Green Fingers

gardening, growing and outdoor fun

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

California Dreaming (and other weekend notes)

haake-map_california

Are you having a lovely weekend? We’ve had a blissfully relaxed one after another hectic week, and have managed to plan a getaway for later in the year – to California! We had an amazing time in New England last October so have pooled airmiles and co-ordinated dates and this time we’re heading for the west coast; I’m already ridiculously excited.  We’ll fly in and out of San Francisco in late October but beyond that we have 12 days of completely free time to explore the coast and travel around.  As always, if you have any tips or recommendations I would love to hear; particularly for unusual or interesting places to stay or must-visit stops along the route.  We’re planning to travel at least some of the way between SF and LA, but beyond that have no fixed ideas.

Holiday-plannng aside, it’s been a rambling weekend of small domestic pleasures, enhanced by the sunshine and luxury of open doors and ambient breezes.  Like these peonies; surely the ultimate summer flower, which have been slowly unfurling on my bedside table and making me smile…

peonies

…and Saturday morning’s traditional baking foray; this week I adapted a basic sponge cake recipe by adding a cup of desiccated coconut and a generous handful of raspberries, and christening my new bundt pan; it produced a deliciously more-ish cake which was photo-bombed by a small and hungry footballer even as I arranged these shots;

raspberry bundt cake

bundt thief

So then we all had to have a slice…

bundt crumbs

The conservatory continues to be a source of endless pleasure and new discoveries; this week the mouse melons had a growth spurt so I potted them up into old tin cans which I decorated, and handed out to friends;

Mouse Melons

…and I continued to sporadically photo and document the growth of everything else whenever I had the camera to hand… we tried deep-frying courgette/zucchini flowers for the first time and felt very cosmopolitan (though lest you think this typical of our weeknight-suppers, let me point you back to the old baked bean cans above, of which we have an embarrassing number..)

Cucumber F1 Botanical Journal

Zuccini flowers

And finally we went adventuring, setting up camp in a local forest for a couple of hours and having a spontaneous picnic whilst keeping a weather eye out for the myriad of friendly dogs who appeared every time we rustled the sandwich bag.  I took along Harry’s IKEA play canopy (a steal at about £8, and used relentlessly for all different kinds of activities).

picnic in the woods

And now we still have the evening left, perhaps a warm enough one to sit outside with a glass of wine and unfurl our newly purchased map of California, savouring the last few hours of the weekend. I hope yours has been a good one too.

Kate

Illustrated map (top) by the wonderful Martin Haake

A Modern-Day Botanical Journal

Botanical Journal 1

As a child I remember being briefly transfixed by the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady; a beautifully illustrated journal of all-things-country, penned by a fragrant, gentile lady who paused to capture nature at its most bountiful with her ever-ready paint palette.  I think I must have imagined myself doing the same one day, in blissful naivety.

Now, of course, I know that parenthood seldom allows you to pause for long enough to finish a cup of tea in a single sitting, let alone daub consistently beautiful watercolours (most of my painting is done under cover of darkness, which makes capturing the nuances of plant life somewhat tricky).  Also, that the chances of producing two beautiful sketches on adjoining pages of a notebook are slim to say the least, and that the inevitable ripping out of false-starts could render any diary very thin by the time I’d found my stride.

Instead, I decided to capture the ever-growing life in the conservatory with a kind of photo-diary; wandering around during these still-light evenings and taking a weekly snapshot of tendrils, buds, seedlings and even – most exciting of all! – the emergence of mini-vegetables.  If I manage to stay the course by both a) managing not to kill all the plants through ignorance and neglect, and b) taking some decent photos along the way, then I think I’ll make them up into a photo book like this one at the end of the year… but one step at a time.

This week; the first flurry of peas arrived; mini-cucumbers began to gain weight and dangle enticingly; the courgette plant swung into bloom and I acquired a lovely old watering can from a junk shop; both functional and – to me – beautiful…

Botanical Journal 4

Botanical Journal 2

Botanical Journal 3

Botanical Journal 5

Botanical Journal Week 1

Pea Shoots

For those who wonder about these things, I shot these photos very simply with a regular Canon DSLR and lens,  wandering around the conservatory holding a square sheet of Tim Holtz craft paper behind or alongside the plants to make for an interesting, arty picture (a behind-the-scenes shot of this below);

Behind the scenes pic

The paper takes on a very different tone in the differing lights and corners of the room, and the texture pools and melts away when I’m shooting close-up like with this vibrant-yet-poisonous Gloriosa Lily, which sits high on a shelf away where it can be admired from afar;

Gloriosa Lily

In other news; it’s been half-term this week, so a week of family time and an altogether slower pace of life; fewer early-morning alarm clocks and a very laissez-faire approach to planning each day.  Picnics in the forest, local excursions and lots of serious preparation from Harry for the first ever school Sports Day which looms on the horizon (his godmother has been coaching him for the egg-and-spoon race, professing her expertise – though she resorted this weekend to using a less conventional falafel-on-a-fork in the absence of hard-boiled eggs; we are nothing if not versatile in our approach).

There’s a back-to-school feeling for all of us this evening as uniforms and work clothes are laid out ready for the morning; but we’re drawing out the remains of the day for as long as we can.

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy the final moments of the weekend.

Kate

 

The Great Asparagus Debate

Asparagus Ricotta and Pink Peppercorn Tart

How was your weekend?  We had a gloriously hot one, the kind that tempts you into thinking summer is just around the corner and leaves a nation of oddly-sunburned yet exuberant workers heading for the office on Monday whilst trying to remember how to locate the car air-conditioning, last used circa 1986.

We made the most of the sunshine with a weekend spent largely outdoors, venturing only to a local farm to pick the first of the season’s asparagus….

Asparagus picking

I had briefly contemplated adding asparagus to our growing kitchen garden, but the fact that you have to wait three whole years before harvesting your first crop  saw it struck swiftly from our list.  That and the vivid descriptions of the ferocious asparagus beetle with its red thorax and many sets of legs (okay, six legs.  And it seemed even more ferocious when I misread its size as being 6 inches rather than 6mm.  But I digress..). We roamed the avenues of spears, selecting those with fat stems and a general air of perkiness…

asparagus trug

Rinsed asparagus

Once home, I constructed these tarts in a somewhat ad-hoc manner, adding together ingredients which I thought would work – asparagus, lemon, ricotta, peppercorns and a dash of balsamic – and hallelujah, they were delicious.  My husband will agree that not all of my creative recipe-generation is successful, but these were the exception and so I share with pride;

asparagus tart recipe

 
As the tarts were baking I drizzled some vine tomatoes with oil and grilled them; lovely on the side or (as we had them) piled on top of the tarts to make a decadent yet easy lunch.

Asparagus and lemon tarts

Despite their beauty, Harry was decidedly unconvinced by asparagus, even after we told him about the exciting sulphuric effects it might have later.  A suggestion from Harry then is that if you pick the asparagus off these tarts, they are even more delicious.  Hmm… I beg to differ.

Asparagus for lunch

p.s. Another super-easy tart recipe here, and my other favourite asparagus dish here.

Have a great week!

Kate

Green-Fingers (and the beginnings of a garden room)

The Garden Room project

For the two years since we bought our house, the conservatory has stood empty and neglected; a leaking, ill-fitting extension in a glowing candy-floss pink colour that we’d somehow never got around to painting over.  At some point we’ll probably take it down, but until then I decided to breathe a little life into it with a coat of soft grey paint and approximately 156,000 random seedlings.  They weren’t supposed to be random, or quite so numerous, but like many amateur gardening enthusiasts I sprinkled them liberally into soil plugs and then swiftly mixed up the packets, leaving me with little idea of what verdant surprises are in store…

rocket plugs

The conservatory is attached to the snug and the playroom, and is now gradually taking shape as a space we love to be in.  I’ll show some proper photos when we’ve finished moving extraordinarily heavy pieces of furniture in and out of it, but for now a few work-in-progress shots of it taking shape.  A new fig tree is settling in and adding some Mediterranean glamour to one corner, which is also home to Agnes, our rather surly looking statue who previously held court in the downstairs toilet and is now supervising the family sunflower race (I’m winning).

Creating a garden room 1

In another corner an old Ikea worktop has been co-opted as my potting bench, and now proudly displays a rusting old French bottle-dryer that I found in a junk shop last weekend;

duck duck goose

 

Creating a Garden Room 3

We added a patio table and chairs and had Sunday morning coffee in there this past weekend, enjoying the fact that the fusty, stale air of before had been replaced with that buzzy green smell and moistness that you get when everything around you is feverishly growing

peonies and coffee in the conservatory

The peonies, somewhat astonishingly, are from our garden; the schizophrenic weather of early spring means that the borders are a jumble of unseasonal colour as the biological clocks of the plant world try to adjust and work out exactly what they should be doing.

Creating a Garden Room 2

A glossy white sideboard that looked wrong in every other room of our house finds a natural home in this sun-washed space, and hosts some of the more decorative propagation, like these sugar-snap peas who are awaiting new homes with friends as part of a veggie seedling swap…

Garden Room 7

I used wooden skewers topped with beads to form wigwams to keep them happy until they can be transplanted…

Stake small seedlings with BBQ skewers topped with beads

Elsewhere a vintage garden chair takes the weight of my lemon tree which seems to be loving the heat and sunlight; you can smell the lemons from the sofa – a new favourite place to perch with a good book (especially with an olive tree at the other end).  For anyone who is wincing at the thought of a white sofa in a roomful of soil and watering cans, it’s a 15yr-old beauty with washable covers that seems to survive most of what life throws at it.

Creating a Garden Room 6  Creating a Garden Room 4

Against the long wall the really serious growing is underway; pepper plants, tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers, pumpkins, sweetcorn and courgettes.  Some will remain in the conservatory, others will find a natural home in the garden once the weather is reliably warm.  For fun and pure aesthetics, we’re also growing mouse-melons, globe artichokes and borlotti beans – I find myself checking on them every few hours when i’m home, such is the excitement…

Pepper Bush

Strawberry planter

And now I must go, because watering this mini-jungle is no small feat and cannot be ignored.  In the meantime, I have a small corner left to fill; any ideas for greenhouse-friendly, interesting plants?  To misquote William Morris, if it’s either beautiful or useful – by which I mean edible – then I’m all ears…

Have a great week!

Kate

Fleeting Obsessions: The Artistry of Quilt-Makers

Self Portrait by Sandra Bruce

Self-Portrait by the amazing Sandra Bruce

During our recent trip to Amsterdam, my mum and I were wandering through the 9 Straatjes area of artisan shops and galleries when we stumbled across a series of tiny, beautiful stores dedicated to buttons, fabrics and quilt-making.  We lost several hours of a very sunny afternoon completely absorbed by the myriad of materials, colours and designs and the incredible work of some of the artist-makers on display.  My mum is a somewhat more accomplished seamstress than I, and aided by a lunchtime beer and a dash of bravado went home laden with fat-quarters and ambitious plans for whipping-up a magnificent quilt (how’s that going then, mum?).

My own experience with quilt-making is limited to a dispiriting Home-Economics class project at the age of 12, when as a resolute tomboy complete with crew-cut and attitude, I cussed and stabbed my way towards completing a very grubby, blood-speckled pot holder that soon vanished from public display at home.  It feels like time to give it another try, so I have spent much of my evenings since exploring the amazing array of quilts online and finding inspiration everywhere…. like these;

'Moonlight' by Anne Brauer

‘Moonlight’ by Anne Brauer

Map Quilt by Diane Lovitt

Map Quilt by Diane Lovitt

Seaspray by Valerie Maser-Flanagan

‘Seaspray’ by Valerie Maser-Flanagan

California Ricelands by Merle Axelrad

California Ricelands by Merle Axelrad

Once Upon a Time by Joung Soon-Kim (S.Korea)

Once Upon a Time by Joung Soon-Kim (S.Korea)

'Race for the Moon' by Susan Musgrove (Aus)

‘Race for the Moon’ by Susan Musgrove (Aus)

Anne Francis Quilt exhibited at the NYC Quilt Symposium 2013

Detail from Anne Francis Bear Quilt

Aren’t they astonishing?  I’ve begun a collection of some of my favourites on Pinterest here, which are many decades beyond my current competency but are still a visual feast and inspiration whilst I work out how to get started.  Are you a quilter or have you ever been tempted to try?  Any tips for this distinct amateur with ideas way beyond her capability?  All advice welcome…

In the meantime these last two quilts struck me as rather more achievable but no less beautiful…

Amalfi Coast Quilt by Theresa Neubauer

Amalfi Coast Quilt by Theresa Neubauer

Pantone Pop by Sew Katie Did

Pantone Pop by Sew Katie Did

…And here’s a wonderful time-waster I came across when working out what tools I need to get started; this programme promises to turn any photograph into a quilt pattern by essentially pixelating it and creating numbered coloured squares.  I can see what this evening will be spent doing…

Quilt Pattern Template Tool

Quilt-surfing aside, it’s been a hectic week of long days at work followed by pottering and de-cluttering at home.  I took delivery of this beautiful old architect’s plan chest (a bargain ebay find), so can now store all of my gift-wrap, art papers and projects; Harry has a drawer too for his creations and rainy-day printables for colouring in and crafting;

Plan Chest 1 Plan Chest 2 Plan Chest 3

…and we’ve been busy in the conservatory, coaxing new life from our recently-planted seedlings; the rocket, basil and trailing squash have shot off the starting blocks, and require our close examination approximately once every few minutes.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but not just yet…

Planting seedlings Trailing squash

have a great week!

Kate

The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

Another smörgåsbord post tonight, of the best bits of the past week and a few passing obsessions.  The amazing and short-lived days of Spring last week encouraged the garden to burst into premature glory; I did a sweep at dawn this morning of all the branches and blooms brought down in the gusts of overnight wind and hailstones, and rescued a few of the most beautiful buds to play with and create a spring tableau on a sheet of watercolour paper (above and below).

Paintbox flower

The weather held off long enough for us to go car-booting this morning at a local flea market; the first of the season.  Pickings were slim, but I came across a huge box of vintage British walking maps, all heavily loved and worn, and printed on beautiful linen paper…

Old maps

I scooped up all of the coastal ones (I have an abiding love affair with Cornwall and Dorset), and some of the Lake District, and am just pondering how to use them; regular readers will know that maps are something of a passion of mine, so expect to see them popping up in projects in due course.  Fellow Cartophiles (did you know that’s what we’re called?  Thank you, google..) should try typing ‘maps’ into the Boards search on Pinterest to find some lovely curated collections like this one, and this. Just beautiful.

Vintage maps

I also found an old Polaroid camera for £2 which seemed a small enough price to pay for the risk of seeing whether it worked (and whether I could source film).  I was playing with it in Starbucks afterwards and clicked the shutter only to find an old roll of film still loaded inside; it produced a ghostly black and white image which Harry thought was very cool…

polaroid

We’re keeping up the Cake in the House weekend tradition, this time with a birthday cake for visiting friends.  A four-layer fudge cake no less, with ombré sponges graduating from vanilla through to caramel and chocolate.  Sounds highly technical but proved astonishingly easy (and forgiving of this distracted and cavalier cook).  It was devoured before I could show you the inside, but the recipe and ombré picture here; I’d definitely recommend it for when you need to produce a show-stopper and impress friends who are more used to you secretly roughing-up a supermarket cake until it looks passably homemade.

4 layer fudge cake

In other news, hurrah; I’m on my travels again, albeit briefly – I have a lovely weekend planned in Amsterdam with my mum next month.  I can’t wait!  We’re staying in the Museum Quarter but beyond that have no plans as yet (other than to talk, and walk, and repeat ad infinitum). Any insider knowledge or tips would be wonderful; my only prep so far has been to track down a copy of this lovely little book which lists all the craft workshops and small ateliers where you can find a myriad of handmade things which you don’t need but you want oh-so-much.

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

And finally something that made me smile, albeit through gritted teeth as I pulled my soaking laundry from the line whilst blinded and drenched by a storm of hailstones; isn’t this so very true?  Serves me right for being all smug and sunshiny last week ;-)

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

Have a wonderful week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

handbag logo

Let there be bright!

Winter Brights to lift the gloom

It’s been a week where the world at large seems to have been beset by wild and extreme weather, from the deep freeze in the US to the wet and windy ravages across Europe and unpredictable swings of temperature in the Antipodes; few places seem to have escaped.  Our corner of the world is flooded, with water levels rising.  We are fortunately ensconced at the very top of a hill, Noah style, so are quite literally high and dry – for now.  With the general gloom and January grey, I’ve been trying this week to add colour and new life to our home, to encourage thoughts of Spring.  First, an unruly bunch of tulips escaping from an old watering can;

tulips in watering can

Tulips

I trimmed a couple of leftover flowers and tucked them into a folded book on the mantle, having wrapped the stems in soaked kitchen roll; so far they have looked perky and beautiful for 3 days, which is longer than I expected;

tulips in book pages

The most lasting display will be in the kitchen, where I have repurposed our old decorating ladder as a stand for a myriad of Spring bulbs and winter flowers.  Hellebores, hycacinths and snowdrops jostle for space on the treads and lean towards the weak light which manages to flood through the window each morning.  I took this first photo (below) last weekend, and have been gradually overlaying shots as the buds burst into bloom, inspired by David Hockney’s photo montages;

Spring bulbs on a ladder

Hockney style flowers on a ladder

The hyacinths are on the cusp of flowering and the scent is delicious, mixing with the woodsmoke from the hearth;

hyacinths blooming

Back in the depths of November, I planted individual hyacinths bulbs into teacups and individual casserole dishes, and am enjoying them dotted about the house, like this one in my office;

Spring hyacinth adding a pop of colour

 

I’m not naturally green-fingered at all, but one ambition this year is to convert an old and disused conservatory at the side of our house into a place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables over the year.  A good use for these long winter evenings is to sit, glass of wine and pencil in hand, flicking through seed catalogues and marking out the most beautiful and interesting blooms and crops.  These mouse melons are on my list, just because they are so unique and pretty, and as we live on strawberries and tomatoes through the summer months, I’m sifting through varieties of those too.  For the gardeners amongst you, what would you suggest an amateur with sporadic attention should sow in a conservatory?  Space is plentiful, but colour, interesting plants and lovely scents will all increase the chances of Harry and I remembering to feed, water and prune…  All ideas welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend, and may the weather be kind to you wherever you are.

Kate

Christmas; A Week in Pictures

Happy New Year!  Did you have a lovely break?  I hope so.  We’re slowly emerging out of our cocoon and back into the real world again, after a wonderful – if chilly – Christmas.  A few highlights to share; firstly, of course, that the Big Man himself came…..

Santa has been

We had carefully counted out nine carrots and measured a mug of milk and some mince pies, so anticipation had been high, not least after Harry found Santa’s telegram in the hearth on Christmas Eve morning;

discovering the north pole telegram

There was much debate about where to hang stockings, before Harry decided that the end of the bed was the surest approach.  On Christmas morning, he discovered a letter from Santa in the top of his stocking, talking about how busy life has been at the North Pole; describing the winter colds which have been affecting the elves and which Mrs Claus has been treating with her special medicine, and the sprint-start training which Rudolph has been leading the reindeer in to ensure the whole world is reached over the course of a single night.  Harry was transfixed – momentarily – before being thoroughly distracted by the tissue-wrapped packages in the stocking itself.

Santas letter

Our boiler resolutely failed to start, despite the efforts of several engineers, so we spent Christmas wrapped in scarves, hats, jumpers, thick socks and blankets, huddled around the open fires in the kitchen and snug.  Bathing was limited to kettles of water, which Harry saw as another Christmas present in itself (no hair washing!), and which the rest of us shivered through.  Fortunately our visiting relatives are a hardy lot, so we pretended we were camping in the wild and consigned all planned festive outfits to the back of the wardrobe in favour of warm layers; there was no glamour here this year.  Harry, incidentally, seems to have a unique thermostat that never registers the cold; he spent Christmas day mostly in his vest, accessorised with a new Batman cape and mask;

batman outfit

When it came to feasting, I focused on creating a feeling of warmth with minimal effort, so used the antlers which usually adorn the log basket to form a centrepiece, sprinkled with glitter and with neutral baubles tucked at intervals.  Glitter-dipped pinecones acted as place-name holders, and a length of black paper underneath complete with chalk sticks made for much fun between courses.  The most popular game with our rotating collection of family and friends over the break was to see who could scribble down the names of all of the reindeer first.  Have a go, it’s harder than you think;  though it’s perhaps a sign of the potency of my homemade Christmas Martinis that someone had noted ‘Nixon’ in their list.

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

Our main Christmas present to each other was a New Year escape to a beautiful little hotel in the Cotswolds, for a couple of nights of warmth, fun and relaxation; it looked so welcoming even as we pulled into the drive;

calcot manor hotel

…and Harry was immediately won over on discovering his bed (as were Digby and Marvin, who accompany him everywhere)..

hotel cookies

Back home we’ve been busy packing up Christmas decorations (how is it that the number of them seems to grow every year?)

bristle tree forest

…And making thank-you cards for the many wonderful gifts we all received.  For Harry’s, I designed a simple note and then added a picture of him in cowboy costume on the front.  I recently picked up some old and rather battered childrens’ books in a church sale and have been cutting out pictures to use as envelope liners, so this Christmas thank-you notes will come with gorgeous images from Elmer;

Harry thank you 2013 Harrys thank you cards  saying thank you after christmas

And now the festivities are truly over, and we’re left with a house that looks deliciously calm and uncluttered – and warm at last, with a happily chuffing boiler once again firing away. Spring seems a long way off still, so my thoughts are turning to all things green and to how I can ward off the January gloom with a bit of colour and new life dotted around the place; that’s the challenge for this weekend, before work beckons once again.

narcissi

Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Kate

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate