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January Colour

Colour

I can’t decide whether the greyest month of the year here in England is January or February.  Certainly both seem a little bleak and colourless after the intensity of Australia.  Last weekend I was at the supermarket,  wandering around aimlessly  choosing ingredients for dinner when I saw a rack of chillies on sale.  They looked vibrant and gorgeous.  I can’t remember the last time I used any sizeable amount of chillies in my cooking, but they looked so good that I bought them all; all ten packs (this is why you’re supposed to go armed with a shopping list).

Red chillies

I bought bay leaves too (the kind you find in slim packs in the herb section)…

Bay leaves

And then strung the chillies together along a length of florists wire with the bay leaves and some leftover dried orange slices;

Making a chilli wreath How to make a wreath step 1

Then I twisted the wired bunches around a simple wreath frame, lifting it up every now and then to check that they stayed in place and were secure.

Building a wreath

Winter wreath

Then when I ran out of chillies and oranges, I wrapped the last bit of the frame in ribbon..

Chilli Orange and Bay Wreath

If you don’t have a Greek god available to wear your chilli, bay and orange wreath once it is completed, can I suggest hanging it in the kitchen?  That’s where mine is now, and it catches my eye and makes me smile and think of summer.

Greek god

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes; I’ve been travelling for work this week and am now just back home, eagerly awaiting Harry’s return from school.

Thanks again for the wonderful suggestions in last week’s post; we’ve a trip planned to the library and the bookstore tomorrow!

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What are you reading?

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Are you a reader?

I grew up in a house of books; obscure and familiar, high-brow and low-brow, trashy and treasured.  An egalitarian wall of bookshelves meant that there was always something to read, and new discoveries to be made.  The collated volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica informed numerous homework assignments, Judy Blume navigated me through adolescence and later a diverse collection of philosophers fuelled my existential angst and earned me a university degree.  Even now whenever we come together as a family, someone will always ask on the first evening ‘what are you reading at the moment?’.

Discovering new authors is always a joy; exhausting the works of others always a sombre moment; Nora Ephron and Carol Shields feature prominently in my collection.

This Christmas and New Year break, I seized the chance to catch up on some great reads, old and new.  The Rocks and Fates and Furies were novels I’d read rave reviews of and which didn’t disappoint; both span decades and navigate the intricacies of marriage and friendship.  As a contrast, Julia Child’s autobiography of her years living in Paris and discovering – nay, Mastering! – the art of French cooking was a mesmerising read and made me immediately want to relocate to France and change career  (p.s. have you seen this film?  I watch it again and again…).

great novels to try

I was given some beautiful books for Christmas, including this one…

French laundry Cookbook

I’m smitten – and also completely outclassed – by the beautiful, complex recipes and preparations outlined in The French Laundry Cookbook, which is essentially a coffee-table cookbook, if such an idea were not intrinsically absurd.  Most of the cookbooks I read end in phrases like ‘… Made Simple’  or begin with ‘How to Cheat at…’, so this was a delicious and aspirational read.  Apart from posing with the book above, I have so far only mastered the important step of learning how to fold a napkin with a clothes peg, of which I am very proud.  Sauces and soufflés can wait for the springtime.  Or maybe never.  We’ll see.

Another gift; this gorgeous interiors book which celebrates imperfect homes and the contrast of old and new; flawed and smooth.  It’s made me wander thooughtfully around the house and move things around, to the great consternation of my husband, who finds nothing where he expects it to be these days. ‘Wabi-sabi‘ I whisper to him confidently as I waft past. ‘Transcience is the essence of beauty’.  I would best describe his expression as Unconvinced.  Two other recent, covetable reads; this book on colour which makes me want to paint my walls a deep, inky blue, and this one by stylist Sibella Court that’s an escapist work of art in itself.

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The last book I bought – two copies in fact – I haven’t yet read.  Harry and I have a new tradition; whenever I am travelling for work, I send him an iphone audio clip each day of me reading a chapter from a new story book, so that he can listen at bedtime each night, hearing my voice and following along at home under the covers.  It connects us and spans the distance of oceans and timezones.  Last time we read Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Catcher (boys and pet dragons; what could be better?) and this time it will be James and the Giant Peach.  I’m looking forward to it as much as he is…

Roald Dahl

But now I need a new novel; my bedside pile is running low.  What are you reading right now; do you have any recommendations?

p.s. The ten most beautiful libraries in the world; I want to visit them all…

p.p.s. Top photo of Nigella Lawson in her library at home c.James Merrell for House and Garden 2004; all others my own.

Have a wonderful week!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from the garden and the trimmed branches of our Christmas tree…

Winter firelighters from the garden

Scented fire starters in brown paper twists

I used sprigs of olive, from the huge old trees that we bought this summer to line our patio;

olive sprigs

And Nordic fir, shorn from the Christmas tree before recycling;

fir branches

Eucalyptus, one of my favourites that I use in the house all year round (try tying a sprig in the shower; it’s amazing!)

Try tying a branch of eucalptus under the shower for a blast of forest scent

And fresh rosemary, clipped from the pots around the kitchen door

rosemary sprigs

And then finally lemon rind, for a citrussy burst…

Peeled lemons

I tied the bundles tightly together and wove a slice of dried orange to each, before hanging them up to dry  out completely (slice a bag of oranges and arrange the slices on a baking tray, then dry out overnight on the lowest possible oven temperature; the scent is amazing and they look lovely..)

Scented fire bundles hung up to dry

Once they’re completely dried out, you can wrap them lightly in twists of brown paper (this stops them becoming tangled up and unravelling), and then use them to kindle a delicious, scented fire.

Scented fire starters for cold winter nights

For those without both the glory and the inconvenience of an open fire; try making these and simmering them in a saucepan on the stove instead for instant winter atmosphere and warmth; perfect for the bleak wintery months ahead.

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

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Down Under

Happy New Year!!  We’re just back from our extended roam around Australia; an amazing, amazing trip to visit family and experience a totally new-to-us continent. Here’s a few highlights if you’d like to see…

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Sydney Opera House, shot in morning sunlight from the Manly Ferry as we swung into Circular Quay

We began with a few days in Sydney, staying with my brother and his family near Manly on the North Shore. We spent the evenings together and the days exploring the city and surrounding area, using ferries and hop-on-and-off buses to navigate our way around the beautiful waterside city and neighbourhoods.

Then a brief road trip out to Port Stephens on the NSW coast for endless beaches, nature and more relaxation.  We tried our hands at sand-dune surfing; a surreal cross between sledging and surfing on the startlingly high and beautiful dunes that lie along the coastline…

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Here’s a tip; don’t apply lip balm and sunscreen when there is a light breeze and you are surfing a sand dune; it creates an entirely adhesive surface and you will spend 90 minutes in the shower later having an unplanned full body exfoliation as you attempt to remove the excess.

After Christmas back in Sydney we flew out to Hamilton Island (aka Paradise on earth), which lies close to the Great Barrier Reef.  This was the view from our hotel room, and sums up how utterly stunning the island was…

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We swam seemingly all day, every day, meeting all manner of exotic fish and shells in the water, trying our hands at sea kayaking and paddle-boarding before collapsing for a rest.  One night, we came back to the beach to watch the sunset with a bottle of wine and bag of fish and chips (locally caught barramundi; somewhat more exotic than the cod and chips of home!).

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And then of course, the Reef itself; we snorkelled, swam and then – most amazing of all in some ways – took a brief helicopter ride over the reef to see it from the air.  Awe-inspiringly beautiful…

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And then one final excursion out to the Blue Mountains; a two-hour drive from Sydney and a welcome drop of temperature; a world apart from the beaches and water of Cairns and seemingly another land entirely.  So-named because of the haze exuded by the eucalyptus trees which fill the mountainsides, they really are mesmerising and every shade of blue, grey and green you could mix in a palette…

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And finally, I can’t not mention the wildlife and animals we saw throughout our time there.  From the wild cockatoos that tried at every opportunity to steal our chips, wander through any open door or examine the contents of a brightly coloured handbag, to the crocs and koalas and kangaroos we encountered at nature parks and reservations.  All of them amazing, and all seemingly natural pros in front of the camera…

kangaroo

Hand-feeding baby kangaroos, albeit not as quickly as they’d have liked.

pink cockatoo

Say cheese!

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Curious and sociable fish that swam alongside us when snorkelling

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The one that viewed us as a light lunch option

And now we’re back; back to England and down to earth in every sense, wrestling jet-lag and a 40c temperature change (the shock!).  Harry is the most resilient of us all, bouncy and seemingly immune to the cold.  Not quite immune to the timezone shift, however; ‘Mummy!’ he whispered into my ear in the wee small hours of today; ‘The clock in my bedroom says 03.28am! Shall we get up?’.

No.  No, let’s not.

A return to posting new creative projects later this week after a delicious and inspiring break; I hope that your break too was a wonderful one, whether big or small.

Have a great weekend!

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Happy Christmas!!

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Driftwood and tiny shells from the beach at Port Stephens, NSW

Happy Christmas!

The big day has arrived in Australia, and we began last night with champagne and prawns on the barbecue; then today, a dip in the ocean (below).  A very Aussie Christmas, and a magical one.  Santa found us, leaving a fresh mango in the bottom in Harry’s stocking instead of the orange he’s come to expect in England – delicious.

Wishing you the happiest and most fun-filled and joyous of all Christmas Days, and a wonderful New Year in 2017.  Thank you for visiting here, for reading and following and for the myriad of lovely comments and anecdotes shared over the last year.

Here’s to the next!

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An Extraordinary Adventure!

Usually at this point in December, our home would be festively adorned, bedecked with wintery tableaux and with the fir lady preparing to make her annual seasonal entrance.  Instead, suitcases are down from the loft and checklists being drawn up and steadily ticked off as we prepare

…to go to Australia!

This year, for the first time ever we will be away for Christmas, going down under to Sydney to stay with my brother and his family, and taking the opportunity for a grand adventure and extended roadtrip whilst we’re there.  We are beside ourselves with excitement and anticipation.

We are also slightly despairing about the growing size of our luggage, which includes; a) a portrait of my bother, painted by my father (beautiful, fragile, large); b) a huge papier mache giraffe ordered by my brother (‘you can’t find them anywhere in Australia, sis’), and c) a football, bought for my nephews by another well-meaning relative.  We do not lean towards practicality in my family.  I am hoping that Customs officials will look kindly on us; I suspect we will make their day.

Given all this, our usual creativity and crafting has tapered a little in the frenzied rush and my presence here will be a little less until January. In the meantime please do have a rummage through some of our favourite projects from the last few years, like…

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Homemade Gift Ideas from Kates Creative Space

  1. Wintery pinecone firelighters, for everyone you know with an open fire or wood-burning stove
  2. A homemade leather travel journal, for those with wanderlust…
  3. Together with a concertina mini photobook to store all their photos and memories afterwards
  4. If you’re choosing gifts for a book-lover, why not add in some of these whale-tail bookmarks to keep their place each night
  5. DIY bird-feeders, for the animal-lover in your life
  6. secret book jewellery box
  7. Or a personalised bowl for cereal-lovers
  8. cafe apron for the man in your life, which will encourage him into the kitchen this Christmas
  9. The gift of breakfast, for all those hosting this holiday season, to relax with the morning after

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Holiday baking ideas

  1. Three christmas cookies to box up and share
  2. Or Bake-at-home cookies for the students in your life who eat you out of house and home but wouldn’t dream of making their own
  3. Mitten-shaped ginger cookies, perfect to go with hot chocolate
  4. Or monogram cupcakes (I’d use a snowflake monogram for Christmas)

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Holiday decor ideas

  1. These fun ways to use kraft paper to wrap presents with a twist
  2. Handmade origami stars and folded stars
  3. Nutcracker peg dolls to hang from the tree
  4. You could make these personalised sacks for the most special people in your life
  5. The longest journey; a winter animal parade to meander along your table top or mantel
  6. And three years of our holiday decor here, here and here

And finally don’t forget to clear the playroom in advance by sending outgrown toys off to the North Pole Repair Shop for re-gifting, arrange a North Pole telegram for Christmas Eve, and magic reindeer food to sprinkle outdoors before bedtime.

North Pole Telegram

After that, may I boldly suggest a glass of mulled wine and a deep, comfy armchair?

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Festive Stained-Glass Luminary Cards

Luminary Bauble Cards

Hello! Are you feeling festive yet?  We’ve had a Christmassy weekend, hunting down the perfect tree (I love the smell of resin and fir; even the myriad of inevitable small needle puncture-wounds that track my hands and arms are worth it…) and crunching through nearby fields of frost. Yesterday afternoon we lit a fire and retreated indoors, and made batches of these tissue-paper luminaries, which look beautiful on their own and even better with small battery t-lights placed behind them…

Tissue paper bauble holiday cards

We made Christmas trees, baubles and stained glass windows; once you get the hang of the glue and the tissue (it’s a messy sport, but a lovely one), they are deliciously simple, whilst looking like they have taken great mastery and hours of dedication.  Perfect.

DIY Stained Glass tissue paper cards

To make these you’ll need…

  • Cardstock for the cards
  • Tissue paper in different colours
  • Shaped punches or a craft knife to cut out your shapes
  • Tracing paper or vellum to layer your ‘stained glass’ onto
  • Glue and scissors
  • Christmas CD, glass of mulled wine (optional; but hey, why not?)

We started by punching out the circle shape from our cardstock..

Stained glass cards step 1

Then, take the circle shape and place a square of tracing paper or vellum over it, taping it into place.  Cover it with glue from a gluestick (less messy and more forgiving than runnier white glue).  Cut strips of your tissue paper and place them in uneven, overlapping layers of the shape;

Stained glass cards step 2

Repeat as many times as you like, and then draw a circle around the edge of your shape, slightly larger than the shape itself (this makes for a much neater silhouette when you stick it in the card ‘window’, especially when you’re using a t-light with it and having a lot of light shine through)…

Stained glass cards step 3

Take your original cut-out card and add a tin line of glue around the inside of the circle shape, and then press the tissue-bauble into place, with the tracing-paper side facing inwards, like so (below).  Cut a freehand shape for the top of the bauble; we used gold card but any colour will do;

Stained glass cards step 4

Fold into half and trim if needed.

Ta-da!!

Stained glass bauble cards

Stained glass christmas bauble cards

The christmas tree cards are made in exactly the same way, though are a bit more complex – I cut out a triangle shape, punched a star above and then used this hole punch (a favourite tool) to punch random holes around the tree to simulate fairy lights.  Don’t invest in one unless you’re a regular crafter; just use the point of a compass to poke holes through (carefully, of course…)

Christmas tree stained glass effect cards

Christmas tree tissue cards

Then place a battery light behind each one to make them glow;

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Package each card up in an envelope with a battery t-light attached (best to save this for hand-delivered cards) – I bought a bulk pack of these and they’re fantastic.

Final step?  Walk away from the scene of devastation you have created.  Tell yourself that it will look better when you return.  Take a bath instead.

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Holiday Gifting: DIY kids desk art calendar

Each year at about this time I start to think in earnest about Christmas gifts, and Harry and I plan things that we can make for the biggest people in his life; grandparents, godparents… something homemade, for those who love him the most.  This year, we’re making desk calendars made from his favourite drawings and paintings over the last year…

DIY Desk Calendar made from kids art

We chose the pictures together; some done at school, others at home.  I cut a stack of lightweight card into A6-sized pieces and scanned the artwork, adding lovely month-by-month calendar details from here.

Some of my favourites; a still life of our coffee machine and toast rack, the fruit bowl and this year’s sunflowers…

DIY Kids Art desk calendar

…and the one that makes my heart melt, a smudgy drawing that arrived back from school crumpled in a backpack; Harry’s version of Roald Dahl’s BFG.

DIY Gifts  Desk Calendar

Some of the artwork is almost a year old, like Penguin Little here – but just too lovely to leave out…

Desk calendar made from kids artwork

I bought a handful of these mini-easels (£1 each!) and removed the canvas, so that the cards could be stacked on the easel and rotated as each month moves to the next…

mini easel

And then we tucked the sets into glittery boxes with an instruction note and lots of festive kisses…

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And now the calendar sets are ready to be gift-wrapped and posted;

all except for one.

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

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Vintage Treasures

A couple of weeks ago on my birthday I took the day off work and went to the IACF antique fair; a huge, sprawling open-air display of antiques, treasures, artefacts from old houses, junk and collectors pieces.  A little slice of heaven for me, albeit a frosty cold and bone-chillingly windy one.  Here, for those who have a similar unrequited love affair with all things old and lost, are some of my best finds, bartered for and dragged home with the help of my wonderful and long-suffering better-half…

Firstly; these old wooden tongs, originally used for lifting and turning laundry in the years when it was done by hand.  I’m going to use them to load kindling onto the kitchen fire (splinters begone!).

Vintage French laundry tongs used with kindling

Then this old French champagne crate; a snip at £12.  Maybe one day I will fill it with vintage champagne upon winning the lottery, but till then it’s a great store for giftwrap and art papers…

Champagne crate used to store giftwrap

And then this; do you know what it is?

Vintage sieve

…An old garden sieve, apparently.  I’m going to find a way of suspending it from the ceiling this Christmas like a wreath, so I can twist branches around it and hang tiny silvered decorations from the metalwork grid

Vintage soil sieve

….like this! (photo below via thewhitecompany.com)

Styling idea from The White Company

And then an old grain sack.  Because it was practically being given away, and because I can imagine it sitting under the Christmas tree filled with gifts, looking stylish and French and smelling only very slightly of damp.  Honest.  But oh, look at the darning! How could I not buy this?

Old French grain sack

One now one of my favourite, heaviest finds; an old French crate, which we’ll use to  store logs in the hallway.  It’s HUGE.  But then we do have a lot of logs to store.

Old chateau crate

Old chateau crate used as a log store

At this point, we were fast running out of money and strength.  So then these; beautiful vintage embroidery silks at £2 per bobbin.  I’ll use this to hang the decorations from my sieve perhaps, or maybe just have them sit on my desk and roll them around occasionally, for the feel of the smooth wood and the silk.

Old tapestry threads

Old silk threads found at a vintage fair

Then my most mysterious find (and also the cheapest at £1 each); these oversized books are store ledgers from what looks like a haberdashery or furnishings store; over 80years old, the yellowing pages contain hundreds of samples of old denim fabric and careful annotations about orders.  I have no idea what I’ll do with them. Never mind.  They’re wonderful.

Old merchants ledgers of supplies

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Old haberdashery shops ledgers

And finally, finally, saving the best – and heaviest – ’till last; a pair of old windows which have been restored as mirrors.  At the moment they’re in our bedroom, leaning against the wall and bouncing the light around (also, I confess; startling me everso slightly when I wake up and catch a glimpse of myself).  We’ll hang them in due course, when muscle strength eventually returns…

Old French windows turned into a mirror

Penniless and happy, my wintery haul still makes me smile.  To many, a musty and unfathomably old and grubby collection.  To me; absolute treasure.

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

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Happy Halloween!

Skyline pumpkin

Happy Halloween!

I hadn’t carved a pumpkin since I was a little girl, so this weekend Harry and I decided to give it a go.  I’d forgotten just how much mush, seeds, grunt-work and elbow grease are involved in hollowing out pumpkins; any tips for shortcuts would be very welcome for next time.

For Harry’s we used cookie cutters and a hammer to stamp out bat shapes, and then for mine I used a black Sharpie pen to hand-draw the London city skyline, including Big Ben, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the London Eye and – of course – the Gherkin :-)

London Skyline Pumpkin

I used a drill with various sized drill bits to punch out holes all along the skyline for windows and lights (if it’s tough to hollow out a pumpkin, it’s gloriously satisfying to drill through it; like a knife through (soft) butter – I could do it for hours…).  Then a craft knife, for bigger, squarer apertures.  Much duller and requiring considerably more concentration and steadiness.

And now it’s Halloween, our pumpkins are glowing and the night beckons…

have a good one, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Pumpkin cityscape

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October!

I love October.  There’s something about the changing of the seasons and the arrival of the first frost …and the very, very first beginnings of the whisper of Christmas (I know, I know!! I can’t help it).

Here are some of the things we’ve been upto;

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Making yummy gingerbread ghost cookies with some spooky Halloween cutters (recipe here).  I made and froze some extra batches of gingerbread to use at Christmas.  The smell of it – melted butter, ginger spices, caramelising sugar – is just divine.

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We used the cutter to cut the same shape out of rolled fondant icing and then added googly candy eyes for maximum effect.  Almost – but not quite – too good to eat.

And then outdoors, planting bulbs for the springtime.  We jammed large terracotta pots full of these feathered tulips bulbs from Amsterdam (my favourite!).

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…and then hyacinths too; I hope these ones will flower in time for Christmas.  We’ve popped them in the shed to kickstart them in the damp and dark before bringing them in in December.

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We’re revelling in a change of pace with half-term break this week, but before that there was a scramble for finishing homework and spellings and projects like this one; the brief was ‘make a Paddington Suitcase out of a shoebox’.

Hmmm.  Quite possibly one of the messiest things EVER, but a very cool result.  I might jettison my reliable overnight bag and take this little number next time I’m travelling with work;

Paddington Bear Shoebox Suitcase

And finally, baking chocolate brownies!  Because this season of jumpers and jeans and big boots and soft scarves can hide a multitude of sins, and there’s no time like the present to begin..

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(Our favourite recipe for the choc-raspberry brownies is here…)

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

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