Saturday, 29 May 2010

Gifted - a new linky party!

Not only is the end of the school year here, with teacher gifts to think about, but as life gets busier with summer social engagements I keep wishing I had a special stash of handmade gifts to dip into when I need that particular thank you gesture, for a friend or hostess.

What are the best gifts you've made yourself? Do you have a special favourite? Join the linky party below and share your patterns and projects.

Linky Party Instructions

1. Add your post url to the space below and follow the instructions.
2. Add this button to your blog post.

3. Leave a comment!

Have fun!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Let Him Eat Cake

Conversation in our house at 11.30am:
Him: "I could really do with a piece of cake."
Her: "Put the oven on and I'll make you one."
27 minutes later:
Her: "Love!"
Him: "What?"
Her: "Your cake is ready."
It's a true story. Here is the cake I made to satisfy my husband's whim. I'll call it:

The Quickest Cake
1 1/2 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence

You  literally throw all these ingredients straight into the ungreased 8-inch square baking dish. Like this.
Then you have to mix it up carefully in the pan. It's important you get rid of any lumps so that you don't get the bitter baking soda bubbles. I squished them out with a spatula.

This is the best part of this recipe: Other than the baking tin, this is all the washing up I had to do:

Bake in a 350F (175C) oven for 25 minutes.

For the topping I melted a bar of cheap cooking chocolate in the microwave with a little milk and poured it on the top.

After cooling slightly (but not too much!) I dished up. Truly the quickest, easiest chocolate cake I have ever made.

A walk in the morning.

I know that I am mightily blessed to live in an idyllic English Country Village. As we are moving on from here in a couple of months, I thought I would celebrate a little of the unique Englishness we have been privileged to partake of (especially in the Spring time).

As I occasionally do, this morning I took a walk through our village, Hinton St George, population 400, to Dorothy's Tea Room to have a cup of coffee.

The roses are in full bloom, and the spring flowers pregnant with bees.

I know this shot could have been taken fifty years ago, but I promise you I took it this morning.

Dorothy's is a quintessential English Tea Room, serving cream scones, fresh cakes and delicious coffees (as well as lunches for the hungry) in an assortment of china. They sell local crafts, host speakers for the over-50s, and are generally community minded. We always feel welcome there. And they are extremely generous with their clotted cream.

So, after a satisfying walk, I made my way home and I am glad I will always have a record of the simple joys of living in England.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Kitten Tales - Living a Country Life

There are certain things one always associates with living in the country. These make up part of the nostalgic ideal that every person entertains when they are cooped up in a city apartment with a grey concrete walk to a monotonous job. I know because I dreamed about these things for the years I lived in the city.

Firstly, chickens. I love the thought of walking through the dewy grass down to the nesting coop to collect fresh eggs for breakfast.

Secondly, wood-burning fireplaces. Not silly shallow, coal-burning fireplaces like you get in the fancy city houses but big, deep hungry black holes of fireplaces that gobble wood and pump out real flames and heat. The kind you can put a pot on and make a stew. The kind you have to have a wood pile against the side of your house to keep alive.

Thirdly, and this is where I will pause, kittens. Real live freshly-born kittens, perhaps in a woollens drawer or in a blanket-filled box under the kitchen table. It has always been a dream of mine to wake up to a litter of kittens with their mewling, wriggling tight-eyed cuteness.

I am pausing here because, believe it or not, we now live in a country house. We do not have chickens because we have a dog that would eat them. But we do have a cat who is now pregnant.

Oh the joy! And slight panic, when I realised that there was probably more to having kittens born in your house than sweety, cutey fluffiness. My daughter and I have pledged to do some "research" together on Google tonight. She is seven, and has just discovered "research". She is very excited about the world of information that has suddenly opened up.

I thought I would share all of this for those of you have always had closet fantasies about woollen-drawer kitten births, but never had the opportunity to witness the reality of it. My Kitten Tales posts will document the progress of our adventure. I hope you, and your children, enjoy watching the story unfold!

You will be excited to know that you won't have long to wait! The vet has announced that the event could occur within a fortnight. So keep an close eye here to see how things proceed. If you don't want to miss an instalment, subscribe here to the posts!

An introduction, then, is necessary. This is Annie our mum-to-be, a $10 daughter of a stray. We think she is beautiful. (PS We think the dad is a ginger tom, who was found on our upstairs landing while we were away on holiday. It seems Annie had had a house guest).

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A Kim and Aggie Makeover

Every morning I check through my blogs and see photographs of beautiful made-over rooms by talented DIYers and amateur designers. I have, in the past, had a bad habit of moving the furniture around or painting walls different colours, while my husband has been out. Either that, I would plan the new layout, and wait for him to get home so he could move the furniture! It was all to satisfy my desire to give my belongings new life, perhaps to show off a neglected artwork, or create a new little world of style. I always find room makeovers energise me and get my creative juices flowing.

Unfortunately, rooms can only be madeover so often. So I find myself looking at other people's beautiful homes and feeling frustrated.

This morning, however, I had an idea. Kim and Aggie of How Clean is your House? work miracles on the most disgusting and depressing homes without buying a single piece of furniture, painting any walls, or adding accessories. All they use is a LOT of elbow grease, and a knack for sorting and organising to bring order and sparkle to people's homes. I have been amazed at how beautiful someone's home can look if it is loved, and arranged with a careful eye. When I walked into my bedroom last night, after an incredibly busy weekend most of which was spent away from home, I realised that I had the perfect setting for a Kim and Aggie makeover.

This is what it looked like first thing this morning.

Help for the peckish (or the craving pregnant)

Are you ever bored with the meals you have planned for the week? Perhaps you are pregnant and craving Pacific Northwest Barbeque, but you live in Norway. Well, there is help for the imagination, at least, over at Serious Eats. I have spent only a few minutes on the site so far, and already I am at serious risk of either a) spending the whole day drooling in front of my computer; or b) embarking on a cooking frenzy in my kitchen in order to satiate my heightened appetite for yummy-looking nosh.
Check it out here, but be warned.

Photograzing: Share Your Favorite Food Photos and Find Inspiration!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Go Gourmet on Tuesday

My husband and I work from home. This has its benefits. We have the full contents of our fridge available to us at any time. Of course this is also a disadvantage!!

We do miss having our lunch in the city, where there is such a range of take-out options and flavours to spice up the day when things are feeling routine. I know, however, that when we did work in the city we tended either to bring the same old sandwiches every day, or else go and buy the same old sandwich from the take-away!

This week I have decided to make lunches a little more interesting, to put a little effort into them and to sit down with my hubby at the kitchen table and eat together, even if it is just for twenty minutes.

I thought you might like a little inspiration, and a challenge too! So I have come up with Gourmet Tuesday! Now, all this takes is either a little planning, or a little creativity. Look what I came up with today...

Monday, 24 May 2010

When a photo comes out just right first time

Sometimes a random photograph, snapped during an afternoon of fun in the garden can become something that gets the mind dreaming. Those blues are just amazing.

Not Me! Monday

Mckmama- Not Me Monday

This morning I did not spend two hours on my computer instead of tidying a bomb-site of a house. I did not proceed to walk down to the tea shop and have cream scones and tea with my husband and mother-in-law. After that, I did not have lunch and then go shopping for food. Oh no, my life definitely does not revolve around eating. And I did not then lie down and have a nap, with the house still looking like a bomb-site. Oh no, not me. And I definitely did not put off exercise, housework, to-do list or anything else constructive, because I am not a procrastinator. No, not me. 

Monday Morning Mindfulness

Do you find yourself waking up on Monday Mornings with the weight of the world upon your shoulders? Perhaps it is because your mind and body have had a short break over the weekend, a little switch-off (hibernate), and on Monday Morning you reboot and load up all the stuff you should be thinking about in the week and your operating system has a hiccup.

That's what I felt like this morning anyway. I thought, seeing as Monday Mornings tend to do this to me, I will attempt a little routine of writing a more serious post first thing in the new week, to focus myself on something positive and constructive, something more eternal than, say, the laundry pile. (Although my laundry pile looks eternal most of the time).

This morning, I was mulling something over that has been on my mind for a while, and that is the importance of honouring others. Now this is something I am still THINKING about doing a lot, rather than managing to do. They do say that thoughts are a precursor to habits, and I do want to get into a habit of honouring people.


Thursday, 20 May 2010

How proud can one be of one's husband?

Ask me and I'll tell you!

Is it a boy or girl? I haven't got a clue. It will have to be Lime Green.

My latest project is a gift for a preggie friend who is not finding out the gender of her baby. The problem with this is that all the unisex gifts are white, or cream, and that's just so boring. I wanted to make something that matched the vibrant, fun and slightly zany personality of my friend. So I chose this free pattern from the fantastic free pattern-sharing site Ravelry, which I frequent far too often.

Perfect - something cute and modern, and quick too (don't ask me how many gifts have ended up unfinished in my bottom drawer because the baby grew too fast for me to keep up).

Then I needed to choose a colour. I wanted a yarn that was really special, preferably with cashmere (so that it had a luxury feel). I chose Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino - a supersoft cashmere, merino blend, which looks a lot like cotton when knitted up. I chose colour no. 25, lime green. And what goes better with that than orange! Perfect for a boy or girl.

So I am in the middle of knitting up the second shoe. This first one took me an evening to make. Check back for the final result soon!

P.S. Booties finished!! Here is the final result. I am super-pleased with them.

I can't wait to make this pouf.

Because we will be shipping our stuff to the United States in two months time, I have to restrain myself from making this gorgeous "pouf" (excuse my French). I have a pile of assorted fabrics that my mum-in-law collected over time from various sources and then handed over to me (much to my excitement). I have sorted them into colours that match, and have been looking for projects that will compliment the variety of colours and fabrics.

I keep them in this gorgeous wicker picnic basket, which I will have to leave behind (sob) because of customs rules.

The tutorial can be found at Design*Sponge. Now I just have to be patient...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Continuing on the yummy theme

Today I made Broccolli and Stilton soup for lunch. Mainly because I love it, and I felt like it. Also because it is incredibly filling, you don't even need bread with it. And it makes enough for the rest of the week. The recipe is incredibly simple. It is a variation on Nigella Lawson's version in her book Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast.

Stilton is the quintessential British cheese (alright, I know there are die-hard Wensleydale fans, and some may even champion cheddar). It is the Roquefort of England. I love it because it is creamy enough to ofset the bitter taste of the blue veins running through it.

Now that I think about it, I must try a new recipe with British sausages (Cumberland, or perhaps Lincolnshire), tossed with steamed in-season broccolli and crumbled Stilton. Who says British food can't be fabulous!

Post a comment, and I will send you the recipe for this gorgeous and easy (yes five minutes total cooking!) soup.

A Morning in the Life of... and a much-needed confession

This is how my life goes most mornings, but as you'll see a little later on in my morning I made a decision.

Woke up and prayed with my family - here (note pink fluffy blankets)

Had crumpets and maple syrup, and fresh Americano coffee for breakfast (made with our special stove-top espresso maker)

Got kids dressed and ready for school
Enjoyed peace and quiet while reading my daily blog feeds

More coffee, shower, clean up kitchen, sit down to my computer. (This is the view from my workspace)

Get hungry.
Decide to make new yoghurt cake recipe my mum sent me.

Just mix everything in one big bowl and put into cake tin or alternatively makes about 24-25 cupcakes.
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups sugar (I use about 1 1/2 cups)
3 cups self-raising flour
pinch of salt
3 extra large eggs
1 tspn vanilla
mix together with beater until smooth.
180 degrees for about 45 mins  (usually little less) or about 20 mins for cupcakes

Why is it that, no matter how hard I try, I can't manage to make cupcakes without a mess?

Now, with a fresh cupcake (no frosting because I ran out of icing sugar) and a cup of tea, I will tell you the decision I made.

I have been reading a lot of what I would call "creative" blogs for the last few weeks and they are all beautiful. Each might have a different focus, such as parenting, photography, fashion, interior design, craft. I find them inspiring, but I was reminded this morning of something important.

It read the blog Stuff Christians Like. It challenged me to write more.

You may have noticed (and this is the confession) that I have been posting a lot of short posts with pictures and links. This is because I have had serious bloggers block, and did not have anything to say. So in essence I was being lazy. The thing with pictures (very image-heavy blogs) is that they don't take any mental work, or brain-power to appreciate. You look at it, you get inspired, and it's done. Reading a blog, absorbing the ideas and perhaps critiquing them, takes more time, more mental energy. And yet that is the kind of blog I want to write. 

So, my decision is that I will try to step up to the plate on this one. I have had a few weeks of experimenting with my blog, and now I am going to try and make it my very own instead of a clone of other creative blogs. That is dangerous because I might lose all my readers! But I am tired of trying to create something that looks like a thousand others.

Don't worry, I will still post pictures! But I will attempt to get my brain bubbling again and put some thoughts down as well.

Thanks for your patience while my blog personality matures!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Get your Craft On!

If you make things at home (secretly or in public) and would like to feel part of a wider community as well as getting some really exciting ideas, or if you don't make things but wish you could, then every Tuesday Get Your Craft On at todayscreativeblog. Its a great place to see things that real people are making in real time, as well as share what you are making with people who really appreciate it (unlike your family who just pretend to appreciate it!)

Monday, 17 May 2010

Not Me! Monday!

Welcome to Not Me! Monday! This blog carnival was created by MckMama. You can head over to My Charming Kids blog to read what she and everyone else have not been doing this week.

I definitely did not allow my husband to do all the laundry this weekend without helping him. Not me! I did not neglect to make my son practice his spelling, and he definitely did not get 2 out of 12.

I certainly did not pour double cream on both of my meals today, no Not Me!

And I didn't allow my children to play Wii tonight on a school night, because I was too tired to do other more practical things with them. Not me!

Italian Dinner Party

I had a blast this weekend, preparing an enormous meal for friends on Saturday night. I planned this two weeks in advance using my amazing Food of Italy cookbook which is an authentic guide to Italian cooking, with gorgeous photography thrown in.

 I am also lucky to have a Waitrose supermarket nearby, which is committed to high-quality, fresh produce and unusual cooking ingredients. So I could arrive there knowing full-well they would have fennel bulbs, aubergine, a rack of pork, porcini mushrooms, fresh chorizo sausage, Parmiggiano Reggiano, etc.

This is the menu I planned:


Red Peppers stuffed with Mozarella
Chargrilled Fresh English Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto
Scallops and Chorizo 
Grilled Marinaded Aubergine on Bruchetta
Cherry tomatoes with Basil and Balsamic Vinegar

Second Course

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Meat Course

Roast Rack of Pork with Fennel


Italian Pear Tart with Marscapone Cream

Coffee with Chocolate Biscotti

Suffice to say, we were all stuffed full at the end of the meal. It was such fun to make, and even better to eat. Here are some photos during preparation. If you want to know what the end product looks like, you'll have to buy the cookbook!

Chargrilling the aubergines

Chocolate biscotti cooling by the window

Beautiful ciabatta ready for toasting

Friday, 14 May 2010

Great idea for a kitchen herb garden (on a window-sill)

Design*Sponge has once again got me thinking about projects for my kitchen. I like the way this one uses up old bottles. I am going to try it using 2l water bottles (in green) inside themselves. Yes I know this sounds complicated but wait till I have done it and I'll post pictures. In the meantime, they do it a more complicated way with glass bottles.

It sure looks pretty! Here are the instructions.

A great Australian Photo

Having recently returned from five weeks in Australia, the nostaglia has set in so I really enjoyed photos posted today on The Sartorialist. This one is what I would call a typical Australian scene (but that's only my opinion).

Blogger Stripped Bare

Little Miss Emma tells me its Bloggers Without Makeup day. Read her post about it - I am definitely of the blogging school of thought that embraces honesty rather than perfection. I wonder if I can go one step further and do Bloggers In Pyjamas day. Well lets see what kind of photograph I can come up with.

Here I am in my pink pyjamas.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I love to look like a fifties girl

I have always wanted to buy vintage-inspired clothes that didn't cost the earth. Well, I seem to be the last person to hear about Modcloth. Their newest additions are pretty pricey, but theres some good affordable fashion on there, and it is such a beauty of a website.

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