Saturday, 29 September 2012

Daytripping: York. . .

York is a lovely historical city to spend a day in, nestled under the towers of the majestic York Minister.  The last time I visited it was almost twenty years ago and then it was primarily to catch a bus to Castle Howard, where the original mini-series of Brideshead Revisited was filmed.  By the time I returned to York and found my hostel, most of the shops were shut which was fine as I didn't have much money or space in my backpack. I remember just walking around a city that was fairly quiet after the tourists had gone and I've always wanted to return and explore it in more detail.

It's a very compact city and easy to walk to the centre from the railway station, and once there you can see and do a lot of things in just a few hours (I had about six in which to explore).  Thanks to this post by blogger TravelKnitter, I downloaded the York Crafter's Trail brochure - a really smart marketing tool that  highlights all of the craft shops in town.  You can also pick up copies at any of the stores or at the York Tourist office. It's a bit small to read, but even if you aren't interested in craft shops, I'd still recommend following most of the route as it takes you through and around most of the city and down streets I might have missed otherwise. And there is plenty to inspire - York is terrific for shopping and getting those creative juices flowing. There are tons of independent shops on quaint streets that have you stopping every five minutes to pop in or window gaze, especially if you like antiques, second hand bookshops, jewellery or chocolate!  A major tourist destination is The Shambles where the streets are narrow and the medieval houses almost lean towards each other.  This picture doesn't really do it justice.

It was here that I found a delightful wool shop called Ramshambles and bought a few skeins of a fiery orange Harris tweed.  

I also really liked Grace and Jacob, a beautiful store that sold knitting, quilting and craft supplies. They had some lovely yarns, hand-dyed by the owner, and the fabrics and ribbon trims were stunning.  I could easily have bought enough fat quarters for several quilts but restricted myself to four.  Such a lovely, lovely store - definitely worth a visit. 

My third favourite was The Viking Loom - just a good general craft store where I picked up some beads and found some size 0 knitting needles.  They also had a good selection of fabrics.

Also on the Craft trail is the Quilt Museum and Gallery which I enjoyed visiting.  It's quite small and there is an admission charge, but I'm quite happy to support craft galleries, especially textile ones.  There was an exhibition by quilter Pauline Burbidge who makes very modern quilts, often in black and white, using interesting long stitches and inspired by nature and her own photography.  The museum also has a very nice little shop and some gorgeous Japanese fabrics that were tempting.  I did buy two of their printed sashiko squares that I'll probably turn into cushions.  This is a great idea - the pattern is printed on the fabric so you can stitch right over it and then it apparently washes away.  I've been wanting to try this form of embroidery ever since reading this tutorial on the Purl Bee blog.  I know it's traditional to use white thread, but I'm tempted to do something with Noro and maybe even fill in some of the spaces.

Just wandering the streets and shopping took up much of my day but I did make time to walk the city walls.

And to relax with a drink and some chocolate in the beautiful York Museum gardens.

 And my final stop was a brief encounter with The National Railway Museum, having a bit of a train fetish.  I just love seeing those old carriages and powerful engines.

York's own station is quite impressive too - I just love all those architectural curves and old clocks.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Curry Flavour. . .

My favourite magazine this week is the latest from Jamie Oliver.  The Brits and my Liverpud love a good curry so I snapped this up as soon as I saw it on the stands.  He's done it again - this issue is just packed with wonderful recipes (not all of them curry related).  I particularly liked the article "Tradition With a Twist" which blends Indian cooking with traditional British recipes such as Fish & Chips, pasties and Yorkshire Pud.  There are also very useful recipes for making five different curry pastes from a Korma to a Vindaloo.

The only curries I've ever done have either involved a sauce from a jar or using pre-made curry mixes, but this magazine totally inspired me to try one from scratch. I chose the Chicken Tikka Masala and just mixing up all the aromatic paste ingredients was so much fun.

And hooray, I did it! And it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought.  I added some spinach and served it over brown basmati with some (store bought) naan on the side and a good bunch of coriander on top.  Spicy and yummy.  I'll be trying some lentil curries next.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Lots of Knitting FOs. . .

I've been knitting like a fiend lately and have several finished objects off the needles.

First up, I finally, finally finished this baby blanked I've been working on since June for the Liverpud's sister-in-law.  The baby boy is due in mid-October so I'm relieved to have this done in time. I adapted a snowflake stitch pattern from Barbara Walker's treasury books and added a seed stitch and then a blue i-cord border.

Then I finished my second mystery KAL.  The pattern was Out of Darkness by Boo Knits and it caused me some grief as halfway through I caught a couple of stitches on something and there were these two really long loops hanging from the back of the knitting that I couldn't suss out so I had to rip back and start all over.  I have never used so many beads in a project before (approximately 600) but I like the matte pewter colour against this green. The yarn is Madeline Tosh Prairie in the colourway Oak.  This will be a really nice shawl to go over a black dress.

It's getting a bit chilly here in the UK and I've been yearning for a cozy cowl.  I picked up some lovely yarn at Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds (on sale too!) called Colinette Art which is made in Wales. The colour is called Copperbeech and it has every fall colour in it that I like - a purpley-brown background with flecks of blue, orange and red.  It's 79% wool and 21% bamboo which gives it a bit of a sheen and it's very soft.  I wanted a stitch pattern that wasn't too heavy so the cowl wouldn't be too hot.  Back I went to my knitting guru, Barbara Walker and found her dewdrop stitch which I did up on larger 6.5mm needles.  I used an i-cord edging which keeps things neat and also makes it very easy to weave in ends, and used Kitchener stitch and a provisional cast-on for the first time.  I really love it.

And finally, I've been doing some volunteer knitting.  Lipservice Theatre Company is putting on a production next month called Inspector Norse - I think it's a spoof on both Inspector Morse and The Killing.  Much of the set is going to be knitted and when the call went out, I thought it would be fun to get involved. So I've been knitting leaves and have sent them about two dozen.  I hope to catch both the show and a glimpse of my handiwork when it comes to Liverpool's Unity Theatre.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Hoop Dreams. . .

Every time I check out the Purl Bee blog, I want to immediately get on a plane and head to New York City and visit their store in person.  Honestly, the ideas and projects that they come up with (and patterns offered up for free no less) are SO inspiring.  I haven't done embroidery since my teens but if there was anything that would get me back into it (and I still have a large stash of embroidery thread) this kit would be it. 

 Isn't the wood grain amazing?  And how fun are those letters? 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Daytripping: Port Sunlight. . .

Across the Mersey on the Wirral lies the utopian town of Port Sunlight.  I have a fascination with utopian towns, loving the ambitiousness and social consciousness of it all.  My grandparents lived for years in Saltaire, a Victorian Yorkshire town built by Titus Salt, the owner of a woollen mill that introduced alpaca into their yarn mix.  It's now a World Heritage Site and Salts Mills has turned wonderfully into this.  It's one of my favourite places in the world and I'll hopefully be making a visit soon.

But in the meantime there was Port Sunlight to explore.  If you're visiting Liverpool you can get a Saveaway card that allows you unlimited travel on all the buses, underground and the ferry that crosses the Mersey. It's well worth getting.  I took the underground to Port Sunlight and the moment you exit the station, the town's uniqueness hits you.  The village was founded in 1888 by William Heskett Lever, a soap magnate who wanted to give his factory employees decent housing.  He engaged more than thirty architects including Edwin Lutyens to design the workers' "cottages" and walking around the streets, you see such a wonderful variety of architecture. I'm sure these "cottages" are worth a fortune now.  

Over 500 of Lever's employees died in the First World War and there is a rather splendid war memorial in the centre of the village. 

And here's the vista leading up to the second major reason for visiting Port Sunlight - the fabulous Lady Lever Art Gallery.

I think this may have taken top spot now for my favourite art gallery near Liverpool.  It has a lovely collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and indeed they had an exhibit on the work of  Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945), a woman I'd never heard of, but who painted very much in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition as well as doing some wonderful book illustrations and stained glass windows.

She also had a modern touch - one of my favourite works in the show was her 1918 painting The Guardian Angel (The Genius of Flight) which shows a huge angel protecting a tiny airplane within her hands while below there are three smaller paintings of Da Vinci, an early 20th centyry airman, and Icarus.  I just loved her work and of course couldn't resist buying the exhibition book.

William Lever collected over 20,000 works of art and the Lady Lever also has one of the finest collections in the world of Wedgewood's jasper ware - so, so gorgeous.

I could spend hours looking at all the detail and craft contained in this wonderful room sandwiched appropriately between a room full of beautiful Greek vases and another showcasing their Chinese porcelain collection.  There are also several period rooms filled with furniture and textiles.   I really enjoyed my visit and would highly recommend this gallery.  You can even glimpse a bit of history in the loos (and you don't need a penny now).

Monday, 17 September 2012

Hitting Shelves Soon. . .

Marmite with edible gold flecks - how can one resist?  I haven't seen this in the supermarket yet, but apparently it's due to be out by Christmas.  Reminds me of the gold postboxes being painted around the country in the home towns of British Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists.  Sparkly Marmite on toast -mmmmmmm.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Art in the City. . .

It's the start of the Liverpool Biennial - a huge international contemporary art festival that takes place over the next ten weeks involving 242 artists in 27 locations around the city and not just the art galleries.  I'll be exploring as many venues as I can get to - in particular I'm excited to pop into the beautiful and historical Cunard building on the waterfront.  Did I mention that it's all free?  Just brilliant.  One of the key themes is "The Unexpected Guest", intended to explore notions of hospitality.   Above is "The Lift" by Oded Hirsch that looks as if it's burst through the pavement of the Liverpool One shopping centre.  I'll also be heading to Tate Liverpool as one of my favourite artists - Sophie Calle - will be on display.  I'm a bit disappointed that it's not new work - it's a series of her Hotel photos from 1981, but since I've never seen them outside of her books, I'll still be keen.

Along with the art there will be films, talks, and workshops and even a fringe festival that takes place alongside the Biennial.  It's all very exciting - there is SO much going on in this city this fall.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

New Hardcover Viragos. . .

I'm always interested in how publishers re-package the classics for new audiences and so I'm loving these new re-issued hardcover Viragos grouped under the theme of coming-of-age stories. In particular, I think I'll have to get copies of Rosamond Lehmann's Invitation to the Waltz and Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career to replace my worn paperbacks.  I'm also intrigued by Rumer Godden's The River - she's a writer I've heard a lot about and have never read.  You can read more about these titles here.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Delicious. . .

Now that I'm living in the U.K, I have access to all these lovely new magazines that previously cost a fortune as imports and took six weeks to get over the pond (although I do miss Chatelaine).  It's my guilty pleasure, especially the knitting, home and food magazines.  Honestly, how could you walk by   a cover like this? (September issue).  Resistance is futile.
Lemon tart is my absolute favourite dessert and as soon as I save up for a proper mixer, I'll be trying the recipe on the cover.  I just wish I could find Omega 3 eggs in this country.  But the whole magazine is filled with yummy treats and I've attempted the pear and stem ginger cake which turned out very tasty, although next time I will put a bit more pear and a little less ginger as the latter flavour completely overwhelmed the former.  Still, it is a very easy recipe and produces a very moist cake that lasted several days.

I'm not enjoying being unemployed in a recession and on the constant job hunt, but the silver lining is that I do have the time to experiment with new recipes and I'm quickly becoming addicted to baking which is probably not great for my waistline.  Still, the Liverpud appreciates my efforts - the Brits do like their puddings.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Fare and Sea-Faring. . .

Another lovely summer weekend in Liverpool which was just bursting with activity.  On Saturday it was off to Sefton Park and the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival.

Tons of local restaurants and pubs had booths cooking up tasty lunches and there was a lot of local produce and meat available for purchase.  Not to mention a Chocolate Heavenly Garden (with free samples) and wine and beer tasting. Some of the food on offer was quite um. . . let's just say, unusual.

I sampled some hot Malaysian curry and satay, washed down with fresh lemonade and a pineapple and coconut danish from a French pastry booth.  I also bought a lovely wooden mortar and pestle and a wonderful cookbook with recipes from dozens of Liverpool's restaurants.

While not as big as Toronto, Liverpool is definitely a multi-cultural city and this is reflected in its cooking.  You can get any type of ethnic food here and I love this cookbook not just for its recipes but as a handy guide to some of the city's best places to eat. In particular, Liverpool has Europe's oldest Chinatown which I have yet to explore but really must make a priority. There's also a section in the book entitled "Like Me Ma Used to Make" and yes, there is a recipe for the local delicacy - Scouse, a type of beef stew that when fully cooked should be so thick that a spoon can stand up straight in the bowl.  I'll be tackling that when the weather turns colder.

There were tents with cooking demonstrations and the big thrill was the Merseyside Bake-off with Paul Hollywood (one of the judges of my favourite food show - The Great British Bake-off) on hand to answer questions and declare the winners of each heat.

He was very engaging and entertaining.  The local contestants had to make scones (which smelled delicious coming out of the oven) and these are the efforts of a guy named Matthew.  I thought his scones looked wonderful, all puffy and golden, but Hollywood's a tough judge. These only got 4 out of 10.

Sunday it was off to Albert Docks for another celebration of Liverpool's heritage - the sailing of the Tall Ships.  They'd been in port for a couple of days and were heading out to participate in a parade along the Mersey en route to the sea.

There's something very majestic about seeing these ships in full sail.

Lots of activities dockside as well with people dressed up in period costume, as sirens, and as giant fish.

All to the accompaniment of music - I do love listening to a good old salty sea shanty.  I thought I would really miss all the cultural events that are constantly happening in Toronto but I'm pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of things going on in Liverpool and the support that is given to the arts both financially and in terms of crowd attendance.  And there's lots more to look forward to this autumn.  I hope all my friends back in T.O. have enjoyed a fun Labour Day Weekend.