Flowers

Springtime in Five Minutes

Cauliflower centrepiece

I unnerved my family by coming home from the supermarket this morning with two cabbages and a cauliflower.

‘Do I eat those?’ asked Harry, suspiciously.

‘I don’t', said my husband, with absolute conviction.

It’s okay.  They weren’t for eating; instead, filled with a handful of hastily plucked flowers from the garden they make lovely – if transient – centrepieces for the table.  A whisper of Spring, as it flirts with us, not yet truly here.

The good news; this project is so very simple; take a cauliflower (or cabbage); carefully hollow out a small well in the centre and fill with a couple of tablespoons of water; stuff with spring flowers or greenery.  Single colour flowers look lovely and simple…

Cauliflower Spring centrepiece

But there’s something about the exuberance of excess that feels very Spring-like; sturdy, determined flowers in a windswept green bowl…

Colourful Spring Cauliflower Vase

Red cabbage gives a more Japanese, zen look…

Cabbage vase

You could even eat the cauliflower afterwards, if you have a family that does not regard earthy green vegetables as the work of Satan.

Happy weekend!

p.s.  Book vases, Winter brights, a garden room  - and frozen blooms for those still in the midst of winter frosts and snow.

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A Scented Home

fresh winter flowers

Recently, we had a glorious couple of weeks in Cape Cod.

We got back, travel-weary and laden with far more baggage then we remembered taking, and flung open the front door…

…and the air felt really stale; like someone else’s home altogether.  A kind of dusty, unlived-in smell, overlaid with (whisper it) a hint of damp. So I set about banishing it as quickly as possible by opening windows, lighting candles and buying my favourite small luxury, fresh flowers..

a winter bouquet

(Green and white; there’s something so simple and beauitful about green and white..).  The ornamental cabbages made me smile; my spine-chilling fear of slugs would prevent me ever trying to grow them, but they do look gorgeous in a vase.  And lilies; a staple on my kitchen island…

Lilies in the kitchen

Another favourite trick is to fill inexpensive garden-centre vases with kitchen salt and then add candles, found objects and single eucalyptus stems – a way of pretending I’m back drinking sundowners at a beachside restaurant or at a fantasy mediterranean villa rather than at home in rather more familiar and ordinary surroundings..

eucalyptus stem in a vase

filled vases

When it’s cosiness I’m seeking, I light a stick of palo santo wood; have you come across it?  It’s as far from the headiness of cheap incense that you can imagine, and instead smells like a cross between a roaring fire, a forest and something altogether sweeter… definitely one for the autumn as a chill arrives in the air.

palo santo wood

And finally, I always, always have a candle burning on my desk when I’m working in my studio

Scent in the home

My other scent passions?  Fresh basil on the kitchen counter.  Acqua di limone ironing water, for the delicious clouds of steam that invariably distract me from the actual heat setting and  prove ultimately rather hazardous to scorching.

And bath oil.  For decadence.  And inadvertantly slippiness, yes, but still.  Worth it.

Any other recommendations or passions?  Please do share… and have a wonderful weekend!

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Fathers Day (and the often surprising Language of Flowers)

gingerbread matchsticks

There’s a sense of feverish anticipation in our household as the week draws to a close and preparations for Fathers Day can begin in earnest.  Harry has been busy card-making and tip-toeing around with carefully rolled up artworks, whispering ‘Shhh!’ loudly whenever my husband enters the room.  My efforts have been more culinary in nature, experimenting with making giant gingerbread matchsticks (above).

For those who are wondering what on earth has possessed me, I confess that I was a devoted follower of the Great British Bake Off series, during which one contestant – the impressive Frances Quinn – created a beautifully presented box of breadsticks disguised as matches.  She had spiced them with ginger and chilli and they were startlingly beautiful and uniform as they lined up, elegantly inside her giant matchbox.  I was in awe.

I have no idea how she managed it, but I’ve been having a play using my usual gingerbread recipe; I rolled out the dough into slim sausages and aimed for a vague uniformity of shape and size.  After baking for 6-8mins and leaving to cool, I dipped the ends in melted dark chocolate…

chocolate dipped gingerbread sticks

Then took a supermarket breadstick box and covered it with a homemade wrapper (if you’re at all interested in making these, my file is attached below as a PDF)..

Edible Breadstick Box Design

Edible Matches

Lest these appear dainty and petits-four-esque, here’s Harry to demonstrate the scale of these babies; less than 500 calories in each I can promise you.  Probably.  Start the day with one of these on Sunday and I guarantee it will be a pretty relaxed day, focused mostly on digestion.

bbb

 

Edible Matches top and sides PDF

Edible Matches Blank PDF

 In other news…

I’ve just finished reading The Language of Flowers, which I loved; have you read it?.  Given it spent years on the NYT best-sellers list, I realise I am somewhat behind the curve here (again), but nonetheless it was a great novel to stumble across.  Hard to explain, but beautiful to read, and it sparked my curiosity about the fact that the Victorians assigned meanings to each flower and used them to communicate messages and sentiments.  Whether it be friendship, luck, enduring love or hope that you are seeking to convey, there’s a flower at the ready to bring this to life.

I was discussing this with a friend and we decided to look up the flowers we’d chosen for our respective wedding bouquets. Ginnie had chosen purple irises, which revealed themselves to be ‘a sign of our enduring friendship and love’.  Very apt.  ‘Google orchids’, I cried; ‘my whole bouquet was orchids!’.  We waited…

‘Testicles!’  Said Ginnie.  ’It means testicles, from the Greek apparently!’.  It appears I walked down the aisle clutching a message that my husband cheerfully interpreted as a sign of my inherent manliness.  The wedding photos will never be the same again…

wedding master shot

After further searching, orchids were revealed elsewhere to signify ‘mature love’ (which is slightly better of course, although now I feel rather like Elizabeth Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Would you choose flowers with their meaning in mind?  The risk is that definitions and interpretations vary wildly, but here’s a guide from Vanessa Diffenbaugh to get you started if you want to do some detective work.  Just don’t ever give anyone a pot of basil without being prepared for the consequences…

have a great weekend – and thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions about our California trip last week; it’s been a joy reading them all and making plans!

Kate

p.s. Some Fathers Day ideas from last year.

 

The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

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

Paintbox flower

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

Old maps

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

Vintage maps

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

polaroid

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

4 layer fudge cake

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

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

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

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

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

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The Great Sunflower Race 2013!

The Great Sunflower Race begins

This time last year, we launched our inaugural Great Sunflower Race, pitting our horticultural skills against family, friends, neighbours – and you.  We painted our pots, googled top tips, and Harry and I then watched in glee as our seeds germinated seemingly overnight, sending out perky shoots and promising great things.  We tut-tutted over my husband’s barren soil  - his seedling eventually grew about a foot before peaking and retiring – whilst watching our stems shoot heavenward.

…They were eaten as an appetiser by a passing deer the following week.

But there’s something about the British spirit of perseverance against all odds; a relentless optimism  combined with a constitutional patience that causes us to quietly join queues and wait in line even if we have no idea what we are waiting for.  Some argue that it is this spirit which has won wars; it’s certainly the same dogged optimism that compels us to try again this year – and with such passion and fervour!

Once more Harry and I have had a fun time packaging up seeds into tiny envelopes to give away to old friends and new, so that the race can begin in earnest;

sunflower packets 3 copy

great sunflowe race master

And once again we’d love you to join us, if you have a patch of soil or even just a doorstep – the beauty of sunflowers is that they need very little space.  Choose your seeds, fill a pot and throw your virtual hat into the ring via the comments below, and we’ll have regular progress checks on sunflower growth spurts around the world.  Let the great sunflower race begin!