Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day at Home

Happy Christmas to all our family and friends.

Monday, 22 December 2008

National Insurance and Ladies of a certain age

National Insurance is not what most people are thinking about at this time of the year. However, at the time when one is thinking about things to do in the New Year, this may be of interest and may propel someone into checking their situation and making appropriate arrangements for their future state pension. Do mention this to anyone who you think may benefit.

I had raised the topic at one of our knitting group's evenings some time ago, and was delighted to hear last Tuesday, that another member had had a great result when she decided that she would check her situation. She found out that she already had over 30 qualifying years and could stop her voluntary contributions.....£30 per month is a lot of yarn which can now be stashed away, or of course there are other treats or savings which this can be put to.

Recently the government has changed the number of qualifying years for full state pension to 30. Years not at work but looking after children, I think after 1978, when the woman's name was on the 'child allowance book' do count but you need to claim these. So if you are paying voluntary contributions or know someone who is, it is worth checking your individual records. You will be sent a pension forecast, so do ring up 0845 300168. You will need your National Insurance Number. You can also go on line for a forecast. Unless you check and know exactly where you stand you could continue to pay when there is no need to. You can also find out whether it is worth paying for any incomplete years to make up to full pension. The rates will be going up after April 2009, so it is probably best to get things sorted out sooner rather than later.

There may be of course some chaps, who may have thought they would not have a full pension due to missing years. No credits are given for years at University and with early retirement, and no work some men will also benefit from this change, so they may also be pleasantly surprised by the results of a current check on their future state pension benefits.

Putting up the Christmas Decorations

Yesterday Mr S brought down the tree and decorations from the loft, and set to and has made a jolly display. I tried not to get involved when all the lights were strewn across the carpet, and repairs were made. How do lights which are working perfectly and then packed very carefully end up causing problems when they are unpacked?

I am going through my less is more stage, and not all the baubles have been hung on the tree. I have made sure to hang those ones with special memories, ones given by friends over the years, such as the glass ballerina from Barbara a colleague from Wace Corporate Print Days, a lovely china ornament from Jayne, and a silver snow-flake from Gillian Brown a neighbour from Retingham Way days, who is no longer with us.

Decorating the tree is the ideal time to open the special VERY BIG box of Maltesers, which Mr S brought home on Friday evening. I love them, and it is very difficult to have only one, isn't it? There are still some left for the remaining days before Christmas!

Carols at the Castle

I needed something to get me in to the Christmas mood, so wondered whether Mr S would like to come and sing some carols with me at the Castle. Its an unusual request from me as those who know me very well indeed, know that I am not a singer. Although I definitely need singing lessons, I really do like to sing, though I can get a big lump in my throat and even a small tear when singing carols.
Even though the boy was a little poorly with a cold, as the evening was warm, dry and with no wind, we walked out armed with torch and camera. As we turned the corner by the car park we were wowed by the Castle all lit up, and by the gates we were greeted by the Kenilworth Lions, with song sheet. There were treats too, and the mulled wine and mince pies were lovely. The children's choir from St Augutine's School was so touching, and there was the Steel Band and a brass band to accompany the Carols. We had a good sing at the top of our voices.

There were groups of people and some with at least three generations, some had lanterns and wonderful hats. A group of younger boys were rushing round and jumping off ruined walls, and cute little girls were parading around in fancy hats and gloves etc. I looked around to see whether my friend Mandy was there with her family. Mandy had knitted some fabulous hats last year, and what a place to parade in them. However little did I know then that was the last place she would be as she was undergoing a medical emergency, but thankfully she is now on the mend.

Next year, I would love to take some friends there and have supper here afterwards, or tea before, which will be a lovely start to the Christmas festivities.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Woven silk pictures from J and J Cash Ltd

A few weeks ago whilst in Coventry, I happened to drop in on The Herbert Museum. The large ground floor exhibition area had just been refurbished and it was the first day of its relaunch.
Here I spent a couple of hours marvelling at the collection of ribbons and woven artifacts dating from the 18Th Century, and was intrigued to find out that Coventry was the centre of woven silk ribbons for over a century. My interest in woven items has been growing over the last couple of years, and in Venice this year I was amazed at the woven silks and ribbons which they used in period dresses.

I mentioned the Ribbon Exhibition at the WI craft group, and several of my friends there were able to tell me more about the items that Cash produced.
I was disappointed that the shop at the Herbert did not have any of Cash's items for sale. It is very strange that where they have a wonderful exhibition, there are not items for sale. Where there is a local item of such excellent quality, I feel it ought to be really showcased and that people around must be really proud. I think we must support British Made items of such quality, and enjoy them and ensure that such companies continue to prosper.

This is the start of my collection of woven silk pictures. The first in middle is that of a Peregrine Falcon. I picked this up at a bring and buy coffee morning. The next two, I bought as second hand items from a Furniture Shop in Kenilworth. The detail is superb: the fluffy white feather on the robin's breast look as if the wind is blowing them about, and the designer has managed to capture the stillness of the moment on the Kingfisher woven picture. I'm hoping to receive Cash's book marks as birthday presents in the future, well I dropped a big hint to Mr S, hope he was listening.

Cash is still in business and produces name tapes and items such as bookmarks and greeting cards. This past weekend I was delighted to find some at the Coventry Transport Museum. Veronica and I marvelled at the current collection. The design, details and the colours are really beautiful. I picked up two booklets: Silken Weave, A History of Ribbon Making in Coventry from 1770 to 1860, and Still Weaving - J and J Cash Ltd of Coventry. These two booklets are excellent sources on the history of a craft and the effect that the industry has had on the character and development of a City.

Sweet Honey Beret

Hurrah for Interweave Knits. The Winter 2008 copy dropped on my mat a couple of weeks ago, and being a hat person, my eye was drawn to the Sweet Honey Beret. I had a couple of mohair balls of yarn, saved from a stash given to be by a friend which I have passed to a knitting group in Kenilworth. I thought the pattern was worth a try. TRYING it was for me. I have tried to think of the reasons:

Firstly - I had not bonded with the yarn. I did not truly love it. It was a 'mock' mohair, only 20% natural yarn. It was a lovely colour though, deep purple, a rich tone which sadly my camera was not able to capture. Had it been 100% luxurious natural yarn, I may have felt differently.
Secondly - the dark colour meant it was difficult for me to see the stitches, and if one was dropped it was pretty hard, given the lace pattern to make corrections. I very nearly pulled it out two or three times.

Thirdly - I found jumping from the stitch guide to the pattern hard on the eyes, and after some hard talking to myself, devised a chart of sorts, which was much easier to follow. Drawing this out helped me to understand the brioche stitches and the relationship of the stitches from one row to the next.
Finally - I swung from using double pointed needles to circular needles. The circular needles were probably the best, as there was less opportunity to drop a stitch! However towards the crown I had to change to the double pointed needles. With all the yarn overs, it was a tricky job to keep the stitches in the right order.

Gradually as I knitted, more positive feelings began to grow. I started to think about who I would give the hat to. I tried it on, and it would definitely look better on a blonde. When it was finished it looked lovely, and worth the effort, and I shall knit another one. Well I've done all the hard work of figuring out the pattern now. The texture which the Honeycomb stich is certainly worth the effort. I also mastered the art of using the magic loop with the circular needle.

I thought it would look nice on Veronica, but having tried it on, she decided that it would not fit in with other items. Again another eureka moment during the middle of the night: I thought of a friend at Pilates who had been admiring my own beret, which I knitted a few years ago. She really loved the beret and now it has a head to keep warm. The Beret is a top fashion item this Winter, yes I heard it on the radio, so it must be true!!

Whilst typing this out, I have now thought of another friend who would like a new hat, so I shall call her and see what she would like.

Mini Christmas Puddings easy cooked in the Prestige Pressure Cooker

This Christmas, I sway between a buy the whole thing ready made to I could make that myself. I was going to get the Christmas pud from Miles at the Kenilworth Market thinking I was too late to make them, but then I read on Mandy's blog that she had only just made hers.

I went through my stash of ingredients, and I had all the makings ready to hand....but then, what to to steam the pudding in? I had a pudding basin but the recipe quantity meant that I would have to get another basin, and make two.
Having consulted various well know authors, I make up my own reducing sugar but adding grated apple and sherry and brandy, rather than barley wine etc., which I did not have to hand. I then calculated the total weight and decided to half the ingredients. Having followed the instructions, which said mix one day and leave to mature then cook the next, led to a 3 a.m. eureka moment: there were the small dariole or similar moulds, which would make individual puddings. The other bonus was that the smaller puddings would take a lot less time steaming, and reheating!

When I was up in the London with Vickie, the subject of pressure cookers came up. I wonder whether Vickie will be getting one this Christmas? I love mine and use it frequently. I have a Prestige Cooker which was a wedding present, which I have used ever since for things like stock, soups, steamed puddings, cooking fruit under pressure then boiling up jams and marmalade's but the later without the weights and using the large pan as preserving pan. I prefer to steam veggies and use the oven for meat.

I experimented with various ways of tying down the baking parchment, and I'm pleased to say all worked. The pudding are now maturing in a dark, cool place, and will only take 10 mins to reheat in the pressure cooker.

For my benefit, here is the recipe ready for next year:

2 oz each of sultanas, raisins, dark brown sugar,suet and breadcrumbs

4oz currants

1oz self raising flour

1tsp mixed nutmeg and cinnamon

grated peel from 1 lemon

1/2 oz mixed candied peel finely chopped

1tbsp black tracle

1 egg

1tbps each brandy and rum

1oz whole almonds soaked for 1 day then peeled and chopped

1 small cooking apple grated, skin included

Mix all items, and leave covered. Mix several times before cooking the next day.
This quantity makes up four individual puddings 6oz each.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pumpkin Festival

Well, chez nous, it is! A large pumpkin which I bought from the gardening club bring and buy, which had been sitting resplendent in the conservatory, had its first segment cooked and baked on Friday. Along with garlic, onions and olive oil, I nurtured it to roasted perfection.

The pumpkin continued to look beautiful in its cut form on the kitchen window sill, till Monday. All morning I stood there chopping and preparing apples and pumpkin for my chutney, and despite the cold had the window open and doors to the rest of the house closed in an effort to try to keep the smell of vinegar away from the rest of the house.
Today the rest of the pumpkin is being processed into pumpkin cake and roasted pumpkin ready to be used in a variety of dishes.