Monday, December 9, 2013
We brought home our Christmas tree on Saturday! Ciaran met me after my exercise class (I do this every Saturday morning - it's intense!). We went for a coffee and took a little walk around the village - Thames Ditton looks so pretty at Christmas! All the shops have fairy lights and trees outside and the big lime tree is lit up too thanks to the Keep The Heart In The Highstreet campaign which raises money year round. We bought our tree from the local greengrocer and it's a beauty! Bushy and green and just the right size for our living room. Here's a few snaps from our morning - I'm excited to show off the finished tree in all it's glory tomorrow!
Thursday, December 5, 2013
|Image from www.amara.com|
Amara are a luxury lifestyle and interiors website boasting an amazing selection of products from awesome brands like Missoni Home, Kate Spade, Orla Kiely and Silken Favours to name but a few!
I was delighted to be asked by the team at Amara to contribute to their Top 30 Christmas Decorating Tips article for their blog – The Luxpad. I knew straight away what my tip would be:
Heap boughs of Holly & Ivy into a mantlepiece along with tall beeswax candles to create a a dramatic, Dickensian effect.
In pagan Britan, before tinsel and fairly lights, Holly and Ivy were traditionally brought into the home on Christmas Eve to ward off evil spirits. Tradition dictates that the men carried the holly and the women the ivy and that whichever was bought into the house first would determine whether a man or woman would rule the roost over the coming year!
I have a hard time waiting until the beginning of December to put our decorations up, let alone Christmas Eve so I’ll be heading out this weekend to gather as much holly and ivy as possible to display on mantlepieces, across doorways and atop picture frames and mirrors. It really does create the mostly wonderfully dark and dramatic look which looks fantastic when paired with beautiful beeswax candles. The effect (not to mention the smell) is truly stunning! I have a tutorial for making your own beeswax candles coming up next week so keep your eyes peeled!
You can read all of the tips and share
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Can you believe it’s December already? This year has absolutely zoomed by (that’s what getting married does!) and it’s been a struggle at times to keep up. Now I’m determined to kick back and enjoy the run up to Christmas – it’s my absolute favourite time of the year! I think sometimes it’s good to just practice being in the moment – not looking backwards at everything you haven’t managed to get done and not thinking about the weeks to come and worrying about how you’re going to fit it all in. When I want to clear my head and let my imagination wander I head to the kitchen. I’m so excited to share this awesome recipe for gingerbread snowflakes with you today!
The recipe is originally by Delia Smith – I adapted it very slightly by substituting the plain white flour for wholemeal spelt flour and adding a little ground mace which is one of my favourite spices and one which doesn’t make an appearance often enough in my opinion! The smell of mace reminds me of rummaging through my Mothers spice cupboard during my early foray into baking. As Delia mentions in the original recipe, the dough is very easy to work with so perfect for children! There’s nothing more frustrating than a dough with a bad attitude – a dough which mucks about and sticks to the work surface and rolling pin. This dough is robust and easy to roll out, shape and peel away! I decorated my snowflakes with piped royal icing for a frosty vibe – after a little trial and error I decided that the piping doesn’t need to be perfect to be pretty! Try a mixture of designs and if you’re stuck for inspiration my Christmas Pinterest board has plenty of ideas to try!
What sets this gingerbread apart from your usual namby pamby, basically-it's-a-biscuit gingerbread is the treacle. Dark, sticky and not quite sweet, treacle belongs to a bygone age. Here it adds a wonderful depth to the flavour of the finished gingerbread. Conveniently, the biscuits get even better after a couple of days in the tin, when they become lovely and toothsome with just a tiny bit of chewiness.
Ingredients for the gingerbread:
75g light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 rounded tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
95g block of butter
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
225g wholemeal spelt flour (or plain white flour if preferred)
Ingredients for the royal icing:
1 egg white (free range, organic)
150g icing sugar, sifted
Snowflake shaped biscuit cutter (mine is made by Wilton and is available from Amazon here!)
Stand mixer with balloon whisk attachment (for making royal icing)
Piping bag fitted with a small, round nozzle
Place the sugar, syrup, treacle, spices water and orange zest in a pan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring the whole time.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and bicarbonate of soda.
Carefully stir in the flour until you have a smooth, manageable dough. Add more flour if it looks as though it needs it.
Cover the dough in cling film and refrigerate until firm (approx 30 minutes)
Preheat the oven to 180c (160c fan)
Roll out the dough onto a floured work surface until approx. 1/2 cm thick.
Cut out your shapes and place them on a baking tray, lined with greaseproof paper.
Bake in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes, until the biscuits feel firm when lightly pressed with a finger tip.
Leave to cool on the baking tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
To make the royal icing...
Place the egg white in the bowl of your stand mixer (make sure it’s spotlessly clean and free from grease or the egg wont whisk up properly). Stir in the sifted icing sugar a few spoonfuls at a time until all the sugar is combined. Whisk on the highest speed for around 10 - 15 minutes – until the mixture is bright white and really fluffy. The mixture should form soft peaks when you lift up the arm of the mixer.
Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a small, round nozzle.
Use the icing to pipe pretty patterns on your gingerbread! Store any left over icing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week!
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Now that the cold weather is here to stay, I find myself craving cosy layers to wrap up warm in. Wouldn't these boots be perfect for kicking leaves?
I'm also loving the checked scarves popping up on the fashion blogs at the moment and this Burberry number is the creme de la creme.
Toast are bringing it this Autumn! I love their soft cotton layers and their slouchy knits. I'm particularly craving this pair of skinny cords - have you ever worn a pair? Give them a try and you'll suddenly realise how freezing cold jeans are!
I popped into the new J Crew store on Regents Street last week - have you been? I love their fun, quirky style. Even the children's clothes are totally covetable (don't tell anyone but I spent a long time eyeing up this bag).
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Stir Up Sunday is always the last Sunday before Advent, when families up and down the country gather in the kitchen to make the Christmas pudding! A traditional Christmas pudding is made with lots of dried fruit, chopped nuts and plenty of brandy so making the pudding a month in advance gives the flavours a chance to mellow and meld together.
Tradition dictates that each member of the family must give the pudding a stir and then a silver coin or charm is dropped into the mix. If you’re lucky enough to end up with the charm in your slice then you’ll have good fortune for the year to come!
I love Christmas cooking traditions and am delighted that everyone's waking up to just how much more lovely Christmas puddings, fruit cake and mince pies are when made at home (in fact is there anything that isn’t better when it’s home made?).
I have a confession to make though… I have never made my own Christmas pudding on Stir Up Sunday! This task still falls to my Mother who will work tirelessly to produce our family pudding - steaming it for a whopping five hours before safely stowing it away until the big day. It’s no small undertaking and in fact one year when she had three on the go, the tiles at the back of the stove bulged outwards and cracked and the paint started peeling off from the ceilings in the entire downstairs of the house! Needless to say the puddings were amazing and totally worth it.
I sometimes celebrate Stir Up Sunday by making the Christmas cake - I love thinking of how many people are busy in the kitchen with the radio on all at the same time! If you're ready to get festive but don't fancy making a pud, you could spend Stir Up Sunday making candied peel or home made mince meat, ready for mince piece later in the year! It's the perfect excuse to get into the festive spirit a little early with a spot of Christmas baking! If you're stuck for inspration, checkout my Christmas and Food & Drink Pinterest boards! I'll be adding to them over the coming weeks so make sure to follow along!
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Here's a sneak peek at the fabric I've chosen for my latest sewing project. Isn't it marvelous? It's Liberty print fabric in Bourton F - a wonderful, swirling paisley print in a fiery red, orange and blue colourway.
The print itself is utter perfection - the red and the blue are so well balanced it's really satisfying to look at. The pattern is so complex too - the more I look at it the more I see, which is a good job seeing as I've spent several hours ironing, pinning and cutting it over the course of last weekend. Of course this time could be significantly reduced if I didn't have a tubby grey cat joining in every step of the way!
British Short Hairs in general have a very specific way of 'supervising' you when you potter about the house or undertake any task that requires focus and Toby is no different! It's not an absent minded 'I'll just curl up here and purr and maybe stare out of the window while you do whatever it is you're doing' but more of a 'come along now, what needs to be done? I see, please proceed'. He also loves to be the center of attention in a casual, nonchalant way which is why he ends up in so many of my photos! He'll just casually manoeuvre himself so that he happens to be the object of my gaze and then sits back to bask in the glow. Oh Toby how I love you!
As for what I'm making? It's going to be a....surprise!
Monday, November 18, 2013
Happy Monday! Can you believe there are only two weeks left until November bites the dust? I'm into the Autumn vibes in a big way - pyjamas on the radiator, corn on the cob and hot camomile tea before bed time are just a few of the things that keep me going through these dark months.
I've got lots of cosy, festive cakes, bakes and crafty DIY tutorials to show off over the coming weeks but as usual time seems to be running away from me and there are plenty of things that I haven't got round to yet...
Preserving, for example, is pretty high on my Autumn bucket list but somehow it just hasn't happened this year. The thought of a whole Winter with no home made jam to brighten it up is a sad one indeed so I'll be getting stuck into some Wintery preserves that if, like me, you're running a tad behind schedule you're sure to love! Think caramelised onion jam, apple butter and spiced pumpkin chutney!
I'm also feeling in need of a bit of fresh air and am going to have to make some time to get outside and walk amongst the trees whilst they're still beautiful and golden! There is so much about this time of year that is worth savouring - sometimes it's hard work to fit it all in but it's worth it! That reminds me - Chestnuts! Have I missed them? Have you managed to forage any? Better add that to my list.
In other news I picked up this beautiful bouquet of ranunculus at my local florist on Saturday. They're just about my favourite flower and they'll be coming to a florist near you from now until Spring (keep an eye out for them in January when they're at their best). This particular bunch was a gift to my lovely friends Anna and Andy who have just become engaged! Big congratulations to you both! I'm looking forward to being a bridesmaid again and can't wait until Summer 2015!
Friday, November 15, 2013
Henri Le Worm is the first in a brilliant new series of apps which aim to get children excited about the food on their plate and involved in the kitchen! Henri (voiced by awesome actor Simon Pegg) is your charismatic guide and as he takes you on a tour of his garden your little ones will be captivated by the wonderful music and animation. The app is the brainchild of Olivier Blanc & Charlotte Salt who have spent years developing the characters. The recipes themselves were all contributed by top notch chef Raymond Blanc!
The recipes are simple (so that children can help as much as possible) and use fresh, seasonal ingredients that are easy to find. The results are a somewhat more sophisticated than the mid-week suppers we usually find ourselves sitting down to! I think it’s a lovely for children and their parents to prepare food together and share mealtimes as a family. Raymond and his team have done a fantastic job of devising recipes that will appeal to both adults and their children (think poached artichoke & mustard vinaigrette, ricotta & spinach croquettes and raspberry fool!)
For more information and some great recipe ideas, take a peek at Henri’s blog! Henri inspired me to try these fantastic Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels which are from Jenna Zoe’s fab new book ‘Super Healthy Snacks and Treats’. They look (and taste) totally decadent but are actually a health food in disguise! Made with dates, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coconut oil and sea salt they mimic the sweet, salty hit of the store bought salted caramel but minus the white stuff. Perfect for children and adults when it’s time for a fix of something sweet!
Chocolate-covered salted caramels from Jenna Zoe's new cookbook Super Healthy Snacks & Treats:
200g / 1 cup of dates
1 tbsp smooth, organic peanut butter
1 tbsp coconut oil
A pinch of sea salt
250g dark chocolate
1. Place the dates in a bowl full of room temperature water and allow to soak for a couple of hours. They will absorb some of the water which will help with the consistency of the caramel.
2. Strain the dates and rinse them under running water then blitz in a food processor until smooth.
3. Once the dates have formed a paste, add the peanut butter and continue to pulse.
4. Add the coconut oil for texture and the salt for flavour, blend again until the mixture forms a large ball.
5. Pull off bits of the mixture and roll into balls (you should be able to make 6 - 12). (Tip: my dates absorbed the water a little too enthusiastically in step 1 so my mixture was quite runny at this point. I just spooned the mixture into an empty ice cube tray and popped it in the freezer as normal)
6. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
7. Meanwhile melt the chocolate by breaking it up and placing it in a heat proof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Be careful not to let any water come into contact with the chocolate or it may split! Stir carefully once or twice while the chocolate melts.
8. With the aid of a teaspoon or two, carefully dunk each caramel in the chocolate, making sure it's completely and evenly coated.
9. Set the chocolate covered caramels aside on a piece of greaseproof paper to set - giving each a little sprinkle of sea salt as you go!
Return to the freezer for a few minutes to harden before placing in a freezer bag. Store in the freezer and take out two hours before serving.
You can purchase the Henri Le Worm App via the App store here! Jenna Zoe's book, Super Healthy Snacks and Treats is available via Amazon here!
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Here’s a super quick and easy knitting project that’s perfect to whip up over the course of a couple of chilly Autumnal evenings! This stretchy, ribbed head band is just the thing for keeping hair off your face when cleansing, toning and moisturising (like you do twice a day, right?) or applying make up. I used a ball of yarn I had hanging out in my stash which I believe to be Rowan Cotton Glacé in ‘Ecru’ but you can use any yarn you fancy! This is a perfect project to use up any old scraps of yarn but if you do need to buy some, one of Rowans 100% cotton yarns such as the Cotton Glacé or Handknit Cotton would be lovely.
Yarn (I used Rowan Cotton Glacé - you’ll only need a tiny amount)
Needles (I used 3mm bamboo needles - John Lewis have a great selection!)
Tapestry needle (for weaving in the ends)
Stage 1: Knitting a swatch and figuring out how many stitches to cast on...
1. First take your tape measure and measure around the circumference of your head, where the headband will sit. Make a note of this measurement - for example, my measurement is 21 inches.
2. Now it’s time time to knit up a swatch using your chosen yarn and knitting needles - you’ll use this swatch to determine how many stitches need to be cast on for the final head band. To make a swatch, first cast on (CO) 32 stitches then continue in knit 2 (K2) pearl 2 (P2) rib for 32 rows (I know it seems like you’re casting on more stitches than you need - after all, all you really need to know is how many stitches there are to an inch but if you take this measurement from a larger swatch you’ll get a more accurate idea of the way your knitting evens out over a number of rows).
3. Once you’ve reached the desired number of rows, bind off in rib. Now take your swatch and gently stretch it out as far as it will comfortably go. Pin the fabric in this position then place your measuring tape alongside the swatch and count how many stitches fit into 2 inches. As you can see from my swatch, there are 12 stitches to 2 inches of fabric. If I divide this 12 by 2 then I'll how many stitches there are to an inch - in my case, 6!
Times this number by the circumference of your head and you’ll know how many stitches you need to cast on in order for the headband to stretch and grip your head nicely!
You can repeat the process to work out how many rows of stitches there are to a an inch - in my case 14. I want my headband to be 2 inches wide so I need to knit for 28 rows but let’s be honest, you can just freestyle the width and stop knitting when it looks about right!
I worked out my measurements as follows: My head measures 21 inches so this is how large I want my finished headband to be when stretched to the max. From measuring my swatch I know that there are 12 stitches to 2 inches of fabric (or in other words, 6 stitches to 1 inch of fabric). So 6 times 21 = 126 - and that’s how many stitches I need to cast on!
Make sure that however many stitches you cast on it’s an even number and that you’re starting the rib with two knit stitches and finishing with two purl stitches (so that when the headband is sewn together you get a seamless repetition of the k2 p2 pattern - you don’t want four knit stitches all huddled up awkwardly side by side!)
Step 2: Knitting the headband...
1. Now you’ve figured out how many stitches you need to cast on and how many rows you want to knit it’s time to get started! Because we’re going to be seaming the headband once it’s finished, cast on an extra stitch at the beginning and end and make sure you always knit these stitches regardless. These extra two stitches won’t form part of the main headband but will provide a little bit of extra fabric for you to sew a neat seam with later!
2. Knit in k2, p2 rib for however many rows you need in order to obtain your desired width. Once you’re done cast off in rib.
Step 3: Get it all sewn up…
1. Take your tapestry needle and thread it with a length of yarn.
2. Sew up your headband using a mattress stitch - your seam should be almost invisible from the outside and the k2p2 pattern will flow uninterrupted.
That’s it! Get the fluffy white towels at the ready and swoop that hair off your face like never before using your brand new custom knit headband!