Friday, 28 September 2012

It's late September...



... and I really can't stop humming 'Maggie May'.

Here are some other things I'm thinking of:
:: This incredible cake ^, Sweet Paul's Apple Pie Sugar recipe, and perhaps a seasonal cocktail...
:: Jane Brocket and her magical quilts, crochet ripple blankets, and knitted apron. Could I learn enough crochet to make this?
:: Planning something very exciting with two absurdly creative friends. Shhh!
:: Lionheart magazine, October issue. Hurry UP...
:: A new winter coat.
:: Hi-tops. I've shortlisted - Isabel Marant-style Topshop boots, classic Converse with a shearling surprise, or Bensimon Sneakys?
:: I'm listening to something old and something new, both equally melodic and magical.
:: Holidays. Hot climates - Morocco, Santorini, Cuba (a girl can dream). The Northern Lights. And a little closer to home - Feather Down Farm Holidays, canal boat holidays, and that chalet in Devon. I've always wanted to hire a narrowboat...

What are you dreaming of as October looms?

I haven't forgotten - I'll announce those giveaway winners soon, I promise.

Happy weekending <3

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This is a sponsored post.


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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A place to work


Been jiggling things around to allow for a small space to work at home, things are changing round here. Looks a little bare at the moment, but I'm sure I'll have stacks of paper on there soon enough. Plus, much as I love that Bertoia chair, it definitely needs a cushion.

Do you have an office space at home? What makes for an inspiring place to work, do you think?

Psst... don't forget the giveaway! Not long now...
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Sunday, 23 September 2012

September scooting





Saturday was a day for scooting in the sunshine. All this hanging around the skate park has made me covet a pair of hi-top trainers (concerned I'm too old for them prompted a quick review among my Facebook friends and I've been encouraged to dip a toe). Any recommendations for brands or styles? I don't know where to start...

And I need a bodywarmer too (everyone else in the family has one!). Thinking about dipping a toe into the world of eco-fashion to see whether I can find something warm, stylish, and ethical.

Have a happy, stormy week.
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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Joules Autumn Collection plus GIVEAWAY!



Joules, purveyors of eccentric British country fashion, recently announced their Autumn collection featuring plenty of animal and bird motifs, including the flying duck cardie and top illustrated above - a cheeky nod to British fifties style which I love. As well as beautiful soft knitwear, they have a whole array of animal prints on blouses and dresses - I've got my eye on a foxy jumper (£69.95) plus warm women's coats, and a lovely chunky cable knitted cardigan (£129). And I'm rather partial to the muck boots (£79.95) - perfect for the impending cold weather... (I do not intend to do any mucking out, mind you).

The lovely people at Joules have given me £100 worth of prizes to give away - 10 floral A5 journals worth £10 each for ten lucky winners.

*** THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED ***
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This is a sponsored post.
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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Snapshot: Brothers





My boys. I've lost count of the number of times I hear those blood-curdling screams followed by wailing and crying, when one commits some misdemeanor or another. Daily mediation is required and I spend half my life as a negotiator, recovering toy ransoms and returning them to their rightful owner.

But when they're kind to each other, words cannot express what an amazing site it is to behold.

When one is hurt, the other checks to make sure he's ok. There are a lot of hugs and kisses. They look out for each other. A says T is his best friend, and T calls out for him 'Ya-ya!!!' . They miss one another when they're apart. They make each other laugh like no other. And they make my heart so happy.

This is what it's all about. Sometimes I forget, but I need to remember.
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Saturday, 15 September 2012

A tiger came to tea

From 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' by Judith Kerr

This was our house last night. My husband went to a conference so was away for two evenings and a day, not long, not as long as last time, but long enough for everything to go awry. Instead of daddy suggesting sausages, chips and ice cream at a cafe, mummy took everyone to tea at Wagamama. And then she came home and put the kids to bed and drank wine and didn't tidy the house at all. 

Much as we love this book in our house, there are elements I find somewhat disturbing. The reference to 'Daddy's beer', mainly. I love the page when daddy comes home from work - he cuts rather a Don Draper-esque figure, don't you think? - but the page where Sophie and her mummy explain what happened is just bizarre. The perspective is completely off, a tiny mother hysterically waving her arms at a double-sized daddy in the foreground. 

There are many different readings of this book on the internet: it's about escaping from Nazi Germany (as Judith Kerr's family did); the mother is an alcoholic; the tiger represents the danger of female desire. But by far my favourite, and the one I rely on a lot, is the feminist reading: Sophie's mummy couldn't be bothered to tidy/shop/cook and so she made up a story about a tiger. That's the tiger who comes to our house too.

Where are the books with mummy coming home from work? Mummy's beer and supper waiting for her? I found an interesting programme about this very issue, discussing the nostalgia for old fashioned books being read to children who cannot make sense of them in a modern world. It's here if you'd like to listen. Don't miss Anne Fine's closing line, which I will be making use of next time I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea.



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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Bootcamp

Pregnancy was one long excuse to eat cake, as far as I was concerned. A few months after T was born, I weighed myself. It was bad, worse than I thought. I was technically obese, with a BMI of 31. Over the course of a year, I managed to lose 2 and a half stone using this calorie counting site/app. It wasn't always easy but it was fairly straightforward, and I had a steely determination to do it.

Since then, for the past year, I've been gaining and losing the same 4 or 5 pounds (probably due to my well-documented love of cake), and it seemed like something different had to happen. So I've been setting my alarm for 6am, three times a week, and heading to our local park for bootcamp - 45 minutes of circuit training. It's been tough but also (weirdly) enjoyable. 

I weighed myself yesterday and I'm back in the healthy weight range - hooray! I don't recognise the person who is actively choosing to get up early and do press ups, squats and burpees (yuck) in all weathers, but I am quite proud of her.
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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Snapshot: Lazy weekending






The sun came out so we just lazed. Think that last injection of sunshine has helped me over my grumpy autumn hurdle. How was your weekend?
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From the top:
1. Dahlias - grown and bought locally
2. A day for caking
3. Elevenses al fresco - pink milk on the menu (it's all about Charlie & Lola in our house at the moment)
4. Tea on the lawn
5. Tiny fingers
6. Sunny breakfast for my beau
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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Simplify


















































Our house. Beautiful but messy. Cluttered, and a muddle. More and more we've been talking about paring down to the basics. Using just 2 or 3 colours throughout the entire house, unifying the rooms, keeping it clean and simple.

But where to start? Been flicking through my favourite interiors books - the Baileys are the best - and madly pinning the sort of thing we're hoping to achieve (we've both decided the pic above is the one we love most). It'll be a long, long road before we're anywhere near that level of understated, simple beauty, but I hope we'll get there eventually.

Starting small is always a good idea. With that in mind we're clearing the kitchen of all the mismatched crockery, the broken cutlery, the unread cookery books. And going back to basics. Today I ordered an entire cupboard's worth of Duralex glasses in two sizes. I love the idea of there being only the option of which size is needed.

I also ordered this book - Timeless Simplicity: Creative Living in a Consumer Society - which made my husband laugh a lot. I am not known for my restraint, the children less so (total maximalists). But I'm trying... We've all had enough of the piles and piles of junk everywhere.

Do you live simply? How do you manage the day-to-day detritus? I'd love to hear your tips. And have you seen The Simple Things? A beautiful new magazine dedicated to just this kind of ethos.
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A note: Ecover sent me a lovely parcel containing all the products from their new range, Ecover ZERO. As I live in a house full of eczema sufferers, it's exactly what we need - the range is fragrance free, allergy approved and suitable for those with sensitive skin. Simple.

The washing up liquid worked well, although quite a lot of product was required to wash a full sink's worth of dishes. We particularly liked the laundry liquid as clothes nearest sensitive skin need to be itch-free - this did the job. It took a while to get used to the non-scentedness of both products, but once we got our head round that we were sold. Thanks Ecover!


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Friday, 7 September 2012

I like London in the rain


Last week we realised the new school year was looming large on the horizon and so tried to cram in as many exciting things as we could muster. On Wednesday, we surprised ourselves with quite how organised we could be and as soon as the kids were up we launched into the car and off down the M4, packed breakfasts(!) at the ready. Instead of driving into central London to park, we booked a spot with a brilliant website (parkatmyhouse.com) and left the car just by Turnham Green tube, hopped on the District line and were at the Natural History Museum by 10.15am. (This is sooooo unlike us, we're normally late, disorganised, and harrassed.)

The boys loved the dinosaurs, although that T Rex gave us all the heebie jeebies. As a museum, it's one of my favourites - it's just so archetypically museum-y, isn't it? Perfect. Lunch then a quick race through the Science Museum, and we were on our way again.

Years ago I spent a bit of time working in television in London and used to make the very same journey east. Emerging from Westminster station never got old - you land almost in the lap of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben looming over you and Waterloo Bridge is right there, inviting you to cross the Thames. It's tourist heaven. A loved it, especially hearing Big Ben chime as we walked over the water towards the London Eye.

In late 2010 we spent a few days in London for my birthday but heavy snow made our visit pretty torturous and meant many of the things we wanted to do were impossible. The London Eye was one of these, and A was desperate to go up. The view is awesome, even on a grey, drizzly day.

Next, we met up with some of our best friends and visited Tate Modern for the Damien Hirst exhibition. I've been preoccupied with the idea of taking A to see the show all summer - it seemed like the perfect thing to start all sorts of conversations about art. His favourite work was the shark (there aren't many opportunities in life to eyeball a shark) but the butterfly room was pretty amazing too.

I remember visiting London as a child with my father. We'd go to the Design Museum, the Conran Shop, Bibendum, the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory - all experiences that shaped our lives and the people we became. Something so endearing about a capital city, and I hope to be able to instill the same excitement for all London has to offer in my children too.

The best part of the day? Late on, the sun came out and we strolled along the south bank eating ice creams. A man had made a giant bubble maker from sticks and rope, and the kids were enchanted by the HUGE bubbles he was producing, racing down the pavement after them. Bit magical.

I found myself singing 'I like London in the rain' by Blossom Dearie all day long (apart from when we crossed Waterloo Bridge at sunset). If you don't know it have a listen. One of my best friends put it on a London compilation for me years ago, which started a bit of an obsession with Blossom Dearie culminating in us seeing her live in New York. It was pretty special. Her version of 'Manhattan' is sumptuous, and look out for her funny songs too - 'I'm hip' and 'Rhode Island is famous for you' are both chock full of witty words in the vein of Cole Porter.

I've just done a search to find her website to link to and have discovered that she died in 2009, not long after we saw her play. Very sad. She was such an amazing musician with an incredible back catalogue. Plus, born with the best name in the business, no?

 
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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Recipe: Plum and Earl Grey jam




By special request. After my last recipe (plum & almond cake) I had lots of requests in the comments and by email to share my plum & earl grey jam recipe. So here it is.

Ingredients:
450g plums, stoned and quartered
100g caster sugar (you can use jam sugar but I'm not entirely convinced it's necessary)
1 lemon, juiced
1 Earl Grey tea bag
250ml water

1. Make a pot of tea using the tea bag and water. Leave it to brew for at least 15 minutes - you need it to be undrinkably strong. 
2. Place all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to a moderate boil. 
3. Simmer gently for about half an hour. Observe the beautiful jewel-like colours developing in your pan.
4. Test the jam using Nigella's clever saucer method (test a teaspoonful on a cold saucer, place in fridge for 30 seconds, if the jam wrinkles when pushed by a finger the jam is set. If not repeat this process every 5 minutes until the jam wrinkles.)
5. Remove from the heat, then carefully pour the jam into sterilised jars (4 or so should do it, and I normally run jam jars through the dishwasher before drying them in a low oven - do this while the jam is cooking, removing your jar just before you need it.)
6. Seal, label and store. If your jam is reasonably well set you can leave it for quite some time - I have a jar a year old that's still good. Less well set jams should be stored in the fridge and eaten quickly.

If you like this, you'll love Morfudd Richards' recipe for Plum & Earl Grey ice cream, from her wonderful book 'Lola's Ice Creams & Sundaes'. You might also like Heidi Swanson's recipe for Rosewater Plum Compote - delicious.
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I should say: this recipe wasn't my invention. I wrote it down from somewhere a few years back but cannot recall the original source. If it's yours, please let me know and I will, of course, give full credit. 
Also, I spent hours searching for nice, non-twee jam label printables - thanks (once again) Martha Stewart for these gloriously understated numbers which I modified slightly.
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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Recipe: Plum & almond cake with rosewater icing


One of the reasons we fell in love with our house was the garden, with its fig, apple and plum trees. I think the plum variety is Jubilee, but she's a temperamental old thing and in recent years has flowered and fruited biennially. 

This year has been a fallow year. Usually by now I'd have made endless jars of jam (my favourite recipe being plum and earl grey), ice cream, crumbles, compote, and cake after cake after cake - anything to use up the vast quantities that fill every bowl we own.. But I've been more selective this year, buying just a few to eat or use as we choose rather than out of necessity.

Having said that, I've made this cake three times this week, tweaking the recipe a bit here and there until it's just about perfect. Plums seem to take on a different personality depending on what you put them with - I do love a versatile fruit - and my favourite combination is plum and rose. I have a lovely recipe for plum and rose jam, which'll have to be put away for next year. Meanwhile, this cake is an excellent way to use up the last of the crop and works equally well with plums of all varieties and in all states of ripeness. 

Plum & Almond Cake with Rosewater Icing

Ingredients:
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, beaten
125g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp salt
30g ground almonds
4 plums (approx 250-300g), stoned and chopped
2 tbsp flaked almonds
100g unrefined icing sugar
1 tbsp rosewater
1 tbsp warm water

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter and line a loaf tin (I use shop-bought loaf tin liners. Much quicker).
2. Cream together the butter and the sugar until pale and creamy, then mix in the lemon zest.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and salt, then mix in the ground almonds.
4. Mix the eggs into the butter/sugar in thirds - a third of the egg mixture with a small spoon of the flour mixture, a third more eggs, more flour etc.
5. When all blended together, stir in the plums.
6. Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin, smooth the top, then scatter over the flaked almonds.
7. Bake for 50-55 minutes, testing with a skewer for doneness (I love that word). Return to the oven if a skewer comes out sticky.
8. When cooked, put the tin on a rack to cool for 20 minutes before taking the loaf out of the tin.
9. Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. In a cup, mix together the rosewater and the warm water, and gradually add this to the icing sugar. Stir until you have a smooth, quite runny icing.
10. Pour or drizzle the icing over the loaf and leave to set.
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