Friday, 30 March 2018

Making the Seasons: March

Hello! Welcome to my Making the Seasons post for March. In this annual project, my friend Lucy of Attic24 and I are consciously trying to find time in our busy lives to focus on achievable and seasonal creative projects. The idea is to find small but fulfilling projects which are in tune with the months of the year and rewarding to create, and I really hope it might inspire you to have a go at making something yourself. 

This month my thoughts turned to Easter which, after Christmas, is one of my favourite times of the year to get creative. All those feathers, eggs and flowers, all those bright, clean colours - it really lifts my spirits at a time of year when I'm ready to wave goodbye to winter. 

I have two quick and easy Easter themed projects this month which you could easily recreate yourself if you fancied doing something crafty or a bit of light cooking, and when I say cooking I really just mean melting, because I made Easter chocolate bark.

Chocolate bark, as far as I can tell, is simply a slab of chocolate absolutely covered with a topping of your choice; nuts, dried fruit, sweets, honeycomb, more can be as silly or sophisticated as you like. (Look up Unicorn Bark and you'll see what I mean.) Since all it involves is melting, pouring and decorating chocolate, it's a really fun activity to do with children as they can be as messy creative as they want and, if they're older, do it all themselves depending on the level of independence you feel comfortable giving them.

I began with some mini egg bark, melting 400g white and 200g dark chocolate. I poured the white chocolate onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and smoothed it around. Then I drizzled the dark chocolate back and forth in lines, then used a skewer to create a messy feather effect. It was easy and so satisfying! Then we sprinkled some mini eggs over the top, plus a bag of "micro eggs" (mini mini eggs) that I found in Asda, and put it in the fridge to set. 

Even Bella was impressed when she saw it, and she doesn't impress easily, let me tell you. I suppose you could cut it into neat shapes if you wanted too, but I like it broken into shards.

We also made a milk and dark chocolate version covered in broken Cadbury's creme eggs. Splitting the eggs with a knife was gloriously sticky and fun.

Despite complaining frequently and loudly to anyone who'll listen that creme eggs don't taste the same as they did when I was a child, and that they've shrunk too, I still have a weakness for them. Give me a hot cup of tea and a creme egg in the evening with some crochet and some kind of gentle crime drama (Midsomer Murders/Morse/Lewis etc) on the tv and I'm really very happy.

(I am always telling John that chocolate bars have shrunk since I was little. I remember Wagon Wheels the size of saucers and Curly Wurlies the size of a 30cm ruler. It's quite possible that I have simply grown.)

But Easter themed chocolate bark - easy, fun, and a nice alternative gift to a chocolate egg. Or you could have both.

Continuing with the egg theme, I wanted to make some decorations to create a kind of Easter tree. I'd originally seen the idea for the hanging eggs on Pinterest and but didn't think it would look that great with the usual brown, date-stamped free range eggs I buy in the supermarket. But then my mum and dad, who'd just returned from a holiday in Suffolk , gave me a couple of boxes of the most beautifully coloured eggs laid by the chickens on the farm where they'd been staying. 

Those perfectly smooth white and pale blue shells suddenly seemed perfect for my little hanging chocolate holders, and so I very carefully cracked them, cooked with the (delicious, of course) eggs and then rinsed out the shells and carefully left them to dry.

Then it was just a case of threading a loop through a tiny pin-prick sized hole at the top of the egg, laying a bed of toy stuffing or cotton wool, and adding a handful of mini eggs.

The sprigs of cherry blossom I'd gathered from the garden weren't quite robust enough to take the weight of the chocolate-filled shells, so I added some willow stalks and hung the eggs from those instead.

These few branches and twigs make a kind of Easter tree, and I expect to have to refill the eggs many times between now and Easter day.

Please pop over to Lucy's blog to have a look at her Making the Seasons post - I imagine it will be full of her usual, beautiful colour and sparkle. I hope you all have a happy and relaxing Easter weekend. Here, John is off three out of the four days which is nice. We've got various things planned; breakfast out, lots of long walks, a big family meal at my parent's on Easter Sunday, plus chores like chopping wood (it's endless!) and jobs around the house. It must be spring by now because I have an urge to clear out every single cupboard. And eat all the chocolate of course. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018


We are bouncing back and forth between two seasons here at the moment. It snows, then it warms up and spring seems to be suddenly on it's way. Then, last weekend, another quite unexpected snowfall and bitterly cold winds, followed by a week of double digit temperatures and blossom everywhere you look. And just when the clocks are about to go forward and we're looking ahead to the longer days and more spring-like weather, they're talking about snow showers over Easter.

Snow on the beach though, that was something. I've never seen it before down here on the south coast, and while it certainly wasn't a lot of snow it was beautiful all the same. 

It was so cold down on the beach but also strangely invigorating, even if I couldn't feel my face. That's the thing about having a dog, especially an energetic eight month old whippet - they need a good walk, whether you want one or not.

My thoughts are turning to the garden more and more at the moment. It's such a mess out there, I really want to get outside and tackle it, but there's so much to do! I'm overwhelmed. There is a huge pile of wood that needs chopping and stacking. Everything looks sad and brown. I've decided that I want to move the monstrosity of a trampoline to the opposite corner of the garden where it would be hidden from view by some large cordyline plants. Then, in that newly empty corner - which gets lots of sun, a bonus in our north-east facing garden - perhaps some raised beds, or even just a border. Anything would be an improvement on that trampoline, frankly, except the trampoline does hide some rotten fence panels so, before we do anything fun involving plants, we need to get those replaced. So all I've done is phone the guy who did our fence before and arrange for him to come round. Baby steps. I also wrote a really long list and picked some sprigs of cherry blossom and that made me feel better.

Thank you for all your comments on the succulent hoop. I'm so glad you all liked it as much as I did! I've made a start on a wall of embroidery hoops in the kitchen and they're coming together. I need more though. 

My head is full of plans for the house right now. This happens to me every spring - remember all those bedrooms we decorated this time last year? All those annoying jobs and tasks - patches of grubby paint work, broken plug sockets, piles of clutter, leaks - that I can ignore throughout the winter suddenly need doing desperately the minute March comes around. We have an electrician coming in a few weeks to do a few small jobs; I have plans for a peg rail in the hall; I've phoned the garage door repair man and got a quote to get the electric garage door fixed; there are trunks and wooden boxes in the garage which will become planters for the garden I hope. 

As for crafting, I really should be knitting my Wool and the Gang jumper, but my heart isn't in it at the moment. All I want to do is work on this cross stitch which I am enjoying so much. Something about the colours feels spring-like and I'm hoping to complete it over the next few months. 

I can't believe it's Easter next weekend. It seems to have come around so fast this year, although I don't know why I'm surprised given the amount of mini eggs and creme eggs I've consumed over the last few weeks. I haven't done any decorating or baking yet but I have plans to use some of that cherry blossom to create a simple arrangement, perhaps with some egg decorations, as a sort of Easter tree. I don't think I'm going to make a Simnel cake this year though, as I did last year. I loved it but John and the children weren't as fussed, so this year I think I'll make a big chocolate cake and just decorate it with mini eggs. That will definitely please everyone. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

A Succulent in a Hoop

I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes, a magazine I've not bought for some years. Back when it first came out, around the time I started blogging, I used to really love it. I think I had a subscription for it, and I remember making one project a month from it for a year. That was fun. But I started to enjoy it less and less over time; the projects didn't grab me so much, and perhaps my children started to reach an age where I didn't want to make quite so much for them, and I certainly have much less time now than I ever did before, both to read magazines and to make things. 

But the most recent issue, with it's spring like colours and plant-themed projects, really grabbed me and I spent a long time in the supermarket (once I'd removed all that ridiculous plastic wrapping) flicking through it. I was especially taken with this Boho Botanical supplement, full of gorgeous ideas and really right up my street.

This project, a piece of hoop art designed by Helen Wilde of Ovo Bloom, grabbed me straight away. I loved the colours and the contrast between the silky embroidered and spiky crepe paper leaves.

I always find satin stitch harder than it looks. It couldn't replicate the perfectly smooth, even texture in the pattern but I did my best. It looks ok.

The French knots for the soil were much easier to stitch. I do love a French knot. 

To create the spiky succulent leaves, you cut small strips of crepe paper, twist them into bows, glue the two leaves together then cut into a leaf shape. Then you slowly layer them onto a small disc of cardboard, about the size of a two pence piece (or wine bottle lid, that's what I used), gluing them down as you go, until you are left with a beautiful, tactile little object. Paper craft isn't something I've ever really experimented with but I can see the appeal.

Then the small cardboard disc is glued onto the linen fabric. So simple but very effective.

 I absolutely love it. It feels like spring might finally come when I look at this. 

I've hung it in an awkwardly shaped corner in the dining room, next to the book shelves, and I think I'm going to create a hoop wall there. I already have a little pile I've been collecting for a while, piled up there on the bookcase.

That will be a lovely job. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Early Spring Days

After the cold weather the ground is slowly warming up and everywhere around are signs of spring. Green and yellow tones fill the woods and our garden, our home and our kitchen and I've felt a renewed energy for cooking, gardening and crafting which can only come with the longer days and hopeful glimpses of warmer weather. 

£1 bunches of daffodils fill jugs on the kitchen table for as long as they are in the shops. I love the way they look like paintbrushes before they unfurl their vivid yellow petals.

I am delighted with my new string of hearts plant.  The muted green leaves tangle together in such a beautiful way and it looks really good in my copper hanging planter.

Bored with bread for lunch every day, I made a large batch of salad at the weekend and have been taking it to work instead of my usual sandwich. 

I've been eating lots more fruit, vegetables and eggs, not deliberately, but isn't it funny how our bodies and appetites want different sort of foods as the seasons change. I want cake year round though, and these lemon bars from Making Winter were delicious, with a sweet biscuit base filled with a lemon curd style topping.

Something about lemon - I don't know if it's the colour or the scent - makes me think of Easter. 

I recently bought a copy of Mollie Makes (issue 90), my first purchase of that magazine in about three years. This was the first one I'd seen in ages that actually grabbed me and filled me with enthusiasm, largely because of this little project, an embroidery hoop project designed by Ovo Bloom. I love houseplants and I love embroidery, so it stands to reason that I'd love this design too.

Thanks to a bargain job-lot of vintage Observer books from eBay, and a couple that my parents found for me in a charity shop recently, my little collection is growing. Angus likes to sit in the chair next to this bookcase and read them. I recently found him engrossed in the Dogs volume.

Outside in the garden, things are starting to wake up. It's still a muddy, squelchy wasteland, of course, but there is hope. The large wooden planter is filled with as many daffodil bulbs as I could fit into it, and they are just starting to open up. 

The tulips are a little further behind, but soon I will move these pots to the front door step.

We had a couple of really nice walks in the woods over the weekend. I love being around the trees at all times of year but especially in the spring and autumn, and I'm already thinking of my favourite places to go locally for bluebells later in the spring. 

There weren't that many buds or leaves on the trees yet, but the forest floor was full of growth and green shoots. 

Of course, now that I am in spring mode, now that I am full of plans for the garden and itching to get to work out there, the weather is predicted to take a sharp and wintry turn this weekend, with snow even forecast in some places.

I don't think we'll get any but the icy winds will be a shock after the 15°C temperatures and sunny days we've enjoyed lately. I'm not complaining though, it's an excuse to light the fire and do some embroidery.