Thursday, 30 May 2013

Spring food and friends

This time of year offers such treats. Asparagus is our main May indulgence: steamed with soft-boiled eggs; chopped up bite-size in sparky, citrus risotto; char-grilled and tender in salads like this one, above. I'd love to share the recipe but it's one for the book and so TOP SECRET until this time next year.

Last Friday, we held a dinner for six friends. These beautiful radishes weren't for the salad; instead, they were purely decorative, sitting neatly atop each napkin as a little hello to our friends and to Spring herself. We ate Middle-Eastern salads from great platters; couscous studded with almonds, raisins and coconut; halloumi and figs. The table was set with candles, lilacs, tulips. I even made ice-cream - milk, honey and cinnamon ice-cream, from this wonderful Tessa Kiros recipe.

It was all good. Mostly because our friends made it great; 'celebrating the experience of eating well with the people you love', as this fantastically beautiful book so eloquently puts it.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

One of the family

If this table could talk, it would tell tales of family meals, of discussions and rows, love and laughter. It would speak of homework, baking, games, and drawing. It could describe me, my brother, and my parents in more detail than we ever could each other, and at every age.

This table will now see my children grow up, and us grow into middle age. After a period in the wilderness, it's back in the fold; reunited. And will stay with us now. Second generation, back in its rightful place.

The beating heart.

More and more, I find nostalgia becoming a huge part of my thoughts and therefore my writing. Is it seeing these children of mine growing up? Maybe. Incidentally, I've just filed my copy for Lionheart 4, the theme of which is Shapes. My piece is dripping with nostalgic memories and a touch of melancholia. Should be out in a month or so... 


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Nature in the home: pink

On Saturday morning I spotted this bright bloom in the flower bed, its head drooping down to the earth. I thought one of the kids had snapped the stem while playing so I brought it inside. Turns out there was a heavy snail hiding inside weighing the tulip head down. Snail relocated, a glass milk bottle vase was all that was needed.

Sometimes the simple things are the best.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A perfect morning

It doesn't happen often, does it? The kids are happy, no-one is crying/whinging/hungry/tired, and everyone is up for some fun. But this is what happened on Saturday morning.

I've written before (briefly) about T's speech delay, caused by a bad case of glue ear. We were on the list for grommets but a recent check-up showed T's hearing had improved enough for this intervention to be unnecessary now. The speech delay and other issues remain, however, and will for a while, I guess. T's nursery could not be more brilliant with him, and recently told us they'd spotted his interest in 'envelopment' - a play schema which manifests as an interest in hiding, covering, filling, burying, wrapping, enclosing, volume and capacity. So, to reinforce this interest, Saturday morning was spent at our pretend birthday party.

First, we made playdough cakes topped with real candles that were lit and blown out numerous times. Balloons were blown up and glow stick necklaces fashioned. We played hide-and-seek, musical statues, and pass-the-parcel (using a set of stacking sandwich boxes instead of wrapping paper). We made cards, ate Welsh cakes and drank chocolate milk from little bottles with straws. T loved it. And when my boy is happy, I'm happy.

If I were a better blogger, I'd have taken loads of beautiful photographs documenting this glorious morning. Instead, I chose to play (and you get a rather messy table pic!).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nature in the home: a forage

I get a little giddy at this time of year, what with all the new blooms coming out to play. On Sunday, A and I went on a road trip to pick up some furniture. On the way, he needed the loo so we stopped in a little lay-by where I couldn't resist pinching a few stems of cow parsley for this week's Nature in the home forage.

Simplicity itself, I love the way they sit quietly in an old apothecary jar up on the mantelpiece, next to a new (old) mirror with just the right amount of foxing to the glass.

I was lucky enough to be the recipient of lovely Lou's May Day tradition, when I opened the front door to find this beautiful little jar of sweet flowers hanging from the door knob. Thank you Lou!

Don't forget to link up to Project Simplify this month - 3 days remain.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Recipe: Chocolate-dipped strawberries

On Friday I held a one-week-old baby called Dot. She did an excellent job of making me completely broody. Those twinkly dark eyes! That lovely mop of black hair! Oh, newborn babies are really something special. Made my boys seem like GIANTS.

I wanted to make something for my friend to eat, and tried to think my way back to those early days and what my tastebuds would've wanted. I settled on chocolate-dipped strawberries - fresh, healthy, and thirst-quenching, but a little bit special too.

800g strawberries
300g chocolate (I used half dark and half milk - I like the semi-sweetness of this blend)

Method (clockwise from top left):
1. Wash
2. Dry
3. Melt
4. Dip

I am being facetious but it really isn't very complicated. It's important to dry the strawberries thoroughly as water left under the chocolate layer will make the strawberries go a bit runny. The melting stage is over a double boiler or a bowl over (but not touching) a pan of boiling water. It's very easy - just dip the strawberry into the chocolate mixture and twizzle around a bit until it no longer drips. Then place on a tray covered with parchment or baking paper. You could put them in the fridge for an hour or so to cool, but no longer than that or little beads of moisture form on the chocolate. Any leftover chocolate could be poured into a chocolate or ice cube mould.

These really are the perfect summer treat.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Project Simplify: April's spring clean

This post has been a long time coming, mainly because our simple spring clean turned into something much bigger than I anticipated.

Back in this post I talked about how we were going to sort through the boys' toys. We did that: weeded out the broken toys and games and chucked them out, took an enormous bag of no-longer-needed bits and bobs to the charity shop, gave a few things away. But we also did something we've been talking about for ages. We put the boys in a bedroom together.

My formative interiors years were spent watching far too many episodes of Changing Rooms, a programme I blame entirely for my spur-of-the-moment decision-making and my skewed idea of what can be achieved in a short space of time. I get an idea in my head, don't really think it through, take everything apart, and then I usually sit in the midst of a deconstructed room with tears in my eyes, wondering why, oh why did I start this?

Exactly this happened about a month back, when I suggested to A that he and T share a bedroom. We took beds apart, shifted furniture around, wondered how to fit two into one. While all the while, in the back of my mind, jumping for joy at the thought of us having our master bedroom back. It's a long story but we've been in the attic for the past two years and it's not exactly the nicest bedroom you could imagine.

Anyway, it's all sorted now, as you can see from the photos above. We have an IKEA canopy bed with A on top and T below, two separate chests of drawers for their clothes (clothes sorting! There's another month's challenge), two little glass-fronted cabinets for their special things, and a giant IKEA Trofast shelving unit where pull-out plastic tubs contain toys and games, and shelves house their ever-growing book collection. We found a few clever tips on Pinterest, like keeping jigsaw puzzles in individual ziplock bags, and we installed a couple of those picture ledges for knick-knacks, and an Eames Hang it all for shirts, coats, and dinosaur costumes.

It's working out ok so far. We still need to think about heat loss - time for double glazed windows perhaps. We've had our fair share of late nights and early mornings, plus one episode of sickness, but, mainly, the boys love it. Do your kids share a room? How do you maximise sleep?

So, how did you get on with your own project simplify attempts? Leave a link below and tell us all about it.

New month, new project coming up soon.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Raven and the Writing Desk

I've always wanted to be part of a food fight. You know, proper grabbing grub off the plate and lobbing it across the room stuff. Never did I see myself chucking carrots around a basement full of back-combed bunny rabbits, while drinking carrot juice poured from cocktail shakers into martini glasses. But that is what happened on Sunday night, when Alice and I went to The Raven and the Writing Desk.

We arrived at 6 prompt, just as instructed, and a rather spiffing White Rabbit dressed in tweeds took our names and told us to wait. The queues began. One look at his pocket watch and the Rabbit sent us flying into the Milk Thistle. The darkness inside made us blink, while masked bunnies directed us up two flights of stairs where we emerged, wide-eyed and enchanted, at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. With tables and armchairs arranged around the room, we sat sipping a mysterious ginger drink. The Hatter handed round our starter: a teacup of salmon mousse (or goats cheese for vegetarians), beetroot and orange with a charcoal crostini. Dainty and delicate, this course was the perfect, gentle introduction to an evening of mayhem ahead.

A few Mad Hatter magic tricks later, and we were whooshed back down the stairs and into a dark, wood-panelled room. At the head of a long table stood a fearsome Queen of Hearts. One diner pulled her chair out ready to sit down and was bellowed at by the red Queen, who was accompanied by her husband and a rather sorrowful flamingo, mourning the loss of her own husband (beheaded by you-know-who and turned into a hot pink feather duster). Here, we ate rabbit (or wild mushroom and garlic) pie with baby carrot: the plate looked picture-book perfect and tasted just as good. After a final fill of the Queen and her charms, we were again summoned by the Rabbit and the smiley Cheshire Cat: a rather charming pinstriped fella hailing from Cheshire, Connecticut.

Down again we went to the world of Tweedledum and Tweedledee: a pair of naughty schoolchildren in the St Trinian's vein, all scuffed knees and wonky plaits. Chilled tomato gazpacho with nettle and chive bread and a pecorino biscuit awaited us; the soup deliciously robust and served in individual lidded jars, the bread and biscuit providing the perfect texture and richness to go with it. 'Dum and 'Dee threw paper aeroplanes, challenged us to chess, and generally made a nuisance of themselves, while those bunnies from before snuffled and hopped about, offering nibbles of carrot, and making mischief.

And then, the food fight. It really was as fun as I'd always hoped a food fight to be. More so, in fact. By this time, our inhibitions were down, we were fully immersed in the world of Wonderland. The attention to detail evident in every single aspect of this magical evening made the event something so special: carrots, half chewed and scattered on the staircase; playing cards pinned to vegetarians to signal their status; giant flowers adorning the Hatter's tea party; plastercast hands reaching up from the Queen's dining table.

When all the lettuce had been lobbed, we made our way back up the stairs for the finale. Our Very Merry Unbirthday Brownie, presented on cakestands and handed round by those naughty twins, gave our tastebuds one final surprise (a secret I think I'll keep). And, music turned up high, we drank and danced with the cast of wonderful characters who'd made our evening such a rare treat. No-one wanted to leave. Real life is really very dull once you've been down the rabbit hole.

Just a few tickets remain for The Raven and the Writing Desk on Sunday 5 May, £45. Book now.
All photographs taken by Alice Hendy and used with kind permission.
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