Thursday, 31 May 2012

Domestic Fail

I had such high hopes for this post. I'd found the perfect recipe, bought the ingredients, set aside a free morning for stress free baking and Angus was playing happily... I'd imagined showing you my splendid, triple layer cake, standing tall and beautifully decorated on my glass cake stand... But it was not to be. I made a cake that collapsed under it's own weight.

Tomorrow is John's birthday and I decided to make him the Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days, a much loved and well used baking book. The recipe called for, in total... 750g/1lb 10oz butter, 840g/1lb 13oz sugar, 450g/1lb chocolate, 540ml/19 fl oz cream, cocoa, golden syrup.... It's sounds like delicious heart attack in cake form. But it is a birthday cake, a cake for celebrating, not an everyday cake, and so I think it is well deserved.

First you make some salted caramel. Then you make another batch of caramel, beating in chocolate and butter to make the frosting. Then you bake three chocolate sponges for the cake. Layer cake, caramel, frosting, until you have a triple tier cake wobbling in front of you, then cover top and sides with the chocolate frosting. Easier said than done! The sponge is moist and crumbles when you so much as look at it. My caramel was too runny and my frosting too firm, so when I tried to assemble the cake it just fell apart. 

But I think I managed to pull it back from the brink...what do you think?

I used the two salvageable cakes and a lot less caramel and hoped for the best. I think it looks ok. It will still taste good. Bella and Angus got lucky today - they have three friends coming over for tea tonight and instead of the fruit and yogurt I had planned, I will feed them some of the mangled cake for pudding. Maybe with some fruit on the side.

Lastly, thank you so much for all your comments about pottering. I really enjoyed reading them all, and hearing about all the different things you do to relax. Thank you Rachel, for telling me about "pootling", which is a more leisurely form of pottering. I did not know that!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


potter (verb): to occupy oneself by doing minor, pleasant tasks in a relaxed way.

I love to potter. It it my favourite way to relax. Some days are frantic, as we dash madly from school to playdate to shop to school again. Others are tedious, and I feel lost in the constant, unrelenting demands of the children. But mostly our days are happy and Angus and I go at a pace that suits us both. Today, John is off, and he is joining our day of happy domestic pottering, or "puttering" as the Americans say, a fantastic word.

The sun still shines, although it is much cooler, and I have washed the quilt ready to pack away until next autumn. We've done some gentle gardening. When I say gentle gardening, I mean I sat in the garden with a cup of coffee and watched Angus water the plants with his little blue watering can. Many flowers have started to bloom now, including these chives. Paint charts have been consulted, tester pots ordered and the decorator has been to give a quote to paint our living room. Best of all, I finally got around to hanging the collection of pictures that have been cluttering up the sideboard. Clockwise from the top..the Spring Flowers print is by Lou of the gorgeous little green shed blog; my completed Winterwoods Sampler from Alicia Paulsen's Posie Gets Cozy blog; a framed RHS print; my beloved collection of postcards with the initials of our little family; and finally a small watercolour of a  French cafe, bought by my parents in Paris and "borrowed" by me. When I saw it hung behind a door in my Mum's music room I thought it wouldn't be missed.

Do you like to potter? Do you have time to potter? Please tell me what you love to do to relax.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Summer in Suburbia

We are home after a beautiful long weekend spent at my parent's house to celebrate my Dad's sixtieth birthday. 

It is the house I grew up in and is full of the sights, sounds, smells and memories of my childhood, especially in the summer. I am always reminded of the evocative title of one of Joni Mitchell's albums, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, when the weather is this warm. It brings to mind the house in summer with the windows all wide open, curtains flapping in the breeze, the distant sound of a lawn mower and bees buzzing, with the smell of cut grass. 

We spent nearly all weekend in the garden (and it is a very nice garden indeed).

Toe nails were painted and very cold beer was drunk.

I relaxed my usually very strict nail varnish policy and painted Bella's toe nails to match mine. (Such a little thing made her so happy, I did wonder why I don't let her have painted toe nails more often.)

My favourite image of the much enjoyed paddling pool, taken first thing in the morning when the light was soft and the air was still. I love the way the toys are abandoned after a busy day's play.

The bluest of blue skies.

Knitting in the sunshine.

Party preparations. Glasses and plates and chairs were hired.

Twenty metres of bunting were quickly made by stapling oilcloth triangles to ribbon, then hung around the garden.

John made beef chilli for forty (there he is, proudly wearing one of my Mum's aprons!). John's chilli is amazing and I will post the recipe soon. Mum and my sisters made quiches, four types of salad, six different desserts and a birthday cake.

The view from my old bedroom window as the sun was setting, over the neighbour's rooftops.

Then candles were lit and there was eating and drinking and chatting with dear family friends, people my sisters and I have known all our lives. 

There were also mosquitoes (the size of my bites!!! I have six of them!) and small children who didn't settle until nine every night due to light evenings, the heat and the excitement that comes from sharing a room.

We are still enjoying this glorious hot weather but I fear it will go tomorrow. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. What did you do? 

Friday, 25 May 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, 24 May 2012

Book Group by Candlelight

Last night was our monthly book group meeting. It was so warm we sat in my friends house with the patio doors wide open, listening to the sounds from the garden and enjoying the evening breeze with a glass of wine. Debora, our hostess, had baked a lemon and ricotta tart. As it grew dark she lit lots of candles. Book group is not usually a candlelit affair, but the summer evening seemed to call for it.

We started our group almost four years ago and found that "I'm going to book group" sounds a lot better than "I'm going to the pub" when trying to organise a night off, babysitters, that sort of thing. The book part is incidental, it just gives us a valid reason to meet up. Last night we read The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa. We all agreed that it is a very odd little book, but no less enjoyable for that. A young woman is left suddenly by her boyfriend, who takes all her possessions and money with him. Broke and desperate, she returns to the mountain village she grew up in and opens a tiny restaurant on her Mother's land. It is full of lengthy, vivid descriptions of food - from the killing of the animal to the serving of the meal - and these are wonderful. But I felt vaguely dissatisfied when I'd finished it by too characters and situations that weren't fully explored or resolved.

Next month's book is F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and I am really looking forward to this one. I read it about twelve years ago as a student but after hearing a brilliant adaptation of it on Radio 4 a few weeks ago, I am dying to re-read it. What are you reading at the moment? Can you give me any recommendations for future book group meetings?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


Today you will find me here. In between the school run, errands and the demands of a toddler I hope to spend a little time sitting in this chair today, under the apple tree, enjoying the sun on my face. One of the perks of being at home full time with children is making the most of the sunny weather, whatever the day of the week. The garden becomes another room to play in, eat in, relax in. Which is just as well as it makes up for the reduced income and those days when you feel that all you've done is wipe noses, faces, kitchen counters, tables...sometimes I feel that I permanently have either a dish cloth in my hand. But not today! Hurrah for the erratic, unpredictable but still lovely British Summer.

What are you doing today? I hope you find time to enjoy some sunshine.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Jubilee T-Shirts

Well hello there! I am in a very good mood today because The Sun is Shining!!! Finally, warm and sunny weather has returned to Yorkshire and maybe we can turn the central heating off now and believe that Summer has arrived. A sunny days calls for a cheerful, colourful post, and since this you can't move for Union Flag bunting in the UK this summer (Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, in case you just landed from the moon and hadn't heard about it), today I would like to show you my Jubilee t-shirts.

Warning: If you are of a sensitive disposition (or a republican) you should probably look away now. I have gone into kitsch overload in the last couple of weeks and the Jubilee inches closer and closer (I am very excited!!). Even Bella is asking how many sleeps it is until the Queens birthday. (It is ranked third most exciting forthcoming event after starting Rainbows and going to see Peppa Pig at the theatre during half term).

I have made three little Jubilee t-shirts, featuring unrealistically but patriotically coloured Corgi dogs and yes, I cleared the mantlepiece of clutter, hung some bunting and dug out some London-themed toys for the pictures. Forgive me.

Three little t-shirts - one for Bella, one for Angus and one for the daughter of my very good friend Abigail. If you follow her blog Oh Abigail, you will know that she is a HUGE fan her HRH.

The corgis are wearing tiaras. We all know that they secretly wear them when they are living in Buckingham Palace, it's the rules. Angus's dog's tiara is not beaded though, I drew the line there.

But then I thought, well what will I wear on the Queen's birthday? And then I had the idea of doing a little t-shirt (and one for Abigail too, of course) with rather regal stamp image. 

Lovely soft plain white t-shirts, £5 each from Marks and Spencers. I do really like these!

Here I am wearing it... (not a great photo, but you get the picture!)

I am making the kids save their t-shirts until the big day, when we are having a little Jubilee tea party - I'll post pictures of the fun later.

Again, apologies. It's not that I am a huge royalist, I just love an occasion when people come together for a day off work and an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry, and to celebrate being British in all it's wonderful diversity. Even better when that occasion makes it acceptable to do some silly but very enjoyable crafting.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Happy Days

It felt like Angus's Birthday Part Two this weekend. On Sunday he had a joint party at a nearby soft play centre with another little boy we know. My role was the food, my friend's the drinks and party bags.

On Saturday I made three dozen fairy cakes...

...and iced them. Old school icing, just icing sugar and water, no buttercream frosting here.

Thirty two paper bags were filled with thirty two packed lunches.

Bella rose to the challenge of Chief Smartie Sorter, a job she took very seriously. I told her she could only eat the brown ones.

I had fun playing with them to make a pattern for Angus's cake. (Yes I know he had a cake last week, but we needed another for when everyone sang Happy Birthday at the party!)

Much fun was had with a new giant football, and Bella was very excited to have another opportunity to wear her party dress.

Then, the best part of the weekend. On Sunday night we walked up to our local fish and chip shop. We often use the take away but have never eaten in the attached restaurant. What a joy it was. A proper old fashioned, Yorkshire place, with "senior specials". "Fresh orange juice" was listed as one of the starters on the menu. For dessert, or "sweet" as they called it, were things like steamed pudding, mandarin surprise (!) or "chocolate biscuit". I don't think the menu choices or type of customer have changed in thirty years, and why should they, as it is perfect. It was so busy, people were queuing out of the door. 

As is traditional in the North of England, fish and chips are served with a cup of tea:

and the children's ice cream was Mr Whippy style, in a lovely retro dish with lots of sprinkles.

It was one of the nicest meals we've ever had with the children. Easy, unplanned and happy. The kids were well behaved, the food came quickly (less bored wriggling) and was fresh and delicious. As we left, the waitress brought over a little plastic tiara for Bella and a toy dinosaur for Angus. Honestly, it could not have been more perfect. Any restaurant that makes families with little ones feel welcome gets my vote, and my return business. We left a big tip and went home with full tummies and smiling faces.

I hope you had a nice weekend too. Did you do anything special? Have a great Monday and thank you for reading. Hello also to my new followers, thank you very much for stopping by and reading.

Friday, 18 May 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, 17 May 2012

Handmade Gifts

This post should really be called "Putting that Liberty fabric to good use at last". A few weeks ago I was sent this beautiful and inspiring book through the post as a surprise gift from a very good, good friend. I was itching to get going as soon as I opened it. Full of ideas for gifts, toys, artwork, homewares and soft furnishings all with a slightly retro and feminine feel to them. Easy to follow intructions and projects both big and small

The first thing to catch my eye were these bookmarks.

As with all projects that promise to be "super fast" they took me a little afternoon to make four. I think that is more down to my lack of skill than anything else. But it was such a pleasing little sewing task...I got so much pleasure from choosing ribbon and buttons to match the fabric.

And then I decided to cover a notebook, using the pattern from the book. 

It was to be a birthday present for my friend Debora. I bought some Moleskine notebooks, as I know she is a fan of these, and covered one and gave her the other as a spare for when the first is used. I only wish they were a little thicker, as they are quite slim notebooks.

But instead of the suggested applique decorations, I made a "d" (for Debora!) in fabric to match the bookmark. I want to make more covered notebooks but I need to play around more with the best way to do it, and the best weight of fabric. You can see where my sewing wrinkled at the bottom. I wonder if I should have used a heavier fabric.

But at least it was satisfyingly easy to wrap!

Lastly I made two simple cotton shopping bags for two more lovely ladies who have birthdays this week (May has been such a busy birthday month!!). The pattern is from my head, but it was so very very easy - I just looked at some bags I had and thought...I could make that. It is simply a long rectangle of fabric, hemmed at the top and bottom, folded in the middle, sewn down the sides, and then turned the right way out, with handles sewn on. I appliqued on flowers for added colour and pattern and because, well, I do like to applique things.

They are intended to be the sort of bag you keep folded at the bottom of your handbag for shopping when you are out and about. I would like to have a go at lining them, and making some oilcloth ones too, so that they are a bit sturdier.

So, three birthday presents made in the last week, saving me about £30. Which is about what is cost me to have my Winterwoods ABC Sampler professionally framed, so that all balances out rather nicely in the household budgets, and marital harmony prevails.