A Pigs not just for Christmas

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A couple of month’s ago I acquired this vintage Leather sewing machine and I have been waiting for an opportunity to try it out. From my research I think it dates back to the early 1900s so like so many of the tools in my workshop its over 100 years old, and now I have managed to track down a workshop manual and adjusted a few bits its in perfect working order. I suspect none of my modern tools will last that long.

Much to my dearly beloveds despair when stuck indoors on cold winter nights my guilty pleasure is those terrible programs where some expert rifles through someone’s  shed or attic and declares the pile of worthless junk is actually worth thousands of pounds when sold to a trendy shop or restaurant. Putting aside my disbelief at the prices they quote, something I have seen a couple of times which they get quite excited about when they are rooting through some stately home loft  are Leather Pigs. Subsequently I have discovered they all come from a company based in England that’s has been making these for many years, along with many other designs, ranging from Fish to Lions, even buffalo and Giraffes, all made from leather and sold in the most upmarket shops all over the world for prices I can only dream of. I find myself inexplicably drawn to the pig, and as I like working with leather….

So this year for my Christmas project its been the Year of the Pig, and a chance to use my new to me sewing machine. To make life simple I changed from my usual saddle leather to a much softer flexible leather, albeit at a scary price, but then it comes in much larger pieces. Its been an interesting project, starting with creating the pattern, to cutting and then sewing the leather pieces to get to the finished Pig. Inside the leather cover there is a wooden frame so it can withstand someone sitting on it, and its stuffed with wood wool, another material I have never worked with before. It all took much longer than anticipated but that’s down to the sewing machine, but now I have conquered the adjustments the next one will be much faster. Which is just as well as my dearly beloved has decreed if you make a family heirloom, and you have two daughters then you need to make two. I wonder if I one of them would like a lion?

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Fun with Fire

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“Fun with fire” or “The Old Blokes Kitchen rides again”.

February is becoming one of my favourite months, nothing is growing in the garden, so when I do get some time off, I have time to play and experiment which this weekend I am doing in abundance.

One of my big projects for this year is to write my next book provisionally entitled “Fun with Fire” although I do like “The Old Blokes Kitchen Rides again” which will be all about building a smoker, and smoking some food along with some recipe’s., and that’s what we doing this weekend.

By way of an experiment I am smoking a variety of vegetables to see how we get on. Some I have tried before and some I haven’t.  Mushrooms are a returning favourite but this time they have been joined by sliced potato destined for dinner as a potato and mushroom gratin with a white sauce. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.

I purchased from my local supermarket what they call wonky onions, ones that didn’t make it too the shelves for cosmetic reasons. Perfectly good onions and I am looking forward to the Smoked Onion Chutney I am planning with them.

The squash is tomorrows lunch, smoked squash soup with perhaps some smoked carrot for even more flavour.

Finally whilst that’s been smoking I have been making Pork Sausages with my smoked Tomato powder which has become a staple of our cooking, Sausage and tomato are a classic combination so why not in the same sausage, we will find out, and once the veg is out the remaining sausages will go into the smoker overnight.

Can you overdose on smoke? I hope not.

If that gets your juices flowing remember to press the follow button and keep up.  I Have just been listening to an episode of @the kitchen cabinet and they mention smoked Milk Ice Cream. Now that we do really have to try

Tom

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Grow your own Baskets

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After many hours of discussion and pouring through catalogues to select the right species of tree we have now finally finished planting what is going to become the woods at the bottom of the garden.

As someone who works with wood I am very conscious of the impact and environmental value of wood. As a workshop I consume a lot of wood, although I like to think we make maximum use of every piece, and more importantly every offcut and waste piece. The good stuff gets turned into charcoal which we then use to cook with, the rotten stuff is used for fuel for the bread oven or hot tub, the sawdust depending upon which wood we have been working with is often used for food smoking.

However for sometime we have been talking about planting some trees in a damp grassy piece of land at the bottom of the garden, which gets waterlogged in the winter, partly as a way of draining the land, partly to act as a privacy barrier, and partly because we like trees, and it gives us an opportunity to plant useful trees, ones that can be used in the workshop.

We started with a large quantity of Hazel and sweet chestnut trees, not for the nuts as the squirrels always get there first, but as a coppice crop, which when established can be felled to provide fuel and wood. I am hoping to build  new workshop this year and have been working on a design for wood fired central heating which has got to be the height of luxury in any workshop, so will need a ready free supply of fuel. To this I added Purple Ozier or willow perfect for basket making. I have dabbled with basket making in the past and really fancy growing my own and the waterlogged ground is ideal for willow.

Slightly more of a fantasy choice was Red Oak. Now oak is always going to be an good choice but this particular variety has a bark which is used in the Natural Leather Tanning industry, and I do use a lot of leather. To date I have never considered tanning my own but I was in conversation with someone else the other day and the subject came up. As they say never say never it might happen, but at least I will have the bark ready. My understanding is you then mix it with a few gallons of urine so we might just settle for enjoying the tree.

Whilst we are waiting for it all to grow we have planted Nordsman Fir in the gaps ideal Christmas trees. The previous owner planted a few and its become a family tradition to go and cut down one from the garden, so we need to replace a few. Finally at the sides we added a few bushes, Blackthorn for us for sloe gin, and snowberries for the birds in winter . In all over 140 trees . Now we just sit back and wait for it all to grow.

 

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Let there be light

 

 

imageJanuary is always a cold month, just the time to come out of my nice warm workshop to assist my good friends at http://www.trafalgarlighting.co.uk with the Canary Wharf Winter lights Festival. 30 world famous artists install artworks on the theme of light around the estate, and in amongst it all is some of my work, including the Winter Lights sign, this year made with LED flexineon, which seems to turn up on Instagram more than the artworks.

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I am also responsible for the 80 mt long colour changing sky bridge, as well as a number of atmospheric pieces around the estate,image

As for the real artists, there are some you like, some you Question, and some you really wish you had thought of it first.

I love the 4 Mt high inflatable rabbitsimage

and these spinning shapes were mesmerisingimage

If your in London you have one week to go and see for yourself. It’s well worth a visit

As for me it’s back to the warmth of my workshop.

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Bargehouse

barehouse2018In a past life I used to be a Theatrical Lighting Engineer, although I became known for using theatrical techniques and equipment but not necessarily in a Theatre. Over the years I have lit countless artworks and buildings, I still occasionally come out of my nice warm workshop, get the screwdriver out and project manage something.

This last week I have been installing the Bough 1 artwork in London. Designed by Simon Corder I first installed this in 2004, and as I remember it won a number of lighting design prizes at the time. This year as part of the Lumiere London Festival which Opens next week it has been completely refurbished with all the fitting replaced with moderns ones, and the designer took the opportunity to tweak the design.

The installation covers five floors on the outside of the Barge house building part of the OXO tower complex at the side of the River Thames. When we first started talking about it in August I was keen, on a cold wet, and windy January my enthusiasm wained slightly. 20 mts in the air on a scissor lift with the wind whistling up your trouser leg can best be described as Character Forming.

However the end result looks very good and hopefully will last another 14 years before we do it again

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The Urban Workstation

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Back to work with something different. If you have read my blog before you will know I have a regular trade in Illuminated Professional Makeup Mirrors, in particular for leading Theatrical Equipment Hire Company http://www.trafalgarlighting.co.uk who commissioned me to make this latest addition to their Hire Stock which we are calling the Urban Work Station. I can see these being used for all manner of customers not just Makeup Artists, but equally useful for Hair Stylists and Barbers, and with @London Fashion Week Festival 2018 just around the corner there just in time.

A Modern Stylish and sturdy tubular steel frame with professional grade wheels designed for life on the road. Bright Energy Efficient Lamps, surround a high grade mirror mounted onto an Aluminium Chequer Plate panel, which not only looks good but also acts as a silver reflector. The table is set at an ergonomic height for a makeup artist with a client in the chair, and includes power outlets and Phone charging points. What more could you want.

To use the words of the designer TV shows this is “so on trend” I have had to grow a beard just to build it. However if you would like me to build one for you we may have to negotiate over the beard

Tom

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A pie’s not just for Christmas

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I try and have the days off between Christmas and New Year, it gives me a chance to play and try some new things. For sometime now I have wanted to try making my own sausages and for Christmas I was given a sausage stuffer, several recipe books, and you can guess the rest. Pork was duly minced, allergy friendly seasoning mixed, and amidst much hilarity the Norfolk sausage was born. If that’s the first attempt I cant wait until we have it sorted because it was tremendous.

imageHowever we did have a qty of minced, seasoned pork left over which gave me the opportunity to try something else I wanted to do for some time, make pork pies. Luckily in one of my new books there was a recipe for Water Crust pastry, vital for Pork Pies, and something else I have never tried, but as I always say “if I have a book it can be done” which is why the family are careful about the books they buy me.

It would appear unlike conventional pastry water crust pastry, a mixture of lard melted in boiling water combined with flour has to be worked hot, which makes it interesting. the end result as can be seen worked out well and the final result exceeded my expectation’s. I feel a whole new raft of Old Blokes Kitchen videos coming up, imagine a pork pie cooked in the wood fired oven. I’m salivating at the thought of it.

After 30+ years of marriage my dearly beloved continues to surprise me, todays revelation was that she had never eaten a Pork Pie, I suppose I shouldn’t been surprised as its a well known fact in our house held to be a universal truth that 90% of all pork pies are purchased and eaten by middle aged men. It so happens that I fall into that demographic and she doesn’t, which is why I like them, and she, until now didn’t have a view.The problem is now how do I tell my dearly beloved that no all Pork Pies are created equal, think of the disappointment when she discovers that mass produced shop pies don’t taste like these, and are in fact bland & soggy, depending upon the seasoning for any taste at all, which when you put it like that, makes me think the pleasure of a pork pie has just been taken away from me, unless of course its one of mine

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