Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas

Bushy Park

Ah Christmas. This one was a quiet one but was full of good food and fires. I've returned home with an embarrassment of riches and am looking forward to spending the next few days knitting, watching films and eating my way through all the delicacies that have somehow found their way into my larder. I'll be back as soon as I've ruminated on the year just passed and the year ahead and what my resolutions are going to be this time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4 Sleeps

Last week my preparations for Christmas reached critical mass - you know when you go from having some nice outings planned, looking forward to Christmas shopping,  planning some baking and imagining yourself spending a jolly hour wrapping everything up and putting it under the tree - to realising that you're out every single night and then waking up hungover on the one day you have free to do shopping, everything taking hours and hours longer than you thought it would and having every project started but nothing finished?

Yesterday things finally started falling into place, the baking got finished and most of the gifts are now bought and wrapped up. Still though, 4 days to go? Where has December gone? I've taken Thursday and Friday off this week with the aim of having everything wrapped up and ready to go and a clean house to come back to after Christmas.

I've bought the wool to make these Nordic mittens over the Christmas break - The pattern is available as a free download on Ravelry. Search under 'Winter Cottage Mittens' by Dee Bamford.


Good luck to everyone racing round trying to finish their preparations!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Home made decorations and mulled wine

Here are a few photos from Thursday night - I headed up to North London for an evening of mulled wine, good food and Christmas decoration making with Kate and Lauren.



















Kate found these beautiful 1950's glass baubles on ebay - they're hand painted and are really fragile.




















This mulled wine was delicious - we added sliced oranges and apples, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cardamon pods and sugar.



















Kate making pomanders.



















Lauren's origami spirals - you can see better photos and get a how-to here.



















I made these paper chains using origami paper cut into strips - the whole strand only used 4 sheets...I'm not quite sure how because it came out really long. I love the look of them against the fireplace.



















That melted mess you see in the grate is the remains of some church candles we put inside the fireplace to create a cosy glow. If you've got a fireplace I really recommend this - the flickering candles feel really cosy even though they're not throwing out any heat.

























Here are some close ups of the tiles in the fireplace. We've also got fireplaces in the kitchen and bedrooms and in the floor outside the front door, the entrance to the 'coal chute' can still be seen. I love old houses with original features like this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We named it Bert

Just a quick update today to post a picture of our Christmas tree which we put up at the weekend. It felt really good to give the flat a clean from top to bottom in preparation for the festive decorating. Our tree is a Norwegian Spruce from Pines and Needles in Battersea Park and is 6ft. The photo is a bit dark but you can see the salt dough stars I made, along with some hearts and some little wooden figurines. We've put the tree on top of the window seat in the living room so it can be seen from the street. The only problem is that now the living room looks so cosy I think maybe we need some decorations around the rest of the house?



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snow is falling

I'm still busy painting salt dough stars and planning a crafty Christmas decoration evening tomorrow night with Kate and Lauren. In the meantime I've been keeping my eyes peeled for lovely decorations in the shops. I think it takes a few years to build up a really nice collection of decorations filled with nostalgia and good vibes but these would get you off to a good start.




1) Cat Bauble from Liberty 7) Silver Bauble from Toast
2) Penguin Bauble from Paperchase 8)Wooden Angel Bauble from Cath Kidston
3) Deer Bauble from Paperchase 9) Parrot Baubles from Selfridges
4) Tin Soldier Bauble from Liberty 10) Father Christmas Bauble from Selfridges
5) Ginger Bread House Bauble from Liberty 11) Tarnished Silver Bauble from Toast
6) Toad Stool Bauble from Liberty

If you're in the market for some inspiration, check out Tobias and the Angel. Angel keeps a beautiful shop in White Hart Lane which gets transformed over Christmas into a treasure trove of hand made and vintage decorations, furniture and fabrics.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dog Day Afternoon

I had dinner with my Mum last night and she told me all about a needle felting workshop she went to recently, run by one of her friends. Needle felting is a technique where you use pieces of un-spun wool and shape them using a very sharp needle with barbs at the end. You basically jab at the wool and this felts the fibers together, causing to to gradually get more and more solid.

She showed me an article in Decembers issue of World of Interiors magazine which inspired her, featuring the work of artist Domenica More Gordon. Domenica makes the most beautiful needle felted dogs - each with such endearing personalities.







Aren't they brilliant? You can read the full article on her website here.

Here are a few snapshots of my Mum's first attempt...





She's not very proud of it but I think he's lovely - he's not finished but you can already see the personality coming out. She came away with all this beautiful wool, some needles and a foam pad so I'm hoping to have a go myself when I visit for longer over Christmas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DIY Salt Dough Christmas Decorations

I'm really looking forward to getting a Christmas tree this year as I finally live somewhere big enough for a really tall one. I love the smell of real Christmas trees when you come downstairs in the morning, the only problem is I don't have a single decoration. I'm not minted so don't really want to have to spend a good portion of my presents (or wine) budget on decorations but I still want to have the nicest tree in the street.

The solution? Time to get busy with the needle and thread (and glue and scissors, and paint and glitter). I had a think about the kinds of decorations I wanted and decided to re-create some of the decorations of my childhood. These stars are made out of salt dough and are really easy. If you've already got paint then they are basically free.






First make some salt dough, you will need:

2 Cups of plain flour sifted
1 Cups of table salt
1 Cup of water
Juice of half a lemon (optional but makes the finished dough a bit harder once its dry)

Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the water and lemon juice bit by bit, combining to make a soft dough. Kneed the dough for about 10 mins until it gets soft and smooth. Roll out the dough onto a clean, floured work surface and cut out shapes like you would with any pastry. Place the shapes onto a baking sheet covered with grease proof paper and bake in the oven for approx 8 (yes 8!) hours at around 100-120 degrees Celsius. Its a good idea to leave the shapes for a couple of days before you paint them just to make sure they're completely dry.

I'm looking forward to making some more decorations in the run up to Christmas!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lampshade making in Lewes with Lauren

Last Saturday I spend a brilliant day with my good friend Lauren in Lewes in East Sussex. Every so often there seems to be an 'it' area where everyone wants to move to and at the moment everyone is talking about Lewes and I can see why. It's a tiny little town, surrounded by green hills, full of winding streets and little always with some lovely independent shops and pubs. It's also got it's own castle which sits proudly in the middle. Despite it's picturesque surroundings the town isn't at all twee and doesn't seem to market itself as a 'tourist' town. It's only a hour outside of London by train and 10 minutes more to the sea.


We were there to take a course run by the talented Annemarie O'sullivan who creates beautiful woven baskets and sculptures. Our workshop was focused on lampshade making and you can read a lovely account of it on Laurens blog here. Annemarie teaches from her home which is a lovely little cottage with a cosy kitchen / living room with a panoramic view of the downs. Lauren and I both wanted to learn traditional basket weaving skills whilst creating the lampshades so made ours out of willow. We both started with an idea in our minds of the shape and style we wanted to achieve and these developed as we began to work with the willow.



I love the retro vibes of our finished lampshades and the shadows they create. Working with the willow is really rewarding - it can be quite tough at times but you can also be very precise with it. Weaving in the round like this reminded me of making pottery on a pottery wheel...future project perhaps?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preparing to hibernate

The weather has suddenly turned much colder and crisper which is perfect for thinking about being in doors and doing some cosy crafts. This weekend my good friend Lauren and I are doing a one day lampshade making workshop. The workshop is run by the wonderful Anne Marie O'Sullivan who does fantastic work with willow weaving. Have a look at her website here.

In other news I'm looking forward to starting work on some home made Christmas decorations this week and am hoping to share my progress soon.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember Remember

Here's my very important TO DO list for this weekend:
- Watch the fireworks on Clapham common tonight and drink mulled wine.
- Eat some roast chestnuts.
- Go out for a drink and then a Indian meal and then another drink with Ciaran.
- Sleep in until noon.
- Meet friends and host a champagne brunch.
- Go to a beer festival.
- Meet up with more friends and go out for dinner.
- See Christy Moore at the Royal Festival Hall.
- Sleep in on Sunday and then brew another batch of red wine.
So much to do, so little time! I'm really excited about the fireworks tonight - such a cosy wintery thing to do. Clapham common fireworks are free come along, bring your friends.
I'm also really really looking forward to seeing Christy Moore - a very well known and popular Irish folk singer. My favourite is his version of Black Is The Colour but he's made so many beautiful songs. Have a look on Spotify. His version of 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' by Pink Floyd. Ciaran's Irish and if he's a good example of his fellow countrymen then tomorrow night is going to get rowdy.



Also, look, Christian & Jess's wedding that I attended in the summer (and blogged about here) has been featured on this cute wedding blog: Love My Dress. Go have a look!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

The work Halloween party was a huge success - the cake was gobbled up and we had many fine offerings this year, Here are some grainy iphone photos.






And today Ciaran and I bottled our wine! Just a reminder that you can read about our home brewing adventures at www.theloftbrewery.co.uk. The wine hung out in the demijohn a few weeks longer than it should have done but we finally got round to bottling it today. The siphoning process was the cause of much hilarity as the bottles fill up way quicker than you think. I've got a glass in front of my now so here's my thoughts upon tasting our first wine...

It smells of wine. It tastes like wine too but its so so sweet. It's the sort of wine you might get if you went to an Indian restaurant where they offered a free bottle of wine when you order a set menu.

We've got another 5 bottles so I might have more tasting notes once I've had a chance to get used to it. We did the test...can't remember what it's called? The one that tests the alcohol percentage. Apparently our wine is 3.9% so we're thinking of calling it something like 'Drivers Delight'. Though we did a test on the bottle if wine we drank with dinner and that came up as 0% which can't be right because I feel quite pissed. Possibly we're doing it wrong. Anyway we went to Lidle and bought a load of grape juice so we're going to crack on with the next batch soon.



Friday, October 29, 2010

Decorating a cake is not as easy as you think...

I optimistically started writing this post before I actually iced the cake, thinking that I could just slot in the photos afterwards and would be ready to post. Things didn't really go quite as smoothly as I thought, turns out icing a cake is hard! I've kept my original post but updated it in red with what actually happened.

I started off by baking a carrot cake. This is a Rachel Allen recipe which is available online here. I also have her book Bake which is a lovely recipe book, focusing mainly on cakes and breads but with a few savoury recipes too. Any recipe will do but I liked the fact that this one calls for a good amount of grated carrot.

I made this cake last night as there wouldn't have been enough time to let it cool before icing it. Have you ever iced a cake before letting it cool properly? It will look OK for a couple of minutes but then the heat from the cake will melt the icing and it will all subside and look like the saddest thing in the world. For decorative purposes I'm going to be using fondant icing. I don't really like fondant icing at all so to make up for this I cut the cake in half horizontally and filled it with cream cheese icing. I also smeared the top of the cake with the cream cheese icing to fill in all the lumps and bumps and create a smooth surface for the fondant to sit on.

* Update * The cream cheese icing oozed out of the middle and slipped down the sides creating little tumour like bulges at the base of the cake.
Phase two involved heating up some apricot jam and spreading this onto the cake to give the fondant icing something to stick to.

* Update * I skipped phase two.

Now its time for srs bsns. I went to three different supermarkets and none of them had the icing I was planning on buying (this icing if you're curious). Instead I bought plain white icing and some liquid food colouring and coloured the icing myself.

* Update * This was the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life. I had to add loads of food colouring to get a good colour and the icing basically turned to paint in my hands. I had to keep putting it in the freezer to let it harden up again.

I only managed to take three photos of the whole process:

White icing before I coloured it.

Mixing the yellow and red food colouring.


After this point I went to pick cup the rolled icing 'supporting it with my rolling pin' only to find it was the texture of a damp tissue. My fingers sank through it, it hung limply and stuck together before shredding apart. This is not as easy as it looked in all the demo videos I watched on you tube. Eventually I managed to cover the cake with a patchwork of orange and put it in the fridge to harden. After refreshing myself with some wine and a Chinese take away I took the green icing out of the freezer and found that it turned back to liquid as soon as I touched it. By this point I had had enough so I blobbed on some leaves and had done with it.

I'll take some photos of it at the party this evening and let you know how it goes down.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Every Halloween (and every Easter and Christmas come to think of it) we have a bake off at work. Those who bake compete against each other to be the bringer of the most impressive cake and those who don't bake bring a bottle of wine. The ratio of cakes to wine usually works out perfectly. In the past we have had home made Bakewell tart, marzipan petite fours, chocolate chip banana bread, peanut butter cookies, toffee apple cupcakes (Me!), ginger bread, Victoria sponge and Cinnamon buns.

This year I was inspired by this post on Epicute of a pumpkin shaped cake. Some Google research informed me that two cakes baked in a Bundt tin could be inverted to create a perfect pumpkin shape.

Bundt Tin

Well I don't have a bunt tin so I wont be doing that. Instead I will be making a delicious carrot cake with extra spices, juicy gratings of carrot and chopped Brazil nuts. I'm going to bake it in my cake tin which is slightly small in diameter and nice and tall. I'm going to put in extra baking powder to help it puff up nice and high. Then I'm going to cut it in half horizontally and spread a thick layer of vanilla cream cheese icing in between. Then I'm going to decorate it to look as much as a pumpkin as I can using fondant icing - this is the bit I'm most excited about! The baking is happening tonight and the decorating tomorrow night. I will update as I go - no doubt this will be a resounding success!

Here is a pumpkin made by some of my colleagues for the occasion:


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hello Autumn!

I love this time of year, everything good about Autumn and Winter is still ahead - Halloween, Bonfire night, Christmas Eve. I love winter clothes too, especially dresses and jumpers. Here's a few things I'm currently desiring...


From left to right: Silk blouse by Chloe, Angora jumper by Rag & Bone, Mitzy leather tote by Mulberry, Wednesday Adams dress by Cabbages & Roses (I saw this in their shop at the weekend the collar is detachable - so cute!), two tone loafers by Marc for Mark Jacobs

What's occurring this week? Every year at work we organise a Halloween party and everyone bakes. This year I'm baking a carrot cake which I'm going to decorate like a pumpkin - stay tuned.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elvis is back in the building

I just wanted to share this cute story my Mum told me when we met up this weekend. There used to be an old lady who lived in our street who would walk up and down the street at night smoking cigarettes from a cigarette holder. Anyway she had a white cat called Elvis Presley. Elvis was a 'house' cat and would only leave the house for five minutes at a time, never straying too far. About 15 years ago the lady, lets call her Anne, died and my Mum assumed that Elvis had also bit the dust long ago. Anne's daughter in law now occupies the house and last week my Mum found her crying hysterically in the road knocking on doors asking if anyone had seen Elvis. It turned out that after about 19 years on this earth, Elvis had got frightened at the dustbin men that morning and run outside. After he had been gone 15 minutes, Anne's daughter in law, lets call her Susan began to get worried and after 24 hours she was inconsolable. That evening, at his usual dinner time, Elvis strolls back in through the cat flap as if it 'aint no thing.

This made me smile, the fact that Elvis is not only alive and kicking but isn't too old to be frightened by the dusbin men and camp out all night.