About Kate

http://www.katescreativespace.com

I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

Swoonworthy ‘Shrooms

DIY oyster mushrooms

When we were children, my mum used to take us foraging for mushrooms in the woods, which we’d then bring home and fry in butter to eat on toast for tea (often with clods of earth still attached; we had a rather reckless regard for hygiene).  In those pre-internet days, my mother relied heavily on a rather hazy and abstract recollection of which mushrooms were safe to eat and which might be deadly;  meals were thus always charged with a certain frisson of danger, and we watched each other attentively for signs of imminent poisoning.

Despite this cavalier approach, most of us made it to adulthood and we all still enjoy eating mushrooms; so much so in fact that I’ve always quite fancied the idea of growing my own.  The internet abounds with handy instructions on how to grow a forest of fungi from the pages of an old book, old coffee grounds, tree logs – you name it, there’s a tutorial.

I was fleetingly obsessed with the idea of using books, perhaps some of my book-folded sculptures, to grow beautiful, sculptural fields of oyster mushrooms.  Then I looked more closely at the instructions for this, which seem to involve lots of soaking in bathtubs (the books, not oneself, sadly), freezing, spore-scattering and alternating between pitch black and sunlight, all whilst maintaining a steady temperature.  Really, it wasn’t for me.  I needed something that thrived rather more on neglect and distraction.

And then I found it…

I bought one of these ready-made kits which promised a bloom of mushrooms within a couple of weeks of activation (kits are widely available online and in garden centres from lots of suppliers).  With this one, you simply take the packet out of the box, soak it overnight, drain and stand it upright again and wait for the mushrooms to appear.  Like so:

Msuhroom growing from a pack

You are supposed to spritz the pack lightly with water twice a day, but – confession time – I began mine the day before I left for a work trip to the US and returned after 6 days to find, magically ….this!

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The box had been roundly ignored by all remaining household members, and had quietly produced a magnificent bloom of hot pink oyster mushrooms, which apparently arrived overnight on day 4.  Once grown, you simply twist the mushrooms off and they’re ready to be rinsed and cooked. Don’t they look beautiful?

Pink oyster mushrooms

They’re currently sitting on a chopping board on the kitchen counter, looking gorgeous and awaiting recipe inspiration.  In the meantime, the pack promises a second yield so I am hoping another week of neglect might provide a second Saturday-night feast.  Let’s see.

Have you tried growing mushrooms?  Any luck with a more green-fingered, spore-based approach?  Having tried this easy option, I’m inspired to experiment a bit more…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Sun-dried* tomato bruschetta (*no sun needed!)

Homemade sun dried tomatoes

Have you ever tried making sun-dried tomatoes at home?  These beauties don’t require days of drying in radiant sunshine; instead, you can while away an afternoon reducing them in the oven to a delicious confit intensity.

Yesterday we had a long, lazy day planned so in the morning I bought a couple of punnets of mixed tomatoes and decided to give slow-roasting a whirl.  It felt like an appropriately Sunday-ish job; low maintenance, and ultimately resulting in good things to eat. I set the oven to 120 degrees and began slicing…

chopped tomatoes

Sundried tomatoes benefit from a few generous glugs of oil, plus whatever herbs you have to hand.   I used basil oil for an added kick of flavour (try adding bay leaves, rosemary, fresh garlic cloves and black pepper for an infusion of the mediterranean, or chili pepper flakes for heat);

over dried tomatoes

Check them every hour or so, and after 3hrs they should be done; in the meantime the house will gently fill with the smells of summer – that, I think, is the best bit.

(Actually no; eating them is the best bit).

I grilled slices of baguette and spread them with goats cheese and a dash of balsamic vinegar before arranging the tomatoes and drizzling with oil.  The only thing to know about these is that you can never stop at just one…

Homemade bruschetta

Any leftover tomatoes will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks (top up the oil when you bottle them).

Have a wonderful week!

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The Scrap-Fabric Table Runner

DIY Fabric Table Runner

This is a story that began with a dress.  This dress. I bought it a couple of years ago, and it was beautiful, and hung just right, until I discovered – belatedly – that it had HUGE pockets.  And once my hands found these pockets, I couldn’t seem to stop filling them with things, until one day I realised that the dress looked less like a tailored silk sheath and more like a tent that I was using as cover to smuggle contraband goods.  The perfect dress for petty theft, perhaps, but not quite the elegant look I was aiming for.

So I took the pockets out and removed the problem.  They were so beautiful that I couldn’t throw them away; I kept them in my fabric drawer along with leftover bits and pieces of material from all kinds of projects.  On a rainy Sunday last month, I finally dug them out and began sorting and sifting through other pieces to see what might complement the colours.

I found a large square of turquoise cotton, unpicked the pockets to form four identical shapes, and then backed them with iron-on fusible paper before mounting on the fabric.  Sort of like a set of balancing bowls, or mussel shells;

silk pockets cut open and used for a fabric collage

Then I layered other colours against it and picked out a few in silver, navy and duck-egg shades.  I cut them into slices, vaguely but not precisely measuring each to ensure a kind of symmetry.  Then backed them together; pinning and stitching, pinning and stitching;

making a table runner

Until it began to look like this!

Making a scrap fabric table runner

The edges remained imprecise for a long time; when I had the final length I wanted I trimmed them down to an even length and marked a 1″ seam for folding in.

fabric scrap table runner

With the runner nearly 3m long by now, I did have to buy more fabric to back it; I chose a heavyish, velvety curtain fabric that gives weight to the runner and ensures it doesn’t slip and slide around.  As with Harry’s baby-clothes quilt, my workmanship on the sewing does not bear close scrutiny, and my seams are rambling and a little slapdash. But still, I am left with an almost stained-glass like creation that looks good on the table, and equally good draped over the end of the bed.  A shorter length would make a lovely, vibrant evening wrap – for this one though you’d need the shoulders of a line-backer to carry it off with aplomb…

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Have a wonderful week!

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A Drawing Wall!

Wall-hung drawing paper rolL!

When we updated Harry’s room earlier this year, there’s one more thing that we added – almost as an afterthought – that has proven to be a HUGE hit.

Whilst rummaging in the loft, we found an old wooden curtain rail which we cut down to size and threaded with a 20m roll of brown parcel paper.  We mounted it on a spare sliver of wall in Harry’s bedroom…

How to make a drawing roll

..added a simple painted wooden baton at the bottom the hold the paper in place, and hey presto; a drawing wall came to life!

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It’s become a kind of collaborative family art space and messaging board.  We practice numbers on it (times-tables, exhaustively…), see who can draw the best elephant or sea monster or ice-cream flavour* (*me; Harry; Dad).  When Harry won an art prize at school, I sneaked upstairs before bedtime to leave this trophy in pride of place…

Brown paper roll for family messages

Here’s a few tips if you’re making your own..

  • Source your paper roll first before cutting the curtain pole down to size.  Paper tends to come in standard widths, so start with the end in mind.  Amazon and office supply stores are great for white and brown paper rolls.
  • Choose paper strong enough to withstand pulling down and pressing on, but not so thick that it won’t roll easily or tear off when you’re done – we used inexpensive 100gsm parcel paper.
  • To roll the paper onto the curtain pole, tape along one long edge to hold it in place and then roll up, positioning it so that the roll is to the front and the paper drop to the rear as shown (like a toilet roll!)

Wall-mounted drawing paper roll

  • When you’ve filled a length of paper, you can either tear it off or roll it up again at the bottom, pulling down to create new space.  If you do this, you can ultimately rewind it facing the other way to create a double-sided roll.
  • We used art pastels initially on the paper which gave great vibrant colours, but do tend to rub off on fingers (and wall, and floor, and duvet cover) – then I found these bright chalk pens which work beautifully and give rich colours without the mess.  You just have to be disciplined about putting the tops back on again afterwards.

Harry’s works a treat in his bedroom, but this would also look great in a kitchen for shopping lists, family messages or general creativity. Enjoy!

Family art wall in a kids bedroom

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The Hare and the Carrot

Hare and Carrot Cake

Last weekend I made a cake for Easter.  Not a fruit or Simnel cake (simple tastes abound in our household), but instead a rainbow cake, frosted and decorated festively with a carrot, which soon attracted these hares…

Hares & Carrot Cake

It’s one of those cakes that is far simpler to make than it may look;

  • The rainbow cake recipe and technique is on the blog here, and for the frosting I used Betty Crocker’s own trusted recipe (so simple, but so good).
  • To make the shards around the side, I melted a pack of these and smoothed the mixture out between two sheets of greaseproof paper, before rolling it up quickly like a swiss roll.  The Candy Melts harden quickly, and when unrolled again break into shards which I gently pressed into the frosting around the sides of the cake.  You can find them in Lakeland and Hobbycraft in the UK, and in craft stores and supermarkets in the US and Canada.
  • The carrot is a paper-and-raffia Easter decoration that I simply pierced with a wooden skewer, then pushed the skewer down into the cake to hold it in place (remove before serving!).  If you made an actual carrot cake, this would look even better.
  • The mischievous hares?  Again, they were Easter decorations designed to be hung up; I snipped off the hanging threads and let them loose on the cake…

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After two days, this was all I managed to rescue for a photo :-)

Rainbow cake

p.s.  On a related subject; a campaign has been launched by the youngest member of the family who is adamant that what our family needs is a pet rabbit.  Have you ever had a rabbit, and do they make easy pets?  Perhaps we won’t start with one of these

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Another Place

Neither From Nor Towards

We had an extraordinary adventure last weekend, venturing north to Chester, Liverpool and Yorkshire to visit a couple of places I’ve always wanted to see.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park covers 500 acres and promises ‘art without walls’; hundreds of astonishing, permanent and rotating works by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Housed in the Chapel amidst the grounds was a breathtaking installation by artist Cornelia Parker (above and below).   Neither From Nor Towards is a suspended work of hundreds of weathered bricks from a row of houses destroyed when cliff-top erosion on the south coast caused them to fall into the sea.   The rounding of the bricks is organic, caused by the battering of the waves and relentless tides before they were eventually retrieved from the water.  It was mesmerising and beautiful, and for a few minutes we were the only visitors in the room.

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One of the wonderful things about YSP is how interactive and accessible all of the sculpture is.  Even for this most fragile and stunning work, there were no ropes or barriers, and Harry was immediately offered a stool and a drawing box so he could have a go at recreating it;

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Just outside the Chapel stands Iron tree by Ai Weiwei; a 6m high tree made of 99 iron casts from different trees, roughly bolted and screwed together;

An Wei

We roamed through the woods, which looked beautiful, still strewn with spring bluebells and with wintery light radiating through the trees (it was freezing that day; bright but cold..)

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We spent hours there, and took hundreds of photographs (I will spare you, I promise), and touched and stroked and admired a myriad of different sculptures, big and small.  If you ever have the opportunity to go there, I can’t recommend it enough.

The next day, we went to another place.  Literally, to Another Place; Antony Gormley’s iconic line of standing figures which are set along more than a mile of the tideline of Crosby Beach, looking out to sea….

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The pictures above are from the first installation of the figures, at Cuxhaven on Germany at an estuary of the Elbe, before they were relocated to the UK.  Gormley said of the sculpting process ‘The sculptures are made from 17 body-casts taken from my body (protected by a thin layer of wrapping plastic). The sculptures are all standing in a similar way, with the lungs more or less inflated and their postures carrying different degrees of tension or relaxation’.   I think I would have erred towards a posture of tension myself, if wrapped in plastic and encased in plaster.  Here he is at work, on a different project;

Antony Gormley

Gormley at work

We went to Crosby beach at first light, and they looked equally powerful; rusted now and covered in barnacles;

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Extraordinary, and beautiful, and powerful enough to have stayed in my mind constantly all week.  It made me remember how much I love to visit places like this (and how easy it is to get derailed by motherhood and plate-spinning and the guilt of self-indulgence. I needn’t have worried; we all had a ball…).

Where have you been lately that’s moved you or blown your mind?  I’d love to create a new list of must-visit places…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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All photos my own apart from those of Cuxhaven, via here and of Gormley’s Domain Field workshop via here.

 

 

Happy Easter!

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Happy Easter weekend!

I hope that you’re having a lovely one…

Harry’s been cutting out pictures from junk-shop books to decorate Easter bags;

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…Whilst I’ve been harvesting a couple of branches of magnolia to place in a vase in the kitchen, strung with egg decorations (Spring and Easter have collided deliciously in the garden this year; the lawn is a drift of apple blossom and colour).IMG_6730

It’s been (just) warm enough to eat outside, so I used first-of-the-season Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes for these very moreish simple tarts;

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Just cut a round of pre-made puff pastry, spread with feta or goats cheese, and place a slice of tomato on top.  Bake for 10mins before leaving to cool.  Decorate with olive and basil and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic glaze.  Eat when ever-so-slightly still warm, preferably with a glass of sauvignon blanc – and home-grown cress of course!.

Coeur de Lion tomato tarts

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Have a wonderful (rest of the) weekend!

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Eggshell mini-nests for an Easter table

Mini nests

Are you ready for Easter?  We usually love to have a big feast with friends, and I always think about to make the table look seasonal and different.  This year we’ll have tiny individual nests placed at each setting, shaped around gold-painted egg shells and filled with beautiful little praline eggs (not to be eaten until later!)

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(I have to show these beautiful over-sized bowls here as often as I can; my best friend helped me drag 8 of them back from Paris after our trip there and never lets me forget how heavy they were; I feel compelled to demonstrate at every opportunity that they are well-used…)

First, gather some egg-shells, rinse them out and paint the inside gold (and the outside too if you like)…

tiny egg nests

Then weave a little sisal or hay around them and tuck in a few sprigs of moss.  Other ideas for elementary nest construction here!

I used a box of these eggs to fill them; small enough to fit, pretty enough to look startlingly real (and very edible).

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Miniature nests

p.s.  from the archives; hand-decorating chocolate eggs, easter crafting and a Spring dress

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Lost Arts: Collage!

Easter Collage

When I was small, I LOVED scissors.

Perhaps it was the frisson of danger and responsibility of being in charge of a pair of scissors; perhaps it was the clean swoosh of snipping, but whatever it was, I spent a good few years of my childhood just simply Cutting Things Out.  All around the house you could find the evidence of my hobby; newspapers missing crucial sections, magazines with headlines removed.  I passed by in a small drift of paper cuttings, oblivious to the destruction in my wake.

Last weekend I picked up a pair of scissors again and worked my way idly through a supermarket magazine, crafting a spring bird and its nest from the pages….

magazines for collage

I began by drawing the rough outline of a bird, and then cutting out an oval for the body and layering strips of paper for the wing;

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…till it became this, with a bead glued on for the eye (the leaves are actual leaves from a photograph in the mag about spring gardens…)

Bird collage

For the nest, I cut out a plate-sized circle of brown paper and then simply placed layer after layer of slices over the top to form a nest, snipping out 2 inch long sections of anything brown or sandy or bluish-grey. I cut simple egg-shapes from the cover and used this punch to cut out the feather shapes

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…until eventually, it looked like this!

Nest collage

I scanned the paper collages into my computer and gave them a backdrop to make a fun set of Easter cards for friends and family;

DIY Collage Easter cards

 

If you haven’t picked up a pair of scissors with the express purpose of Cutting and Snipping and Sticking for years, then I strongly suggest you give it a whirl – it was great fun, and required surprisingly little concentration (it’s hard to go wrong, so great to do whilst listening to music / waiting for dinner to cook / feigning interest in a long, rambling conversation about Pokemon Go, for example).

If you want a shortcut however, do feel free to download the hi-res image below (personal use only please), or the individual PDFs of the bird and its nest.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Bird collage

Nest collage

Easter Collage

Simple projects: tonal painted spoons

DIY Painted Kitchen Spoons

Until last week, we had just one wooden spoon in our kitchen.

Possibly the oldest kitchen item I own, it is a warped and aged thing, of a variety that you find lurking deep in the ‘Kitchenalia’ section of dubious antique stores.  Scarred by age and immune to the vigorous attentions of the dishwasher, it is also so short that every time I stir a boiling pan I risk steam burns and often drop the spoon entirely, having to fish it out with the toast tongs.  Why it did not occur to me earlier to buy a new spoon, especially when regularly purchasing such random things as toast tongs, I do not know.

Finally, I did.

I bought six in fact, having a tendency towards excess when shopping.  They are long and beautiful and  - let’s face it – rather dull, so I dug out all the leftover tester paint pots from our shed and gave them a good stir.  I taped off the tip of each spoon handle (use masking or washi tape) and then gave each two coats of paint.  When dry, I sealed with a satin varnish.  It took just an hour or so from beginning to end, but the result makes me smile.  Somehow stirring a dish with one of these makes it seem inherently more likely to taste good.

Paint pots

Leftover paint

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Hand painted kitchen sitrring spoons

DIY painted kitchen spoons in a pot

(As I study the photo above, I notice I’m still somehow unable to throw away the short-and-unhygenic-and-entirely-useless wooden spoon that inspired this project).

Have a wonderful weekend!  It’s a glorious one here; sunshine and daffodils and blossom and only an occasional gust of window to remind you that you are in England, still, and thus need to keep your wits, and woollens, about you.

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p.s.  Whilst you have your leftover paint to hand, why not try painted pots, and use them to start a family sunflower race… (we’re planting ours this afternoon!).

 

The Odd Egg

The Odd Egg

With Easter fast approaching, Harry and I have been busy making an enormous egg.  Heaven knows what bird might have laid this egg, which is just short of 3 foot in length; it is certainly not a bird I would want to stumble across accidentally or whose nest I would want to unwittingly disturb.  Come Easter Sunday, it will hang from a tree in the garden filled with sweets and chocolate eggs, and be smashed, piñata-style, by an army of small egg-hunters.  Till then, it is safe and majestic atop a rather unsubstantial nest.

We began by inflating a large – huge – balloon.  Well actually, in truth we watched my husband inflate it and made encouraging noises as he turned slowly purple with the effort.  Team-work. Then we covered it with two layers of newspaper dipped in a mixture of white glue and water, pausing only occasionally to read the newspaper stories.

Paper mache balloon egg layer 1

And then a final layer, this time of white paper (we used two sheets of flipchart paper, torn up), so that we could see when we’d finished an entire layer.

Paper mache egg layer 2

And then I painted it with some pale grey leftover tester paint, before dabbing on circles and speckles of paint, in brown and copper colours….

Painted paper mache egg

It looks pretty convincing!

pinata egg

It’s very light, at least until filled with chocolate…

Giant duck egg pinata

Once it was completely dry, I cut a circular hole in the back (don’t cut it out entirely – it’s much easier to seal this way).  Harry filled the egg with chocolates, using an ‘add one, eat one’ policy and thus adding to the brown smudges around the egg.

DIY fillable Easter pinata

At Easter, we’ll thread a rope up in through the egg and tie it to the old apple tree in our garden that’s currently filled with blossom.  Until then, we can just admire it…

p.s. two more of our papier-mache projects; the hot air balloon and the moon.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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