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The eyes have it…

eyes in green

Well.. suggestive biscuits, hiccup trucks, typing on the pewticka and a visit to the Balistica in Venice – our kids (and the occasional grown-up…)  have a much better lexicon than we do.  Some brilliant comments in response to Monday’s post; here’s another one to distract you from all the important and useful things you have planned for today (but we can at least justify it as being an intellectually highbrow diversion; read on).

Research published in the journal Science this week established a connection between the reading of literary fiction and our ability to intuit expressions and understand the emotions of others.  And not only do they seem to have better emotional intelligence than others, they also apply it, resulting in enhanced empathy and social skills.  In a crude and unsound scientific algorythm, this might be represented as those who tackle Tolstoy & DeLillo for fun = nicer people.  Alas, there doesn’t appear to be the same correlation with the kind of trashy novels we recline with on the beach (the researchers gingerly used a Rosamunde Pilcher novel as the ‘control arm’ in this experiment, just to check).  The hypothesis is that because writers of true literary fiction tend to be sparing in their description of what’s going on in the minds of their characters, readers are required to fill in the gaps and make leaps of understanding and assumptions about what they are thinking and feeling.

But never mind the science, let’s get to the fun part.  A quiz; yay.  Click here and interpret each of the expressions, with a maximum of 36 to be scored.  The normal range is 22-30; if you get below that there could be a number of valid reasons including a) a complete failure to concentrate or b) a lifestyle where you only tend to encounter people who look Aghast or Anxious, thereby skewing your ability to detect other emotions.  Actually, I made that up.  I got 33/36 and am disproportionately proud, but also a little deflated as it means I have to return to doing all of the domestic things I was supposed to be doing today.

Oh, and then when you’ve done it, ask the man in your life to do the same; mine got considerably less, to his great surprise.  ’I got all the female expressions right, though’, he said, in some sort of naive attempt to rationalise the score.  I put it to him that this might be down to a life spent studying women; he wisely chose dignified silence as a response.

Give it a go, and let me know how you do…

More crafts next week, once we get off this psycho-analysis excursion (it’s fun though, isn’t it?)

 

Psycholinguistic evolution. Or: why pre-schoolers are wonderful.

memory jar

image via here

We were driving around in circles the other day, Harry and I; lost on the way to the house of a new friend from school.  ’Oh Mummy’ sighed Harry, ‘We should have asked the CatNap how to get there’.

Such linguistic slip-ups are one of the great delights of  these wonder years as Harry masters the art of language, and each time I struggle with the urge to leave them uncorrected in the hope that they  somehow get preserved forever in all of their magic.  Many are logical and smile-inducing; a plate of buzz-ghetti is a favourite food (apparently this switching of sounds is very common, along with the usual mixing up of plurals and tenses).  Others are more mysterious in origin; add parmesan to your spaghetti and you now have a plate of ‘Pasta with Damage’ – another keen favourite, though none of us can understand where the damage bit comes from.

The first voyages into empathy are also touching and occasionally comedic; when one of his classmates was tearful at the prospect of school last week, Harry leaned over to her and stage-whispered ‘It’s ok; they won’t make you have hair-washes here’ – hair washing, for him, being the most scary and distasteful thing he could imagine and therefore the obvious cause of her anxiety.

It’s hard not to laugh when these things pop out, but fortunately Harry is remarkably affable and good-humoured about causing mild hilarity. ‘I’m a funny guy’, he beams, chuckling, before testing out the correction and making a mental note for next time.  And I usually do correct, because the social perils of ignoring minor speech errors loom large in my mind; I still remember vividly the heated prickle of embarrassment of breakfast after a friend’s sleepover in my teenage years when I asked for a bowl of muesli – pronounced ‘mursley’ in our household, where such things had only been read on the packet and never heard spoken aloud.  The stunned silence around the table, and the sniggering of her younger brother before someone ventured ‘do you mean moo-sley, dear?’ almost ruined my 14th year (I was a very melodramatic teenager).  I blame my parents.  Still.

Ages ago my mum urged me to scribble some of Harry’s sayings down before they got lost in the hurly-burly of time passing and the white noise of growing up.  I harboured vague intentions for way too long, never quite settling on the right way of doing it – the right notebook to scribble them into; the right way of recording them – and thus losing countless gems in the process.  Then a couple of weeks ago I  read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts how her late husband used to keep a jar on his desk filled with bits of paper capturing the sayings of their young daughter, which he then occasionally recycled into the mouths of characters in his books.

So simple, yet so obvious.  Write them down, stick them in a jar.  Fill up the jar.

Pause at odd sentimental moments and go find the jar; sift through, smiling and remembering.  Allow yourself to become a bit misty-eyed.  Sign a poignant sigh and then get a grip.

That’s my plan anyway.  And my jar is in fact an old teapot, which sits majestically on a shelf above the kitchen sink, and is now rustling with very important scraps of paper.

I added the most recent one this morning, after we stepped through the door into a classically autumnal world of swirling mist and fog.  ’Look, Mummy!’ exclaimed Harry; ‘there’s Sky Dust everywhere!’.

A perfect world of buzzghetti, CatNaps and sky dust; long may it remain so…

Buzzghetti

 

A Chill in the Air…

Striped Holiday Candles

Arctic winds have blown through our corner of the world this week, hustling the trees into a frantic leaf fall and turning our minds to thoughts of cold, crisp mornings and snow.  The newfound chill is novel enough to feel fresh and exciting, and to make us a little giddy at the thought of Christmas approaching (I’m an unashamed Christmas person; although the grown-up in me joins in the general tut-tutting at the sight of Christmas cards in the shops in September, the child in me gets very excited…).

Preparations for the festive season can never begin too early in this house, so I waited for a break in the gusting wind and then rushed outside to practice making candy-cane striped candles, a plan I’d had vaguely formulating since the neon candle experiment earlier in the summer.  This was an experimental DIY but proved to be a very easy one.  You’ll need;

  • A handful of inexpensive red candles
  • Nail varnish remover
  • A roll of masking tape or washi tape
  • A ruler, if you are precisely minded (I did mine by sight and guesswork)
  • A can of matt white spray paint (whilst the propellant is highly flammable, the paint itself is usually fine to use; check the small-print on yours before buying).

Firstly rub the candles lightly with a cotton wool bud soaked in nail varnish remover, and then rinse and pat dry.  This will help the spray paint to adhere better.  Now, starting at the bottom of the candle, run the tape around at intervals of about 1″ (or as wide as your tape).  Repeat until the top, and then smooth around the tape to ensure it is stuck to the candle all the way around each ring (this minimises the chance of smudging or paint runs).  At this point they should look a bit like this;

pegged candles

I pegged mine up for spraying, but equally you could simply don an old rubber glove and hold them by the tips before spraying.  The bands of tape mean that you can lean them against a wall to dry, as long as you position them carefully.  I gave mine two light layers, about 3hrs apart.  If you have more patience, 3 coats would look even better… just don’t be tempted to try and give it a double-coating in one; it will run and look horrible.  Trust me.  when they are dry, carefully peel off the tape and examine;

candles drying

At this point, you can use a craft knife to gently scrape away any paint to neaten the edges, and dab any gaps or chips using a cotton wool bud with a little paint sprayed on top.  And then… well, that’s it.  Ta-da!  Have a cup of tea and congratulate yourself.

Candles in black tissue

These burn very normally without strange smells or firework effects (always reassuring to know), and look very pretty.  Not as finessed as those in high-end shops which are made from layers of coloured wax, but a very cunning and serviceable thrifty alternative (and where Christmas is concerned, any opportunity to be thrifty has to be good…).  For ultimate holiday table chic, use a handful of these candle spikes and stick them in glossy red apples.  Gorgeous.

(ps if we were partying at home this Halloween, I think I’d be making some of these using black candles for stripy witch-stocking effects).

Have a great weekend!

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

 

 

 

Midweek Magic: A Hug in a Mug

Microwave Cup Cakes

Occasionally I get asked how I juggle a career with motherhood and blogging. Not, I hasten to add, by those who know me, because they see how much falls through the cracks and bear witness to my forgetfulness, air of general chaos and just-in-time approach to life.  Still, if there are secrets to be confided here, one must surely be that I LOVE a good shortcut, and much of my balancing act comes down to doing things on the fly,  adopting Slummy-Mummy rules wherever possible.  And let’s face it, baking cakes in a mug in the microwave won’t win me any Alpha-Mum prizes (and hallelujah to that).

Whilst I do love ‘proper’ baking when time allows, there are definitely times where our household just needs cake, and needs it right now.  Before the oven has time to heat, before I can strap on a hernia belt in order to drag the KitchenAid out from the cupboard, and certainly before any butter has the chance to gradually reach room temperature (I love those Hummingbird Bakery guys, but really – time, people!).  When the need for cake arises, I know I can knock one up in less than 5 minutes, from conception to delivery – in fact, from conception to consumption – and it tastes so good.  Trust me on this.

Choose a mug and a jug (I’m tempted to write this in rhyming couplets, so taken am I with this first line, but I will restrain myself..).

Then add:

  • 4 tbsp of self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp of sugar (caster or granulated; whatever you have on hand to stir into tea).
  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder

Mix it up with a fork, then add:

  • 3 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp of milk
  • 1 egg – crack it straight in; you can beat it in with the other ingredients (no finesse or unnecessary prep here).

Give it all a brisk whisk (there I go again), pour into your mug (fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 full), and then pop in your microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, depending on the intensity of the microwave.  Trial and error is the key here, so you may want to experiment with a couple of mugs the first time for different durations (and then eat both cakes, in the name of science).  Pull up a chair and watch; nothing will happen for about a minute, and then the cake will rise majestically from inside the cup, teetering like a soufflé high above the rim until you are sure a volcano will ensue, before subsiding gently back into shape.  At the ping, remove and blow hard before attacking with a spoon.  The surface will be somewhat akin to that of the moon, but this is not unattractive, and you can artistically decorate with icing sugar to mask it if you choose;

chcolate cup cake with star motif

Add a birthday candle or a sparkler and you will look like the best wife/mother imaginable for your ingenuity and ability to conjure up such culinary magic.

5 Minute Cup Cakes

You probably won’t want to serve these at a dinner party – they have an undeniable slight rubberiness – but they are also undeniably good chocolate cakes, and never go unfinished.  Once you’ve cracked the basic recipe (ie in about 5 minutes), try adding a couple of spoons of Nutella to the mix for a fudgey, muffin-like consistency.  Or for real decadence, bake them and THEN add a dollop of Nutella or salted caramel on the top and give them another quick blast in the microwave; as close as you’ll get to gooey, molten chocolate cakes without actually having to make them from scratch. You can add a dash of vanilla essence or a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon for a festive feel; it’s very, very hard to go wrong with this.

A final word on presentation; I tried using this method with silicon cupcake cases and various other receptacles, but there’s no question that you get the best results in a mug.  Any old mug, but a mug nonetheless.  Set shame aside and give it a go… tonight.

cake eaten

 

The Cheats’ Guide to Calligraphy (or: How to Acquire Beautiful Penmanship In No Time At All).

calligraphy using your PC

I love receiving post, and I love to write letters, though I don’t do so nearly often enough. There’s something so rare and lovely about seeing an envelope poking out from a pile of brown bills and circulars which is obviously something fun.  This week, a few tips on how to create beautiful and accomplished-looking envelopes, invitations, gift tags or any other paper paraphernalia, using just your PC and a printer.  Whether you have a Windows PC or a Mac, your basic in-built programmes are likely to contain Powerpoint (tool of jaded office executives the world over, and hence an old friend of mine).  As well as producing mind-numbingly dull graphs and bulleted presentations, it can be surprisingly versatile; I do practically all of my crafty stuff using it, including the montages you see on the blog.

If your capability with Powerpoint extends to the point where you can open a file and create a text box, then we’re cooking and ready for the off.  If you are a Photoshop aficionado and are reading this with horror at my simplistic and antiquated ways, then please cast your eyes away from the screen and cease your tut-tutting.  Right then…

amelie calligraphy envelope

harry calligraphy envelope

george envelope

  • Choose a great font.  Either choose from the default font menu, or start with the list and resources below of mostly free-to-download fonts, and have a play until you find one you like.  Many of the sites let you type in your own words to sample the font before downloading (urbanfonts is good for this), so if you have a particular phrase or wording in mind, head there to see what it looks like in each font; with calligraphy and ‘handwriting’ fonts the letters can vary a lot.
  • Use a new text box for each line of text, so that you can move words around, rotate and position far more organically than you can within a single text box.  You can see here that I’ve used a large font for the surname and then used the green rotate icon to turn it slightly.  Having individual boxes also allowed me to overlap the ‘B’ of Brown with the ‘A’ of Amelia.  The stars here were drawn using Powerpoint’s own shapes library (create one, copy and paste until you have a small constellation).

Deconstructing DIY Calligraphy

  • For dramatic capital letters, use a text box for each letter, whack up the font size and then – using a new text box – position the rest of the word (in a much smaller font) where you want it. You can see below how for this address I used multiple font sizes:

Calligraphy font sizes

  • When you’re ready to print, cut out practice templates from inexpensive paper which are the same size as your envelopes, and print /adjust until you have it exactly positioned right, to minimise wastage or misprints.
  • For white text on a coloured background, create a large coloured square to sit behind your text onscreen before converting the text to white.  You can either print this directly onto the envelope as I did here, or onto a large self-adhesive label to then stick onto plainer envelopes. To avoid a white edge around your image when printing directly onto envelopes, select a print size slightly bigger than your envelope.
  • Don’t be afraid of mixing fonts, and adding graphics like I did for my envelope flap ‘monogram’ below, which I print onto a stash of envelopes for thank-you cards or letters;

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 14.12.03

envelope flap signature

Incidentally, I love printing things on the back of envelopes… be it a warning not to open birthday cards before the big day, a simple return address or a message; it’s all the more fun because it’s unexpected…

One Good Thing envelope flap

I could continue for hours on this topic, but in the spirit of brevity, and due to the pile of actual letters I’ve meaning to write for far too long, I will stop here for now.  Below are some of my favourites and all of the fonts I’ve used here.  All are free for personal use apart from the delicious Jacques & Gilles which cost me about $30.   I use it all the time, such as for these labels and this post, and it makes me smile.  Definitely worth it for me.

Calligraphy Fonts Sourcesheet

And finally, here are some of the things I create with calligraphy fonts;

  • Personalised stationery, particularly as presents for little people, like this
  • Monogram stickers to use as gift seals or for the back of envelopes
  • The letter from Santa which mysteriously appears in our hearth in late December
  • Invitations and gift tags
  • Labels for homemade baking and jams

signature

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

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

Kate

Moments for which there really should be a word.

The Days May Be Long

I’ve just put a small boy to bed, teetering with exhaustion and glowing with pride at having completed his first day at school.  So proud in fact, that he has been wearing his new uniform since dawn and only agreed after much discussion that it should be removed not only for bathtime but also for bed. It is hung carefully in clear sight of his bed, lit by the nightlight so it can be admired at all times.

Everyone warned me that the day your child starts school is one of those watersheds, where the world spins a little more slowly on its axis, and the past four years flashes back in technicolor glory, from the tininess of hands and feet, the warm solidity of toddler thighs, the milestones of weaning and walking and talking… until suddenly you watch your child, so brave and expectant, in school shorts which look impossibly large and grown up, waving you off from the classroom door.

On the one hand I am so proud to have grown this amazing man-in-waiting who can take life in his stride and who views everything as the next great adventure; on the other I want to freeze this time forever to preserve the magic of these wonder years before he grows any older.

At the moment, I am required to play a starring role in all of his games; that of the beautiful princess, who must be rescued from danger (dragons, pirates, husbands; anything which might distract me in fact).  There is little to indicate me for this role in anyone else’s eyes, but for Harry this is my natural place and I participate willingly, even if this requires me to climb grubby trees and sit there for hours whilst he rushes around at ground-level, or to wedge myself into the impossibly small cupboard under the stairs which doubles as a castle dungeon.  Occasionally, Harry forgets to rescue me and I find him playing with Lego, oblivious to the cobwebs in which I am covered.  Still, I am all too aware that soon I will be required to maintain a low profile when games with friends are afoot, so I will make the most of my time in the princess spotlight.

All this came back to me as I sat in the school car-park today, clutching the wheel and bracing myself to drive away.  In every car in the car park this scene was repeated; mascara being reapplied, husbands being called and debriefed on the recent partings, and everyone being brave and taking a deep breath.

In the end it was a triumph; a brilliant day for Harry with no tears or drama.  In fact, the only thing that Harry found shocking was that at lunch they were served only half a jam-tart each for pudding, and not a whole one (Harry is a man of healthy appetite).  Despite this reportedly Dickensian approach to food, the signs are good and I couldn’t be more relieved.  It’s one of those days where you feel like a million miles have been travelled… but travelled well.

____________________

Regular followers of this blog will know me as a lover of words, so when I stumbled across this beautiful collection of untranslatable words (below) via Pinterest which capture specific feelings or moments in time, it resonated perfectly with my current heightened emotional scale.  The authors collected eleven words which in different languages define something perfectly, and appear to have no direct translation.  The piece itself is lovely, but equally fascinating is the response it has gathered whenever it has appeared; the list of new words just grows and grows as readers around the world add more, as in the comments here.

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures

For me there is just one word which is missing from these lists and deserves to be invented or declared; that mixed feeling of pride, nostalgia, anxiety and infinite, reckless love which hits you like a wave when your impossibly small child turns to you at the door of his new classroom and waves you goodbye….

We should name it, I think.

The Great Blackberry Caper

Homemade Blackberry Jam (and other recipes)

We’ve been mercifully distracted from preparations for the start of school, and have spent all our free time over the last few days foraging in hedgerows.  The unusual combination (for England, anyway) of endless sunshine interrupted by intense downpours of rain has ensured that nature is putting on a glorious show as the seasons turn; blackberries are everywhere you look; acorns are likely to fall from the sky and render a nasty ding to your forehead should you be foolish enough to stand still, and the air is perfumed with cider as a million windfall apples quietly ferment in the grass. (Do I sound a little tipsy and effusive?  Blame it on the apples..).

blackberry picking

Harry has proven to be a stoic and unflappable blackberry-picker; whilst I bumble along, shrieking and tossing my pail in the air with fright every time a bug walks over my hand, Harry tuts gently and gathers our fallen harvest before starting over again.  We returned home a little sweaty and scratched up, but with enough blackberries to fill several baskets and make for a weekend of berry-tastic cooking.  We started with our favourite… JAM!!

blackberry jam recipe from katescreativespace


I’ve found through trial and error that presentation is everything when it comes to homemade jam, and minimises the chance of recipients gingerly clutching their gift whilst stealthily examining the jar for mould, unconventional ingredients or smeary fingerprints. I made berry coloured labels for ours and then cut disks to cover the lids from a print-out of the photo above (at least there’s no doubt about the contents..).  Sparkly thread covered the rubber band and completed the look.

decorating jam pots

with approximately a bathtub’s worth of berries leftover we decided to invent a new recipe; blackberry crumble bars, which combine sponge cake, blackberries, jam and crumble, and thus contain all the main food groups.  All the ones we’re interested in anyway..

blackberry crumble bars

blackberry bars recipe

Exhausted – and deliciously full – we decided to abandon all further attempts in the kitchen and instead to package up our leftover berries and take round to friends and neighbours.  I found these pretty trays on sale and added labels with recipe suggestions, and then Harry practised his balance and co-ordination skills with moderate success…

blackberry gifts

And now, in a further fit of procrastination as I avoid all school-related thoughts; what to do with our first apple harvest?  We taste-tested these, and once we’d managed to un-shrivel our taste-buds, roll back our eyes and breathe without gasping, decided that they are probably a little too tart to be eating apples.  If you have any to-die-for recipes for cooking apples I’d love to know; at the moment I’m just enjoying their beauty and scent as they adorn our kitchen table (but I know I need to act soon….).

apples on kitchen table apple harvest

Have a great weekend, when it arrives!

Kate

Sunflowers & Site Evolution

Firstly, a HUGE thank you for the many and wonderful comments and tips about where to go and what to see in New England; we have a date night tomorrow and will be sitting down with a vast roadmap and a download of your suggestions and plotting and planning our route… so exciting.

Almost as exciting is the news that our sunflowers have at last burst into bloom, drawing admiring glances from honeybees across the country;

sunflower with bee

Harry’s sunflower won the race by a whisker, tottering and swaying at a princely 6 foot 9 inches.  We didn’t quite manage the head-t0-stalk ratio we’d imagined here, and instead have produced slightly anaemic, beanpole sunflowers, but it’s the first we’ve ever managed to grow so we’re very proud..

sunflowers

On another note, the most astute of you may have noticed that my site has been undergoing something of a metamorphosis this past week, as I’ve transitioned to become self-hosted, giving me a little more creative freedom about how the site looks and works.  It will allow me to make it a little more user-friendly and simple to navigate too; here’s a skip through some of the key changes…

If you’re new to the blog or simply looking for inspiration, you can find a visual archive of some of the most popular projects by clicking on the new Gallery Archive tab;

Gallery Archive

I’m still working on this, so for now you’ll find Recipes and Papercrafts, with more categories to follow…

gallery archive 2

If you’ve missed a few days or are an occasional visitor you can now scroll very swiftly through recent posts, and simply click on the ones you like the look of to see the whole thing;

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And finally if you’ve been looking for me on Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook you can now connect directly via the social media icons here;

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More subtle tweaks to come over time (and let me know if there’s something you’d like to see, or conversely anything which as a reader drives you nuts!), but for now I will breathe a huge sigh of relief at the end of the major transitioning work, and an equally huge thank you to the wonderful Stacey, blogging guru and queen of all things tech, who was recommended by the lovely Alex at NorthStory and who ensured safe passage of all my content.  If you’re a blogger and considering doing the same thing, having Stacey as either mastermind or co-pilot would be a smart move…

I’ll be back in a couple of days with another crafty project involving glue, spray paint and china; I’ll be with you just as soon as the fumes have dissipated and I manage to scrape this paint out of my hair…

Kate

Fall in New England – where would you go?

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Autumn is my favourite time of year, and even now in the heat of summer the occasional crisp, dewy fresh morning makes me convinced I can smell the turn of the seasons on its way.  Hugely exciting for me is that this year we’re planning to travel around New England in October when the colours are at their most vibrant and the pumpkins just right for choosing…

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Beyond our flights we have no fixed plans or bookings as yet so our trip is wide open, and I’d love to hear any suggestions or recommendations, be they big (a great route) or small (gotta have coffee at this place..). Events, activities, places to stay ?   Yes please!  The more ideas the better.

By the way, have you come across the amazing site They Draw & Travel? Artists from around the world submit beautifully illustrated maps of towns and cities.  Perfect for a browse if you’re looking to commemorate a special visit or place, or simply want to while away a little time travelling from your desk..

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Images from top:

Watercolour of Vermont via Country living; Map of Maine by Molly Mattin via Etsy; Bike Loop from Readsboro and Pittsfield, MA both by Nate Padavick via They Draw & Travel.

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