fall

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

 

 

 

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

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

Fall in New England – where would you go?

vermont

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…

il_fullxfull.326534074

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..

Readsboro-Vermont-by-Nate-Padavick

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.

Pittsfield_MA_Nate_Padavick

Homemade Pinecone Firelighters

DIY Pinecone firelights

Log fires, blankets, mugs of hot chocolate, toasty warm socks… there’s something magical about this time of year. It’s been a misty, cold day here and we’re planning to light the first fire of the season tonight to celebrate the start of  the weekend and our hibernation from the winter weather.  In preparation I’ve made these pinecone firelighters, lightly scented with cinnamon and guaranteed to set the kindling alight with a pop and a crackle.

I’d seen similar firelighters in the ever-divine Cox and Cox catalogue, but they’re not cheap and we have fires every night, so I decided to have a go at making my own, using research, trial and error to work out a way of creating them simply at home.  My research uncovered scarily complicated instructions involving double-boilers, safety goggles, wick-trimming and dipping and general scientific sorcery… so I applied some lateral thinking and came up with a much simpler approach.  It’s very safe and quick, though perhaps the only downside of this is that you’re unlikely to need to attract your local Firemen for manly assistance.

You’ll need:

  • A pocketful of pine cones
  • Pack of tea-lights or small candles; I used IKEA’s gorgeous white Fenomen ones.
  • Cupcake cases, slightly larger than your pine cones
  • Optional candle scent; cinnamon, pine, cranberry and sandalwood are all divine.

Firstly, gather all your pine cones.  Size doesn’t matter here, but give them a quick brush to remove dust and bits of forest-floor debris.  Pinecones which are tightly closed will open once exposed to the warm, so you may want to store them inside for a week before using.

When you’re ready to ‘cook’, line a cupcake tin with cases and place one of your tea lights or candles into each.  Make sure you remove the little metal cases if using tea lights, and tweak the wicks so that they are standing upright and proud of the wax; it’s much easier than fishing for them later.  Place in a moderate oven and keep checking until the wax melts and resembles water.  At this point you can add a drop of candle scent to each, or simply leave plain.

Once the wax has melted, move the wicks gently to one side of the case, using tweezers (or with your best pointy fingers; remember that some people claim to quite enjoy being covered in hot wax…hmmm).  This will ensure that the wicks don’t get lost underneath the cones.

Then simply place a pinecone into each case; the wax will rise around it and hold it firmly in place as it sets.

When the wax has cooled and set, lift the cases out of the pans and peel away the cupcake case, revealing your firelighters in all of their glory…

These also look very pretty when left in their cases; I’ll be tying a bundle of these (below) up in cellophane bags or small burlap sacks to take as gifts for those we visit during the festive season (though I’ll probably check that they have an open fireplace first…).

 

And now the light is fading, the kettle is on, and we’re almost all home; have a wonderful weekend whatever you’re doing!

*Update*; a few people have asked via email or comments how these work; to use these firelighters, simply place them at the base of your fire and arrange kindling over the top before lighting the wick; the wax ensures that the pinecone will catch light and burn for long enough to ignite the kindling and create a real blaze; at that point you can add bigger logs and settle back for an evening watching the flames.  Here’s how ours turned out this evening;

 

The Apple Game; making the most of Autumn!

This could be my last post before I go to jail.  A solemn occasion, therefore, because once I enter the local Correctional Facility I doubt I will emerge the same person. It is Harry who has introduced these Draconian threats and warnings, as he passes through a very literal phase where life is governed by rules, warnings and consequences.  Thus it is he who will exclaim loudly in shocked tones in a restaurant; ‘Mummy!! Are you talking with food in your mouth?? We don’t do THAT in our family!’.  He’s right of course, and I hasten to add that I don’t make a habit of it – but still, I am ashamed.  My latest misdemeanour was to switch off the television and refuse to say sorry for doing so.  ’If you don’t say sorry’, Harry announced, staunchly and a little regretfully, ‘you will go to prison with lots of naughty men’.  Now, naughty men may occasionally be appealing, but jail is less so, so I am attempting to distract from my shortcomings with a new family game; Pick An Apple.



12 small paper bags hang from this eye-catching board, each with a different mystery seasonal activity and the equipment we need to do it. On weekends or days when Harry and I are free from work and nursery, Harry gets to choose an apple bag at random and that’s what we’ll do for the day.  I’ve picked a number of age-appropriate and interesting things – mostly outdoors but with a few bad-weather alternatives – which include collecting leaves, choosing and carving pumpkins, apple-bobbing and helping Daddy to make a big bonfire.  The content of each bag varies accordingly; for our pumpkin picking there are just enough coins for Harry to buy the right size pumpkin, and a list of tips I found online about how to choose a good one, which will require us to squeeze, juggle and weigh our way around the field as we discard lesser pumpkins in pursuit of the most magnificent.  For our toffee-apple making activity (below), the bag holds lollipop sticks for Harry to push into each apple, wipes for sticky fingers and the recipe itself.

I bought the brown paper bags cheaply at a local stationery store, then cut out apple and leaf shapes and glued together with a small piece of twig to form each apple.  Tiny wooden pegs hold these on the bags and keep each bag closed to avoid peeping.  The bags I hung from pushpins on an old cork pinboard which I painted black and stencilled.  If you don’t have a convenient pinboard or canvas, the bags would look equally good strung along a wall or fireplace like bunting, pegged to a piece of ribbon.



And here’s the result of our first activity; making windfall toffee apples. No danger of talking with your mouth full with these beauties; our industrial-strength caramel effectively seals your jaws together and prevents conversation for several minutes after consumption…genius! Perhaps I should market these as a budget-conscious and appealing alternative to the gastric band.  We’ll work through our activities between now and Halloween as the days grow shorter and the seasons change in technicolour.  I’d love to hear what your favourite activities are at this time of year, and anything we should add to our list…