Monday, 29 April 2013

The Old Rock Factory, Blackpool

The other day I went to Blackpool on a mission: attending a press day at the Old Rock Factory on behalf of Redeye. Although I was really looking forward to meeting the people there I felt slightly ambiguous about going to Blackpool as my last visit to the city was not entirely satisfactory. 

It wasn't long though before I had a massive smile on my face. After the initial hurdle of finding my way through all the building works and locating The Old Rock Factory I was greeted by the absolutely lovely Linzi Cason who is one of the workshop leaders. 

The first thing I noticed were the brightly coloured stairs. I know this is quite random but I love it when people personalise stair cases and it reminded me of the nice colours on the steps of the Royal Exchange Theatre when Mini Betsy was in Rats' Tales

Linzi introduced me and the others to the wonderful Robin Ross (of Key103 fame I found out later, I can be excused I hope, I am not from this part of the world) and we set off with cameras in hand for a walk around Blackpool. It was a little wet and very windy but that didn't detract from the enjoyment and the great company.

We started off taking some pictures of architecture and sculptures to see if that would be something we could use for our screen print workshop later and I particularly found the Comedy Carpet fascinating.

After the walk we went back to Linzi's studio where she has a fabulous collection of old camera's. We chose our two images to work with after lunch and I settled on the "Do you think marriage is a lottery?" image and the last photo I took of the door of the studios. 

Never having done any screen printing before it seemed like there was an awful lot to remember but Linzi and Robin were brilliant and helped along the way. They seemed to work some magic with normal printer paper and cooking oil and machines that make fabulous screens (I won't explain how as A. it is too complicated and B. it is such good fun that you need to experience that yourself!) 


I tried out a couple of colours and mixes and these were the results. I was quite pleased with them really and would love to see one day if portrait photos work well too. It is a fabulous way of playing with your images and making work. 

I came away feeling most excited, especially about having been at the workshop, meeting lovely people and getting to know a completely different side to Blackpool and revising my memories. I would love to go back again to see them and I can thoroughly recommend the workshop.

If you would like to have a fantastic day in Blackpool like I had, get in touch with them here.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

From the sublime to the ridiculous

My weekend was rather full on, I spent most of the day time on my allotment and last night I was in Carmen at the Opera House. It had been a couple of years since I had been on the stage and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great people, great audience who clearly liked it so much they all got on their feet at the end of it (nothing to do with me I have to add, I didn't sing a note in it!).

The whole weekend was one of extremes and I leave it to you to decide which part was the sublime and which the ridiculous.

As I am writing I am feeling rather sore, I feel like I need a hip replacement. I spent a ridiculous amount of time digging a few rather small patches but I was determined to get as many dandelion and horse hair roots out of the soil as possible. The result: probably around 10 kilos.

I admit that I haven't exactly achieved miracles but in eight weeks time there is quite an improvement if I say so myself:

Yesterday I managed to plant strawberries and asparagus in a "permanent" bed, I put some beet root seeds in and I bought myself a super duper very sharp Dutch hoe. Don't know what's Dutch about it but it was a great purchase and I worked it in my onion bed, which looks brilliant. I had read somewhere that it was best to cover the set onions with some fleece as crows really like them and I think the fleece worked. Mine are coming up beautifully but my neighbour's that were planted the next day and bought at the same shop are not looking all that brilliant. 

As I left yesterday I felt saddened by and worried about the state of the adjacent patch. At some point mine and this one were looked after by the same person. I turned mine around before all the dandelions managed to flower and the thought of years of seeds produced by the patch next door did not exactly make me happy. 

Today, however as I walked through the gate I was greeted by the allotment administrator with the good news that I can now have this patch too. I think those that know me well would say this is the most ridiculous part of the weekend. I am absolutely delighted. Isn't the saying "If you need anything done, ask a busy woman'? And I guess the busier one is the more one can get done! Haven't loved anything as much as working in my allotment and I can't wait to turn this one around. 

Today I put up some canes for the runner beans. Most happy with this achievement. I feel like I am really getting the hang of it and love reading up every spare minute that I have. 

I loved my weekend and leave you to ponder what was sublime and what was ridiculous. Personally I think it was all sublime, loved all of it but looking at the two pictures below it was one of extremes. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Day of The Dandelions

If there was such a film as "The Day of The Dandelions" it could have been filmed in my little plot. Realising the other day that the weed control fabric didn't work, freaking out Mini Betsy as she'd never seen so many weeds in one patch I took the advice to double it up and try again. Fast forward two weeks later and it is sadly the only place where there are many, many growing. 

So my job today was to dig it over and pull out as many roots as possible up to about a foot and a half deep or so. This is probably not deep enough but time was short so I'll see what happens next week. I was warned about horse hair, which is starting to spread like wild fire, especially in the neighbouring patch, hope it doesn't blow over. However I suppose that is wishful thinking.

I finally managed to get my carrot and mini leek seeds in and as I am still waiting for my veggie mesh to arrive I've covered the area with my mums old net curtains. Not sure if it does the job but it is the same colour (white) with small holes so hope no carrot flies will come in.
This is proper DIY gardening on a shoe string!

On the plus side, the set onions that I planted two weeks ago are showing signs of life. Yeah!  I had them covered with a bit of white fleece to deter crows from picking them out of the soil. I noticed that my neighbour, who planted them the next day hadn't done that and no green shoots yet. Hope my trick worked. 

All gardening wisdom is not my own but I am grateful to all those who keep blogs, tweet and give very useful advice in books. My current read is The Half Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz, not because I'd like to cut corners already but it has come recommended.
I'm going to get a cup of tea ready and curl up with my book under a home made quilt.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A job for which you need your Marigolds

I am a bit of a hoarder I have to admit to that. I think that has partly to do with my character, I like to collect things and love re-using and upcycling. I am also the child of parents that lived through the war and my dad in particular would always keep everything in case he could use it for something else. And invariably whenever I do throw something away with a heavy heart, a few months or even years later, I will find a use for whatever was given to a charity shop or put in the bin.

Anyway one thing that I kept in a box somewhere underneath loads of plastic tubs in a kitchen cupboard (take away boxes come in handy for school fairs!) was a little River Cottage Seasonal Food Guide that was included with the Guardian in 2006. And I am so very pleased that I kept this. Inspired by my newly acquired allotment and the need for more veg and less (or no) meat I have been going through recipe books and folders and in this little booklet on the page for the month of March my eye caught this quote from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: "If you've never cooked nettles before, this is the time to try". Of course with my mantra "try something new every day" I had to go down to the allotment and pick nettles. I read up on it and noticed that only the fresh leaves should be used and the leaves only not the stalks.

I had thought about picking nettles before but never really dared. Would they really taste nice? What if a dog had urinated on them? Would they really not sting after cooking? Silly thoughts really as I have eaten nettle cheese many a time in the past and love it and I drink nettle tea on a very regular basis. So off I went with my gardening gloves and cut all the tips of the young nettles around the allotment. Armed with a basket full back in my kitchen I put on the marigolds and removed every little stalk, quite a painstaking task but I really wanted to  have a go at making nettle soup. And then I found a recipe on a nettle soup website

I modified it a little but according to their recipe I used an onion, cut in small pieces (no garlic as I had none left), 2 big potatoes cut in little cubes and fried this in a little oil and butter until slightly softened. I then added the nettle leaves, one litre of water and a vegetable stock cube. It didn't look like much but I let it boil for about 15 mins; just to make sure it wouldn't sting :-). And then pureed it with a hand blender. 

Even though I already had my dinner and was going to freeze this soup I had to have a little taste. According to the recipe I should have added cream unless I was going to freeze it so I didn't and having tried it I wouldn't. I have made many soups and am VERY critical when it comes to shop bought ones and trying them elsewhere but I have to say this one was most definitely one of the most delicious soups I have ever made or tasted. I literally licked my fingers as I got the last bit out of the pan.

Thank you to Hugh for inspiring me to try and cook nettles and to the nettle soup website for the base of the recipe. I can truly recommend and will be picking nettle leaves again. I only wished I had tried this before.