entertaining

An Overture to Springtime…

You know what they say about the best laid plans and all that?  Well, our trip to Morocco was eventful but not quite in the ways we’d imagined; the temperature dropped like a stone from around 28C to just 8C, sending Marrakech into a state of shivery shock; our hotel had somehow over-booked itself, resulting in a midnight taxi ride across the city in search of a bed for the night, accompanied by the profusely apologetic manager (we found a new hotel and bed which looked fine in the dark, but were greeted by a curious family of cockroaches on waking – cue yet another relocation after breakfast…).  Even our eagerly awaited trip into the Atlas mountains had to be abandoned as thick fog rendered the narrow hill roads too dangerous to be easily navigated.

A disappointment, for sure, but an experience so populated by adverse events that it quickly became funny, in that sort of mildly hysterically way when things spiral completely beyond your control.  Even then there were highlights; freshly squeezed local orange juice in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the universally lovely and helpful people, and the rose petals, everywhere… beauty amidst the chaos which leaves us keen to return, albeit probably not in February.

Back home we tried to coax a little Spring sunshine and cheer ourselves up by throwing an impromptu dinner party on Friday night.

Paper Boat Placenames

I swiftly made paper boat name settings for everyone, and Harry and I dunked handfuls of curly kale into poster paint to make a fun sea foam for them to rest on (I’ll post a proper DIY for these in the week together with the patterns to download – a very easy yet lovely ‘make’ to do with a glass of wine in hand, and a little gift for friends to take home afterwards).  Along the table centre I placed random kitchen accessories and pots of herbs – anything that made me think of spring or summer, like fresh basil and lemons…

Springtime Tablescape

Fresh basil table centre

 

Bowl of fresh lemons Breadsticks

 

We had such a good night, in the way that often happens when you don’t have much time to plan and just throw people and food together; a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

In other news, remember my intent to start a proper glasshouse this year and your suggestions of Meyer lemon trees and other great plants?  My newly acquired lemon tree is looking beautiful and promising abundant bounty; whilst I can’t claim responsibility for the current crop of lemons, new flower buds have appeared all over in the last couple of weeks and suggest that it’s thriving; I’m very proud :-)

Meyer Lemon TreeMeyer Lemon Flowerbuds

Harry and I also took the opportunity of half-term to get busy in the kitchen, making Star Wars cookies using our newly-acquired cookie cutters from here (US Star Wars fans can find the same ones on sale here –  a bargain!).  We made basic sugar cookies and then rolled out fondant icing to stamp the toppings; C3PO also benefits from a light dusting of gold powder (we do love a bit of bling).

Star Wars Cookies

And finally, our cake-in-the-house Saturday ritual continues; this week it was lemon drizzle loaf cake, now just a scattering of crumbs.  Next week it’s back to work, and the gym, and a more abstemious few days of salad – but not just yet…it is Sunday evening after all.

Cake In The House

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned.

handbag logo

 

Feast Days and Homecomings

Feast Days

Hello again!  It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks here, with my day-job taking me away on extended travels to India followed by heady reunions back home (things to remember always; the ‘welcome back mummy!’ signs tied to trees and gates all along our lane…).  I’ve spent the last few days playing catch-up, so this weekend was a chance to kick-back and relax with friends, hosting at home.  My best friend just scored a fantastic new job, so we took the opportunity to celebrate.  It was my favourite kind of meal; a small group of the loveliest of people, with a touch of style but no airs and graces, and the kind of menu that doesn’t suffer unduly if (umm, when) the wine flows too freely…

Preparation is everything, so Harry and I made a batch of parmesan and cracked black pepper oatcakes to go with cheese at the end of the evening.  I used this recipe which early readers of my blog will remember, and added a cupful of grated parmesan and a liberal dash of black pepper to the dough; they taste delicious and yet are extraordinarily simple…

Parmesan and Black Pepper Oatcakes

My other make-ahead element was individual heart-shaped Tartes au Citron, using ready-made pastry for speed.  Blind-bake your pastry and then beat together 5 eggs, 150ml double (heavy) cream, 150g caster sugar and the juice of 3 lemons, plus the zest of one lemon.  Pour into the case and bake for around 30mins if you’re making a single large tart or 15 mins for individual ones; this quantity will make you one large tart or 6 smaller ones.  I dusted with icing sugar and added fresh raspberries, serving with the leftover cream.

tarte au citron with raspberries

Asparagus is everywhere right now, enjoying its short but intense season.. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use it, so served up a generous handful, steamed until just tender and topped with a poached egg and crumbled, grilled pancetta.  It’s a divine combination but definitely a make-in-the-moment dish; choose friends who will happily perch at chairs whilst you cook, topping up your glass and ignoring any eggshells you drop. Friends who can also be trusted not to eat all your crispy pancetta when your back is turned as you plate up the rest…

asparagus and pancetta

For the main course I grilled rustic lamp-burgers in ciabatta rolls on wooden chopping boards like these, topped with goats cheese, fig jam and served with a generous portion of oven-baked parmesan fries, from a recipe found here; you can almost convince yourself they’re healthy, though they tasted good enough to feel sinful.

To add a little style to the table I spritzed the tips of a handful of white feathers with spray glue and poured platinum glitter over them, before shaking off; they caught the light and sparkled subtly all evening; a 5 minute project which definitely punches above its weight.  (If feathers are your thing by the way, have a look at Pinterest, where they are definitely having a moment; craft projects for headdresses, garlands and gift-tags abound…)

glitter tipped feathers

glitter feathers

Our eclectic recent weather has done wonders for the garden, so I braved the rain to gather a handful of vibrant peonies for a dash of colour;

fresh peonies

And a final party trick; freezing slices of lemon leftover from the tarts into a cupcake tray to form over-sized colourful discs of ice to float in pitchers of water on the table.  Once frozen, I pop any excess discs out of the trays and store bagged up in the freezer for next time.  Smaller fruits like summer berries work beautifully when frozen in regular ice cube trays in the same way.

lemon slices in cupcake trays

Preparations done, it was time to celebrate;  homecomings and new jobs, friendships and feast days.  It’s a holiday weekend here in our small corner of the world, as I know it is for friends across the ocean; I hope that the sun is shining for you, and that summer feels close at hand…

champagne

Back next week for more crafts, and an update on the Great Sunflower Race (yay; we’re back in the game!); let me know how yours are doing if you’re growing them too…

Kate

Autumn Tablescapes

The weekend is drawing to a close – a blustery, windswept close here in our small corner of England – but it’s been a rather magical one.  We’ve had a brief but promising flurry of snow prompting Harry to announce, rather prematurely, the imminent arrival of Father Christmas, and we’ve had walks through the autumn leaves and evenings snuggled in front of the fire.  Like all the best weekends though, it began with a lovely event; dinner here with some of our closest friends on Friday night.

Usually when we’re hosting dinner, it’s something of a mad rush; whilst in my head I imagine myself uncorking a bottle of wine and pottering around the kitchen in a form-fitting silky number as delicious smells waft from the stove, I am more usually arm-deep in bath time suds whilst my husband does emergency runs to buy forgotten ingredients, and the first guests to arrive have to tactfully remind me that I have only made-up one eye before getting distracted, and thus look like a freeze-frame from a You Tube video on how to apply eyeliner.  In the early days of dating my husband, I even managed to accidentally lock myself in the bathroom during the early stages of a dinner party (don’t ask how; it’s surprisingly easy I promise you..), and had to eventually ring him from my mobile phone to come rescue me.  This, after 20 minutes of waiting for him to notice my absence, I should add.

So, my history as a hostess is a somewhat chequered one, and evenings with us are nothing if not excitingly unpredictable – or so I tell myself.  On this occasion however, I managed to pull it off; the table was decorated with nature’s finest autumn finds, the menu was delivered without culinary disaster, and I even remembered all of my clothes and make-up.  I think I shall retire at this new-found high; it’s surely downhill all the way from here…

In a nod to Halloween, I added shimmering grey bat wings to small gourds and nestled them in martini glasses at each place-setting; I drew these freehand onto a piece of card stock then made small incisions into the sides of the gourds to slide them into place.  The name cards were glued to small pins which I pushed into the stalks.  I added tiny seed pearls to the tips of the wings.. and then decided I had better stop faffing around and concentrate on the actual cooking and cleaning *sigh*.

First though, I printed out menus onto end-pages from an old book and pegged these to each napkin; I’d bought a handful of yellowing paperbacks in our local charity shop with a view to using them in some crafty fashion, and they ran through the printer very simply; on one side guests could see what they were eating, and on the other were excerpts of letters by Evelyn Waugh – I carefully didn’t ask which side was more gripping..

Over the course of a day or so, I added odd bits and pieces to the centre of the table; blush roses and vibrant chrysanthemums, a selection of pumpkins and gourds which Harry and I dragged back from our excursion to the pumpkin patch (Harry picked up a small gourd and announced ‘my hands are all full Mummy; come along, you bring the rest!’, and marched jauntily to the car.  I see he has mastered the art of delegation at the tender age of almost-3).

Quail eggs, walnuts, corks and pine cones gave our guests something to examine and play with between courses and whilst chatting (though playing with fresh quail eggs after a couple of glasses of wine is a hazardous old business, as we found out)

As for the food itself, I tested out a recipe from my new favourite read; a magazine called The Simple Things, which is a sort of pared down Martha-like celebration of slow food, nature and living in the moment; their chicken and leek pie won the popular vote and will appear again on our table, just as soon as our arteries recover.

But possibly the best part of evenings like these is having managed to choose a husband who invariably says those magic words at the end of the night; ‘you head on up to bed; I’ll clear up down here…’