Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tweets for my Tweeps

I now have a shiny new Twitter account - go add me now!

Follow campreece on Twitter

Or let me know if there's a fascinating Tweep I should be following - arts, crafts, marketing & PR, Coventry & Warwickshire - whatever. If it's a well put together stream then I'll add them to my list!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The shape of thoughts

Isn't it funny that sometimes another person can give you an expression of yourself better than anything you can manage? You can listen to a song or hear a poem and think - That's me! That's what I feel and think.

It has a kind of hurting quality, to hear your insides expressed by somebody else, to feel suddenly that you're not alone in feeling that, but also that you're not unique; that perhaps nothing you can do will ever be as entirely new and special and 'you' as it feels in your heart when you do it.

I'm lucky that I have a husband and friends who know me so completely. People with whom I can be entirely honest in a way I don't think I suspected was possible and yet I sometimes still find myself keeping things back. Not the big things, things like decisions or news, but the tiny little fragments of thoughts like how beautiful it looks when the sun shines through a jar of jam and the way the whole thing glows as if it holds some magic. Or when you see a child learning something and you get a sudden glimpse of all their possibilities and it takes your breath away.

Occasionally I tell Adam one of these thoughts and he never turns away from them, but sometimes I feel as if he's looking at life from the bottom of a box - surrounded by high walls that block out the view in every direction. I feel so sorry for him. I love when we share a moment like looking at a sunset together and, briefly, it seems as though I've created a window in one of his walls.

I was ten minutes later leaving for work yesterday because I was fussing Bramble and he was enjoying it so much he left trails of dribble on his blanket. I couldn't bear to leave when he was in such an ecstasy of squirming and I loved the way his thick, soft fur scrunched under my fingers and the intense heat of his skin where he had been shaved for his operations. Most of all I loved the way he looked at me like he was focusing all of his attention on me and there was nobody else in the world. Somehow it seemed even more special because it was from a cat and so I sat on the landing and fussed him until I really really *had* to go.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Review: Web of Wool yarn shop

OK, so this isn't totally Coventry based, since the shop in question is based in Leamington, but Leamington Spa is easily reached from Coventry so I feel it falls within my remit. Besides which I have already blogged about a Leamington based shop when I reviewed The Cotton Nappy Company, so there's precedent.

Anyway, I popped into Web of Wool last week just on a whim. Bad idea. One should never combine the words 'popped' 'whim' and 'yarn shop', not unless one is prepared to spend money... Which is what happened!

The shop is lovely and Olde Worlde in style - wonky wooden floorboards, gorgeous wooden cubular shelves, a deep set bay window with a white painted windowsill and little paned windows. A gamut of different yarns filled the shelves - rich, deep colours, soft pastels, earthy tones, vibrant rainbow shades - and the textures were just as varied, soft, fuzzy, silky, nubbly. You'd think this was fairly standard for a yarn shop, but I tell you it is not so - I know of more than one yarn shop (and I'm naming no names here) that seem to be stuck about forty years in the past - jumbled shelves, ancient yellowing patterns, even more ancient shop staff (who are mightily unhelpful come to that), nasty acrylic yarns and a strange musty smell that seems to permeate everything.

Web of Wool is more... tasteful, modern, appealing, appetising even, with well ordered products and a young, helpful person behind the counter (who I suspect may even be the shopowner). Be warned - they have traps for the unwary by the counter just like at the supermarket, only it's cute little buttons and other notions rather than sweeties.

There are some downsides though. Firstly the opening hours seem a little erratic. This is the third time I've gone past the shop, but the first time it's ever been open - in actual fact I posted to my Facebook status that I'd found it open and promptly had a number of replies from my Knit Wit compatriots declaiming me as a liar and fraudster for suggesting such a thing! Secondly - the shop was bizarrely chilly. Maybe it was just a ploy to entice shoppers to purchase more snuggly yarns, even when the weather was warm, but it did make things a bit uncomfortable since I was without a cardigan that day (this was during that bizarrely warm spell we had the weekend *before* the bank holiday weekend).

Thirdly, and I'm not sure if this should be included in a review of a shop, but let's face it, without a web presence these days you may as well not bother, their website is, well, shocking. I suspect it may be under reconstruction, though nothing to that effect has been written on the site, but all the links are broken and there's just one, very simple front page with an address on it where there used to be a whole host of links and jumbled information. I'll hold off on any further critique until I've ascertained whether it is, in fact, being reworked or not, but even as it is, it doesn't really do them any favours since it's more of a place holding operation than anything else.

I came out with a heavy weight sock yarn in lovely grey-blue self-striping tones and a set of little ceramic cat buttons to sew on the navy blue bamboo baby cardigan I just finished (photos some time next year when I get some free time!). The woman behind the counter was friendly, unobtrusive, helpful and not pushy at all. I think the shop is *almost* there, but is lacking a little something - a bit more light, a bit more warmth, maybe some quiet music playing. A few halogen spots would make a big difference, as would a radiator of some kind. Even so, I would definiteky consider going back - always providing they're open that is!

Monday, 3 May 2010

The *Goood* Cookies

Over the past few years I have been conducting interested research into cookies. My quest has been to find the ideal recipe for a homemade cookie - something that will produce the delicious crispy round the edges, chewy in the middle American style platter-sized cookie that I've only ever been able to buy.

Well, for a long time this research turned up tasty, yet *wrong* cookies. Finally, about a year ago, I came across a recipe on the BBC food page which, once tested, was promptly saved and renamed as "The *Goood* Cookies". Large, pale gold, lumpy with chocolate chunks, crispy round the edges and chewy soft in the centre they are exactly what I was hoping to create.

The stress earlier this week sent me to my cupboards in my automatic stress-reaction of baking followed by eating and I turned up this recipe again. Perfect. I only had dark chocolate, but i chopped it up and made a batch of acceptable, but slightly solid cookies. Yesterday I tried again. I made sure to measure out the flour exactly (I deliberately used too much last time, a mistake I now realise) and doubled my quantities so I could make two flavours. I cooked them up and have a classic and a new delicious favourite:- milk choc chip cookies and white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies. OMG - yum! Not sure whether my work colleagues will get to share *these* batches, though it'd probably be better for my waistline if they do. Perhaps I'll make some small ones ;-)

The recipe below is written from memory and includes my own little adjustments. Apologies for the changes between imperial and metric measurement - that's just how they stick in my mind!

3 1/2 oz granulated sugar
2 1/2 oz soft light brown sugar
125g unsalted butter
150g plain flour
150g goodies to add in (chocolate, nuts, raisins, a mixture thereof - whatever you fancy, but I recommend the white choc and macadamia nut mixture. Dried cranberries are nice too...)
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to Gas mark 4/180 degrees. Melt the butter slowly in a small, heavy pan. When melted pour into the sugars and beat well. Add in the egg and then the dry ingredients. When you have a nice homogenous cookie dough mix in your goodies and leave the bowl in a cool place until it firms up a little - do not add more flour like I did, it's not a good idea.

Place heaped tea spoonfuls of the mixture far apart on a sheet on baking parchment on a baking sheet. Put in the oven and cook for between 8 and 15 minutes depending on a number of things like the size of your cookies and the efficacy of your oven. My oven is so poor it takes about 20 minutes to cook them, but my mum's amazing Neff oven cooks them in 8 - so be aware!

When they're done the cookies will be about 3 times the diameter that they were, very flat, golden brown round the edges and with a shiny crackled glaze across the surface. Remove from oven, leave to cool a little, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Whilst they're very hot they'll be all floppy so don't try to take them off the tray immediately.

Eat with a tall glass of cold milk and revel in the American-ness ;-)

Cooked cookies will keep in an airtight tin for a few days (though not in my house, cos they get eaten within a day). Or you can divide them into balls and freeze them, wrapped in baking paper and foil (or in a long sausage affair which you chop slices off) then you can drop a few on a tray and whack them in a hot oven - hey presto! Instant fresh homemade cookies. How to fool people into thinking you're a Domestic Goddess!

Harking Back

OK, so if you read my post from yesterday you'll be aware that I currently have a very poorly cat at home for a bit. Because he has tubes coming out of his belly he's not allowed to roam around in a cat-like way and is currently kept for most of the day in a large crate we borrowed from his Cats Protection foster mum. This crate, for a number of reasons, mostly due to its size and weight, is sitting in the middle of our sitting/dining room. A sitting/dining room that was in *serious* of a hoover, not least because the cone-headed cat has been (to use a word my husband coined) 'cone-a-pulting' the litter from his tray across the room, with a range of about 5'.

Well, what to do? The hoover would give said cat a coronary arrest on top of his bladder issues and it's not like I'd be able to move him out of the room easily so I could do the hoovering without frightening the bejeesus out of him. Then a lightbulb popped up over my head in the manner of a cartoon strip. When we'd moved in I remembered seeing a manky old carpet sweeper in the under-the-stairs-cupboard, a remnant of the elderly lady's previous incumbency. OK, so it wasn't as effective as my funky little purple Dyson, but it was a heck of a lot quieter, didn't frighten the cat and was way easier than my only alternative: down on my hands and knees with a dustpan and brush.

Just goes to show - sometimes dated technology can still be useful. I wouldn't swap it for my Dyson on a permanent basis though!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

May Day Round Up

So I feel like something of a fraud. There I was promising all sorts of crafts, reviews, family stories, cat related hilarity, randomness and the odd kitchen disaster thrown in for good measure and now, here I am, full time job, parading as some kind of yuppie. Hrm, from hippie to yuppie in one easy step...

I'd like to think we'd have more money from this little experiment, I'd *like* to, but it wouldn't be the case. One, because hubby and I had a brief little plunge into consumerism in an 'ahh, fuck it' way and two - because of the vet. It is also because of the vet that I find myself with so little time even after the job, cooking, shopping, washing, ironing and general miscellanea that fills my once carefree and loosely planned days.

As far as the consumerism goes, well, that's over. Hubby handed over the financial reins to me and I have put us on a strict economic diet. We get our pocket money each month which we can spend as we choose. Anything over that and there'd better be a *damn* good reason why. I sanctioned the bicycle helmet for Hubby who cycles to work, for example, especially with the nutso Coventarian drivers - in the event of a collision I would quite like his brain area protected, at the very least.

As far as the vets, well, that's still ongoing. Bramble decided to get a blocked bladder, cue one post-work trip to the vets, followed by a late night trip to the emergency vets, followed by a return to the regular vets, followed by a holiday home, followed by a Sunday afternoon trip to the vets, followed by an early morning transfer back to normal vets on Monday, followed by emergency transfer to specialist animal hospital in Birmingham on the Tuesday, right in the middle of the day. All in all several disrupted days, many hours of work lost (more of a problem for me than them since I'm on a pay-per-hour casual contract) and many hours of stress. Most especially when, Wednesday morning, Barley presented with the same symptoms: cue hysterical Milla. My mum, Gods bless her, drove straight up and stayed till Saturday, for which I was most grateful, even though Barley turned out to only have a short term virus and not the major drama of an illness Bramble is suffering from.

So far Barley has cost us about £260 and Bramble roughly £5011. Thank everything that exists that we had insurance. Especially thank Karen, the boys' Cats Protection Foster Mother, that we have higher level insurance so he's covered to £7,500 over his lifetime for each condition. What a pity that he's managed to burn through nearly his entire lifetime's cover in one week. At the moment we're still debating whether to go ahead with a potentially preventative operation to remove his penis. It's the 'potentially' that bothers me. We'd spend the rest of his insurance and some of our own money (it could cost as much as £3,500) if we knew that it would definitely help his chances, but that's not guaranteed by any means, so we're waiting until we talk to the vet on Tues.

Right now I am taking the piss out of the cat on a regular basis, and yes, I mean that literally. Every two to three hours I have to use a syringe to draw the urine out of his bladder through a tube sewn into his little pink shaved tummy. He's a very good boy about it, rolling onto his back for me and purring. Such a sweetie. It's weird the things you can get used to. His gentle nature and sweet temperament just reminds me how close we came to losing him and why we're willing to do these things for him. I just hope we can resolve this happily.