About Kate

http://www.katescreativespace.com

I blog at www.katescreativespace.com

Posts by Kate :

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created.  Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable.  This one began with a bell.

We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show.  Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded.  It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman.  There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.

Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..).  I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

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The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project.  I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin.  A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..).  The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.

chalk paint

For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required).  They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook.  I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.

sewing closeups

Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board.  The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands.  I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung.  A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects).  I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results.  On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed.  I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead.  We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.

Starlight Programmes

The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn.  I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint.  I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds.  If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!

Audience bell

Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching George Clooney Gravity under the stars.  The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!

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p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!

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A Cupcake Armada (and back to school fever!)

Cupcake Armada

How are you?  Today feels like the last day of the long summer break, before school and work restart in earnest next week.  An amazing summer of long hot days, evenings without bedtime curfews and delicious expanses of family time.  A summer too of sporting achievements; armbands are now permanently consigned to the loft and Harry is confidently afloat and swimming like a fish (albeit a wriggling, giggling one, who is liable to take onboard water in moments of distraction…).

We’ve also had the time to make progress with more of the house redesign and decor, tackling the upstairs rooms a little at a time; so exciting.  And many more projects in the pipeline… but more on that in a minute.

First though, a fun papercraft-and-cake project from this week (combinations don’t come much better than that, surely); a practice-run of ideas for friends who want to have homemade vibrant and fun cupcakes at their seaside wedding instead of a traditional cake.

cupcake sails 07

I wanted to create the impression of masted sails and chose long wooden barbecue skewers and strips of brightly coloured paper to create the effect.  For the pattern – which reminded me of swirling sea colours but also picked out the pink theme colour of the wedding – I downloaded one of the wonderful free watercolour designs by Yao Cheng for DLF , cropped it into long rectangle shapes and then added some text in Powerpoint (below).  If you don’t need to add writing, I’d just chose a lovely patterned sheet of gift wrap and cut out rectangles of about 2×5 inches.

cupcake sails 02

I painted each skewer with food colouring; you can do this neat from the bottle or dilute for a more subtle colour.  I left the bottom of the skewers unpainted but of course the beauty of the food colouring is it’s completely non-toxic and safe to be thrust deep into sponge…

cupcake 04

I threaded the paper onto the skewer and then pushed a small pearl bead onto each skewer tip both for decorative effect and to avoid any partygoers accidentally poking themselves in the eye when leaning over to choose their cake.. and also strung a few tiny bells randomly on the mast tops..

cupcake sails 05

Ta-da; the finished cupcakes!  Easy to produce en masse but equally fun just to make for teatime.

cupcake sails 07

 In other news… Harry and I have been embarking on a rather more substantial project this month; remember the Parisian Play Shop?  It was well-loved and well-played with for about a year but gradually became a dumping ground for all kinds of toys, books and half-built Lego models.  Whilst the play kitchen is very much still in active use, and acts like a magnet for any little girls who happen to be passing through, the shop seemed to have run its course, so I moved it to the loft to create space and forgot about it.

But then, this summer we stumbled across a pop-up puppet show in the local park – and Harry was absolutely transfixed.  There’s something about the slapstick comedy and audience participation which completely captured his imagination and made him chuckle whenever he thought about it for days afterwards.  So… we’re building a puppet theatre together, where we can stage our own plays at home.  I began by bashing out the top shelf and getting a large hole cut out from the back..

puppet theatre in progress

and finished up…….

starlight puppet theatre DIY

…well, I think we’ll open the theatre officially with a Grand Reveal next week, when our finishing touches are complete. We have some rehearsing to do after all :-)

Have a great weekend when it comes; I’ll be making the most of the last couple of days of lie-ins and sunshine, in-between stitching in name tags and retrieving long-abandoned school kit from corners around the house..

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The Door in the Woods

The Secret Fairy Door



A couple of years ago, soon after we moved into our home, Harry and I began to hear strange skittering noises under the floorboards.  Small things occasionally went missing or turned up in unexpected places.  ’Mice!‘, said my husband.  ‘Borrowers!’ I replied.  Harry was mystified.  Then, we discovered these small doors in the skirting boards (below) and realised that we are not alone.

Fairy Doors in the Kitchen

we’ve come to enjoy watching the comings and goings of whoever lives behind these doors; post is delivered, sometimes with milk or a fresh supply of logs.  But we always assumed that the Borrowers, or fairies, or Lego men – whoever they were – lived indoors… until yesterday, when we were kicking a ball around the garden and discovered the door in the tree;

The House in the Woods

Lit by a small lamp and almost disguised amongst the foliage was this ornate front door, complete with welly boots and a rake, and a freshly swept porch.  We were very taken aback…

Fairy Doors in the Forest

It prompted us to rummage around a little further, at which point we stumbled across what looks like a tiny children’s playground, complete with tyre swing, straw bales, sandpit and even  an abandoned buggy (maybe we made too much noise?).

Fairy Playground



Well… a truly magical garden, and a whole new place to look for signs of tiny life.  We did try knocking on the door of the Tree House, but there was no reply – this time.

If, having paced out every inch of your garden or backyard, you find no signs of miniature life and want to encourage a few fairies or little people to move in, you could perhaps create your own tree doors and playgrounds.  I used unpainted doll house doors which I daubed with grey and green paint before sealing with varnish, adding tiny door furniture and borrowing some accessories from Harry’s ark and toy box.  The tyre swing is a Lego tyre, temporarily borrowed from a Lego City fire engine and repurposed.  The tiny replica gas lamp was a junk shop find (amongst a bag of mixed dolls house furniture and accessories), and miraculously works with a tiny hearing-aid sized battery, casting a magical glow over the undergrowth.  eBay is a good source too for miniature accessories and pre-loved dolls house kit.

To protect the tree from damage I simply glued the door to the bark in a natural hollow; a strong enough hold to allow the door handle to be tugged, but not a permanent fixture.  Oh, and a word of caution; when I first crept out at dusk to create this scene for Harry, I set a small dolls-house sized tomato plant by the front door, with attractive cherry-red tomatoes strung along it; by morning it was gone, and is probably even now being spat out in disgust by some local urban fox… so perhaps remove any bits and bobs at the end of each day.  Besides, half of the magic is never knowing where the evidence of the little people might pop up…

Secret Fairy Doors in the Woods

Have a great weekend!

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My Favourite Kit

In response to a recent small flurry of questions about the equipment I use, here’s a quick romp through my favourite kit and the reasons I like it.  I should begin by saying that I am completely unqualified to offer anything other than a personal opinion – I do not own so much as a Brownie badge in photography or paper craft, and am baffled by most things digital (I am awaiting eagerly the time that Harry hits his technological stride at about 6yrs old and can fix and demystify everything for me…).  Still, they’re the bits and bobs I rely on, so read on if your interest is piqued.  Where I’ve linked to stockists, it’s primarily for information, and I’ve chosen them fairly randomly; if you’re looking to buy I’d shop around for the best deal.

Camera Basics from katescreativespace

My camera, which tolerates a great amount of abuse, was a Canon 450d – I chose it 7yrs ago because when debating the question of Canon vs Nikon, I was repeatedly told that Canon was more intuitive for amateurs (the sales assistants obviously sensed my limitations within moments).  Whether or not this is true, I love my camera and it’s been reliable and awesome from Day 1.  For Christmas 2012, my wonderful husband gave me the upgraded 600d; but the single biggest change to my photos came much later when I invested in a 50mm fixed lens with a very low f/stop; it allows you to create a very shallow depth of field so that people and objects really leap out of the frame and the background melts away in a lovely blur, as in the pics above.  The effect is called ‘bokeh’ and you can read much more about it, with some other good lens recommendations, here.  These lenses don’t come cheap – they can be more than the camera itself – but if Great Aunt Susan dies peacefully in her sleep and leaves you a vast legacy, I’d suggest popping one on your shopping list.

1.  Canon EOS 450D/600D, 2. Canon 50mm lens, entry level or pro, 3. I have one of these wrist-straps and it’s invaluable when juggling a camera, a child and an ice-cream etc..  and 4. An inexpensive but super-useful lens cleaning brush

My camera came with a free DSLR bag, but I soon got sick of lugging it everywhere in addition to a nappy bag or handbag (sometimes all 3; when combined with the sartorial devastation caused by new motherhood, I’m surprised that people didn’t toss coins at me as I shuffled through the park..).  I looked at stylish camera bags but the loveliest of these tended to run into £100s.  Then I realised that I was trying to find a camera bag that looked as good as a handbag, and common-sense struck; after some thought, I trimmed all the exterior pockets and flap off the camera bag and now simply tuck it into whatever handbag or tote I’m using that day; it looks much cooler and lessens the risk of me leaving bags behind wherever I go.  And it’s a great way of converting a nappy/diaper bag once you no longer need it too.  Amazon has DSLR bags in its ‘basics’ range for under £10.

DIY Camera Bag Insert

I do a lot of paper crafts on the blog, and often have printables to download like these superhero cuffs.  A common question is how to get the same vibrancy of colour when using a regular home printer.  My printer is an Epson Photosmart 1400 (now replaced by the 1500 below which is the same with a few extra bells and whistles).  I wanted a printer that would print in large format, and it does – beautifully – though it takes up a fair amount of desktop space and the ink cartridges are expensive.  Epson inks are repeatedly described in the creative community as having the greatest colour intensity, and they certainly seem to deliver the goods.

Here’s the thing though; the biggest difference I see is in the paper I use; basic copy paper produces an acceptable but rather dull print-out as you see below left, whereas choosing professional-grade paper (I use HP matte) produces terrific vibrancy without changing any of the settings – the straightforward like-for-like comparison shows you the difference.  The paper is more expensive, as you’d expect – but still much cheaper than upgrading your printer.  I use it for craft projects and then switch to basic paper when printing emails etc.

Tips for great printing

So there we have it; my kitbag preferences and passions, for what they’re worth.  If you have other favourites or have had different experiences, do feel free t0 share in the comments below.  I’m also starting to think about a my-first-camera for Harry who is becoming fascinated with both sides of the lens; my inclination is to charge up my old pocket-sized Sony Cybershot and encourage him to have a play, but I’d love to hear if you’ve helped to grow a child’s enthusiasm for taking photos; any tips or hints?  I look at the dedicated plastic ‘kids’ cameras and recoil slightly at what seem to be inflated prices mostly for the character branding  - but I could be completely misguided. All advice welcome!

Have a great week…

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Molten chocolate fondants with sea-salt caramel sauce; calorie-free! (not really..)

chocolate fondant pots with seasalt caramel sauce

A quick post today in case you’re looking for culinary inspiration for the weekend…. I’m preparing molten chocolate fondants for dinner with friends tonight, and they’ve become a fail-safe favourite.  The brave will tackle these with relish and determination, stopping only when there is not a crumb or smudge of warm chocolate left, but even those who usually decline desserts tend to manage a spoonful or three.

My recipe is a composite of numerous ones I’ve tried; I think that every cookbook tends to have one.  The beauty of these though is that you can prepare them the evening before and just pop them in the oven when everyone is still congratulating you on the main course (at least in the fantasy world of how you imagine that the evening will go..).  After just 10-12 minutes they will be lightly crusted on top, cake-like at the sides and full of molten deliciousness in the middle.  If you want to be extraordinarily clever and are one of life’s risk-takers, you can actually tip these out of the ramekins or pots at the table, to oohs and ahhs of surprise.  Me?  I keep them in the pan; these mini Mauviel pans I found at an antiques fair last year;

Mauviel pans

Here’s the recipe, which makes 6 pots…..

Chocolate fondant recipe

When they come out of the oven, they will be beautifully soft and molten in the middle..

Molten fondant pots with seasalt caramel

For the salted caramel sauce, look no further than Nigella, who has this easy-to-follow recipe for whipping up a generous amount with relatively little effort.  Or, if you’re like me and value a short-cut, look no further than the shelves of M&S or any good supermarket for a jar of it, and hope that your guests will be so distracted by your obviously-homemade fondant that they fail to ask how you made the salted caramel sauce.  If cornered, quote Nigella.  You can also use dulce de leche and add a few flakes of fleur de sel on top, as in my pictures above; drizzle it over the pudding and then stir in as you break the top…

fondant pots with salted caramel sauce

And then if you’re feeling virtuous, run for approx. 6hrs on a treadmill to ensure that your dinner is calorie-neutral.

But then, where’s the fun in that?

Have a great weekend!

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Hot chocolate fondants from katescreativespace

Beachcomber Chic

Beachcomber place settings

Regular readers will know that I have a passion for the sea and all things coastal; whenever we can, we pile into the car and head for the shore; there’s something about the endless skies and water, the sea-salt and the sand that is magical.  We’re heading for Cornwall soon to go rock-pooling and to brave the Atlantic waters, but till then I’ve brought the sea a little closer to home with these bauble place-settings filled with beach-combed finds, made for a casual al fresco dinner with friends…

Coastal style place settings

I bought a set of fillable Christmas baubles from Michaels when we were in New England last Autumn, and in the frenzy of festive preparations managed to forget about them completely until, inspired by the endless beautiful pictures of coastal dining and projects in magazines (especially the current issue of Country Homes and Interiors), I decided to use them as summery place-settings for a simple outdoor get-together.

I gathered up a hodgepodge of beach treasures from previous holidays and added in bits of ephemera I’ve gathered on my travels (including some old watch faces which I bought by the bagful from the eclectic  Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris, bits of broken jewellery and feathers collected in the springtime on our many trips to feed the ducks..)

Beachcombing finds

..And dug out a handful of corks, gathered over the years from various celebrations  - celebrations as big as weddings and as small as the arrival of the weekend at long last…

corks

I prised the top off each bauble and tipped in some sand (I used a scoop of play sand from Harry’s old sandpit), then dropped in my treasures.  You might want to use a pair of tweezers or cooking tongs to move things around; it’s like learning keyhole surgery without a textbook…

Making coastal bauble place settings

Push in a cork, and then tie on a simple paper tag with each name.  I printed names onto a sheet of cardstock then cut into strips before  punching a hole in each and tying on with household string.  Broken shells look beautiful threaded on to the tie;

Coastal Bauble Place Settings

And voila, a simple yet stylish summer place-setting which can be played with endlessly as your guests get tipsy and start trying to fish out interesting contents with their cutlery, adding a dash of sand to each course in the process (trust me on this; or maybe it’s just my guests…)

Summer dinner party style

If you want to try this but didn’t have the foresight to buy a fistful of empty baubles at Christmas before leaving to gather dust in the back of a drawer, there are a number of craft shops which either stock them year-round, or - quelle horreur! - are already showcasing their festive collections for this year.  Online, try eBay or craft mecca Etsy for beautiful glass versions.  In the UK you can find them here, or Baker Ross has a slightly different design.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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Hello Summer!

Feature log fireplace

Hello again after a couple of weeks away… an unplanned but delicious retreat from the world where we just kicked back from work, school and routine and made the most of the sunshine and freedom that the start of the school holidays brought.  It began with fond farewells to the teachers who made Harry’s first taste of school so exciting; he painted this portrait of his class teacher to give her (I love the way she is portrayed with a beaming smile and wide open arms – exactly as a nursery teacher should be!)…

teacher cards and gifts

..then we had an amazing week of holiday in Tenerife, spent mostly in the swimming pool under cloudless blue skies.  As dusk fell Harry chose a suitably stylish outfit and we headed for the beachfront bar so he could draw some postcards to send home whilst we relaxed with a glass of wine.

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Once home it was time for some more fond farewells, this time to a friend who is moving to East Kenya to work with Amref and their rural doctor programme; I cheated with a shop-bought cake but then borrowed some native African animals from Harry’s Ark and made them little party hats (disks of gift wrap topped with tiny pom-poms).  If you want to have a go at these simple cake toppers,  I downloaded a free clip-art banner from here, added my text and carefully cut out two copies.  I then glued two drinking straws between them before pushing into the cake top… ta-da!!

banner cake

The cake was very much in the spirit of how we’ve spent the last couple of weeks; doing fun, creative things that take little effort and no finesse.  Like these frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and toppings, which have helped us to soldier on through the hottest of days and even count as one of our 5-a-day portions of fruit…

Frozen choc dipped bananas

Here’s what we did (using leftover chocolate from Easter – a bonus!).

Choc dipped frozen banana recipe

The only downside is that your kitchen surfaces will look a little like this for a while, and you’ll be finding pretty sprinkles in every nook and cranny for at least a month.  But hey, it’ll be worth it.

cooking with kids

We also made giant paper boats to hold popcorn on Family Movie Nights (not worrying about bedtimes with no school in the morning is wonderful…).  I took some sheets of gift wrap and used this tutorial to remind me how to craft the boats….

Plan Chest

Drinking straws and washi tape gave the boats a jaunty mast and flags…

Paper Popcorn Boats

Popcorn Paper Boats

They’d be great as  table centrepieces for a nautical or pirate-themed party…

And now work beckons once more, for a few weeks at least.  Monday morning saw the heavens open and flash-flooding across southern England as if to mark the temporary hiatus in our idling… but definitely only a temporary one.

Have a great week wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned!  I’ll be back at the end of the week.

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p.s. the top picture of painted logs is of the fireplace in Harry’s new bedroom, a work in progress – more soon.

Hand-Drawn Summer Postcards (and Inspiring Illustrators…)

Holiday Postcard with Quentin Blake Frame


Harry loves to draw – at the moment.  His enthusiasm goes in fits and starts, so I try to go with the flow and encourage him to have fun with painting and drawing and thus delay for as long as possible (forever, I hope) the moment when he throws down his pencil, decides that he’s ‘no good at art’ and is lost to the sports field forever.

We’re going on holiday soon and I’ve designed Harry a pack of blank postcards to draw on during the long waits for dinner, or in quiet times between dips in the pool and races on the beach.  We’ll post them home to family and friends – and address one to ourselves for our Memory Box – and it should be a fun, creative way of capturing the best bits of the holiday. He’s already feeling inspired..

Hand-Drawn Holiday Postcards 1

The back of the postcard is a simple template with  - crucially – space at the bottom for the artist to sign their name (and because after all that hard work drawing, it’s only fair that the grown-ups should have to do all the rest of the dull writing and address-filling);

Postcard Template

And the front of the cards I’ve either left blank or used this brilliant free download from the illustrator Quentin Blake’s website (see later) to make the white space a bit less daunting and provide a bit of additional inspiration..

Postcard DIY

I’ve packaged Harry’s into a box with a set of fun twistable crayons and we’ll pack them in his case at the last minute, along with approximately 104 other things that he considers to be critical for a week by the sea (Batmobile, pirate telescope, Lego, winter boots, random household objects etc).

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 2

They make good small gifts for Harry’s friends as we prepare to say goodbye at the end of term…

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 4

You can download my template below if the idea appeals (and there’s no reason why this should be just a children’s activity of course; I’ll certainly be painting a few of my own to mail alongside Harry’s ;-) ).

Postcard Printable

Talking of inspiring children to paint and draw, I love discovering how some of the best-known illustrators are providing resources and encouragement to help kids do just that.  I mentioned Quentin Blake earlier, who has a site full of activities and projects, like this one where you are encouraged to decide – and draw – the marvellous person who has just arrived at the door;

Colour_in_no_4The Guardian newspaper in the UK featured a series of awesome illustrators showing how to draw famous characters from their books and animated films, like Emily Gravett, who is helped by the unreliable Cedric in teaching us how to draw dragons;

How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-001 How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-004

…and the wonderful Polly Dunbar who draws pigs, step by step… (follow the link for the whole tutorial).

Polly Dunbar draws pigsdrawing by Polly Dunbar

I remember that when I was growing-up, copying pictures and learning how to draw the characters and things I loved were what slowly built my confidence… and I’m hoping it does the same for Harry.

I’d love to know who your favourite illustrators are, and any other links and resources… the more the merrier!  Here are a few more of mine;

Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) has a great site with kids colouring pages but also resources for artists on how to create wet-tissue works like his.

Fans of the Gruffalo and Axel Scheffler’s drawings  can find lots of brilliant crafting activities here

Elmer is our current favourite bedtime book; David McKee explains here how to draw elephants like Elmer – or if colouring-in is more the ticket, find a printable here.

Have a great week!

Kate

 

Calendar Cards (and notes from the week that was)

Calendar Card DIY

It’s our wedding anniversary later this week so my thoughts turned to cards.  A few months ago I stumbled across this beautiful free graphic calendar from Jasmine Dowling, and thought how perfect it would be for making cards to mark a special date or anniversary.  I downloaded the calendar page for July, resized to A5, then glued it to a piece of cardstock before adding tiny wooden pegs and circling our wedding date in red glitter glue…  and that’s all.  I’m in a pared-down, understated frame of mind at the moment and the visual simplicity of it really appealed.  Thanks Jasmine!  (These would be great to make as Save The Date cards for a wedding or party too..)

Heart date card

It’s our sixth anniversary and I’m looking for ideas; apparently it’s traditional to give your loved one iron as a gift – not to be confused with an iron I think, though this maybe why so many marriages suffer from the seven year itch; it can’t be easy to move on from the romantic gesture of laundry supplies.

For our fourth anniversary we gave each other the gift of a giant pair of faux resin antlers from RH (below); they looked so stylish and elegant online, and indeed they do now in our home – but the real act of love was the gesture my husband made in escorting them home from the US after a business trip.  It was, he later said, the longest interrogation he has ever faced at an airport check-in desk, when presented with the 44″ antler span; (‘Where were you thinking we would store these, sir?  Or should we just strap the darn things to the plane?’).  They arrived in the UK with balled-up sports socks attached jauntily to each point for protection, trussed in Heavy Load tape. We vowed then that gifts would be token purchases, and highly portable at that – and our relationship has flourished ever since.

moose antlers from RH

Still, gifts made of iron??  Suggestions please…

One purchase I did make this week was this beautiful Tradewinds Mural from Anthropologie (below)  - I had seen it months ago and become mildly obsessed, with my enthusiasm constrained only by the price tag.  Then the Sale came and I was lost.  It’s going up in Harry’s bedroom I think, for a splash of colour and to inspire dreams of globe-trotting and discovery.

tradewinds mural

With interiors in mind, I finally finished the faux fireplace in our master bedroom, which is gradually coming together (more pictures soon, I promise).  When we recently renovated the en-suite bathroom it focused my mind on how to update our bedroom to complement it.  We added a simple, architectural fire surround to the plain wall, then packed it with 10cm deep log slices to give the impression of a filled-in hearth….

log filled fireplace

And then finally for this week, one culinary success and one truly epic fail; the success first – a drizzled lemon and poppyseed cake which vanished without trace in the space of a day, using a recipe from my current favourite cookbook… you can see my passion for the bundt tin hasn’t yet abated;

Lemon drizzle cake

Homemade lemon drizzle cake

And the epic fail?  Well, my fig tree finally produced a flurry of these beauties below, and I decided to try making fig jam, as a perfect accompaniment to the cheeseboard we had planned for dinner with friends.  Well.  My first attempt produced a kind of fruity industrial-style cement (albeit one which smelled divine), which adhered to our teeth in minutes and had the staying power of cinder toffee, rendering the whole table literally speechless.  Very little actual cheese was consumed, largely because jaws were sealed shut with fig jam.

figs

I am determined to crack it though, and when I do you will be the first to know.  Trust me.

Have a great week!

Kate

Gifting ideas (and the week in which my tenuous grasp on horticulture is lost)

Wine Bottle Tags free download

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a lovely weekend, and one which hasn’t receded too dramatically into the mists of time.  Ours was packed with socialising with some of our closest friends, mostly al fresco thanks to the very un-British heatwave.  Long may it continue.  Friday night was supper with friends so I baked a batch of our tried-and-tested oatcakes to take along (delicious with cheese), and designed a bottle tag to drop around the neck of a bottle of wine.  An Eat Me, Drink Me combination worthy of Alice in Wonderland, but with somewhat more predictable results… and fewer rabbit holes.

Gifting ideas; wine bottle tags

Here’s my downloadable template if you want to make a batch of tags; for those with proper grown-up wine cellars or any kind of grape expertise, they’d be great for recording tasting notes or details of dates and vintage.  Or simply greetings and instructions to consume immediately, as we did…

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Just cut around the outside, then punch or carefully cut out the hole and lightly fold along the dotted line before slipping over the neck of your bottle.

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Our social whirlwind continued with a visit to Harry’s godparents and their new puppy, an adorable 5 month old labrador; we made her a jar of peanut-butter dog biscuits and I also experimented with a new iPhone/iPad app called Waterlogue which converts photos into watercolour-effect pictures.  All we had was this low-res picture of Lexie, but when imported into Waterlogue and transformed, it became a gorgeous, slightly abstract picture…

trialling waterlogue

I emailed myself the pic and cropped it slightly then printed it onto sheets of white linen cardstock to make a set of notecards for the family; I added text to some and left others bare.  I can see Waterlogue is going to be my new time waster for a little while…  if you have an iPhone it’s worth checking it out;  from my early experiments it works brilliantly with some photos and can’t seem to interpret or adapt others –  a bit hit and miss – but inexpensive enough to try.

Dog watercolour cards project

DIY cards using Waterlogue app

The heatwave has been perfect for racing through garden sprinklers and spending hours in the paddling pool, but alas fatal for some of our conservatory plants; a handful have quietly breathed their last despite my fervent attempts to water and ventilate whenever we’re home (I have felt more like an ER surgeon, racing from one to the next to check possibilities for resuscitation than the genteel green-fingered pottering I’d imagined..).  Still, the mouse-melons have not only survived but thrived, and are shooting out plucky lassoos as they climb at a rate of knots…

Mousemelons climbing

The courgettes too are soaking up the dense heat and we now have row upon row of shiny – if somewhat eclectically shaped – cukes ready for Harry to pack in his lunchbox.

cucumbers in a row

I occasionally manage an early-morning wander through the garden before work, cup of tea in hand; this rose (below) looked too beautiful to ignore and now sits on my bedside table smelling divine.

garden rose

…and in a local thrift shop I found the perfect book to photograph for the cover of my gardening journal; it’s so very true…

the amateur gardener

….as evidenced by this, my bizarrely shaped courgettes (zucchini), which taste good but look like they were caught in a moment of indecision during a growth spurt about whether to remain courgettes or aim higher and pretend to be marrows.

misshapen marrow

Still, it’s all a good (if steep) learning curve… and at least our peas are uncomplicatedly obliging.  In fact, we are slowly creating a pea mountain, as we search for endless ways of incorporating them into every dish.

have a great week!

Kate

 

peas please

Fathers Day (and the often surprising Language of Flowers)

gingerbread matchsticks

There’s a sense of feverish anticipation in our household as the week draws to a close and preparations for Fathers Day can begin in earnest.  Harry has been busy card-making and tip-toeing around with carefully rolled up artworks, whispering ‘Shhh!’ loudly whenever my husband enters the room.  My efforts have been more culinary in nature, experimenting with making giant gingerbread matchsticks (above).

For those who are wondering what on earth has possessed me, I confess that I was a devoted follower of the Great British Bake Off series, during which one contestant – the impressive Frances Quinn – created a beautifully presented box of breadsticks disguised as matches.  She had spiced them with ginger and chilli and they were startlingly beautiful and uniform as they lined up, elegantly inside her giant matchbox.  I was in awe.

I have no idea how she managed it, but I’ve been having a play using my usual gingerbread recipe; I rolled out the dough into slim sausages and aimed for a vague uniformity of shape and size.  After baking for 6-8mins and leaving to cool, I dipped the ends in melted dark chocolate…

chocolate dipped gingerbread sticks

Then took a supermarket breadstick box and covered it with a homemade wrapper (if you’re at all interested in making these, my file is attached below as a PDF)..

Edible Breadstick Box Design

Edible Matches

Lest these appear dainty and petits-four-esque, here’s Harry to demonstrate the scale of these babies; less than 500 calories in each I can promise you.  Probably.  Start the day with one of these on Sunday and I guarantee it will be a pretty relaxed day, focused mostly on digestion.

bbb

 

Edible Matches top and sides PDF

Edible Matches Blank PDF

 In other news…

I’ve just finished reading The Language of Flowers, which I loved; have you read it?.  Given it spent years on the NYT best-sellers list, I realise I am somewhat behind the curve here (again), but nonetheless it was a great novel to stumble across.  Hard to explain, but beautiful to read, and it sparked my curiosity about the fact that the Victorians assigned meanings to each flower and used them to communicate messages and sentiments.  Whether it be friendship, luck, enduring love or hope that you are seeking to convey, there’s a flower at the ready to bring this to life.

I was discussing this with a friend and we decided to look up the flowers we’d chosen for our respective wedding bouquets. Ginnie had chosen purple irises, which revealed themselves to be ‘a sign of our enduring friendship and love’.  Very apt.  ‘Google orchids’, I cried; ‘my whole bouquet was orchids!’.  We waited…

‘Testicles!’  Said Ginnie.  ’It means testicles, from the Greek apparently!’.  It appears I walked down the aisle clutching a message that my husband cheerfully interpreted as a sign of my inherent manliness.  The wedding photos will never be the same again…

wedding master shot

After further searching, orchids were revealed elsewhere to signify ‘mature love’ (which is slightly better of course, although now I feel rather like Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Would you choose flowers with their meaning in mind?  The risk is that definitions and interpretations vary wildly, but here’s a guide from Vanessa Diffenbaugh to get you started if you want to do some detective work.  Just don’t ever give anyone a pot of basil without being prepared for the consequences…

have a great weekend – and thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions about our California trip last week; it’s been a joy reading them all and making plans!

Kate

p.s. Some Fathers Day ideas from last year.