Friday, 29 June 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via SouleMama.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Apple and Banana Loaf

Feeding children is a tricky one.

Angus refuses to eat any fresh fruit other than bananas. I've tried everything and consistently offered him a selection of delicious and seasonal (and often expensive - blueberries cost a fortune!) fruit since he was a baby, but he's having none of it. So I have to get creative and make cakes and muffins and smoothies and ice lollies that contain fruit but in a way that he doesn't realise. Others may scoff at this and say, well, if you do that he'll never eat fresh fruit, will he? That is your opinion and I respect it, but this is what works for us. Fussy toddlers can really take the joy out of cooking and you have to do what works for your family and keeps you sane.

I really like this cake, from Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen. Lots of versions of this cake abound on the internet - if you google it you are sure to find the recipe or one similar. It is a winner for so many reasons. It uses up fruit that is soft and overripe; it is quite low in butter and sugar; the bananas are full of energy so it makes a good snack; it is quick and very, very easy to make. But my favourite reason is that it tastes so good - moist and nutmeggy and sweet. And it is a good recipe for apples that have been bashed around in a lunchbox once too often.

I also discovered that you can use frozen bananas in this quite happily and it tastes just as good. If I have too many overripe bananas to use, I freeze them as they are in their skins. A few hours before I want to use them, I take them from the freezer and let them defrost at room temperature (I wouldn't risk trying to defrost them in the microwave). They look revolting. They go completely black and the inside of the banana turns to liquid.

Gingerly peel them into a bowl, while trying not to be put off by the unattractive wormy appearance...

...then mash. Once mashed, they look just the same as they would have done anyway, and they cook just as well. (Please tell me that this is not the behaviour of a mad woman! I just really hate throwing food away...)

Enjoy! If anyone has any tips for feeding fruit to fussy, stubborn three year olds, then I would love to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Pottering in the Garden

Fair weather gardener that I am, sunshine means gardening time. We've had a great deal of rain this month, but not much sun. The garden is looking very lush and green, but not much has flowered yet.

The foxgloves are flourishing. I planted them behind the apple tree last summer, in a place that was very hard for the kids to get too.

My sweet peas have taken well and grown almost to the top of their little frame, but no flowers yet (hurry up, hurry up!).

The annuals I planted back in April are starting to bloom.

I spotted some very cheap plants outside the local greengrocers for £1.50 each, so bought a few things for some instant colour in the garden.

Angus helped me. I am finally learning that if I just accept he will make a huge mess and sweep up all the compost afterwards, then we are all happy.

And now some pretty new flowers sit outside the kid's playhouse. It has a little window box which needs some attention, but I want to plant that with Bella, as I know she will get a real kick out of choosing and planting the plants.*

We had a really beautiful sunset a couple of nights ago. It's still light until so late in the evening, it's lovely. The night before last, I was woken at 3.30am by Angus muttering in his sleep. Thinking he might wake, I got out of bed and went and listened on the landing. The bathroom door was wide open and, in my bleary eyed state, I noticed the beginnings of a dawn sky through the bathroom window. But I did not run downstairs for the camera, sorry, I went back to bed like any sane person would!

*I just asked Bella what she'd like to plant in the window box and she said "Pink...yellow...and purple...and red. Some sunflowers. And white ones." Ok then.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

IKEA Fatigue

IKEA. It's not you, it's me. I am feeling claustrophobic. We've been seeing too much of each other and I need to take a break.

I have been to IKEA four times in eight days. The Saturday before last - a lamp. Tuesday - curtains. Wednesday - a tv cabinet. Sunday - exchange the new tv cabinet which, upon opening the box, turned out to be scratched and dented.

I really like IKEA. Scandinavian design, value for money, meatballs - these are all good things in my book. I even quite like assembling flat pack furniture. But I think I have reached my limit. 

One corner of our front room was strangely absent when I showed your our newly decorated room last week. The tv corner. I have yet to see a tv cabinet that looks good. I think televisions, and most electrical equipment for that matter, are ugly and a necessary but unattractive part of modern life. This is what we had before:

This tangle of wires is the after photo - see how John lovingly labelled each plug?

And this is our new tv cabinet. The doors either side roll up to reveal (or, more importantly, hide) games consoles, DVD players, etc. Actually, I really like it. I like the colour, the mid-century design influence, the handles that remind me of my grandparent's G-Plan furniture. If it didn't have a television sitting on top of it, it would look quite nice.

I dug out my Meakin Poppies tea set, purchased for £10 in a charity shop a few years ago. I like the way it looks on top of the cabinet. If I stare hard enough, and ignore the huge television (can you believe that John thinks this tv is "too small"???) I can pretend it is a beautiful, retro sideboard.

While I'm rambling, thank you ever so much for your kind comments and love for the grey paint and new room. Do you share my tv cabinet dilemmas? What is the solution, I wonder. Maybe one with doors? Curtains? No television at all *shudders*?

Have a lovely day everyone, and thank you again for being here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake

Rain, rain, rain. It's enough to get even the happiest girl down. We did have a brief flirtation with summer at the start of the week - not paddling pool weather, no, but warm-ish and sunny-ish and pleasant. But the rain and wind have returned with a vengeance. Many areas nearby have been flooded, although thankfully where we live is quite high, so we are ok.

You've got to make your own sunshine when it's this gloomy. On Thursday night, it was my turn to host book group. We had read The Great Gatsby and, to recreate some Gatsy-esque decadence, (and while laughingly pretending it was summer) we drank Pimms and then Prosecco.

Yesterday, after getting soaked on the school run, then sitting damply through school assembly while Angus misbehaved, I got home and made a pot of coffee and two lemon syrup loaf cakes*, from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I must've baked this recipe a hundred times. It is quick, easy, always works and, most  importantly, always tastes good. Everyone likes it. If baking is required for some event or stall or fair, I always make one of these. I adore the smell of lemons when you zest them. 

And this morning I made a butternut squash, spinach and spaghetti bake. It is a brilliant recipe but one that requires your full attention and every pan in the kitchen. I made two, one for us and one for a friend. Remember how when someone has a baby we organise a meal rota? Well the pasta bake and one of the cakes cake is for a lovely lady who, after many years and a long hard journey, has a son (they also have a beautiful six year old daughter). I am so happy for her. I am off now to take the food round and hopefully say hello to the new addition to their family. What are you all up to this weekend? 

Oh look, it's just rained on my washing.


*The full recipe is on Nigella's website here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via soulemama.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A (Nearly) Finished Front Room

The front room is tidy. And clean. So I have taken photos. I had to physically ban the children from the room for the pictures - they only have to walk into a room for things to magically untidy themselves behind them. Does that happen to anyone else? Please tell me they grow out of it. This is where someone tells me that teenagers are messier than toddlers. 

This room is gratifyingly toy-free as we have a sort of play room area (which we all still call the "extension", even though we built the extension three years ago) with a sofa and tv and lots of toys, and the kids spend most of their time in there during the day.

The sofa is in situ and I am delighted to report that is it marvelously comfortable. We are loving the charcoal grey colour and the comfort and the look of it, and well all of it really.

We found some lovely ready made curtains (I say we - it was John) in IKEA for only £30. I think that is a terrific bargain (she says, lying back on her new sofa with a glass of champagne in one hand). They aren't lined but I like the light and airy look of them, and the wiggly pattern seems to complement the other colours in the room.

Apparently all IKEA curtains come in one size, 3 metres long, so after I'd hemmed them I had enough fabric left for two cushion covers. In my haste to complete and photograph them, I forgot to iron them.

I love the eyelet curtain tops, and the contrast between the grey walls and white ceiling. We always paint the woodwork and ceiling white, I think it shows off the wall colour more.

The chair used to be in our bedroom, where it was a receptacle for all the clothes John is strangely unable to hang up in the wardrobe. Now it sits next to a nest of tables we bought in Habitiat about ten years ago, and I still really love them. The bottom suitcase holds wool, the top one all my sewing clutter.

The walls do look rather bare, I know. We need to find something colourful to hang over the fireplace, and something to go behind the sofa.

In the meantime, I will make do with Kilner jars filled with supermarket peonies.

I hope you like it. I does look very bare and unusually tidy at the moment. I am working on a crocheted granny squares cushion and some embroidered wall hangings. I will, of course (!), show you those whenever they finally get completed.

Thank you for all the kind comments about the grey paint. It's not for everyone, I know! I would have chosen pink if I had full control of the decorating, but that pesky husband of mine likes to interfere.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Work In Progress

We've just decorated our front room. A lovely soft grey shade. These photos were taken after it was painted, in case anyone tells me it looks rubbish. It is a sunny south facing room with a big (albiet ugly and UPvc) window so can take a bit of a gloomy colour. 

We are, like excited parents to be, awaiting the delivery of a big new sofa. We umm-ed and ahh-ed a lot about such a big purchase but since we'd had our last sofas for almost a decade, and hope this one for lasts for as long if not longer, we talked ourselves into it. We are aiming for a vaguely mid-century modern sort of look, in keeping with our house which was built in 1947, and our love of retro patterns and design.

We need...something to hang above the fireplace, new curtains (or I need to do something pretty spectacular with the miserable old ones...), a clock, since Bella dropped the one we had yesterday and it is now completely broken and we are all lost without a clock on the mantlepiece. I need to design and sew my wall hangings, whenever I get around to those. What else? CUSHIONS! You can never have too many cushions. I am making a granny square cushion with the "good" yarn I bought, I task I am thoroughly enjoying. Unlike the scarf I am attempting for a friend which is going painfully slowly. I am using cotton yarn for a hopefully non-scratchy scarf in greys and purples. It was going to be a ripple pattern but frankly that would kill me off so it will be striped instead. Here is Angus helping me. It took me an hour to untangle that ball of purple yarn and wind it back up again. A task I found more enjoyable and satisfying than crocheting the scarf, which says a lot.

I will do a little front room "reveal" when it is done. That will motivate me to get saving and sewing and choosing and spending so that I can show you what a corner of our home looks like. I'd better get cracking then! 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day! John has to work today so we spoiled him this morning with some presents. I saw this personalised apron on a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to order one for John. He loves to cook (in that very male way of avoiding shopping lists and weekday suppers, but excelling in weekend extravagance) and always moans about my "chintzy" aprons. So I ordered him one. I really liked the dictionary style typography and the way it could be personalised. He really does make the best chilli and ragu sauce ever. And chocolate cupcakes, which is the only cake baking he will tolerate.

I've know John for almost fourteen years, since we were twenty (so young!) when we met at university. In many ways we have grown up together. I have loved, LOVED, watching him become a father. I have fallen in love with him more since having children. He adapted to the chaos of early parenthood far better than I, and is definitely what you would call "hands on". He has done his fair share of night feeds and nappies. He's not perfect, but has a style of parenting that is much more relaxed than mine. If I go out for the day and he has the kids alone, I invariably return to happy chaos. I like to watch the three of them on the sofa watching tv together, one child under each arm, all snuggled in.

And Happy Father's Day to my own Dad too. Another stellar parent who shows his love by fixing and mending and being useful and knowledgeable in all situations. Dad, I hope that the tide is high, the wind strong and the sun shining, so that you can squeeze in a sail today. My Dad has a lovely relationship with Angus, and I love to watch them looking at books together. My Dad will sneak off with the newspaper, hoping for a little quiet time, and Angus will wordlessly go to the book case, choose some books, then climb up onto my Dad's lap, pushing the newspaper to one side.

And lastly, I am thinking of people I know whose fathers are no longer with us, who will be missing them very much today. A sad day and a happy one.

Friday, 15 June 2012

{this moment}

Stickers say "Reception Star Award" and "I am a phonics superstar!"

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Via SouleMama.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Somewhere Over The Rainbow...

Oh, how I enjoyed making this! My friend Rachel (who I went on the crochet course with) asked me to make her a tea towel but not really a tea towel - she wanted to frame and hang it in her kitchen so it was to be a thing of beauty, not something to dry the dishes with. The only stipulation was that it had to have "Somewhere over the rainbow" (the song from her wedding) and red shoes on it. I couldn't resist drawing a rainbow, and some stars, and going bananas with the coloured embroidery silks. Honestly, if I could have squeezed a tap dancing unicorn on there, I would have.

I've been thinking about why I like the white linen tea towel format so much, and I think it is the lure of a blank canvas, a clean slate. It reminds me of a piece of plain white paper and has the same promise and excitement that a new A4 colouring pad and pack of felt pens held for me as a child. 

I am now planning, among five hundred other things, some tea towels (but maybe I should call them wall hangings?) for our about-to-be-decorated front room with song lyrics on. These are to be negotiated with John who is much cooler than me and would forbid anything too kitsch, and is also a complete music snob. I'm imaging Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, *whispers* Abba...

What song lyrics would you choose? Any favourite tunes that you really love?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Bedside Cabinet Makeover

Thanks so much for all your advice and tips re the the whole blog header/photo thing. It's reassuring to know that some know as little as I do - I always assume I am the only one not to know things! I am leaving it as it is for now because, really, it's only a blog header photo and there's more to life (like blog content, taking photos, reading other's blogs, commenting on other's blogs and generally being part of this gorgeous online community).

Today I have a mini-makeover to show you. Well, not really a makeover. More of a gentle spruce up, a bit of light DIY. We have two bedside cabinets from IKEA. We've had them for a few years and I can't say I've ever really liked them. We bought them because they were cheap, inoffensive, had good storage and we needed something quickly. I would have liked something more vintage but when you've got tiny babies/children, going to IKEA, with it's baby friendly facilities and delicious meatballs, is a great deal easier than trawling around endless car boot sales, antique shops and reclamation yards.

We can't afford new ones (and why buy new ones when the ones we have are perfectly fine?) even though I do adore this one, from The Sleep Room.

So I got my paintbrush out. A rather uninspiring "before" photo:

I decided to just paint the top and the door as I like the contrast between painted and unpainted wood. First I sanded it with heavy grain sandpaper, then with a finer grain, always going in the direction of the grain of the wood. Then I gave it two coats of undercoat and three of top coats, giving it a light sand and wipe down between each coat. I ordered new drawer knobs from Anthropologie. They had so many, it was hard to choose. I love that shop. I wish there was one nearer us. I'm not convinced they match that well but hey ho.

John (oh, I love that man) rang me one day and said "I'm in Waterstone's and they have this book in the bargain bin for 99p, it looks like your sort of thing." I asked for more details and it turns out he had found a copy of Lotta Jansdotter Stencils. I am a big fan of her Scandinavian inspired retro designs so, in a calm and restrained manor, I shouted "BUY IT NOW" down the phone, then did a little happy dance. Unhappily, stenciling did not turn out to be the easy peasy activity I'd hoped it would be and many ways were tried, sanded and painted over before I ended up with this, which I'm not overly pleased with but can't bring myself to do it again.

Then the fun bit; arranging, playing, finding pretty things to put on top of the cabinet, pottering. For me, the best part of any DIY project, be it something small like this or decorating a whole room, is the final reward of making it all look pretty when the messy work is done.

I feel I should point out that I have never in my life worn that eye mask.

A Fortnum and Mason tea caddy (I stole the idea from here, although my flowers are somewhat less splendid), in the prettiest shade of blue, holds supermarket roses and lavender from the garden.

New books in beautiful jackets. The jacket design of a book matters a lot to me. It was a great pleasure to buy this new copy of The Great Gatsby to replace the £1 Penguin copy I bought when I was a student. 

It is far from perfect, but I like it. I like it because it did not cost much, yet I feel like I have something new in the room, and that makes me happy.

Have a great week everyone, and thank you for being here and reading.