machine sewing, so the table stayed under the sofa. But as usual with crafting, sometimes it takes a fast encroaching deadline to get you moving; we have a family wedding to go to in a few weeks and I am making both me and Girl Lacer the dresses for it, so, I had to get sewing. So out came the table finally and it’s fantastic! I will be blogging about the sewing table (with pics) and what I’ve been sewing, in another blog post soon but it’s definitely been a highlight of the week!
  5. Time is going so quickly, it seems just like yesterday me and Girl Lacer were looking around secondary schools, now it’s Boy Lacer’s turn, although this time round we’re only looking around one, the school Girl Lacer ended up at (which had been her first choice school, on a list of about five schools). Girl Lacer’s school is only in its second year, it didn’t even properly exist when we went to ‘look round’ it, so it was excellent being able to look around an actual school building this time and to see how those initial words have very much been turned into very definite actions and we’re very lucky, it’s bloomed into a wonderful school, so that now, when we consider schools for Boy Lacer, there really is only one choice. Although we’re not the sort of parents who are very “you’re doing this whether you like it or not”, I can imagine, that in some families, kids have very little choice about what secondary school they want to put as their first choice and if Boy Lacer had wanted to look at other schools, we’d have been happy for that and if he’d wanted to put a different school as his first choice, as long as he had sound reasons for it, that would have been fine too. But he’s seen his sister have so much fun at her secondary school and although he was pretty sold even before he stepped into the door of the open evening last night, he sat and listened to the head’s speech, he said to me afterwards “well that sold me”. So, I am very excited for both of my kids, for the opportunities that they’ll have there. We were very lucky in that their primary school was fantastic and that it looks like their secondary school will be fantastic too. Which is, going back to the bedroom swap and the tables under the sofa, etc. etc. is why we’re doing this, my dad is frequently on at us to move out of the area, so that we can buy a three bed house, although these days in London, to buy a three bed house, we wouldn’t just have to move out of the borough, we’d have a move out of the city! He knows that a big reason we stay here is because of the schools and his counter argument is always “there’s good schools elsewhere, you know”, yes, of course there is but if we were to move now, wherever we ended up, those good schools would have waiting lists that our kids would be right at the bottom of and although I went to a ‘not good’ school (ooh it had a bad, sort of justified reputation), back when I was a kid and I came out all right, why give up on these opportunities for the kids that we currently have? They are worth the compromises.