I MADE THIS!

This weekend, it was all about making stuff. As I mentioned in my previous post, the brilliant Steve and Zoe of the Dual Works ran their first Girls with Power Tools workshop and I was lucky enough to be one of the participants. It was a great to have a refresher on my still relatively-new DIY skills. The best part? We got to put our knowledge into action to make our very own shelves!

The first part of the morning covered basic tools, types of timber (I fell in love with MDF about 2 decades too late), and ways to cut the timber. Then came the big challenge – SHELF MAKING! I was a bit stumped as I wasn’t actually expecting this and after some panic-designing in my head, I decided to make a shelf/ledge for my spare room. You can never have enough ledges, right? I wanted to use materials that I’d not used before so MDF and Plywood were on my cards. I also wanted to combine some more challenging techniques as I’m pretty au fait with cutting straight lines (that’s not to say I’m any good at it!), drilling and screwing. With the MDF, I decided to round off my corners, fully expecting it to go horribly wrong. However, after some advice from Zoe, I accomplished some very rounded corners indeed! Hello MDF – my new BFF!

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OOOOOOOH. NOICE.

My shelf/ledge consisted of some basic components: a back, shelf with an extra lip to stop things from sliding off, plus some hooks on the underside because… I always have more crap to hang from hooks (mug collection aside). Steve and Zoe were attentive throughout the day (making sure that we didn’t slice our fingers off; we didn’t) and made sure we were comfortable with what we were doing. I think for all of us, the course wasn’t just about learning new skills, it was about building our confidence to drill the s**t out of some wood. Because at the end of the day, we are in control of the tool, and the wood doesn’t feel pain, so why the need for fear?

If you follow me on Instagram, I’m sorry to bomb your screens again with my little creation:

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I’m not going to lie, I am pretty chuffed. Can’t wait to get it home and slap on a bit of paint! Steve and Zoe have more workshops lined up so check them out!

#GIRLSWHODIY – Easter Bank Holiday Edition

This weekend was Bank Holiday weekend, so along with 95% of the population in the UK I went to my local DIY store and panic-bought a load of stuff with the intention of spending this weekend DIY-ing.

I was sticking to #BasicBitchDIY this weekend because I had a social life. I’ve learnt to hoard all the tools and materials that I need for every job possible, and just do whatever I feel like at the time. There’s nothing worse than a DIY To Do List; the arch-enemy of creativity. This weekend I kept things simple by accessorising my kitchen.

First up was filling the hole to my Gin Shelf/Larder. The larder was originally the cupboard where the water tank was stored. I got a fancy new boiler when I moved in which negated the need for a water tank. I removed the door and ta-da! The Gin Shelf/larder was born (after much work though). The top part was boarded up which made it look dark and dingy so I removed the board, had a light installed, put up a few baten shelves and then… left it for a few months. The hole where the board was looked really unsightly so I finally put in it’s place some hollow polycarbonate sheet so that the light would come through into the kitchen, plus I had some retro textures.

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Ta-da! Thanks to some fancy hollow polycarbonate sheet.

Job number 2 was displaying yet more of my extensive mug collection. I HAVE TOO MANY MUGS and they were taking up valuable cupboard space so I decided to screw some hooks into the bottom of my IKEA Mosslanda ledges to put them on display. Easy.

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SO MANY MUGS

Job number 3 was to cover up my horrendous sink area. I don’t have a cupboard under the sink and opted to cover up the crap with some beautiful fabric from local printmaker Emma Hardicker. To my shame, I bought this fabric nearly a year ago and have only just decided where it should go. I originally planned to make a blind but realised that was pointless because I really like looking out of my kitchen window! I also used some of the fabric to cover up a doorless cupboard and to give the kitchen a bit more colour and texture. A job well done methinks.

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Crap under the sink? What crap?

 

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That’s better.

Anyone that I know IRL (in real life) will know that the past year has been one of many DIY traumas. A year ago in March, I became a homeowner; fantastic – I was finally investing my money rather than paying dead money in rent. However, I was not just a standard home owner: I was an owner of a do-er up-per. That was the point I reached #PeakConnie. I don’t do things by halves and I often chose the most difficult route to pursue, just so that I can feel like I’ve achieved something. Phd ≥ Doing Up a Flat.

I was full of optimism when I first moved in. Gutting the place was easy, except where stuff was really high up, in which case I had to ask someone else to do it because I couldn’t reach. It was therapeutic to tear things down and chuck it in the skip; I was making this MY home. However, reality set in when I started having nightmares about decor. I literally went through 50 shades of grey paint samples because I couldn’t find ‘the right grey’. And no, I still don’t know what that is.

The main problem was that Papa Wan had no DIY skills whatsoever. This is the man who was super proud of mounting the new bathroom mirror, before I pointed out that it was not centrally aligned with the sink (it was to the left, but not aligned to anything…). This is the man who didn’t see the need to put masking tape on when he re-painted the bathroom ceiling, nor wipe off the dribbles of paint that resulted. I was screwed (pun intended). I had a basic idea of how things were structured, but no clue when it came to the basics such as drilling a hole in the wall. Yeah, drilling holes into walls made me worry A LOT. However, I was lucky enough to have the amazeballs support from some really great friends who not only taught me how to do stuff, but also that it was okay to ask for help when I needed it. I’m not going to lie, the latter was the most difficult.

Forget Papa Wan, I’m going to do a massive plug for The Dual Works here. If it wasn’t for Steve and Zoe, I would not have my cosy little spinster pad. Steve and Zoe are both Creative Extraordinaires and fellow cheese enthusiasts. Steve doesn’t like gin but I chose overlook that as he gave me a lot of help and advice when it came to the nitty gritty of DIY; it turned out that I knew nothing about power tools. Steve always explained and demonstrated, then allowed me to finish the job. Sometimes you just need someone to believe that you’re capable of putting up a shelf. A year on and I’ve laid my own laminate floor, put up my own shelves, built and tiled my own kitchen (a small thank you to Wickes) and installed my own wardrobe. And I have drilled many, many holes into my walls in the process.

Just so that you know, girls can f***ing DIY too.

*KLAXON* IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Steve and Zoe are running a series of Girls with Power Tools courses! Sign up now for some new life skills!bh

Good Eats – Two Cats Kitchen

Two Cats Kitchen is definitely in my top 5 dining experiences, like, ever. The food there makes me squeal with delight (quite literally); the textures and flavours are so unexpected (yet obvious at the same time), each mouthful is a little morsel of  joy. With a 7-course taster menu, that’s a lot of little morsels. The restaurant is known for it’s ‘New Baltic’ fayre using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Simple ingredients + curious (and talented) chef = EPIC DELICIOUSNESS. I can’t explain how half the things were cooked or created, but I sure had fun trying to work it all out as I ate.

When I visited for the first time last year, I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling. The 2 dishes that stuck in my mind: this wonderful lamb that was so pretty and pink, and a desert that comprised of sorrel leaves, granita and granola. I will never forget my first mouthful of the sorrel. I expected it to taste like spinach – it did not. The wonderful sourness and the ice-cold granita made it taste like a really grown-up deconstructed ice lolly. The granola, oddly, provided the creamy taste and texture. Who would have thunk?

A few weeks ago a friend heard that they were DROPPING THE BALTIC. WTF. We booked immediately. I called, gave my booking details in haste, and was then told about the un-Balticness – I admitted that I didn’t really care. Whatever they were going to serve, it was going to be delicious. I needed to experience it STAT.

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The Jewellery Quarter at dusk

 

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7 courses plus a cheeseboard. #noregrets

The menu went something like this:

Sorrel, savoury granola, whipped cream cheese
Watermelon, shallot, olive, onion, mint and sumac
Cured mackerel, turnip, shisho, honey & marmite
Steamed octopus, chia, onion and ponzu
Pork neck, asparagus and wild garlic
Rhubarb, cognac, tarragon, ginger and pepper
Chocolate, dried elderberries, brazil nuts, dark rye and lemon balm

I love the simplicity of this menu. No fancy words, no fuss. My favourite courses were the steamed octopus, pork neck and rhubarb. The octopus was soft and succulent (can octopus be succulent?) topped with a crispy sheet of chia seeds; the texture and taste of which oddly reminded me of fried salmon skin. The textures and flavours complemented each other so well – the healthy ‘salmon skin’ really brought out the taste of the sea. The pork neck was completely out of this world; cooked in a sous vide for 24 hours then fried quickly in a hot pan, the texture was melt-in-the-mouth with just the right fat-to-lean-meat ratio. Yes, I think I just said ‘fat-to-lean-meat ratio’. The wild garlic that it was served with was superbly pungent without being too sharp or overbearing (although I could taste garlic for the rest of the evening). The rhubarb. Oh my days the rhubarb. It was crunchy, sharp and really cold. Not really how it’s usually served. I could not get over the texture – imagine celery (actually, don’t, it’s the food of the devil) but sharp and juicy. Apparently it had been sealed in a vacuum pack with sugar to ‘cook’ the rhubarb. This was the course that made me squeal with delight; such an unexpected surprise.

Would I go there again? Hell yes. But probably not for a season or two when there are new flavours to try. At £49 for 7 courses (an additional £10 if you want to add a cheese board) it isn’t the most expensive or fancy of tasting menus. But then that’s not really what the Two Cats are about. However, it’s worth trying if you want to entertain your culinary senses.

Did I say ‘delightful’ enough in this post? Probs not.

Goodbye Flo.

This week’s post was supposed to be about my delicious visit to The Two Cats. However, I experienced some mild peril that I feel I need to talk about. Last week on the way back from the depths of Wolverhampton, I had a small traffic accident. This small accident cost me my car, known endearingly as Flo, who has been my right hand (drive) lady for the past 12 years.

The accident itself was very minor; I bumped into the back of a scrap metal truck. The truck escaped unscathed (it had seen better days anyway) but little Flo suffered a bit of a knock:

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*sigh*

When I returned, I had to face the trauma of calling the insurance company. In my flustered state, I called my old insurance company who were good enough to remind me I renewed my policy with a new insurer and they put me straight through to them. What lovely people (their kindness almost tipped me over the edge). A few phone calls plus 12 hours later, I found out that they decided to write her off. I received the cheque for the damage the morning after. That was it, she was going to get scrapped. I accidentally on purpose avoided calling back the scrappers just so that I could have a few days to process the situation.

This post is probably beginning to sound really boring now, but I do have a point somewhere. Being told that my trusty car is no longer road-worthy brought back a flood of memories; I never really thought I was that attached to her, but I am. Oddly, I’m quite aware of my sentimental attachment to what I call ‘stuff’ that is in my flat (cuddly toys, SO MANY CUDDLY TOYS THAT I DID NOT BUY) but I never realised my attachment to this massive machine that I drive around all the time.

I bought my first car when I was 19; a cute blue Nissan Micra – I was continuing my mother’s legacy of having a Micra as a first car. Jo (as he was called) was… okay. He kinda got me places but I wasn’t really that fussed by him (the same goes for some of my relationships). When I found out that I got a place to do a Masters in Birmingham, I decided I needed a beefier car to support my commute. I remember looking at VWs and I think I even got into a Fiat Punto at one point but there was one small problem – they were all a bit massive. Yes, it turns out that reaching things (pedals) is quite essential when it comes to driving. I was dead against a Yaris, mainly because my dad kept saying I should get one (I do not do anything that my parents suggest) and reluctantly got in one to test drive. I remember thinking ‘Crap. I really like this car (and I can reach the pedals without getting cramp).’ Then pursued a short argument with the salesman about having to pay extra for car mats. CONNIE WAN DOES NOT PAY EXTRA FOR CAR MATS. I won and got cheap alloy wheels too.

Getting a car felt like all of a sudden, I had the freedom to go anywhere and do anything that I wanted. And go anywhere and do anything I did.

The 12 years we’ve spent together has definitely felt like 12 years. She’s moved me to 3 different addresses, had to deal with 4 different commutes, and she’s driven me to the extremities of this island we live on. That time I had to drive after spending a weekend learning to surf was the most painful drive of my life; who knew that putting the gear stick into reverse could be so painful? More recently there was an incident where I pulled/tore my calf muscle at dance class and there was a small chance that I could not drive home. Luckily I could, but made sure a friend was in the car with me in case my calf decided to jack it in during the 5-minute journey.

Not being able to drive Flo feels a bit like breaking a leg. There are loads of possibilities within reach, but I can’t get to them right now. My freedom has been restricted. Trips have been put on hold and errands have had to be postponed until a replacement (no car can replace Flo!) is found.

I did eventually pluck up the courage to call the scrappers; they are booked for Tuesday morning. Whilst I’m a bit excited by the prospect of a new car, it feels more of a burden because Flo, technically, still functions. She just looks a bit worse for wear. That’s probably an analogy for how I’ll end up one day. Brain’s still a-ticking but back and knees a-cricking.