Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings.

Wishing you all the best over the Festive Season and a peaceful New Year. From all at Mog Towers.

Magnus helps with the wrapping.

A small hopeful rainbow

Saturday, 15 December 2012

I have tingle fingers

Frost on plastic.

The weather not unreasonably for December,  has dipped to below freezing. The garden looks amazing, the unweeded bits, the trees we should have pruned in the Autumn, even the scruffy piles of seeds that the birds throw down from their feeders look magical when covered in a chilly coating of frost.  Further afield, the most unromantic of spots, the Park and Ride outside Perth is transformed. Narnia with a Megabus.

Today's chill has kept me by the cooker making Granola and lentil stew in quantities big enough to feed a hungry household. Abundant amounts of food make me happy. I like to feel that there is enough to go round and heaven knows, that feeling is in short supply right now.  Like most people our household is keeping a canny eye on our spending and bargain of the week yesterday was a big packet of chillies, marked down to fifteen pence. My final job in the kitchen was to chop them into little bits and to avoid getting chilli juice in my eyes. They must be strong little fellows. I've washed my hands more often than Lady Macbeth but still they hurt like blazes. The chillies are spread out on greaseproof paper in the freezer waiting to be put into a plastic pot in order to pep up my cooking for many weeks to come. That's enough to forgive the tingle in my fingers.

Chillies. Little did I know the pain in store.

Granola. Far more soothing.

 In other news - Deb Robson is coming to the UK. I can't wait.  Deb is one of the reasons I have a collection of fleeces in varying states of preparation, such is the power of her knowledge and enthusiasm. See her blog here for more details and if anyone has any ideas/inspirations/offers of help please get in touch with Deb, we're very lucky to have her.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Should never have listened to that spider.

The hat frenzy continues. I fear that it may be some knitted form of procrastination, where I pretend that I'm doing something vitally important and crafty when all I'm really doing is using up some odd bits of yarn. Creative? Of course, but what I'm creating is a big pile of hats whose intended heads haven't been discovered yet.  I'm sure some heads will occur to me later on but for now all I seem to be doing is making hats when I should be spinning, or writing or feeding the cat.
This hat has found the correct head..

All the same, hats are handy things to have if you don't want to think too much about a pattern or, if like me you are knitting on the bus, or in a cafe. There are at least two jumpers in the back of my mind that I'd love to cast on but I know that they will take up too much room in a bag  and will definitely take up too much room in my brain to knit in company. Hats it is then.

Hat surgery was required to re-knit a floppy rib.
I was in Glasgow last weekend, hence the need for travel-safe knitting. Friday saw us at the wonderfully named Glad Cafe in Shawlands, watching the Scottish Clarinet Quartet. The SCQ were performing a score by Matt Rodgers which was accompanied by visuals from my chum Matt Hulse. There was a trailer shown for Matt H's latest feature film which oddly enough features me. You can see it here. I'm easy to spot.The rest of the week has been peaceful and often horizontal. I've read and knitted and slept. When that became too much, I wrapped the cat up in brown paper. 

He enjoys it, honest.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Advice from a spider?

Scottish children are brought up with the story of Robert the Bruce.  Robert was a disheartened king who was inspired to carry on by the sight of a spider trying and eventually succeeding to make her web. The lesson he learned - if at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again.
Terje Vigen Mitts in handspun Hebridean and Merino ( the blue bit )
I'm in need of some spiderly inspiration myself this week after spending days knitting what I thought would turn out to be a fabulous hat. Instead of a beautiful striped affair all I have to show for my efforts is two skeins of unravelled yarn soaking in a bowl. I had hoped to make this hat and I've got no quarrel with the pattern as I was using handspun yarn and didn't make a gauge swatch. That'll teach me. While I loved knitting the clever shaping and the bright slipped stitches, the end product was too floppy to show them off and the rib had a terrible tendency to slide down over my eyes. To make matters worse, I'd already used this yarn to knit another hat pattern that tuned out too big. I'm beginning to wonder if I've been cursed with a particularly small noggin.
The felt balls before. best use for a pair of tights ever.

If at first you don't succeed - rip the thing back and cast on for another hat. That's what I love about knitting, there are very few mistakes that can't be rectified by ripping back, felting or some other radical act of craftwork. This time I will be re-knitting in a pattern called Joon. I'll make the stripes different and omit the slipped stitches for this one. Who knows, the third attempt might just be the winner.

After - cat waits patiently.
Jabob fleece after combing.
It isn't all bad,  in the last wee while I've knitted two successful projects and have been persevering with my Jacob fleece prep. I'm using some of the leftovers from combing to make felted balls. Magnus thinks that they are cat toys but I really meant to make felted garlands. The cat has won so far. There are wooly spheres rumbling around all over the floor.  There is a lot of fleece to use up so by Christmas there might be enough of them to please me and the beast.
Kaiso pattern from Knitted Socks East and West. Modified to use some Manx Laoghtan handspun.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Happy Halloween.

Our deadly hot chilli crop. Apparently Scotch Bonnets aren't called that because of their suitability to the Scottish climate.

It is nearly Halloween and the horror came early to our house. At least for the cat. When our lovely friend ( and vet ) Jaqui came to visit us with her husband a few months ago she took one look at Magnus and said; " Diabetes. " In other words, that beast is too fat and he is endangering his health. We cut down the cat food and waited for the slimline version to appear. Nothing happened. Not a centimetre of cat was reduced. We suspected that Magnus was dining out.  That was confirmed when the lovely boy jumped onto my lap one day before teatime and promptly burped a cat-food burp in my face. Someone is feeding him and we have to ask them to stop. Or alert them to the fact that there is a great big stripey cat coming into their house and stealing their cat food. I have decided that the best way to do this is by hanging a small label on Magnus. The sign will read. "Do not Feed. Vet's orders."

In order to achieve my aim, first of all I had to fasten a collar onto his neck. Trickier than it sounds as all the collars in the shop had bells on them designed to stop the wearer sneaking up on the unsuspecting bird population. It also prevents the worried cat owner from sneaking up on an overweight cat in order to fit the collar in the first place. After much wrangling and a little bloodshed, the collar has been affixed. I haven't added the label yet, I figured it would be kinder to let him get used to the collar first before adding complications. He hates it. I took this photo a day after he succumbed to the collar - in my mind this is Magnus' subconscious showing just how much he hates it. It has been pointed out that the picture bears a frightening resemblance to the adverts for The Omen. That can't be a coincidence.

Terrifying. Just terrifying.

  In other news, I have been learning how to make Dorset Buttons and so far have managed to make a grand total of one. And that was with help. I am ridiculously pleased with with how my one button turned out. Any suggestions for using it? On a tiny mouse jacket? A hat for a large spider?

And a tranquil button to finish.

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Day Late and a Poem Short.

A Book Spine Poem I made yesterday.

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK, I would have written a post then but I was lost in a tussle with some Jacob Fleece. A lovely friend is teaching me the spinning technique called Long Draw and she insists on me practising every day. This version of  Long Draw is the way that many Scottish spinners would have spun to make the most of our hardy sheep with short stapled fleeces. I need to be proficient in hand carding and the production of good rolags before I have the slightest chance of getting the spinning part right so I am diligently doing my homework. As with many things, it looks simple but is very hard to do well. Most of the time I'm making a dreadful mess of things but once in a while everything goes right and it feels as if I've just learned how to fly.

A gymnastic duck

Hungry Ryeland Sheep

 Last weekend was the Scottish Smallholder and Grower Festival and I spend a wonderful day meeting many types of sheep and the people who care for them. There were other animals too - pigs, cattle, poultry,  including a duck who stood on one leg just in time for me to take a picture, as well as many crafts and foodstuffs to admire. The Show Entries were a poem all to themselves.  Here are some of my favourites.

Leg Cleek
A Floral Arrangement in a Wellington

Three White Girdle Scones
A Clootie Dumpling
Four squares of Vanilla Tablet

Best Pygmy Goat

Gilts and Boars
Senior Sows
Best Pig Pen

Scots Dumpy
Hard Feather
Cream Crested Legbar

Close Wool
Long Wool
Ram Lamb

Showing a sheep.

Lincoln Longwool ( I think )

Happy Day After National Poetry Day, Day.

Monday, 24 September 2012


                                        Sometimes all I need is a day in my pajamas watching the weather change.

Flowers courtesy of my lad.  Rain courtesy of the Heavens.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I think it must be autumn.

Thing are changing.

The robin has moved back into the garden from the woods calling out his territorial claims in the sweetest manner. It always amuses me that the song I find so appealing is really a bloodthirsty reminder to the other robins that this seat is taken. Another noise in the village at the moment is the sound of the combine harvesters. Over the last few weeks the air has started to smell toasty as the fields ripen and thankfully we now have weather good enough for the harvesters to do their stuff. Their work doesn't stop, you can hear the far away rumblings throughout the night as the farmers make the most of the dry spell.

Mini Combs, my new best friends.

There has been some harvesting in the gardens and woods too, with friends bringing gifts of wild mushrooms, blackberries and some courgettes that were left on the stalk so long that they are mammoth marrows. I've taken to making hot chocolate in the evening and reading books about spinning and quilt making. The temptation to hibernate is very strong but I'm planning to work on some spinning before sleep takes over.  A local farm has some beautiful Jacob sheep and I was lucky enough to get a fleece. I'm slowly working my way through it, separating the colours and spinning them individually in the hopes that one day it will become a wonderful Fair Isle jumper. Patience will be required and I hope, rewarded.

Magnus, always willing to help.

Socks glowing in the Autumn sun.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A recipe for Pulled Pork with Scud.

An essential ingredient is a visit from a family member who arrives late and hungry carrying a fish supper and a can of Scud. Scud is a slang name for Irn Bru, Irn Bru is the traditional soft drink of Scotland and is of such a violent orange colour that once spilt it will forever haunt your carpet.  Offer family member a cup of tea and see that the can of Scud is left forgotten in the fridge.
Remember that there is a shoulder of pork keeping company with the Irn Bru and allow the mind to wander back to a holiday in Boston where some very tasty Pulled Pork was eaten in the company of friends. Remember also that there are recipes for pork cooked in Coke. Wonder what would happen if the Irn Bru and the shoulder of pork were introduced to each other and left alone for many hours in the oven. Promise to buy family member another can of Scud.

Unlikely but tasty

Make a rub of salt, pepper, chilli flakes, smoked paprika, straightforward paprika and cinnamon. Remove the layer of fat from the top of the pork shoulder ( my shoulder was 2kg ) and apply the rub all over. Stick into a heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid and add some bashed up garlic cloves. I didn't skin the garlic and no-one noticed. Pour over the can of Scud and about 100 mil of vinegar. In keeping with the classy Scottish ingredients, I used the malt vinegar that normally goes on my chips. Posher folks might like to use posher vinegar. Put the lid on the casserole and leave in a low oven (about 170 degrees) for four to five hours. I checked mine now and then, added a little more liquid and shredded the pork with a fork when it gave way.  The house will smell as if you are cooking the most complicated char sui recipe and only you will know how easy it really is. Only you and the poor soul whose can of Irn Bru was sacrificed. Eat on soft white rolls with a sharp green salad and some coleslaw.

Other food we ate this week included.....

left over porridge bread.

A fish frenzy from Arbroath for my Aussie relatives

What is left after a fish frenzy with my Aussie relatives.

Creme Fraiche with nutmeg, cinnamon and apple pie moonshine. Goes down a treat with a lemony pie.

Back down to earth with a thump, from the dreaminess of creme fraiche and home made bread to the reality of my kitchen. This is what it looks like with a wider lens. A broken vase and some half-dead herbs. That's more like it.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ten Top Tips for a Smashing Summer Trip.


1. Find travelling companions that you know online and have yet to meet in the real world. It helps if at least one of them is a knitter.

2.  Choose a location that you love and want to share with your new friends.

3. Pray for good weather but remember that God doesn't listen to atheists. Think positive sunny thoughts for back up.

4. Bring tasty food and make sure that the Moonshine that your companions sneaked over in their luggage is packed and ready to blow your socks off.

5. Seek local knowledge about sheep breeds and the phone number of the people who own the Hebridean flock.

6. When prayers for sun are answered, wear a hat and sunscreen and enjoy the bluest of skies.

7. Revel in the serendipity that brought you good weather and a Highland Games all in the same day.

8. Buy beautiful yarn from the local yarn artiste whilst fending off the advances of a small white dog.

9. Admire the wildlife.

10. Take a quiet moment to be grateful for the leap of faith that led you to share your holiday with such lovely people.

Jacqui teaching an Ullapool stallholder how to graft the toe of her sock.

Newly knitted handspun socks with an Assynt backdrop

Hebridean Sheep.
Andrew and Jacqui with the fleeces.

Stoer beach perfecting its impression of the Caribbean.

I have no idea what this sport is called - heavy handbag throwing?

Helen the yarn dyer's dog.


Wild kitten being cuddled by the smartest young person in Sutherland.

An Ullapool sunset.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

In the name of Beauty.

I do a lot of my learning on the hoof.  Inspirations have a habit of falling into my head at unexpected times, a lot like the lobster claws and odd shells that appear in the garden dropped off by seagulls even though we live seven miles from the sea. It is a rather ramshackle way of gathering information but there are some wonderful detours along the way.

Mr Mark Cousins.

Let me give you an example starring my newest socks, a beautiful film and  Walt Whitman. I went to the cinema to see the premiere of  What is this film called Love made by Mark Cousins. The result of a few spare days in Mexico City,  a couple of quid and a laminated image of Sergei Eisenstein. WITFCL is a glorious wide open invitation to wander through the mind of the director, finding common ground as you go.  Everything is imbued with importance, from children playing to a fly on a ledge. Heroes and heroines, poems and imagery, are celebrated with a full on enthusiasm that made my heart happy.  Best of all, the film was a lesson in sticking to your creative guns, a note to self to believe in your own ideas.

A discussion after the film led me to look into Walt Whitman, shamefully all I knew about his poetry came from my teenage exposure to the Kids From Fame. This was not likely to be the best example of his work so I decided to get hold of a copy of Leaves of Grass. The introduction to the book was by E.M. Forster. You can read it here and I would recommend that you do. I haven't read any of Whitman's poetry yet but I've read the introduction six times and found an uncanny echo of what I had learned watching Mark Cousin's film. This is what Forster says:

" The average man needs to be just a little braver. He loses so much happiness through what might be termed "minor cowardices". Why are we so afraid of doing the "wrong thing," of wearing the "wrong clothes," of knowing the "wrong people," of pronouncing the names of artists or musicians wrongly? What in the name of Beauty does it matter? Why don't we trust ourselves more and the conventions less?"

and the scrappy bits.

One thing I am never afraid of is wearing the wrong socks and I knitted these beauties in a fit of Fair Isle enthusiasm that I hold Mary Jane Mucklestone's book entirely responsible for. They are made from the scraps leftover from other sock endeavours and I had been struggling to find a name for them when E.M.Forster came to my rescue. During one of my many re-readings, I found this. Happiness, Forster suggests will not be with us all of the time, it would be unrealistic to hope that it could. "But" he says " we may hope for intensity of beauty; that is absolutely certain." there will be "what one may call the irreducible minimum, the inalienable dowry of humanity: Beauty in scraps."  I looked at my socks, looked back at the page and thought that's exactly what I have. Beauty in scraps.

In other news, I've been spinning.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Quick Pics

Oh heck, I meant to post days ago but I'm still thinking. Please accept these photographs in lieu of words.

First raspberries of the season.
Fennel weather forecast.

Usual post breakfast spot.
Redcurrants - already in the freezer and in my tummy.