Pitta breads and frugal eating

Frugal living is a bit trendy now, but it's not so much fun when it's done out of necessity (something to do with having the choice, I think). However, it's nowhere I've not been before and even food I ate when I was cash strapped student can be made nice, with the addition of some thing like...home made pitta bread. I used the recipe from the BBC recipe site here. If you don't like clicking on links, I've popped my tweaked version of the recipe at the end of this post. (It's really just a basic bread formula).

As I don't have a large kitchen work space, I used a little child's rolling pin to roll them out with. Which did the job nicely. They have to be rolled out very, very thinly, to get the magic 'puff'. Otherwise you end up with proper flat breads.

Personally I'm not too fussed about getting equal sizes, as you can see. I also dust the tray with just flour, no fat or oil. A very hot oven should make them puff and form the handy pockets.

They take about 5 minutes to bake, depending on your oven. Mine's a bit dodgy and is nick named 'Dante's Inferno', for good reason.

I used two packs of very cheap savoury rice (25p each) to complete the meal. As we couldn't possibly eat all of it, there are leftovers. The cost of the meal is under £1 per head, for two. And of course, if you're feeling flush, you could also add chopped sausage, chicken bits or anything tasty to go with it.

Basic Pitta breads (UK recipe)

250g bread flour
1x 7g sachet instant yeast
1 tsp of salt
a good glug of oil (I used olive oil)
160 ml of warm water.

Mix the dry ingredients, then the glug (1-2 tablespoons) of oil. Add two thirds of the water and bring the dough together, adding more of the water if you need it (I always do). You should have a soft dough which is not sticky. Leave it to rise until it's a good size, the usual 'doubled in size' is a good bench mark. Split the dough into 6 or 8 bits, depending on how large you want your pittas. Roll them out very thinly, using spare flour for dusting. I bake mine in batches of two, in a hot oven. They should take about 5 - 8 minutes each, depending on your oven. That's it. Then add them to something nice. 


Pet sale!

This trio were designed for the sadly now discontinued 'Craftseller', and were featured in April 2015. They were made specifically to a tight design brief, which is why they are a little different to my usual work. Anyway, the time has come to clear out some of my old designs and raise some funds, so I am offering them up for sale. They can be found in my  Etsy shop here, at low prices as I am clearing the decks.


 'Toby' is  4 x 4½ inches (9.5 x 8cm). He was my favourite.

'Bunty' was named after my favourite magazine when I was a little girl (which puts me at a certain age). She measures 4 x 3 inches (9.5 x 7.5cm).

And 'Daisy'. Just 'Daisy'. She measures 3½ x 3 inches (9 x 8cmm). I'll be adding more discontinued designs to my sale in the coming weeks.


Nearly thirty years ago

I've managed to keep nearly every sketch book and piece of artwork I've created since I was twelve. This makes for a lot of paper, the majority of it pretty awful and very much in the learning curve category. I was never really very good at drawing, I simply had a fertile imagination, a doodly way of sketching and an immense drive to become 'an artist'. Whatever that meant.  Anyway, today I found this sheet of sketches while rummaging through a pile. I was torn between nostalgia and slight embarrassment.  It almost feels as if another person drew it. Which in a way, they did.

The sheet is dated September 18th, 1988, so that would be just at the very start of my A level art course. I was twenty and between the ages of sixteen and twenty, I had spent most of my time being (unknowingly) pretty depressed and screwed up in a  damp bedsit.  By the time I pencilled these sketches, I had pulled myself together and was living in a shared farmhouse in the countryside, near Oxford. It was beautiful and maybe that's why I was unconsciously themes here of metamorphosis, as it felt as if my life had started again. 


Despite my disconnect from them, now that I am almost fifty, I was amused to see that I have always liked tall skinny houses that are rather unapproachable.

My anti-war sympathies were obviously still with me, though it would have been more optimistic to make the Spitfire turn into a butterfly, rather than vice versa.

At first I thought that the woman and her children were pointing at the plane, but then I noticed the clouds...

 I used to draw a lot of little fisher people, this was one of the first.

However, despite distance of the years, I actually found a little sketch which is almost where I am going with my work now, nearly thirty years later. The idea needs tweaking, but there's something there...it's almost as if my younger self sent a little gift to me, through the decades.


The forgotten book

Many years ago, I think it was in 1995, I bought a pile of antique accounts books, for no other reason than that they were beautiful and going for a silly price. They were all unused and in tip top condition, except for this one, which is an old photo album. As it was in a pretty battered state, I decided to save it for sketching.  

It's remained blank for twenty two years and been carted about with the rest of my 'stuff' through five households. However, I'm trying to put aside a bit of time for sketching, so last weekend I hauled it out of the attic and rummaged in my reference library. Sometimes books are better than endlessly trawling through Pinterest. i don't know why this is so - maybe the limitations concentrate the mind. 

I'm a bit rusty so it took me about three hours to get a page of warm ups and then ideas. One day, when I can afford to spend more time on things like this, I might turn a few into paintings. at the moment it remains a bit of a hobby.


Heads up!

It's been nearly ten years since I picked up a felting needle and created my first little rabbit. Since then, I have created countless animal and bird designs, mostly to sell,  but also for magazine and book patterns. Not  to mention easy projects for workshops. And to be honest, I came to a temporary halt with it all. Just after Andy died, four years ago, I had to apply myself to writing thirty simple patterns for my book and since then, I have struggled to come up with anything really new that excited me.

Add to this that needle felting has exploded in popularity and there are thousands of 'cute things' being offered up for sale, often at ridiculously low prices that I cannot compete with. And I do have to try to make a living somehow. Business says that when something isn't selling anymore, it's time to switch up and change.

So I've been slowly working through a design process, as I was taught to do when I was an art student. While I've had to jump out of my comfort zone to some extent, I am also going back to ideas I had many years ago. I have watched the craft of needle felting grow over the years, and I now want to move my own work upwards.   

I started out last year by making copies of antique ceramic Staffordshire animals , but they are incredibly time consuming and although they may seem expensive, the prices still don't reflect the 40-50 hours of work put into them. And as they are as exact as I can make them, there is no room left for imagination. 

Then I started looking at antique milliner's hat stands, which are simple 'heads' made of painted papier mache; I found myself  inspired again. I began my first head a few weeks ago and it was a welcome challenge. 

The first one, 'Charlotte' was made very much in the traditional design and I have to admit that simple as she looks, it was a steep learning curve and a return to my art student days to remember how to construct a face. As you can see, it's a miniature version of the real thing, which would have been life sized.

The next two heads, 'Amelia' and 'Cordelia' were also in the traditional folk style. With these first three heads I tried to emulate the flat, painted effect of the originals.

The next challenge was to make a male head, 'Mr George' the strong man and I started to move away from the flat paint effect, with a raised quiff.

'Eloise' indulged my love of all things 'Versailles'.

And by the time I made 'Emily', I had gone off the path of the painted effect and was  already planning my next series of heads.

If you're an artist trying to scrabble together some kind of living, it is a huge thing to change your known products but it's a risk I have to take. Times change and I'm a different person to the one who made that sweet little rabbit back in 2008. My life is also 'another country'.

While I'm working on the second series, the first batch of heads are now up for sale in my Etsy shop, here in the 'Miniature heads' section. With signed tags and gift boxes.

In the meantime, animals and birds are beginning to creep back in. It was probably inevitable.


Workshop updates

Just a  quick post about new workshops and a new date for a previous one. My baby hare workshop at Sticky Prints in Norfolk has been moved to June 17th - it's a long train journey from Shropshire, so do come if you're in the East and haven't been able to get to one of my other classes.

July 1st sees me at the Stoke-on-Trent Potteries Museum, home of the nation's Staffordshire ceramics collection. It's an all day workshop where you can make your own miniature needle felted Staffordshire cat. 


And for August, I'm booked to be in London, at the Village Haberdashery - this is a one off, where you can make the kittens featured in this month's 'Mollie Makes', using the wools shown in the original pattern. It's another all day session and my only London booking this year, so early booking is advised.

All of these workshops are subject to booking. There is a complete list on the workshops page of my website, where you will find booking links and more details. Hope to see you!


Auction snaps

Out of necessity, rather than choice, we live very quiet and secluded lives at the moment. I don't think we've had a day out since Joe's graduation last July. So it was good to get out with Brian-next-door and view a couple of local auctions. This one was selling the contents of two estates. There was the usual hotch potch of mixed lots and items of interest. 


 The ubiquitous, slightly unnerving antique dolls were there, of course.


It was a very good selection of lots, but I instinctively knew that it would all be beyond my very small £10-£20 budget and there were some serious looking dealers poking about.

Brian enjoys having a good look too, but he is not allowed to buy anything. I told him that Jean won't let him come out to play if he starts bringing stuff home.

So on we went to another small town, driving over towards the Welsh border in the evening rain.

This auction house was rammed. With people and over a thousand lots being sold over two days.

Brian went off to visit some nearby friends whilst Joe and I ventured in. There was a lot of squidging past people and 'excuse me's'. There was also more taxidermy, including a huge and magnificent boar's head and, unusually, an otter, which must have had some age as they have been protected here in the UK for years, I believe. Probably to save them from being stuffed.

Again, I was a bit out of my league here, and there was far too much going on. We headed back home, through the long winding lanes. I've lived in Shropshire for nearly five years now, and have barely seen any of it, what with not driving and having no money. So just to get out of the cottage, love it though I do, was an uplifting experience and I felt my spirits rise for the first time in ages. It's great to get out, even if it is raining.